Can anyone say Never Again? Depends what it means…

July 1, 2019 by

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Screen grab of AOC instagram

“Never again,” called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her famous tweet condemning the US Administration’s immigration policy, as she talked of “concentration camps” on the Mexico border. 

The jury is out as to whether this use of language drew more attention to the plight of the imprisoned kids, or to the legitimacy of Holocaust imagery. Some argue the incendiary language has become a distraction, and others celebrate the way it has raised awareness.

What is clear is that the linking of “concentration camps” and “Never Again” left no doubt that an analogy was being drawn between the current immigration policy of the United States, and the history of the Holocaust. 

This has given Jews around the world, and Holocaust historians among them in particular, a stomach ache. There is a school of thought within Holocaust history that argues that the Holocaust should never be analogized to anything, because it was unique. Unique in scale, in long-term planning, in intent, in passive and active support across nations, and in cold-eyed precision. To compare the Holocaust to any other event past or present is to diminish its horror, even to trivialize it. 

Others argue that this kind of intellectual purity is counter-productive. Of course history never stands still and never repeats itself exactly. But this does not mean one can learn nothing from the past. How on earth are we to prevent further genocides without making comparisons and learning from history? Does “Never Again” mean nothing?

And here, it seems, lies the rub. “Never Again” means different things to different people. 

There are many, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, President Obama, and the late Elie Wiesel among them, who understand “Never Again” to mean that we should never allow genocide to happen again anywhere to anyone – whatever the precise historical details. 

Yet the person who seared this phrase into the consciousness of English-speakers across the world had a very different intent. Meir Kahane, later to become the leader of the racist Israeli party Kach, began pushing these words back in the early 1970s. And he meant “never again will Jews respond passively to antisemitic attacks”. Kahane, widely credited with popularizing the phrase, meant Never Again to Jews – not Never Again to All. 

It has even been said that this understanding of “Never Again” was a way of saying Jews’ Lives Matter, not All Lives Matter. (Which in itself is another example of how comparing horrors with horrors is rarely useful…)

This terrible tension, between us vs all, between communitarian vs cosmopolitan, is at the heart of the immigration debate and also at the heart of how we debate immigration. 

How do you address this tension?

Who is Right? – Ponderings on the latest elections manoeverings

June 19, 2019

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Lieberman, the joker in the pack?

Israel is now gearing up for another election, after the one that took place on April 9th did not result in a government. The Likud blames Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, for the new elections. Yisrael Beytenu blames Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Who is right?

Well, it would be right to say that Netanyahu was unable to build a ruling coalition because Lieberman made it impossible for him to do so. It would be wrong to say that this led immediately to new elections. Having failed to build a ruling coalition, Mr Netanyahu was expected to return the baton to the President, who would have handed the opportunity to build a coalition to the leader of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz. Instead Netanyahu called new elections.

Who is Right?

That night Netanyahu fulminated against Lieberman, calling him a leftist. In failing to support a right-wing government, he accused Lieberman over going over to the Left side. In turn, Lieberman shot back: “The man who lives in Caesarea is calling the man who lives in Nokdim, a leftist?” Prime Minister Netanyahu has his private home in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast. Avigdor Lieberman lives in the settlement of Nokdim in the heart of Judea and well over the Green Line.

So who is Right? Someone who strives to build a right-wing coalition, or someone who actually lives in the West Bank? Is being Right-wing to do with being a security hawk, or being committed to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank)?

Who is Right?

Avigdor Lieberman is arguing that he is indeed on the political Right, but that to be on the political Right in Israel does not mean that one must be religious. Lieberman has chosen his moment to take a stand against the significant demands of the Haredi Ultra-Orthodox parties. He will not give his (now-growing) support to a government that kow-tows to the Haredim who demand continued exemption from army service and increasing funds for Yeshivot.

Lieberman is now saying that after the coming elections he will insist on a government made up of Likud (who received 35 seats this time) and Blue/White (who also received 35 seats). With the addition of Lieberman’s party, this would make for a strong, solid, and wholly secular ruling coalition.

Who is right?

Were this come to pass, we might be looking at the opposite of a scenario we floated back in late April: A government that will unlikely make any significant inroads towards ending the military occupation of the Palestinians, but that would probably make big changes to the place of Haredim in Israeli society.

In this Likud-Blue/White-Yisrael Beytenu world, all sorts of possibilities suggest themselves:

  • Women may be given full access to the Kotel.
  • Conversion laws could be made far more accommodating.
  • Moves may begin to replace compulsory military service with compulsory national service for all – Haredim and Arabs included – whereby volunteering for several years in the fire service, for example, would be recognized as just as valuable as army service.
  • Funding of Haredi schools may become dependent upon teaching math.

At the same time, such a combination would move hardly an inch towards a Palestinian State. And if Benny Gantz and Avigdor Lieberman’s current statements are anything to go by, Israel would if anything be likely to behave even more harshly towards Hamas.

 

Bearing in mind progressives cannot have both, would it be right to support a right-wing secular government in Israel? Or would it be right to oppose it?

 

[The first English-language journalist to call this latest Lieberman twist was Shmuel Rosner. He often writes for the New York Times, and has a regular blog at Rosner’s Domain.]

 

Long-term planning is a Jewish value. How about in Israel?

May 22, 2019 by

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Matthias Stom

Genesis 25: 29-34 tells us about Esau stomping in after a hunt, absolutely starving. Jacob is cooking some lentils, thinking of the future. Esau wants to eat – now! Jacob wants Esau’s birthright, whose value will only come to fruition many years down the line. As we know, Esau does not hesitate. He sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils.

Jacob looks to the long term. Esau is more of the ADD type…

It feels like the whole world and Israel in particular has gone the way of Esau. Every news item must be fresh, every piece of information must be distributed immediately, both Peace and Messiah must arrive NOW.

Dan Ben David, head of the Shoresh Institution for Socio-Economic Research, has been calling for Israel to look beyond Esau’s view of security and corruption, and think more like Jacob about the deeper issues waiting beyond the corner.

Our health system is suffering from long-term decline. In the past two decades the number of Israelis dying from infectious and parasitic diseases has doubled – 73% more than those who die per capita of the same causes in the United States, and more than ten times as many who die on Israel’s roads.

Our transport infrastructure leaves us with three times as much traffic congestion than other countries our size – even though we have fewer cars on the road.

And don’t get Ben David started on education… Haredi schools do not study core subjects at all, and the academic achievements of Arab kids in Israel are way below par. These make up over 40% of our future adults…

All this has an effect on productivity. We’re far behind the rest of the developed world, and now over half of all Israelis don’t earn enough to pay income tax.

Can a country that needs extraordinary defense capabilities, cultivate a less-than-ordinary population?

The Esau in Israeli culture has served us extremely well. The world praises the spontaneity and creativity that spawned the Start Up Nation. Indeed the whole country has been the poster child for how a State can improvise brilliantly when faced with endless emergencies ever since its birth.

But perhaps the pendulum needs to swing back the other way?

Perhaps Jacob needs to take back the birthright once more?

Makom election poll reveals widening gap

 

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Makom election poll reveals widening gap between the political outlook of Israelis and diaspora Jews.

If the results of the diaspora poll were reflected in the Israeli vote on April 9, Israel would be a different country today, especially in regards to relations with Palestinians and issues of religion and state.

Israel Election Results Makom Parallel Election Results
Likud 35 (34)

Kahol Lavan 35

Shas and United 8

United Torah Judaism 8

Hadash-Ta’al 6

Labor Party 6

Yisrael Beytenu 5

United Right list 5 (6)

Meretz 4

Kulanu 4

Ra’am-Balad 4

Likely Coalition: Likud, Shas, UTJ, Yisrael Beytenu, United Right List, Kulanu =65

Prime Minister: Binyamin Netanyahu

Kahol Lavan 52

Meretz 27

Likud 15

Avoda 10

New Right 6

Hadash-Ta’al 5

Kulanu 3

Zehut 2

 

Likely Coalition: Kahol Lavan, Meretz, Avoda =89

   

 

Prime Minister: Benny Gantz

The Makom diaspora poll conducted in the month before the elections of the 21st Knesset collected responses from 594 Jews across the world, of which 43% from the US, 22% were from Canada and 13% were from Australia. Whilst the sample size was small, it revealed some fascinating results. With 76% of respondents being graduates of Israel programs, and 58% having a good or excellent level of Hebrew, the Makom sample aimed to reflect the political outlook of diaspora Jews who have close connections to the Jewish State.

The most standout result was the difference in support for the Likud in the two polls, where Israelis gave the party 35 seats, whilst the diaspora only gave them 15. In an election campaign where the issue that dominated all others was the suitability of Netanyahu to continue leading Israel into his fifth term as Prime Minister, the difference tells us much about how polarizing the Likud leader has become.

As David Horowitz noted in his post-election editorial for the Times of Israel, Israelis “knew that Benjamin Netanyahu was facing criminal charges in three cases, they knew that he had castigated the opposition, the media, the cops and the state prosecutors for purportedly seeking to frame him as part of a political vendetta to oust him. They knew that they had a clear alternative to four more years of a Netanyahu-led Israel, embodied in a party led by three former IDF chiefs of staff. They saw Netanyahu portray that party, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, as a group of weak leftists.  They watched Netanyahu’s Likud depict Gantz as mentally unstable.” Yet they still chose Netanyahu.

Israelis watched Netanyahu broker a deal that legitimized the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party as part of a new Union of Right-Wing Parties that would partner Netanyahu in any new Likud-led coalition. They watched. And they made their choice.

In the diaspora, the opposite was the case. The overwhelming vote for Blue and White, with 52 seats, followed by Meretz party with 27 seats, showed the diaspora were looking for leaders who would advance the peace process, open a kotel for all, allow civil marriage and public transport on Shabbat. These were key demands of the top two parties in the diaspora poll, who alone could have formed a coalition of 79 seats.

As David Horovitz noted, Israelis “recognized likely and possible implications of another Netanyahu victory. He’d vowed in the final days of the campaign to extend Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank settlements — a move that, if realized, would have major consequences for what was once called the peace process. It was clear his most reliable coalition partners would be the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism — on whose behalf he reluctantly froze the Western Wall compromise deal, and whose key agenda items include making Israel more Shabbat-observant and minimizing the number of young ultra-Orthodox males required to share the rights and responsibilities of military and national service. Self-evidently, enough Israeli voters either share this agenda or are not deterred by it. Enough to hand Netanyahu another term.”

In the United States, the response to the election poll was swift and unanimous amongst progressives. Less than a week after Netanyahu was elected, the ADL, CCAR, NCJW, Rabbinical Assembly, URJ, USCJ and many others wrote an open letter to President Trump expressing their concern about the policy implications of Netanyahu standing by his election promise to annex the West Bank.

The organizations who signed the letter explained that they “recognize that the current environment may not be conducive to direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a permanent resolution.” However, they also believe that “action should not be taken by either side that would make an ultimate two-state solution unviable.” Finally, they respectfully requested that President Trump “affirm long-standing bipartisan consensus that the two-state solution is the essential path to an Israel existing alongside a future state of Palestine in peace and security and that you declare that the United States will not support any Israeli proposals to annex the West Bank, in whole or in part.”

The letter from the diaspora, criticizing a policy that is supported by the majority of the newly elected coalition, would have been unthinkable generations ago.

A neighborhood in south Ashdod, February 11, 2019. Credit: Ilan Assayag

One of the most interesting insights from the Makom poll came from comparing results to an identical question asked in The Times of Israel survey, which was conducted via online panels between February 24 and 27, 2019, among a representative sample of 708 likely voters in the upcoming Knesset elections.

Which of the following five issues do you think is the most important for the government to deal with?

Israeli Poll conducted by TOI Makom Parallel Election
Economic issues such as the cost of living, housing prices, employment 46% 20%
Security  21%   19%
Relations with the Palestinians, diplomacy and the peace process 11% 26%
Religion and state 5%   18%
Democracy, the rule of law and corruption 17% 17%

 

Whilst the Israelis care most about the cost of living, rising rental and house prices, for the rest of the diaspora, it is relations with the Palestinians and forwarding diplomacy that was most important in determining their vote.

These results were similar to the finding of two Pew surveys of Israelis and diaspora Jews in 2017, which found a huge gap in how economic problems are perceived as motivating the political attitudes of Israelis.

Many analysts point out that one of the key reasons the Likud did so well in this election, is the health of Israel’s economy, that has seen record low levels of unemployment and higher incomes in the past three years. Israel’s economic development would be largely unknown to most diaspora Jews, as it is not a topic that is often discussed in Israel programming.

In contrast, Religion and State issues such as marriage, conversion and the human rights of Palestinians come up much more frequently in Jewish education and social discourse of diaspora Zionists today, leading to the diaspora seeing these issues as much more of a priority.

Many diaspora Jews who care deeply about Israel would like to see their visions realized in the halls of the Knesset one day. Yet ultimately, only one of these polls matters in shaping the future of the Zionist project, which has become the most significant undertaking of the Jewish people in the last century.

Today, we live in a time when detachment from the Zionist project is greater than in the past where few took the existence of Israel for granted. The differences in outlook reflected in the two polls can serve as an impetus for improving Israel education and social media debate around issues such as the economy, human rights and religion. Whilst it’s healthy for there to be differences of opinions between Jerusalem and New York, Ontario or Melbourne, for the relationship between the communities to stay strong, a greater understanding of the needs and wants of both is essential.

Unemployment rate in Israel under Netanyahu’s rule from 2009-2019.

 

 

 

 

an example

 

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For example, setting up a quotation like this:

Inverted Commas / Quotation Marks: Also known as speech marks or quotes, inverted commas could be a single or double mark-‘z’ or “z”. These are mainly used to mark a speaker’s speech or a quote by a famous personality. You must have seen these in newspapers, in the plays from your textbooks and in your poems. Along with simpler punctuations like simple commas, English has created a specific use for the inverted commas.

So do you really have no influence over Israel’s elections?

April 21, 2019 by

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So do you really have no influence?

Jewish social media around North America has been responding to Israel’s election results. Irrespective of how devastated or delighted people seem to be, the underlying music has been similar: We can only observe from the outside – the decisions are in the hands of the Israeli electorate, not in ours.

This is not entirely true. There are two crucial areas in Israeli elections over which American Jewry – in particular non-Orthodox Jewry – does have a huge impact.

The Kotel, and the Palestinians.

Every pundit in Israel knows that when one is counting the parties in the pro-settlements Right-wing bloc, one automatically counts the Haredi ultra-orthodox parties. This is a correct analysis of the political reality in Israel, but has little to do with actual Haredi convictions about settling the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. As veteran Haredi politician Moshe Gafni has candidly explained: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Haredi issue. The Haredi aim in government is to take care of the issues close to their hearts – they are generally willing to back any policy over the Green Line, just so long as their own electoral needs are met.

What are these needs?

There are, of course, budgetary needs for their impoverished supporters. There are great obstacles to the idea of drafting Haredim to the army.

And then there is the issue of diaspora progressive Jewry and their “obsession” with the Kotel.

Haredim will abandon any government that “gives away” the Kotel to “the Reform”. Put another way – any government that distances itself from the Kotel Agreement could receive Haredi support on other issues, such as the Palestinians.

See how you have an influence?

In Israel’s current political structure, it is extraordinarily difficult to address simultaneously BOTH Israeli religious pluralism AND the Two State Solution. As far as the Haredim are concerned, the latter can be bought by selling out the former.

How would you react if Israel’s leaders on the Left said – “We think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important than religious pluralism. We are dumping the Kotel Agreement and reaching out to the Haredim. An additional 15 votes for the Left taken from the Right will enable us to make a deal with the Palestinians.”

Would you applaud? Would you rage? Would you grit your teeth? Would you shrug? (Or would you make Aliyah and vote yourself?)

Join Makom on a Unique Israel Experience: Kaleidoscope

 

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Join us November 2019!

Kaleidoscope is a multi‐dimensional exploration of Israel through a wide-angled lens: peace and politics; culture and co-existence; law and medicine; arts and science; business, finance and technology.

The program will be sophisticated and nuanced, experiential and informal. Participants will engage – creatively and critically – with some of the brightest minds and most important personalities in Israel today.

Visit www.makomisrael.org/kaleidoscope for itinerary and registration information.

 

 

 

 

Ad Kan! Up to here! Where do we draw the line?

April 2, 2019 by

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Last week a rocket was fired from Gaza, hitting a house in Mishmeret, some 20 miles North of Tel Aviv.

All hell broke loose.

All headlines and all politicians were going crazy, calling for revenge, for responses, for resolutions.

Why did this storm break out when it did? After all, since the last full-on conflict of 2014, Gazan rockets have been falling on Israel for many months, to say nothing of the incendiary balloons that burned hundreds of acres of Israeli farmers’ land throughout the summer?

The answer is clear to all: This time the rocket fell near Tel Aviv, in the Gush Dan metropolis.

Folks living on Kibbutzim near the Gaza border are pulling their hair out: What makes a rocket on Tel Aviv different from one fired at Kibbutz Beeri?

It is a painful question.

For sure, there are good reasons why the government avoids a full military response to Gazan attacks as much as it can. Any military response even approaching the strength its critics demand would – in the short term at least – lead to more Israeli casualties, as well as devastation on civilians in Gaza.

The question is why the line is drawn where it is drawn?

Bomb Sderot – we’ll issue warnings. Bomb Gush Dan – עד כאן! Ad Kan! (Up to here and no further!)

Here the question of security, To Be, comes face to face with the question of People: Which people’s security are we looking out for? Is every citizen’s security of equal importance?

Not a rhetorical but a real question – how might the US government respond if the Russians shot over a few make-shift rockets to Alaska? Or New York?

 

Makom’s Moishe House Israel Training – final places!

 

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The 4HQ Encounters Fellowship with Moishe House is moving into its second year! If you’d like to join this incredible program run by Makom in partnership with Moishe House, click here and find out more!

The 4HQ Israel Knowledge Quiz!

 

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