So Lara Alqasem has finally begun her studies at Hebrew University. Her situation received huge coverage both in the States and in Israel, and raises two key issues for us to ponder.
Some background: Back in the States Lara Alqasem was an activist with Students for Justice in Palestine, that boycotts and condemns Israel. In Israel the issue of boycotts has become a fiery bone of contention, and the source of new legislation to prevent “giving succor to our enemies”. Those Israelis who call for boycotting the country lay themselves open to being sued for damages, and to lose certain State benefits. On the basis of this law, Alqasem was refused entry to Israel. After a two week legal appeal, Israel’s Supreme Court recently ruled she was free to enter the country: She was not judged to be currently calling for boycott.
Our first question to ponder is the “cock-up vs conspiracy” question. The fact that this young woman was coming to study on a year-long student visa at Hebrew University, has already infuriated those committed to boycotting Israel’s academia. As a boycotter of Israel, she’s a complete failure… So was her arrest a sign that the Israeli government has malign plans to extend the reach of the Boycott Law, and that the security establishment sees even a (former) student activist as a threat? Or was her arrest just a stupid mistake compounded by cheap local politics?
Our second question has often been obscured by the first: In a post 9/11 world, (when) is it justified for a government to prevent entry of foreign nationals to its territory – especially those it suspects might break its laws?
In our 4HQ language, we might ask two overlapping questions.
- Is a country’s Freedom to be judged according to the way it denies freedoms to others?
- Can a country’s Safety be threatened by campaigns other than military ones?
If the answer to both these questions is yes, how then should a country negotiate its border crossings?
Moishe House programming suggestion:
You might wish to work with this Headline for Identity together with Musica Cubana. You might ask participants to imagine how the protagonist in Musica Cubana would/should react to visitors to his club who call it racist?
This Headline for Identity is part of the 4HQ Encounters program for Moishe House, made possible by the generous funding of Jim Joseph Foundation.
If you have been following me on FB, you will know my obsession with Koolulam, especially their 70th Yom Haatzmaut event. Prior to the event I was asked by 7 or 8 people, friends or talmidot/im, whether they could attend during the Omer. (If you watched the video, about half the participants were religious-looking.)
I am generally halakhically conservative (small “c”!) and I try to keep halakha even if it disrupts my lifestyle. I am committed to halakhic practice and I don’t knowingly contravene the law. So was it forbidden? To Full Post
We are delighted to present our suggestion for talking Israel at the Seder table. This leaflet was produced by our friends at the UJIA in the UK, at their initiative. We are delighted to share this with all the world, in addition to the 45,000 Brits who will receive a printed copy with their Jewish Chronicle!
In some professions, facts can indeed be your enemy.
It makes sense for politicians to argue over facts, and even hope to suggest alternate ones. Because for a politician facts are valent. There is either a “good” fact, or a “bad” fact – one that supports or weakens their agenda. Same goes for many other professions. I’m sure that when tobacco producers found out that smoking was bad for one’s health, they found this fact to be deeply troubling. TV dramas are full of “bad” facts: Throughout that HBO crime/court series “The Night Of” you are constantly left struggling with the idea that this kid must not tell the truth. The facts are against him.
But an educators’ job is to make sure that facts are neither friends nor enemies. Facts are there to be gathered, the more the merrier.
Facts are there to be gathered, the more the merrier.
And Israel Education in particular, forces us to embrace a fact-filled existence.
Because Israel is a “subject matter” so vibrant and complex that it can no longer fit into a straightforward narrative. There is no way we can only teach about Israel through her towering heroes, when some awkward myth-busting anecdote is waiting to be found online. We can’t only teach the woes of Israel as a Haredi-dominated theocracy, when Tel Aviv still exists. We can’t only teach about Israel being the safe haven for the Jewish People, when evidence of dangerous enemies calls this into question every day. Something contradictory will always crop up.
These contradictions, these complicating facts, these endless annoying and endearing anomalies, are what makes Israel so fascinating and dynamic. And as such, they become the educator’s magic dust. The fascinating truth about Israel, is that it is always going to be infinitely too broad for one person to grasp. When this is one’s educational message, then facts are not our enemy.
This is not to say that the educator’s only job is to overwhelm the student! But once freed of one’s exhausting “guard duty” against uncomfortable facts, we can focus on what is most important: To act as the “Guide for the Perplexed” by offering frameworks for the student to make sense of what threatens to be babble, and to build Israel into the Jewish identity of the learners.
Here is a fifteen-minute introduction to the 4HQ approach. Makom now runs training seminars in applying the 4HQ approach to schools, to campuses, to adult education, and to synagogues. In this video, you’ll be able to taste the depth and breadth of the approach.
For a written version of the contents of this video (not a transcript), please download from here.
Michal Barkai-Brody shares how her rage at inequality drove her to create change.
If I’m being honest, the main reason I chose to make aliya, was because in Israel I had a greater chance of getting a job that wouldn’t require me to shave every day. (It was 20 years ago. Designer stubble wasn’t fully respectable, and hipster beards were unheard of.)
So there are periods when I shave daily – mostly when I’m feeling old and don’t want all my white tufts to show – and there are periods where I can go a whole week without shaving. I am a crazy wild man, I know.
Yet while the informality of life in Israel perhaps grants me more freedom than I might have in the UK, it does not free me from being misunderstood in at least four different ways.
First, living in a majority Jewish land means that when anyone sees you are unshaven, their first instinct is to wish you long life. They sympathetically assume that you are in mourning, and so that haggard unshaven look is nothing to do with a hangover (or your advancing age) but only due to a loss in the family. When I dispel their side-angled-head with a “nah, I just couldn’t be bothered shaving”, they look somewhat disappointed.
Second, it is always dangerous to go unshaven between Pesach and Shavuot. It confuses people. They don’t understand why it is that I am strictly observing the counting of the Omer, and yet have no kippah on my head. One year I decided to tell people that I was indeed keeping the Omer, and went weeks without a shave. Got a lovely bush going. But then I forgot to shave it come Shavuot and all hell broke loose.
Of course, here in Israel, a man with dark hair and a scraggy beard may well be a terrorist. Most Muslim men in Israel go for the stubbly look, and racial profiling is nothing if not racially predictable in its predictions. My chances of getting double-checked at the entrance to a shopping mall if I’m unshaven rise exponentially with every morning I don’t put razor to face.
And finally, if we’re talking hirsute cliches, I have learned always to shave before getting on a plane. I’ll never forget the time I was stopped by a plain-clothed policeman at Ben Gurion airport. A scruffy-looking bloke in a short coat, unshaven and sneaky-looking, took one look at my three days’ growth and made a beeline for me. He identified himself to me as a policeman, showed me his badge, and then asked me, in an unshaven sneaky kind of way, “You got any drugs on you?”
It was kind of surreal. As if a) people hawk their razor blades for drugs, and b) lack of shaving makes you stupid. I told him, honestly yet perplexedly, that I didn’t have any drugs on me. And he came back with the classic: “Maybe we should take you off to search you. What do you think? You’re looking nervous. Why are you nervous?” Which of course suddenly made me feel nervous. After a stressful few moments, in the end I ‘fessed up. I told him he was welcome to search me, but all he would find was a few unused razor blades. “Sorry mate,” I said in my best Hebrew, “I’m not a drug-dealer. I just haven’t shaved recently.”
He put his head at a commiserating angle, and said disappointedly, “Ah, I’m so sorry. Death in the family? I wish you long life.”
Identity is both given and chosen: it is given in that one’s choices are not unlimited and it is chosen in that there are multiple groups and ideas to which one subscribes. Identity is gender, profession, religion, ethnicity, and nation among others. What pulls these together is a story or a narrative. Groups need a narrative to justify who and what they are, because they do not want to perceive themselves as either totally eclectic or as totally self-serving. We want the stability provided by the anchor of story.
Yet narratives change; they are ‘puncturable’, and we sense their fragility in the modern history of the Jewish People. Let’s think of the Zionist narrative – on my teenage Israel experience there was no more poignant moment than when we visited the ‘magic mountain’ of Masada, exploring the story of heroism and the symbol of Jewish defiance and dignity, that we had heard so much about from when we were little children. Today, we go to Masada the tourist site and the tour guide relates: ‘But you know, maybe they weren’t heroes. Maybe the story happened in a different way.’ The narrative is punctured the moment we ask: do we really want to view suicide as the embodiment of Jewish potential?
It goes deeper. Think about what Zionism represents – the contemporary realization of millennial Jewish longing for the ancestral homeland. And then recognize that one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world today is in Germany. Germany! Put that in your Zionist pipe and smoke it! Can we just carry on? When there is compelling historical evidence, the narrative is undermined. Yet within the best, most exotic stories, and the Jewish story is certainly that, there is the power to rebuild, to reconstruct, to add and to change.
This Shavuot the festive celebration of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, I would like to remind myself that we would do well both to remember and to forget. Berl Katznelson taught us that: ‘Were only memory to exist, then we would be crushed under its burden…And were we ruled entirely by forgetfulness, what place would there be for culture, science, self-consciousness and spiritual life?’ Human beings are really good at both remembering and forgetting, although we sometimes get confused as to what should be in which category.
Eric Hobsbawm taught us that the ‘authentic’ Scottish kilt, which we suspect is an ancient tradition, only achieved widespread use as a result of an enterprising English businessman in the eighteenth century. This should give us heart. We can rewrite the lachrymose view of history, that Jewish life is an ongoing tale of woe, into a creative narrative that gives purpose for the future. The key property will be truth-likeness, rather than truth as the historical record, and its promise is that a people can rebuild and invite us into an ongoing conversation of the many and varied stories that we will create.
Our tradition teaches us that we were all present at Mount Sinai for the receiving of the Torah, those of us then and all those yet to be born, which means us. A few years ago, in a heated debate in the Israeli Knesset the interlocutors pressed their respective claims with reference to the Torah. One secular member retorted to a dismissive claim of her right to quote Torah by declaring: “I too was present at Mount Sinai.” And she continued, “even if it never happened”. Chag Shavuot Sameach.
Jonny Ariel directs Makom – the Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency
Professor Alan Johnson is Editor of Fathom and Senior Research Fellow at BICOM. He is an editorial board member of Dissent Magazine and Senior Research Associate of the Foreign Policy Centre.
First, Sean Matgamna
It was Sean Matgamna – or ‘Rebbe Matgamna’ as some in the Union of Jewish Students affectionately called this brilliant Irish intellectual and former Docker at the time – who woke me from my dogmatic One-State slumber in the mid-1980s. Sean was the leading theoretician of Socialist Organiser, the far-left entryist group I had been a member of since 1980. Out of a clear blue sky he walked in one day with a paper arguing that we should drop the demand for a ‘democratic secular state’ and embrace ‘two states for two peoples.’ After a long internal debate – the sophistication and seriousness of which I was never to find in academia – his arguments prevailed.
‘It seems to me,’ Matgamna wrote, ‘that the terms of the only just solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are clear and unmistakeable. Unless you think the interests of one side should be entirely sacrificed to the other – that is, unless you are either an Arab or an Israeli chauvinist – there is only one acceptable solution. Each nation should have self-determination in the territory where it is the majority. I understand that to mean, essentially, the 1967 border. There should be full equality for members of each nationality in the other’s state. The secular democratic state necessarily involves replacing the Jewish state of Israel with another arrangement in which Jews will not have a state. The goal is not only to secure Palestinian rights by putting an end to Israeli rule in the Palestinian territories, but to deprive Israeli Jews of their national rights.’
Well, indeed. Obvious enough, you might think, but those ideas were a heresy on the far left at the time. And so we were heresy hunted.
‘Zionists!’ screamed Chris Harman, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party. The Workers Revolutionary Party even wrote that ‘a powerful Zionist connection runs from the so-called left of the Labour Party right into the centre of Thatcher’s government in Downing Street’. Armed with those ideas, and those enemies, we fought alongside UJS to prevent the far left drive to ban student Jewish Societies as ‘Zionist’ so ‘racist’.
We worked closely with UJS inside the NUS and I was impressed by the Jews I met. I recall Adrian Cohen, after he was called an antisemitic name at an NUS conference, squaring up and threatening to bury his ‘Jewish fist’ in the guy’s face. How could a Suedehead from North Shields not be impressed with that? It was our youth leader Jane Ashworth – who later set up the Engage website with another Matgamna boy, David Hirsh – who came up with the phrase ‘cultural Zionists’, to describe ourselves at the time.
Second, Leon Trotsky
I still revere the Old Man and bristle when people attack him in words that should really be reserved for his followers. His final words were read out at my wedding to Debbie, a Matgamna girl, by our children:
‘Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.’
And it was from Trotsky that I learned that the assimilationist approach of classical Marxism to the problem of antisemitism was wrong. A target of both Tsarist and Stalinist antisemitism himself, Trotsky understood antisemitism was no feudal hangover. He grasped the modernity of antisemitism. I read his searing account of the antisemitic pogroms of the 1905 Russian Revolution and his desperate and prescient warnings about Fascism. ‘The next development of world reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews.’ (emphasis in the original) he wrote, before his murder by the Stalinists in 1940.
As Enzo Traverso, an intellectual historian of Marxism and antisemitism, has put it, ‘The rise of Nazism in Germany led the Russian revolutionary to a global revision of his approach to the Jewish Question’ i.e. to the question of antisemitism. Though Trotsky never thought of himself as a Zionist – having faith in a World Socialist Revolution which we cannot, in good faith, still claim – he became convinced of the necessity of a national solution to the problem of radicalising antisemitism.
The Jews, Trotsky came to believe, have every right to live in a ‘compact mass’ as a nation. And nations, he wrote as far back as 1915, ‘constitute an active and permanent factor of human culture. The nation will not only survive the current war, but also capitalism itself.’ ‘The Jewish nation’ he said in 1937, ‘will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come.’
Third, Isaac Deutscher
From Trotsky’s biographer, the Polish socialist Isaac Deutscher, I learned that the Jewish state is not only a right but a necessity, and that to oppose its existence on the basis of abstract left-wing dogma is, literally, a matter of Jewish life and death:
I have, of course, long since abandoned my anti-Zionism, which was based on a confidence in the European labour movement, or, more broadly, in European society and civilisation, which that society and civilisation have not justified. If, instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped to save some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers.
For the remnants of European Jewry – is it only for them? – the Jewish State has become an historic necessity. It is also a living reality. Whatever their cleavages, grievances, and frustrations, the Jews of Israel are animated by a fresh and strong sense of nationhood and by a dogged determination to consolidate and strengthen their State by every means at their disposal. They also have the feeling – how well justified – that the ‘civilised world’, which in one way or another has the fate of European Jewry on its conscience, has no moral ground to stand on when it tries to sermonise or threaten Israel for any real or imaginary breaches of international commitments.
Fourth, the experience of teaching the Holocaust
A sustained engagement with antisemitism as a university teacher – deep reading in the texts, images, films, memoirs, and histories; sustained discussion with your students; the effort to write about antisemitism, in my case about the work of Primo Levi – produced this insight: our natures are mixed, capable of great good and great evil. In the words of the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, we are centaurs, a ‘tangle of flesh and mind, of divine inspiration and dust’.
Then add this in: humanity, for reasons that do not concern us here, for no good reason, again and again, has selected the Jew as the scapegoat. More precisely, and with a smidgeon more hope, let us say that humanity has done so for millennia and is still doing so today, though we can allow ourselves the hope – as we may hope for the return of the Messiah – that humanity will not do so in the future.
But what we can’t not know is that from time to time, in the words of Levi’s favourite writer Dante, western civilisation takes leave of its senses and ‘descends into hell with trumpets and drums’. And when it does, the Jews – not only, but above all, the Jews – need a state with ramparts and an IDF standing on those ramparts. At one level, my Zionism comes down to that brute fact.
Fifth, boys and girls in Jerusalem
Walking in Jerusalem one day I came upon Jewish children playing in a narrow street, the early evening sun warming the stone flags and lending their ringlets a glow. They were playing a game I could not understand, white shirts flapping, Kippahs in danger of falling off, one shriek chasing another. I had two thoughts. My first, as ever, was about Primo Levi. I was reminded that in play we adults can find again ‘the savour of childhood, delicate and forgotten,’ and that to enjoy play is rather ‘like receiving, free of charge or almost, a rare and beautiful object.’ A second thought then shadowed my first, a typical experience for anyone who has spent a lot of time reading about the Holocaust, let alone those who have a familial connection to the Shoah: other images and other shrieks from another time arrived unbidden.
In some indefinable way, my own Zionism was expressed at that moment, by that juxtaposition.
Dorit Rabinyan was born in Israel to an Iranian-Jewish family. She is the recipient of the Itzhak Vinner Prize, the ACUM Award, The Prime Minister’s Prize and the Jewish Wingate Quarterly Award (London). Her first two novels PERSIAN BRIDES and A STRAND OF A THOUSAND PEARLS were both best sellers and translated into fifteen languages. In 2014 Rabinyan published her third novel, BORDERLIFE, an immediate best seller in Israel. In January 2016 BORDERLIFE became the center of a political scandal in Israel when the book was removed from high schools’ curriculum.
Borderlife, by Dorit Rabinyan
Winner of the 2015 Bernstein Prize
A chance New York encounter brings two strangers together: Liat, an Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Hilmi, a Palestinian born in Hebron. For one frozen winter away from home, on snowy streets, filled with longing for a Middle East sun, Liat and Hilmi demarcate the place reserved only for them, an intimate short-term place, a universe for two. At the fissures and margins of things, in corners and in gaps, the reality lurking in Israel peers at them and snarls. The story, with its passions and twists, follows them even when they each go their own way – Liat returning to Tel Aviv and Hilmi to the village of Jifna, north of Ramallah – refusing to end.
Chayuta Deutsch was born and bred in Tel Aviv. She has taught at Ulpana Kfar Pines, at Bayit VeGan College, Maaleh Film School, Hebrew University, at Bar Ilan University, and at Bet Morasha Academy for Jewish Zionist Leadership. She began her writing career with the children’s magazine “Otiot” in 1983. Between 1997-99 she edited “Otiot” and “Sukariot”. She was the literary editor of “HaTzofeh”, and the deputy editor of “Nekuda”. She has written op-eds for “HaTzofeh”, Ynet, Maariv online, and currently writes her own column “L’pnai ulifnim” in the Shabbat supplement of “Makor Rishon”. “Were I to hear another voice” is her first novel, after having published a collection of short stories “This is what redemption looks like”, and a biography of Nechama Leibovitz. She was among those who established Kolech, Israel’s first Orthodox Jewish feminist organization, and was on the Board of Directors for several years. She is currently the head of publishing for Bet Morasha, and the editor of “Akademot”.
Were I to hear a different voice, by Chayuta Deutsch
After having tried again and again to realize her dream of having a family, Uzia decides to leave her home town of Tel Aviv, and build herself a new life in a small village in the North of Israel. She leaves everything behind: Her memories of her life in Tel Aviv as an only daughter of National-Orthodox parents; the man she had loved all her life; her close childhood friends; and her work as a respected journalist.
A friendly little café in the village becomes her refuge and source of income. She opens up a writing workshop at the cafe for local characters both charming and mysterious, but the demons of her past do not leave her. As the writing workshops become an arena for secrets and confessions, it turns out that Uzia’s refuge is no safe space at all, and that those around her are not who they seem to be.
And all this while, threatening graffiti that appear throughout the country lead a team of secret police to set off in search of the members of a messianic sect who threaten to sow violence and destruction. At the head of the sect stands a charismatic man called “Levi”, who sweeps up youth into acts of rebellion not just against the State of Israel, but also against the world of Jewish religious law. When his dangerous teachings lead the State to the brink of civil war, his pursuers realize they must hurry and uncover the identity of this “Levi” before it is too late.