All That’s Left

This also appears at

Not too long ago, members of All That’s Left (ATL) wrote about “Who We Are” despite the fact that we decided early on that we were interested in defining ATL’s aims not who ought to be in it. It reads:

All That’s Left members come from a variety of political, ideological and personal backgrounds, including non-Zionists, Liberal-Zionists, Anti-Zionists, Socialist-Zionists, Zionists, Post-Zionists, one, two, some, and no staters and everything in between. The common thread in our work, actions, and connections is our unequivocal opposition to the occupation and our focus on the diaspora angle of resistance to the occupation rooted in the notion that all people(s) are equal.

We wrote the note in order to clarify that the collective is made up of folks from a spectrum of backgrounds who are working to end the occupation. In the end, the “Who We Are” note essentially says: “We aren’t defining who we are.” Instead, we define ATL in a sentence (All That’s Left is a collective unequivocally committed to ending the occupation and focused on building the diaspora angle of resistance) in order to create a way for people to self select.

It’s important to note that ATL is not an organization; it is a collective of individuals that come together around our unequivocal opposition to the occupation and focus on building the diaspora angle of resistance. That’s the only statement we have or will make as a collective. All of the actions we do are actions that members of ATL have done, not an ATL organization (no such organization exists). It is an important distinction to make here because I am only really speaking for myself as a member of ATL. I am in no way a spokesperson or official rep.

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The King and the Ring (On Purim and Violence)

x-posted to Justice in the City

The question, twenty years after Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Palestinians at prayer, wounding tens more, is this: How can we celebrate Purim? Goldstein, heard the reading of the Megillah on Purim night, heard (for the fortieth time?) that the Jews took vengeance on their enemies, slaughtered thousands of men, women, and children. Twice. Goldstein, a medical doctor, then rose early in the morning, went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and shot his M16 until he was overpowered and killed, having killed or wounded tens of praying innocents. How do we read this tale of revenge when we know that that revenge, the Purim revenge, the revenge of “the Jews got their enemies in their power” (Esther 9:1) has been wreaked?
For centuries we were safe from the bloodletting that we fantasized about, because we were powerless on the whole, and our blood was being let. The fantasy of turning the tables—on the very day that the decree was to be carried out “the opposite happened”—was a fantasy of comfort. Someday our oppression will end.
Now, however, our oppression has—in most parts of the world—ended. The State of Israel is powerful, armed, mighty. Yet, we continue to read and celebrate the fantasies of revenge. On Yom Yerushalayim, yeshivah students dance through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem singing ki lashem hamluchah umoshel bagoyim/״for kingship is the Lord’s and He rules the nations״ (Psalms 22:29) while banging on the shutters of the closed Palestinian shops. (Meticulously not repeating the name of God, but rather singing hashem over and over again, according to the precepts of the pious, while striking fear and humiliation in the hearts of other human beings.)
The Sages of the Talmud, especially the fourth century Babylonian Rava, were neither so simplistic nor were they naïve. It is to Rava that we owe the free flow of alchoholic drink on Purim. Rava says: “A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim, until he cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman,’ and ‘Blessed is Mordecai.’” The statement is immediately followed by a story:

Rabbah and Rav Zeirah made a Purim feast together.
They got drunk, Rabbah rose, slaughtered Rav Zeirah.
On the morrow, when the wine had left him,
he [Rabbah] asked for mercy on him [Rav Zeira], and he revived him.
A year later, he said to him, “the gentleman should come and we will do the Purim feast [together].”
He said to him, not in every hour does a miracle happen.

Why does Rava choose, as his criterion of drunkenness, not being able to distinguish between Mordecai and Haman? That is not being buzzed, nor even inebriated. That is being fall on the floor, passed out drunk. Rava’s Purim drinking does not bespeak the comradery of friends around the Shabbes table, or at the pub. Rava’s Purim goes much darker. Then, the editor of the Talmud follows it up with the disturbing story of Rabbah and Rav Zeira who did get that drunk, whereupon Rabbah killed Rav Zeira. This story is illustrative, not dispositive. It is as if the editor was saying: “Yes. This drunk.”

If we read the megillah carefully we are left unsettled. In the beginning of the story (after the King kills Vashti and takes Esther in her stead) he gives Haman his ring and tells him that, yes, he can “destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day.” After we are led through the intricate paths and byways of the royal intrigue for the next six chapters, Haman is found out and killed. The King then takes the ring from Haman’s cold, dead hands and gives it to Mordecai. He grants Mordecai and Esther permission to “destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions—on a single day.” For good measure, the Jews of Shushan repeat this on the morrow.

The question we are left with is this: In the next scene, the scene after the end of the megillah, who will get the ring then? If Ahaseurus the King is still in charge, and his rule is based on whim (and the last person who paid him) and not justice, we suspect that another Haman will get the ring, then another Mordecai, forever. Mordecai and Esther’s victory is not redemption. As Rava says further on: “We are still slaves of Ahaseurus.” The point of getting drunk on Purim is not celebratory. It is to look into the darkness of the unredeemed world.

It is not coincidental that in that unredeemed world Rabbah slaughtered Rav Zeira. The point of the story is just that. It is a miracle in an unredeemed world that people don’t kill each other. Not being able to tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai means living in a world of constant enmity where there is no solid ground to stand on.

If we “celebrate” Purim this year, and any year, it can only be as a way of looking into the darkness of the unredeemed soul of the world. That is the place where we will stay—the place of Haman slaughtering then Mordecai slaughtering, Palestinians slaughtering then Jews slaughtering—until we all move to solid ground, when we get rid of Ahaseurus and throw away the ring—when we create political structures, states and societies, which support justice rather than fomenting injustice and fantasies of revenge.

Open Hillel vs Hillel the Defender, Episode One Million: David Harris-Gershon Goes to Santa Barbara

Just in case you’re keeping a scrap book of everything being said about the whole Open Hillel controversy, or you’re just interested in the broader issues about American Jews’ relationship to Israel and the place of dissent in the organized community, check out this smart piece in Tikkun by David Harris-Gershon.  (Of course, if you’re like me, you may shake your head wondering how we got to a place where a writer as talented and thoughtful as David actually has to spend so much time on Planet Obvious.  It’s embarrassing.)

Avid Jewschoolians may recall my October review of Harris-Gershon’s book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?  A Memoir, which narrates the events surrounding his wife’s injury in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, healing, grief, and emotional breakdown leading to an obsessive pursuit of the apparently remorseful attacker and culminating with meeting his family.  Not surprisingly, this book has led Harris-Gershon, a journalist with The Daily Kos and Tikkun, on a speaking circuit in Jewish communities.  Recently, Santa Barbara Hillel invited him to speak, then discovered that Harris-Gershon, a two-state advocate, had written sympathetically about economic boycott as legitimate, non-violent protest, and consequently threatened to revoke his invitation and bar his entry into the Hillel building unless he made a public statement clarifying his positions on BDS.  This is probably too much build-up already; just read what he has to say about the episode here.

Reflections on Boston and Dizengoff Center (Ode to PTSD)

In 1996 I was working for the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, a now defunct NGO based in Tel Aviv. One of the things it did was lead trips of various sorts in Israel and the Occupied Territories. For example, a trip with loads of journalists from the Arab world (Morocco, Jordan), Israel, Palestine and other countries – and a smattering of diplomats. I was a coordinator of the trip, though my main function was fundraising.

So there I was on a bus in Jerusalem, at the height of the imploding peace process. Rabin had already been assassinated, and Hamas was pushing back against both Arafat and Peres with suicide bombers. Anyway, it was March 4th and a suicide bomber detonated himself at Dizengoff Center, on a cross walk, It was Purim evening, just before 4pm, which was pretty close to the time that my daughter Esther was to be picked up from her pre-K childcare situation, over on King George Street. Right by the corner of Dizengoff, you know – right by Dizengoff Center.

We are all on the nice tourist bus in Jerusalem, listening to the radio describe what is known about the latest bombing. Multiple victims. Many children. And of course the cell phone towers couldn’t handle the traffic spike, so it wasn’t possible for me to call my Esther’s mom and find out if she is safe. Traffic gridlocked from one minute to the next. And right then, in front of all the diplomats and Arab journalists, I lost it and began crying hysterically as the entire bus retreated into silence, that is, except for the radio which continued to speculate on the number of casualties.

That was the last time I can credibly say that I’ve ‘lost it’ and I can’t help but hope that my capacity to do so is gone forever. FYI my daughter was unharmed and pretty far away from what happened.

Let me go out on a limb and say that all of us have different ways of dealing with traumatic events. I spent a few hours today coming up with funny/tasteless one liners (“they hate us for our Nikes”).

Living in New York City, I bet there are lots of folks who experienced what I did back on 9/11. And a few more who went through that today, in Boston. The world being what it is, you can count on the number of folks with this type of experience to increase over time, even in the United States. And if I could speak to all of those folks at one time, I’d ask them if they have any tasteless jokes about what happened today.

This thing we humans do, to look on a tableau of death and suffering and find that one thing that makes us laugh or snark – that’s a precious thing. Don’t feel like it has to die as well. At a time like this, it might be laughter or falling apart. That not a choice we can make for anyone but ourselves.

A newish blog on Israel’s history

Israel’s Documented Story started posting last June and it’s been an interesting read. It’s an English language blog run by The Israel State Archives. They’ve been posting and commenting on documents, including recently declassified documents in the archvies. Here are some highlights:

They have British Mandate immigration records from 1920-1947, much of which were recently put online. While some records were destroyed or removed, the remaining documents have a lot of details, including pictures–and they are indexed by family: Immigrants to the British Mandate (Record Group 11)

The archivists’ efforts to figure out the origin of the term “E-1” It was already in use in 1981 with plans to develop that land around then.

There’s a great series on documents relating to Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem and the subsequent Israel/Egypt peace process. The primary documents are here and I think all posts are tagged at: Here are some nice segments from that series:

Principles sometimes change: They document Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s guiding princples to negotiating with Egypt, how much these seemingly nonnegotiable principles deviated from the final peace agreement, and why.

Sometimes Governments Deny Stuff :From a letter from Menachem Begin to Jimmy Carter,

“Over a period of 29 years all six of Israel’s prime ministers, including myself, have stated their readiness to go anywhere and at any time to meet the Arab rulers to talk about peace. These offers have remained without response apart from certain clandestine meetings subsequently publicly denied by both sides.” Huh? Run that by me again? Never ever any meetings except for the ones we’ve all denied?

The Spook’s Report: A Mossad agent’s perspective on the then top secret meeting in Morocco of Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Tuhami.

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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יהי זכרנם לברכה yehi zikhronam li’vrakhah May their Memories be a Blessing

David Berger (weightlifter)
Ze’ev Friedman (weightlifter)
Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)
Eliezer Halfin (wrestler)
Yossef Romano (weightlifter)
Amitzur Shapira (track coach)
Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)
Mark Slavin (wrestler)
Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)
Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge)
Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach)

It’s the “Spirituality” Stupid

Ever wonder about the peace, love and hate Palestinians folks? Well, Shaul Magid has an interesting piece at The Times of Israel about the phenomenon which goes way beyond snark. Using Radio Free Nachlaot as a case study he writes:

The station’s founders sport long hair and long beards, colorful head scarves, flowing dresses, and tye-dye T-shirts. Many of the announcers and guests reminisce about the good old days of the student protests, peace marches, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Some even talk about the Civil Rights movement. But when they talk about Israel they are almost exclusively right wing, defending the settlements and Israel’s right to the land, and repeating the rhetoric heard among many settlers. When they’re playing music, they sound like WBAI from 1970 (the famous radical leftist radio station in New York); when they’re talking politics, they sound like Arutz Sheva (the settler news network in Israel). All this is done seamlessly, as if playing Bob Dylan’s 1963 protest song “Masters of War” and defending Greater Israel are somehow congruous. Although my integration of counter-cultural values may differ from theirs — and I was once very much a part of their sub-culture in Israel — I only use them here as an example to ask a larger question: How does a progressive ideology devoted to fairness, equality, and justice became an ideology that defends what appears to me to be its opposite?

His answer is just as interesting. Read it here and then come back and discuss.

A Lack of Imagination is Dangerous: On Israel, Iran and ♥

There is something of a surprising campaign which has taken hold on Facebook which has also garnered some attention in the press. Two Israelis, Roni Edry and Michal Tamir added a poster to their Facebook profile with this statement in bold colors: “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We ♥ you.” Within days there were tens of thousands of “likes” on Facebook, messages from around the world, a new Facebook page and even hundreds of positive responses from Iran.

What to make of all this? All the messages seem rather sappy and simplistic. “We ♥ you” is not a foreign policy. It is not a negotiating position. It is not even an obvious claim on justice or morality. It is strange.

It does, however, have resonance in its simplicity. This counterpoint to the bombast of Iranian, Israeli and American leaders is stark in the very minimalism of its claims. There is a rather strong denial of what French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls the “ontology of war” in these statements. The ontology of war is the understanding that peace comes at the end of a narrative which includes victory over the enemy. Peace, then is one stage in an ongoing process of war. Inevitably, peace will also be followed by war, since the peace is only assured by victory. Peace which does not partake of this narrative, peace which is a response to the Other, makes one vulnerable.

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Purim, Persia, and … Ahmadinejad?

Purim is upon us. Remember Purim? For those not in the know, Purim is the next in the order of Jewish holidays which fit the meme: “they tried to kill us, they didn’t, lets eat,”—though Purim adds “and drink,”—a lot. Most Jews who celebrate Purim remember it as the story of the evil Haman who bribed the buffoonish King Ahaseurus to kill all the Jews in the Persian kingdom as a result of his rivalry with the Jewish courtier Mordecai. The story is situated in the second or third century BCE in Shushan the capital of Persia. According to most scholars the story is a myth. However, like all myths, the story seems to reflect a deep truth and it has resonated with Jews over the centuries since it reflected the fact that in many countries over time Jews had been threatened with extinction by a variety of satraps and princes and ministers and so on, and had survived against all odds.

The Purim story (told in the biblical Book of Esther) is also different insofar as the Jews not only survived but they fought back and killed those who would have killed them—and their wives and children. This fantasy of revenge must have resonated deeply for a Jewish community in the many stations of the diaspora in which they were powerless against the actual enemies who wished them actual harm.

There is however a different reading of the Book of Esther which offers the Purim narrative as a darker story which poses a different set of questions. The key to the story is a statement by a Rabbi who lived centuries after the story might have happened, in the place that it was supposed to have happened—Persia. Before we get to this statement I will summarize the story itself for those whose biblical knowledge is a bit rusty.  More »

The Moral Case for the One-State Solution

Guest post by: Eli Ungar-Sargon

For the past three years, my wife/producer Pennie and I have been working on a film about the moral and practical failings of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that not only is the one-state solution inevitable at this point, but that it has the potential to yield a much more just and moral resolution to the conflict than the two-state solution. Objections to our vision usually come in two flavors: The theoretical and the practical. On the theoretical side, people argue that the one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. They argue that demographic realities make it inevitable that very shortly after the creation of a single state, Jews would find themselves in the minority. The phrases that often pop up alongside these observations are: “Israel has a right to exist” and “Jews have a right to self-determination.”On the practical side, people usually argue that there is too much hatred for these peoples to coexist peacefully in a single state. The corollary to this argument is that a single state would quickly devolve into civil war, as was seen in Lebanon, or in the best case scenario end up as a failed state like Belgium.

It is true that the one-state solution would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Indeed, when the Zionists came to Palestine they were a minority and the only way that they were able to achieve their coveted majority status was by ethnically cleansing the land of most of its inhabitants. But the new state could still be a homeland for the Jews. Ali Abunimah famously argued in his book “One Country” for the maintenance of the Law of Return, which grants Jews automatic citizenship, alongside the implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Whether or not this concept is actualized in the new state, any one-state solution would obviously have to guarantee the rights of its sizable Jewish minority. But the key here is that Jews would be equals, not privileged ethnocratic masters. Israel doesn’t have a “right to exist as a Jewish state.” States are political constructions and as such they don’t have rights. Individuals, however, do have rights and when a state infringes on those rights, its legitimacy is correctly brought into question. Moreover, even if we accept that Jews have the right to self-determination as a nation (a somewhat controversial claim), this right does not entitle them to deny the self-determination of another people group.

As in any ethnic conflict, an enormous amount of animosity has built up between the two sides and suspicions run deep. On the Palestinian side, 64 years of dispossession and oppression, along with two decades of insincere peace negotiations, have led to a total mistrust of Israeli intentions. On the Israeli side, a culture of Siege Mentality co-opts the history of Jewish suffering to perpetuate an unjust and immoral ethnocracy. But were we to look at Apartheid South Africa in the late 1980’s, we would also see deep mistrust and hatred between Blacks and Whites. Moreover, Germany in the 1940’s didn’t exactly look like a good place for Jews to live but today, it is one of the best countries in the world for Jews. Political realities change. And sometimes, when people of good will get together and work at it, political realities can change for the better.

We need to move away from the discourse of partition and ethno-nationalism and towards a discourse of integration and human rights. The two-state solution is immoral, because it denies millions of Palestinians their right of return and it legitimizes the second-class citizenship of Palestinian-Israelis. Now it is possible to conceive of a two-state solution that respects the right of return and transforms Israel from an ethnocracy into a full democracy, but such a solution is not on anyone’s agenda. Indeed, an examination of the motivations behind the two-state solution reveals why such a conception was never in the cards. On the Israeli side, the motivation for partition comes from the will to maintain a Jewish-majority state in as much of historic Palestine as possible. On the Palestinian side, partition was only accepted by those who live in the West Bank and Gaza under the boot of the IDF, because they were so desperate to end the Occupation. And in their desperation, the Palestinian leadership came close to negotiating away the right of return which is and always has been the central issue of concern for a majority of Palestinians.

The only way to really solve the conflict is to respect all of the human beings involved as equals. The one-state solution, therefore, is the most logical and practical way to achieve a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much work still needs to be done on what the precise contours of the new state will look like. But in the meantime, we are trying to articulate and facilitate a paradigm shift that will help set the groundwork for a peaceful political transformation of Israel/Palestine.

Eli Ungar-Sargon is an independent filmmaker. He and his wife Pennie are currently raising funds to finish their second feature-length documentary “A People Without a Land”. All contributions are tax-deductible and entitle the contributor to awesome perks:

“Every unhappy country is unhappy in its own way.” (Gershom Gorenberg)

Two weeks ago, the American-born Israeli journalist, author and commentator Gershom Gorenberg spoke at an event hosted by Mechon Hadar and moderated by Rabbi Shai Held entitled, “How It Broke, How to Fix It: The Crisis of Israeli Democracy.” Gorenberg said, “I’ve seen enough changes happen that weren’t supposed to happen. Politics is not geology. Change happens.” Beside me, a friend whispered, “He is so hopeful.” Gorenberg’s most recent book is The Unmaking of Israel. He is also the author of The Accidental Empire:  Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, the co-author of The Jerusalem Report’s 1996 biography of Yitzhak Rabin, Shalom Friend, and the editor of Seventy Facets: A Commentary on the Torah from the Pages from the Jerusalem Report. He is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at and lives in Jerusalem.


“Israeli school children do not know where their country starts and ends on a map,” Gorenberg said. “You can interpret the facts however you want, but you still have to have the facts. I don’t want to see Israel unraveling…we can’t ignore the rising role of the Right in the army and the power of settlers.” According to Gorenberg, there are three things necessary to restablish Israeli democracy: The separation of synagogue and state, the graduation from being a national liberation movement to one that takes care of its citizens, and an end to the occupation.

“The social justice marches in September have shaken Israeli politics,” said Gorenberg. “I was a bad prophet, I thought it wasn’t possible.” It’s unclear, however, who’s going to come out of this as a leader. “The fact that I can’t name who the next prime minister will be is not a reason to give up hope…Giving up hope is a luxury, only the people who aren’t in the situation every day can afford to give up hope.”

There were some particularly striking moments during Gorenberg’s talk. The first is the story of a night he spent in the settlement of Yitzhar, located in the West Bank south of the city of Nablus, while interviewing folks living there. In the morning, he was faced with the decision of whether to daven in the settlement shul. “People are saying the same words, but it’s not my religion. They’re not going to mean the same thing.” said Gorenberg, who identifies as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.” Ultimately, he did decide to pray in the shul, because “I’m not going to give them the pleasure of ceasing to be religious because of their twisted interpretation of Judaism.”

The second moment came with an audience question-What can American Jews do for Israel? (The q/a, by the way, was handled extremely well-index cards were passed around the room and the questions were vetted by Held.) Gorenberg cited Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in which he declared, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany,” which Gorenberg described as “anti Zionist,” in that it portrays Israel as perpetual victim, and dismisses the strength and power it has gained since its inception. “American Jews need to give up idea of a besieged Zionism, but then the question becomes, if we can’t relate to a beleaguered Israel, how do we relate to Israel?” Israel, offered Gorenberg, is suffering from a collective PTSD. “How do you put an entire nation on the couch?” American Jews remind Israelis what it means to actually be living as a minority and what the diaspora experience is. If American Jews want to support Israel, suggests Gorenberg, they should support institutions that work for equal rights for minorities in the country.

Gorenberg  also talked about taking part in a recent social justice march in Jerusalem that traveled down Bezalel street through the neighborhood of Nachlaot. “Suddenly, it was 28 years earlier,” he said, recalling another march in 1983 with Peace Now that traveled the same route. During that march, people hurled objects at the marches from the balconies. On the recent march, there was no violence. “Circumstances will force people to change.”

“All the alternatives (to peace) are awful,” concluded Gorenberg, who earlier in the evening said that the words “one state solution” do not go together, “but Israelis don’t have to buy into the Palestinian narrative and vice versa to have a peace agreement.”

Kol Nidrei. Occupy Wall Street. Arthur Waskow. Be there.

Jewschool founder Daniel Sieradski is organizing a Kol Nidrei minyan in at Zuccotti Park, home base of the Occupy Wall Street folks, at 7 p.m. this Friday night.

I don’t believe it’s set in stone yet, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow may be delivering a devar and or leading the service. Sieradski is looking for knowledgeable service leaders. If you can help and you’re interested, get in touch with him on Facebook or twitter.

This will be a service, not to mention a Kol Nidrei, of once-in-a-lifetime coolness. Let me know if you’re coming so I can make sure we say get the chance to wish each other a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.

Check out the Facebook event for details and updates.

Updated, 10/5: Sieradski tell meWaskow is no longer coming for health reasons. Sad times.

“I got fired by the Jerusalem Post today”

So says Larry Derfner – he was canned for a blog post he wrote (now removed) titled “The awful, necessary truth about Palestinian terror.”  Apparently, a lot of Jerusalem Post subscribers cancelled their subscriptions after reading his post.

Shame on them.

I’m taking the easy way out by blaming a large group of people that I have no control over (I tend to like making arguments about things I can actually have an effect on) but this is just one more instance of a trend in “civilized” communities the world over – Israel & the Jewish community at large being no exception.  Reading something you consider disagreeable or even abominable in a publication you subscribe to is generally a bad reason to unsubscribe from that publication.  Media organizations exist to challenge the way we think about the world, and rejecting any opinion that doesn’t fit with our existing notion of how the world works completely undermines that purpose.

Derfner makes a really solid point here:

By skewing my words so badly, today’s Post column, the Web commentaries and what the Post will publish on page one tomorrow portray a writer announcing that he wants Israelis to get killed, instead of one who’s trying to stop that from happening.

Putting myself in the position of those who cancelled their subscriptions, I can understand being shocked by what Derfner wrote (although I haven’t read the original column).  He doesn’t seem ashamed of that.  But saying that he wants Israelis killed is the last refuge of a scoundrel.  After all these years, we shouldn’t have to keep saying that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they want civilians exploded, children shot, or puppies killed.  Seriously, folks.

How many more of these “X was fired from her/his position at Important Newspaper after writing a column criticizing Netanyahu/settlers/terrorists/the flotilla/etc.” stories am I going to write?  Cutting down the number of smart journalists writing about Israel-Palestine is going to help exactly no one.

My Problem With BDS

Growing up in Israel, I joined a lot of organizations: Youth Against Racism, Hashomer Hatza’ir, Reut Sadaka, and maybe one or two groups even further to the left. I attended Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and Meretz Youth weekend seminars, a kind of experience I’ve never seen in the US, not even when I was a college student. At these seminars, high school students would listen to Members of Knesset, well known professors and journalists, professional youth educators and others as they dissected Israel’s social issues.

During this entire formative period, regardless of where you stood in the left wing spectrum, certain things were true:

  • Our side was in favor of dialogue with the Palestinians, while right wing Israelis were racists who denied the Palestinians essential humanity, let along their human and national rights.
  • Our side addressed a combination of moral elements and enlightened self-interest. The occupation might be wrong, but it is also suicidal.
  • Our side drew inspiration from Western values that flowed from the enlightenment. Rationality, skepticism, a slight fear of the mob, an emphasis on individual identity over collective identity.
  • Our side was focused on liberating Israelis (Jews and Arabs alike) from the burden of having to represent anything else other than who we were. In other words, even the hard core Zionists were often in favor of ‘post Zionist’ measures like removing religion from identity cards, affirming the validity of the Palestinian narrative, and de-mythologizing the founding of Israel.

I was part of the lucky minority of Israel Jews that interacted with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians from the Occupied Territories on a regular basis. They represented a fairly diverse range of opinions and backgrounds, though less from among the poor and seriously religious, a bit more from the upper and middle classes, the Christians, and those from larger cities and villages. At a certain point, my identity as an Israeli changed into one that wholeheartedly embraced the reality of Israel: one fifth Palestinian, one fifth Russian, inclusive of countless racial, ethnic and religious minorities, with a tragic mix of conflicting impulses. Together, we were Israeli, and deserved to be truly equal for all our sakes. More »

Dispatch from the Human Rights International Film Festival, Number 2: “This Is My Land, Hebron”


L, my companion for the evening, wonders if we can say we actually saw Wallace Shawn, who appears to be sitting three rows ahead of us. It’s definitely him, right? We strain our ears for his trademark voice,  but the din proves too much for us discern properly.

This is not really important, of course, a celebrity sighting at the screening of  “This is My Land, Hebron,” at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. It is, however, a reminder to myself to be observant of the audience, which I have come in worried about. The theatre is full, and this is both joyous and disconcerting. Who are these people? Did someone make a phone to right wingers to come and start a ruckus? Is someone going to say something anti Semitic? Some people walk onto the stage and sit down. The audience applauds. I sweat.

The three people, introduced by the moderator, are Dotan Greenvald, a former solider/ activist with Breaking the Silence, and the directors, Giulia Amati and Stephen Nathanson. The moderator asks if anyone would like to say anything before the film starts. Greenberg says that serving in Hebron has changed his views and how he’s active in the society he lives in.

“This is My Land” is a documentary composed primarily of footage and interviews from Hebron, one of the first of which is of a home covered with a wire cage. The owner of the house, a Palestinian woman in hijab, tells the camera that the wire is necessary to keep the stones thrown by Jewish settlers from hitting the people who live there, but that they’ve adapted by throwing smaller stones.

The film interviews some of the Jewish settlers (there are 450? 600? 800?),  and settler leadership who live in Hebron among 150,000 Palestinians. The settlers claim that Hebron is the  place in which the matriarchs and patriachs were born, making it “the heart of the Jewish people.”

A Jewish settler, a woman with covered hair and glasses, walks up to the wire where the Palestinian woman is standing. “Sharmuta (whore),” she shouts, and then, softly, “Sharmuuuttaaa.” It’s chilling and relentless, and the two women scream at each other, while the camera records. After this scene, every time a settler comes on the screen for the next hour and a half, the audience gets twitchy and tense and starts to whisper.

The voices of the  Israeli left featured in the film are prominent names -Uri Avnery, writer, former Member of Knesset, founder of Gush Shalom;  Jessica Montell, Executive Director of Btselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories , and Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy. “There is no place in the Occupied Territories I hate more than Hebron,” says Levy. ‘It is a place of evil.”

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, spent 14 months in Hebron during his army service (he was actually Dotan Greenvald’s commander.) “One day, you’re looking in the mirror, and you see horns on your head. You think, it’s not me, doing this things, but it is you.” Now, in addition to giving testimonies and traveling with the organization, he gives tours of Hebron.

While escorting a group down Shuhada Street-the principal street for Palestinian residents and businesses and at one time, a prominent market place, now closed to Palestinian traffic- Shaul says to his group, “You’ll only get one perspective today, and I’m sorry for that.” Standing near by, shaking his head, is David Wilder, Hebron settler spokesperson. According to Shaul, Wilder won’t talk to “traitors.” “In any other country,” says Wilder, later in the film, “(Shaul) would be charged with treason and hung.”

There’s footage of a young Palestinian man who’s shackled for 14 hours, allegedly for protecting his sister from IDF forces invading his home. He tells the camera that he’s been beaten on his back. Settler children yell at and knock down internationals from the Christian Peacekeepers. “That’s what you get for defending Arabs,” one girl says. In another scene, Palestinians picking olives while settlers look on, and then eventually face off with soldiers, who tell them that the Palestinians are allowed to pick from their own groves. There is screaming and swearing and accusations. At some points, I’m so uncomfortable that I try to re read my notes in the dark theatre, which is of course, impossible.

“I’m deeply ashamed,” says Levy. “It’s on my behalf, all Israelis are paying the price. The idea is to drive the Palestinians out, create impossible circumstances. We’ve become a country who only cares about ourselves, and maybe not even that…this is proof that the Palestinians are some of the most tolerant and non violent people in the world. Anyone else would have exploded.”

When the film is over, the audience is restless. Nathanson, Amati and Greenvald return to the stage. Amati talks about how hard it was to obtain the settler’s point of view, and without it, making the film would have been useless. And now, the questions. One woman asks why so much of the focus of the film was on Shuhada Street, instead of on the rest of the city. Greenvald: ”If you went to Manhattan, and Broadway was closed and only white people could walk on it, wouldn’t that be a story?” She’s not satisfied by his answer and has to be shushed into sitting down.

Every time someone gets called on, I hold my breath anticipating the question.  ”Why did you only focus on settler violence against Arabs?” asks an audience member. “In Hebron,” says Greenvald, “Palestinians know the recourse. You don’t see Arab on Jewish violence because everyone is aware of the consequences-curfews, collective punishment. The soldiers are there to protect settlers, and they know the consequences of looking like if they side with Palestinians. That’s why the consequences for Jewish kids throwing stones are different from those of Palestinian ones.” Amati adds that while filming, they never witnessed any Palestinian violence against settlers.

Greenvald is also asked to comment on his experience with Breaking the Silence  in Israel. “Settlers in Hebron are very extreme,” he says, “Not like most Israelis. Most Israelis don’t respond like they do.” The film has not yet been distributed in Israel, but there are plans to do so.

When the q/a is over, and everyone is leaving, I hear a woman’s voice behind me. She’s been making comments to her friends the entire time (“Yeah, that will go well,” re-distributing the film in Israel) and sighing gustily after each of the right wing-y questions. “”Those people,” she says, disgustedly, gathering her things, “Why don’t they go back to Brooklyn where they came from?”

Complicated Emotions on Yom Yerushalayim

Cross-posted from

Today, June 1st, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. This is both an Israeli state holiday and a rabbinically mandated minor religious holiday, which means it’s celebrated both with parades and liturgy.

I’ll admit that this mixing of politics and religion makes me deeply uncomfortable. Attributing military and political victories to God is a step further down the slippery slope of political demagoguery than I’d like to take. It makes it easy for politicians, generals, and their supporters to confuse luck, skill, and power for divine right. It’s not surprising that the term demagoguery originates in Ancient Greece — that’s also where the habit of proclaiming religious holidays for military victories started. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chanukah?

created at: 2011-06-01I’m not alone in my discomfort with this conflation. The sages of the Talmud were so uncomfortable with Chanukah as a military holiday, they wrote a new backstory for it… you know, the bit about the oil? The rabbis thought we’d be better off with a fairy tale invented 600 years after the events of the holiday instead of celebrating the military victory. One might wonder whether the hindsight knowledge that the victory came at the price of quite a bit of Jew-on-Jew violence and resulted in a corrupt Hasmoean dynasty that further consolodated the roles of high priest, king, and general into one person and eventually lost Israel to Rome.

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An Open Letter to Our Rabbinical Colleagues

This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.

As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:

As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it”

We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation. Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively. However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.

This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.

In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?

We also take exception to this assertion:

U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.

In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?

An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year. With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.

We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.

We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.

Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?

In Shalom,

Rabbi Brant Rosen and Rabbi Brian Walt