A Long Story Short: On the Radical Mandela, my Radical Parents and a Shoe Museum

This originally appeared at allthesedays.org on December 6th, 2013. 

I’ve been reading an array of obituaries and reflections on Mandela and his legacy since late Thursday night when I heard that he had died. When I had a chance to reflect on the news as I traveled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv last night my thoughts turned to my parents and a shoe museum in Toronto, where I grew up. I also thought about why I came here in the first place.

When I was 13 years old, freshly Bar Mitzvah’d with an older teenaged brother spending weekends looking for fights with neo-Nazis, I first became aware that my mom was (and on some fronts still is) a politically active human being. She was a New York Jew of the baby boom generation, a Woodstock attendee, and she had, in those turbulent years of which I have no first hand knowledge, gotten involved in struggles for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, and toward a feminist future.

Having recently gotten into the Dead, Snoop, and other musical accompaniments for my newly found enchantment with weed (which became the central destination for much of the bounty of my Bar Mitzvah gifts), I would proudly proclaim that my mom had been a “hippy” to my friends. When she was around to defend herself though, she would explain, slightly annoyed, “I was a radical, not a hippy”.

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Open Hillel Responds to AIPAC and Hillel’s new Partnership

Open Hillel is a student-led campaign to change Hillel’s policies to better reflect our community’s values of pluralism and inclusivity. The statement below is a response to “Working Together to Expand Support for Israel on Campus,” written byHillel’s President and CEO Eric Fingerhut AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director. The article announces a new partnership between Hillel and AIPAC.

 

Open Hillel Responds to AIPAC and Hillel’s new Partnership

Hillel has consistently demonstrated an admirable commitment to religious pluralism, welcoming students who span the full spectrum of Jewish religious practices and beliefs and encouraging students to connect with Judaism in ways that are meaningful to them. We are worried that this pluralistic spirit, so beneficial to Hillel and the Jewish community, is lacking in the political arena. In particular, we are deeply troubled by Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut and AIPAC Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler’s recent declaration that Hillel and AIPAC “are working together to strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.” We fear that this new partnership will alienate Jewish students whose views do not align with those of AIPAC, stifle discussion and debate on issues concerning Israel-Palestine, and undermine Hillel’s commitment to creating an inclusive community.

AIPAC’s policy positions are highly controversial among Jewish college students and the American Jewish community at large. Thus, if Hillel operates with AIPAC’s definition of “pro-Israel” as the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable within the Jewish community on campus, it will alienate many Jewish students. For instance, Point 6 of AIPAC’s 2012 Action Plan calls for “the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.” However, since Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital, many students believe that Jerusalem should be divided or shared. Indeed, 82% of American Jews support a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in exchange for full diplomatic recognition of Israel by the surrounding countries. Similarly, AIPAC’s national council voted down (by a large majority) a measure calling on Israel to dismantle “illegal settlement outposts,” the small minority of settlements that are illegal under Israeli law – not to mention, of course, that it tacitly supports the rest of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, all of which are illegal under international law. In contrast, nearly three times as many U.S. Jews believe that settlement construction hurts Israel’s security as do believe that it helps. Hillel is an umbrella organization serving all Jewish students, as its vision and mission statements express. AIPAC supporters can and must have a voice in Hillel. But that voice is just one voice; it is not and cannot be THE voice.

In their article, Fingerhut and Kessler describe the AIPAC-Hillel partnership as strategically necessary to combat “anti-Israel” activity on campus. However, in order for Jewish students to truly engage with Israel in a thoughtful manner, we should have the opportunity to hear a wide range of perspectives on Israel-Palestine — including voices that speak to Israel’s shortcomings and criticize its policies. For instance, in pointing to “anti-Israel organizing” at Stanford University, we assume that Fingerhut and Kessler refer to a national conference held at Stanford by Students for Justice in Palestine. Though SJP takes controversial positions, it raises important questions about the Occupation and human rights abuses in the Palestinian Territories. Many Jewish students (and American Jews in general) from across the political spectrum care deeply about these issues; indeed, many American Jews oppose and protest the Occupation. While some seek to write off conferences and events like these as malevolent and silence their efforts, we believe that Hillel, the campus center for all Jewish students, should provide a space for discussion and debate so that students can better understand the complexity of the situation in Israel-Palestine. As one Jewish student at Stanford explained last spring, when the Jewish community refuses to talk about controversial issues, it creates an image of unity but actually divides the community and alienates students who hold ‘dissident’ views or who simply are looking for honest and open discussion.

We also are saddened that AIPAC, in Fingerhut and Kessler’s piece, implied that the success of Hillel at Stanford’s Shabbat Across Differences somehow justifies this new AIPAC-Hillel partnership. Part of what made that Shabbat event so wonderful was that it was not run by AIPAC or any other one Israel/Palestine-related advocacy group. Students of all different political persuasions, as well as Hillel staff, worked together to create that Shabbat — and we believe that that is a model for other schools to follow. The picture that the article painted, of Hillel needing AIPAC to rally more students on campus in support of their form of pro-Israel advocacy, was not the reality and it should not be in the future.

AIPAC deserves a place within Hillel, as one of many voices on Israel-Palestine. However, given AIPAC’s specific and narrow policy agenda, it should not define what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Even more fundamentally, no political advocacy organization should set the boundaries of what is encouraged, acceptable, and forbidden within the Jewish community on campus; and we worry that this partnership means that AIPAC will be asked to do so. Just as, at Shabbat dinner, students of all denominations come together, share their experiences, and learn from one another; Hillel should encourage students with different political views to come together and discuss relevant issues for the sake of dialogue and mutual understanding. Ultimately, a strong community is one that acknowledges and embraces its own diversity.

 

Occupy Wording: On the refusal of some to face the reality of the occupation

An earlier version appeared with photos from the occupation at allthesedays.org

I hesitated before writing this. I didn’t want to even engage with the silly idea that “there is no occupation.” Unfortunately, that idea is finding more and more traction in main stream forums.

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly (GA) is set to begin in a week. It will be taking place in West Jerusalem at the national convention center. It is a place that sits just a few minutes’ drive from the occupation.

The Forward has already reported on the fact that the GA will not have any discussion on the occupation despite it purporting to be the place that inspires and engages current and emerging Jewish leaders” in order to tackle “the most critical issues of the day”. The Forward explains that Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the JFNA, emphasized the GA’s focus will be on “’dialogue’ and ‘questions,’ particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred”.

This may seem like a positive step for the established Jewish community, so often seen as deterring analysis and open dialogue. Unfortunately it’s simply more of the same.

Apparently Silverman doesn’t want the occupation included in the content of the GA, because he doesn’t want to “get into the political arena”, but as The Forward reports, the GA has already entered that arena. There is a long list of events on political issues from Israel advocacy in the Diaspora to the separation of Synagogue and State in Israel. One speaker at the GA will be Knesset Minister Naftali Bennett who has said thoughtful things such as “When you were still climbing trees… we had here a Jewish state” and “I will do everything in my power to make sure that they [the Palestinians] don’t get a state.” A wide array of Israeli politicians will be there.

So much for staying out of politics.

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Voting in the Streets

Photo Courtesy of A. Daniel Roth, Tel Aviv (Copyright 2013)

Just over a week ago I voted for the first time in an Israeli election. If you didn’t know there were elections just over a week ago in Israel, you’re not alone.

Certainly, most people on earth were unaware. Probably most people from around the world who pay attention to Israeli politics were unaware. Actually, the majority of eligible voters were unaware. Maybe they weren’t unaware, maybe folks just weren’t interested. However, if you, like me, are into building a world of justice and peace, and the end of oppression it’s fairly important to be vocal about it.

It could be the fact that these were only municipal elections that made them so uninteresting. After all, these are the people who deal with the unimportant stuff such as water, health and safety, roads and public transportation, and (lack of) caring for refugees.

Unfortunately, just 42% of eligible voters took the time to vote for local leadership, though I have to wonder how many repeat voters that number includes. In Tel Aviv that number hit just over the 30% mark. Apparently, more people went to the Rihanna concert than voted for the runner-up in Tel Aviv.

The result is that most things stayed the same, for example a lot more women ran for office in these elections than in previous ones, but a great deal lost their races.

While the predominately Palestinian municipality of Sakhnin saw somewhere between 87 and 90% turnout,Jerusalem was a different story.

In Jerusalem the push by Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is occupied under international law, who have the status of residents but not citizens, to boycott the election apparently led to less than 1% voter turnout, while fewer than 38% of the city went to vote.

In contrast to the local elections, nearly 70% of eligible voters cast ballots in the national elections that took place in January. Mind you, those same East Jerusalem Palestinians are not eligible to vote in national elections, nor are millions of others living under Israeli occupation and therefore Israeli control since 1967.

To be clear, I don’t think one must vote in elections. However, if one is opting out of electoral politics one must opt into revolutionary action, education, and/or advocacy. One who takes zero responsibility by doing neither is, in fact, at best supporting the misrepresentation (and often corruption) in the halls of power, but more probable is that inaction passively supports a plethora of oppression(s).

If we aren’t “voting in the streets” and we don’t vote in elections, we wind up voting for corrupt leadership with no responsibility to neither manage nor better the city (or country). Unfortunately, the “only democracy in theMiddle East” doesn’t seem to care too much about it.

 

A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. He was born and raised in Toronto and lived in a commune of the Hashomer Hatzair movement in New York City. Daniel is a member of the All That’s Left collective and learner/organizer with This is Not an Ulpan. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and @adanielroth.

 

Filed under Israel, Politics

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Book Review: What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon

Book Review:  What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?  A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon

What do you buy the children of the terrorist who tried to kill your wife?

This is not a question that many of us have ever asked, or even thought about thinking about figuring out how to ask.  Or why, or whether, or how such a question could even exist.  But this is what David Harris-Gershon found himself asking in a Toys-R-Us in Jerusalem one Friday afternoon, as it was preparing to close.  This is the question that encapsulates the absurdity, desperation, and emotional daring in his mission to meet the jailed terrorist who planted the bomb at Hebrew University that killed nine people, including his friends Marla and Ben, and injured 100, including his wife, Jamie, who was eating lunch with them when the bomb detonated.

Harris-Gershon, a schoolteacher, dad, columnist for Tikkun and the Daily Kos, Moth Grandslam Storytelling champion, first-time author, and lover of words and dictionaries, learns a few things along the way, starting with language:  More »

Giggles and fear: One day more as a Jew in Malmö

I believe that journalist Patrick Kelly’s heart was in the right place when he donned a kippah to experience life as a visible Jew here in Malmö, then wrote about it for the on-line magazine that features “Swedish News in English,” The Local.

Kelly wished to understand the experiences of, and to offer support to, our mutual friend Shmuel Goldberg and other kippah-wearing Jews here (especially Rabbi Shneur Kessleman) who have been threatened repeatedly. Unfortunately, however, Kelly’s nuanced article has been cut and spliced by several careless American Jewish writers who, in their rush to paint my adopted hometown—and perhaps the entire country of Sweden, and sometimes all of Scandinavia or even northern Europe as a whole—as dangerously anti-Semitic, do an injustice to Goldberg’s experiences, and to Kelly’s desire to honor rather than exploit them.

A few nights after Kelly’s piece appeared in The Local, I had a long talk with Shmuel. He does not enjoy being stared at, pointed to, or threatened when he walks around Malmö wearing a kippah. At the same time, he thinks that a) the number of people who behave like this is small, compared to the number of immigrants and other minorities in Malmö who also receive unpleasant treatment; that b) more useful than moaning about anti-Semitism in Malmö would be if the community held a “Jewish pride” type cultural festival and that c) if something good can come out of these negative experiences, it might be this:

Sweden is a very secular society; Shmuel and I both know several non-Jews who wear their religion on their head, or around their neck, and are also mistreated or teased. He has spoken with devout Christians and Muslims who do not feel safe declaiming their faith in public. According to Shmuel, the freedom to express one’s religion should, along with the freedom to be out as gay, or the freedom to celebrate one’s ethnicity, be part and parcel of the open society that Sweden aspires to be.

The Middle East Peace Orchestra performed in Malmö last week.

Fortunately, several initiatives that address the many nuanced issues of celebrating diversity in this place that was, until recently, quite homogeneous, are currently under way here.  Just last week, Copenhagen’s Middle East Peace Orchestra performed together with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Musicians and audience members included Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais,  and people who do not identify with any religious group. Songs were song and stories told in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Arabic as well as Danish and Swedish. Watch this space for more information on such initiatives and events in the months to come.

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

On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia

“Chain gleaming, switching lanes, two-seater.
Hate him or love him for the same reason.
Can’t leave it; the game needs him.
Plus, the people need someone to believe in.”
–Nas, “Hero” (2008)

In the past couple of days, since Rav Ovadia Yosef died at 93, the Jewish media, both published and social, have been abuzz with tributes about his towering scholarship, bold rabbinic leadership, controversial political and cultural impact, and his frequent episodes of vituperative and hostile verbal violence, especially late in his life.  I have also seen comments by progressive Jews expressing surprise that so many progressive friends of theirs were showing the love to Rav Ovadia.  As one friend put it:  “My FB page is full of love for Ovadia Yosef-from lefty people? I thought he was kind of terrible?”

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5 Tips for Leading High Holiday Services in Prison

Guest-post by Ben Greenfield, a rabbinical student (YCT) and writer based in New York City.  His writing on Jewish-Muslim architecture, medieval Hebrew art, and Rabbinic romance have been featured on Jewish Ideas Daily.

5 Tips for Leading High Holiday Services in Prison

Last week, a colleague and I led Rosh Hashana services at Rikers Island, the massive East River prison complex in which New Yorkers house some 14,000 of their more suspect neighbors.  We slept on the floor of a jail classroom, from which we withdrew to chat about the season, share kosher airplane meals, and attempt to serve some 60 Jewish and non-Jewish congregants.

1. Don’t bring glass bottles of Kedem grape juice.

A rookie mistake, quickly confiscated.  And while hardcover siddurim are OK for the chapel, don’t think that makes them safe enough for the cells.

One inmate requested I put in a good word about him receiving a pair of Tefillin.  While they’re usually permitted, he let me know why he is an exception. A few inches below the tail ends of his payos, two sunset pink scars slash across his neck.  The state is worried that he’ll hang himself with the holy black straps.

For Jews at Rikers, the sacred is in constant residence with the darkly violent. Tefillin is a noose, kiddush wine a shiv. One inmate seamlessly wove memories of studying in Old City yeshivot with troubled (hallucinatory?) visions of kidnappings in broad daylight and his desire to start a new life in Iran. At Rikers, comfortable symbols of Jewish life become morbid reminders of the new reality.  No glass bottles here.

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Bite Their Tongue: Perhaps Unrestricted Free Speech Isn’t Such a Good Thing

A guestpost from FoJS, Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman

I, like most children of liberal Jewish parents born on the coasts, have long held the first amendment to the constitution to be sacrosanct: just barely below the 10 commandments and slightly higher than a hot pastrami with brown mustard. It is that important. And it was the 1st Amendment ‘Freedom of Speech’ that was always the most cherished of those rights.

But recent events have started to make me question this deep-seated belief. I’ve started to consider whether maybe it’s time we restricted free speech. Let me explain. More »

Isaiah’s vision and Our Blindness (Justice and Trayvon Martin)

crossposted from Justice in the City

Yesterday, in the Jewish tradition, was the “Sabbath of vision.” It is named after Isaiah’s bleak vision described in Chapter One of his eponymous Scripture. Isaiah, speaking, no, screaming at those who would sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem declares in the name of God: I am tired of your sacrifices, I am sated already with the fatted calves that you offer, your offerings are now abominations to me. I no longer wish for you to celebrate festival days and Sabbaths. When you reach out to me, when you raise your voices in prayer, says God, I will ignore you, I will turn a blind eye. Why? First you must “Learn to do well; demand justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

Finally, Isaiah turns to the city of Jerusalem and wails: “O! How the city full of justice, where righteousness dwelt, now dwell murderers!” It was not a true question, of course, it was the strangled scream of a prophet pointing to the everyday injustices, which led to the larger injustices, all hidden behind a veil of righteousness, of holy celebrations and fatted calves upon the altar and the smell of spices in the Temple. More »

A short post on a man in a wheelchair

The hatred being spewed toward Stephen Hawking is disturbing.

The man made a choice informed by his own views and information on the ground. Anyone hiding behind the “fact” that Israel is only democracy in the Middle East or that Palestinians have it better under Israeli rule or any of the other tired and lame excuses for the vile things being said about a physicist in a wheelchair, should be ashamed of themselves.

Perhaps as opposed to automatically blaming those who have the audacity to stand up and say something — even if it is seen as overbearing, inappropriate, or bias — the American Jewish community could say something about the Palestinians and how as Jews we don’t like the way they are being treated BY OTHER JEWS. I don’t know, that might actually work.

It might be time for a significant change in our approach to dealing with legitimate criticism of Israel.  But it has been time for that for the last 15 years.

Ach, like I said, this was a short post.

Open Hillel Update

Yesterday, the Open Hillel campaign, a student led initiative to change policies around permitted conversations on Israel on campus, presented their petition ( 801 signatures strong as of this writing) and letter to the  Hillel International Board in Washington, D.C.

The grassroots initiative was started by members of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a Hillel-affiliated group, when PJA was prevented from co-sponsoring an event with the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Hillel. Open Hillel urges  Hillel International to revise, reconsider, and ultimately remove its Standards for Partnership, which read: “Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, has chapters and affiliates on university campuses across the US and abroad. Hillel International currently publishes “Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities” which declare, “Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

The Open Hillel campaign asks that Hillel  ”remove all political litmus tests for co-sponsorships, affiliated groups, and invited speakers.”

More from the letter (written and signed by Jewish student leaders from universities across the country):

“Pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and no Jewish individual or group should be excluded from the community simply because of political views. The prohibition against anyone who “delegitimizes” or “applies a double standard” to Israel is used to silence students who are critical of Israeli policies or express views with which the Hillel leadership disagrees. These policies deny all students the opportunity to learn about a range of views and form well-supported and defensible opinions about Israel. We all lose out when important perspectives within our community are stifled.”

The campaign is currently awaiting a response from Hillel International and will continue to expand if Hillel International is resistant to the requests of the petition and letter,


Join Jewish Women Watching: Applications Due May 1st!

If you want to get in on the work of Jewish Women Watching, the anonymous feminist group monitoring and responding to sexism in  Jewish communities, apply now! The group is taking applications for new members until Wednesday, May 1st. 

You can find the application here.

 

Join Jewish Women Watching

Jewish Women Watching

 

The anonymous rabble rousing  feminists at Jewish Women Watching are in search of new membership. You can can answer the call here, and also check out past projects (like the one below from Shavuot 5768)  on their website.

JewDate.com

January Madness results!

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

The final Knesset election results are in! (This guide may help if you can’t remember which party is which.)

  1. Likud Beiteinu 31
  2. Yesh Atid 19
  3. Labor 15
  4. Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) 12
  5. Shas 11
  6. United Torah Judaism 7
  7. Hatenua 6
  8. Meretz 6
  9. United Arab List – Ta’al 4
  10. Hadash 4
  11. Balad 3
  12. Kadima 2
  13. Otzma Leyisrael
  14. Am Shalem
  15. Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf)
  16. Koach Lehashpia
  17. Eretz Hadasha
  18. Hayisraelim
  19. Greens
  20. Dor Bonei Haaretz
  21. Chaim Bechavod
  22. Da’am – Workers Party
  23. Tzedek Hevrati
  24. Achim Anachnu (We Are Brothers)
  25. Pirates
  26. Kulanu Haverim Na Nach
  27. Economics Party
  28. Mitkademet Liberalit Democratit (Leeder)
  29. Or (Light)
  30. Brit Olam
  31. Hatikva Leshinui
  32. Moreshet Avot

(“But wait!” you say. “This is only 32 parties! I thought there were 34!” That’s right. The breakaway haredi party Netzach dropped out last week, having resolved its differences with United Torah Judaism. Atid Echad (One Future) also dropped out two days before the election – apparently pornography wasn’t at the top of anyone’s list of issues in this election.)

So first of all, congratulations to everyone who participated in January Madness 2013! Given how unpredictable Israeli elections can be, it takes a lot of courage to make a prediction and put it out there in public. No one correctly predicted all 120 Knesset seats, but everyone got some of them right.

But even more so, congratulations to the winners!!! Both Lev Polinsky in New York NY and Eyal in Israel correctly predicted 112 of the 120 Knesset seats. (While no one predicted that Yesh Atid would win 19 seats, Lev Polinsky came the closest, with 15.)

So we had to go to tiebreakers. On the first tiebreaker (which party that doesn’t make it into the Knesset will come closest?), Lev Polinsky guessed Am Shalem and Eyal guessed the Greens. Since neither picked the right-wing Otzma Leyisrael (instead, both of them incorrectly predicted that Otzma Leyisrael would win Knesset seats), we go to the second tiebreaker (which party will come in last place?). Again, no exact matches: Lev Polinsky picked Kulanu Haverim, and Eyal picked Eretz Hadasha. So now we go back to the first tiebreaker. Since Am Shalem (2nd place among the parties that didn’t make it in) did better than the Greens (7th place), Eyal wins second place, and Lev Polinsky is the 2013 January Madness champion!

Here is a message from our champion (who also wins a copy of the Comic Torah):

I am thrilled to have won, and I will print and display my winner’s certificate proudly alongside my HRH Assassin winner’s certificate – also won under BZ’s supervision. I hope he gets a job as the head of the Multi-State Lottery Association soon.

I enjoyed having an excuse to learn about all the marginal Israeli parties, like Kadima. I look forward to repeating this exercise in a few months.

Finally, I have been negligent in making my suggested contribution, so if people want to make suggestions for places to contribute in the comments, I am all ears.

And a message from our runner-up, who also wins a copy of Ghettoblaster:

I was really surprised to win. All i did was look at Wikipedia’s list of predictions, and basically used that. I changed it a bit, adding a bit to the right, which might explain why i missed 8. But i still never expected to get 93⅓%!

They had a warning that it might not add up to 120 seats, so to check, i wrote a short program to prepare it for addition – replace whitespace with +; then i pasted into Google. I’m actually a pretty good programmer; i created typeint.com and the associated projects from scratch; and i also host a forum for programmers at coders-shed.com. Speaking of TypeINT, i’m sure that some readers have needed to type in Hebrew, but were unsure how to. TypeR, by TypeINT is the perfect solution.

I hope that the 19th Kenneset proves some early predictions wrong and doesn’t end a disaster.

Finally, honorable mention goes to everyone who got the tiebreaker questions right. On the first tiebreaker question, congratulations to James Bier in Tucson AZ, David in Philadelphia, David Meyer in College Park MD, Mike Schultz in Karmiel, Tzemah, and Eliana in DC, all of whom picked Otzma Leyisrael as the top party not to make it over the threshold. On the second question, congratulations to David W. Eisen in Bet Shemesh and Ethan Tucker in Bronx NY, who predicted that Moreshet Avot would come in last. (I never could figure out what Moreshet Avot’s story was, and apparently neither could anyone else, except for 461 voters.) And since we didn’t get the news about the two parties dropping out in time to remove them from the contest entrance form, we’ll also give honorable mention to James Bier in Tucson AZ (again) and Itamar Landau in Jerusalem, both of whom picked One Future to come in last place (since one could argue that 0 is less than 461). (The most popular choice for this question was the Pirate Party. They weren’t even in the bottom seven! The lesson is never underestimate pirates.)

Thanks for playing, everyone! The next Knesset election will be Tuesday, November 7, 2017 (yes, that’s also Election Day in US jurisdictions that hold elections in odd-numbered years), unless elections are called earlier than that (which they almost certainly will).

The Abortion Wars Come to Israel

In Jewish law, Abortion is not considered murder until quite late in the pregnancy – in fact, until the head crowns. While that is the case, abortion was not to be done lightly – not because it was murder, but because the fetus is considered a part of the mother’s body, and one may not mutilate a healthy limb.
Perhaps it is partly for that reason that the squabbling over abortion which sometimes dominates so much of American political blather didn’t seem to have made many inroads to Israel. Perhaps it’s only because children are much more part of daily life in Israel – they are cherished communally in way that they aren’t here. Or perhaps it was just another women’s issue which has been buried in the swamp of we’ll deal with that later, right now, we have a war to deal with. Why, yes, I am being a bit sarcastic.
RIght now there are so many mattersof democaracy and freedom on which Israel is moving backwards, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. On women’s issues, in particular, Israel has lagged behind the US – the usual saying is “by about 25 years.”
But on reproductive rights, the discussion seems to have been missing at least partly because, while technically legal, it is quite arduous to actually obtain an abortion, and nearly impossible for married women. In fact, women seeking abortion have to navigate some rather arcane process of approval from a committee, a social worker, a technician who shows you ultrasounds – and apparently married women rarely, if ever, receive approval. As the author here says, “we stayed silent when signs reading ‘The Jewish womb belongs to the Jewish people’ were hoisted.” Yes, indeed, instead of the fetus being a limb of the woman, apparently the woman is actually a limb of the state.
But in any case, the struggle over women’s ability to obtain an abortion has begun getting a lot more press recently. Apparently fake-clinics, modeled on those supported by the American Christian right have begun aggressively advertising in Israel. Efrat, the name of the main one of these organizations, has been not only advertising aggressively, but has also apparently taken it upon themselves to track down pregnant women and dissuade them from getting abortions. Creepy stalker much?
Well, now Efrat is also featuring rather prominently in a tragedy that has Israel suddenly paying attention to the issue.
Apparently,

A teenage boy, 18-year-old Raz Atias, was killed in a standoff with police who were trying to prevent him and his pregnant girlfriend from committing suicide. Police had found Atias and his girlfriend outside of Jerusalem, with Atias holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head and threatening to kill her and then himself.

The details of the incident are still not entirely clear, but the girlfriend’s sister reported that members of the Israeli anti-abortion organization Efrat had visited the pregnant teenager in the hospital to “brainwash” her against having an abortion, which led to significant emotional turmoil for the young couple.

Helpfully, Israel’s chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger issued a letter of support for Efrat, saying “Killing fetuses is murder.” As far as I can tell, the only rabbi who has responded Jewishly to the nonsense propounded by Efrat and the chief rabbis is Rabbi Benny Lau, who pointed out, correctly, that, “the organization interprets rabbinical law as ‘Catholic law’.”

As far as I’m concerned, the entire struggle just goes to underline what I’ve said for a long time: the hareidim don’t follow Jewish law – they have a reactionary social agenda. And they are willing to make up any kind of nonsense and call it halacha to expand it. So much so that they don’t care if they have to borrow from the more reactionary parts of Christianity to do it.

January Madness: Guide to the Parties

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

Have you entered the January Madness pool yet? Once again, here is a guide to the 34 parties running in the election, with links to their websites if we can find them (English if available, otherwise Hebrew if available, otherwise Arabic if available). In addition, here are the lists of candidates running on each party list, in Hebrew (complete), English (incomplete), and Arabic (incomplete).

Parties represented in the current Knesset:

  • Am Shalem: The name of the party (“Whole Nation”) is a play on the name of the founder, MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, who was elected as an MK from Shas, but broke with party orthodoxy (as it were) on issues such as conversion and whether haredi men should work for a living, and started his own faction. Am Shalem “seeks to unite all Jews and restore moderate Judaism to Israel”, and to integrate haredim into the workforce and the army.
  • Habayit Hayehudi: After an aborted attempt in the last election, the far-right National Union and the former Mafdal (National Religious Party) have succeeded this time around in forming a combined party. At the top of the joint list is newcomer Naftali Bennett: high-tech millionaire, son of American immigrants, and former head of the settler movement. Bennett’s positions have attracted controversy, including saying he would refuse military orders to evacuate settlements, and proposing the annexation of Area C (the parts of the West Bank where the settlements are located).
  • Hadash – Democratic Front for Peace and Equality: This left-wing Arab-Jewish party, which includes the Israeli Communist Party, is led once again by MK Mohammed Barakeh. Hadash has supported a two-state solution since before it was popular.
  • Hatenua: After former Kadima head and opposition leader Tzipi Livni lost the Kadima leadership election to Shaul Mofaz, she resigned from the Knesset. Now she’s back with a new centrist party, “The Movement”, and has recruited 7 of her former Kadima colleagues in the Knesset. As Kadima’s 2009 candidate for prime minister, Livni has put together an impressive list of fellow also-rans: in the #2 spot is 2003 Labor candidate Amram Mitzna, and in #3 is 2006 Labor candidate Amir Peretz. Hatenua has also joined forces with the Green Movement (whose leader, Alon Tal, is #13 on the list), which ran a joint list with Meimad in 2009 (but Meimad is not running in this year’s election).
  • Israel Labor Party: In the 2009 election, Labor (the center-left party going back to the beginning of the state) hit a historic low, winning only 13 seats. And then it got even smaller: Party leader (and Defense Minister) MK Ehud Barak wanted to stay part of the Netanyahu government, and the majority of the party didn’t, so Barak and 4 other MKs formed a breakaway party, Atzma’ut (Independence), reducing the Labor faction to 8. (Barak has announced his retirement from politics, and Atzma’ut is not running in this election.) Labor is now trying to rebound, with new leadership (MK Shelly Yachimovich) and a focus on domestic issues. Labor’s candidate list includes some notable new faces: At #8 is Stav Shaffir, organizer of the tent protests, and at #27 is Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israeli Reform movement.
  • Kadima: This centrist party, led at the time by Tzipi Livni, actually won the largest number of seats (28) in the 2009 election, but was unable to pull together 60 seats to form a coalition, so Netanyahu got to form the coalition and become prime minister instead, and Kadima has been leading the opposition. Kadima is now led by MK Shaul Mofaz, and has been splintered, with some of its members leaving for Hatenua and elsewhere.
  • Likud Yisrael Beiteinu: The Likud, led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and its lead coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu, led by MK Avigdor Lieberman, have combined to form a right-wing superparty. Lieberman recently resigned as Foreign Minister after being indicted for fraud and breach of trust, but he remains at #2 on the party list for the election. The superparty hopes to remain in power for the next Knesset, and Netanyahu hopes to be reelected for a third term as Prime Minister, unprecedented since Ben-Gurion.
  • Meretz – Israel’s Left: The leftmost majority-Jewish party in the Knesset, Meretz has been shrinking in recent elections. In this election, Meretz will be led for the first time by MK Zahava Gal-On, who has been active in working against human trafficking. A number of distinguished Israelis are in symbolic positions on the Meretz list, such as writer A.B. Yehoshua in the 109th spot.
  • National Democratic Assembly (Balad): One of the two major Arab parties. Once again it is led by MK Jamal Zahalka, who took over after party founder Azmi Bishara fled the country. But the candidate who has been attracting more attention is #2 candidate MK Hanin Zoabi (the first woman elected to Knesset from an Arab party), who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and was banned by the Central Elections Committee from running in the election, but was reinstated by the Supreme Court.
  • Otzma Leyisrael: Not everyone in the National Union went along with the Habayit Hayehudi merger. Two MKs stayed behind and started their own (also far-right) faction: the secular Jabotinskyite MK Arieh Eldad and the Kahanist MK Michael Ben-Ari. Also on the list, at #3, is Baruch Marzel, former leader of the banned Kach party.
  • ShasM: This Sephardi haredi party often wins enough seats to make or break coalitions. Longtime leader MK Eli Yishai is at the top of the list once again, but the big news this year is that former leader Aryeh Deri has returned to politics (after serving time for bribery) and is running at #2. (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef is the party’s spiritual leader, but doesn’t run in the elections.)
  • United Arab List (Ra’am) – Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al) – Arab Democratic Party (Mada): One of the two main Arab parties, made up of multiple factions, including the southern faction of the Islamic Movement, where party leader MK Ibrahim Sarsur comes from. Another faction is the Arab Democratic Party, led by MK Taleb el-Sana (running at #5). Ta’al is MK Ahmad Tibi’s operation (Tibi is in the #2 spot), and has allied with Balad and Hadash in the past.
  • United Torah Judaism: Despite haredi population growth, the main Ashkenazi haredi party’s representation in the Knesset has remained remarkably stable. It is led once again by MK Yaakov Litzman, who represents the Agudat Yisrael faction and the Ger Hasidim. At #2 is MK Moshe Gafni, representing the Degel Hatorah faction and the B’nei B’rak yeshivish crowd.

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