Why I Urge You to Reconsider Your Vote on BDS at Berkeley: A Response to Raphael Magarik

Dear Raphael Magarik (and other students at Berkeley participating in the vote today),
Thank you for bringing attention to the debate going on at your campus. I would like to respond to a few assertions that you make in the article, and urge you to reconsider your vote against BDS at Berkeley. I am not a student at Berkeley, but I am a graduate student elsewhere,* and have also been thinking through my own participation in a BDS movement, should it ever arise on my campus.When you say that “BDS may well create the hard-right, recalcitrant Israel it imagines already exists,” I can’t help but question it’s ever a good idea to condition intervention on the possibility that someone doing something wrong will throw a temper tantrum in response. BDS aims to non-violently de-fang a national military industrial complex of what is already a country that has proven time after time that “asking nicely,” even when done by its most acquiescent and milquetoast of political allies, doesn’t work. More »

BDS at UC Berkeley: Why I Am (Reluctantly) Voting Against

On Thursday, my union as a graduate student at Berkeley, UAW 2865, is going to vote on a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) resolution against Israel. I’m going to vote “no,” although I oppose the occupation and support selective, non-BDS branded boycotts targeting the occupation. I vote this way ambivalently. The Israeli occupation is more than 45 years long and involves deep injustice, and it ought to be resisted. One may not oppose BDS without offering an alternative vision for ending the occupation—my vision involves selective boycotts, investment in progressive elements in Israeli society and politics, political lobbying in DC. But I cannot sign onto the BDS proposal for reasons detailed below, and I hope that other union members will also vote “no.” Thursday, December 4, Sather Gate all day.

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#sorrynotsorry: Pruzansky “Apologizes”…that the JTA Didn’t Like His Post

I believe the technical term for this is #sorrynotsorry

“’Everything I wrote was entirely reasonable, but they didn’t report that,’ he said of the JTA report.”  Guess why they didn’t report that it was entirely reasonable, Mr. Pruzansky?  Because they didn’t think that it was.



#TBT Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah.  In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of  aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians.  In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.

Making Sense of Our Sons’ Deaths

My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.

This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”

Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.

As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.

Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.

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Someday I Will Transcend the Fear

I am afraid.

I am afraid of the rockets. I am afraid they will come in the middle of the night and, defying the millions-to-one odds, murder my children in their sleep. When the sirens wail, I race to grab them from their beds and flee toward shelter.

I am afraid to drive through East Jerusalem and the West Bank right now. I have a friend whose car windows were struck last month by rage-filled Palestinian rocks, whose baby was covered in shattered glass, who only by a miracle emerged unharmed. As we drive, I picture my children’s heads smashed by stones, I imagine screaming at them to put their heads between their knees, mentally willing my husband to keep driving, keep driving.

I am afraid of the racism seeping through my fear. As I was picking up my son from school, an Arab woman sat on the steps leading down to the preschool to smoke her cigarette. I wondered if I should be suspicious, if I needed to warn someone. I eyed her bag to see if it might hold a bomb.

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“Let Justice Rise Up”: On Prayer and Times of Crisis

by Danya Lagos

The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »

Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight (by Idan Landau)

Translated and introduced by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher: My own process, in which I began to shift from a liberal to a leftist, from a Zionist to a non-Zionist, from someone who generally believed Official State narratives to someone who generally rejects them, and from someone who wanted to join the IDF and be a “good soldier” to someone who ultimately refused to enlist, began during “Operation Cast Lead,” almost six years ago. This was, in part, because of stories, including the story of the two brothers of one of my classmates at Middlebury College who were shot “by accident” by Israeli soldiers as they left their farm in the Gaza Strip, and then left to bleed to deathas the army forbid an ambulance from getting to them. But in addition to the stories, it was also the numbers: Israel had killed so many people- many of them children- in such a short period of time. I did not want to believe that the Israeli government and army acted with blatant, callous, cruel disregard towards Palestinian civilians, but that it is ultimately what I came to believe, in part thanks to Israeli journalists and writers who were brave enough to speak out against what was happening. And if I am honest with myself: It’s not that these Israelis were saying things that Palestinian journalists and writers were not saying. It’s that they were Israeli Jews. I am not proud of this, but I acknowledge it, and it is with this in mind that I decided to translate a piece on the first four days of this recent Gaza “war” by Israeli blogger Idan Landau, a Professor of Linguistics at Ben Gurion University. The Hebrew original can be found on his blog, לא למות טיפש, or, Don’t Die Dumb, which I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who speak Hebrew. For those who do not, here is my translation of one of Idan’s pieces on the recent situation in Gaza. 


Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight

Idan Landau. July 11th, 2014.

A riddle: If we are so right, if every one of the air strikes on Gaza is a solid rock of morality, if the residents of Gaza deserve all that they are getting- then why are the facts being concealed from us in the Israeli media? Why don’t they tell us what the entire world can find out with the click of a button?

Seemingly democratic, actually Pravda. More »

Netanyahu Never Supported a Palestinian State, but Now it’s Official

Perhaps file this under “there’s nothing to see here”, but I suspect that David Horovitz, over at The Times of Israel, gets it right when he insists that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments about the game plan for the Palestinians and the occupied territories at his  press conference are significant and demand our attention, though they were under-reported by the media.   For those of us who always thought that Netanyahu was engaging in Orwellian chicanery when he spoke of a Palestinian state, it is useful for him to be on record in such an unusually candid way, that he does not mean it, and for those who (naively?) took him at his word, it is useful, though depressing, to have that balloon popped.  ”Earlier this spring, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sparked a storm in Israel-US ties when he told a private gathering that the US-Kerry-Allen security proposals weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Netanyahu on Friday said the same, and more, in public.”   Kudos to Horowitz for calling our attention to these remarks; shame on other media outlets for overlooking the story.  Though they were understandably more focused on the immediate military crisis, perhaps they were also completely out of practice for how to cover a PM press conference since no one can easily remember when Netanyahu last conducted one.  Here’s the full story at TOI.

Personal Grief, National Mourning, and “Keeping Politics out of it”

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

These thoughts grew in response to Facebook posts encouraging us just to grieve the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, but to keep politics out of it, and not use them for ideology advancement:

Here’s what I’m struggling with (and have struggled with after every terrorist attack since I’ve lived here): The death of these boys is horrifying and heartbreaking. I cry when I imagine (as every Israeli parent has, over and over the past two weeks) experiencing what their parents have gone through. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain or the pain and fear of these children in the final moments of their lives.

But. The death of these three boys is no more awful or final or tragic than the deaths of the thousands of Jewish Israeli children lost every year to illness or in car accidents. Their parents’ grief is just as devastating. And those thousands of children are no less “ours” than Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Yet we don’t mourn them, or come together as a “unified” people when they die. Thousands do not attend their funerals. For all that they are equally part of our Jewish family, and their lives just as senselessly cut short, we do not enter into a state of national mourning. Their deaths are a personal tragedy, not a national one. More »

Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron, City of Refuge, where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat, Jews the world over read Parashat Hayei Sarah (Bereishit 23:1-25:18), opening with the detailed narration of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s negotiated purchase of the Cave of Machpela from local Hittites as a burial ground.  Thousands of Jews will converge upon the contemporary city of Hebron, for a sort of annual, National-Religious Woodstock packing in with the several hundred Israeli citizens who have maintained a settlement there since the first few refused government orders to leave after Pesach of 1968.  This festival takes place annually on this parashah, which is seen by the organizers as the proof of the sole and eternal Jewish ownership over Hebron. The basic thrust of the Torah at the heart of the claim is something like this:  Avraham bought this land for a lot of money before lots of witnesses and the Torah is the contract to it.  Therefore, it’s ours, always.  Others who may reside here — ie the Palestinians — are trespassers.  This argument justifies the violence to which the 177,000 Palestinian Hebronites are regularly subjected.

I think that this Torah argument is pretty peculiar:  even if the Torah is accepted as a legally-actionable historical record of contract law, it’s entirely unclear why it would preclude any future contract transactions in the area; or why the purchase of the Cave environs would be taken to cover a whole, much larger, metropolitan area 3500 years later; or why all future descendants of the purchaser would be equal and exclusive inheritors to that plot; and by “all future descendants” we mean the descendants of one of his sons, Isaac, and not the other son, Ishmael.  I would like to explore a richer and fuller picture of the legacy of the city of Hebron as we have learned it from the Tanakh and our Sages.  This piece should be viewed as a part of a larger effort called Project Hayei Sarah — a several-years-old initiative of a number of Torah educators disturbed by the disgrace done in the name of Torah that is today’s Hebron — to teach a more responsible and truthful Torah about this historically rich city.

The 35th chapter of Bemidbar legislates that six cities be appointed as cities of refuge, three cities on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west side of the Jordan.  Open to Israelites as well as for resident aliens, these six cities were to be a refuge for anyone who kills someone accidentally, so they could to flee there and be safe from vengeful relatives of the victim. More »

We’ll take off our shtreimls if you put on more clothes…

I'd rather go nude than take off my shtreiml

I'd rather go nude than take off my shtreiml

Most of the world is perfectly fine with Pamela Anderson taking off her clothes. I admit I am. So are most of the Israeli men oggling her figure while the blond bombshell visits Israel this week as a judge on the Israeli version of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’

One might assume correctly that Israeli Hardeidim would feel otherwise, and indeed when Anderson visited the Kotel she managed to cover herself appropriately enough not to rile its self-appointed guardians.

But Anderson’s agenda in Israel was not limited to television appearances. She is an advocate for PETA’s anti-fur efforts and as luck would have it Israel’s Animal Welfare Law bans the import of real fur products.

The catch?  The bill has been stymied by United Torah Judaism’s MK Moses, a Shtreiml-wearing Belzer Hasid. Shtreimls are those funny looking fur hats worn by many men in several hasidic sects. And many a hasid is loathe to set aside their beloved head pelt. So what if its 90 degrees in the shade in Mea Shaarim? It would be sacrilege to shun the shtreiml.

And so it would seem that Anderson’s efforts to try and convince the Haredim holding up the bill to give up their shtreimls are for naught… Doubly so because if anyone is going to avert their eyes and ears from the charms of this shalicha, its Hareidim.

There are of course a multitude of other sorts of fur hats worn as well, notably the spodik, worn mostly by Gerers. The Gerer Rebbe, however, issued a chumra on the purchase of actual fur spodiks, as they are a sign of ostentation. Gerers wear phauz fur spodiks. Say that ten times fast…

So there is precedence of adopting altern-hat-ives among hasidim.  If she really wants to get the Hasidim to take off their fur, Pamela should maybe offer up the possibility of dressing tznius all the time… Or better yet, threaten not to and to parade around the Kotel again. The Hareidim would of course have a predictable response, but it might also have an unintended consequence- thousands of Chilonim thronging to the Kotel…

Ironically, there’s a wonderful related post on this by YESHA spokesman Yisrael Medad. And some nice pictures too, one of which is above.

And the king took off his ring and gave it to Haman

Today’s disinformation missive from David Wilder, Jewish Hebron’s propaganda minister, was titled “Despite the violence, Hebron’s children begin Purim.”

There is no hint of the insidious irony in that tag, as it is the violence of the Jewish community in Hebron which we are all mourning.

New Fascism-Tourism Opportunity

From the website of the Jewish Community of Hebron:

hebron_screen_grab_editHebron, the ultimate family experience in Israel!
Isn’t it about time you took your children to visit your great-grandparents in Hebron?
New armored buses, inspiring guides like Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, Yossi Baumol & David Wilder, Hebron’s historic sites and our pioneering spirit – all come together to make this tour your most moving day in Israel!
Celebrate Jewish history with those who keep writing it!

New armored buses—what else do you need?

HOLY SHIT, Haaretz gets copy of Israeli settlement database

UN Map of the West Bank settlements 2006I hope the implications of this event don’t get buried in other news, because this stands to blow the settlement project’s lies out of the water for good: Haaretz reports it has a copy of the Israeli government’s database of settlement construction — including Palestinian land appropriation, building violations, and illegal settlements. Read the lengthy Haaretz article and a report from the database (Hebrew).

Among the information revealed:

-  In about 75 percent of settlements, construction occurred without permits or contrary to the permits that were issued.

-  In more than 30 settlements, “extensive construction” — roads, schools, synagogues, yeshivas, and even police stations – has been carried out on private lands belonging to Palestinian West Bank residents. (Approx. 120 full settlements exist, plus 12 East Jerusalem settlements, and over 100 outposts, according to Peace Now.)

This contradicts the government’s claims, mainly “Israel’s actions relating to the use and allocation of land under its administration are all taken with strict regard to the rules and norms of international law – Israel does not requisition private land for the establishment of settlements.”

The settlement legitimacy question has changed, and thank God it’s less of a question. More »

Occupying the language

During the evacuation of Yamit, in 1982, I was listening to the radio in my dorm room in Yeshivat Har Etzion. This was during the time that Yaakov Ariel was down in Yamit acting the Rosh Yeshiva [Head of the Yeshiva] of his newly founded yeshivah, trying to convince Israeli soldiers not to follow orders to evacuate the settlers of Yamit. Most of the settlers took their checks, left peacefully and tried to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

On this day, a reporter was interviewing a settler, a religious settler, who had just been forcibly evacuated, with his family, from Yamit. The settler was angry, crying, screaming. The reporter asked the settler if the trauma that they were causing to the country as a whole was worth it. The settler replied: “What about the trauma caused to my young children who forcibly removed from their home?!” The reporter then asked the obvious follow-up question: “How long have you lived in Yamit?” “Three weeks” was the answer.

Language is often a casualty of tyranny and terror. The house in Hebron which bears a sign which reads “God gave Israel to the Jews” is called the “House of Peace” by the Jewish community of Hebron.
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Video sampling of Hebron in the last couple of days

click below for three videos of incidents in Hebron of recent: settlers firing upon Palestinians, soldiers and police evacuating residents of the “Peace House” and one shot from the roof of the house. More »

Dispatches from another planet

So, for some unknown reason, I am on the email list of the “Jewish community of Hebron”. As a result of this good fortune I receive an email two or three times a week from David Wilder, the spokesperson of the community. This morning my inbox brought me Mr. Wilder’s response to Nicholas Kristof’s column in today’s New York Times (mentioned here). I won’t rehearse Wilder’s “arguments” (which seem to consist of repeating a version of “x is exaggerated” or “y is a fairy tale”) which are available here.
The telling thing about his response is his opening paragraph:

Nicholas D. Kristof called me a few days ago and we spoke for a while on the phone. Obviously he visited Hebron, but did not see fit to interview me at the time, preferring a phone conversation. That fact, in and of itself, is unfortunate, for had he spent some time with me on site, seeing Hebron through Jewish-Israeli eyes also, perhaps his column would have been written differently.

“Seeing Hebron through Jewish-Israeli eyes.” Since Kristof seems to have spent time with many apparently Jewish Israelis, it seems that Wilder does not consider people who care about Palestinian human rights, or who work for or with B’Tzelem, or who volunteer at checkpoints to help Palestinians to be Jewish-Israelis.
This brings to mind a Shabbat I spent in Hebron in the mid-80s. It was pre-first Intifada Hebron and therefore Jewish settlers could swagger through the Arab markets brandishing AK-47s with impunity. I spent Friday night with the Levingers. Over Shabbat dinner, Moshe Levinger told us that Israel should, in fact, invade Jordan since it was Eretz Yisrael but that the time was not right. This was just a few years before he was arrested and convicted of shooting towards shops in the Arab market at random, killing Khayed Salah, a 42 year old Hebron shopkeeper, after Palestinians threw stones at his car.
The Jewish settlers in Hebron have created a religion which is foreign to the traditions of our ancestors. The open question is, as Jeffrey Goldberg asked in an important 2004 New Yorker piece, will they destroy Israel?