To call a state a democracy requires that the people choose their political representation and that the state protects a set of rights that everyone has access to. There are many frightening things about the so-called “Jewish Nation-State law”, which puts Israel’s Jewish character out in front of democracy by a long shot and we very well may see this bill become law. So far, the bill was already approved by the cabinet in a vote of 14-7, and was set to hit the Knesset floor this Week, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has postponed it until next week.
The bill, which is meant to become a Basic Law (the closest thing Israel has to a constitution), is scary because it emphasizes Jewish privilege under the law in Israel, for example pushing Jewish law into the secular court system and demoting Arabic from one of two official languages down to merely being the mother tongue of 20% of the population and the regional language.
I believe the technical term for this is #sorrynotsorry
“’Everything I wrote was entirely reasonable, but they didn’t report that,’ he said of the JTA report.” Guess why they didn’t report that it was entirely reasonable, Mr. Pruzansky? Because they didn’t think that it was.
Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week!
This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY.
Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.
In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.
I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.
Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”
Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.
Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.
Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?
The Forward, which has a deep left-leaning Yiddishist history, said the Christopher Columbus should be celebrated as an 15th Century Theodore Herzl. If this is a joke, well done The Forward. If not and they really are looking to compare Zionisms to the “discovery” of the “New World” then well done on making the argument for all anti-Zionists.
If this wasn’t a joke I can’t believe the editors allowed such a sloppy and simple version of history (and historical comparison) to be published on its website. Either way this will be used for proof of something that The Forward didn’t intend. It is pretty surprising.
Happy Indigenous People’s Day.
My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.
This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”
Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.
As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.
Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.
Editor’s Note: Jacob Ari Labendz has shared with us his talk “The Community has Stolen my Birthright” which he gave at Central Reform Synagogue, in St. Louis, MO on August 6, 2014. Background information and transcripts follow. Labendz is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis. He will be spending the 2014-2015 academic year on a post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University in Berlin, sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation and Washington University.
On Wednesday, August 6, 2014, more than seventy people gathered in the sanctuary of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis (CRC) to hear from representatives of the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). We oppose the Israeli occupation and advocate for a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with freedom and equality for all. We
opposed oppose the recent current war in Gaza.
In hosting this event, Rabbi Susan Talve and CRC took steps to distinguish St. Louis as a place safe for Jewish progressives and a community willing to engage in a thoughtful reevaluation of our community’s politics and alignments.
Rabbi Talve initiated the event after witnessing the police escort four JVP activists off of the campus of the Jewish Community Center on July 29. We had disrupted a “Solidarity Gathering in Support of Israel,” co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and additional organizations. A fifth JVP member, a ninety year-old Holocaust survivor, spoke out as well. A member of the audience then struck her on the back in reprisal in plain view. No one except her friend did anything. Not even the police.
Such protests and responses have multiplied across the country, particularly during this last Gaza war, as an increasingly large and overwhelmingly young segment of the Jewish community has rethought its relationship with Israel and begun to stand against its policies regarding toward Palestinians. In major cities activists have taken to the streets, occupied Jewish communal institutions, and submitted petitions to Jewish and American leaders. There is talk of boycotting Jewish institutions that do not formally oppose the Occupation. We hope that St. Louis will be different. We had hope to be able continue trusting Rabbi Talve. It is to her credit that CRC released this video for distribution.
Five speakers represented JVP at the CRC event, including a Holocaust survivor, an Israeli artist, a doctoral candidate in Jewish history at Washington University, and two local activists. Each spoke for ten minutes and called upon those assembled to stand against the violence in Gaza and the Occupation. Some addressed the need to support the Israeli left, others described their own visits to the Occupied Territories, and others spoke about the exclusion that progressives often face within the Jewish community when they speak out as Jews against Israeli policies. The JVP representatives encouraged audience members to seek out Palestinian voices and follow their lead in fighting against the recent war and the Occupation.
Following the formal remarks, the representatives from JVP answered thoughtful and challenging questions about their positions on Hamas’s tactics and the meaning of the Israeli siege. A number of audience members rose to express solidarity with some of the opinions expressed. A few explained that they too had felt silenced within the Jewish community. It is a testament to the openness for which Rabbi Talve and CRC strive that they opened their doors to dissenting voices of peace, despite repeatedly defending Israel’s war on Gaza and taking a position of tolerance for the Occupation. Few cities, if any, can boast of such openness to debate and protest.
Communities and organizations around the nation should take notice. More »
You all know what I’m talking about. As much as Jews are working to combat Antisemitism, so do Jews love to refer to anyone who is rude to them or disagrees with them as an Antisemite. And now, as it turns out, anyone who is rude can always be implied to be a Hamas supporter who is also anti-human rights and definitely a misogynist.
Here’s the conversation as reported by the victim herself which took place on the subway in NYC: More »
“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”
This is a guest post by Rabbi Joshua Strom. Joshua Strom is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City, where he lives with his wife Tali and their sons, Jonah and Gabriel.
Black – White. Yes – No. Israeli – Palestinian. All – Nothing. Us – Them.
Once again we find ourselves in familiar territory. Once again our passions are inflamed. Once again the words fill the op-ed sections, our conversations, our e-mail forwards, our social media feeds:
“The right to defend itself.” “End the occupation.” “Rockets fired.” “Civilian casualties.”
And so on. And so on.
And once again, it seems, all nuance has gone completely out the window. The word “and” is replaced with “but,” negating everything that came before it, all for the sake of having the last word in our Facebook comments, our Twitter exchanges. The complexity of the events that led us here; the volatility of those directly and indirectly touched by the conflict; the range of emotion and logic spanned on a daily, if not hourly, basis; the fluctuation between hope for a better day and utter despair that peace will never come—they all seem to disappear, vanishing into thin air with a pop and a fizzle, like missiles intercepted by our own personal Iron Domes. More »
I know. I know, Gawker was trolling with this post calling for Israel — or a Jewish state — in Germany. I also know that if we check our bias at the door we could see some logic in this suggestion. But you can’t ignore the complexity of history or the complicated nature of the present reality. Beyond the ignorant black-and-white ahistorical narrative of “Holocaust leads to Israel,” there are a couple of statements made as fact that are way beyond the pale.
It starts with the general intellectual argument against Zionism, which is fine if dishonest, but goes much further into the land of fantasy.
No matter where you stand in the “Israelis vs. Palestinians” political arguments—in which both sides are hopelessly entrenched and unmoving—it seems fair to acknowledge that there are some fundamental problems with the location of the nation of Israel. For one thing, it was carved out of land already occupied by someone else. Whether or not you think Israel was justified in carving itself a nation out of Palestine, you must admit that the act of doing so was bound to cause some resentment.
This ignores too much history. Of course there were people in the now state of Israel, most of them were Arabs and some were Jews. And before you jump up-and-down on me as mouth-breathing right-wing fascist, the facts are pretty clear: Zionism started its colonial exercise of Palestine in the late 19th Century in a more-or-less legal manner.
It goes on and really gets away from facts:
Let’s stipulate that [Zionist and Arab] positions, at the time of the founding of modern Israel, were reasonable:
Jewish people: We have been persecuted too long. We want our own state!
Palestinians: Okay, but don’t take my stuff to get it, please!
So the establishment of Israel, regarded by many as a towering achievement of historic justice, will forever be tainted by the fact that it was established by taking land from people who had done nothing wrong. That act laid the groundwork for the nonstop conflict that continues to this day.
If it was only that easy or simple. Or even close to the truth. There was an infrastructure in place well before WWII and in fact a number of wars (or violent uprisings) that had happened before the international establishment of the state of Israel. The Partition Plan, complete with its flaws, was the defining international legal document of the establishment of Israel. The ensuing wars against the Arabs shifted boarders but for the love of all things good, this idea that the organized Palestinians (and the rest of the Arab world at that time) would have said anything like this is ludicrous.
I am all for having a real conversation about the mass populations transfers or ethnic cleansing (depending on your prospective). I will happily discuss Zionism as the answer to historical Antisemitism or Zionism causing its nouveau rise in Europe and elsewhere. I will always go toe-to-toe with absolutists on any side of an argument because I believe that no political situation is completely black or white (and I like to argue). But what we all can’t allow is the pure distortion of the facts and history. It helps no one.
So, good job Gawker, you got me with your trolling. But next time perhaps you can take an aggressive and controversial position, perhaps you can do it based on fact.
by Moriel Rothman-Zecher
Cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall
A story: Jerusalem Day, 2012. I am standing at the Damascus Gate, before the Israeli parade has made its way from West Jerusalem into the occupied parts of the city to celebrate “reunification.” I am watching two small demonstrations, separated by a small police barrier. On one side, there is a group of young Israelis, mostly teenagers. They are waving Israeli flags, and their veins are bulging as they scream “Mavet LaAravim! Mavet LaAravim!” Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs! On the other side, there is a group of young Palestinian men, and they are also chanting and waving Palestinian flags, their fists clenched and their shouts filled with testosterone, “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yehud!” A reference to an incident in the 7th century in which Muslims forcibly expelled the Jews of Khaybar. And I think: they are so similar. We are so similar. We are all swept up in self-righteousness, we are all afraid and violent and capable of wishing expulsion and death on the other side. More »
Translated and introduced by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall.
Moriel Rothman-Zecher: My own process, in which I began to shift from a liberal to a leftist, from a Zionist to a non-Zionist, from someone who generally believed Official State narratives to someone who generally rejects them, and from someone who wanted to join the IDF and be a “good soldier” to someone who ultimately refused to enlist, began during “Operation Cast Lead,” almost six years ago. This was, in part, because of stories, including the story of the two brothers of one of my classmates at Middlebury College who were shot “by accident” by Israeli soldiers as they left their farm in the Gaza Strip, and then left to bleed to deathas the army forbid an ambulance from getting to them. But in addition to the stories, it was also the numbers: Israel had killed so many people- many of them children- in such a short period of time. I did not want to believe that the Israeli government and army acted with blatant, callous, cruel disregard towards Palestinian civilians, but that it is ultimately what I came to believe, in part thanks to Israeli journalists and writers who were brave enough to speak out against what was happening. And if I am honest with myself: It’s not that these Israelis were saying things that Palestinian journalists and writers were not saying. It’s that they were Israeli Jews. I am not proud of this, but I acknowledge it, and it is with this in mind that I decided to translate a piece on the first four days of this recent Gaza “war” by Israeli blogger Idan Landau, a Professor of Linguistics at Ben Gurion University. The Hebrew original can be found on his blog, לא למות טיפש, or, Don’t Die Dumb, which I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who speak Hebrew. For those who do not, here is my translation of one of Idan’s pieces on the recent situation in Gaza.
Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight
Idan Landau. July 11th, 2014.
A riddle: If we are so right, if every one of the air strikes on Gaza is a solid rock of morality, if the residents of Gaza deserve all that they are getting- then why are the facts being concealed from us in the Israeli media? Why don’t they tell us what the entire world can find out with the click of a button?
Perhaps file this under “there’s nothing to see here”, but I suspect that David Horovitz, over at The Times of Israel, gets it right when he insists that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments about the game plan for the Palestinians and the occupied territories at his press conference are significant and demand our attention, though they were under-reported by the media. For those of us who always thought that Netanyahu was engaging in Orwellian chicanery when he spoke of a Palestinian state, it is useful for him to be on record in such an unusually candid way, that he does not mean it, and for those who (naively?) took him at his word, it is useful, though depressing, to have that balloon popped. ”Earlier this spring, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sparked a storm in Israel-US ties when he told a private gathering that the US-Kerry-Allen security proposals weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Netanyahu on Friday said the same, and more, in public.” Kudos to Horowitz for calling our attention to these remarks; shame on other media outlets for overlooking the story. Though they were understandably more focused on the immediate military crisis, perhaps they were also completely out of practice for how to cover a PM press conference since no one can easily remember when Netanyahu last conducted one. Here’s the full story at TOI.
What does it feel like
To be a Jew in America
Hearing the news of the Israeli army’s assaults on Gaza
Like a cancer, one part of my body attacking another
The cells do not listen to my cries:
You’ve got it all wrong
This body is one organism
Why can’t I cease this inside of my own skin?
Friends, colleagues, newspapers describe how “we” are attacking “them”
Since when am I this “we” you speak of?
Is it because I face occupied Jerusalem when I pray?
Because I say blessings over my food in the language of the oppressor?
I yearn to protect my edges
I long to strike a balance
How to stay safe while remaining open?
It’s actually a question I ask myself every day
And today, as a Jew in America, my voice is muffled
My opportunity to question is denied
Prayers for peace are welcome
Calls for justice
Perhaps equal access
I ask my body again
It pauses for a moment
As if it somehow remembers that it is one body
And then returns to its task
Destroying the cells one by one
Shamir writes poetry in the Berkshire mountains and also on trains
by Leah Solomon
Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute. She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher.
These thoughts grew in response to Facebook posts encouraging us just to grieve the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, but to keep politics out of it, and not use them for ideology advancement:
Here’s what I’m struggling with (and have struggled with after every terrorist attack since I’ve lived here): The death of these boys is horrifying and heartbreaking. I cry when I imagine (as every Israeli parent has, over and over the past two weeks) experiencing what their parents have gone through. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain or the pain and fear of these children in the final moments of their lives.
But. The death of these three boys is no more awful or final or tragic than the deaths of the thousands of Jewish Israeli children lost every year to illness or in car accidents. Their parents’ grief is just as devastating. And those thousands of children are no less “ours” than Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Yet we don’t mourn them, or come together as a “unified” people when they die. Thousands do not attend their funerals. For all that they are equally part of our Jewish family, and their lives just as senselessly cut short, we do not enter into a state of national mourning. Their deaths are a personal tragedy, not a national one. More »
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on reparations is one of the most stunning social arguments I have read in years. It’s remarkable because it’s not simply a case for mass payments to an entire people in compensation for past wrongs. It is a call for national reckoning. It is plea to come to terms with the centrality of slavery and its progeny upon the creation of what we call the American Dream, and to wrestle with what those implications are for our society. It is, in a sense, a plea to look within ourselves, and our story, and to admit how we became what we became, and if there are demons within that narrative, to confront them.
In that narrow sense, Aryeh Cohen is absolutely correct to draw an analogy with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, that national reckoning has been going on now—or has at least started—for years now. With the publication over the last fifteen years or so of books from the so called “New Historians”—and from Benny Morris in particular– Israelis have been fed a steady diet of meticulously researched and documented hard truths about the birth of the State of Israel. Difficult decisions were made in the years surrounding 1948, and ugly actions were taken. Some Palestinians suffered greatly as a result of the miracle of Zionism, and that’s a truth that can’t be ignored. Increasingly, those truths are being wrestled with, and they need to be appropriately reconciled with the Jewish values to which we aspire.
But it is important to note that the analogy abruptly ends there. Slavery was a conscious decision by white colonists in the Americas to forcibly kidnap and enslave African human beings, haul them across an ocean in unimaginable conditions, and create an entire economy built upon the backs of the labor of those individuals and their descendants. Slave owners had nothing to fear from the Africans they kidnapped, they had no issue or problem with them; they had no dispute that divided them. They simply held persons with black skin in contempt, as persons with rights inferior to them, and therefore entirely free to plunder. Coates goes on to describe persuasively how that plunder has continued right up to this day, in the form of Jim Crow laws, housing policies, and loan practices,.
Indeed, the word “plunder” appears throughout Coates’ essay. It really is the theme of his argument. More »
Ta-Nehisi Coates has powerfully opened a conversation about reparations. Though not a new topic, it remains an explosive topic. Race is not a subject that is ignored in American discourse. As John McWhorter points out at the Daily Beast, race has not been absent from the stage of American cultural conversation. Think of Trayvon Martin, Paula Deen, Cliven Bundy, and Donald Sterling. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow—a book which made the argument that the justice system (sentencing laws, incarceration, and the aftermath) has developed into a new system of control of black men—was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year. Americans have not been ignoring race.
However, what is importantly disturbing about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ argument, what will continue to be disturbing, is that Americans are still talking, or screaming about race as a passing phenomenon, a problem that will be solved. The Supreme Court almost said as much as it gutted the Voting Rights Act and declared affirmative action unconstitutional. Coates’ argument is that reparations is not just about slavery, and the economic and psychological impacts of slavery, and the economic legacy of slavery in the guise of the housing scams in Chicago. Coates’ is not advocating a wholesale payout on the order of German reparations for the Holocaust. What Coates’ is arguing for is that we must come to terms with the fact that the United States was built on slavery. Slavery was the wealth—both the bodies of the slaves and the slaves as means of production—that enabled this country to come into being. Furthermore, the history of the United States after the Civil War continued to be inextricably tied to the oppression of African-Americans. We cannot tell the story of this country without telling it within a narrative of slavery. The colonists, the founding fathers, the writers of the Constitution, and the writer of the Gettysburg address, all lived in a slave culture. FDR’s New Deal made way for compromises with the South on farmworkers and domestic workers so as to protect the “Southern way of life.”
This is what truly upsets those who are upset. What is truly upsetting, angering, is that the “peculiar institution,” as slavery was euphemistically called, was not an anomaly like, perhaps, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, or the House Unamerican Activities Committee under Joe McCarthy, from which the United States recovered, returning to its better angels. Slavery was, and will continue to be part of the warp and woof of this country’s story. This is the conversation that we must have. Until we have that conversation, the unfinished business of the peculiar institution will return in the guise of a “war on drugs” or disparities in educational allocations, or the criminalization of every day life for young black men.