The social and political impact in the United States of the outcome of the investigation into the bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon is almost impossible to overestimate. It will, in all likelihood, define several key cultural markers for the next generation of Americans.
Although the country has been awash with violence of many different kinds, including various terrorist acts, this is by far the most culturally and politically significant since the 9/11 atrocities. Like 9/11, and the Oklahoma City bombing before it, the attack on the Boston Marathon has profound and national symbolic resonance. Nothing since September 11, 2001 compares in this regard.
Medical workers aid an injured woman at the scene of a bomb blast near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston on April 15, 2013. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Few facts are known and authorities say no suspects are identified or in custody. Therefore, a huge range of potential perpetrators with widely divergent motivations remains potentially culpable.
But within the wide range of possible scenarios, three obviously stand out. The culprits could be right-wing, anti-government American extremists. They might be some other kind of domestic extremists, or even a lone madman. But there is also the distinct possibility that the bombings may prove to be linked to some group of Muslim extremists, either foreign or domestic.
It is this last category that would have most impact.
Every spring brings a whipsaw of emotion to the American-Israeli peace-advocate Jew living in self-imposed exile (me, in this case, but I’m guessing I’m not alone).
Every year, I launch my Passover cleaning with a combined loathing of cleaning, a general-all-purpose laziness, and an overwhelming longing for home—and anger at the Israeli policies that inspired my Jerusalemite husband and me to choose the Diaspora over home, for the sake of our children. This invariably crests on the day of the Seder, as I get weepy over boxes of matzah and the recipes of beloved Tel Aviv friends, and then it passes, more or less, as the trial of the cleaning fades, and my little family revels in our little Pesach traditions. I engage with the Divine, I feel a special joy. A week later it’s back to the everyday—and every year I think that the roller coaster is behind me.
The Palestinian flag flies from the building housing the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Washington on January 18, 2011. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)
Then another week passes, and suddenly it’s Holocaust Day. Almost without noticing, I sink into a kind of numb horror, a boundless grief, listening to Israeli radio and reading the memories of the millions lost, weeping off and on all day it seems, slowly emerging as the sun sets and our yahrzeit candle burns low. Again, I long to be with my people, and internally rage at the reasons that I find myself a stranger in a strange land. And again I think it’s passed.
And then a week later it’s the eve of Israeli Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, which is, in turn, the lead-in to Israeli Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut. And as much as I don’t know how to process the emotions of Passover and Holocaust Day, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut bring with them an entirely different degree of difficulty.
The United States likes to think of itself as a benevolent force in the world, a view held by the range of political persuasions from liberal internationalists to neoconservatives. But the latest political drama to grip Palestine—the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—gives a window into just how skewed this self-image can be when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There's no push there for international partners to adhere to the rule of law; instead, the U.S. is asking Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the opposite. Secretary of State John Kerry, amid shuttling back and forth to the Middle East, reportedly asked the Palestinians to ignore their own laws and retain Fayyad as long as possible (with my emphasis):
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on April 7, 2013 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Thaer Ganaim / PPO via Getty Images)
"It looks like the president will wait to see the result of the two months that Kerry has asked for before he nominates a new prime minister," said a senior official close to Abbas who declined to be named. Palestinian law stipulates that Abbas should appoint a successor within two weeks. However, the president himself has overstayed his own mandate by four years and parliament has not met for six, indicating flexibility in the rulebook.
Fayyad, of course, rose to the role of prime minister only when the office was vacated by Hamas. That abdication came thanks to the civil war that bifurcated the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories into distinct parts: the West Bank under the P.A. and the Gaza Strip in the hands of Hamas. The schism—which erupted in 2007, after Hamas won parliamentary elections the year before, with the group's violent takeover of Gaza—came in the form of a pre-emptive counter-coup against a U.S.-backed plan to oust Hamas from power. That's when Fayyad, a technocrat, was appointed to be a prime minister with not even the shred of democratic legitimacy enjoyed by the man who appointed him.
Israel turns 65 today, old enough to know better; and if life begins at conception, the state and I are exactly the same age. So forgive me for going all meta. I can imagine pretty much what I'll be, if at all, in 20 years. But Israel?
I ask because the conflict with the Palestinians seems headed to something bad, yet the peace process has become a great bore. Presumably, everybody knows the arguments and grievances and indignations. They know that two states have been preempted by Tel Aviv's complacency, or settler momentum, or Ramallah's nostalgia, or Gaza's missiles; that we're too afraid and they're too angry; that you can care about "Jewish," or about refugees, but not both; that the occupation has created one state anyway, and seriousness about human rights means demanding one-person, one-vote, a notional prelude to a political dream palace, which actually means a prelude to Bosnia, but never mind.
Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty
But wait: isn't John Kerry serious and hasn't President Obama inspired? Won't a renewal of Palestinian insurgency, with Syria in chaos and the Egyptian economy collapsing, lead to regional violence? Even if Israel has the power to win any war, don't Palestinians have the power to make them despise any victory? Boring. Everybody also knows that in restarting negotiations over restarting negotiations, Kerry's in denial about how far apart the sides are, or the limited power of American diplomacy to force them closer, or (the same thing) the limited power of the president to defy the Israel lobby.
“The test of every nation is the nation that comes next,” Michael Walzer announced. Israel's test remains incomplete: how will it deal with the Palestinians and their own quest for statehood?
That question was one of several that went entertained, if not quite answered, at a sold-out event Sunday afternoon at the JCC in Manhattan. The crowd was there for a conversation between Moshe Halbertal, the Israeli philosopher, and Walzer, the writer, political philosopher, and outgoing editor of Dissent. Their debate, moderated by Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner, was to address, in Eisner's formulation, “whether or not we can hold Zionism and liberalism in the same place.”
That tenuous wording presaged what would be a rote affair, with the two philosophers maundering down the lane of liberal bromides while never straying into the other's path. For their hour-plus-long conversation, they seemed to agree on everything. And besides a couple typical remarks directed against the settlement enterprise or religious influence in Israeli government, they evinced little passion or righteous anger, either of which would have been welcome additions to a discourse that lately seems bogged down in sectarian political fighting (are you J Street or AIPAC?) and pale-eyed laments over the supposed death of the two-state solution.
Both men laid out a vision of Israel as a pluralistic home for the Jewish people, providing an opportunity for self-determination and the perpetuation of the Jewish nation and Jewish culture. “As a Jewish state, Israel has a particular responsibility to the Jewish people as a whole,” Halbertal said. It's this designation that—per the event's title—would seem to serve up some conflict, not least of the existential variety. Can this Jewishness be compatible with democratic government and just treatment of minorities?
When one synagogue in the affluent New York suburb of Great Neck, just outside Queens on Long Island, revoked its invitation to Pamela Geller, another was quick to step up and give the anti-Muslim activist a soap box. Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky, head of the Great Neck chapter of the Orthodox Jewish group Chabad, where Geller spoke on Sunday, extended the invitation because “everyone should have the option to speak, as long as they do not speak hatred." Likewise, Geller called attempts to block her talk a "war on free speech." But if these self-proclaimed defenders of the Constitution were making this day about freedom of speech, they apparently forgot about the next clause in the first amendment: that which ensures the freedom of the press.
In this Sept. 11, 2012 photo, anti-Islamic blogger Pamela Geller, speaks at a conference she organized entitled; “Stop Islamization of America,” in New York. (David Karp / AP Photo )
When I arrived to the Great Neck Chabad house at 9 o'clock in the morning, an hour before the talk, attendees were already streaming in past the plastic tables set up for security. Three enormous flags rose in front of the Chabad house: the Israeli flag flew highest, followed by the American, and lastly a big, yellow Tea Party flag. As I moved to the table at the right, for registering as press, a tall, balding man with a dark suit and sunglasses asked me who I was writing for. "The Daily Beast," I replied. The man, Jeffrey Weisenfeld, didn't miss a beat before waving his hand dismissively and blurting out, "Not interested." I told him the Daily Beast was a reputable national news site, and he responded that he was familiar with the website, and unmoved by my appeal. "Usually, the press controls us," he told me. "Today, we control the press." Wiesenfeld added: "We only want the outlets here that we want here," and urged me to read about the event in the local paper Newsday like everyone else.
Geller's talk at Chabad was slated to be closely moderated to keep it from venturing off the topics of freedom of speech and terrorism, and preventing any of the sort of hate speech Geisinsky said had no place there. But Geller's anti-Muslim record have gotten her labeled at a hate-monger by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others, including, notably, many American Jewish groups. The outrages are far too frequent to catalogue, but her work has repeatedly gotten her in hot water for intolerant statements about Muslims in general, not just the purported extremist targets of her ire.
“We don’t listen to what you say,” a friend from Ramallah told me a while back. “We see what you do.” Poor Salam Fayyad, who resigned this weekend as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. He put his faith in what America and Israel say.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks during an interview in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 28, 2011. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)
American and Israeli officials say they want Palestinian leaders to champion nonviolence, fiscal integrity, and the two state solution. Judged by those criteria, Fayyad was a dream come true. In 2010, Israeli President Shimon Peres compared him to Israel’s own revered founder, David Ben Gurion. In 2011, the International Monetary Fund declared that the Palestinian Authority was “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state.” In 2012, in part because of improved Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, reported that for the first time in almost 40 years, not a single Israeli had died from Palestinian terrorism from the West Bank.
But if Fayyad delivered, Israel and America did not. Logic would suggest that faced with a West Bank prime minister who makes the IMF swoon and a Hamas leadership in Gaza that calls Osama Bin Laden a “holy warrior,” the Israeli and American governments would have gone to great lengths to help Fayyad succeed. To the contrary, they helped seal his doom.
The streets of Manhattan’s Upper West Side thrummed with excitement on Sunday. What was supposed to be a holiday had turned into a political drama. Barely 24 hours had passed since Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned from the Palestinian Authority and left the Middle East with another corner of stunned uncertainty. How can you celebrate with street fairs and Bamba stalls when Israel is marking its 65th year with another blow to its political future?
Okay, so that’s not exactly how it was. If any of the people who had come to celebrate Independence Day on the Upper West Side had read the news about Fayyad’s resignation in the morning, they’d managed to forget about it by afternoon, when Israeli street fairs—at least, that’s how they were advertised—began to hatch in the neighborhood streets in honor of Israel’s 65th birthday. The fair promised a sophisticated taste of Israeliness. But it was a Sunday, after all, and something had to be done to entertain the kids.
A child waves an Israeli flag as she watches the Salute to Israel Parade on May 31, 2009 in New York City. (Hiroko Masuike / Getty Images)
As soon as I entered West 100th Street, I understood that this experience was going to involve time travel. When I was a kid, maybe seven years old, I used to imagine that Moses had come back to life, and of all the people in the world he’d chosen me to lead him through the depths of Jerusalem in the late seventies. I was primarily concerned with my limited ability to provide technological explanations. What is a car? How does a toilet work? What is a zipper? And what did we do to deserve to see the day when, finally, we had our own country, the State of Israel? At the age of seven, I didn’t skimp on the pathos.
This weekend, at the Upper West Side fair, I got Jewish New York’s 2013 version of that journey of Moses. It was a journey on which I encountered their Israel. The Israel that exists only as a romantic fantasy in their minds. The Israel that exists as a remnant of yellowing photographs from an old album, from that time they walked up Ben Yehuda Street or down Nahalat Binyamin, when everyone was still beautiful and thin and very Zionist.
Salam Fayyad’s resignation is most unfortunate. The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority since 2007, this American-educated technocrat has been the most constructive, most visionary, Palestinian leader and the one most associated with state-building, ever—with, I regret to say, very few rivals in those realms. His departure is a blow to peace—and to Palestinian hopes for national independence.
Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad (R) tastes olive-based products during the annual Olive Harvest Festival in the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem on November 3, 2012. (Musa Al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images)
Fayyad brought “transparency, accountability and stability” to the often chaotic PA, in the words of the New York Times. He was, in many ways, the un-Arafat. Fayyad was honest, whereas the longtime PLO leader Yasir Arafat was corrupt; Fayyad sought order, while Arafat thrived on chaos; Fayyad focused his energies on building a Palestinian national entity, Arafat ultimately preferred focusing on trying to destroy the Jewish State.
Ironically, Fayyad ended up bearing the brunt of the blame for the continuing bedlam and economic distress on the West Bank. This distortion is the political equivalent of firing a doctor who has alleviated but not yet eliminated the symptoms of a chronic illness—then blaming the doctor as the cause of the affliction rather than part of the cure.
When the late Carmen Weinstein asked "Why do they hate us?" a few days ago on the pages of the Jewish Community in Cairo website, she was not referring to her fellow Egyptian compatriots, as one might suspect, but to her co-religionists abroad. Spurred on by the publication of an article in an Israeli newspaper, which recycled a number of clichés about Egyptian Jews, Weinstein argued back with characteristic passion against those who "find untold satisfaction in characterizing the Alexandria and Cairo Jewish communities as finished and done with, and that the state forbids us from celebrating our high holidays!"
An Egyptian worker uses chemicals to restore detail on a marble piece of the Moses Ben Maimon synagogue in the el-Gamaliya area in old Cairo on August 20, 2009. (Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty Images)
This was not the first time Carmen, as she was known to everyone, wrote such an article, nor was it the first time that members of the diaspora had sought to recycle the lachrymose "Out of Egypt" tale of the community’s demise. For much of her life Carmen Weinstein fought the pernicious misperception that there were no Jews left in Egypt.
Never shy of controversy, Carmen, who inherited from her mother her politics and position as president of the community, long insisted that the historic artifacts of the community in Egypt must remain in Egypt. Diaspora groups such as the French Association International Nabi Daniel and the Brooklyn-based Historical Society of Jews From Egypt continue to lobby for the removal of sefarim, or holy books, from Egyptian synagogues and have them exported abroad. But for Weinstein this would amount to no less than the erasure of a chapter of Egyptian and Jewish history. As her mother, Esther, once wrote, "Taking the Jewish sefarims, books, records... out of Egypt because there are very few of us left is tantamount to saying Egypt should demolish the Pyramids and the Temple of Luxor because there are no pharaohs left."
"It is shameful that a man who claims we should celebrate the death of others is the commander of soldiers."
- A soldier at IDF Radio responds to the racist comment that one of his commanders posted on Facebook.
- Court rejects case brought against state by former IDF interrogator - Court rules statute of limitations expired, but criticizes authorities for concealing tapes that support claims brought against Israel by 'Captain George', who was responsible for interrogating Lebanese man Mustafa Dirani. Dirani complained George had subjected him to violence and even raped him resulting in George's ouster from the intelligence corps unit. George subsequently sued the state for NIS 5.5 million, arguing that he had been fired unjustly, and that this caused him great harm. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli population exceeds 8 million on eve of Independence Day - Jewish-Israelis make up about 75 percent of the population; 70 percent of them are native-born. In the past year, approximately 19,500 immigrants arrived and the country's birthrate came in at 1.8 percent. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- IDF acting as if one soldier's blood not equal to another's, says MK - Omer Bar-Lev calls newest change of protocol "severe ethical failure adding insult to injury." Protocol changed after chief of staff did not place flag on most recent fallen soldier because grave was in section for those with unclear Jewish identity. (Israel Hayom)
- Erdogan confirms plan to visit Gaza in late May - The Turkish leader, who has for years spoken of his desire to visit the Palestinian enclave, was expected to travel there this month but postponed his trip last week at the request of Washington, the Turkish daily Hurriyet and other local media reported. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Deputy foreign minister tells U.S. Jews not to pressure Netanyahu - "Pressure from overseas should not guide the prime minister in his careful management of the diplomatic process," says Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin. Earlier this month, 100 prominent U.S. Jews called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take steps to show Israel's willingness to compromise for peace. (Israel Hayom)
- Israeli NGO to sue Palestinian Authority for terrorism - Organization urges terror victims to testify on Facebook for ICC lawsuit in 'Terrorizing Terror' campaign. Chairwoman: PA starting war against soldiers, we'll defend them. (Ynet)
For the full News from Israel.
Emily Hauser, whose work I normally very much enjoy, is the latest to join the ever-swelling ranks of the "Free Pollard" campaign—those who've decided for one reason or another that the former Navy analyst and convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard should be set free before his sentence comes to an end. Hauser notes the apparently relatively long sentence, the solitary confinement, and she even cites my old friend and former colleague Larry Korb. Those are all fine arguments for releasing Pollard, but they don't seal the deal. So Hauser heaps on another set of arguments: that freeing Pollard will give Israelis and the American Jewish organizational world one fewer thing to complain about, and that Pollard might be used as a chit in talks with the Israelis over resuming their own talks with the Palestinians.
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
As for using Pollard as a chit, the question remains: for what? Hauser only offers another question as an answer: Could Pollard's release "actually help bring a two-state solution closer?" To which I must reply, "No." The reason relates to Hauser's second point: I'm not of a mind that the Israelis and their right-leaning American supporters have too many legitimate complaints about U.S. support for their various causes. The main pillars of the so-called special relationship—the "qualitative military edge" Israel maintains with the help of extraordinarily generous American aid, support for any and all security actions, and the diplomatic cover provided in international fora—remain as strong as ever. If the special relationship isn't enough to elicit any moderate Israeli concessions in the peace process, why would returning Pollard do the trick? (Anyway, I think Barack Obama gave up on the peace process, and John Kerry's stumbled so far in his bid to restart one.)
Hauser mentions in passing what I think is the best argument for not letting Pollard go, and it hits precisely on the head exactly the reason the recently ramped-up campaign for his release is such a kick in the teeth: Pollard is up for parole in two years. Given that he's not been a problem detainee—not to mention the controversy surrounding the length of his imprisonment—it's safe to expect parole will be granted. With only two years left before this likely event comes to pass, now seems hardly the time to ramp-up the campaign by enlisting elected Israeli officials and circulating petitions. Rather, one would think now would be an ideal moment for a grateful ally to ramp it down and bide their time. If parole is denied, that would be a good time to get the campaign going. In this light, the campaign to free him seems to me an embarrassment (and this is not even to mention some of the embarrassing and troubling issues to American Jews).
Back when Prime Minister Netanyahu was juggling the egos and ideologies of Israel’s right and center-ish parties to form his current government, he got one person on board pretty quickly: Tzipi Livni.
Which was a little odd, because Livni has in recent years staked her political fortune on having evolved (in the parlance of our day) on the issue of achieving peace with the Palestinians. Raised in an Irgun family and a staunch Likudnik for most of her adult life, Livni left the Likud in 2005 when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon formed Kadima, and not long after she began advocating for a two-state solution.
Ziv Koren / Polaris
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, she and the current Prime Minister have not always, shall we say, seen eye to eye. Indeed, the acrimony had reached such heights that I fully expected her to make her place in the opposition this time around. I was, clearly, wrong.
Livni’s alacrity got her the Justice Ministry plus the newly created position of “lead peace negotiator.” Was she unable to pass up a ministry? Was she moved by the urgent need for a peace agreement? We may never know, but here’s what we do know: If it was the latter, she probably shouldn’t have taken Netanyahu’s call.
Yityish “Titi” Aynaw was crowned “Miss Israel” just in time to be invited to meet with President Obama on his first presidential visit to Israel. Titi is the first black “Miss Israel,” and the first from Israel’s 130,000-strong Ethiopian immigrant community.
Titi has a compelling story. She lost her father as an infant and her mother at age 10 while still in Ethiopia, and came to Israel to join her grandparents who had previously made aliyah. In one decade, she became an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, returned to Ethiopia to discover her parents’ story, and is now one of the most famous Ethiopian immigrants in Israel. A striking woman, at 5’9” and in heels, Titi towered over Israeli president Shimon Peres and even topped Obama.
The 2013 version of the 63-year-old Miss Israel competition is part beauty pageant and part reality show. Given that viewers vote online or by text, Titi’s success can at least to some degree be seen to reflect the will of the people. As Tzvi Gottlieb pointed out in these pages, Titi is not alone; another Ethiopian woman and a Black Hebrew woman along with a number of Israeli Arab women have scored big on reality TV, peaking with the victory of Lina Makhoul in the Israeli version of The Voice on Passover.
But how do members of the minority communities interpret this trend? To find out, I quizzed my Ethiopian friends and colleagues about their reactions to Titi’s coronation.
Israel is in a state of emergency. To the uninitiated, this may sound alarming, but in fact this is not news. Since the founding of the state, Israel has been governed by the Emergency Defense Regulations, a set of laws carried over from the British Mandate. Many of the particular laws have been repealed over the years, but the structure of emergency laws has been renewed by the Knesset regularly since then, typically every six months to a year. This week saw the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee renew them yet again, this time for three months. Among the committee members, Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On was the sole dissenter.
Much is made by bloggers, scholars and activists of whether Israel can comfortably exist as a democracy, given its identity as a Jewish state. But less attention is devoted to the fact that, through the continued renewal of the Emergency Laws, Israeli security practices exist in fundamental tension with the principle of upholding civil liberties, an essential condition of a free society.
Israeli President Shimon Peres meets with representatives of Meretz headed by Zehava Gal-On to discuss forming a new Israeli government on January 31, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Yin Dongxun-Pool / Getty Images)
On one hand, we could argue that this is an issue that must be left to the state’s own citizens. Israel possesses a vibrant, freely elected parliament emerging from a hyper-democratic proportional representation system.
Some, like Gal-On, may protest the situation. “We’re being treated like a rubber stamp,” was her response to the government placing the renewed legislation before her committee. But if most others don’t mind living in a state where their freedoms may be curtailed by the self-declared exigencies of government security maintenance, who are we—as outside bloggers, scholars or activists—to criticize?
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.