In his criticism of my essay, the one-nation advocate Ben White faults me for leaving out the “foundational ethnic cleansing of the Nakba.” Palestinian refugees deserve compensation but this has little bearing on whether or not today’s Israel should be labeled an apartheid state. White suggests pervasive discrimination within Israel where government policies “have notoriously been used to exclude Arabs” and promote “discrimination against and displaces minorities.” However, the only detailed example in his sources is the treatment of Negev Bedouins in the unrecognized villages. White also misrepresents the U.N. CERD Report which commends Israel for its recent affirmative action efforts and focuses its major criticisms on the Bedouin situation. I, too, have criticized these policies but White cannot hang the apartheid label on Israel if this is his only example, especially given the well-documented substantial aid to Negev Bedouin communities.
An Israeli Arab woman and her children casts their vote at a polling station during the Israeli General Election on January 22, 2013 in Abu Ghosh, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)
White trivializes government affirmative action policies as “‘co-existence’ industrial parks” by ignoring the education, high tech, government employment, and infrastructure initiatives, the growing partnership of Arab mayors with government ministries, and the large share of Arabs who embrace the Israeli state. He chastises Israel for segregationist policies but it is his one-nation allies that hinder integration efforts. These forces have tried to limit cooperation with government initiatives and discourage Israeli Arabs seeking inclusion in national service or the Israeli university system.
White makes no efforts to compare Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority to their treatment elsewhere. Israeli Arab life expectancy, educational attainment, earnings, and positions within government are on par if not better than virtually all the Western European countries. But in his myopic view, only Israel’s shortfalls deserve the apartheid label.
Israeli settlers from Shavei Shomron have recently started dumping untreated sewage on the farmland in Sebastiya, a small Palestinian town in the West Bank just north of Nablus. Today, Sebastiya organized its first popular demonstration in 36 years specifically to draw attention to the issue of the sewage contaminating their lands.
“We want to farm our land in peace,” Ahmed Kayed, a resident of Sebastiya and the organizer of today’s protest, told me. “But the settlers are cutting our olive trees, keeping us from our land. Now their sewage is flowing through our land, poisoning it.”
Kayed hopes that today will be Sebastiya’s first of many weekly popular demonstrations like those in Bil’in, Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh. In preparation, he proudly unfurled a sign that read, “This is our land. Get the shit out of here!”
Sheep graze near ancient Roman ruins in the Palestinian West Bank village of Sebastiya, northwest of Nablus, on May 5, 2011. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP / Getty Images)
As a village, Sebastiya is known for its picturesque Roman ruins dating back to 800 BCE, making Sebastiya one of the oldest and most historic villages in the West Bank. Before 1967, these ruins were a major tourist attraction of the Middle East. However, since the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) occupied the land, tourism has plummeted with several shops being forced to close, draining the small town’s economy. Once the first Israeli settlement was built in 1975—the second Israeli settlement in the West Bank ever, preceded only by Hebron—the village became characterized by settler violence.
Last week the Obama administration announced that Phillip Gordon would step in as the White House's coordinator for Middle East policy, filling a role left vacant by Amb. Dennis Ross last year. The move from being Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs to the National Security Council fills one of the last major spots on Barack Obama's team that will deal with the Iranian nuclear crisis—an issue that may well come to a head during the President's second term. Along with newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry, at times, and certainly Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Gordon's record suggests a confluence with Obama's more cautious instincts.
Then-US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon speaks during his news conference in Tbilisi, Georgia on November 16, 2012. (Vano Shlamov / Getty Images)
Obama's Iran policies consist of various strains that emphasize different approaches. One, embraced by the right and trumpeted by the Obama administration before pro-Israel and more hawkish audiences, focuses on the threat of military force to delay Iran's progress. While the right runs with it—and downplays possible consequences—the administration itself leaves open the possibility of an attack, but has warned periodically of its potential consequences. For this reason, we're told, all conceivable efforts must be made to reach a diplomatic deal with the Iranians. Judging from his record at the Brookings Institution before joining State, Gordon seems to rest on more cautious edge of them. Far from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's dismissal of non-military means—let alone AIPAC's push for Congressional pledges of U.S. support of an Israeli strike—Gordon has for years emphasized pressure and diplomacy; his new appointment could be an indication of a priority on avoiding war.
In keeping with what one might expect from diplomat serving at the President's pleasure, Gordon's rhetoric about Iran since joining the administration has been standard boilerplate—sans the "all options" rhetoric. (In an interview last year, Gordon did mention a military strike in the context of averting one that would be carried out by Israel.) But at Brookings, Gordon was outspoken against strikes. Calling an attack against Iran "unpalatable" in Senate testimony delivered in 2008, Gordon cited several points held up today by sober analysts and opponents of an attack: the potential that strikes wouldn't work to stop Iran; the likelihood of Iran redoubling its nuclear efforts; possible "asymmetrical" retaliation; and increased support for among Iranians for the regime. Because Iran's nuclear sites are geographically spread out and heavily fortified, Gordon said strikes would need to be "widespread, sustained, and likely to kill a number of Iranian civilians." Warning of these dangers, Gordon concluded, "The costs of a U.S. attempt to thwart Iran’s nuclear program with military force could thus be very high, without necessarily being effective." (The interactions with Europeans while serving at State seem unlikely to have altered this perspective: in a 2008 article, Gordon noted Europeans "wanted to distance themselves" from the military option against Iran.)
On the eve of Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel, Israel’s longest running spy scandal is making headlines again. A petition signed by more than 100,000 Israelis, including Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, was presented at a special Knesset meeting this week calling for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, currently serving a life sentence for espionage. Last week, the Jerusalem City Council granted Pollard the Jerusalem Freedom Citation, and Free Pollard Now! I Care Too is just one of the hundreds of Israeli on-line forums fretting over Pollard’s plight. The pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to join their predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, in seeking clemency for Pollard, and permission for him to emigrate to Israel. Netanyahu has already asked one president, initially including Pollard’s release as a condition for signing the Wye River agreement with the Palestinians 15 years ago.
Israelis protest in front of the US embassy in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on June 19, 2011 to call for the release of Jewish-American spy Jonathan Pollard, jailed in the United States on charges of passing thousands of secret documents about American spy activities in the Arab world to Israel in the 1980s. (David Buimovitch / AFP / Getty Images)
How do we explain the Israeli obsession with Jonathan Pollard? On one level, it’s fairly straightforward; Pollard was spying for Israel so Israelis feel responsible for his fate.
The urgency to gain Pollard’s freedom stems from several core Jewish values which are deeply felt by religious and non-religious Israeli Jews alike; Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh BaZeh—All of Israel (all Jews) are responsible for one another—and Pidyon Shvuyim, the communal pledge to ransom Jewish captives at almost all costs, a commitment that helped bankrupt many a Jewish family or community during centuries of vulnerability in Europe. These values extend to Israel’s military code of conduct in the guarantee that no wounded Israeli soldier will be left on the field of battle. Israel has a long history of redeeming captives, with Gilad Shilat only the most recent and famous example.
Pollard identified strongly as a Jew and as a Zionist, and despite his strangely outdated references to his obligation to the Jewish race, he is seen as “one of ours.” Israelis do not doubt Pollard’s sincerity in renouncing his American citizenship in favor of Israeli citizenship, dismissing charges that this was part of his PR campaign to make himself a martyr for Israel.
Picking up Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt’s The Gaza Kitchen—part cookbook, part socio-political survey, part interview with the people of Palestine—you immediately start wondering about intended audience. Who, aside from those already sympathetic to the book’s obvious pro-Palestinian message, would buy it? Could it serve as a catalyst for conversation, as a springboard for dialogue, or do its politics predetermine and circumscribe its readership? Rather than speculate, I decided to test the cookbook out on the toughest food critic I know: my staunchly pro-Israel, 79-year-old, conservative Jewish grandmother.
To enter my grandmother’s kitchen on a Friday afternoon is to enter something akin to a lightning storm: Knives flash and steam rises as she bustles about preparing Shabbat dinner. A Bombay-born Jew with a bit of Baghdad in her blood, she can usually be found making dishes like bamia, mahasha, or imtabaq. What you will not typically find her cooking is a Palestinian dish like kufta bi saniya—and it wasn’t easy to convince her to do so. Finally, worn down by my pleading, she agreed.
The dish took over an hour to cook—longer than the recipe prescribed—but the delay provided a welcome chance to discuss the book. Turning its pages with visible suspicion, my grandmother read aloud from one of the many informational panels: “Nothing goes to waste in a Palestinian kitchen.” She smirked at that line. “See, they’re trying to say to the world, ‘We’re so poor, we can’t afford to waste a thing!’”
The book’s photographs, she claimed, belied this story. To listen to the Palestinians, you’d think their market stalls stood in perpetual emptiness (“they’re always crying that they’re starving!”), yet here was an abundance of fish and fruit, greens and grains. When I pointed to a panel in which the difference between accessibility and availability is explained—for many poor Gazans, the problem is not that food is unavailable, but that they can’t afford it—my grandmother merely grunted her acknowledgment.
But as she flipped through the pages, she saw many recipes similar to her own. This should not have come as a surprise: Mizrahim—Jews from Arab lands—share many Arab culinary traditions. Yet for my grandmother, who often insists that “I’m not an Arab, I’m a Jew,” the newfound commonality had a softening effect.
Earlier this week, news that Hamas had barred women from participating in a marathon in the Gaza Strip scrolled across my twitter feed. Instantly, I knew two things. First, that “Pro-Israel” hawks would lambast the Islamist group without ever considering the way in which Israel and America’s policy of isolating Gaza makes it easier for Hamas to practice the very misogyny the hawks rightly condemn. Second, that the anti-Zionist left would say nothing at all.
Explaining the hawks’ reaction is easier. It’s an article of faith on the American and Israeli right that once Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza, it discharged all responsibility for the place. Rarely do hawks acknowledge the way Israel’s restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza have destroyed the Strip’s independent business class, limited access to Western education and helped Hamas consolidate control. In the words of Sir Tom Phillips, Britain’s former ambassador to Israel, the partial blockade has helped make Gaza a place where “young boys on the streets [have] no role models apart from the Hamas guy in the black shiny uniform on the street corner."
A Palestinian prisoner smokes behind bars at the Hamas run Ansar prison in Gaza City on October 4, 2012. (Mahmud Hams / AFP / GettyImages)
The far left doesn’t have that problem. Anti-Zionists rarely discuss Gaza without foregrounding Israel’s partial blockade or what they often call “the siege.” But in so doing, they give Hamas an almost total pass. On March 6, the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss linked, without comment, to an article about the marathon as the 33rd story in its daily rundown of Israel-Palestine news. When I searched for “marathon” at Ali Abunimah’s site, Electronic Intifada, I was directed to a March 2012 story entitled “Athlete abused by Israeli soldier for carrying Palestine flag in Jerusalem marathon,” and an April 2012 story entitled “Egypt Football Association to boycott Adidas due to company’s sponsorship of Jerusalem marathon.” But I found nothing about the marathon in Gaza.
"Habayit Hayehudi wanted it to promote housing in [the West Bank], and Yesh Atid wanted to promote housing for young couples."
--Israel's Housing Ministry become a battle issue between two allied parties, a source tells Haaretz+.
- Netherlands calls on stores to label products from Israeli settlements - Dutch follow British lead, but emphasize it is not illegal to import goods from territories. Other European countries expected to follow suit in coming weeks. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Jerusalem teen who attacked Arab teacher and Jewish colleague released on bail - The 16-year-old Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva student is suspected of being part of a gang (of around 10) who attacked two teachers, one of them Arab. Police Commissioner instructs officers to prioritize incidents where Jews attacked Arabs. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- Education Ministry condemns violence against Jerusalem teachers - Ministry announced that on Sunday a lesson would be dedicated to discussing the prevention of this kind of phenomenon. (Ynet)
- Violent fight between youth at Yad Vashem - Shameful behavior at Holocaust memorial institution. Remark by one student led to fight between students from two high schools. Security guard intervened and got punched, too. Yad Vashem: "This is a regrettable incident. We have involved the police." (Israel Hayom, p. 23, Yedioth, p. 20 and NRG Hebrew)
- (Gaza Hamas Foreign Minister) Mahmoud Al-Zahar: "Egyptian regime starving us" - Following Egyptian activities to stop tunnel smuggling to Gaza Strip, Zahar said: "We are not in favor of the tunnels. But what choice do we have when Rafah crossing is closed? The previous regime was cruel, but it never allowed Gaza to starve." Also, Yusef Rizkeh, political advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said the report that Egypt called on Hamas to end armed resistance against Israel was false: "Its goal is to harm the relations between Egypt and Hamas." (Maariv, p. 10)
- Acre Jews protest sale of home to Arabs, raising ethnic tensions - Local Arab activist: ‘They’re not building for Arabs and won’t let them live with Jews, so where are we supposed to go?’ (Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
The State Department was apparently about to honor an anti-Semitic Tweeter from Egypt. Confused? Me too. But here are some facts, clear as day: one of the recipients of State's "Women of Courage" award, to be doled out tomorrow, was set to be Samira Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a victim of and activist leader against so-called "virginity tests" by the army still ruling over Egypt's transition—but she's so much more, including the apparent author of a series of tweets over several months that indicate clear anti-Semitism. In one, she called the terrorist attack on Israeli civilians in Bulgaria, which killed six civilians, "very sweet news." Rather incredibly, Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama were slated to bestow the honor upon this clearly dishonorable woman.
Egyptian woman Samira Ibrahim, 25, a victim of a forced virginity test after being detained in Tahrir Square a year ago stands nearby graffitti near Tahrir Square in Cairo February 26, 2012. (Heidi Levine / Sipa Press)
Until the Weekly Standard stepped in. On Tuesday, the Standard wrote up some of Ibrahim's nastiest tweets—including her support for attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and a wish that the U.S. would "burn" on every anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In other tweets, Ibrahim said the Saudi royals were "dirtier than Jews" and, in a clearly anti-Semitic tweet that doesn't really make sense to me: "I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society, takes place, except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler." What hand did Jews have in Hitler's horrendous crimes? I have no idea. Nonetheless, theStandard's Samuel Tadros concluded that State was, as he put it, "either incapable of doing the minimum amount of research required to find out who she is, or does not care that the secretary of state and First Lady are about to honor an anti-Semite who longs for violence against Americans." I'm guessing it was the former, but that's no excuse.
Jeffrey Goldberg reported today that, on the same day the Standard article came out, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington raised with the State Department Ibrahim's tweets. "The Museum believed it was incumbent upon us to alert the State Department about the Tweets and posts we learned of," a museum official wrote to Goldberg. "It is now up to them to research and verify them and decide how to proceed." And that's what State is doing: today, spokesperson Victoria Nuland reportedly said that the department was postponing Ibrahim's award until her tweets could be investigated. (Ibrahim, this week, tweeted that she'd been the victim of hacking: "My account has been previously stolen and any tweet on racism and hatred is not me.” That's a far from satisfying—laughable, in fact—attempt at explaining a long record of these hate tweets at various points in her timeline.)
Yair Lapid, the darling-du-jour of Global Israel, is negotiating to enter the government in an ever-tighter alliance with Naftali Bennett, the rightist captain of Greater Israel. Lapid wants, he says, to deal with "equality of burden," the conscription of Haredim into the army, and keep Haredi parties out of government. Bennett—not one to reject any effort to make the IDF central to Israeli life—is happy to go along. He may well get the Finance Ministry for his troubles.
On its face, this alliance is a betrayal of Lapid's voters—Tel Avivans with cosmopolitan attitudes, and fearing international isolation—who hardly expected the settlers' leadership to be Lapid's soul-mates. But let's give Lapid the benefit of the doubt, at least before we yank it back.
Leader of Yesh Atid speaks on Wednesday. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)
The problem of "equality of burden" is not simply a matter of Haredim becoming subject to the military draft. That's the tip; the iceberg is the potential loss of a Hebrew-speaking civil society; and the challenge of Haredim is every bit as urgent for democratic life as negotiations to end, or attenuate, the occupation.
On Wednesday, Israeli Radio reported that the Israeli government plans to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces 700 firearms to “keep the peace” ahead of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit.
“The aim is to boost the PA security service against lawbreakers and terrorists,” a source from the Israeli Ministerial Council commented to Israeli Radio.
Issam Rimawi/APA, via Landov
But that begs the question: who are these lawbreakers and terrorists? Are they young Palestinian boys throwing stones at an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier during clashes at a checkpoint or a demonstration? According to Israeli military law, a Palestinian under the age of 18 throwing stones at a soldier can warrant a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, technically making him a “lawbreaker.” Are they ordinary Palestinian men and women who happen to be public about their political affiliations through either their work or activism? According to Israeli military law, anyone can be arbitrarily arrested and detained based on his or her political affiliations, which are loosely interpreted as a “security threat,” thus making them “terrorists.”
Last Friday, I spoke to Dr. Mustafa Barghouti after he returned from commemorating the eighth anniversary of the weekly protests in the Palestinian village of Bil’in against the Separation Wall, which has denied the village large tracts of its agricultural land. Dr. Barghouti is the General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, the Mubadara, which he, along with others, was instrumental in establishing in 2002 to introduce new political thinking. This movement, which advocates non-violent resistance to the occupation, is gaining popularity and developing into an alternative third voice to Fatah and Hamas, the two major political factions in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
Mustafa Barghouti flashes a peace sign while arguing with an Israeli Border Policeman at the al-Ram checkpoint on September 21, 2007 over his right to access Jerusalem. (Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images)
I began by asking him whether he believed that the protests now taking place in various parts of the West Bank would develop into a popular mass resistance against the Israeli occupation.
“Those who are unaware of the situation here and look at it from a distance think in terms of the old models,” he answered. “They cannot read what is taking place on the ground now. In the past, there were two Intifadas. The assumption is that there would be a third one that is militarized, which Israel will use its superior weapon fire to suppress. These commentators also tend to believe that the third Intifada would be brought about by orders from above because it is politically expedient to those who hold the reins of power.”
There's noting wrong, in principle, with liquid-gas-rich Arab Gulf states doing business in Palestine. And Qatar's development work in Gaza is much needed, though the effect of bolstering Hamas's international standing remains unwelcome. On the other side of the Palestinian schism, Qatar's doing work, too, funding a billion-dollar for-profit project to develop housing for some 10,000 families a few miles from Ramallah. Rawabi, meaning "the hill," would be Palestine's first planned city, but there're some lingering issues, detailed in a report last weekend from NBC News:
There are two main practical problems for the new town. All the water has to be piped in, and there is no obvious source. “We are in this project, putting facts on the ground, and things will have to follow,” is [the millionaire Palestinian behind the development Bashar] Al-Masri’s answer, hoping for a miracle.
And access. The only road to Rawabi passes through what is known as Area C: that part of the West Bank that is fully controlled by Israel, administratively and militarily. It is a narrow, winding road that the Palestinians can use only with an Israeli permit, which must be renewed each year. Al-Masri talks of a tunnel through the hills linking Rawabi with Ramallah, barely visible on the horizon. Will that ever happen? "Probably not,” he admits. “It’s a problem."
The Palestinian flag flutters along side the Rawabi company flag just north of the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 7, 2012. (Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)
Water is, of course, a longstanding issue. That's because settlements get priority over Palestinian villages: the Palestinian Authority has complained that Israel allocates to each West Bank settler 70 times as much water as to each Palestinian, and last year a U.N. report blasted Israeli settlers' takeovers of dozens of natural springs in the West Bank. Ataret, the settlement just across the valley from Rawabi, no doubt gets all the water it needs.
"I am actually celebrating being both Israeli and Iranian..."
-Iranian born Israeli singer Rita, at her U.N. performance of Hebrew and Persian songs. The Iranian ambassador was not present.
- Peres tells EU president: Terror, not Israeli settlements, is obstacle to peace - On tour of European countries, Israeli president rejects criticism of West Bank settlements, says terrorism prevented implementation of two-state solution. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Hebron: Separate roads for Jews, Palestinians - Road leading to Cave of Patriarchs separated by fence: paved side for Jews, unpaved for Arabs. Peace Now: With settler pressure, government continues building walls, fences of racism. (Ynet)
- East Jerusalem woman wounded by Israeli Border Police fire - Police say officers fired foam-tipped bullets to disperse crowd after rock-throwing incident, Silwan residents say no rocks were thrown. (Haaretz+)
- Israel mistreats Palestinian children in custody, UNICEF reports - The United Nations Children Fund estimated that 700 Palestinian children aged 12-17, most of them boys, are arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli military, police and security agents every year in the West Bank. (Reuters, Haaretz and AFP, Ynet)
- Lieberman imposes media ban on defense committee hearings - IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz appears before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, but media receives no information on what he said, in line with a new policy. (Israel Hayom)
- Spurned by Likud, ultra-Orthodox parties say they'll now support the Left- Our views are much closer to Labor's than to Habayit Hayehudi's, says United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni. Former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri: I hope the national-religious camp understands the implications of what it is doing. (Israel Hayom)
- Hundreds of arrest warrants made for ultra-Orthodox who did not report at the induction center - In light of the fact that no new law has been passed regarding draft of ultra-Orthodox, young ultra-Orthodox who did not show up received a letter that an arrest warrant is out for them. Nevertheless, IDF sources say the police probably will not make the arrests. (Maariv, p. 4)
- Israeli Knesset discusses jailed spy Jonathan Pollard - Israel made mistakes in handling of the case, says public diplomacy minister; Lapid signs petition calling for Pollard's release. (Haaretz+)
For the full News from Israel.
Rabbi Abraham Kook described what he believed to be the three basic pillars of Judaism: the Torah of Israel, which basically represents the crystalized expression of God's will; the People of Israel; and the Land of Israel.
Today, we have two sets of religious parties in the Knesset. One set, the ultra-Orthodox parties (Degel Hatorah and Shas), serve as a subsection of the People of Israel, the only subsection that they deem to be truly legitimate heirs of our ancestors—their own community. The other set, the National-Religious party (Habayit Hayehudi), serves the land of Israel. Both parties will sacrifice anything upon the altar of their respective causes, and neither of them is serving the cause of the Torah. Therefore, they are both guilty of a form of idolatry.
The founder of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Arieh Deri (L), addresses the crowd as Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (bottom-C) and the son of Rabbi Baba Sali, Rabbi Baruch Abu Chatzira (bottom-R), listen on during the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Baba Sali in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on January 14, 2013. (David Buimovitch / AFP / Getty Images)
Shas is now posing as one of the most pro-peace parties in the Knesset. In rhetoric that sounds like it has come straight from the far left, a senior Shas official told Haaretz last week: "We are going to walk all over the settlements, we’re not afraid. We’ll vote to evacuate outposts, we’ll vote to freeze construction, we’ll support diplomatic initiatives, we’ll vote to cut funding to the settlements.” But hold on, isn't this the same party who's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has publicly prayed for Mahmoud Abbas to vanish from the face of the earth? And now he wants to jump into diplomatic initiatives with him? Why the change of mind? Has he suddenly taken to heart the Bible's injunction to strive for peace (Psalm 34)?
I had the opportunity to hear him teach only once. About six weeks ago, I drove down with some friends to Tekoa, a settlement that will realistically never be annexed to Israel. It was a cold Sunday night, but inside the small synagogue-cum-classroom it was warm. The lecture was set to begin at nine—it started at ten thirty. It was someone’s birthday, so homemade chocolate cake was passed around—in the big pans you see only in religious collectives. And of course, I knew at least a few people there by face, all genuinely happy. They were glad because Rav Froman was still alive. Because they knew that his teachings from the Zohar would be accompanied by music and hand clapping. Because they were thankful for his passion—his happy, eccentric, crazy-in-a-Breslov-kind-of-way style. Because his mode of spirituality spoke to them. And because they believed he held the keys to a different kind of peace. A religious one.
Yesterday, Rabbi Menachem Chai Shalom Froman left this world. Two days before he passed, he gave an interview to Walla! in which he was—as always—deeply honest. He admitted to fearing death at certain moments. He asked his wife to sing his favorite song (also sung at his funeral). He cried. And then he asked for more time. And if you would have asked him why, I bet he would have answered that, as marginal as he was politically, he was just beginning to make real headway in his quest to bring a new kind of religious Zionist to Israel, one who believed in peace, could respect Islam, and trusted Palestinians. He just wanted more time.
Followers and relatives of Rabbi Menahem Froman, a Jewish settler and prominent peace activist, attend his funeral in the West Bank settelment of Tekoa, near Bethlehem, on March 5, 2013. (David Buimovitch / AFP / Getty Images)
And that’s what most people focus on when they write and talk about Rav Menachem Froman—his vision for peace in the Middle East channeled through a spiritual connection that maybe Bibi and Abu Mazen didn’t exactly get. That’s why Froman talked to “the enemy”—to Yassir Arafat—to whom he quoted both the Talmud and the Hadith; to former Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who told him that, were it left up to them, they could make peace in hamsa dakika (five minutes); and to Mahmoud Zahar, the current head of Hamas—who, unlike Yassin whom he succeeded, is still alive and able to talk. When asked in an interview some years ago, “What do you recommend Western culture do [when it comes to the conflict]?" Froman said, and then repeated one thing: “To respect Islam.”
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.