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.

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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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Workshop in Lexington: “Reading the Bible Mystically”: Dr. Laurence H. Kant: Fall Series: Sunday, October 11, 2-5 pm

Reading the Bible Mystically continues on Sunday, October 11, 2-5 p.m., at 131 Jesselin Drive. Everyone is welcome, whether or not you were able to attend prior sessions. This time we will discuss Genesis 3: the story of creation, human origins, the quest for knowledge and wisdom, disobedience and deception, frailty and strength, gender symbolism, and the banishment from Eden.

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READING THE BIBLE MYSTICALLY: Fall Series
Dr. Laurence H. Kant, Historian of Religion (Ph.D., Yale University, 1993)
October 11, 2015, 2-5 p.m.
Location: 131 Jesselin Drive, Lexington, KY  40503

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 fully 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 sometimes 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 spend the bulk of our time this session engaging the text, particularly Genesis 3, and discussing its use in constructing meaning for our lives. We will explore the story of creation, human origins, the quest for knowledge and wisdom, the consequences of disobedience and deception, frailty and strength, gender symbolism, and the banishment from Eden. No previous background is necessary. Mutual respect is assumed in an atmosphere open to all spiritual, religious, and non-religious points of view.

Upcoming dates in this series are as follows (at the same time from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons): October 11, November 8, and  December 13.

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 and 2 beforehand. For further information on the presenter, see the attached CV and bio, as well as the brochure with photos.

Dr. Laurence H. Kant
dblk2@qx.net
859-278-3042
http://mysticscholar.org

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Links

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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.

LiebermanCoalitionOut1

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:

SelmaKingHeschelPhoto1

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Idolatry

Anything can be idolatrous. Therefore, question everything.

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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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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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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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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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Argo Oscar: Oy

The victory of Argo at the Oscars is a major disappointment. The film is not much more than a video game played on the silver screen. It’s Hollywood fast food, pablum served to those who do not want to think much about history, art, or the Middle East. The creators of this film assumed that the audience was ignorant and mindless, and the Academy of Motion Pictures rewarded them for their cynical manipulations.

The film is historical flimflam. So many of the basic, asserted facts in the film are simply untrue: In reality everything went smoothly at the Tehran airport with no problems from Iranian security or customs; there was no airport chase; there was never a cancellation of the mission at the last minute; there was no location scouting in Tehran; the escapees were not in one house, but two; the escapees did in fact have access to the outdoors; there was no film producer played by Alan Arkin; the film vastly overstates the role of the CIA and vastly understates the Canadian component of the effort (which was in fact primary); the British and New Zealand embassies did not turn away the Americans, but helped them in many ways; and Ben Affleck resembles Latino Antonio Mendes about as accurately as Bible paintings that depict the historical Jesus as blond and blue-eyed.

The lack of historical accuracy is galling given that Steven Spielberg made every effort to adhere to veracity when he directed the epic film, Lincoln. Even more important, we are dealing right now with real, live Iranians and Muslims in the Middle East. Producing a film that distorts history and outright lies destroys American credibility and makes us look almost as manipulative and hateful as some of the leaders in the Iranian government. How do we criticize Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, for denying the Holocaust, when an Oscar-winning American film fabricates historical events in Iran out of thin air?

Iran has an ancient history, a rich culture, and a sophisticated, intelligent population. Yet, the film not only depicts Iranians as cartoonish caricatures, but also creates the impression of Iran as a giant, throbbing blob-like mob of dark, olive-skinned paranoid idiots. It reeks of Islamophobia, indulges in classic stereotypes about the Middle East and Iran, and belittles others whom we do not understand. Not only is this morally wrong, but it also harms our capacity as a society to figure out how to deal with a nation that has enormous influence over our strategic interests and is threatening to obliterate Israel with a nuclear weapon.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has done many hideous things: torturing and murdering political dissidents, arresting and humiliating political opponents, suppressing freedom of speech and the press, persecuting and murdering Bahais and gays, discriminating against other minorities, preventing free elections, spying on its own people, imprisoning US diplomats, engaging in global, state-sponsored terrorism, denying the holocaust, and threatening to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon. There is plenty to criticize here. Why would a film misstate the facts about the hostage episode and depict most Iranians as stupid, ignorant? Doing so does nothing to help anyone and seriously impairs the credibility of those trying to stop the Iranian government from engaging in nuclear terror.

Yes, Argo is a fun film to watch. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and keeps viewers hooked for every moment of the film.  But the world is not a video game, nor are people stick-figure cutouts. And, no matter what postmodern academic critics (and also apparently Hollywood directors and writers) claim, events really do happen in ways that historians and journalists can often verify. Indeed, while interpretation is enormously multifaceted and complex, we do not live in a world where facts are irrelevant and non-existent.

Maybe the film would not have garnered this kind of attention, but a film that adhered to the basic facts, focused on a story that was nuanced and subtle, and developed characters that felt authentic and genuine would have been moving, transcendent, and actually added something meaningful to our increasingly disintegrating world. Unfortunately, Argo does the opposite.

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Environmental Prophets of Doom

There is something I want to say about many in the environmental movement. I hear a lot of people predicting “The End” and the collapse of everything. In fact, I understand their point of view, and I have some sympathy with it. We as a species certainly can destroy the earth through pollution, nuclear catastrophe, destruction of eco-systems, and other means.

However, I don’t really see the value in this. What good does such pessimism and hopelessness do? If everything is going to be destroyed anyway in the near future, then please shut up and live your life. We don’t need to hear prophecies of doom any more than we need to have it rammed in to us that we are going to die some day. Yes, I know, but I don’t need someone screaming at me about it every minute of the day.

I guess I place these environmental prophets of doom in the same category as I place fundamentalist Christian evangelists who speak of the coming apocalypse. Doom-saying, apocalyptic Christians can go to Jerusalem or Texas or Salt Lake or wherever else they have a vision to await the return of Christ; ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim can await the return of Rabbi Schneerson to Brooklyn and Jerusalem; Shiite Muslims (like the current President of Iran and many others) can go to Damascus to await the descent of the twelfth imam (the Mahdi); and perhaps secular environmental prophets should go to Greenland or the Antarctic or Alaska or Polynesia to await the final collapse of civilization and planetary life.

Yes, we have problems, and they’re serious, life-threatening, even cataclysmic. We’ve been around for a little while now, and empires comes and go, as do societies and peoples. But the earth has continued, so has life, in spite of what human beings have done to the planet (and they’ve done a lot even before now). And the earth is certainly not the only planet with life, nor is this the only universe, and there are other life forms we on the planet have yet to encounter (or perhaps don’t recall).

While there is reason for an apocalyptic voice now and throughout history, sometimes it enters into pointlessness, even silliness. Often it reflects a kind of species narcissism, as if our problems, however difficult, portend the end of all that is. There’s much we don’t know or remember about our our own lives, the history of our species, and the origins and characteristics of our solar system, galaxy, and universe. Yet we presume to predict future outcomes and events based on our own limited knowledge and life-experience.

Just because our efforts do not seem to have much affect, if any, does not mean that nothing is changing. When we assume we are failing or having no impact (and I’ve done that too), we are in fact acting selfishly, assuming the world depends on us, that we have some inherent right to see change, and that our individual lifetimes have a greater value than thousands upon thousands of generations that came before us and that will come after us–not to mention the millions upon millions of generations of every cell and life-form. Maybe we need to lighten up and enjoy the music. I know I need to do that.

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Adam Sandler’s Channukah Song Part 3

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The Middle East and the Israeli Political Scene

THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISRAELI POLITICAL SCENE

Laurence H. Kant

Thomas Friedman is right on the mark in this recent New York Times article, “The Full Israeli Experience,” describing (on the one hand) the justifiable frustration Israelis have with left-wing Europeans who don’t understand what it’s like to live in the Middle East and (on the other hand) pointing out the depressing absence of significant political support for peace initiatives among Israeli parties and political leaders.

As Friedman explains, Israelis will not listen if you don’t demonstrate you have a clue as to what’s going on in the Middle East. In my view, most left-wing Europeans–and some left-wing Americans as well–haven’t got the foggiest idea. They just don’t. They live in la-la land without a meaningful sense of the history of the Middle East or of Jews (or of Arabs and Muslims for that matter). Further, their own self-confidence leads them to think that they are somehow exempt from the prejudice and antisemitism that so deeply inhabits their being. They are just too arrogant and self-righteous to see it.

I would add, however, that Israelis are themselves naive at times. They think the US religious right is on their side, and they’re wrong. As some have said, fundamentalist Christians may love Israel, but they don’t like Jews much. Or maybe they like Jews from the “Old Testament” (as they envision it), or if Jews look funny in black hats from another time. However, such Christians are not very comfortable with mainstream Jews (secular, Reform, Conservative, and some Modern Orthodox, among others) who participate in global society, wear modern clothing, and constitute the vast majority of worldwide Jewry. Many millennarian Christians are not that different from the Palestinians in an odd sort of way. The PLO and Hamas are ok with the state of Israel as long as it’s inhabited by Arabs and Muslims. These evangelicals just replace “Arabs” and “Muslims” with “Christians” (after Jews convert, and Israel becomes a Christian state in the millennial age). Other evangelicals just want all Jews to convert to Christianity. Nobody, it seems, can envision Israel as Jewish, or can see Jews as staying Jewish, much longer. Apparently that concept is verboten.

The Middle East climate is rough right now, with the Arab/Muslim world in a whirlwind of tumult. In the midst of that, Israeli politics is more confused and chaotic than usual, an environment that is, to put it simply, a crazy mess (a mischigoss, balagan).

The main thing Bibi Netanyahu seems to care about is winning elections, while Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beteinu, is racist and authoritarian (though Lieberman is progressive on reducing the power of the religious). Lieberman and Netanyahu especially use the settlers (who constitute about 10% of the total Israeli vote) to drive their foreign policy and keep them in power, because in the fragmented Israeli system relatively modest numbers can drive your vote numbers high enough to win a lot of seats.  Moshe Kahlon threatened a breakaway party that would espouse a challenge to corporate interests in Israel, but he decided to stay with Likud and not run this year. Recently emerging further on the right is Habayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home),  a coalition of the National Relgious Party and the National Union, which are further to the right of Israel Beteinu, but represent a religious Zionist approach (in contrast to Likud/Israel Beteinu, which is secular). Led by Naphtali Bennett, this party is a settlers’ movement (closely associated with the West Bank settler’s council, Yesha) that envisions a greater Israel including the West Bank, opposes a two-state solution (in a wierd way, aligning with Hamas),  and takes away votes from Likud/Israel Beteinu.

The religious parties (who represent the ultra-Orthodox Haredi), besides bent on discriminating against women, primarily want welfare for themselves and military exemptions. They are not Zionist or genuine supporters of the Israeli political system. These include primarily Shas (representing the ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, led byEli Yishai) and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, representing the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi). They rely on the weakness of the Israeli political system to essentially shakedown whatever government (right or left) is in power. Despite the portrayals of them in Western media, these groups have very little interest in, or influence over, the debate on Palestinian statehood or on West Bank settlements.

The center- and left-wings of Israeli politics are splintered and in tatters, filled with narcissists and limelight seekers (there are plenty of them on the right also, but there are more constraints on them at the moment). Friedman’s favorite centrist, Ehud Barak just sold his Tel-Aviv apartment for 26.5 million shekels or 6.5 million dollars–now there’s a real man of the people at a time when many Israelis cannot make ends meet. Beside his fondness for intrigue and drama, Barak also badly misjudged negotiating tactics in the Camp David discussions with the Palestinians in 2000.  Tzipi Livni has added former Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, to her new party (Hatnua) list so that we have two leaders whom many Israelis perceive as having failed miserably during the 2006 Lebanese war. Most Israelis naturally don’t want them in leadership. Shaul Mofaz, the current leader of Kadima, is not a popular leader, lacking charisma and political skills. Some have floated the name of Shimon Peres. While he’s been quite a statesman and leader (the man partly responsible for Israel’s nuclear program), he’s not at the right age to reenter politics at 89, and, though popular now, he did not inspire confidence in Israelis when he was in power as a Labor Party politician. Ehud Olmert has serious legal problems and his own political baggage. Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, who is growing in popularity, has virtually no foreign policy or security experience. Yair Lapid, head of the new party, Yesh Atid, advocates for a secular society and for women’s rights in explicit opposition to the religious, but his platform is probably too narrow to attract enough  votes to make him a significant player. The left-wing party, Meretz, describes itself as the peace party and as socialist, but most Israelis view it as too idealistic and unrealistic.

Overall, most Israelis don’t particularly like Netanyahu, but at least he’s competent in their view.

HBO or Showtime could easily serialize Israeli politics into a weekly evening soap opera, with wild twists and turns, intrigues, plots and counter-plots, jam-packed with drama-kings and drama-queens.

At the same time, one can trace the currently disturbed state of Israeli politics back to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhaq Rabin by a right-wing settler (Yigal Amir) who was himself goaded by the inflammatory rhetoric of settler leaders, politicians, and rabbis. Many Israelis (and diaspora Jews as well) are still stunned by the idea that a Jew would murder the Jewish leader of a Jewish state. Just as it took the US a long time to recover from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, it may take Israel a long time to find its political way after this traumatic event. The incapacitating stroke of Ariel Sharon in 2006 just after he had successfully led Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza further exacerbated the political trauma and left Israel without another of its seminal leaders. Rabin and Sharon may not have seen eye to eye, but they were powerful leaders who had a vision for Israel and its place in the Middle East. They had obvious military credentials, were tough individuals with strong egos, and possessed a willingness to fight in the political underbrush. They also believed in seeking peace through strength, taking measures to demonstrate both their toughness and their openness to reconciliation. Their loss has had a deeply depressive effect on the Israeli body politic. We should not forget this.

Of course, the structure of the Israeli political system is flawed, allowing for the proliferation of smaller parties some of which wield power well beyond the numbers of their supporters. It makes coherence, consensus, and political stability more difficult to achieve than it should be. What we end up with is an already fragmented electorate even more fragmented.

Israelis are particularly bleak at the moment about the Arab world and about Palestinian society. All you have to do is take a look at the recent statement of Hamas leader, Khalid Meshal, about Israel: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” How do you have a rational discussion with a group that openly states that it wishes to annihilate you? Plus, Israelis have their own internal problems with an outrageous cost of living and enormous divisions between the secular and the religious.

Yet, in the final analysis, most Israelis want peace and will go a long way out of their comfort zone to make peace. Eventually the political culture will reflect that. Unfortunately, it may take more time. Given the situation in the Arab world and the lack of acceptance of a Jewish state, Israel’s neighbors are clearly in no mood to recognize a Jewish Israel. And, given Israel’s own divisions, Israelis find it difficult to harness a unified vision and national identity.

Things never move as quickly as we would like, but still they’re moving, however slowly. For example, attempts to bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together are flourishing in all sorts of unlikely places in Israel and the West Bank. Within Israel we are seeing attempts from all sides of the political spectrum to lower the cost of living and help disadvantaged Israelis. And there are movements now to bridge the divide between the secular and religious in Israel.

Further, while the so-called Arab Spring could devolve into chaos or produce fanatic Muslim fundamentalist governments (see Iran, but this time potentially mostly Sunni rather than Shiite), it also presents the only real possibility for change in the Arab/Muslim world. The risks are enormous, but the previous corrupt, repressive governments of the Middle East (some of which still exist, with a few more barely holding on to power) would never have been able to bring about peace with Israel or democratic prosperity at home. Realistically, as dangerous and as anxiety-provoking as possible outcomes are, this change is the best hope Israel has for peace.

Part of the problem is that we can visualize peace, and that makes it seem closer than it actually is, but in reality peace is there on the horizon, just further out than we would like. Sometimes hope (as Pema Chodron says) holds us back and pushes us to do things which we should not. What we really need is neither hope nor despair, but an honest, clear-headed view of what’s in front of us, supported and nurtured by a fundamental trust in the universe (which is, after all, the Jewish way).

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-full-israeli-experience.html (Thanks to Nelson French! for this article)

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Critique of Obama and 1967 by Rabbi H.D. Uriel Smith

Here is an article Rabbi Uriel Smith of Lexington, Kentucky, critiquing Obama’s statement on Israel and the 1967 borders. While I don’t agree with Rabbi Smith on Obama, he offers a crucial insight into the importance of Arabic for Israelis. Jewish writers and cultural leaders have written and spoken in Arabic for centuries, but Mizrahi immigration to Israel did not produce a continuation of this tradition. Israelis (and Jews) forgot or rejected their Arabic heritage. For Israel to function successfully in a primarily Arabic-speaking Middle East (except Iran and Turkey), Israelis will have to adopt not only Hebrew, English and (perhaps) Russian, but Arabic as well.

Thanks to Rabbi Smith for taking the time to make this important point. Rabbi Smith has a wide range of interests, with extensive knowledge of Israel, the Middle East, and Judaism. He also has a background in physics and has spent considerable time investigating the stage theory of thinking.

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“Based on 1967 With Mutually Agreed Swaps” Equals Gridlock

by H. D. Uriel Smith

In 2002 Michael Walzer identified four Israeli-Palestinian wars that were conducted simultaneously (Arguing About War [New Haven & London: Yale Univ., 2004], 113):

  • The first is a Palestinian war to destroy the State of Israel.
  • The second is a Palestinian war to create an independent state, ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
  • The third is an Israeli war for the security of Israel within the 1967 borders.
  • The fourth is an Israeli war for Greater Israel, including the settlements and the occupied territories.

This helps us understand the Israeli situation, but it does so by simplifying it in various ways. Thus, these four wars have intermediate sub-wars, such as those manipulating the boundaries. Next, the tactics of war include diplomacy, spying, smuggling, building and demolishing houses and farmland, both legally and illegally, and manipulating the news media, as well as guerrilla war and rocketry. The simplification furthermore conceals the manipulations of outsiders from the west and the east, including the Quartet supposedly guaranteeing the Oslo Road Map, Iran, and the Arab League, each with its own prejudgements, promotions, and plans of action. Finally, it treats Israel as the main force in the area, and thus responsible for all the peace delays, even though both sides of the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians, always have had very few viable options, and all these options were mutually contradictory.

President Obama in his May 19 speech outlining his administration’s policy on the Middle East, and in his May 22 speech to the AIPAC Policy Conference stated that negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement should quickly start again, with the 1967 armistice lines serving as the basis for a future land-swap. In effect he declared the first and last of the wars identified by Walzer to be illegitimate. However, his formulation involves a whole series of obfuscations. The armistice lines were never legal borders. The proposed land-swaps were never capable of being equitable swaps. The “1967” date is really a 1949 date. And, since when Israel captured the West Bank only Great Britain and Pakistan had recognized Jordan’s annexation of that area, the question whether the area was “occupied territory” remained from the start under legal dispute. All that President Obama did was to join the other members of the Quartet in trying to ram mutually contradictory half-truths down the throats of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, instead of guaranteeing the Oslo Road Map to peace, the only path to peace that already had been agreed upon by all sides. In short, his formulation set a road map to gridlock.

Scholars have long ago shown that when there is a long-lasting dispute the strongest participant in the dispute is blamed for prolonging the dispute. So, by forcing Netanyahu to protest publicly President Obama’s program (“the mouse that roared”) America is reinforcing the caricature of Israel’s responsibility for holding back the peace prospects.

Nevertheless, there is a path to peace, though it is slow and will take a long time to succeed. The troubles in Northern Ireland took many decades to be overridden. The recent visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland should have reminded us that it took ninety years since a British monarch could again visit Ireland. Both President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan have visited Israel.

In order for there to be peace between Israel and its neighbours Israel will have to remain strong, with a military edge over its neighbours. It will have to maintain an economic edge, continually developing scientific, engineering, and humanistic studies with practical applications at the forefront of human endeavours. And it will have to be capable of communicating easily with its neighbours.

For the last requirement to succeed, Israel will have to become trilingual, much as the Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land were at the end of the Second Temple period. The Israelis already learn English, French, or Russian, so that they can speak “computerese” and do business in foreign markets. The Israelis should also routinely learn Arabic. More completely bilingual (Hebrew and Arabic) primary and secondary schools have to be developed. The Misrahi (Oriental) Jews should start learning Judeo-Arabic in their yeshivot (rabbinical academies), just as the Ashkenazi yeshivot use Yiddish. In this way they can learn the classical texts of Rav Saadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Pakuda, Judah Ha-Levi, and the Rambam (Maimonides) in their original language. Each party in the Knesset should as a rule have half of its members being trilingual, speaking Hebrew, Arabic, and at least one other language. (This would in some ways be similar to the Canadian official bilingualism, where both English and French are official languages.)

Since the foundation of the State of Israel Arabic has been an official language in Israel. However, in February 24 this year, a draft bill was debated proposing the abolishment of Arabic as an official language. On the other hand, in March we had news that Palestinians are trying to flood the Knesset emails with letters in Arabic containing “information about the Palestinian issue.” So extremists on both sides are trying to harm the regular communications of official Israeli business. It is time to recognize that only through communication on all levels that peace can be promoted.

———————–

See also my essays on Obama and the 1967 boundaries:

For Part I, see http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/23/obama-and-1967

For Part II, go to http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/24/obama-and-1967-2/

For Part III, go to http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/26/getting-to-yes-negotiating-101-with-netanyahu-and-obama/

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Getting to Yes: Negotiating 101 with Netanyahu and Obama (Part III)

You would think from some  editorial commentary, the bloviating of certain politicians, and defensive reactions in some quarters of the Jewish community that Obama and Netanyahu had a huge argument and that they were now going to have a trial separation. All the neighbors heard them fighting and now the yenta circuit has spread word all over town about the verbal explosion in the well-to-do white sandstone house down the street.  As I have suggested in two previous posts, this reaction is politically naive.

The words of Netanyahu and Obama did not diverge significantly on borders. The tone of Netanyahu was certainly more assertive than that of Obama, but the substance of what Netanyahu said did not differ substantially from what Obama and Israeli negotiators and diplomats have said for years. The 1967 borders will serve as  a baseline for negotiations, but the final borders will not be the same as the 1967 Green Line and the large settlements will remain part of Israel. Netanyahu and Obama agreed on that.

The difference in the language and style has to do with domestic considerations and negotiating strategy.

Netanyahu has to sound tough to appeal to his Likud base (although the majority of Israelis in recent polls did not agree with him on this). American presidents succeed when they take the role of statesmen, because Americans want the U.S. to lead in making the world a more peaceful place. In our national psyche, we see ourselves as having a mission to bring freedom and  success to other parts of the world.

As negotiators, Obama and Netanyahu are playing good cop and bad cop. This has occurred as long as there has been diplomacy. Negotiating in the Middle East is treacherous. Ehud Barak erred in 1999-2000 when he put all his cards on the table without having others in reserve. There is no way that Arab leaders will agree to a treaty unless it seems that they are sticking it to the Israelis and sucking them dry at the negotiating table. Any proposal that an Israel leader approves of at the outset is a dead proposal. No Palestinian would agree to it. At the same, Netanyahu cannot just abandon his base. However, when an American leader pushes him, he can say that he had to acquiesce on some matters, because of the importance of our friendship with the U.S. and because of the transformation that peace would bring to Israel.

This is a kabuki dance. It has always been like this, and it always be like this as long as we play the game of negotiations. What Netanyahu and Obama are doing is Negotiating Strategy 101–basic stuff. That doesn’t mean it will work, but it does provide a chance for peace.

——————————–

For Part I, see http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/23/obama-and-1967

For Part II, see http://mysticscholar.org/2011/05/24/obama-and-1967-2/

See also the article by Rabbi H.D. Uriel Smith: http://mysticscholar.org/2011/06/06/critique-of-obama-and-1967/

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The Valmadonna Book Collection Goes on Sale Again

A fascinating story that illustrates the precariousness of Jewish cultural heritage:

http://www.forward.com/articles/137521/ (via Dianne Bazell)

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Lexington Temple Adath Israel Conducts B’not Mitzvah Ceremony

At Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, a group of adult women and Rabbi Marc Kline conducted a B’not Mitvah ceremony.  Traditionally this marks the entrance of children into adulthood at the age of thirteen, but many adults, especially women, did not have the opportunity to to have a Bat Mitvah or Bar Mitzvah as teenagers. This ceremony gives such adults the chance to experience an important rite of passage.

http://www.kansascity.com/2011/05/18/2884098/non-traditional-students-celebrate.html

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Passover Coke

Rabbi Geffen sounds like a great man who understood the importance of maintaining tradition while adapting to new cultures. To me that’s being Jewish is all about.

I actually do eat corn during Passover, and I don’t see the problem. Corn is not a grain and is not leavened in any case. Ashkenazim don’t eat corn (along with beans, rice, and other similar plants), but Sephardim do. In fact, I believe the Ashkenazi understanding of “grains” is wrong and should be consciously repudiated. It’s a silly rule. I would even eat barley and oats as long as they are not leavened, which means cooked for more than eighteen minutes. This putting “a hedge around the Torah” business sometimes gets ridiculous, obsessive, and comical.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/us/23religion.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fnational%2Findex.jsonp (via Nelson French)

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Creation

Creation is a process that never stops (Gen 1-2)

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Protesters Descend on Israel’s Borders

This is one way to distract everyone from their internal problems in the Arab world:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110515/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_israel_palestinians

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Neo-Nazi Shot by Son

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Israel and the U.S. Are Ultimate Allies

This is an excellent analysis and survey by U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Michael Oren: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/25/the_ultimate_ally?page=full

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Israel Taking Holocaust Restitution Into Own Hands

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Theresienstadt Propaganda Film and the Holocaust

A sad and revealing story about a Jewish director who in 1944 made a propaganda film under Nazi supervision at the Theresienstadt camp in order to fool the International Red Cross. This film was just re-released to remind us not only of the holocaust, but to show us the use of propaganda to propagate a lie:
http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/04/27/3087086/rare-nazi-propaganda-film-showcases-theresienstadt-as-paradise-for-inmates

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Promised Land

Does the Source want us to reach the promised land? No. The Source wants us to be on our way there, to walk toward it.  There is no promised land: only a dirt path with spectacular scenery, our two legs, and good travel companions.  The path is rocky and slow-going, but we learn much along the way. There are lots of alternate routes, and each one takes us to new vistas and landscapes.  When we finally do arrive at the place for which we yearn, we find that it’s just another dirt path taking us somewhere else.

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Being and Becoming in Shabbat

Shabbat closes the weekly circle, being completing becoming.  Then a new curved line swirls outward, moving forward, waiting to meet its sibling at the beginning and at the end, to commence again in an eternally re-forming helix.  This is the 7-day ourobouros, the snake swallowing its tail, shabbat swallowing six days of creation.  We go forward, only to begin again, before the Source swallows us, and life then continues in a new form.  A day, a week, a month, each a re-forming of days, weeks, and months before them.  No different from life, Gilgul:  we are born, we live, we die, rest a while in shabbat, to move gain as new life forms, beings in the midst of becomings.

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The Moral Ambiguity of Spanish Jewish Heritage

Is the Spanish government’s  emphasis on Jewish tourism a legitimate enterprise? http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/04/04/3086707/spain-building-monuments-to-its-jewish-past-critics-question-motives

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Lost

Lost we wander in the wilderness trying to find an oasis, not realizing that both the wilderness and the oasis are inside us.

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Sweden and the USA

This article by David Michael Green argues that Sweden is a much better county in which to live than the USA.

Of course, Sweden, that paragon of freedom, democracy, and equality, is now riven with conflict between Swedes and immigrant Muslims, turning antisemitic (I don’t think it’s the place for people like me with its distaste for MOTs),  and busy trying to extradite Julian Assange so that it can protect governments from that wicked scourge of (gasp)–transparency. Diversity is not exactly one of Sweden’s hallmarks.

Worshipping Sweden reminds me of a Euro-version of Edward Said’s “Orientalism”: the left romanticizing modern Norsemen in their quest for a homogenous Valhalla that doesn’t really exist.

Everything looks greener when you don’t live there.

Sweden, I’m sure, has wonderful attributes, but it’s not nirvana. I’ve always said that you don’t really belong to any group until you see its underside and still love it. That’s a grown-up way to view the world. The other is for children.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/06-2

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The Fall of Glenn Beck: Wacko Conspiracies and Antisemitism

This describes the demise of one of the more bizarre figures in American culture: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2011/04/06/AFNEgnqC_story.html

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Genesis

Genesis is the story of flawed characters just like us.

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