How many refugees has Israel accepted in 64 years?

From the Presidents Conference in Jerusalem in June 2012, Jewish leaders were asked a single question: “Since 1948, how many non-Jewish people has the State of Israel accepted as refugees?” Due notice that all the Israelis are way closer to the truth than the rosy-eyed Americans.

How many refugees do you think Israel should accept as part of its obligation under the UN refugee covenant — of which Israel was on the steering committee for the drafting of it and 5 of 26 contributing NGOs were Jewish ones? Hmmmm?

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Mishegas: Kim Kardashian on Gaza, Maccabeats resurrected, and a Jewish slang dictionary

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Twenty minutes in a Tel Aviv bomb shelter

Yesterday, I sat surrounded by tutu-sporting 8-year-olds in the basement bomb shelter of a Tel Aviv community center. There is nothing more tragic to watch than wet-eyed and fearful miniature ballerinas. The twenty minutes I spent there summoned with clarity many of the reasons that brought me to Israel eight years ago in the first place.

When we heard the siren, it was unmistakable. If you’ve heard the Shabbos horn in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, it’s the same sound. And I see the same behaviors here in Israel as when my family heard our first tornado alert in rural Colorado: we looked out our front window to see our elderly neighbor sitting drinking a beer in a lawn chair in his driveway casually watching the sky. The atmosphere here is likewise the same practiced routine with one eye always on the news. If anything, people seem to believe they’ve seen this TV episode before and know how it ends: the Hebrew press is now reporting that Israel authorized 75,000 reserve soldiers be called up and asked Homeland Security to prepare for 7 weeks of fighting.

When talk does turn to the escalation, I hear a similar escalation in internal-Israeli debating. After noting to a Tel Avivi friend that 1991 was the last time the alarm was heard here, he tersely replied, “Yes, we’re more used to suicide bombers in nightclubs and cafes.” Later that day, someone from the north commented that it was about time Tel Avivis felt something personal at stake. And as of earlier today, rockets have fallen near Jerusalem too.

And meanwhile, the civilian residents of Gaza — impoverished and deprived of myriad simple freedoms — huddle in their homes while leaflets and text messages from the IDF warn them to leave combat zones. But to where, it’s not apparent. Unlike the alarm and shelters that I have access to all over Tel Aviv, there is no warning for incoming IDF airstrikes on the missiles hidden beneath the house next door, nor are there fortified bomb shelters to retreat into. Certainly their ruling, blood-thirsty, religious fundamentalist junta will take seriously their demands for ceasefire…

All of this was yet to cross my mind as I sat in the shelter with ballerinas full of confusion. There’s little to do in there except pondering a little of your own mortality. Those minutes — let us hope they will not add up to hours this month — make you reflect briefly about what you value and hope for most for the world, and wonder whether you are working hard enough for it to come to be. An end to wars is definitely on my list and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am now even more dedicated to.

Unlikely ways Obama could appreciate Netanyahu’s backing of Romney

Yediot Ahronot on US Election Day by Kung Fu Jew 18, on Flickr

President Obama won his reelection. And while American Jews supported him just as much as in 2008, there is one Jew who very publicly backed the losing horse: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Officially, Netanyahu said in a short statement that he will “continue working with President Obama in order to safeguard the interests crucial for the security of Israel’s citizens.” Netanyahu stepped boldly into American electoral politics by appearing with Romney and participating in Republican ads in Florida. More »

Please Cher (ha) this last video by SchlepLabs

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What if Anat Hoffman wasn’t white?

Anat Hoffman, head of both Women of the Wall and the Reform Movement’s action center in Israel, was arrested while saying the Sh’ma with 250 other American Jews from Hadassah. The Reform movement called immediately for an investigation, the Conservative movement called for global Sh’ma flashmobs, and other groups joined the condemnation.  (Jewschool contributor LJCM rightly asks why there aren’t even more, but here I’ll press a parallel observation.) Something is obviously wrong with this abandonment of American Jewry’s pretenses against criticizing the democratically-elected government of the State of Israel.

Tellingly, the head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Garry Skolnick, gave hint to this counter-current in an email blast: “When Protestant groups are pushing for a total reconsideration of all American foreign aid to Israel and Iran is working hard to develop the capacity to go nuclear, we must be thoughtful as to how, and in what forums, we choose to address the very real issues that are of burning concern to us.” He continued, “Yes, Israel must change. But those of us who love her must help her change, not hurt her through our good intentions.”

As one (female) Jewschool contributor quipped, “No one’s got the tits at all in this movement.” But it’s not just “wussing out” on women’s rights as another contributor said, it’s the obvious selective outcry of institutions joining this particular outcry. They’ve been silent on recent offenses equally important — and in a few cases, even more dire. More »

Sarah Silverman’s sister joins Schlep Labs endorsement: Israelis on Obama

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“One State, Two States” by Benny Morris

Israeli historian Benny Morris is on the promo circuit with an extended interview in Haaretz for a re-release of his 2009 book, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict. Coincidentally I read the book this month and, while I appreciate its history of Zionist thought, I found its treatment of Palestinians thought lacking.

Morris compiles a capable summary of the evolution of competing one-state, bi-national, and two-state visions within the Zionist movement from the turn of the century through today. But his attempt to do so for the Palestinians is short, shallow and ultimately unpersuasive.

The detail that Benny Morris describes in early Zionist deliberations over ethnic cleansing and bi-national alternatives is missing from his treatment of Arab/Palestinian nationalism. On the Zionist side, he cites declassified meetings of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Congress alongside diaries of David Ben Gurion, Judah Magnes and others. On one hand, he cites, founding Zionist leaders desired a Jewish state encompassing nearly all of Israel’s present neighbors, beyond even Transjordan. On the other hand, these founders were ever-conscious of the democratic limitations of this vision. Between the Holocaust and Arab rejection, the Zionist establishment took what it could get, far short of Transjordan. First the Peel Commission, then the UN Partition Plan, then returning the Sinai, and finally the two-state consensus today. Again and again, Morris says, the Jews exhibited pragmatic compromise.  More »

Stav Shaffir is the first social protest leader to enter Knesset races

In an email sent this morning to friends and campaign supporters, Stav Shaffir, one of the two highest profile young leaders of Israel’s social protests last summer, entered politics.

This is my first letter to you since embarking on a new path – as a candidate for the Labour Party’s list for the Knesset. This was not an easy decision to make. More than a year has passed since the social protest began, I continue to believe in our civic power, in our ability to affect the system through public pressure, education, and media. Today, everyone knows that we have already conquered the streets. But the most important decisions are made in the very place that my generation has deserted. I will not accept this fact any longer. The responsibility we took upon ourselves last summer must grow beyond the streets.

I am entering politics. I carry with me on this new path the stories, hopes and wishes of countless people I have met during this past year. My mission is to be a voice for those stories in the halls of the Knesset. This coming election is critical, It will determine where our country is headed – whether to the same policy that does not protect the public’s interests – or to politics that put the citizens’ social welfare and economic dignity as its top priority. More »

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Mishegas: Rene Cassin Fellowship, Shoah tattoos, NWU Chabad embroglio and more

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Urgent action: Israel to jail 15,000 Sudanese refugees on Oct 15

Update 10/13: A judge has ordered a temporary injunction prohibiting the round up, following a petition by six Israeli human rights NGOs.

Eli Yishai, Israel’s Interior Minister, said about the 60,000 Africans seeking asylum in Israel that  ”Until I have the option of expelling them, I will imprison them and make their lives miserable.”

Expulsion isn’t a viable option for the international condemnation that would erupt if Israel sent thousands of people back to war-torn regions. Instead and to appease racist incitement, Netanyahu’s government passed a law that allows for illegal entrants into the country to be jailed for three years without a trial. And on October 15, MK Yishai intends to start first with 15,000 asylum seekers from Sudan.

This from the North American coalition of individuals fighting this inhumane procedure, Right Now: Jewish Americans Advocating for African Asylum Seekers in Israel:

Please join our October 15th campaign by making a call, sending an email, or sending a fax to the following departments of the Israeli government every day until October 15th. The Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, plans on rounding up and detaining 15,000 Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel if they do not “voluntarily” leave by then.  More »

Mishegaas: Bibi dances Gangnam Style, Adelson wants a pancake, and more

Dubi Kaufman via 972 Mag

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Some other red lines

The West Bank flouts any democratic principles you could imagine for a population 88% Palestinian Arab and 12% Israeli Jew. Hey, Netanyahu, how about them red lines? (By Peace Now.)

And the New Israel Fund too, if only this were true:  More »

African asylum seekers stranded at Israel’s border

Israel deported 18 of 21 African asylum seekers at its border with Egypt. According to activists reported later in the media, they were denied food and water and prohibited from entering. When a pregnant woman miscarried, international outcry prompted Israel to allow her and two others into the country.

Learn more and take action with Right Now: Jewish Americans Advocating for African Asylum Seekers in Israel.

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Danny Ayalon’s cynical abuse of Mizrahi refugees

Today, the Israeli Foreign Ministry launched a social media campaign “I am a Refugee” to deflect criticism from Israel’s appalling treatment of African asylum seekers. In the 1948 founding of the State of Israel, while Jewish extremists were shooing Palestinians from their villages, many Arab countries ejected their Jewish populations and seized their properties. Conveniently this is two-for-one issue for the nationalist camp, shifting blame over the lack of Israeli-Palestinian peace progress back on Arab countries.

I would think that Jews of Arab origin would be outraged that their dispossession is again raised only as a talking point against Palestinian refugees. As a decidedly secondary and repressed narrative in Israeli society, the true-to-life injustice suffered by Jews from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and other places is shunted aside because of the uncomfortable consequences such an equivalence would have on the Palestinian refugee issue. Meaning, if Mizrachim are granted repatriation or compensation back in the Arab world, then such would grant Palestinians the same in Israel.

So by raising this issue in such a way, Danny Ayalon and the Israeli government seem to implicitly say that invoking justice for Mizrachim is just a political game. There won’t be any justice — but they’re happy to abuse that memory for political gain. More cynical injustice to heap upon an already unfair situation. I can only hope that Danny Ayalon cooked this up himself without involving the helpless foreign service professionals who painfully chafe at this government’s incessant foreign affairs stupidity.

To help African asylum seekers being unrightfully and inhumanely arrested and deported, get involved in RIGHT NOW: Jewish Americans Advocating for African Asylum Seekers in Israel.

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Tel Aviv is shitty

I guess I’m a Yerushalmi at heart, even though I’ve moved to the heart of Tel Aviv. (Reflections forthcoming on my departure from New York after seven years’ work in the Jewish emergent sector.) But I’m living here for a year to develop something of a relationship to this humid, austerely designed, secular city that so clearly pretends it’s European. And for sure it has charm. And if I’m ever feeling shitty about the atmosphere here, I can always visit these incredible pay-per-use restrooms a few blocks from my apartment:

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The Levy “there is no occupation” report

Caption: Former Israeli justice Edmund Levy: “If it beats like an occupation, if it oppresses like an occupation, if it kills like an occupation, it’s a…” Bibi: “A duck!” (Meme submission by John Brown)

This week, the Netanyahu government set the stage for a clash with its closest allies, the international community and its own Supreme Court by commissioning a kangaroo court to rule on the authorization of settlements in the Palestinian territories. Filled with political appointees and headed by pro-settlement former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, the surprising (or unsurprising?) recommendation of the “Levy report” (Hebrew) is that there is, in fact, no occupation. More »

African asylum seekers and the American Jewish community

If one needs further proof about the “Beinartization” of the global Jewish community, then African asylum seekers are the issue to watch. The right-ward drift of the Jewish citizenry of Israel, which is deeply unsympathetic to 61,000 non-Jewish asylum seekers in their country, is presently in sharp relief to American Jewry’s sensibilities on the issue.

That said, it took the anti-refugee riots in Tel Aviv to spark statements by the major establishment mouthpieces, like the ADL, JCPA, Jewish federations. That progressive voices were the first out of the gate shouldn’t surprise us, like the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center, Americans for Peace Now and New Israel Fund.

But the issue seems to have an enduring hold on the passions of some North Americans — notably young Jewish activists and culture creators. Some new faces, some familiar. At the time of my initial inquiries, each were unaware of the work each other was doing. But common between them is an entrepreneurial spirit, a depth of first-hand social awareness of Israeli shortcomings, and a frustration against what each of them see as Israeli politicians’ desecration of Jewish values.

Click through to meet Dan Sieradski, Maya Paley and Miriam Libicki.

More »