Number of the day:
--Number of pupils in lock-down in their school in the village of Jalud, while Israeli settlers attacked.
- Israelis attack school in Palestinian village, torch olive groves - Apparent "price-tag" attack likely in response to razing of nearby illegal settler outpost by security forces. Palestinian children locked in classrooms for safety, 400 olive trees burned, five cars vandalized. IDF arrests four assailants from illegal settlement near Shilo, but pupils from Jalud village say at least 20 settlers involved. (Haaretz+, Israel Hayom and Maan)
- Israeli gunboats open fire at Gaza fishermen, locals say - Witnesses told Ma'an that Israeli navy forces fired shells at fishermen off Gaza's coast. An Israeli army spokeswoman said an IDF boat had fired "warning shots in the air" when a fishing boat deviated from the Israeli designated area. (Maan and NRG Hebrew)
- Jerusalem cemetery attack strikes nerve with Christians - Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, one of city's most important historic graveyards, vandalized by Jewish settler youths. Police arrest, but release, four suspects, two of them minors. "We are striving so hard to promote dignity," says Rev. Hosam Naoum. (Israel Hayom)
- IDF destroys Syrian cannon that fired mortars on Golan - Tamuz missile hits cannon, which fired two mortars at Golan Heights earlier in the day, lightly injuring two IDF soldiers. (Ynet)
- Right-wing lawyer Ben-Gvir: "You (Israeli Arabs) are terrorists", Arab MK Zahalka: "Kiss my shoe" - Bitter debate in High Court over Marmara affair. In response to appeal to High Court to demand Attorney General indict MK Haneen Zouebi (Balad) for her participation in Turkish Marmara flotilla, Zouebi called for Netanyahu, Barak and Ashekenazi to be put on trial. (Maariv, p. 13/NRG Hebrew)
- Israeli election committee asked to ban parties running 'racist’ campaigns - Labor MK protest anti-Muslim messages by Likud party ahead of the municipal elections in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. (Haaretz+)
- Science Minister Peri: Nobel win shines light on brain drain - Peri congratulated Prof. Arieh Warshel for winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, and said, "Warshel continues in the unprecedented line of Israeli Nobel Prize winners, but at the same time he shines a light on the real national challenge of reversing the brain drain." (Ynet)
- U.S. freezes military assistance to Egypt, pending democratic progress - Military support for counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and security in the Sinai Peninsula will continue. (Agencies, Haaretz)
The news spreads quickly through my university campus in Jerusalem. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ultra-Orthodox leader of Israel’s powerful Shas party and top arbiter of halakhah (Jewish religious law) has passed away—so we’d better head home before the city jams up. The police are expecting over half a million people to attend the funeral of the man considered a rare luminary by his followers and an influential bigot by his detractors. Supporters cite his groundbreaking rulings in favor of releasing Jewish women from the bind of marriage to a missing husband; opponents decry his anti-gay and unashamedly racist approach.
As part of the dwindling minority of secular Jewish progressives in Jerusalem, it would be easy for me to join in the camaraderie of secular complaints about the ensuing delays in public transport. Instead, I decide on the spur of the moment to cross over the strong, invisible boundary separating me from the ultra-Orthodox world, and see what I can find.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish mourners surround the vehicle transporting the body of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party, during his funeral in Jerusalem on October 7, 2013. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
Finding the spot itself isn’t hard. I simply follow the men in black hats streaming from every corner. I didn’t come prepared, so I’m concerned that the tights I’m wearing will draw unpleasant comments or even objections to my presence. Luckily, I have a scarf to cover any errant bits of torso.
I am extremely surprised to find myself supporting right-wing Israeli Knesset members, with whom I almost always disagree, against the international press liaison of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ACRI, an organization that I greatly admire, but I find myself in complete disagreement with Marc Grey’s argument in Open Zion against raising the threshold for Israeli parliamentary elections.
With his examples from other countries, Grey presents some interesting ideas for the reform of Israel’s electoral system, but I can’t help feeling that they are all unnecessarily complex. On the other hand, the proposal, being discussed in a parliamentary committee headed by Likud Knesset Member David Rotem, to raise the threshold to 4 percent is a simple and useful first step toward reducing the ridiculously large number of Israeli parties.
A Knesset worker holds Israeli flags ahead of a cermony marking the opening of the 19th Knesset (Israeli parliament) on February 5, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
It is true that there are important differences between the various parties representing the Arab citizens of Israel, but politics is the art of compromise, and political parties are always alliances of people with differing views who are able to unite on their most important aims.
Traveling in Lebanon, near the border with Syria, at the beginning of June this year may not have been the safest decision of my life. But I was chasing a story, and that chase has made me question how far I’m willing to go—geographically, emotionally, and psychologically—to get it.
This particular story started three years earlier and continues to this day. It was 2010, in a fancy hotel in Paris with fancy wine. Off to one side were two guys who were…different. Which means, naturally, that I made a beeline for them.
They poured me a taste of their wine in my glass, and our first conversation went something like this.
Me: So you're making wine? In, uh, Syria?
Me: Why are you making wine in Syria?
Them: We love wine! And we think everyone should drink more of it.
Me: I agree. But…Syria?
Them (pausing, with considerably more seriousness): We want to show the world that our country is about more than its politics.
"My father didn't come to Haifa from the Budapest ghetto in order to get recognition from Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas)."
—Yair Lapid tells Charlie Rose that Israel does not need a declaration from the Palestinians that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
- Contacts to renew cooperation between Israel and the UN Human Rights Council - Israel agreed to stop boycotting the UNHRC, which decided to establish an investigative committee to examine settlement construction and the ramifications on the Palestinians. In exchange, all 28 EU states are expected to boycott the discussions the UNHRC will hold according to 'Article 7,' which requires that every time the UNHCR meets it will discuss the human rights situation in Israel separately from the rest of the countries. (Maariv, p. 14/NRG Hebrew)
- Netanyahu came to give condolences and left embarrassed - The son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef humiliated the prime minister in front of the cameras: "My father begged that you don't draft yeshiva boys—and he was hurt that he did not receive a response from you." (Yedioth, p. 2)
- Report: Palestinian Authority losing billions to Israeli bans - World Bank says Palestinians could expand their struggling economy by third, slash their budget deficit in half if Israel allowed them to use 61% of West Bank territory that is now largely off-limits. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Diplomatic embarrassment at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial - During a visit to the Remembrance Hall Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras refused to wear a cover on his head (Kippah). This is very rare. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan refused in 2005 and French President Jacques Chirac refused as well, but compromised on a hat. (Yedioth, p. 20)
- For third time in six months: Israeli drone crashes into sea off central coastline - Incident follows two intentional downings earlier in the year due to technical malfunctions. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Rabbi Yosef in 1972: In Egypt they thought I was an Israeli spy - Upon being elected Israel's chief rabbi, Yosef spoke to Yedioth Ahronoth's Refael Bashan about his life, what yeshiva students do for Israel's safety, and why it's important to rule with leniency – the full 1972 interview. (Ynet)
- Israel 20th on freedom of travel index - List topped by UK, Finland and Sweden, where passport holders are able to visit 173 nations without visa. Israeli passport holders have free access to 144 countries. (Ynet)
- Rouhani bragged that he advanced the Iranian nuclear program" - US journalist Jeffrey Goldberg doesn't buy the Iranian President's 'charm attack,' and even compares him to Arafat. (Israel Hayom, p. 13/Bloomberg)
- Syrian boys in Israeli hospital: We weren't afraid to come here - Two Syrian brothers, ages 12 and 15, have been hospitalized in Safed for a month after being seriously wounded by a mine explosion near their home in southern Syria. Younger boy: I miss my family in Syria. (Israel Hayom)
MyNet, a news source about Tel Aviv-Jaffa that falls under the umbrella of the Yedioth Aharonoth Group, reports that the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv is currently leading a campaign to silence the Muslim call to prayer in Jaffa and “maintain the Jewish character” of the city. Arnon Giladi is both deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and chairperson of the local branch of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, Likud-Beiteinu. According to the report, party activists spent the night between Monday and Tuesday sticking up posters and distributing flyers emblazoned with the party logo and slogans such as, “Only the Likud can silence the muezzin in Jaffa,” and “Return Jaffa to Israel.”
Reporter Merav Shlomo Melamed quotes religious and political leaders who warn that Giladi is “playing with fire,” with his campaign, with local community leaders warning it has aroused such a storm of controversy and anger that the situation could very well spin out of control. But the deputy mayor is unrepentant. In response to a question from Melamed about going too far, he says, “We cannot allow the muezzins to run amok, or the local Arab leaders to create incitement.”
Likud-Beiteinu campaign poster: "Silencing the muezzin in Jaffa? Only the Likud can do it" (Likud-Beiteinu website)
MyNet has a feature article on Giladi’s campaign slated to run in the weekend edition. Meanwhile, Likud-Beiteinu has published its own blog post about the campaign. The original Hebrew is here, with a translation below.
Minority voices in Israel could be muzzled if Knesset members vote to increase the volume of votes needed for political parties to be represented in the government.
Recently, two bills to amend Israel's Basic Law: The Government passed first readings in the Knesset. The bills' proposals include, among other things, doubling the election threshold from two to four percent.
Ahmed Tibi (R), Israeli Arab member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament), attends a press conference at an east Jerusalem hotel. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Images)
Ostensibly, the purpose of this provision is to improve Israeli governance by consolidating the smallest political parties and simplifying the parliamentary map. Practically, however, raising the election threshold could dramatically and adversely affect the representation of minorities in the Knesset—one of the mainstays of Israel's delicate electoral system.
Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation is both a saga and an extraordinarily intimate story. Like Dreamers chronicles today’s Israel, the Israel that was created by the Six Day War and the capture of East Jerusalem, the Sinai, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It details the surge of the settlement movement from deep inside, and plots the parallel collapse of the kibbutz ethos and the kibbutz elite. It is a big book, perhaps the big book on Israel we have been waiting for.
The uniqueness of Halevi’s masterpiece is in the telling. Halevi tracks the lives of seven of the Israeli paratroopers who liberated the Western Wall during the Six Day War, starting before the war and continuing past the Rabin assassination. Halevi channels his protagonists, probing deeply into their individual psyches, their families, their meeting halls and their bedrooms. Through the insanely divergent personal journeys of these men, Halevi illuminates the transformation of Israel from a pioneering state led by kibbutz collectivist idealists, to a capitalist mini-power marked by individualism and isolated social camps, everywhere subjugated to the settlement enterprise. The kibbutz elite was replaced by several new elites, but the settlers were the first to claim the mantle as heirs.
Halevi vividly recreates the settlement movement’s evolution from a fringe phenomenon to the force that has dominated Israeli politics and divided Israeli society. He is sympathetic to the passion that drove the settlers, the frenzy of their energy and vision, and yet manages to be critical of their enormous blindspots and self-centeredness.
'Yosef was the only major rabbinic figure to make the courageous ruling that preserving lives was more important than retaining territory...(But he) also represented a racist version of Judaism, claiming that non-Jews were born only “to serve us. Otherwise, they have no place in this world.”
—Haaretz editorial describes how along with his virtues and achievements, Yosef will also be remembered as a man who contributed a great deal to the polarization and division of Israeli society.
- World Bank: Israel to blame for Palestinian financial woes, dependence on foreign aid - According to a new report issued by the international development institution Israeli restrictions in the West Bank cost the Palestinians more than $3.4 billion annually. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli forces, settlers raid al-Tuwani village - For the second time, Israel forces raided the main mosque in the village and residents' sheep stables, and ransacked people's homes, firing stun grenades late Sunday. No detentions were recorded and the Israeli army spokeswoman said she was not aware of the incident. (Maan)
- Israeli settlers to vote in municipal elections within Green Line - Residents of Nof Hasharon, a suburb of Alfei Menashe, will vote for a regional council within the Green Line in the forthcoming municipal elections. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinian father of IDF soldier granted permanent residency in Israel - Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar’s decision to grant residency to Adel Hussein is highly unusual and precedent-setting, attorney says. (Haaretz+)
- Dutch watchdog: El Al discriminated against dark-skinned passengers - Group rules on 2011 case, saying dark-skinned passengers were questioned before boarding flight to Israel, while white ones weren't. (JTA, Haaretz)
- Report: Israel has worst rate of brain drain in West - Taub Center: Emigration rate of Israeli researchers is now highest among Western countries. (Haaretz+)
- Verdict in Lieberman graft trial to be handed down in November - Attorney-general says will appeal if former foreign minister is acquitted, and if convicted, will seek moral turpitude ruling. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli reality TV format sold to leading French broadcaster - Musical talent show 'Rising Star' to be broadcast live at annual MIPCOM festival in Cannes. (Haaretz+)
- Hasbara you can dance to: New music video puts twist on anti-BDS message - Pro-Israel clip sends message to musicians in a language they can understand. (Haaretz+)
- After 40 years, Yom Kippur War facts still disputed - Both Eli Zeira and Zvi Zamir, senior security officials in 1973, questioned why reserves weren’t called up; members of the audience interjected that they were. (Haaretz+ and Israel Hayom
Amidst the flurry of rueful Jewish reactions to the recent Pew Study on Jewish American attitudes and identity is a recent piece that goes against the grain. Writing in Slate, Gabriel Roth challenges the dominant Jewish communal view that assimilation is problematic. “The loss of Jewishness as a meaningful identity in America is the kind of loss that occurs,” Roth writes, “when individuals are free to engage in the pursuit of happiness.”
Married to a non-Jew and with a daughter “who won’t be Bat Mitzvahed,” Roth wonders what, beyond “unsnobbish intellectualism, sympathy for the disadvantaged, psychoanalytic insight, rueful comedy, [and] smoked fish” are the Jewish gifts worth cherishing. And anyway, he continues, those gifts have been “thoroughly incorporated into American upper-middlebrow culture.”
Jewish girls dressed as Queen Esther celebrate Purim in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn March 25, 2005 in New York City. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
Roth sagely aims his piece at non-religious Jews. Religious Jews, he assumes, are motivated by furthering the covenant, a goal that is intrinsically impervious to this kind of detached critique.
I spoke with many (many) people at the recent J Street conference; middle-aged activists, rabbis of various ages and stages, college-aged-or-just-barely-not-college-aged young men and women of exceeding intelligence and remarkable vision. One of the topics to which many conversations turned, again and again, was the question of Jewish identity.
While not a perfect metric (and it’s important to remember that anecdotes are no replacement for research) it’s worth noting that there were far more kipot in the crowd this time than at any other J Street gathering I’ve ever attended. There were more tziziot. A few speakers even went beyond passing reference to tikkun olam (which, nothing against tikkun olam, but settlers think they’re doing tikkun olam, too). And I was told by people from all over the religious spectrum (as I have been in the past) that the very fact of J Street (or, before it, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom) allowed them to revisit and re-engage with their Judaism.
Which brings us, a little circuitously, to the recent Pew Research poll.
According to Pew, 73 percent of American Jews say that “remembering the Holocaust” is “an essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” whereas only 28 percent can say the same about “being part of a Jewish community.”
I arrived back in Israel on a pre-dawn flight and decided to take the minibus shuttle to Jerusalem rather than splurging on a taxi. At that hour, it took time for the van to fill. I stood on the sidewalk, happy not to be breathing airplane cabin air. Just when some German tourists showed up to take the last seats, I noticed the writing on the side of the shuttle, advertising that it took Road 443. Unhappy at the prospect of making the other passengers wait for another traveler to show up, I climbed in, and spent the ride home feeling even more unhappy about the route.
As a journalist covering settlements, I can't avoid West Bank roads. In fact, no Jerusalemite can really avoid highways cutting through occupied territory; the main route from Tel Aviv to the capital briefly crosses the Green Line. But I have a particular distaste for 443, the secondary route, a highway built on layers of deception. And practically the last thing I'd done before vacation was digging through the most recently declassified layers.
A general view shows road 443 in the occupied West Bank between Jerusalem to Tel Aviv near the Ofer Army camp on May 11, 2010. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)
Road 443, for those unfamiliar with the local geography, runs from the town of Lod into the West Bank hills to the north end of Jerusalem. Israel built it in the 1980s, partly along the route of an older road that connected Palestinian villages with Ramallah.
“We are on the map and we are going to stay on the map”—this iconic Israeli phrase that basketball player Tal Brody tokened (yes, with a strong American accent) after the historic victory of Maccabi Tel Aviv over Z.S.K.A Moscow in 1977 can very much describe J Street and the American Jewish progressive voice after the organization’s fourth conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this week.
The conference was an important milestone for me personally, as it marked exactly four years since I had spoken as the U.S. representative of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem at the first J Street conference. Now that I’m back in Israel after four years, I can say without a doubt that the discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only changing, but is doing so quite rapidly.
Participants applaud in a plenary session of the J Street national conference on September 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (J Street)
In October 2009, during the first J Street conference, you could feel the hope in the air. Less than a year after the election of Barack Obama many thought J Street would become the new Obama administration’s AIPAC—a change we can believe in.
"I don't know what the goal of this government is. Does it want to keep all of the land in our hands, like most of the coalition wants? Does it want to go towards a two-state solution?"
--In an interview with Maariv, former deputy prime minister and Likud MK Dan Meridor expresses doubt in the present government's intentions to reach a peace agreement.
- Settlers destroy 50 olive trees south of Hebron - Settlers from Susiya raided agricultural land next to the illegal settlement in the Hebron Hills and damaged 50 trees Thursday. (Maan)
- Military alarmed by MKs breaking the law in Hebron - Recent events in which ministers, MKs and rabbis intervened in illegal practices by Jewish settlers raise concern in defense establishment. (Haaretz+)
- Official: Israeli forces hang flags on Ibrahimi mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) - Israeli forces on Wednesday placed Israeli flags on the walls of the Ibrahimi mosque and set up tents in the eastern courtyards, mosque officials said. (Maan)
- Settlers confront Palestinians picking olives in Salfit - Israeli settlers attacked Sami Yousef Radad, 60, and his wife from al-Zawya in Salfit while they picked olives on their land. "...(they) kicked me and my wife off my land at gunpoint," he said. (Maan)
- The Garden of Bil’in: Seedlings in tear gas canisters - Palestinian who lives near security fence spent years collecting tear gas canisters in which she planted seedlings. (Ynet+PHOTOS)
- Israel plans bid for U.N. Security Council seat - Western diplomats expect it to be a hard sell, given the antipathy of most members of the non-aligned nations bloc to Israel. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Protesters cut through Israel's wall near Jerusalem - Arab and foreign popular resistance activists cut three holes in the wall which separates Jerusalem from nearby Abu Dis on Thursday, to affirm the right to reach Jerusalem. (Maan)
- How many more Palestinian women have to be murdered? - September was the most violent month this year, with seven women killed in Gaza and the West Bank. (Haaretz+)
- Twitter chairman exchanges tweets with Rohani's account - Jack Dorsey says it's 'inspiring' to see Iranian president on Twitter, asks 'are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?' (Ynet)
Last Sunday, at the J Street Conference, I participated in a panel on “How Israel Can Represent All Its Citizens While Staying True to Its Jewish Character.” My interlocutors were Amal Elsana Alhjooj and Ruth Calderon. I decided to speak extemporaneously rather than deliver what I prepared. The latter appears below.
Should Israel be a state of its citizens or a Jewish state? We often hear this question. We also hear, even in the written promotional materials for this J Street session, that a Jewish state might aspire to be “a light unto the nations.” Perhaps we should just learn from the nations for a change.
Bernard Avishai (left) with MK Ruth Calderon at the 2013 J Street Conference (J Street)
Israel, it is said, is a nation-state, legally, in fact, the “Jewish and democratic state,” a phrase adopted in the Basic Law of Human Dignity, whose meaning is hardly self-evident. The first formal expression implying “Jewish and democratic” was in the Biltmore Program of May, 1942, calling for a “Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world.” The UN Partition Resolution of 1947 called for a Jewish state and Arab state, including strict democratic protections for minorities in each state. It also called for an economic union, but never mind.
Netanyahu's rhetoric about Iran echoes neoconservative rhetoric about Iraq.