Friday, November 21, 2014

Is it an Intifada Yet?

There are (for the purposes of this post, at least) two types of war.  There are wars that start suddenly and unexpectedly, seemingly with little or no warning.  World War I is perhaps the best example of this.  On June 27, 1914, the day before the assassination of  Archduke Ferdinand, Europeans were planning their summer vacations. By early August, in all the major European powers, they were marching to war.

The second type of war is foreshadowed for years before the actual fighting begins, and move towards actual hostilities slowly and agonizingly, with the major contenders marshaling their forces, heightening their rhetoric, and counting their grievances before blood is spilled. World War II, or if you prefer to keep Hitler out of it, the American Civil War are the best examples of this type of war.  Whatever other emotions people had on  September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, or when General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (love that name!) commenced shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, surprise was low on the list.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The View from East Jerusalem

Given the violent and turbulent times that we have been experiencing in Jerusalem, people have asked me what my perspective is as one of the rare Israelis who regularly spends time every week in East Jerusalem. That was my motivation for writing the article that was published last night at The Times of Israel on The View from East Jerusalem.  Your comments are welcome.

Here's how it begins:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Words of Wisdom in These Dark Times

Originally composed before yesterday's terrorist attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem, the following is adapted from Phyllis Bernstein's D'var Torah delivered at the Nov. 17th meeting of the Israeli Arab committee of her local New Jersey Jewish community federation, which she co-chairs:

This week's portion (Chayei Sarah) is distinctive for its lesson on coexistence and a rational approach to neighbors. Genesis contains a story about Sarah's burial, what it means to perpetuate life on a promised land, and how to deal with the neighbors.

Abraham wanted and needed for his spiritual fulfillment a shared space. A shared space required--and still does to this day-- honorable and equitable shared commerce. That is why Abraham begins and ends his engagement with the Hittites with an insistence on proper buying and selling of property.

There is another important element: Abraham’s self-identification as a stranger and a temporary resident. Rabbis say "love thy neighbor" is one of the most important concepts in Biblical literature and one of the most frequently quoted commandments. Thirty-four times the Bible commands the Jewish people to love the stranger and resident among them. 

This is the most important lesson Judaism offers to the world. It is not a message of unity, or absorption of one into another. It is a message of plurality, and to honor difference across borders. It is a lesson that the world cannot survive without, and it is a message to those living in the Promised Land, and in Jerusalem. 

Understanding Terror Is NOT Justifying It

Yesterday morning a close friend of mine posted on Facebook a report about the terrorist attack in Jerusalem. “When would it end?” She asked. “It would end when we find a solution,” I responded. My friend was enraged. As a liberal American Jew, she finds stories about violations of Palestinian civil rights upsetting, but she thinks that explaining the context of a murder in a synagogue means justifying it. On her Facebook feed, I felt compelled to condemn the terrorist attack, but I hated doing this without being able to say more.

I do not need to condemn a murder of religious Jews in Jerusalem. I lived there in the height of terror in the 1990s, when buses exploded and people were killed in restaurants. I remember what I was doing in March 1996, when a terrorist blew himself up at the entrance of Dizingoff Center, some 200 feet from my apartment building. Two hours later the phones were still down, forensic teams were collecting human remains from the tree in front of my house. When I went upstairs to the roof to watch, a policeman yelled at me. It was dangerous. I could neither leave my own apartment, nor talk to anyone. I remember my father's eyes, when he knocked on the door. He walked through backyards, so no one could see him. He needed to make sure I was alive. I know what it means to live under terror, and this is precisely why I want it to end. But it will not end until we understand the causes and resolve them; and understanding does not mean justifying.

My friend’s refusal to contextualize terror echoes perfectly what Netanyahu’s spokespeople have been saying since the 1990s: “This has nothing to do with our actions,” “they hate us,” “they want to throw us out of here,” and most importantly, “Palestinian terror is a direct continuation of European antisemitism.” Noam Sheizaf wrote this in 972 magazine:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Other Israel Film Festival: Screening 'On the Left'

Part I of a four-part Israeli television series, "ON THE LEFT (the story of the Israeli Left 1948-2012)", was showcased Nov. 9 and 11, at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York.  Each of the many films and TV programs featured were co-sponsored by one or more progressive Jewish group. And this one was ours this year.  PPI's representative chose this film on the basis of viewing a limited excerpt.

It's described in the festival's brochure as a documentary on the history of the Israeli left.  Instead, it's a far-left polemic against the idea that there ever was an Israeli left; as I recall, its title in the opening credits even appears with a question mark: "An Israeli Left?"  Rather than raising serious issues for careful scrutiny, it's an unrelenting attack on Israel's left-wing legacy and the notion that there's any justice to Israel's creation and existence.

It's too bad there wasn't a panel afterwards, including one or more people who could reasonably critique the film. Rather than introducing an independent voice, both presentations concluded with appearances by Anat Saragusti, the film's researcher.  In the Q & A at the downtown venue, she responded politely to my friend's concern that the film had a predetermined ideological agenda, claiming that they simply went where the facts led them.

Fellow blogger, Hillel Schenker, provided this perspective from his home in Tel Aviv:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thoughts on Seeing Klinghoffer Opera, at Last

Over the weekend, I attended the last performance of “The Death of Klinghoffer” at the Met. I tried as best I could, despite reading about 20 reviews of the production, to view it without preconceptions. I must say that I came away astonished that anyone could see the opera as Anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, or in any way condoning Palestinian terrorism.  The opera provides the strongest possible condemnation of  terrorism, and the terrorists who killed Klinghoffer are depicted as monsters, with their rationalizations for the crimes the rationalizations and self-delusions of monsters.  

If anyone should be upset by the opera, it should be Palestinians, who are depicted in the opera solely as terrorists and their abettors.  I found myself thinking that the opera could be really effective as hasbara [propaganda] for the Israeli government.  If the Achille Lauro hijacking took place today, rather than 30 years ago, I think that more effective anti-terrorist actions by Israel or the Navy SEALS would have probably prevented Klinghoffer’s death, and hurrah for that.  

Did I see an entirely different opera from that of the critics? I don’t think so.  The opening “Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians” certainly is an effective invocation of the pain of the Nakba.   But it is in no way exculpatory of the actions of the terrorists.  The simple truth is that for Palestinians, for all Palestinians, the events of 1948 are utterly foundational for their understanding of their political reality— for moderates, for radicals, and for terrorists. A legitimate grievance  does not justify all  actions taken in retribution, and many of the most evil villains of opera and the stage have legitimate complaints.   Except for those who want to wish away the negative consequences  of 1948, and place all the blame for the expulsion of Palestinians on the Palestinians themselves, I don’t see how else to tell the story.

The Israeli-Palestinian War of Numbers

Israel and the Palestinians are waging a demographic war. We know that. Every discussion of a two-state versus a one-state solution includes a demographic component. This framing always reminds me of high school math problems: “There are X number of Palestinians and Y number of Jew here-or-there; the Palestinians reproduce at a rate of fill-in-the-gap and and the Jews in some-other-rate (usually significantly smaller). In how many years will there be the same number of Jews and Palestinians on this land?”

But before the Symposium I knew only of one continuous battle in this war, the fight over reproduction. I had heard the Bedouins were using polygamy to increase their reproductive rates. Recently Yair Shamir, the minister of agriculture, began publicly discussing policies aimed at reducing Bedouin birthrates. Haaretz journalist B. Michael has called it genocide. MK Merav Michaeli of the Labor party created havoc when she argued that by not subsidizing contraception, but generously subsidizing fertility treatments, including the right to freeze eggs and use them until the age of 54, Israel is giving women a clear message: “The state of Israel will spend a lot of money so you will be a mother, at any age and any price. You will pay for preventing pregnancies on your own. Therefore, women do not truly control their own reproduction.”

But I never realized this was only one aspect of the demographic war. On the second day of the Symposium I had a glimpse of the other battle in the war of demographics. Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Haaretz, mentioned a Rosh Hashana article Haaretz had published about the most popular newborn names in Israel in the previous year. Ilan Lior, Haaretz journalist, noticed that there were no Arabic names on the list. He inquired and discovered that indeed the most popular name for a baby boy in Israel was Muhamad, but the registrar thought this inappropriate and censored it. Why stick with the facts when they are inconvenient?

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Obama’s Legacy

This piece was originally written for the website and annual conference of the Middle East Institute and can be accessed at

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone through a number of different phases in its long history. It is possible—though only time will tell—that a new phase is beginning now, but not a particularly hopeful one.[1]

The phrase “peace process” has been used for decades, at least since President Anwar Sadat made his unexpected and game-changing trip to Jerusalem in 1977. However, it has really been a series of processes, largely unsuccessful, interspersed between bouts of fighting or stalemate. We are currently in a period of stalemate, following a round of appalling Israeli-Palestinian violence in Gaza that erupted after a particularly unsuccessful nine-month peace process. Stalemate has usually been the default option, and that tradition continues. Now, though, the most likely scenario is benign general neglect of the issue—perhaps even if a new intifada erupts, as is possible.

In 1993, the Oslo process began, concurrently with a remarkably propitious confluence of events that helped to propel it forward. The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the success of the first Gulf War and its unprecedented coalition, the 1988 (arguable) recognition of Israel by the PLO, the PLO’s low point after the Gulf War, the return of the Israeli Labor Party to power after 15 years, the massive Russian aliyah to Israel, the gradual slowing of the first intifada, and the fairly flush state of the world economy all combined to provide an atmosphere unusually conducive to making peace. Despite these seeming advantages, the Oslo process collapsed in the violence of the second intifada, leading to a period of some movement (the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza) but little progress toward peace.

After what seemed like a lost decade during the George W. Bush administration, Obama entered office vowing that dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jerusalem: United in name only

Maya Haber (in Israel with PPI)
Reality and language are engaged in a ruthless battle in Israel. Political discourse attempts to drown reality in an Aladdin pool of fantasy. Recently reality has been popping up its head and declaring that it has not surrendered, not yet. We have heard many remarkable example during the last few days. The battle seems to encompass a diverse variety of political issues from the economy to gender equality, from ethnic relations to property rights and many others. most significantly the conflict with the Palestinians is a discursive battlefield in which language (both Hebrew and English) simply does not correspond with people’s lived experience. This blog post is the first in a series in which I will try to explore particular manifestations of this separation of language from reality.

The first and most obvious example is the status of Jerusalem. Since 1967 Israelis like me have been hearing and expressing our devotion for Jerusalem. I remember commemorating Jerusalem day at school every year, singing "Jerusalem of Gold" and listening to Moshe Dayan’s famous speech that started with the words: “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem.” Yet 47 years after that unforgettable speech the reality of everyday life in Jerusalem questions the assertion that Jerusalem is the uncontested, undivided eternal capital of Israel.

Jerusalem is perhaps the only capital of a sovereign state that does not inhabit a single foreign embassy. Thus its status as the uncontested Israeli capital may indeed be questionable. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments in the case of Menachem Zivotofsky, a 12 year-old US citizen who demands to record his birthplace in his passport as “Jerusalem, Israel.” Though Congress passed a law in 2002 requiring the State Department to treat Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in American passports, Republican and Democrat secretary of states through the years have been refusing ever since. The U.S. does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Visiting Unrecognized Bedouin Villages & Gaza Border

A brief bio of this blogger, Brooke Feldman, is at the bottom of this post.

During the Israel Symposium, we have learned about deep-rooted problems in Israeli society and in the Palestinian Territories, but today we learned about a problem that could be easily solved: unrecognized Bedouin villages. We spent the morning with Chaya Noch, head of the Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF), and Atia Atameen, our Bedouin host in Hasham Zana. This is an unrecognized Bedouin village with over 2,000 residents in the Negev. Israel has attempted to remove Bedouins from their homes and concentrate them into seven townships. The government essentially wants to control more of the Negev and unsuccessfully encourages Jews to move there, through cheap land distribution.

Bedouins have lived in the Negev for over 500 years. They are citizens of Israel, but much of their land ownership is not recognized. Bedouins refuse to move, and Israel continues to destroy their impoverished villages. Without recognition, the Bedouin villages receive no resources or services from the Israeli government. There is no water or electricity source from the state, no schools, and no paved roads. An official road is planned in Hasham Zana, but it will cut the village in half and destroy 400 homes to create a path to a new army base.

Atameen shared personal stories about the many repercussions of not being recognized. Young children walk for one and a half hours to their school several kilometers away.  In addition to education, health is also affected. The lack of roads means no street addresses. Without an address, women who live in the middle of the village away from the highway are unable to call for an ambulance when in labor. The Israeli government, according to Atameen, believes that if they provide citizens with basic services like a school, it recognizes Bedouin ownership and residency on the land.

Not all is desperate though. Alongside organizations like the NCF, unrecognized Bedouin villages have formed a council to promote and defend their rights, which provide legal support against police brutality and for court cases.