Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rabbi Ascherman's "Teshuva" for Gaza Carnage

Rabbi Ascherman with a Palestinian in West Bank
Our thanks to Carolyn Oppenheim for alerting us to this Times of Israel blog post, "Screaming Souls and an Elul Prayer," from our friend, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of the Israeli NGO and activist group, Rabbis for Human Rights.  The situation in Gaza informs his efforts at "Teshuva," repentance, during this season of Jewish soul-searching leading up to Yom Kippur.  It is, however, a fully Zionist piece as well.  The following are excerpts:

. . .  The full enormity of how many bodies have been ripped apart by Israeli bombs, when their deaths were not necessary for our legitimate self defense, has finally penetrated the Israeli bubble that I live in. Painfully aware of grieving Israeli families, of friends and colleagues in bomb shelters, and of family members and children of RHR rabbis and staff fighting in Gaza, as well as believing in the right of self defense and having had to run for shelter a few times myself, it was convenient to coat my growing awareness of what we were doing in cerebral terms and balanced pronouncements.

It is not just the numbers. Numbers alone don’t prove responsibility. I have moved . . . to the conclusion that those who have been giving the orders have to have known they [were] . . . leading to the deaths of innocents that cannot even be written off as essential to protect Israelis. When massive firepower killed 60-130 Palestinians to prevent the escape of Hamas gunmen with First Lieutenant Hadar Goldin z”l, they knew that Goldin either was already dead or would be killed by this “friendly fire.” B’Tselem has documented 72 incidents through August 4th in which 547 people, including 250 minors, 29 elderly and 129 women under the age of 60 died when residential homes were bombed.

Theoretically, there could be information not at our disposal that changes the picture radically. That is why it is important that Israel’s comptroller has announced an independent and transparent Israeli investigation. I would be incredibly thankful to be proved wrong, but I doubt that will happen. It is already clear that in many of these cases there was no immediate danger, such as firing from the house. It is that awful reality that makes the numbers a horrible black stain that can never be erased.

PPI Chair Theo Bikel Grieves for Child Victims of Mideast Wars

Theo made this statement just as some of us learned of this film. 
Through all the turmoil of these last weeks and months I have been tortured by thoughts of children  – Jewish children, Palestinian children, Syrian, Iraqi children – all those who most innocently of all, and most grievously of all, are the victims of the Middle East Madness.

Rachel mebaka et baneha, Rachel mourns her children. With her I weep for the children knowing that they are all her children, our children, every one of them.

The shameful apologies trying to justify the death of Arab children with trite explanations of ‘collateral damage’ and ‘use children as shields and they will die’ fill me with anger. Yes, a Jewish child’s life if precious to me but how dare anyone suggest that another child’s life is less precious, less deserving of a future! What is most frustrating is that those who place lesser values on non-Jews are supposed stalwarts of a community that I can no longer rightfully call mine. Where is the commitment to open dialogue, the respect to hear out opposing ideas, where is the dictum that commands us to listen, to debate, to agonize with each other rather than hurl epithets of disloyalty?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rivlin & Gal-On Unite on Human Rights Issue

Reuven Rivlin
Zehava Gal-On
Marrying in Israel is a religious matter. Still, people often go to Cyprus or elsewhere for civil weddings, and return with marriages that are fully valid in Israel. But an intermarriage cannot be performed in Israel unless one party converts to the religion of the other. When an Israeli-Jewish woman converted recently to marry an Israeli-Muslim man, their union became controversial, drawing the protests of a group called the "Organization for Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land" or Lehava. The wedding party hired 14 security guards and hundreds of police further secured them after Lehava was enjoined by a court order in the Rishon Lezion regional court to demonstrate no closer than 200 meters.

The Facebook comments of both Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Meretz head Zehava Gal-On are illuminating. Ms. Gal-On responded sharply as well as brilliantly (more on that later). First, Pres. Rivlin wished the couple well, declaring: 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Humiliation Only Fuels War; Redeemed Honor Aids Peace

Several weeks ago I posted a dialogue about the role of shame and humiliation in the Israeli-Arab conflict  that I carried on with Richard Landes here and on Richard's blog and in abridged form on Tablet.  Unfortunately, the current continuation of the always pointless Gaza War is primarily about humiliation, and that should be more widely understood on the Israeli side, as I think it already is among Palestinians. 

Of course the Israeli people and their government primarily want the rockets stopped and for the former that is probably the overriding issue (though many say they want to see Hamas "destroyed," something the generals say is not militarily feasible).  Thus, Israel wants a simple ceasefire (at least for now), peace for peace, no rockets from Gaza in exchange for no air, artillery, or any other attacks from Israel on Gaza.  Pretty conmmonsensical, no?  Stop killing people and then talk about other issues?

On one level, that's absolutely correct.  But this war had causes and both sides have important short, medium, and perhaps even some longterm fantasies.  And, as always, political leaders, whether democratic or authoritarian, identify their political survival and advancement with those of the state and its people (Palestine isn't, of course, a full-fledged state but the principle is still relevant.)  The more a country suffers, the more it wants to prove that that suffering was not in vain, so in this case leaders on both sides are under considerable pressure to show tangible gains.  And for both, that is a zero-sum game; loss for one is gain for the other.

Examining anti-Zionist op-ed in NY Times

Antony Lerman, a disenchanted former "liberal Zionist" in the UK claims in a NY Times op-ed that those of us who support a liberal two state vision should give up and submit to Israel's anti-Zionist detractors.  Read by clicking on the article's title: "The End of Liberal Zionism." 

Partners board members have been discussing this extensively in the last week, with some of us impressed, others mainly disturbed by Lerman's piece.  With the permission of the following participants, we share some of our views below:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Balfour Declaration Motivated by British Antisemitism

Jerome Chanes, our board's resident expert on Jewish and Zionist history, has had his latest article published in The Forward on the antisemitic conspiracy thinking that helped motivate Britain to issue the Balfour Declaration -- the first international recognition of the Jewish people's right to a homeland in Palestine, and the document that helped shape Britain's early cultivation of the Yishuv, the self-governing Zionist community in Palestine.  In the midst of Britain's desperate struggle in World War I, British officials believed that Jews had secret influences over the Young Turks movement that controlled the Ottoman Turkish Empire:
The Dark Forces Behind the Balfour Declaration — And Its Lasting Legacy
Subhead: Why does the Balfour Declaration, written in 1917 during the darkest days of World War I, still tug at our elbow, insisting we pay attention to it even today?
Tom Segev wrote of a similarly sinister but laughable view of Jewish power in his book, One Palestine, Complete -- mainly in relation to Russia, which Britain was eager to keep in the fight against Germany.  Segev rather amusingly wrote of how the World Zionist Organization's leader at the time, Chaim Weizmann (a British subject), played upon this antisemitic canard to secure Lord Balfour's important policy statement -- a great example of making lemonade out of lemons.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Zehava Gal-On Sees Hamas Strengthened by War

This +972 mag piece by Larry Derfner is a bit dated now (Aug. 15), when negotiations were still going on.  He and those he quotes (including Meretz leader Gal-On) make the point that the war has boosted Hamas politically:

. . .  Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On gave an accurate reading of the situation:
This is what Netanyahu promised during Operation Protective Edge: Demilitarization of Gaza, bringing Hamas to its knees, and achieving long-term deterrence. And this is what we now have: Israel is holding direct talks with Hamas in Cairo, has agreed not to demand Gaza’s demilitarization, and is discussing a series of steps such as opening the crossings, bringing in goods and expanding fishing zones, which will be credited to Hamas and to those who side with violence.
Also, the emerging truce calls for talks on construction of an airport and seaport for Gaza to begin within a month of the document’s signing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Extent of Gaza's Devastation and Israel's Siege

First, there's this from the NY Times, "Gaza Cost Far Exceeds Estimate, Official Says":
Hundreds of thousands more Gazans have been displaced than the United Nations thought was possible in an emergency, a Unicef official said.
. . .  with 350,000 people so far displaced from a six-week-old conflict — seven times the 50,000 foreseen in its contingency plan, the top Unicef official for the crowded Palestinian enclave said Wednesday.
The official, Pernille Ironside, also said that if the severe Israeli trade constraints on Gaza were not relaxed, a preliminary analysis showed it could take 18 years to rebuild destroyed housing, furthering the prospect that young Gazans would reach adulthood in deprivation, anger and despair.  . . .
We at Partners for Progressive Israel are trying to learn more about the nature of Israel's blockade of Gaza.  We know it's not a complete siege or else people would be dying of hunger in huge numbers.  What it does, however, is to severely limit the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Theo Bikel (PPI chair) mourns Leonard 'Leibel' Fein

The following is from our board chair, Theodore Bikel:

PPI board chair, Theo Bikel
Last week the progressive American Jewish community lost one of its giants. Leonard 'Leibel' Fein's contribution to the Jewish social justice movement in the United States was without parallel, and as a professor of politics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he built an intellectual foundation for his activism. As an early board member of such organizations as the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now, he found a pragmatic outlet for his vision for Israel. As a talented and witty writer, he made clear that the act of supporting progressive movements in Israel was the core of Zionism's vitality.

He was a personal friend to several members of the Partners for Progressive Israel board. Lilly Rivlin grew up with Leibel, both of them having attended Moshava, the Habonim camp.

Lilly said of Leibel: "We will miss his analyses, his sense of humor, his yiddishkite, and his soul."

As a close, personal friend, I wrote a special kaddish for Leibel: