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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Rape Culture at the University of Virginia and College Campuses

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Rape culture is pervasive in U.S. colleges and universities, but even more so at the University of Virginia. The extent of violence surprised even me.

Interesting that it took Rolling Stone to produce this story rather than one of the mainstream news outlets. So many local newspapers and news stations have essentially enabled this kind of revolting power dynamic at some of our most prestigious higher educational institutions. Many of them are simply advertisers and marketers for their local university and have few real journalists, if any. And most national outlets aren’t any better, as they’re committed to establishment institutions as they currently exist.

This is a story as much about what we allow to happen as it is about what’s happening. If the media and higher educational administrations did their jobs and if we put these students in prison as criminals for the rape crimes that they have committed, then this behavior would diminish. The students who engage in these abusive crimes are criminals, thugs, and our society should treat them as such.
We let thieving bankers, rapists, and police shooters live their lives as respected citizens, but put in prison drug users and the poor who can’t pay debts. There’s something wrong with this picture. If society does nothing to address this, there will be a massive, popular reaction against all the imbalance. Nature abhors a vacuum.

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119

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Ferguson and Michael Brown

As I read the media accounts of the grand jury on the shooting of Michael Brown, I am surprised that there is so little coverage of how a grand jury is supposed to function. All a grand jury has to do is see if there’s enough evidence to indict someone. It’s not supposed to weigh conflicting evidence, or examine conflicting stories, or assess what the most likely scenario of events was. It’s simply there to determine if sufficient evidence exists to reasonably conclude that someone may have done something.

This grand jury acted as if they were in a trial, but that’s not how it’s supposed to go. And the district attorney acted much more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor, which is very odd to say the least. The trial is where the evidence is supposed to be weighed, not a grand jury.

The joke is that most prosecutors could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. So you can see that the unwillingness to indict the police officer is a bizarre outcome and clearly reflects that something else was going on. I don’t think it’s very difficult to figure out what that was.

It’s really not complicated. According to this grand jury, and many others as well, African American life is worth less than white life. And many jurisdictions view police as judge, jury, and executioner. We are no longer a of laws, but of people. Of course, that’s anti-constitutional, but the situation will improve only when people rise up, protest, and force change.

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Charlotte (Lotte) Kaplan-Kant

 

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My mom, Charlotte (Lotte) Kaplan-Kant, c. 1938 on left in front of a Poughkeepsie shop and c. 1943 on her house porch

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My Great-Grandfather and Grandparents in Pinsk and the U.S.

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On the top left is my maternal great-grandfather (my grandmother’s father), Jacob Kaston (Kastonowicz), in the early 1900s from Pinsk (Belarus). He never came to this country. The photo to his right is my grandmother Leah Kaston in her high-fashion of the day c. 1917 in Pinsk. She was in her early 20s. The third photo is my grandmother c. 1925 with her husband, Nathan Kaplan (my grandfather) in the U.S. While my grandfather sold fruits and vegetables on his cart, my grandmother invested in real estate in Poughkeepsie and managed the family finances. In Belarus she worked in a bookstore in Pinsk. On the far right is my grandfather with my mom’s brother, Alvin, c. 1945. Alvin died tragically of an apparent heart attack in the late 1950s (he was a pharmacist). I still have a stuffed animal lion (which growls when pressed) given to me by him. I think of him whenever I see it. My grandparents sent all their children–Lotte (Charlotte), Ann, and Alvin–to college.

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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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Bryce Canyon National Park

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Here we (with Dianne Bazell) are at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah in August, 2014.

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My Grandfather and His Horse

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My grandfather, Nathan (Notke) Kaplan, had a fruit and vegetable cart by which he made his living. When I knew him, he used a truck to transport his produce, but, in the old days, he used a horse to pull the cart. The first picture shows my grandfather with the horse, while the second photo is a picture of the horse with the groom (I think). I’m guessing that these photos are from the early 1920s.

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My Mom as a Girl

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My mom, Charlotte “Lotte” Kaplan, and her sister Ann Murkoff, as girls c. 1934-1938. Left two photos are mom on left and Ann on right. Second photo from right is my grandmother on left (Leah), then mom, then Ann, then my grandfather (Nathan/Notke). Right photo is Ann on left and mom on right with two unknown boys (probably cousins).

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Grand Staircase Escalante

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Here we are in Grand Staircase, Escalante in southern Utah. Above are three photos.

And see these videos below:

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Charlotte Kant Kaplan and Lev Gleason

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CHARLOTTE KANT (my mom) AND LEV GLEASON (comic book publisher)

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Right after college (SUNY Teacher’s College, Albany, math major), my mom (Charlotte Kaplan, 1928-2012) who was from Poughkeepsie, New York, moved to the big city, Manhattan. She worked as a secretary (1950/51-55?) for one of the founders of the modern comic book industry, Lev Gleason, at 114 East 32nd Street. His series included Silver Streak Comics, Daredevil Comics, and Crime Does Not Pay.

Lev Gleason was a brilliant, visionary man. His idea of a comic book written for adults heralded the age of graphic novels in which we now live. My mother valued people like that and looked up to them. She was an extremely practical person, detail-oriented, but she deeply valued vision and imagination. And Lev had that in spades. Gleason was strongly anti-Fascist and opposed Hitler in his comics and other writings. After enlisting in World War II, he continued to publish anti-Fascist comics. For his leftist politics, his association in the 1930s with the communist party (which many on the left in those days had supported because of Hitler, Mussolini, and others, as well as because of the Depression), and his refusal to name names, he was cited for contempt by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Of course, that was the committee associated with the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy (though he was a senator and not directly involved with house committees).

Along with the decline of the comic book industry in the mid-1950s (spurred by attacks that it encouraged juvenile delinquency and moral laxness), the congressional attacks ruined Gleason who ended up becoming a small-time real estate agent. However, his work inspires comic book writers to this day.

For some time, in the 1950s, my mother brought him food and a little money to help support him. What the U.S. government did to people like Lev was reprehensible and wrong.

I’m sure that Jewish youth at that time would have seen Lev (who was not Jewish, though most of his peers in the comic book industry were) as a heroic figure for his fight against Fascism and Hitler. My mom lost one of her mother’s sister’s (Bunya) and much of Bunya’s family in the Holocaust (murdered by the Nazis in Bobruysk, Belarus, in 1943). This affected our family deeply. Still does (unconsciously for the most part). My grandmother (Leah) cried about it for as long as I knew her, and there was always a hole.

For that reason among others, my mother no doubt saw Lev as a figure to admire. My mother was an extremely practical and detail-oriented person. However, she deeply valued people with imagination and vision. And Lev Gleason had that in spades.

Above is a photograph of Lev autographed for my mom and another photo of her with Lev and the staff of Lev Gleason Publications: mom is the one in the middle with the black top; Lev Gleason is the man with the glasses at the far left.

The man on the far right of the photo (to the the right of the woman whose name I don’t know) is Charles Biro, who created the comic book characters, Air Boy and Steel Sterling, and edited Daredevil Comics. He saw comic books as “illustories,” the forerunner of our graphic novels. He’s a major figure in graphic arts and editing.  Stan Lee was asked about his success at Marvel Comics, he said “The secret is Charles Biro” (with whom he spoke by telephone on a regular basis): Here’s more on Charles Biro: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Biro

In Crime Does Not Pay (1942-1945), Gleason and Biro had artists and writers interview real criminals. Though standard operating practice now for crime writers, this was groundbreaking at the time.

The man directly to the right of my mom is Bob Wood, a talented artist who worked for Lev Gleason on many of his comic book series and helped to created the Crime Does Not Pay series. Wood became most famous for murdering his girlfriend Violette Phillips in 1958 and going to Sing Sing for it.

If anyone knows who either of the other two people are, I would appreciate the information.

For more on Gleason, see the following items:

http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/05/leverett-gleason

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Gleason_Publications

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daredevil_(Lev_Gleason_Publications)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Streak_(comics)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_Does_Not_Pay_(comics)

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Technically my mother was a secretary. According to one of my sisters, she talked about doing menial things, such as retrieving staff dry cleaning and lunch. However, my mother was one of those organizer types, a take-charge kind of person and was extremely sociable. She was magnetic and would walk into a room, and everyone would gravitate toward her, as the photo suggests.  She was the type of person who could organize big events, pull a lot of details together, and make everything work. If she were born now, she would probably end up a CEO. Obviously, that wasn’t possible in those days.

In spite of her extroversion, she was an excellent listener and very private. She did not talk about herself a lot and used her outgoing nature very discreetly. One would never know what was going on inside her, and she would never spill a secret.

What she told me and what I remember is vague. She was also not a person who bragged at all or talked about private matters.  So I wouldn’t take this for fact. But she suggested indirectly to me that she shouldered some responsibility for the business, financial side of things. She may have helped keep the trains running, as some might say, and kept the books straight. She also was a social butterfly who I believe organized some of the parties and get-togethers there.

From what I can gather, Lev was not exactly adept at business, but my mother would have been. She would certainly have helped out in that way. I assume that Lev Gleason Publications comprised an extremely artistic, creative group of people. Mom was very attracted to those kind of people, and she would have wanted to organize them and make things work more effectively. She looked at artists, scholars, inventors as people to manage and keep on track. Of course, she was probably also doing all the things a secretary and female employee did in those days, a lot of which was grunt work.

My mother always mentioned that she brought Lev food and a little money to Lev in jail and that he was destitute for some time. At least, that’s what I thought. I asked my wife, Dianne Bazell, again whether she heard my mother say this, and she said that she had. So it’s not just my own memory here. My mother was not the type to exaggerate or embellish. If anything, her personality would lead her to minimize something like this. She played things down more than she played things up.

But I realize this doesn’t fit with what we know about Lev Gleason. All the stuff I’ve read (cursorily, I admit) mentions nothing about jail or prison. And there’s nothing about poverty. One of my sisters does not recall hearing about any of this from mom. I recognize that there’s something that doesn’t jibe here and hope that more information will come to light.

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Charlotte Kant: 1928-2012

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My mom circa 1946: Charlotte (“Lotte”) Kaplan, 1928-2012.

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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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Arches National Park

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Arches National Park, just north of Moab in Eastern Utah, which we visited in August, 2014 (with Dianne Bazell)

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Dianne Bazell’s Inadvertent Selfie

 

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Dianne took this inadvertently at Monument Rocks, Kansas, in August, 2014. I love this photo.

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Kansas Monument Rocks

 

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Here we were in August, 2014, in Western Kansas at a site called Monument Rocks. Who would’ve thunk it, but in the middle of the plains you find these amazing rock formations from an ancient sea that once divided North America. In the rocks, you can actually see the tiny shells and bones of molluscs, crustaceans, and fish that fell to the bottom as they died millions of years ago, forming a limestone ooze, and hardening over time. I had a little encounter with what I believe was a rattlesnake (I kept on hearing a rattle, and it got louder as I walked until I realized what it probably was and got out of there before I took too close a look). Just stunning the kind of beauty you can find in the most unexpected places.

This site was apparently the first U.S. landmark so designated by the Department of Interior. It takes over an hour and a half to get there on a dirt road, but it’s well worth the trouble. A blast.

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Lawsuit to Block Denton Texas Fracking Ban

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I am not against fracking when properly overseen (our society still requires fossil fuels), but I am appalled (though not surprised) by the lawsuit attempting to overturn the city of Denton’s (Texas) vote to ban fracking. How can people who attack government power and who call for respect for individual rights, especially for property owners, suddenly do an about-face and file a lawsuit to nullify the will of a community? This has nothing to do with principles and everything to do with money and power, pure and simple.

So much for conservatives and property rights. So much for conservatives and local control.

http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/11/06/bush-family-inner-circle-office-denton-texas-fracking-ban-lawsuits

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Fracking Bans Passed in Texas, Ohio, California

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I believe that fracking can be a legitimate process, but right now there’s insufficient oversight, and property owners are paying the price. I’m a strong environmentalist, but also understand that our energy needs require some fossil fuels at this time. Isn’t there a way to drill natural gas more intelligently and carefully than destroying people’s communities? I fear that the fracking industry is destroying itself. People are going to rise up and demand that the frackers stay out of their neighborhoods unless the industry finds a way to do this more respectfully. Fracking will go the way of the nuclear power industry, which has similar issues. The NIMBY movement (not in my backyard) is beginning to assert itself, and the industry will find it very difficult to resist.

I’m sure I’ll get hammered by both sides on this, but isn’t there a way to figure this out so that fracking is more environmentally sound and so that the industry actually listens to the property owners and neighbors who have to live near this process? Why can’t we have it both ways?

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/11/05/3589129/texas-denton-ban-fracking/

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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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Obama Policy on ISIS

I agree with Obama’s moves against ISIS, in which he is essentially cleaning up the mess that the Bush administration created with its invasion of Iraq. It is also an attempt at preventing genocide of various groups (Yazidis, Kurds, Christians, Shia, and others). However, it is a VERY risky operation, filled with peril and dangers on every side. I’m certainly not convinced it will work. I just think it’s our least bad option in a series of worse possibilities. Here’s the other side and a fair illustration of what could happen if things fall apart: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175908/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_seven_bad_endings_to_the_new_war_in_the_middle_east/

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Media Bias and Israel

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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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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

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

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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

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“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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Richard Nixon Sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam Peace Talks

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Would people view President Johnson more favorably if they knew this story?

In spite of the Vietnam mess of which Johnson was obviously a major player, I think he was a great president and am disappointed in the low esteem in which many hold him. I despised Vietnam as a kid and still do, but there is more to a man than that disaster. How about civil rights, voting rights, fair housing, Medicare, anti-poverty legislation like Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps, and work study, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, the Public Broadcasting Service, promotion of science including our first trip to the moon (started by Kennedy, finished by Johnson), immigration reform/liberalization, massive aid for education, among others?

That’s quite a list.  However, this sordid tale of Nixon’s misdeeds makes Johnson even more appealing.

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/02/16/does-nixons-treason-boost-lbjs-legacy/

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Global Surveillance Apparatus Largely Independent of National Politicians

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Like many multi-national corporations, the international surveillance apparatus apparently operates globally without any meaningful checks and balances. National leaders do not even know the extent to which their own intelligence agencies are or are not cooperating with the NSA. This is tantamount to a kind of international shadow government.

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/03/13/nsa-elected-officials-foreign-countries-unaware-countries-cooperation-us/

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The NSA is Hacking Systems Administrators

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The U.S. is Using Solitary Confinement in its Prisons at a much higher rate than other Countries

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This is a troubling trend that betrays the fundamental values of a free society: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/20/solitary-confinement-psychological-effects-sarah-shourd/print

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Woman who Rescued her Husband from Dachau Dies at 111

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NSA Can Record an Entire Nation’s Telephone Calls: Surveillance Unleashed

To say the least, this is disturbing. The NSA now has the capability of recording not only metadata, but also the content of telephone calls across an entire country. When can we start saying that we live in a police state? http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-surveillance-program-reaches-into-the-past-to-retrieve-replay-phone-calls/2014/03/18/226d2646-ade9-11e3-a49e-76adc9210f19_story.html

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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/

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The NSA Installs Malware Globally: The Outer Limits of Surveillance

NSAMalware1

Though not surprising, this is appalling. It’s another indication how close we are to totalitarianism.

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/03/12/nsa-plans-infect-millions-computers-malware/


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