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.
Thank you so much, Raffi, for continuing this conversation with me. I respect the thoughtfulness and passion that you bring to your relationship with Israel.’
I work very hard (as I’m sure you do) to ensure that my halachic practice reflects my values. I am not always successful, but I try. Text helps me explore what my values are, and how they define my practice. Both Masechet Pesachim and Rav Ovadyah Yosef’s teshuva give voice to what many American Jews have forgotten is a possibility: We can live religiously authentic, meaningful Jewish lives without a direct relationship with the modern state of Israel because our redemption is not about Israel.
American Jews and Israeli Jews are, simply, different. Look at central coming-of-age experiences: Non-Chareidi Israelis come into adulthood through military or national service, while (and this is a generalization) the American Jewish coming of age experience involves a college education. Religious American Jews subdivide based on praxis and attitudes towards gender, while religious Israeli Jews subdivide based on praxis and attitudes towards Zionism. With different sets of values, shouldn’t our halachic practice also be different? Neither geographic practice needs to be defined as better or worse. They’re just different. We can use differences in Ashkenazi and Sephardi halacha as a paradigm. Each community defined their practice based on their geographic and sociological norms. We can do the same. Israel should not dictate my religious practice, and vice versa. More »
For almost two decades, my relationship with the Western Wall, or Kotel as it’s known in Hebrew, has been deeply fraught. Having been raised in a religious Zionist family, I was taught as a child to revere “these stones that have the hearts of men” as sacred. But one year, when I was 15 years old, I had an experience at the Wall that changed all that.
It was the holiday of Shavuot and the custom in my hometown of Jerusalem, was for people to stay up all night studying Torah and then walk to the Kotel to pray at dawn. Having participated in an early prayer, I was on my way out of the plaza when I spotted a few dozen non-Orthodox men and women gathered in the parking lot. Before they were able to get very far into their egalitarian service, the group was surrounded by a jeering mob of ultra-Orthodox thugs who yelled insults and threw garbage and dirty diapers at them. I remember standing with the non-Orthodox group in solidarity until the police arrived and forced us to leave.
Today, I am no longer a religious Zionist. For the past four years I’ve been working on a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has upended the way I think about Israel, Zionism, and my own Jewish identity. Indeed, I now know that the Western Wall plaza is actually the site of a disturbing crime. A mere two days after capturing the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli military approached the residents of the Moroccan quarter, which ended just meters from the Western Wall, and asked them to leave. When they refused, their houses were demolished and they were expelled. More than one hundred Palestinian families were made homeless that day and at least one woman was killed during the demolitions. They were not the first Palestinians to be treated by the State of Israel in this manner and they would not be the last.
In a way, the internal Jewish dispute over who gets to pray at the Kotel is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The logical and just solution is for everyone to be able to share the space equally. But one group claims exclusive rights and uses the violence of the state as a vehicle to maintain its privilege there. The difficulties in achieving a just solution are not practical so much as they are psychological and emotional. Moreover, the problem is not the presence of Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshippers in the same space. The problem is the inequitable orientation of the police toward the two groups.
I’m hopeful that the latest proposal by Natan Sharansky to solve the problem of non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel will work. After all, most Israelis do recognize that Jews of different stripes have an equal right to pray at the Western Wall. And what a small step it would be to go from that to seeing the other half of the population living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, along with their brothers and sisters in exile, as having an equal right to share the land. Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from “the stones with hearts of men,” to “the men with hearts of stone.”
This is a guest post by Eliana Fishman, who lives, works, and prays in Washington DC. (See the response by Raphael Magarik here.)
What is the American Jewish story, and how do we tell it?
The question of whether or not to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut has become a symbol of the division between religious Zionists and religious anti-Zionists. Religious Zionists, in particular followers of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut with a blessing, while religious anti-Zionists do not say Hallel at all. On Yom Ha’atzmaut liturgical choice represents political orientation. This binary leaves American Jewish congregations in a bind. Is Yom Ha’atzmaut a day when American Jews can pray together? How can a community committed to a multitude of opinions around Zionism also share liturgy?
I don’t say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Not because I am an anti-Zionist (I’m not), not because I have lefty politics (I do), and not because I’m not a daily davener (I am). I don’t say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut because I am an American Jew. Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut is not about Zionism, and it’s not about joy over the establishment of a Jewish state. Hallel is about narrative.
One of the earliest references to Hallel’s recitation is in Masechet Pesachim 117a. The Talmud explains that Hallel is not about simple joy, but about the narrative of redemption. A baraita specifies six cases where the entirety of the Jewish people (or what Chazal considered to be adequate representation of the entirety of the Jewish people) faced life-threatening adversity (e.g. at the Red Sea, when Joshua faced the Canaanites, when Deborah and Barak faced Sisera, etc). In each situation God redeems the entirety of the Jewish people, and a prophet established Hallel. The seventh instance that the baraita brings is either a summary, or a distinct case. The unnamed chachamim state that in each and every era that the Jewish people experience danger, Israel’s prophets establish the recitation of Hallel, and, when the people are redeemed, Israel says Hallel because of their redemption.
In each of these cases Hallel is recited first for extreme danger, and then for redemption. There is never any sense of “redemption is about to occur”, or “redemption is continuous”. Additionally, according to this baraita, Hallel is only recited when the entirety of the Jewish people are redeemed.
Did the establishment of the State of Israel redeem the entire Jewish people, or did it redeem only Jews in the land of Israel? Were American Jews redeemed on May 14, 1948? In order to answer that question we have to explore what redemption may or may not have occurred with the establishment of the State of Israel. I have three possible responses to that question—the Holocaust answer, the Arab army answer, and the continual answer. More »
At the Forward, Repair the World and the Jewish Agency present their new study of service learning opportunities for young North American Jews. They argue that addressing societal needs in Israel — a context of service to others in a Jewish place with other Jews — is “unparalleled” in successfully attracting young people to visit Israel for longer than ten days, feel Jewish, and get involved back at home in North America.
But after eight years working at the intersection of the Jewish social justice sector and pro-Israel organizations, allow me to issue the Jewish community a warning: Social justice trips to Israel will widen the generation gap. So please, continue straight away. More »
This is a guest post by Alexander Bodin Saphir, a filmmaker, playwright and current ‘author in residence’ at London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
At last month’s Oscar ceremony both Israeli documentary nominated films — The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras — which are critical of current Israeli government policy, lost out to Searching for Sugarman. The fact that they lost is not particularly noteworthy (winning an Oscar is even more of a crap-shoot than getting onto the short list).
But what was noteworthy was the response of Limor Livnat, the then Minster for Sports and Culture who was more than happy that neither Israeli nominated film won the coveted Oscar. Admitting to Haaretz ‘that she did not even watch the Oscars award ceremony on Sunday and felt no anxiety about the announcement of the winner in the Best Documentary category. “I was anxious mainly because I wanted Lincoln to win best director,” Livnat said with a grin’.
When four Israeli organisations representing producers, directors, screenwriters and documentarians sent Livnat an open letter of protest she responded with incredulity, “I was shocked by your shock … I, who am opposed to censorship, call on all of you to [conduct] self-censorship. After all, Israel is a democracy to be proud of, but a democracy that is on the defensive, because lined up against 5 Broken Cameras are thousands of families that have been destroyed by Palestinian terror. You do nothing about that − you don’t make movies, you are living in a movie…” (Livnat’s favourite book, according to her Facebook page is George Orwell’s 1984. You can’t make this stuff up!)
And all of this is happening while the Israel Film Council instigate new funding parameters, which the Likud minister hopes will stop the production of Israeli films that “slander the state of Israel before the whole world.”
Forget for a second that Winston Churchill was adamant that “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” What is all the hubbub about?
Two sides of the same story?
It’s fascinating that these two films should be released and nominated the same year as although they are two very different kinds of films, they are dealing with similar issues, albeit from contrasting perspectives. More »
Updated: New ministerial positions were appointed since time of publishing, including two more women.
There are 53 new faces in the 19th Knesset — 16 of them women. With the 11 women who retained their seats, this is one of the highest women’s representation in Israel’s parliament at 27 MKs. But it’s not just because four more women got elected than last time. Former lawmaker Naomi Chazan was wont to lament last Knesset that barely a tenth of MKs were female and even fewer were feminist. Not the case any longer. Just a week ago, all but one banded together in a new women’s lobby.
The inaugural speeches of Ruth Calderon and Merav Michaelli went viral in Israel. Other new faces include the first female Ethiopian MK, a leader of the 2011 social protests, the former CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, a city council woman from Tel Aviv, the former mayor of Herzliya, professors, print journalists and famous TV hosts.
But the road to a more feminist-friendly legislation isn’t assured as only four will hold ministries and key leaders sit in the opposition. To boot, Netanyahu didn’t attend their inaugural event.
Which is the most feminist party?
MKs will have time to prove their feminist credentials, but as far as numbers go, seven parties have female representatives. Yesh Atid has both the highest number and the second-greatest proportion with 8 all-new women among 19 total party seats.
But we can’t rely on just quantity over quality: could Likud Beiteinu’s 7 reelected women MKs possibly be more pro-women than the life-long women’s activists on Labor’s 4 MKs? Don’t be ridiculous, Labor includes both party chairwoman Shelly Yachamovich, feminist crusader Merav Michaelli, pluralism pioneer Dr. Ruth Calderon, and the leader of the 2011 social protests Stav Shaffir. Together, they’ve already submitted 18 women’s interest bills for discussion.
Meanwhile, half of unabashedly lefty Meretz’s six seats are held by women and Zahava Gal-On is reigning party chairwoman. And what about the HaTnua party, widely regarded as a one-woman party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with five (male) coat tail riders?And last but not least, we shouldn’t forget the Arab public’s loudest voice, Balad party firebrand Hanin Zoabi.
Who are the most powerful women?
Power can be in the eyes of the beholder, but here’s where matters are least ideal. The new cabinet was reduced to 20 ministers and 8 deputy ministers — only 4 are women when there should proportionally be at least 6-7. The four ministers are Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTnua), Minister of Health Yael German (Yesh Atid), Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu), and Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud).
[Update:Final results since yesterday show that two more women received secondary ministries -- Fania Kirshenbaum and Tzipi Hotovely, both of Likud, who will be Deputy Ministers of Interior and Transportation, respectively. That certainly gives Likud Beiteinu's slate of four women them most formal power, even if only the Ministry of the Interior is a key agency.]
This is disappointing given Israel’s below-average track record in women governmental leaders. As Ynet detailed, the country’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission called on International Women’s Day for the government to appoint more women. Women have never chaired any of the most important committees like defense or economics, usually comprise barely 7% – 16% of committee members, and only one woman has ever been Speaker of Knesset.
And we’re left wondering how effective the most familiar of our heroines will be from the opposition, where both Labor chairwoman Shelley Yachamovich and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On sit. Hopefully, the new women’s caucus will allow them to work collaboratively beyond their outsider positions.
This weekend, a poster appeared all over ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem against Women of the Wall‘s fight for gender equality at holy sites in Israel. The poster calls for ultra-Orthodox opposition to rally at the Western Wall tomorrow Monday, March 11 at 7 am.
And in Jerusalem and cities across America, Jews are rallying to support WoW:
Monday, March 11
Washington DC Friends of Women of the Wall’s solidarity service and program will be across from the Embassy of Israel on Monday, March 11. Sponsors include Am Kolel, Ameinu, New Israel Fund, Eizor Moshava-Habonim Dror, Temple Shalom Chevy Chase, Temple Micah, and Washington Friends of Women of the Wall.
Seal Beach, California: Rabbi Galit Levy-Slater is holding a congregational solidarity event.
New York’s Wake up for Religious Tolerance! solidarity minyan at 9 am on the north side of Union Square Park. Sponsors include Mechon Hadar, Romemu, Kolot Chayeinu, New Israel Fund, Bnai Jeshurun, Lillith Magazine, Town & Village Synagogue, Ansche Chesed, Society for the Advancement of Judaism, East End Temple, Jewish Theological Seminary, the National Council of Jewish Women, and many more. (See flyer here.)
Sunday, March 19
San Francisco Friends of WOW will meet for a sing-in outside of their Israeli consulate at 11 am. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an interview with Emily Unger, a Harvard senior majoring in biology, and the former chair of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, the student group organizing a protest against Hillel’s ban on partnerships with groups back boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Jewschool: Give us some background about your experience with this issue at Harvard.
Emily Unger: I’ve been involved in the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) since the beginning of my first year at college, and this entire time, we’ve prided ourselves on working together with both Harvard Students for Israel and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and co-sponsoring events with both groups. Last semester, we planned to co-sponsor an event with PSC called “Jewish Voices Against the Occupation”, which brought two speakers, an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, to talk about their experiences doing non-violent activism against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories (protesting home demolitions in the West Bank, etc.) and how this related to their Jewish identity. We wanted to hold the event in the Hillel building, since it was a Jewish event and we thought it would appeal to Jewish students.
From the young activists in Israel with Amnesty International, an urgent appeal to Diaspora Jews who remember the times when we were refugees:
STOP THE DEPORTATION OF 25 ERITREAN ASLYUM SEEKERS FROM ISRAEL TO ERITREA OR UGANDA
“Your Only Way Out of the Israeli Prison is to Uganda or Eritrea” — Immigration Authorities to Eritrean Asylum Seekers detained in Saharonim Prison
25 Eritrean asylum seekers are in imminent danger of being deported back to Eritrea from Saharonim detention center in Israel. Israeli authorities in the facility told the asylum seekers that the only way they would ever get of the Israeli prison would be to go to Eritrea or Uganda. These individuals are currently being held under the Anti-Infiltration Law which mandates their automatic detention for a minimum of three years without trial.
Being released as an asylum seeker or refugee is impossible as prisoners lack access to the forms the Ministry of Interior requires to begin the RSD process. Therefore, after months of detention, many individuals have signed forms saying they want to go to Uganda and a very few have signed saying they want to go to Eritrea.
News reaching human rights groups over the last few days make it seem that even individuals who had signed to go to Uganda are now in the process of being deported to Eritrea. We are unsure exactly when/if the deportations will take place, but we do fear that it could happen over the next week. More »
This morning in Jerusalem, the Women of the Wall brought heavy Israeli symbolism along with 150 participants to their monthly peaceful protest — three of the IDF veterans who captured the wall in the 1967 war. All went uninterrupted for the first time in 22 months until they departed through security, where nine women were separated and detained. Those included Anat Hoffman, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and Rabbi Silverman’s daughter Hallel, and eight-month pregnant rabbinical student Lior Nevo.
Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Ilon Bar-Tov, a paratrooper who fought in the Old City battles, “It’s unacceptable that the police are stopping women from wearing tallitot, it’s like Iran. I can’t believe they are stopping people from praying one way or another.”
Although the term “liberating” the Western Wall is hard to borrow, the symbolism is obviously aimed at Israeli mainstream ears. The iconic faces of these paratroopers grace every postcard stand and Jerusalem Day poster since the event itself. Their names are nearly household. Petitions submitted to the Supreme Court are challenging the all-haredi representation on the board of the plaza’s governing body, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. All denominations and the secular public should be able to participate in the decisions affecting the plaza, they argue.
And it’s working to force the Israeli government to pay attention. In late December, Prime Minister Netanyahu for the first time acknowledged the unsustainable status quo at the plaza. The American Reform and Conservative movements, along other diaspora women’s groups, have stood solidly behind Women of the Wall. The most previous arrests of Anat Hoffman pushed even the Jewish Agency board to demand a change. The Prime Minister asked Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky to “look into the matter” and report back after the elections. Hearing that, ultra-orthodox extremist groups deplored the presence of “Zionist occupation” and “whores” at the Wall.
Do the government utterances of “unsustainable status quo” and “look into the matter” strike you as similar to another conflict in the region?
Many of you have probably heard of Ruth Calderon, founder of Alma – Home for Hebrew Culture. This week she was sworn in as a member of the 19th Knesset. She posted a really beautiful prayer for the occasion which I have shared below in Hebrew and with my informal translation beneath it.
תפילה לכניסה לכנסת:
יהי רצון (מלפניך יהוה אלוהינו ואלוהי אמותנו ואבותינו) שאצא מהבית הזה כפי שנכנסתי אליו, שלמה עם עצמי ועם הבריות. מי יתן שמעשי יהיו לטובת כל תושבי מדינת ישראל ושאפעל לתקן את החברה אשר שלחה אותי למעון זה ולהשכין שלום ודק עם שכנינו. מי יתן ותמיד אזכור שאני שליחת ציבור ועלי להקפיד על נקיון כפיים ולב. מי יתן ואצליח בכל מעשה ידי. אמן
Prayer Upon Joining the Knesset
May it be your will (our God, and God of our ancestors) that I leave this house as I have entered it, at peace with myself and others. May my actions benefit all residents of the State of Israel, that I work to improve the society which has sent me to this position, and bring a just peace with our neighbors. May I always remember my role as a representative of the public and the importance of honesty and transparency. May I succeed in all my doing. Amen.
Though I didn’t vote for her party – I am inspired by her entrance to the Knesset, and by some of the other new people as well. Some interesting facts about this Knesset:
48 new members — a record!
4 more women than the last Knesset – but still only 27 out 120 are women
Rabbi Dov Lipman — the first American in Knesset in many years — a self-defined Haredi who ran as part of a secular list…and gave up his
The youngest member of the new Knesset is 27 — her fellow member of the Labor Party is the oldest at age 77 — a difference of 50 years
The first Ethiopian woman was sworn in
Though generally quite pessimistic about Israeli politics — I find a few glimmers of light that give me hope. Now we are waiting for the negotiations between the parties to see what the make up of the coalition will be – and if Netanyahu will succeed in building a stable government.
The final Knesset election results are in! (This guide may help if you can’t remember which party is which.)
Likud Beiteinu 31
Yesh Atid 19
Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) 12
United Torah Judaism 7
United Arab List – Ta’al 4
Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf)
Dor Bonei Haaretz
Da’am – Workers Party
Achim Anachnu (We Are Brothers)
Kulanu Haverim Na Nach
Mitkademet Liberalit Democratit (Leeder)
(“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).
According to Israel’s Channel 2 TV news, this is the breakdown of the next Knesset:
Likud Beiteinu: 31 (-11)
Yesh Atid: 19 (+11)
Labor: 17 (+9)
The Jewish Home: 12 (+7)
Shas: 12 (+2)
HaTnua: 7 (+7)
Meretz: 7 (+4)
United Torah Judaism: 6 (+1)
Ra’am-Ta’al: 3 (-1)
Balad: 2 (-1)
The right-wing stands at 61 seats, the left at 59 (previously 55:65). Gone are Kadima (-21), Independence (-5), Strong Israel (-2) and Am Shalem (-1). The right:
Likud Beiteinu : 31
The Jewish Home: 12
United Torah Judaism: 6
The “center” and left-wing:
Yesh Atid: 19
Arab parties (Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al, Balad): 9
That means Binyamin Netanyahu will likely get to make the coalition as everyone expected in the lead up. Here are the questions that commentators are now asking:
With such a narrow lead — one seat — which center party will Netanyahu include to lend greater stability?
Since Yesh Atid is the likeliest contender with a sizable 19 seats, does that mean Netanyahu will leave out one of the more right-wing parties?
Would Netanyahu leave out one of the ultra-orthodox parties Shas or UTJ? That might be necessary since Yesh Atid campaigned centrally on putting the yeshivabuchers to work.
Is it really all but certain that Netanyahu will forgo including more centrist parties like Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua or even Labor?
Despite the fact that Netanyahu will be given the keys to the car again and there will be no (or precious few) progressives in Israel’s government this time either, there are a few silver linings. Larry Derfner at 972 Mag says no matter how you slice it, Netanyahu has lost control of a now more extreme right-wing. His days are numbered, but those coming to take his place are even worse. Brent Sasley at Open Zion is more optimistic that a centrist coalition is indeed possible, citing leadership differences between Netanyahu and head of the Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett.
And in the most interesting analysis of the results, Assaf Oron points out at The Only Democracy that in the last elections there were three Likud parties — Likud itself, Kadima as centrist-Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu as Russian-Likud — with a total of 70 seats between them, while also taking a few seats from the left. Now, Likud-Beiteinu is down to 31 total. “The Right has passed its undeserved zenith,” he writes. Meanwhile, the lefties elected are actually progressives, including a strengthened Meretz and Labor.
Have you entered Jewschool and Mah Rabu’s elections predictions pool? Monday, January 21st at midnight EST is your last chance to enter!
I’m finding two big differences between American and Israeli electoral advertisements. First, ads here in Israel are more entertaining, mostly because they’re way more offensive. It’s even worse than the coded racism of past years’ Republican commercials — there seems no need for anything covert here. This month, the Sephardi ultra-orthodox party called Russians goyyim while an extreme right party charged Palestinian citizens with disloyalty, just to mention a couple that raised eyebrows.
The second big difference is the blessedly short campaign period here, no more than 101 days and only during the final weeks of which TV ads may run. The short campaign season is thanks to strict Israeli elections regulations: The maximum campaign gift is $480 per household annually (believe it!); only parties can receive donations for the general election; individuals may only raise money for their primary campaigns. (And only a handful of parties even conduct primaries. Avigdor Lieberman, for example, picks Yisrael Beiteinu’s entire slate.) Most notably to me, advertisements on radio, TV and print are paid for publicly based on a party’s existing seats in Knesset. Yes, that means that Kadima, sitting at nearly a quarter of the outgoing Knesset, received the most advertising airtime even though it will barely win one seat.
This is not to say that Israeli elections are free from undue influence. Kibbutzim and the largest union, the Histadrut, are exempted from some restrictions on financing elections. (Guess who they usually support.) Meanwhile, institutions like the state-run religious military academies illegally mobilize for religious parties. And the right-wing parties’ primaries awash with many times the amount of American Jewish money than the left. Worse, Yisrael Hayom is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and is Netanyahu’s personal trumpeter. The latter is apparently perfectly legal.
Minus the state-run yeshivas, America stands to benefit by adopting the same restrictions on campaign funding, campaign length, and public financing. Below you’ll find TV spots from most of the major parties this election, even the ones which put American race-baiting in Little League. (Thanks to my fellow Dorot Fellow Daniel Haboucha for allowing me to share the links he collected.) More »
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.
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.
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.
Have you entered the January Madness pool yet? Onceagain, 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.
Shayna Weiss is from Jacksonville, Florida. In 2007, she graduated from Brandeis University with a double major in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and International and Global Studies At Brandeis, she received highest honors for her thesis on religious women in the Israeli Defense Forces. After studying at Drisha, Shayna is now a doctoral candidate at NYU in Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Taub center for Israel Studies, focusing on issues of religion and gender in Israeli society. She is currently in the midst of a dissertation on swimming spaces in Israel. Shayna is also obsessed with Lipa Schmeltzer, frozen yogurt, and yoga. Tell her your favorite Israeli reality tv show on twitter (@shaynamalka).
Jewschool: Tell the folks out there what your research is about and why you chose to pursue it.
Shayna Weiss: Currently, I am researching the origins of gender segregation in Israel by looking at fights about pools and beaches—fights against mixed swimming, and to establish gender-segregated swimming. My two historical main examples are the first public pool in Jerusalem (which was controversial because it had mixed swimming) and Israel’s first gender segregated beach in Tel Aviv. I then compare these controversies to what is happening with separate buses now, to draw larger conclusions about how gender and religion work in the public sphere, and how we can think about religious-secular relations in spatial terms.
I have several other projects swimming in my mind. I dream of learning Russian to research Israel’s residents from the former Soviet Union. Another unfinished project I have is on Israeli television, and especially on Srugim, the first show to focus on the religious Zionist community. My fifteen minutes of internet fame so far have come from co-authoring a recap blog on Srugim, a wonderfully fun project. That project lays dormant for now, but I cannot wait to return to it one day—television is wonderfully understudied, and Israeli television is experiencing a renaissance—just look at Homeland. (You can listen to Shayna’s presentation at the 2010 JOFA conference on Srugim, gender and feminism here.)More »