Demonstration of Solidarity of Christians and Jews at Temple Adath Israel: Friday, August 18, 2017

Thanks to support from our Christian friends for the Jewish community on Friday. With me is Rev. Marsha Charles who helped to organize this demonstration of solidarity at Temple Adath Israel. She is a mensch and my former student at Lexington Theological Seminary!

 

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Elie Wiesel: Neutrality

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel

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Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass Press Release: On Tolerance, Hatred, and Respect (including response to Stephen Bannon appointment)

PRESS RELEASE

SUMMARY

The Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass (JFB) issues a call for tolerance, a rejection of hatred, and a respect for all. The JFB also asks that President-elect Trump reconsider his appointment of Stephen K. Bannon.

———

STATEMENT

THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF THE BLUEGRASS CALLS FOR TOLERANCE, A REJECTION OF HATRED, AND RESPECT FOR ALL

The Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass issues a call for tolerance, a rejection of hatred, and an embrace of diversity and pluralism.

In recent months, we have seen a spate of incidents of intolerance and prejudice in the U.S. and abroad. Numerous instances of bullying, vandalism, violence, ugly language, and name calling targeting ethnic, racial, and religious minorities have led to a climate that both adults and children find unsettling and even frightening.

The appointment of Stephen K. Bannon, especially, as President-elect Donald Trump’s “chief strategist and senior counsellor” has caused consternation among many Americans, and particularly in the Jewish community.

All presidents should have the right to make their own choices as to who advises them on strategic and other matters. We respect the latitude necessary for a president to work efficiently and productively on issues of national and ultimate global significance.

Yet, Mr. Bannon, through his position as chief executive of Breitbart News, has associated himself with a variety of radical views that fall into the categories of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. For these reasons, white nationalists and neo-Nazis celebrate him as one of their own. No one with these associations should be in the White House, especially among our president’s closest advisors.

It is the responsibility of our Federation to support and defend the rights of the Jewish community and all minority communities against all forms of bigotry, racism, hatred, and persecution.  We understand that prejudice, including anti-Semitism, exists at both ends of the political spectrum. History has taught us that silence is both unacceptable and dangerous.

We urge President-elect Trump to demonstrate his commitment to the pluralism, diversity, and respect for all Americans he pledged in his victory speech when he promised to “bind the wounds of division” in America.

As a first step in this endeavor, we ask President-elect Trump to reconsider his appointment of Stephen K. Bannon. We also request that he reach out and show in all his personnel appointments his desire to work toward genuine healing in our divided society.

Our Federation, along with other federations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, continues to stand for the values we have always upheld: welcoming the stranger, fighting injustice, repairing the world, supporting Israel and Jewish communities around the world, speaking up for the voiceless, and protecting the orphan and the widow.

Hate is neither a Jewish nor an American value. We urge local, state, and national leaders on both sides of the aisle to speak up against this threat to American democracy, to uphold inclusion, to fight against bigotry and discrimination of all kinds, and we encourage other community groups to join in our efforts to combat prejudice and abuse.

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TRUMP, HITLER, AND THE RETURN OF FASCISM

TRUMP, HITLER, AND THE RETURN OF FASCISM

Laurence H. Kant

 

Many, including Melania Trump, have assured us that Donald isn’t Hitler. Some commentators object to the comparison outright; others simply bleat the equivalence hysterically, without further explanation. All should contend with the evidence:

 

  • Trump’s tweeting a Mussolini quotation and retweeting neo-Nazis, white supremacists;
  • Trump’s belated (and weak) disavowal of David Duke and the KKK;
  • Trump’s refusal to condemn or even rebuke Jew-hating tirades—including death threats and concentration camp oven imagery—against Jewish journalists who’ve criticized   him (Bethany Mandel, Ben Shapiro, and Jonathan Weisman);
  • Official association of Trump’s campaign with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, giving talk-show host, James Edwards, a VIP press parking space and interview with Donald Trump, Jr. at a Memphis rally, and designating William Johnson a California Trump delegate to the Republican convention;
  • Ivana Trump’s Vanity Fair statement (1990) that her husband kept a copy of Hitler’s collected speeches, “My New Order,” in his bedside cabinet (which Trump acknowledged);
  • The right-arm salute Trump invokes at his rallies, recalling the Nazi salute (some dispute this, but, given his media skills, it’s safe to assume that Trump knows the symbolic effect of every image he uses);
  • Trump’s use of “America First,” alluding to an isolationist, early-40’s U.S. movement that was rife with Jew hatred and called for negotiations with Hitler;
  • Trump’s October 13 speech that refers to international bankers, media, and global elites that allegedly strip the U.S. of its rightful power—a trope that recalls the classic Jew-hating screed, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” , and has numerous and widespread parallels in other Jew-hating rhetoric as well;

 

Does anyone really believe that this self-described “really smart” Wharton grad draws on the Nazi tradition of political rhetoric, symbolism, and ethnic/racial scapegoating unawares?

The onus should be on those who deny the obvious connections to explain in detail why they’re not relevant.

Countless other items of evidence connect Trump to fascism more generally:

 

  • Using threatening gestures, encouraging supporters to beat up protesters and intimidate critics;
  • Forecasting (and encouraging) “riots” at the Republican convention;
  • Calling reporters “scum” and implicitly threatening them, and barring major media organizations (left and right) from his campaign events;
  • Calling to change libel/slander laws to curb criticism of public figures;
  • Demonizing ethnic groups: labeling Mexicans “rapists” and “drug addicts,” calling for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented aliens, advocating a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and demanding the recusal of a judge as biased and unqualified because of his ethnic heritage;
  • Targeting the disabled by mocking the arm and facial movements of New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski;
  • Praising dictators, including North Korean Kim Jong-un, for murdering potential  enemies; Chinese rulers, for cracking down on Tiananmen Square protesters; and Vladimir Putin for being “a leader’’;
  • Openly and frequently calling for the jailing of his political opponent, Hillary Clinton—this happens as a matter of course in totalitarian societies from the Congo to Cuba to North Korea;

 

No, Trump doesn’t outline a genocidal philosophy or well-thought-out plans to implement discrimination—what coherent policy strategy has he ever enunciated?—but he is aware of Hitler and Mussolini and riffs off of them. He knows who they are and borrows their ideas—most notably the use of intimidation and violence to acquire political power.

Does this make him more like a third-world dictator (Marco Rubio’s assessment)? Would Mussolini serve as a better comparison than Hitler? Silvio Berlusconi?

We don’t know what he sincerely believes, but does that really matter? We can only judge him by his words, his actions, and what he promotes.

We d­­­on’t know what Trump would actually do if elected president. Given the American system of checks and balances, his attempt at authoritarian rule would likely be limited by the realities of governance. Yet, is that a risk worth taking?

Why don’t commentators address the specific evidence instead of asserting that Trump isn’t Hitler? Many in the press minimize the Trump phenomenon by laughing off his words or by rationalizing the crazy stuff he does. The reason is clear: because the evidence is so troubling and disturbing, and the implications so appalling, that they would rather it simply go away.

If we’ve learned anything from the holocaust, it’s that we can’t take on the role of bystanders and let troubling events transpire by ignoring or glossing over them.

Too frequently in the past, politicians and commentators trivially compared political adversaries to Hitler and the Nazis, leading to what many call “Godwin’s law”: the inevitable invocation of Hitler or Nazis to refute an argument. Neither mindless name-calling nor willful ignorance force us to face the facts before us.

The facts are clear: Trump uses language, images, and tactics that directly recall those of the Nazis and Hitler, along with other fascists. To allow him to speak destructively by incorporating this pernicious tradition and to permit him to encourage violence without calling him to meaningful account does nothing more than offer him a media get-out-of-jail free card. It amounts to an abdication of the sacred responsibility the founders gave the press in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Who is willing to stand up and be counted?

 

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My Family, The Holocaust, and ‘Original Sin’

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I was recently discussing the concept of original sin in a workshop I was leading. I was explaining that I thought that this was a legitimate concept, even though I did not share it. If I ever did accept original sin, I would certainly apply it to the holocaust.

This photo was taken c. 1905 in Pinsk, Belarus. In the center is my grandmother, Leah Kaston (Kaplan). Standing behind her are my great-grandfather Ya’akov and my great-mother Rivka Kaston. To the far left is my Aunt Bunya, my grandmother’s sister. She tried to come to this country around 1915, but was turned back by immigration services at Ellis Island because of red eye (conjunctivitis). She returned to Belarus. Later her husband, and some of her children followed her, and they went to live in Babruysk, Belarus. Somewhere between 1941-1943, when the Nazis entered Babruysk, they shot my Aunt Bunya and her family and dumped them in mass graves.

When I was growing up, my grandmother cried frequently about her sister. There were always hushed tones and requests to me that I please not ask too many questions about this. I heard the sobbing, but I did not really get to ask or say much. I have always thought that this affected the upbringing of my mom and her sister. My mom felt neglected and unattended. Is it any wonder that my grandmother could not give more attention to my mom when she felt so deeply wounded by the murder and absence of her beloved Bunya? There are many families with holes and wounds like this, especially many Jewish families, and sometimes I wonder how we might close the circle and find a way to restore the gaping hole that persists to this day in my family and in many others who went through this.

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Workshop: “Reading the Bible Mystically”

READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: An Introductory Workshop
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
June 14, 2015, Sunday, 2:00-5:00 p.m.
Full Circle Massage School: 465 EAST HIGH STREET, Suite 110, Lexington, KY  40507 (Please note that the correct address 465 East High Street)

Everyone comes to the Bible with different perspectives. Lay people appeal to tradition, practice, belief, social justice, evangelism, literal interpretation, and opposition or apathy to religion. Scholars interpret the Bible from their own angles: history, literature, sources, language, theology, and archaeology. No one perspective, however, can encompass and explain biblical texts.

For me, a mystical approach to biblical interpretation entails the discovery and creation of profound meaning in the text. Integrative in nature, it uses a variety of perspectives to understand the contexts and multiple (often ambiguous and conflicting) meanings of passages. We start from the ground up, beginning with small details (word-by-word and even letter-by-letter) as we move through sentences and stories toward apparently hidden and esoteric readings. Usually what we regard as secret or mystical lies in open sight, but seeing it demands close attention and far-reaching awareness of all sorts.

We will initially have a brief review of some basic Hebrew Bible background, including chronology, history, the source hypothesis, and language issues. We will follow this up with a short discussion of how Jews, Christians, Muslims, as well as non-believers, non-affiliated, and spiritual-but-not-religious, view the Bible. Then we will spend the bulk of our time engaging the text, particularly Genesis 1, and discuss its use in constructing meaning for our lives. No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

The workshop is part of a larger series that continues in the Fall (September-October). Dates and times will be announced. There is a limit of 24 people for the June 14 session. If significantly more than 24 sign up, I will hold a repeat session at a later date.

The cost of the workshop is $35.00 per person (cash, or check made out to “Mystic Scholar, LLC”), Reserve a place by emailing Dr. Kant at dblk2@qx.net (with “Mystic Scholar” in the subject line). Payment may be made at the door before the workshop. Please read Genesis 1 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos.

Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)

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Israeli Governing Coalition Likely to Have 1-Vote Majority

Barring a unity government (which the Zionist Union under Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni have thus far resisted) or the sudden withdrawal of Bayit Yehudi (Naftali Bennett = the religious settlers’ party), there will be a coalition government of 61 MKs out of 120. This gives a 1-vote majority to the coalition and is a recipe for political instability and possible new elections. [MK = “Member of the Knesset]

Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beteynu made this possible when they opted out of the government for a variety of reasons (see my post from a couple of days ago: See http://mysticscholar.org/lieberman-and-yisrael-beteinu-out-of-israel-government/

Essentially one member of the Knesset can bring down the government. One member can sit out a vote to prevent legislation from passing. One member can exact retribution on political rivals by voting one way unexpectedly or by abstaining. If someone wakes up in the morning on the wrong side of the bed, that MK can simply gum up the wheels of the government. One member can basically do anything he or she wants. It’s a level of political chaos, which even for Israelis is quite extraordinary. I have no idea how much can get done under these circumstances, unless a military crisis compels unity of some sort.

In Israel, they have nicknamed this potential government: “EVERY BASTARD IS A KING.”

For the moment, there will probably not be new elections, simply because the politicians and the voters are exhausted by the previous campaign. No one apparently wants to face an election right way. That will likely change in short order, however, once the political circus again enters into full season.

Israelis are famously tough and resilient in these kind of circumstances. They will have to use every bit of that ingenuity to keep this government afloat for an extended period of time.

Anybody out there have ideas about how all this is likely to play out?

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Lieberman and Yisrael Beteinu out of Israel Government

Uh-ho. It’s possible for Likud/Netanyahu to form a government with 61 MKs out of 120, but that would produce an extremely unstable government. All it would take is one member to bring down the entire government.

This may force Netanyahu to broaden the government to include the Zionist Union (Isaac Herzog/Tzipi Livni) or Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Otherwise, the current constellation of partners would be almost ungovernable. Good luck to a coalition with a 1-vote majority.

It’s well-known that Lieberman dislikes Netanyahu–both personally and politically. He doesn’t trust him, believes him to be opportunistic, and thinks he breaks his word (this is a common complaint even among many Likud members, as well as among Netanyahu’s political opponents). Lieberman also is upset about the Supreme Court, which he wants to diminish in power, but Moshe Kahlon/Kulanu is totally opposed to doing this–and Netanyahu can’t govern without Kulanu. And Lieberman wants pro-Jewish nation state legislation, but Kahlon/Kulanu also opposes that. Further, Lieberman thinks that Netanyahu is soft on Hamas (he wanted him to destroy Hamas in the last Gaza war), though at the same time is more supportive of negotiations with the Palestinians than Netanyahu–a paradox, reflective of Israel’s complex fault lines. And finally Lieberman strongly dislikes the ultra-Orthodox and wants a more secular government–for example on issues of civil marriage and not allowing the ultra-Orthodox to absent themselves from the military. This mirrors his own secular supporters.

I have no idea what will happen, but this does indicate the tremendous complexity of Israeli politics and society and the ideological divisions among Israeli voters.

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http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4653645,00.html

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“Selma,” Film Criticism, History, and Racism

Radio show host Limbaugh speaks at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington

Here’s my take. Much of the criticism of “Selma” is accurate. However, why is there so much criticism of “Selma,” but not of other Hollywood historical films? it’s not the substance of the criticism which I find problematic, but the ferocity and amount of it.

From what I know, LBJ and King were partners in the civil rights process, but that relationship later fell apart over the Vietnam War. I’m sure that King was pushing harder for the Voting Rights Act than Johnson, but the dynamic was a lot more subtle than “Selma” shows. I also did not find Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Johnson at all convincing. It just didn’t ring right for me. Personally, I was particulary bothered by the absence of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was replaced by a Greek Orthodox figure. This photo of King and Heschel from the Selma march is iconic, and one has to wonder what was the motive for air-brushing out a prominent Jewish activist. Does this say something about current Jewish-Christian and African-American-Jewish relations? Was this an attempt at Christianizing a more diverse event? Is this about Israel? Or is there something else going on, some kind of Hollywood soap opera? Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that many Jews were saddened by this.

That said, “Selma” was a powerful film with brilliant portrayals of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King. It shows a flawed hero and the importance of community activism. King did not come out of nowhere, but emerges out of a broad movement (which also includes women).

Where was the same criticism of “Lincoln,” which edited out the prominent role of Frederick Douglas? More recently, the “Imitation Game” played fast and loose with the story of Alan Turing. Turing was not as difficult and rude a person as Cumberbatch portrays (though I thought his portrayal was nevertheless also brilliant). The Turing machine was much smaller than the one depicted. There were others that worked on this project before Turing, particularly Polish mathematicians (never once mentioned). And the depiction of Commander Denniston as a hectoring, bureaucratic bully is not accurate either (thanks to Dianne Bazell for this info).

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” won an Oscar for best picture in 2013, and yet the entire film was essentially a fiction that had little to do with the historical event depicted with Iran and the Khomeini revolution. “Argo” makes “Selma,” “Lincoln,” and “imitation Game” look like milquetoast documentaries (which I realize is unfair to documentaries–a genre that I love). Looking at “Argo” is no better than watching “Quo Vadis” in order to understand the historical Roman world and early Christianity. I noted this in an essay on my blog in 2013, and there were others who did so as well, but the bigger-click oped writers carried the day: and they loved “Argo.” There was very little prominent or strong criticism of “Argo.”

Why do “Argo” and others get of the hook, while “Selma” receives such deep historical analysis? Why didn’t David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo receive Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress?

I think the answer is clear. There is an element of prejudice and racism in the focus on “Selma.” Critics (particularly white liberal critics) are much more defensive of “Selma,” because they feel a personal connection to the event which is not the case with most other films. And they feel hurt and slighted, because they feel lumped together with LBJ as resistant to civil rights progress.

I have never understood why drama and historical accuracy have to be opposed to be one another, but that is the way Hollywood screenwriters, directors, and producers seem to view the matter. That is the reality of these films. Critics, who know this full well, have to be consistent in their critiques. If you criticize historical inaccuracies, then you should do it consistently. Don’t lower the boom on one film, while letting the others slip through the cracks. If you do, be prepared for the return volleys that you will inevitably receive from the other side. This is rightfully so.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/21/maureen_dowds_clueless_white_gaze_whats_really_behind_the_selma_backlash/

 

Addendum:I keep looking at the thumbnail photo accompanying, and I just can’t it out of my mind how Heschel is air-brushed out. I still find “Selma” a superb film, but this erasure saddens me deeply. So here’s the original photo:

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Charlie Hebdo and the Comic Tradition

CHARLIE HEBDO AND THE COMIC TRADITION

I’ve read and watched an awful lot of news analysis of Charlie Hebdo, but rarely do pundits mention some of the salient facts about what Charlie Hebdo actually does and about the tradition of satire:

1) Charlie Hebdo mocks all three Abrahamic religions, not just Islam, and it does so offensively with no special favorites, but Jews and Christians do not attack and demonize Charlie Hebdo;

2) The tradition of satire and caricatures or religion in France is very old going, back to at least the French Revolution, and is tied to the deep distrust of religious institutions (the Catholic Church primarily) that was closely linked to the royal dictatorship that crushed economic, social, and political freedoms in France;

3) Charlie Hebdo does not only mock religion; it mocks other institutions and prominent public figures;

4) Charlie Hebdo is a part of a tradition of offensive satire that goes back to ancient Greek comedy. It includes writers such as Aristophanes whom many profess to love (mainly because they don’t understand, or care about, the ancient references). However, if Aristophanes were alive today, he would probably engender hatred among the people he would gleefully pillory and mock.

5) Commentators are shocked by all the sexual references in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. However, ancient comedy (and drama), which is the literary predecessor of Charlie Hebdo, was associated with phallus processions, accompanied by obscenities and verbal abuse.

So what some consider juvenile, stupid, and offensive in Charlie Hebdo has roots in literature and dramatic traditions that we profess to admire and call “classic.” We in the U.S. live in a culture that is still relatively Puritanical in its approach to public sexuality, and that is coming out in the U.S. media coverage.

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Avigdor Lieberman Promotes Peace Deal and Lashes out at Netanyahu

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To say the least, Lieberman’s comments are significant. Overnight they change the electoral landscape of Israel.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.633470

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Time Never Stops: Except on Shabbat

Time never stops. It is inexorable. In moments of joy and tragedy, the earth continues to rotate and the seasons continue to alternate. Shabbat and meditation offer a glimpse of existence outside of time. There we reside in the presence of the Source: no limits, no boundaries, only the vibrations of no/thing.

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The Kastonowicz Family c. 1900 in Pinsk, Belarus

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These are photos of my maternal family, the Kastonowiczs, c. 1900 in Pinsk, Belarus. The first photo from left to right: My great-grandmother, Rivka; Uncle Joe; Uncle Oscar; and my great-grandfather, Ya’akov. Uncle Oscar was a wonderful human being, beloved in our family.

I don’t know the names of the children in the second photo: on the far left is my Aunt Bunya (murdered in 1943 in Bobruysk by the Nazis in the Holocaust); the older man on the left is my great-grandfather, Ya’akov. Sitting to his left (our right) is my great-grandmother, Rivka; standing in the center is my grandmother, Leah. Of the four children, I would assume that one or two were murdered by the Nazis in Pinsk, but I’m not certain about that. At least one survived. There were others probably murdered as well (not all born yet presumably), but names and numbers are unclear.

Bunya attempted to come to this country in 1920, but was rejected by the Immigration Service at Ellis Island because of Red Eye (conjuncitivitis). She went back to Pinsk and Bobruysk in Belarus. Afterwards her husband followed her, because he could not live without her. Some of the children went as well. Later they all ended up murdered by the Nazis. My grandmother wept about this loss for as long as I knew her. It left a hole and a traumatic legacy for our family that persists to this day. When President Obama announced his executive order, I felt a measure of relief for my Aunt Bunya that justice had been served in some small way.

While there are several factors, the story of Bunya has a role to play in why I chose to enter the field of history of religion, New Testament studies, and Jewish studies. It is part of who I am today and why I do what I do. It always will be.

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Idolatry

Anything can be idolatrous. Therefore, question everything.

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Dead Sea Relaxation

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Floating and relaxing in the Dead Sea in Israel in October 2012 (with Dianne Bazell).

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Suzanna in Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv

 

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And here’s a 2012 photo from Suzanna, a restaurant in Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv, the oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv (southwest part of the city near the Arab city, Jaffa) with Irit Averbuch: Great food as always in Tel Aviv.

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Tel Aviv: Eating at Benny HaDayag

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Conspicuous food consumption in Tel Aviv. The first pictures are from Benny HaDayag (Benny the Fisherman–בני הדייג) on the Tel Aviv waterfront. I learned a lot of Hebrew names for fish–I don’t even know all their names in English (see the very last picture). Fish is a big deal Israel–and it’s really good, prepared in all sorts of interesting ways–along with all kinds of great salads, eggplant dishes, and other accompaniments. Dianne and I are eating with our good friend, Irit Averbuch, lover of all things Tel Aviv and Japanese.

And here’s the mouth-watering menu: http://www.bennyhadayag.co.il/

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U.S. Official Calls Netanyahu “Chickenshit”

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Whoever in the U.S. government said that Netanyahu is “chickenshit,” is basically right. The only thing Netanyahu cares about is his political survival. He has no overarching principles other than political success. He’s not a leader, but a finger in the wind kind of guy. My guess is that Iran does not think that he’ll ever attack their nuclear sites, because Netanyahu would worry about the political implications–of course, Iran would probably be wrong about that, because other Israelis would likely force Netanyahu’s hand if Iran were to move quickly toward nuclear weapons. And Netanyahu would never challenge the far-right settler movement, because he might lose a coalition partner and a slice of his vote. That’s partly why the vast majority of Israelis don’t really like him (in addition to opposition to his domestic economic policies). He got elected to prime minister in spite of that (and in spite of Likud losses in 2013), mainly because Israelis are fragmented and divided in their support for various parties. It was not an affirmation of Netanyahu, but he was the least bad choice for enough Israelis.

Plus the slur is rather tame considering what Israelis call Netanyahu and other Israeli political leaders. Americans and American Jews aren’t used to this kind of playground foul-mouthing. But it’s not a big deal for Israelis when Israelis do it. I wish American Jews were less prudish and more ready to mix it up where Israel is concerned, just as Israelis do.

And, yes, I realize it’s different when Israelis use foul language than when U.S. officials do it (even unnamed ones). But this kerfuffle was way overblown. It’s making a mountain out of a molehilll.

 


http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.623410

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/oct/30/john-kerry-condems-official-insult-netanyahu

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Mizrahi Nation: Middle Eastern Jews in Israel and a Brief History of Jews in the Middle East

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A superb article by Matti Friedman, one of the best of I have seen not only on the history of the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jews) in Israel, but on what it means to be Israeli, Jewish, and living in the Middle East. This article offers a perspective that is rarely found in discussions about Israel and the Israel/Palestinian conflict. After reading it, you may find your views on Israel, Jews, and the Middle East at least a little different.

I particularly enjoyed his characterization of the “religious vs. secular” Jewish dichotomy as a Western/Ashkenazi labeling. For Mizrachi, that distinction doesn’t exist. They have their own “liberal” form of Judaism which is not Orthodox, but “traditional”/Masorti–the name for Conservative Judaism, but different, because it has its own history and application that is completely different from the European-based movement. For example, some Mizrachi may go to Synagogue in the morning, head to the beach in the afternoon, text to one another, while celebrating Havdalah (end of Shabbat) later.

Overall the Mizrachi are much more “liberal” in practice than the Ashkenazi (European-based) religious, but more politically conservative than many Ashkenazi. Their conservatism is not based on ideology (as is typical of Ashkenazi on all sides of the political spectrum), however, but more on experience in having lived in the Middle East for many centuries (well before Islam ever got there).

http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2014/06/mizrahi-nation/

 

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Media Bias and Israel

FriedmanMatti

More on the bias of Western media coverage of Israel by a former AP reporter, Matti Friedman: hostile fixation on Jews and Israel; censorship of Gaza coverage under pressure from Hamas and failure to report Hamas using civilians as human shields; and failure to report on an Israeli peace proposal. The original story discussed the failure of Western media to report on the corruption of the Palestinian Authority; the all-consuming media criticism of Israeli society and politics, with virtually no criticism of Palestinian society and politics; intense documenting of Israeli violence against Palestinians, with no corresponding, remotely equivalent documenting of Hamas’ brutality and vast military infrastructure; failure to report on Hamas intimidation of reporters; failure to describe the Hamas charter, which call for the genocide of Jews and uses the notorious Jew-hating Protocols of Zion to call for the murder of Jews; failure to report on Israeli peace proposals prior to the Netanyahu government; failure to report on the tiny size (both geographically and demographically) of Israel in contrast to the Arab/Muslim world; failure to connect Hamas to other extreme, exclusivist, violent Muslim religious movements (e.g. al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, Taliban); and the overall equivalence of Israel as bad oppressors and Palestinians as sympathetic victims.

I am a strong critic of many Israeli policies (settlements, racism against Arabs, too much religion in government, the Netanyahu’s goverment failure to engage the Palestinian Authority), but it’s appalling how media coverage is so one-sided and tilted against Israel (and Jews as well) and so relatively non-critical of Hamas (which advocates genocide of Jews, believes in forced conversion to Islam, supports brutality and violence, and opposes democratic and secular values) and the Palestinian Authority (which is notoriously corrupt, inept, suspicious of democratic values, and refuses to accept Israel as Jewish): http://tabletmag.com/scroll/184707/ongoing-controversy-around-the-most-important-story-on-earth

Here’s the original article by Friedman: http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/183033/israel-insider-guide?all=1

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The Christian Left and Jew-Hatred

bruce-shipman

Hard to see how anyone can rationalize Jew-hatred (antisemitism) by blaming it on Israeli policy, but many are doing just that now. Shipman and anyone else have the right to criticize Israel as they reasonably see fit (and I would do so as well), but they don’t have the right to excuse hatred–which is exactly what Shipman and others are doing. Attacking Jews on the street and putting swastikas on synagogues and fraternities does not happen because of Israeli policy. It happens because some people hate Jews. Period.

No one on the left (which is what many apparently consider me) would attribute assaults on women to provocative dress or police brutality toward African Americans on black-on-black violence, but somehow it’s OK for liberal Christian activists to do so when it comes to Jew-hatred. They don’t see how they’re drawing on 2000 years of ugly history. All this exposes the ugly underside of Christian prejudice toward Jews. Jewish-Christian dialogue has made progress since the Holocaust, but not as much as we had thought. We’re now seeing the public viewing of what was always there, but hidden.

All people have prejudices that are unknown even to them. I’m no exception to that. It’s part of the human condition. However, the most dangerous people are those who act as if they are immune to prejudice. If Shipman had apologized and reframed what he said differently, we could have moved beyond this. Not only does he refuse to do so, but he plans to continue in his crusade. Clearly we still have a long way to go: http://time.com/3340634/yale-chaplain-bruce-shipman-israel-anti-semitism/

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Breaking the Grind of Israel-Gaza Violence

For those of you have seen my defense of the Operation Protective Edge, I also agree with what David Grossman says below. While Israel’s Gaza incursion is certainly justifiable, Grossman is also right when he says that Israeli leaders (especially Netanyahu and Likud generally) have not reached out anywhere near sufficiently to Palestinian leaders on the West Bank. This was short-sighted on their part, and it’s part of the problem now. They were missing in action when, in previous years, they should have been out there doing diplomacy and relating:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/opinion/david-grossman-end-the-grindstone-of-israeli-palestinian-violence.html

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New Alliances in the Middle East

It seems that Egypt, the PLO, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE–more or less in conjunction with Israel–now find themselves in alliance against Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey.

You would not know this from PLO rhetoric against the Israeli attacks on Gaza, but, behind the scenes, Netanyahu and the Israeli coalition are generally on relatively good terms with PLO/Egypt/Saudi Arabia/UAE at the moment. They are also all mad at Kerry and Obama for helping out Qatar and Turkey who are helping Hamas (at least that’s their point of view).

There is a powerful desire on the part of many Arab leaders, including the PLO, to get rid of Hamas once and for all. What no one says publicly is that quietly they support Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

It’s not clear, however, whether getting rid of Hamas is actually a good idea–which may be what’s motivating Kerry/Obama. In Hamas’ place, more radical leadership of Gaza could emerge, like Iranian-supported Islamic Jihad. Or Gaza could turn into Beirut from the 1970s and 1980s.

More likely the Egypt/PLO/Saudi Arabia/UAE/Israel alliance may be looking to weaken Hamas to such an extent that it can no longer threaten the PLO/Fatah or Israel. When you’re engaged in a massive operation like Protective Edge, that’s a narrow bridge to traverse (weaken, but don’t destroy, Hamas), and they may or may not find themselves successful.

I’m sure U.S. leaders are concerned about this. They also want to use Qatar and Turkey as intermediaries to reach out to Hamas. However, I’m not sure they know what they’re doing. By supporting the Qatar/Tukey proposal and dissing the PLO and al-Sisi (Egypt), they may (I worry) be undermining Netanyahu and Yaalon who have never wanted a full frontal attack on Hamas. But I don’t have all the information and reserve judgement at this time.

Of course, coalitions like these are moving targets and change shape at a moment’s notice. These could be alliances of very short-term convenience. We shall see where they all end up, but, given modern history, the newshape of Middle East diplomacy is fascinating (though painful and tragic), to say the least.

 

**I’m really not sure where Iran is on this. On the one hand, they are opposed to Hamas (Sunni Muslim Brotherhood vs. Shia; and Hamas supported Sunni insurgents against Syrian Assad). However, they have changed their tune a bit recently. By supporting Hamas against Israel and against PLO/Fatah, Iran could get a lot of brownie points from the broader Arab populace which supports Palestinians in general. The Iranians are probably playing it both ways actually.

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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What’s Really Going on in the Middle East and Gaza

Arab governments, and even Iran, are keeping a distance from Gaza and especially Hamas. The Palestinian situation in Gaza is awful and cruel, but Arab leadership despises Hamas: its radical fundamentalism and fanaticism, its promotion of terrorism in the Sinai, its goading of Israel into war, its use of civilians as human shields, and its political alliances. In fact, many in the Arab world hope that Israel will crush Hamas once and for all. I doubt, however, that Israel wants to do that (unless there’s some other group in Gaza that’s actually sane).

What the article also does not mention is the dirty little secret of the Middle East: Most Arab governments do not really want an autonomous Palestinian state. They would much rather have Israel and the Palestinians at each other’s throats in small-scale conflicts. To have a Palestinian viable, democratic state would potentially show them up and would force them to deal with their own problems.

So what’s the solution? I have no idea. And, if they’re honest, neither does anyone else. This is so much more complex than the media let on. Maybe the reporters have no clue themselves.

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Evolution Gaining Greater Acceptance in the U.S.

Public views in U.S. are shifting toward support for evolution. I never understood this one. Maybe it because I’m Jewish and the child of a scientist, but I never saw the conflict with Genesis or the Bible. Genesis doesn’t really weigh in on the subject. Even a literalist view (which I certainly don’t have admittedly) could leave a lot of room for alternative interpretation. Opposition to evolution in the developed world is peculiar to the United States and is primarily found among evangelicals. Most others do not share this belief. I would truly like to better understand the reasons for opposition to evolution, because it’s so foreign to me. Perhaps there is a much deeper issue at play. If we could get at that, we might be able to address the real difficulty.

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/

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Shabbat: When Time Stops

Some physicists say that time is ultimately an illusion. Shabbat feels a little like that. Time seems to stop. That’s when life comes close to ‘Olam haba, the world to come, eternity, home.

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Watch Rare Interview Footage from Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s Father

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Is Belief a Jewish Notion?

A good discussion: Howard Wettstein argues that the question of belief is not important in Judaism. The question as to whether or not God exists is the wrong question. Rather the questions should be:  What is your experience of God? How do you relate to God? Judaism is experiential and practical, not theological: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/is-belief-a-jewish-notion/?

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Nazi Boycotts and Today’s Boycotts against Israel

(via Mickey Hernandez) “Eighty-one years ago today, the Nazis carried out the first nationwide, planned action against Jews in Germany: a boycott targeting Jewish businesses and professionals. SA members stood menacingly outside Jewish-owned shops and the offices of Jewish professionals, the Star of David was painted in yellow and black on store windows, and acts of violence against individuals occurred. The boycott, which lasted only a single day and was ignored by many individual Germans, marked the beginning of a larger campaign against Jews in Germany.”
This is what the Nazis did to Jews 81 years ago on this day. And once again many groups such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), a few academic and labor organizations, and leadership in some Christian denominations propose to boycott Israeli Jews today. And right now acts of violence in Europe against Jews in Europe are surging. Have some people so easily forgotten the past, or is it in their interest to forget?

“Learn more about the boycott and its aftermath: http://bit.ly/1iWq2xi

NaziBoycott1

“Photo: Members of the Storm Troopers (SA), with boycott signs, block the entrance to a Jewish-owned shop. One of the signs exhorts: “Germans! Defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews!” Berlin, Germany, April 1, 1933. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.”

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Israel Ranked as Best Country in the Middle East for Women

Israel far outpaces other countries in the Middle East when it comes to the position and treatment of women: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/178504#.UzrmE61dXDP

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What is a Week?

Six days and Shabbat: the many in the midst of the One.

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Woman who Rescued her Husband from Dachau Dies at 111

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The Story of Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands

Here is a video that discusses the history of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. This review is pertinent, given recent, false claims by Presbyterian leadership about Jewish history in the Middle East, which I discussed briefly in a previous post yesterday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTo0BLG9R8s

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PC-USA/Presbyterians Assault on Zionism and Judaism

The Presbyterian Church/PCUSA has recently promoted as a congregational resource a booklet called “Zionism Unsettled.” This has caused an enormous amount of controversy in the Jewish community (from the left to the right), as it essentially denies the legitimacy of Jewish aspirations and questions the right of Jews to have their own state.The attack on Zionism is not a critique of particular Israeli policies, but rather an assault on Israel as a Jewish state and an attack on Jewish history. It is nothing less than open and unapologetic antisemitism. Among other things, it claims that European Zionism ruined the lives of Middle Eastern Jews and that blame for the suffering of those Jews (the Mizrahi) should fall on European Jews who are colonialist usurpers. According to this narrative, European Jews have duped poor, benighted Middle Eastern Jews who were living blissful lives until those nasty Euro-Jews came along. This is a lie, pure and simple. Middle Eastern Judaism has a long history of love for Israel and hope for a return to their homeland, as do all Jews everywhere on the globe. And Jewish history in the Middle East is complex and often harsh. For example, in Yemen, Jews faced vicious persecution and lived lives of abject poverty and constant harassment and intimidation. They were not even allowed to own musical instruments, and the men were relegated to working in sewers. And, although there were times when Jewish life flourished in the Middle East, Jews throughout the Middle East also faced regular pogroms and persecution for centuries.

Many Presbyterians (if not most at the local levels) do not support this antisemitic position, but a small group of advocates and ideologues have hijacked their church. I wish the challengers all blessings and offer my support in whatever way I can be of use.

For these reasons, I am giving you links to a series of articles that Middle Eastern Jews have themselves written on this topic. I hope you find them of interest.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyn-julius/presbyterians-have-it-bac_b_4896724.html

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/open-letter-to-the-presbyterian-church-from-an-iraqi-jew/

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/presbyterian-churchs-guide-is-dead-wrong-about-iranian-jewry/

icscholar.org
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Reincarnation is a Jewish Thing

ReincarnationJewish1

Many people–including many Jews–don’t realize this, but it’s a fact (as the website below demonstrates). It’s actually the Orthodox who emphasize reincarnation, not liberal Jews.

tp://www.aish.com/sp/ph/Why-Reincarnation.html

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Fleeing the Holocaust: A Story of Travel to Iran

FlightToTehran1

The story of children who came eventually to Tehran to flee the holocaust: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/gathering_fragments/doll.asp

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Review of Robert Nicholson, “Evangelicals and Israel”

The author is intelligent, knowledgeable, and thoughtful–but also generally wrong: http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2013/10/evangelicals-and-israel/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share-via-email

I won’t go into great detail, but here are just a few points:

1) Eschatology is a BIG deal for evangelicals. In my many years of encounters, conversations, bull-sessions, and scholarly exchange with evangelical Christians, I cannot remember many times of serious interchange when the subject of eschatology did not come up. Nicholson is right that evangelicals do not agree on the details, but wrong when he downplays the importance of eschatology. In fact, I would go so far as to say that evangelicals are obsessed with both end times (all it takes is a cursory google search to see this), and that’s why evangelicals don’t always agree. In any case, in almost every scenario, Jews do not fare well. The “voluntary” conversion that Nicholson identifies is also generally accompanied (no matter which scenario) by the mass death and slaughter of the vast majority of the Jewish population. In fact, those Christian end time images of genocide (which one also finds in some Catholic depictions) have inspired antisemites for centuries, including the Nazis.

While eschatology may say nothing about the actual future, it does say something about the ways in which some Christians view Jews–and it’s not good. It says that Jews are not worthy of life in the same way that believing Christians are worthy of life. It implies, in essence, that Jews are somewhat less than human. To be fair, the view of Jews as sub-human (which the Nazis glorified) also applies to members of other faiths and to agnostics and atheists,* but Christians have had a special relationship to, and history with, Jews. For that reason, the symbolism and language of eschatological discourse and the implied status of Jews as sub-human means that Christian-Jewish relations are fraught with particular dangers and risks.

The relentless drive to convert Jews to Christianity, which characterizes most evangelicals, also presumes that Jewish practice and belief without Jesus Christ are insufficient for full human status.

2) Christian evangelical anti-Zionism is not simply a left-wing phenomenon. The author does not discuss the conservative Christians who hold disturbing views on Jews and Judaism and oppose the state of Israel. This is nothing new and has existed for a long time.

3) Since the topic of Christian Zionism, particularly CUFI (Christians United for Israel and John Hagee), has come up in many Jewish communities, I have warned that the worm will turn. There may be a substantial number of Christian Zionists today, but many of their ancestral co-religionists persecuted Jews and opposed the state of Israel. A movement which owes much of its theology to Martin Luther and other antisemites cannot just shed its inheritance in a decade or two without a serious discussion and eventual confession. And I have not seen that take place–not even remotely. Until I do and until enough time passes afterwards, I do not think that Jews should place much faith in alliances with Christian Zionists.

What’s more likely to happen is that Christian Zionists will eventually perceive Jews as intransigent and difficult because Jews are not willing to convert. Then, when their frustration reaches a tipping point, these same Christian Zionists will turn on Jews. That’s what I think is happening now. It’s not a question of “liberal” (whatever that means) evangelicals, but rather the inevitable reemergence of hatred and prejudice that has always sat lurking just beneath the surface.

This does not mean that I am opposed to conversations (which I still relish) or even to occasional alliances on very specific issues of mutual interest. I remain deeply committed to Jewish-Christian dialog, especially to the interfaith study of biblical texts, the history of Jewish-Christian relations, and theological reflection. However,it does mean that we Jews need to be clear-headed and honest about our interlocutors. The naivete, or perhaps willful ignorance, of many in the Jewish community (especially the organized Jewish community) is an even greater danger than the antisemitism of many Christians. If we Jews were more self-aware and sober in our understanding of the evangelical point of view, I would feel a lot more comfortable about Jewish-Christian relations on Israel.

And, by the way, I would have much to say that is critical of the mainline Christian community as well (especially their siding with Palestinians and their reflexive criticism of all Israeli policy), but they do not currently seem to present the same set of problems for leaders in the organized Jewish community that Christian evangelicals do. In addition, we Jews will have to confront our own prejudices and assumptions about all Christians, including evangelicals.

This article by Robert Nicholson has the potential to further cloud the minds of many in the Jewish community and lead them astray in a time of anxiety. In my view, especially when it comes to Israel, we Jews are on our own, and the sooner we realize it, the better off we’ll be. Hope, if I dare pronounce that word, comes from a survival instinct that has guided our community for over three thousand years and from the realization that resilience is part of our spiritual makeup.

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How We Should Respond to a Pro-Nazi Teaching Assignment

This teaching assignment that compelled students to take a pro-Nazi position against Jews was obviously a bad mistake, but it is one in which we all of us (especially those in the Jewish community) need to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to the teacher. Justification of hatred is not something that is legitimate in a class teaching students how to think, especially in a classroom of teenagers. Yes, we can justify any horrible action or idea through reasoned argument, but humanism and our ethical principles have to intervene at some point. At the same time, the teacher was probably not intending to promote antisemitism and hatred, but rather the opposite. Further, all the time we permit actors in theater and film to portray Nazis (think Ralph Finnes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List or Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall [Der Untergang]), and we want them to do so in a convincing fashion. In fact, we applaud them for it and give them awards. This is not an easy topic, and it’s one where all of us can go astray. Let this event not be an opportunity for recrimination and shouting, but a teaching moment.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?_r=0

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Courage to Resist

This is the story of those who plotted to assassinate Hitler. But it’s also the story of anyone who resists authority and conventional wisdom, of anyone who is a boat rocker. When you challenge what’s wrong, always be prepared to stand alone. In an ultimate sense you are not alone, but in the normal world you are. It’s a great lesson, though a very hard one:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/the_courage_to_resist_20130224/

 

This is a wonderful article by Chris Hedges, but I would also like to see attention drawn to Henning von Tresckow, who was the prime mover of the plot to assassinate Hitler (Operation Valkyrie) and a staunch opponent of antisemitism: http://mysticscholar.org/last-words-of-a-hero-general-hermann-henning-von-tresckow/

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