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?)

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?

 

Steering Right, Left, and Center – how to 4HQ the Elections!

March 10, 2019 by

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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 New Anti-Zionists?

February 25, 2019 by

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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?

Israel or Diaspora – where does antisemitism strike?

January 31, 2019 by

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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?

 

Israeli Elections are coming – are you?

January 21, 2019 by

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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?

To Be – under threat of annihilation, or defeat?

December 26, 2018 by

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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 takes a stand on Our Land/Their Land

November 21, 2018 by

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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.

 

Lara Alqasem and Israel’s boycott of boycotters

October 25, 2018 by

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Lara Alqasem http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net

 

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.

Three comments on Israel Education in the wake of the Kotel Affair

July 3, 2017

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Three thoughts about the way in which the compromise agreement over mixed-prayer at the Kotel was “frozen” by Prime Minister Netanyahu, thus infuriating the Jewish world:

1.

For all its pain, the Kotel furore is good for Israel Education. It finally puts paid to the idea that one can teach Israel without touching on the politics that animate this place. No longer can Israel engagers maintain that we can engage with Israel as an embodiment of our religious convictions, without addressing the politics that drive this particular embodiment. Educators’ celebration of “shared values” must now incorporate issues where our values are not necessarily shared.

All this is a good thing. Since Zionism was about the Jews assuming power, it was always odd that we bypassed the mechanisms and the energies that related to the use of that power.

We can now all embrace the invigorating challenge of educating about the politics of Israel without turning them into an all-encompassing obsession…

2.

Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit offers a useful way of looking at the compromises that were made in the process of coming up with the Kotel agreement, and what compromises PM Netanyahu made in choosing to freeze its implementation. In his book, On Compromise and Rotten Compromises, Margalit assesses when a compromise must be rejected, and when it should be accepted albeit while holding one’s nose. It is worth taking a look at the past few weeks in the light of Shady, Shoddy, and Shabby deals.

3.

Finally, Margalit also points to what might be at the heart of the impassioned response to Netanyahu’s move: What constitutes decent behavior. While Israeli politicians such as Naftali Bennet point out that the current situation is not catastrophic for the progressive cause, since the platform at Robinson’s Arch will remain and even grow in size, Diaspora leadership will point not only to the result but to the process.

After having negotiated in good faith over the future of the Kotel, and after having agreed to a compromise – for this compromise to be summarily dumped is not only a poor result, it is poor behavior. In another of Margalit’s greats, he explores what he means by a Decent Society. A decent society is one in which its institutions do not humiliate its citizens. By extension we might say that a decent relationship between Israel and the Diaspora would be one that does not humiliate one side of the supposed-partnership.

[You might also be interested in the materials we created here about the Kotel a couple of years ago. The background is still highly relevant.]

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