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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Towards a More Productive Progressive Response on Gaza

This is a guest post by Sandy Johnston. Sandy is a recent graduate of List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary and of Columbia University, where he majored in Bible and Archaeology, respectively. He currently lives in Chicago. His interests include, in addition to the study of ancient Israel, railroads and transit systems, urbanism, Israeli and American politics, and critical thought about the future of the American Jewish community. And cats. 

Gaza conflict interactive map

(Map of verified incidents, Monday, November 19, 2012. Via the Guardian.)

Now that the latest bout of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip is  behind us, the time has come for analysis, postmortems, prognostication, and punditry.  I take issue with a particularly simplistic, troublesome, and unhelpful strand of what passes for “progressive” thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that surfaced in threads I saw on Facebook during the latest round of fighting. My desire is not to legitimize Israel’s operations against Gaza nor to delegitimize criticism of the same; in the vein of criticizing most heavily those with whom one most identifies, I write to hopefully help sharpen the arguments and solutions that my fellow progressives put forward about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yes, if I had the energy, I would write a response to some of the equally unsophisticated, idiotic, hurtful, and insensitive propaganda that came from the “Pro-Israel” side.

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The Goldstone Interview: Now Go and Study…

Ta’anit Tzedek has just uploaded a transcipt of its recent rabbical conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone. As I wrote in my last post, you need to read it. Goldstone addresses a variety of critical issues, including how his mission conducted its investigation, the report’s suggestion that there were intentional IDF attacks on Gazan civilian targets, whether or not he’s backing away from its findings, how he felt about his experience as a Zionist and a South African, and much more.

Click below for a cleaned up, very slightly edited version. You can also listen to an audio file of the entire interview here.

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A Conversation with Judge Goldstone

Ta’anit Tzedek convened a conference call last night between Judge Richard Goldstone and 150 American rabbis. I’m still sorting through this remarkable, inspiring experience but what I’m mostly left with is this: the world owes Judge Goldstone an enormous debt of gratitude for his commitment to humanitarian ideals and much of the Jewish world owes him a huge apology for the egregious way he has been assailed for his efforts.

A full audio file of the call can be found on the Ta’anit Tzedek website.  Kudos to the Velveteen Rabbi, who has already transcribed major portions of the callThe JTA has reported on the call today as well.

A full written transcript will be up on the Ta’anit Tzedek website this Thursday. It deserves to be read as widely as possible. Beyond its value as a new item, it provides us all with a profound, resolutely moral statement of purpose.

Please read it.

Goldstone, cont’d

This just in: the United Nations Human Rights Council has endorsed the Goldstone report, despite Israel’s (and the US’s) full-bore attempts to quash it.

I’ll go out on a limb and say this is a good thing.  I’ll go out even further and say I think the organized Jewish community’s attempts to bury the report and personally tarnish Goldstone is a huge shandeh. I’ve written about it elsewhere if you’d like to read why.

Further news on the G’stone front: This Sunday, Judge Goldstone will be discussing the report with Jewish clergy, in a conference call convened by Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza and co-sponsored by the Brit Tzedek Rabbinic Cabinet and Rabbis for Human Rights -North America.  I think this is also a good thing.

To be continued…

This Week in Demoagogues: Stewart on Durban II and Summit of the Americas

Modestly entertaining riffs on Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s grandstanding this week:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
This Week in Demagogues – Ahmadinejad & Chavez
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis Political Humor

Europeans walk out of Ahmadinejad’s speech at Durban II

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said just after Ahmadinejad finished speaking and the delegates returned to the room, “I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve. We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance.”

Oh, and there were clowns too.

Che Herzl Reconsidered


Wanna “Che Herzl” T-shirt? Just surf your way over to Jewlicious and you’ll find it along with all kinds of other swag designed especially for those aspiring to be the coolest of the cool Jews.

Yep, I did a double take when I saw this one. I know there all too many leftists who are appalled at the sight of Che Guervara turned into a pop T-Shirt icon, but what on on earth are we supposed to make of Che Herzl?

Beyond Jewlicious’ shallow hipster-frumster chic, this image raises some interesting assumptions about the very meaning of Zionism itself. Indeed, there are many who fancy Zionism as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people.” This concept was made especially famous by Chaim Herzog during his remarks in response to the UN’s “Zionism is Racism” resolution in 1975:

Zionism is the name of the national movement of the Jewish people and is the modern expression of the ancient Jewish heritage. The Zionist ideal, as set out in the Bible, has been, and is, an integral part of the Jewish religion. Zionism is to the Jewish people what the liberation movements of Africa and Asia have been to their own people.

While I understand the substance of Herzog’s argument, I have to confess that this particular defense of the Zionist enterprise has always rung a little hollow for me. First of all, I’m not sure it’s all that accurate to describe Zionism as a national liberation movement – certainly not as we’ve come to understand this concept post WW II.

While its hard for us to admit, Zionism is the product of ideologies (i.e. 19th century European ethno-nationalism) that have fallen pretty far out of favor today. That’s why it feels like Herzog’s comparison of Zionism to the liberation movements of Africa and Asia is more than a little spurious. After all, those movements were uprisings of indigenous peoples against centuries of colonial oppression. By contrast, Zionism sought to create an ethnic Jewish presence in Palestine and ended up doing so at the expense of its current inhabitants.

Not surprisingly, Che himself considered Zionism “reactionary” (according to biographer Jon Lee Anderson). I know he’d be rolling in his unmarked grave if he knew that his face adorned the shirts of clueless American teenagers; I can only imagine the cartwheels he’d be doing upon learning that his image had now become fused with Theodor Herzl’s.

Anyhow, I’m not sure that reconceiving Zionism as a proto-national liberation movement is even all that compelling any more. Now that we’ve witnessed the post-modern travails of decolonized nations, we’re learning that “national liberation” might not necessarily be all that it’s cracked up to be. I’m not sure I have any good answers (certainly not one that would fit on a T-Shirt); I suppose I’m just suggesting it’s worth challenging the romanticizing of nationalism in all its various guises.

Name these planets!

solar system

Let’s take a break from all the Gaza news and remind ourselves that the universe is much, much larger than these conflicts. 2009 has been declared the International Year of Astronomy (sponsored by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO, along with organizational associates around the world), commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical observations with a telescope (by Galileo) and the publication of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, two events that could be considered the birth of modern astronomy. The IYA is being celebrated with numerous events around the world, including a contest to come up with Hebrew names for the planets Uranus and Neptune!

You see, the first 5 non-Earth planets in our solar system are visible to the naked eye and were well-known to ancient astronomers. Therefore, they each have long-standing Hebrew names: Mercury is Kochav, Venus is Nogah, Mars is Ma’dim, Jupiter is Tzedek, and Saturn is Shabbetai. However, Uranus and Neptune were discovered in 1781 and 1846, and when Hebrew was revived as a spoken and scientific language, no Hebrew names were chosen; Hebrew speakers (like speakers of most languages) have referred to these planets by the name of a Greek and a Roman god. No more. The science division of the Academy of the Hebrew Language has announced a contest to select authentic Hebrew names. (Pluto has been demoted from planet status, and is therefore not included in the contest.)

Submissions will be accepted any time until Lag Ba’omer (May 12). Finalists will be chosen by a panel of Israeli astronomers and Academy members, and the final decision will be put to a public vote. The winners will be announced over Chanukah.

Be creative! I’ve already put in my submission (though I’m not going to tell you what it is until the finalists are announced). And good luck!

Religious Tolerance, Human Rights and the UN

1859552240-world-leaders-plead-religious-toleranceReps from eighty countries met this past Wednesday at the UN to discuss religious tolerance at a conference sponsored by Saudi Arabia. I’m sure many will invariably claim there is no small measure of hypocrisy when a Wahabi Islamic regime that outlaws all other forms of religion convenes a conference on religious tolerance. For their part, however, many of the speakers from Islamic countries decried the hypocrisy of Western nations preaching individual freedom of religion while promoting social and economic policies that bias against non-Western faiths.

I often wonder if our respective cries of hypocrisy really only mask our inability to break free of our own inbred biases. It’s just so complicated. As a Westerner, I make no apologies in my advocacy for individual civil and human rights – but I will also admit that I will too often stand in judgment of other cultures before trying to understand their cultural viewpoints and their profound frustrations with the prejudices of the West.

That’s why, though I’m sure many in the will be cynical about such a conference, I am heartened that it happened at all and I truly hope it will lead to yet more dialogue. And I am particularly heartened that Israeli President Shimon Peres, a participant in the conference, commented afterward Israeli President Shimon Peres that the event was “unprecedented,” adding that it would have been impossible just a decade ago:

“What we are witnessing today is a new beginning,” Peres said at a press conference. “What was today demonstrated was the will. We now have to work for the way.”

If you’re interested in further reading, check out these articles in Yahoo News and The Daily Star

60 years

60 years ago this week, the State of Israel declared independence. Here is the full text of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It contains many ideals that Israel can work towards as it enters its next 60 years. Some of those ideals are going to get Jewschool labeled as anti-Israel for publishing them. So be it.

ERETZ-ISRAEL was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
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Online Game Fights Poverty

A new website, FreeRice.Com (a sister site of Poverty.Com), has come up with a pretty intriguing plan: get people to play a vocab quiz game, and for every word gotten right, 10 grains of rice are donated through the United Nations World Food Program to hungry people around the world. (Those 10 grains add up if you play for a while.) The revenue is generated from pageviews for the advertisers at the bottom of the quiz game.

The vocab is pretty good–they have like 50 levels that self-adjust based on your answers, so it becomes pretty tough pretty quickly and, I have to say, kind of addictive.

Since you’re going to goof off online anyway, why not do it in such a way that helps someone?

(Tip from Justin G.)

AMCHA protest against Iran ends in mass arrests

Jewschool reader Steg reports,

Yesterday, Rav Avi Weiss and the Jewish activist organization he founded, AMCHA: the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, coordinated a civil disobedience protest at the United Nations.

Around 50 rabbis and rabbinical students, as well as a lay communal leader or few, participated in the protest. They prepared themselves in a staging area near the Iranian Mission to the UN — putting on talleisim and distributing signs — and after a few short speeches and rounds of slogan-shouting, they marched, singing ‘Am Yisra’eil Hhai, to the steps that go down past the Isaiah Wall across the street from the UN buildings.

At the bottom of the steps, they sat down, blocking the public thoroughfare.

[...] A representative from the police department addressed the protestors, explaining to them that they need to cease obstructing pedestrian traffic, or they will be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct (as well as more severe offenses if they actively resist). So about half of the protestors stepped back and dispersed along the upper reaches of the staircase, obeying the police orders, while the other half remained sitting and blocking the steps, expressing their willingness to go all the way and be arrested in order to make their message heard more dramatically.

And so, one by one or two by two, the waiting police officers with their belts full of plasticuffs handcuffed the civilly-disobedient protestors and deposited them in the back of two police vans.

Full story.

Filed under Activism, Iran, Israel, UN

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