Brother, Can You Buy Me a Beer?

This is the final post from our guestposters, Rae Abileah and Ariel Vegosen, Jewish Voice for Peace volunteer youth activist members on the ground at the United Methodist general conference leading up to the divestment vote.-ed.

When it comes to the nonviolent tactic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, the United Methodist Church now has B and S covered. But without the D, is it just BS? No, not entirely.

Yesterday, May 2, the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) failed to pass a measure to divest from three companies – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and HP – profiting from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses of Palestinians, but succeeded in resolving to boycott Israeli settlement products. We were in Tampa at the UMC conference this past week as part of a Jewish advocacy team for boycott and divestment, and returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area just a day before the vote took place. Yesterday we watched the UMC livestream, twitter and twitter feed on the edge of our seats. The outcome was a deeply divided church that takes a firm stand against Occupation but isn’t yet willing to put its money where its values are. And “yet” is the operative word here, because the church is clearly now one step closer to a day when this will happen.
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Don’t just rewrite ‘Hatikvah.’ Go further.

Hey, y’all. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy having a real job instead of blogging here or at my personal blog. Anyway, this has been crossposted to my new blog at, which you should all go check out.

I tip my hat to Philologos, the pseudonymous author of the Forward’s language column, for two reasons:

  1. In a recent column, he cited a column he wrote in 1998 about an incident in which an Arab Israeli member of the national soccer team declined to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. In ’98, he wrote that it sucks for Arab Israelis and that he understood their reluctance to sing it. But in ’98 he concluded that there was no way around it. In this more recent column, he admits that he was wrong and….
  2. In this one he reacts to the recent silence of Salim Joubran during the singing of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” by going further than the other commentaries I’ve read on the incident; Philologos went so far as to make specific suggestions about how the song could be changed.

So bravo to you, Philologos for admitting you were wrong and for making some nicely conceived suggestions for rectifying the problem of “Hatikvah.”

And with that, let me explain why he’s still wrong this time. As identified by Philologos, the basic problem with “Hatikvah” is contained in this rhetorical: “How, really, can one expect an Israeli Arab to sing about a Jew’s soul stirring for his country?” But I’d go one step further: How can one expect a group with an equally valid claim on the land to sing a national anthem that is a clearly not just an Israeli song, but a Jewish song?

He concludes that “Hativkah” should not “be abandoned for another anthem, or sung to the same tune with new words” because “there’s not point in accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Again, I’d go even further, but we’ll come back to that. First, Philologos’ specific problems with “Hatikvah”: More »

How I Lost My Zionism

I wrote a piece for Peter Beinart’s new blog at The Daily Beast called Zion Square. This is the beginning:

I imbibed Zionism at a very early age. My parents had wanted to go on aliyah as soon as they got married (four years before I was born), but my grandmother’s sudden illness kept them in the United States. I often heard the story of my parents’ families sitting around the radio listening to the 1947 UN vote on partition, making a hash mark for every “yes” vote, the whole neighborhood (Crown Heights in Brooklyn) erupting in cheers when it was obvious that it had passed.

The rest is here. (Go there, read, come back, discuss.)

The Moral Case for the One-State Solution

Guest post by: Eli Ungar-Sargon

For the past three years, my wife/producer Pennie and I have been working on a film about the moral and practical failings of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that not only is the one-state solution inevitable at this point, but that it has the potential to yield a much more just and moral resolution to the conflict than the two-state solution. Objections to our vision usually come in two flavors: The theoretical and the practical. On the theoretical side, people argue that the one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. They argue that demographic realities make it inevitable that very shortly after the creation of a single state, Jews would find themselves in the minority. The phrases that often pop up alongside these observations are: “Israel has a right to exist” and “Jews have a right to self-determination.”On the practical side, people usually argue that there is too much hatred for these peoples to coexist peacefully in a single state. The corollary to this argument is that a single state would quickly devolve into civil war, as was seen in Lebanon, or in the best case scenario end up as a failed state like Belgium.

It is true that the one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Indeed, when the Zionists came to Palestine they were a minority and the only way that they were able to achieve their coveted majority status was by ethnically cleansing the land of most of its inhabitants. But the new state could still be a homeland for the Jews. Ali Abunimah famously argued in his book “One Country” for the maintenance of the Law of Return, which grants Jews automatic citizenship, alongside the implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Whether or not this concept is actualized in the new state, any one-state solution would obviously have to guarantee the rights of its sizable Jewish minority. But the key here is that Jews would be equals, not privileged ethnocratic masters. Israel doesn’t have a “right to exist as a Jewish state.” States are political constructions and as such they don’t have rights. Individuals, however, do have rights and when a state infringes on those rights, its legitimacy is correctly brought into question. Moreover, even if we accept that Jews have the right to self-determination as a nation (a somewhat controversial claim), this right does not entitle them to deny the self-determination of another people group.

As in any ethnic conflict, an enormous amount of animosity has built up between the two sides and suspicions run deep. On the Palestinian side, 64 years of dispossession and oppression, along with two decades of insincere peace negotiations, have led to a total mistrust of Israeli intentions. On the Israeli side, a culture of Siege Mentality co-opts the history of Jewish suffering to perpetuate an unjust and immoral ethnocracy. But were we to look at Apartheid South Africa in the late 1980’s, we would also see deep mistrust and hatred between Blacks and Whites. Moreover, Germany in the 1940’s didn’t exactly look like a good place for Jews to live but today, it is one of the best countries in the world for Jews. Political realities change. And sometimes, when people of good will get together and work at it, political realities can change for the better.

We need to move away from the discourse of partition and ethno-nationalism and towards a discourse of integration and human rights. The two-state solution is immoral, because it denies millions of Palestinians their right of return and it legitimizes the second-class citizenship of Palestinian-Israelis. Now it is possible to conceive of a two-state solution that respects the right of return and transforms Israel from an ethnocracy into a full democracy, but such a solution is not on anyone’s agenda. Indeed, an examination of the motivations behind the two-state solution reveals why such a conception was never in the cards. On the Israeli side, the motivation for partition comes from the will to maintain a Jewish-majority state in as much of historic Palestine as possible. On the Palestinian side, partition was only accepted by those who live in the West Bank and Gaza under the boot of the IDF, because they were so desperate to end the Occupation. And in their desperation, the Palestinian leadership came close to negotiating away the right of return which is and always has been the central issue of concern for a majority of Palestinians.

The only way to really solve the conflict is to respect all of the human beings involved as equals. The one-state solution, therefore, is the most logical and practical way to achieve a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much work still needs to be done on what the precise contours of the new state will look like. But in the meantime, we are trying to articulate and facilitate a paradigm shift that will help set the groundwork for a peaceful political transformation of Israel/Palestine.

Eli Ungar-Sargon is an independent filmmaker. He and his wife Pennie are currently raising funds to finish their second feature-length documentary “A People Without a Land”. All contributions are tax-deductible and entitle the contributor to awesome perks:

From Gratitude to Praise; Occupy yourselves with Rosh Chodesh on Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving celebrators around the country, here ye.   Amidst all your holiday planning and travel, and your decisions on how to spend “Black Friday,” please consider how you might conclude this festive weekend.   On Saturday evening, Rosh Chodesh will be upon us.  On Sunday morning it is traditional to give praise to the Most High.  One way to do this is by Occupying Rosh Chodesh, as some of us are doing this Sunday at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan.  All are invited.  For more information see below:

What is Rosh Chodesh? This Sunday November 27th we are entering into the darkest month of the year, Kislev. However, during the month of Kislev, we celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of light.

Why be Occupied with it? It’s easy to celebrate when life is pleasant, when victory has been achieved and when the weather is warm. Rosh Chodesh is a monthly celebration fueled by a historical memory of enslavement. No matter where we are in the struggle for freedom and justice, Jewish tradition commands us to find ways to join forces and sing together – to experience the feeling of what redemption will truly taste like.

How will we celebrate it? On the Thanksgiving Sunday, two days after Black Friday, we will welcome the Hebrew month of Kislev with song and praise. In contrast to the melodies used to urge us toward the season of ‘holiday shopping’ we will sing the traditional Hallel / songs of praise sung on Rosh Chodesh. As part of the service, there will also be a chance for some learning and reflection on how Rosh Chodesh connects to the wider Occupy movement. The whole service should last no longer than one hour.

Who is invited? We welcome people of all backgrounds, races, gender identities and religious/faith affiliations.



In Which the Occupiers are Occupied

It begins, as many things do these days, with a mic check, in a room full of well groomed, business casual clad young people, a kosher meat meal, and a speaker discussing the question of whether or not Jews are disproportionately high achievers, and why.


I’m sitting in a chair on the side of the room, watching the audience. Everyone else is in suits and skirts and stockings, with smooth hair and expensive shoes and bags. Per usual, I  look like I fell off a turnip truck.  Steven Pease, the speaker for the evening, has his back to me, and he’s talking about his book, The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, to this group of Birthright Israel alumni in the Reunion space on  West 13th street in Manhattan. It’s uncomfortable and ironic and thoroughly inappropriate  that all this glorification of Jewish corporate success is happening simultaneously with Occupy Wall Street, and the people in the room seem unaware of this. Or worse, they are totally aware of it.

As I page through Pease’s  book, I learn that Slim Fast,  Nutri System, and Jenny Craig were all started by Jews, and before  my brain can really get a good simmer on this problematic information, Liza Behrendt is standing up. “We are the Jewish 99%! And we’re calling all Jews nationwide to join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street AND with the Palestinians who live under occupation every day!” Before she finishes, she’s being moved out the door by a security guard, yelling, along with other folks in the crowd, “Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine!”

Behrendt is a member of the Young, Jewish and Proud,  the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace and  Occupy the Occupiers, the group that organized this action.  As she’s removed,  members of the group pick up the mic check and continue to chant, until everyone is removed. The other attendees boo, and laugh (when one of the activists mentions the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza) and someone yells, “You’re hijacking this event!” Another person  takes a paper from one of the YJP’ers and tears it. The organizers of the event are visibly shaken, but when everyone’s gone, Pease seems non plussed. He tells the audience that one of the people who was just removed was asking him earlier about his feelings on Occupy Wall Street. More laughter. Pease continues his talk as though nothing has happened. Outside, the group is continuing to shout, “Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine!,” and inside, we can hear them.

I get up to leave, so I can follow the YJP’ers, and when I stand, everyone looks at me, nervous, perhaps, that I’m about to start round two. I awkwardly elbow my way through the crowd, but when I get to the door, I’m stopped by two of the organizers of the event, one of whom I met last year, ironically enough, with the Birthright trip I was staffing at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. She looks troubled. “Are you with those people?” she asks. “No,” I say. It’s not a lie-I’m not a member of JVP, or YJP, I’m a member of the press, but still, I feel gross about my answer. “Why do you want to leave?” the other organizer asks me. I tell her I want to follow them. “If you’re not with them, then why do you want to follow them?” “I want to hear what they have to say,” I say, and then they open the doors for me.

On the street, the YJP folks are talking. “I think it’s interesting that no one tried to counter chant us,” someone says. Another person says they had a conversation with an event attendee about how horrible Occupy Wall Street is. The group agrees to stay outside until the event is over. Chanting resumes. People on the street look and shake their heads, or smile and stand around and watch. A religious Jewish man stops and tries to engage the group about Arab terrorists, and doesn’t leave, not even when he’s rebuffed by everyone.

When the event is over, people trickle slowly out of Reunion. Members of YJP are handing out literature, but it doesn’t seem like anyone takes it. One man approaches the activists, who are chanting, and says, “Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with Birthright?” It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t really want to hear what people think is wrong with Birthright, he just keeps saying things like, “All you do is dump judgements, nothing of substance,” and referring to the folks as “self haters.” He stops talking to people eventually and goes to stand to the side, muttering and looking at his cell phone.

It’s like this for a while, YJP chanting, people coming out of the building and saying things like, “They don’t want to talk, they don’t even have jobs.” (Isn’t the point of Occupy Wall Street to talk about how people don’t have jobs?)

Liza tells me that her expectations for the event were met. “I’m glad that everything remained non violent,” she says, and she has that flushed, bright eyed look that comes with being in the middle of an action. “I’m a Birthright alumn, and it was the most important, politicizing experience of my life. I guess you could say I “birthed left.” I was there during Operation Cast Led, and the propaganda was very explicit. My tour guide referred to Arabs as mosquitos. There was a big effort to instill fear of Palestinians into us. It’s really satisfying to be in this space and occupy it, take it back. I feel like we were really successful.”

While folks are chanting, a young woman in a yellow shirt runs across the street to us and screams, “You douchebags don’t know shit about Israel!” She’s dancing, mocking. And then, suddenly, there’s hair pulling, and yelling, as this young woman manages to attack a Palestinian female member of the group. Things get broken up quickly, and no one ends up physically hurt.

“We are young, we are Jewish, and we are proud,” declares the group. “Who’s a Birthright alum?” Liza shouts. “Tell your story!”  “I was told, you have to put your Jewish circle above all your other circles. Jews, non Jews, Palestinians, you are my circle!” Max says. “You can’t have a state that’s Jewish and democratic,” someone else is saying as I pack up to leave. “It’s just not possible.”

A few days later, I get an email from the organizers of the Birthright event, apologizing for the disruption and thanking everyone for remaining composed. “We are taking every measure,” the email says, “to make sure this does not recur.”

The Other Israel Film Festival: The Promise, Episode One

The Promise is a 4 part BBC miniseries portraying, in the words of producer David Aukin, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “as it is seen through British eyes.” Each episode is divided between the point of view of Erin, a young woman from Leeds spending the summer in modern day Israel/Palestine, and  the flashbacks of her grandfather, Len, a soldier in 1945 British Mandate Palestine. The first episode was shown Wednesday, November 16th at the JCC in Manhattan as part of the Other Israel Film Festival.

I’m sure Claire Foy, who plays Erin, gets this all the time, but she looks like a cross between of Rory Gilmore and that Kirsten Stewart person from the Twilight movies. Moving on. The episode begins with Erin’s discovery of her grandfather’s diary, kept during the British Mandate, in his apartment. Her mother tells her to throw it away, but Erin keeps it, and after informing her mother that she’s going to Israel for the summer with her friend Eliza, who’s beginning her army service, she begins reading it on the plane, starting with his account of liberating Bergen Belsen. Then we see a lot of black and white  footage from the camp. Or rather, the audience did. I kept my head down and scribbled. “I wish everyone could see what I’ve seen,” writes Len.

Eliza, Erin’s friend, has dual Israeli/UK citizenship, and her parents live in Caesaria, in a crazy house with glass everything and a giant pool. They take a walk on the beach wearing white and drinking wine and the whole thing makes me think of folks who own houses in the  Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s like paradise,” Erin tells Eliza. “It’s not what I expected.” “You thought we lived in bomb shelters,” Eliza says. Cue a montage of Eliza and Erin cavorting in the streets of what looks like Tel Aviv-shopping, sitting in cafes, Erin gawking at the sight of a soldier’s gun, and then, in a night club, where Erin passes out and has a seizure.

Meanwhile, in British Mandate Palestine (BMP), Len is told by an army commander that “These Jews see returning to be this place as the fulfillment of the promise of Gd,” but that the Arabs see things differently. The goal of the army is to get both parties to live together peacefully, “like the meat in a sandwich.” (The creepiest simile ever used to refer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?)

A moving scene follows of Jews jumping from an arriving ship into the water, and being greeted and pulled to shore by British soldiers. There’s a woman with a skeletal face, her wet hair clinging to her head, slogging towards land. The camera lingers on her for a minute too long, or maybe I just imagine that. We learn that there is a quota on Jews entering the country, and when Len tries to smuggle a woman through, he’s reprimanded.

Erin and Eliza, clad in her IDF uniform, drive to her army base to begin training. The front entrance is blocked by Peace Now protestors. As they drive to the other entrance, Eliza tells Erin that her brother is one of them. “I know you think it’s idyllic, but it’s total bullshit,” she says, admitting that she’s terrified of being the army. Erin proposes that if she really can’t take it, she’ll bail her out and they’ll run for the border. (Things I would love to see happen in a future episode.)

BMP: Len  is in some kind of swanky club, with other soldiers and  ladies and lots of alcohol, and he meets Clara, prompting me to worry that we’re going to see some sex really soon. (Spoiler: we do not.) Clara tells him that this is all propaganda, that she and many other women are being paid to entertain soldiers, and that “100,000 soldiers equals 100,000 opportunities,” and that he’ll undoubtedly write letters home to his family telling them about how well he’s being treated by the Jews of Palestine.

Len has a look of perpetual torture, which only gets worse when he’s ordered to attend a rally against the Jewish quotas, a project that Clara and her father are involved in, in civilian clothes. “Be a Jew for a day,” his commander tells him, urging him to get information on any insurgency the Jews might be planning. Clara, in the meantime, confesses to him that her mother met another man while in the concentration camp. “Not every concentration camp story has an unhappy ending,” she says.

Bon Iver. Bikini. Swimming pool. Erin floats around on a raft until she’s surprised by Eliza’s “insane” brother, Paul, who’s visiting his parents. Erin tells him about her grandfather, Paul tells her that his grandfather fought in the Irgun. Over dinner, things get a little American-Jewish community when we learn that Paul is an anti Zionist who believes Israel is a military dictatorship. Fight with parents about the occupation ensues. Eliza shows up in her IDF uniform and gun. Everyone stares. Later, Eliza tells Erin that once,  Paul was very hard core about the army, before he went to Hebron.

BMP: Len  attends the anti quota rally, and a man is killed whom the British believe to be an instigator. Later, some of his friends are killed in a shooting. It’s unclear who’s responsible, but in a move that I can only regard as insanely ironic, the remaining solidiers break into an Arab home in pursuit of the actual shooters. Clara’s father tells Len that he’s no longer welcome in their home, even after Len assures him that he’s on their side. “We may be stateless,” says her father, “but we are not stupid.” In the stairwell, Clara and Len embrace secretly.

That’s the end of the flashbacks. Erin and Paul travel to Ramle so she can see the graves of Len’s friends, and she freaks out when she sees the graves of two who aren’t dead in the journal yet. And then we’re in Paul’s car driving into the Territories. “I thought it was dangerous,” Erin says. “You’d rather be back by the pool?” Paul says, and she doesn’t answer. In Nablus, Paul speaks at a Combatants for Peace meeting, along with Omar, a former member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Erin watches, enraptured. She’s surprised to learn later that Omar is an Israeli Arab, and watches, horrified and confused, as Omar is stripped searched and detained at a checkpoint after confronting a solidier about his treatment of a Palestinian woman. “Welcome to Israel,” Paul says, as they drive away from the checkpoint after Omar has asked them to leave him there. “Isn’t it to stop the terrorists?” Erin wonders. Paul responds by showing her the separation barrier and explains that the goal of the checkpoints and the barrier is to force Palestinians off their land and into such a state of despair that they leave all together. He yells a lot. Erin looks confused and scared.

At the entrance to a cafe, a bewildered Erin gets searched by a security guard. She and Paul drink beer. She says she loves it in Israel, he says it’s because she lives in the safe world of his parents, who, he admits, are lovely people. He tells Erin that when he was little, his father took him to a border and pointed out the difference between Jewish and Arab land. “Look what they’re done with the land in 2000 years and look what we’ve done in 50,” his father said. Paul: “He was telling me that they aren’t as deserving as we are.”

On the way out of the cafe, Erin’s glance lingers on a couple coming in. Paul realizes that he’s left his wallet inside when they get to the car and tells Erin to wait. And then there’s a explosion in the cafe. End of episode one.

Are you still reading? Good. After the episode, there was a q/a in the Speakeasy cafe with Liel Leibovitz and producer David Aukin. The idea of the series began with a letter from a solidier who served in Palestine during the British Mandate, which inspired Aukin to portray the conflict through a British perspective. The series was shot on location in Israel/Palestine and the crew represented a cross section of Israeli society, which, according to Aukin, resulted in very real tensions and arguments.

In response to an audience member’s question about the source and prevalence of Britain’s anti-Israel boycotts, Aukin said, “There is no memory in the current British narrative about the Mandate. It doesn’t exist anymore. If anything, this film is anti-British. What we’re dealing with now are the seeds of what the British left behind.”

In case you’re wondering what happened at the end of episode one of The Promise, you can see the second episode this coming Monday, November 21, at the JCC in Manhattan at 7 pm. Episodes three and four will be show on Wednesdays, November 23-December 7th. For more information, visit

Project Hayei Sarah

Hebron changed my life. I may have been a run of the mill peacenik and an ordinary Jew before summer 2004. I have never been free of that place since. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nuanced and complicated, where both sides are mutually at fault. But Hebron’s situation has become an abomination, a situation where we’re absolutely at fault for an unnecessary and unacceptable blight.

Annually on the occasion of reading the portion Heyei Sarah from the Torah (Genesis 23:1–25:18), a growing number of us tell what Hebron is really like. We’ve spoken in synagogues, every major rabbinical seminary, indie minyans, and community centers. And this year, we’ve posted 14 of our Torah sermons to YouTube in order to show the world that Hebron and Chayei Sarah does not belong only to the settlers. Indeed, a thousand will converge there this weekend.

It is precisely because Hebron is such an hopeless place to behold that creating inspirational meaning — as these 14 voices have — is so hopeful. There are no trite answers in their mouths, but oh so many aspirations. Hebron presently is so low and devoid of holiness, that it feels there is only up to go. And here in these testimonials you will hear both the shock and the rage, but also the hope and determination for a better future for Hebron, for Jews, and for Palestinians.

Organizations listed for identification purposes only. See them all on Facebook and YouTube.

Drew Cohen is a teacher of Jewish Studies and Music in a transdenominational high school in the US:

Alana Alpert is a community organizer and a third year rabbinical student at Hebrew College:

Moriel Rothman is a New Israel Fund/Shatil Social Justice Fellow, and is active with Rabbis for Human Rights:

Ben Murane is the director of New Generations, the New Israel Fund’s 20′s and 30′s activist community, and the co-publisher of the blog

Mobius is for the #Occupation

The enemies of my enemies are my enemies.

The enemies of my enemies are my enemies.

As many know, Mobius, activist and founder of this blog, is known for his outspoken views ending on the Occupation and more recently for his leadership in Jewish slice of the the #Occupy movement (among his prodigious other accomplishments).

In a somewhat surreal turn of events, earlier this week as police evicted Sieradski and the rest of #occupy wall street from Zucotti Park, the Electronic Intifada denounced him for  being a tool of the Zionist PR machine. Got that?  They associated him with his twitter and real-life debate partner, William Daroff, who proudly clams that title.  Clearly, having posed together for a photo makes them philosophical bunk mates. Confused yet? It gets better.

Those who believe that Mobius was against the occupation are apparently incorrect, according to Adam Greenhouse and Electronic Intifada.  Huh?

Not only this, but he is, or was, and now is again- FOR the #Occupation.  Of course- and apparently Electronic Intifada is as well. But not THAT occupation.  And  Mobius is not entitled to be thus as he hasn’t been nearly outspoken enough about his views. Which E.I. is against because, well, he’s so clearly in bed with the rightwing Zionists. And Muppets.

Which they’re for- no wait, against.. Okay, I’m confused. Blame the Jews!

Stranger still, Electronic Initifada did this in the context of announcing the delivery of a message of Palestinian solidarity with the #Occupy movement in NYC.  They announce solidarity, denounce Sieradski for being an anarchist statist capitalist communist jew sellout.

And btw, since we’re off the topic, the Muppets also deserve a state of their own too. Who doesn’t anymore (except Kurds, Boriquenas and American Indians)?  Personally, I believe the @Muppets should be free to live everywhere.  As long as its not in my backyard because my 6th cousins are moving in as soon as UNESCO declares their right to return to my #basement.  I also wish to denounce those who would deny them the right to both have the state of #Muppestine and the right to denounce such states on principle!  Really, this totally made sense when explained by the Electric Meyhem.

Somewhere I hear Bill Murray turning to Harold Ramis and saying, “Wait, I thought you said the Occupation was baaaaad.”  DOWN! with the evil #occupiers of the anti-zionist non-entity!  No wait- FREE Palestine! End the #Occupation! Muppets!  No, wait, we support the occupiers just not the #occupation!  Reverse that.  We are with the 6 million!  Wherever we stand, it is in opposition to the opposition of the opposition of the occupation, except when we’re not.  And then we are.

At least the Palestinian Solidarity movement got its support of #occupy straight on one point, and that was… failing to make a clear point. Nice work and way to muddy the waters for the enemies of progress.  Thanks for the giggles!  But not really.

“Every unhappy country is unhappy in its own way.” (Gershom Gorenberg)

Two weeks ago, the American-born Israeli journalist, author and commentator Gershom Gorenberg spoke at an event hosted by Mechon Hadar and moderated by Rabbi Shai Held entitled, “How It Broke, How to Fix It: The Crisis of Israeli Democracy.” Gorenberg said, “I’ve seen enough changes happen that weren’t supposed to happen. Politics is not geology. Change happens.” Beside me, a friend whispered, “He is so hopeful.” Gorenberg’s most recent book is The Unmaking of Israel. He is also the author of The Accidental Empire:  Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, the co-author of The Jerusalem Report’s 1996 biography of Yitzhak Rabin, Shalom Friend, and the editor of Seventy Facets: A Commentary on the Torah from the Pages from the Jerusalem Report. He is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at and lives in Jerusalem.


“Israeli school children do not know where their country starts and ends on a map,” Gorenberg said. “You can interpret the facts however you want, but you still have to have the facts. I don’t want to see Israel unraveling…we can’t ignore the rising role of the Right in the army and the power of settlers.” According to Gorenberg, there are three things necessary to restablish Israeli democracy: The separation of synagogue and state, the graduation from being a national liberation movement to one that takes care of its citizens, and an end to the occupation.

“The social justice marches in September have shaken Israeli politics,” said Gorenberg. “I was a bad prophet, I thought it wasn’t possible.” It’s unclear, however, who’s going to come out of this as a leader. “The fact that I can’t name who the next prime minister will be is not a reason to give up hope…Giving up hope is a luxury, only the people who aren’t in the situation every day can afford to give up hope.”

There were some particularly striking moments during Gorenberg’s talk. The first is the story of a night he spent in the settlement of Yitzhar, located in the West Bank south of the city of Nablus, while interviewing folks living there. In the morning, he was faced with the decision of whether to daven in the settlement shul. “People are saying the same words, but it’s not my religion. They’re not going to mean the same thing.” said Gorenberg, who identifies as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.” Ultimately, he did decide to pray in the shul, because “I’m not going to give them the pleasure of ceasing to be religious because of their twisted interpretation of Judaism.”

The second moment came with an audience question-What can American Jews do for Israel? (The q/a, by the way, was handled extremely well-index cards were passed around the room and the questions were vetted by Held.) Gorenberg cited Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in which he declared, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany,” which Gorenberg described as “anti Zionist,” in that it portrays Israel as perpetual victim, and dismisses the strength and power it has gained since its inception. “American Jews need to give up idea of a besieged Zionism, but then the question becomes, if we can’t relate to a beleaguered Israel, how do we relate to Israel?” Israel, offered Gorenberg, is suffering from a collective PTSD. “How do you put an entire nation on the couch?” American Jews remind Israelis what it means to actually be living as a minority and what the diaspora experience is. If American Jews want to support Israel, suggests Gorenberg, they should support institutions that work for equal rights for minorities in the country.

Gorenberg  also talked about taking part in a recent social justice march in Jerusalem that traveled down Bezalel street through the neighborhood of Nachlaot. “Suddenly, it was 28 years earlier,” he said, recalling another march in 1983 with Peace Now that traveled the same route. During that march, people hurled objects at the marches from the balconies. On the recent march, there was no violence. “Circumstances will force people to change.”

“All the alternatives (to peace) are awful,” concluded Gorenberg, who earlier in the evening said that the words “one state solution” do not go together, “but Israelis don’t have to buy into the Palestinian narrative and vice versa to have a peace agreement.”

An Open Letter To Assaf Sharon And Sara Beninga

This is a guestpost from two national leaders of J Street U:
Simone Zimmerman, a Junior at the University of California Berekely, majoring in Middle Eastern Studies. She is from Los Angeles, has spent many months in Israel, and is in the process of founding the J Street U chapter at the UC Berkeley.

and Ben Elkind, a Senior at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, majoring in Philosophy. He is the President of J Street U at UNC, and is the South East Representative on the J Street U National Student Board.

On Friday, September 30, 2011, a violent mob attacked Assaf Sharon and Sara Beninga in the Anatot settlement outside of Jerusalem. Reportedly, during the attack, police stood idly by and watched. Though badly beaten, Assaf and Sara remained fervently committed to democracy and social justice. In response to the violence at Anatot, my friend Simone and I wrote this letter expressing our solidarity with Assaf and Sara. We have since been joined by more than 100 students across the country. You can stand with Assaf and Sara too. Add your name by clicking here.

Dear Assaf and Sara,

We are humbled writing to you with the knowledge that as we celebrated the new year and the Jewish holidays here in the United States, your Rosh Hashanah in Israel was neither good nor sweet. We are frustrated knowing that our words cannot repair broken bones or ease bruised faces, yet we are compelled to speak.

This is what we understand of what transpired in Israel on Rosh Hashanah:

On September 30, you traveled to the settlement of Anatot, just outside of Jerusalem. A Palestinian farmer owns land in Anatot, and asked members of Ta’ayush – an organization that has gained respect and acclaim for its non-violent activism – to accompany him in planting trees on his land. He and members of Ta’ayush were met with violence, both physical and verbal. More »

My Problem With BDS

Growing up in Israel, I joined a lot of organizations: Youth Against Racism, Hashomer Hatza’ir, Reut Sadaka, and maybe one or two groups even further to the left. I attended Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and Meretz Youth weekend seminars, a kind of experience I’ve never seen in the US, not even when I was a college student. At these seminars, high school students would listen to Members of Knesset, well known professors and journalists, professional youth educators and others as they dissected Israel’s social issues.

During this entire formative period, regardless of where you stood in the left wing spectrum, certain things were true:

  • Our side was in favor of dialogue with the Palestinians, while right wing Israelis were racists who denied the Palestinians essential humanity, let along their human and national rights.
  • Our side addressed a combination of moral elements and enlightened self-interest. The occupation might be wrong, but it is also suicidal.
  • Our side drew inspiration from Western values that flowed from the enlightenment. Rationality, skepticism, a slight fear of the mob, an emphasis on individual identity over collective identity.
  • Our side was focused on liberating Israelis (Jews and Arabs alike) from the burden of having to represent anything else other than who we were. In other words, even the hard core Zionists were often in favor of ‘post Zionist’ measures like removing religion from identity cards, affirming the validity of the Palestinian narrative, and de-mythologizing the founding of Israel.

I was part of the lucky minority of Israel Jews that interacted with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the Occupied Territories on a regular basis. They represented a fairly diverse range of opinions and backgrounds, though less from among the poor and seriously religious, a bit more from the upper and middle classes, the Christians, and those from larger cities and villages. At a certain point, my identity as an Israeli changed into one that wholeheartedly embraced the reality of Israel: one fifth Palestinian, one fifth Russian, inclusive of countless racial, ethnic and religious minorities, with a tragic mix of conflicting impulses. Together, we were Israeli, and deserved to be truly equal for all our sakes. More »

Wait, aren’t boycotts bad?

In protest of the anti-free speech “boycott law” the Knesset passed last week, we will begin chronicling here any time boycotts are used for other purposes by Israelis. Our first submission below, a poster from Israel in 1938 calling on Israeli Jews to boycott Palestinian Arab products. (Hat tip Harvey Stein)

Speaking of boycotts, check out the new Israeli boycott campaign against opening a McDonald’s at Masada. And, yes, under the new law, McDonald’s corporation can now sue any Israeli who “likes” that Facebook page. As a friend of mine suggested, perhaps the Judean zealots “committed Supersize” rather than be killed by the Romans. (Hat tip Heeb.)

Israeli boycott of Arab goods, circa 1938

More »

Breaking the Silence recruits from Birthright in Mahane Yehuda

Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization of former combat soldiers who served in the occupied territories who make it their cause to educate Israelis and American Jews about the reality of the daily occupation. Using their personal experiences as soldiers on the front lines and tours of Hebron, they explain the complex relationship security measures, settlement growth, human rights abuses, and 18-year-old Israeli soldiers out of their depth.

Next tour: July 22. Want to understand the conflict? See it for yourself.

Dispatch from the Human Rights International Film Festival, Number 2: “This Is My Land, Hebron”


L, my companion for the evening, wonders if we can say we actually saw Wallace Shawn, who appears to be sitting three rows ahead of us. It’s definitely him, right? We strain our ears for his trademark voice,  but the din proves too much for us discern properly.

This is not really important, of course, a celebrity sighting at the screening of  “This is My Land, Hebron,” at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. It is, however, a reminder to myself to be observant of the audience, which I have come in worried about. The theatre is full, and this is both joyous and disconcerting. Who are these people? Did someone make a phone to right wingers to come and start a ruckus? Is someone going to say something anti Semitic? Some people walk onto the stage and sit down. The audience applauds. I sweat.

The three people, introduced by the moderator, are Dotan Greenvald, a former solider/ activist with Breaking the Silence, and the directors, Giulia Amati and Stephen Nathanson. The moderator asks if anyone would like to say anything before the film starts. Greenberg says that serving in Hebron has changed his views and how he’s active in the society he lives in.

“This is My Land” is a documentary composed primarily of footage and interviews from Hebron, one of the first of which is of a home covered with a wire cage. The owner of the house, a Palestinian woman in hijab, tells the camera that the wire is necessary to keep the stones thrown by Jewish settlers from hitting the people who live there, but that they’ve adapted by throwing smaller stones.

The film interviews some of the Jewish settlers (there are 450? 600? 800?),  and settler leadership who live in Hebron among 150,000 Palestinians. The settlers claim that Hebron is the  place in which the matriarchs and patriachs were born, making it “the heart of the Jewish people.”

A Jewish settler, a woman with covered hair and glasses, walks up to the wire where the Palestinian woman is standing. “Sharmuta (whore),” she shouts, and then, softly, “Sharmuuuttaaa.” It’s chilling and relentless, and the two women scream at each other, while the camera records. After this scene, every time a settler comes on the screen for the next hour and a half, the audience gets twitchy and tense and starts to whisper.

The voices of the  Israeli left featured in the film are prominent names -Uri Avnery, writer, former Member of Knesset, founder of Gush Shalom;  Jessica Montell, Executive Director of Btselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories , and Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy. “There is no place in the Occupied Territories I hate more than Hebron,” says Levy. ‘It is a place of evil.”

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, spent 14 months in Hebron during his army service (he was actually Dotan Greenvald’s commander.) “One day, you’re looking in the mirror, and you see horns on your head. You think, it’s not me, doing this things, but it is you.” Now, in addition to giving testimonies and traveling with the organization, he gives tours of Hebron.

While escorting a group down Shuhada Street-the principal street for Palestinian residents and businesses and at one time, a prominent market place, now closed to Palestinian traffic- Shaul says to his group, “You’ll only get one perspective today, and I’m sorry for that.” Standing near by, shaking his head, is David Wilder, Hebron settler spokesperson. According to Shaul, Wilder won’t talk to “traitors.” “In any other country,” says Wilder, later in the film, “(Shaul) would be charged with treason and hung.”

There’s footage of a young Palestinian man who’s shackled for 14 hours, allegedly for protecting his sister from IDF forces invading his home. He tells the camera that he’s been beaten on his back. Settler children yell at and knock down internationals from the Christian Peacekeepers. “That’s what you get for defending Arabs,” one girl says. In another scene, Palestinians picking olives while settlers look on, and then eventually face off with soldiers, who tell them that the Palestinians are allowed to pick from their own groves. There is screaming and swearing and accusations. At some points, I’m so uncomfortable that I try to re read my notes in the dark theatre, which is of course, impossible.

“I’m deeply ashamed,” says Levy. “It’s on my behalf, all Israelis are paying the price. The idea is to drive the Palestinians out, create impossible circumstances. We’ve become a country who only cares about ourselves, and maybe not even that…this is proof that the Palestinians are some of the most tolerant and non violent people in the world. Anyone else would have exploded.”

When the film is over, the audience is restless. Nathanson, Amati and Greenvald return to the stage. Amati talks about how hard it was to obtain the settler’s point of view, and without it, making the film would have been useless. And now, the questions. One woman asks why so much of the focus of the film was on Shuhada Street, instead of on the rest of the city. Greenvald: ”If you went to Manhattan, and Broadway was closed and only white people could walk on it, wouldn’t that be a story?” She’s not satisfied by his answer and has to be shushed into sitting down.

Every time someone gets called on, I hold my breath anticipating the question.  ”Why did you only focus on settler violence against Arabs?” asks an audience member. “In Hebron,” says Greenvald, “Palestinians know the recourse. You don’t see Arab on Jewish violence because everyone is aware of the consequences-curfews, collective punishment. The soldiers are there to protect settlers, and they know the consequences of looking like if they side with Palestinians. That’s why the consequences for Jewish kids throwing stones are different from those of Palestinian ones.” Amati adds that while filming, they never witnessed any Palestinian violence against settlers.

Greenvald is also asked to comment on his experience with Breaking the Silence  in Israel. “Settlers in Hebron are very extreme,” he says, “Not like most Israelis. Most Israelis don’t respond like they do.” The film has not yet been distributed in Israel, but there are plans to do so.

When the q/a is over, and everyone is leaving, I hear a woman’s voice behind me. She’s been making comments to her friends the entire time (“Yeah, that will go well,” re-distributing the film in Israel) and sighing gustily after each of the right wing-y questions. “”Those people,” she says, disgustedly, gathering her things, “Why don’t they go back to Brooklyn where they came from?”

An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.

As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:

As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it”

We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation. Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively. However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.

This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.

In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?

We also take exception to this assertion:

U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.

In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?

An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year. With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.

We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.

We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.

Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?

In Shalom,

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt

Sad About Not Finding My Place

Warning: this post is sort of about me.

Coming of age in Israel, I encountered quite a few reminders of how strange politics can be. In the mid-80s, I went with members of the scouts (Tzofim) to protest Meir Kahane outside a venue in Petah Tikva. An elderly man came to argue with us. He didn’t yell and wore a forgiving smile. And a kippa. He said that Arabs are dogs, they only look human. Looking back, I can finally appreciate how bizarre he was. Only… he was one of the more normal Kahane supporters. And he didn’t try and assault anyone (that I saw). Not like the other guys spitting and throwing punches at us.

A few short years later, Kahane came to my little hometown. I only found out because the bus passed the town square he was using. A couple hundred folks had gathered – more than I’d ever seen assembled (outside of the soccer games). I got off the bus, put away my schoolbag, put on my keffiyah, and marched over there to protest. By myself. While I didn’t have a sign, I did have bright yellow stickers reading ‘say no to racism’. I held one up and stood not four meters away from him.

Again, looking back, I have to say that was stupid. Even if thugs hadn’t followed me in a car and given me a stomping outside my apartment building in front of all the neighbors.

Later still, when I was a soldier, I was forced to attend a lecture by the commander of our corps. Which is to say, he was above the head of our training base and in charge of all sorts of things related to our specialty, though he would never again lead troops into battle. In this lecture, he gave a military-political survey of the situation with Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. When he opened up the Q and A, I said: “Officer sir, since the conflict with the Palestinian people can only have a political solution, not a military one, aren’t you deceiving us by talking about ‘winning’?”

Boy was he mad. I never got punished though. Just ostracized.

These incidents surely paint a picture of the young man as a foolish dissident. But grant me that I had heart – lots of heart. Whatever my politics, however wrong headed my political analysis or ideology, it was sincere and flowed from a sense that my reference group, my peers in Israeli society, included both Palestinian and Jewish comrades. Whenever some right winger or patriot made a bloviating reference to ‘we’ meaning Israeli Jews, I always thought to myself – yes, ‘you’, because my ‘we’ is made up of Arabs AND Jews. Of all Israelis, exactly in the way that in America, ‘we’ includes whites AND blacks.

How odd then, to find myself dismissed as a ‘Zionist’ here and there in the Palestinian solidarity movement. Not like so many people actually know me or anything. But… there was that JATO woman at the UFPJ gathering, the trainer at the Student PSC conference, the outright verbal assualts on the activist listserve, and a picture comes to mind.

The Palestinian solidarity movement, especially as it has coalesced around the strategy of BDS, has two faces. One face is warm, friendly and intelligent. It says that BDS is a tactic not a preferred political solution. It doesn’t require B, D and S, and it can be directed at the occupation or at Israel in general – no coercion. It makes Gush Shalom feel right at home.

The other face is quite clear that the one state solution is preferred and the two state solution is dead – and good riddance. Anyone in support of an Israeli identity is a Zionist. Anyone seeking compromise with Zionists is a Zionist. Anti- or non-Zionists who refrain from calling for an end to Israel are ‘soft-Zionists.’ Israelis are ‘butchers’ who commit ‘massacres’, their peace camp isn’t really for peace except for a handful, the Palestinian Authority is not only corrupt, it is ‘only corrupt’, lacking in any other attributes or identity. It’s everything awful about the 90s campus culture wars/identity politics madness, with the eager pleasure in despising whatever isn’t politically correct.

Everything I used to hate and fear about the Israeli right wing: the extremist language, the eagerness to demonize the other, the closing of ranks around a narrow set of ideas, the very harshness of the voice and tone. It’s the flattening of every nuance into a slogan or holy truth. It’s the utter impossibility of dialogue with people who feel differently.

I used to be part of that first group. Some days, I still am. But… I keep running into that second group and it turns my stomach. Sometimes it’s the same person displaying one face or the other, depending the audience. It’s as if all the experiences I have growing up in Israel and ‘putting myself out there’ as a refusenik, participant in militant demonstrations, getting arrested, working inside of majority Palestinian political organizations – count for nothing. Because I’m insisting on the slogans of my youth (Arab/Jewish unity, two states for two peoples, down with the occupation, negotiations yes/war no) somehow I’m excluded from the cool kids lunch table at the Palestinian solidarity middle school. Back in Israel, that’s who I sat with. Now they sneer at me.

But I can’t sit with the Zionist kids anymore! Not after all that stuff I said about not being a Zionist…. sniff.

I guess I’ll go sit by myself. And I am NOT a Zionist! I’m just another Israeli yored  in New York waiting for the occupation to be over. So I can go home.

On Settlers, Empathy and Confusion

I have this red notebook. I bought it when I was at Pardes during the summer of 2005. It’s red, and thick, and I never managed to use all of it for class things, so now, it’s full of clippings and photos and testimonials and articles on the disengagement from Gaza. I left the country a few weeks before the disengagement actually happened, and when I came home, I became completely obsessed. Not with the political implications, not immediately, but with the settlers-the young girls sobbing, the folks in the synagogue the night before demolition,  in sleeping bags on lawns, standing on roofs, holding signs, wearing orange.

The same thing happened last summer after my tour of Hebron with Breaking the Silence. I remember seeing the settler kids near the Tapuz Gross checkpoint and thinking what a hateful thing it was to bring children into a place like this for ideological reasons. When I got back to Jerusalem, I looked for everything I could find on Shalhevet Pas.

Currently, I cannot stop thinking about Tamar Fogel, who came home to find all but two of her family members dead in Itamar on Friday night. Who is taking care of her and her two younger siblings? What will her life be like? Will she become (further) radicalized? Will we hear her advocating for peace and co existence? What right does anyone have to ask anything of her? (I’m going with none.)

I don’t think I’m unique here. I know I’m not the only one who has this predilection, whose imagination is engaged by the religious settler community (as opposed to those who are in the Territories for economic reasons, which is an important distinction), in spite of/because of the politics I hold about ending the Occupation and the settlements as a barrier to doing so. My obsession, or fetishization or whatever it is, stupefies me. On one hand, it creates an empathy that I’m not sure what to do with, and on the other, thank Gd for empathy. This world could use a little more of it.