The die is cast, at last. The parties are finally fixed, so that the voters can now concentrate on their key task: To decide for whom they will vote.
In Israel the meaning of Left, Right, and Center is very different from the rest of the world. A party’s stance on the welfare state, economic policies, religion and LGBTQ – none of these affect whether they are termed Right or Left. In Israel these political directional terms still seem to circle around one issue alone: The Palestinians. Left and Right are only assigned according to the party’s willingness or lack of willingness for there to be a Palestinian State.
If a party is keen for a two-State resolution, and for all settlement over the Green Line to stop, it is deemed Left.
If a party is against granting the Palestinians a State, and keen for settlements to grow, it is deemed Right.
And if a party would like for there to be a two-State resolution when the time and circumstances are right, and in the meantime is ambivalent over settlement growth, it is deemed Center.
Nothing else matters in these definitions.
And it is these definitions that will guide the forming of a coalition government in the late Spring. Will the Right form a majority bloc? Or will the Center form a majority bloc aided by the Left (or the moderate Right)?
Since Right/Left/Center is so critical, it is perplexing that the key issue around which these terms circle – the Palestinians and their demand for independence – seems to be the only issue that most politicians hardly ever discuss. In particular the Right and the Center – according to polling, some 80% of voters – share the belief that there is no Palestinian leadership with whom to negotiate, and so there is nothing to talk about.
There is an unspoken assumption that one’s attitude to a Palestinian State is guided by a single concern: Security. Granting a state to the Palestinians risks Israeli security, while refusing to do so maintains it. This is why the Left – wishing to enable a Palestinian state – can be painted in traitors’ colors, since they are perceived to be happy to endanger us all. Even those in favor of expanding settlements in Judea and Samaria rarely trumpet their rights over the Biblical Land of Israel, and instead focus on Palestinians threats to Israeli security.
Quite apart from the fact that security experts are far from convinced that ongoing civilian presence over the Green Line adds to Israeli security, it would be a mistake to assume that the Palestinian issue is only about security.
The situation does not only ask the “To Be” question. It also asks us about the nature of the Jewish People, and the way in which we relate to another People in this region. It pushes us to define what we mean by Freedom, democracy, and human rights. And of course it asks the question as to where in Our Land should our citizens be allowed to build their houses?
It is according to their answers to these four interlocking questions that the Left, Right, and Center can be gauged.
The video doing the social media rounds is of the first Knesset speech of the racist Meir Kahane. The entire government, including Likud hardliner Prime Minister Shamir, stand up and walk out. No respect nor honor is to be granted to the hate-filled fascism of Kahane’s Kach party.
That was then and this is now. At Prime Minister Netanyahu’s urging, the Jewish Home Party has merged with the Jewish Power party. This latter is made up of Kahanist supporters, who preach violence against Arabs, their expulsion from Israel, and worse.
If we are to understand Israel as a Jewish and Democratic country, it would seem that these politicians undermine both these concepts. Not only do these men act against Israel’s democratic principles, but many would argue they also act against well-established understandings of what is Jewish behavior and values.
A group of politicians who seem to oppose both the Democratic and Jewish principles of the State of Israel could be termed – among other things – anti-Zionists.
Will the Jewish world behave towards these men in a similar way to which it behaves towards other anti-Zionists such as those in the BDS movement?
Difficult times lie ahead for North American Jewry, as antisemitism rears its ugly head. As Debora Lipstadt points out, Jews are now under attack from the radical Right, from the radical Left, and from radical Islam.
In past times, the only redeeming feature of antisemitism was the way in which it at least galvanized unity in the Jewish People, against these threats. No longer. Not when Israel is so tortuously involved.
On the Right, anti-Semites argue their kosher credentials because they support Israel. Richard Spencer may be keen that “Jews will not replace us” in the United States, but at the same time is a supporter of Israel and even calls himself a “white Zionist”. Backers of President Trump will likewise point to his support of Israel to rebut condemnation of his friendship with antisemites.
The Right would seem to be saying – I cannot be an evil antisemite, because I support Israel. I may hate Jews at home, but I like them in Israel.
On the Left, Israel is also a painful part of the equation. New congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, argue the evils of Israel together with their support for the Jewish community in the States. Sarsour even led heart-warming fundraising campaign for victims of antisemitism in Colorado and Pittsburgh.
The Left would seem to be saying – I cannot be an evil antisemite, because I fight local antisemitism. I may hate Jews in Israel, but I like them here in the States.
Unfortunately the current Israeli leadership does not make this dilemma any easier for Diaspora Jews. Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to make common cause with those such as conspiracy theorist President Orban in Hungary and the Polish leadership that supports Israel while denying its role in the Holocaust.
It would seem that Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken sides in this “choice” between Diaspora Jew-hatred, and Israel hatred.
How does your soul respond?
The most direct and powerful opportunity for individuals to influence Israeli policy is upon us. On April 9th, every Israeli citizen has the chance to have their say as to how Israel should best answer the Four Hatikvah Questions.
What would be the best way to ensure Israel’s security? How should Judaism, the Jewish People, and Jewish values affect policy in Israel? How can Israel’s current EIU Democracy Index ranking rise higher than 30th in the world? Are we configuring our land and its resources in the most equitable and sustainable way?
In later Headlines for Identity, we’ll look into how the political parties do or don’t address these questions, but for now it might be worth asking a more fundamental question:
Why aren’t you voting?
Why don’t those American Jews who express so much care and concern for Israel and her policies, just come over here and vote? For Jews around the world it’s real easy to get the vote in Israel: You just make Aliyah. Technically speaking you wouldn’t even need to live here. Pop over to become an Israeli citizen, and then fly in to vote. It’s not nothing, but it’s nowhere near impossible.
So what is behind this desire to critique and influence Israel on the one hand, and this unwillingness to put one’s money where one’s mouth is on the other?
Do Diaspora Jews care less than they say they do? Do they view Aliyah in such hallowed terms that they could not bring themselves to “exploit” it in this way?
Or are they simply afraid that if given the right to vote in Israel’s elections they’ll find themselves confounded over whom to vote for, like the rest of us poor saps living here?
As they say, when the United States sneezes, the whole world catches the flu. While the decision of President Trump to withdraw US troops from Syria has led to political headlines and speculation in DC, it has put many in our area in fear for their lives.
The only buffer between an Iranian-Russian takeover of Syria, Israel’s Northern enemy, has disappeared overnight. Kurds fear massacre, and Israel fears the nightmare scenario of Iran on its border: Both in Syria and in Lebanon through Iran’s proxy army Hezbollah with their tunnels.
How should we respond to a sworn enemy that aims for our annihilation?
Ironically enough, President Trump’s move comes in a period when more and more military and ex-military personnel are calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. They, echoing Helit Bar El’s presentation to us, argue that we must differentiate between Iran’s threat of annihilation – TO BE – and the Palestinians’ threat to areas of OUR LAND and our own sense of liberal democracy (FREEDOM).
These Generals argue that if an enemy threatens our values or our interests, but does not threaten our existence, then this is an enemy with whom we can and should compromise.
In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Trump has strengthened Israel’s hand vis a vis the Palestinians, and in announcing the withdrawal from Syria has weakened Israel’s hand against Iran.
Some might say that Americans do not understand what it means to be under threat of annihilation. Are American Jews different in this respect?
How should American Jews, often opposed to US military exploits in the Middle East, respond to President Trump’s priorities?
Airbnb has responded to pressure from Human Rights Watch, and has chosen to “remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” This has, as might be expected, delighted activists working against the military occupation of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, and has infuriated the Israeli government and its supporters.
The former might see this as an affirmation of what is almost an international consensus: The area East of the 1967 Armistice line known as the Green Line is Occupied Territory. As such, it is subject to the Geneva Convention that prohibits transfer of population into said areas, and rules out building permanent settlements there. Human Rights Watch created a video aimed at Airbnb, pointing out that listings are built on land stolen from Palestinians. Activists against the Occupation would say that Airbnb are to be praised for upholding international law. Hurrah…
On the other hand, Israeli governments of the last fifty years – and most Israelis – do not see this area as occupied. The land was conquered in response to Jordanian aggression, there was no legitimate State the land was conquered from (the strictly legal definition of Occupied territory), and anyway – this is ancient and traditional Jewish land. Many Israelis would even go further to say that Jewland (Judea) is rightfully owned and ruled by the Jewish State. For Airbnb to discriminate against Jewish residents of Jewland is grossly unfair. Boo…
There are others who, without denying either party’s claims, might ask a question: Does Airbnb refuse business to other countries involved in abuses that are also enumerated by Human Rights Watch? And if not, why not?
HRW condemns Zimbabwe’s theft of land, Saudi Arabian abuses of women, China’s occupation of Tibet and discrimination against Muslims – to name but a few. All of these places are trading happily on Airbnb. Tibet is even listed by Airbnb as being a province of China!
Yet Human Rights Watch has, as yet, run no campaign against these listings.
Given this inconsistency, how should we interpret the actions of Human Rights Watch (whose own founder denounced it), and of Airbnb?
[You might wish to print out this pdf version of the post, and stick it up on the wall of your House…]
This Headline for Identity is part of the 4HQ Encounters program for Moishe House, made possible by the generous funding of Jim Joseph Foundation.
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
I’d been bracing myself for this moment – the moment the veterinarian would announce the total we owed.
Our beloved calico cat, Lucy, had been run over and after five days of hospitalization, surgery, an IV, a feeding tube, and excellent care, she was being released to me with eight cans of food that cost 11 shekels each.
The young woman who explained to me how to inject the mixture of food and water, stirred to exactly the right consistency, with the syringe into the feeding tube, was clear and patient and, after demonstrating, wrote down the exact amount of food and water she was to get each day along with a feeding schedule.
I took for granted that I managed this and every other transaction with the vet’s office with no problem, with a command of the language and the culture that allows me to live comfortably in Israel after ten years.
So, when the receptionist told me the most concrete fact of the whole ordeal, how could it be that my language skills failed me?
I’d heard about someone who paid 12,000 shekels for their dog’s surgery. I was prepared. She made the final additions to the bill. My heart was racing, we’d been in denial, only worried about the cat’s survival. For the past eight years Lucy has been the family’s source of comfort. These have been hard years and as we sat together at dinner on Shabbat after the accident, we realized just how much we all receive from Lucy. She gives us unconditional love and we love her back that same way.
I had my credit card in my hand and I hear the receptionist say, “The total is 320,000 shekels.” (That’s $88,888.00 at today’s exchange rate.)
I was stunned. I couldn’t move. She sees my shock and says, “let me deduct one day of hospitalization.” Of course, this couldn’t possibly help the fact that my account is already in minus, but it was a nice gesture.
Then I tried to protest – not understanding why they didn’t give us a clue that it would be this much. She showed me the documentation that we approved the feeding tube and the surgery. I told her no one had prepared us to deal with such a sum. Suddenly I was losing it, asking them how this could be, getting angry, even yelling at one nurse who, in typical Israeli fashion, suggested that it was my fault for not knowing how much it would be.
Then the receptionist told me again the total amount owed. And this time I understood Hebrew.
“The total is 3,200.00 shekels.” I looked at her and it sunk in that I’d misunderstood and then I started to laugh and cry, feeling so relieved and so stupid and the people with the dogs in the waiting room laughed with me.
But I could not stop laughing. They offered me water: I asked for a glass of wine. Just so has it that the vet also owns a boutique winery we’d been to a few weeks ago which is something that would happen only in Israel.
When I mentioned to the receptionist that this reminded me of the tale of the man who complained to the rabbi that his house was too small and the rabbi told him to bring a goat home… then a cow, etc. and when he took them out he’d feel how big his house is… I knew that it is also only in Israel that the vet’s receptionist would know the classic Jewish story “It could always be worse”.
I was so happy to pay 3,200 shekels that I didn’t care a bit about the parking ticket I found on my car when I got there with the cat. Who understands the parking signs here anyway?
After ten years in the country and more years of knowing Hebrew, you can function at work, navigate the systems, watch the news, and read the newspaper, but sometimes you’re still just a new immigrant who can’t understand how much you owe the vet.
In the lightness of Purim, and in the echoes of International Women’s Day, we’ll just put this here…
This is a video salon we hosted back in 2013 between Rachel Azaria (now MK), and R. Marcelo Bronstein of Bnei Jeshurun community of Manhattan. The conversation was public, and seen live and after the event. A baby had also invaded the event, yet it received nothing like the coverage of Robert Kelly’s unfortunate and hilarious interview.
It was only a few days later an article appeared in Haaretz revealed the full story. Apparently Azaria’s hungry baby had threatened to disturb the interview. Without anyone seeing or realizing, for the rest of the intelligent and fascinating conversation, Rachel Azaria was breast-feeding her child just out of shot…
Far fewer hits, but a great story…