“It’s complicated.” That was what my Birthright tour guide said when I asked him if Hebron was actually in the State of Israel. It was what he said when someone asked a question about the shabbiness of Bedouin villages in the Negev. It was what he said when we were gazing out over the Old City and East and West Jerusalem from the Haas Promenade. Whenever questions of conflict or civil rights were raised in group discussions on my Birthright trip, he was ready with this all-purpose answer.
Birthright proudly proclaims that it is not a political organization, and that it does not have political goals or programming. Program officials, including CEO Gidi Mark, insist that it is therefore inappropriate to suggest or expect that Birthright trips delve into the political tensions—both internal and external—that Israel experiences.
Uriel Sinai / Getty Images
Avoiding politics, dismissing politics, being “apolitical”—these are political decisions. Birthright does have a political agenda, young American Jews do have political significance, and though the issues really are complicated, the way they were discussed on my Birthright trip was consistently one-sided and simplistic. The particular political lessons Birthright wanted me to take away from the experience were obvious. From the moment our plane landed and we were given a map without the Green Line or any acknowledgment of a border between Israel proper and the occupied territories, to the moment we stood at the edge of the Negev seeing Palestinian towns in the distance and were told to appreciate the beauty of the Judean Hills, it was impossible not to come away with the message that Eretz Israel, the Greater Land of Israel, rightfully belongs only and exclusively to Jews.
If Chuck Hagel didn’t know his Middle East geography before, he does now—thanks to a birds-eye tutorial from the Israeli military.
This is how an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, entitled “Chuck Hagel visits Israel, gets geography lesson,” began.
Hagel, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense, was taken on a helicopter tour by his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The helicopter of course, like so much Israeli military equipment, was U.S. made. But what kind of tour would Hagel really get from the Israeli military? I doubt they would take the time to point out the locations of all the Palestinian villages they depopulated—that would be a real geography lesson.
Of course, it’s very hard to locate those villages, in large part because most have been razed to the ground; many have had forests built over them. If only there was a way to go back in time and take a helicopter tour to get a real geography lesson.
Well, now you can, sort of. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, who has painstakingly collected historic aerial imagery of Palestinian geography prior to 1948, you can now take a virtual helicopter ride over Palestine and see Palestinian towns and villages before they were destroyed.
On September 11, 2001, Benjamin Netanyahu told the press that the day’s attacks would likely heighten American sympathy for Israel by giving the U.S. a taste of global terrorism. As the New York Times reported:
Asked tonight what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, replied, ''It's very good.'' Then he edited himself: ''Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.'' He predicted that the attack would ''strengthen the bond between our two peoples, because we've experienced terror over so many decades, but the United States has now experienced a massive hemorrhaging of terror.''
People observe a moment of silence near the Boston Marathon finish line on the one week anniversary of the bombings on April 22, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)
Now, a dozen years later, the U.S. has gotten another taste of terror—and the response coming out of official Israel is exactly the same. Last Wednesday, a mere two days after the Boston Marathon bombings killed three and wounded many more, Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s diplomatic adviser, told a closed meeting of American Jewish leaders in New York that the bombings would boost American support for Israel:
This Sunday, the Israeli member of Knesset Adi Kol went to Ramallah, the seat of Palestine's limited self-government. Ramallah, it's fair to note, is in Area A of the West Bank, an area under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority that most Israelis are forbidden from entering by large, red-lettered signs, which they face arrest for violating. Kol was able to enter Ramallah—probably because her vehicle, like most that enter, was not checked. What's harder to understand is how exactly she got out, because on the way back to Israel proper, she, like the Palestinians who live there, had to walk, not drive, through a checkpoint. But it's not her, or any other Israeli's, access she wants to talk about: it's the Palestinians'. And she wants to talk about it on Facebook.
Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images
Kol's Facebook post about her trip (translated in full by +972 Magazine's Noam Sheizaf), garnered more than 1,500 "likes" and was close to 500 "shares" by Monday night. In it, she described the Qalandiya checkpoint, calling it "filthy and frozen." She wrote about how a solider snapped at her: "Knesset member? Which Knesset exactly?" She described the feelings of absurdity and insult she felt there, resulting in the Haaretz headline, "Israeli MK gets a taste of Palestinian humiliation at Qalandiyah checkpoint." But the feeling of the post isn't centered on anger about being harassed. Instead, it's full of fear. Kol reflects on the experience of her friend Amjad who lives in Ramallah. Amjad, a Palestinian father "who lives under countless restrictions but insists that he lacks nothing except the safety of his children." Reflecting Amjad's fear Kol writes that she herself is afraid, "afraid that we will continue to live this way, and afraid of the fear."
And Kol is being honest. Before she was an MK, Kol had a career in academia. She got her PhD in Law from Columbia and in 2011 was granted the Knesset Speaker's Award for opening Tel Aviv University's doors to the less privileged through a project called "University Ba'am," or "University of the People." The project's aim was to "break down the 'ivory tower' by opening the gates of the university," enlisting university students help educate marginalized groups—new immigrants, battered women, alienated or at-risk youth, and ethnic minorities. It was a project about breaking down artificial barriers. Kol's mantra? Access.
While addressing the nation on Friday night, President Barack Obama listed what he called some of the many “unanswered questions” following the Boston Marathon bombing, including, “Why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?” This question made the president sound naïve. Obama’s supposed confusion reflected his fear that Americans would “rush to judgment” and blame Muslims. But more than a decade after 9/11, the President of the United States should have been able to identify the brutal brothers as totalitarian terrorists, even at this preliminary stage of the Boston investigation.
Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (AP)
While Islamist terrorists are not Nazis, both share a totalitarian worldview. Totalitarianism is a political ideology that relies on terror, seeks complete control of individuals, and sacrifices everything—including innocent bystanders, facts, and language—to serve its absolutist aims. Among the most lethal forms of totalitarianism have been the Nazi, Soviet, Communist Chinese and Islamist varieties. In his 2003 best-seller Terror and Liberalism, Paul Berman explained that Islamism was a fascist perversion of traditional Islam, an ideological hybrid mixing the worst of the East with the worst of the West.
Totalitarians detest America. Our delightfully chaotic modernist freedoms threaten the totalitarian mind. The French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel noted that ideological anti-Americans attack the United States as “imperialist” when it intervenes internationally, but “isolationist” when it does not. Similarly, Islamist totalitarians have blamed the U.S. for fighting Islam even when Americans have died saving Muslims in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Such “wonderful illogicality,” Revel taught, revealed “obsession.”
"I won’t lie; I was scared at first. I’ve never been to the Palestinian territories before and I felt threatened, but I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by."
--Elon Gilad, an editor and writer at Haaretz, shares his experiences running in the first Palestinian marathon, despite being banned from participating by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military.
- Israeli government to equip (Christian and Muslim) holy sites with security cameras - In efforts to eradicate so-called price-tag attacks, Israeli authorities step up enforcement, install security cameras in mosques and monasteries. The cameras will be connected to a 24-hour call center that will alert police if necessary. (Israel Hayom)
- Land owner says Israeli forces uproot 500 trees - Gamal Kanan, 60, said this was the third time Israeli forces had entered the al-Toyour neighborhood of Beit Dajan near Nablus to uproot almond and olive trees. He was told by troops that the area was confiscated land but says he has official documents proving his ownership. (Maan)
- More East Jerusalem Palestinians seeking Israeli citizenship, report shows - Study's editors link applications to sense of insecurity among East Jerusalemites who fear losing legal rights; report notes 'dramatic lessening in stigma attached to seeking Israeli citizenship.' (Haaretz+)
- Gaza families visit relatives jailed in Israel - Fifty-eight relatives traveled to visit 43 family members detained by Israel, a media official from the International Committee of the Red Cross said. (Maan)
- Israel to allow limited building supplies into Gaza - Israeli authorities opened the Kerem Shalom goods crossing into Gaza on Monday for the limited transfer of building materials. (Maan)
- Jordan MP expelled for shaking hand of 'criminal Peres' - Al-Wasat Al-Islamiy party expels member who reportedly took part in event marking independence of 'Zionist entity.' (Ynet)
- U.S. State Department report criticizes Israeli treatment of African refugees -The report for 2012, issued April 19, said 'the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants' was a 'most significant' human rights problem. (Haaretz)
- Peres praises Azerbaijan's stand in Iran crisis - President meets with FM Elmar Mammadyarov amid rising tensions between Jerusalem, Tehran; lauds Azerbaijan on 'clear stand' against terrorism. (Ynet)
For the full News from Israel.
Nearly a week after the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Washington is still coming to terms with what happened and what a post-Fayyad era might mean. To many, Fayyad’s departure has dealt a major blow to the seven-year project he oversaw to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state, and hence to the prospect of peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. According to one Washington analyst, Fayyad’s departure represents an “early defeat for Secretary [of State John] Kerry” as well as his boss. “For the last four years,” opined the analyst, “the administration has elected to work with Abbas at the expense of Fayyad.” This view, while common in Washington policy circles, stems from a basic misreading of both Fayyad’s role and the reasons behind its termination.
The end of the Fayyad era was not only inevitable, but was always bound to elicit far more anxiety in Washington, London and Brussels than in Ramallah, Nablus, or Hebron—not because Palestinians don’t want or need institutions but because Fayyad’s institution-building project, affectionately known as “Fayyadism,” had run its course and, more importantly, was fundamentally out of step with Palestinian realities and politics.
To be sure, Fayyad’s was always an impossible job. And in the end both he and his economic recovery and institution-building plans were doomed by a perfect storm of internal and external forces—an inept and corrupt Palestinian leadership, an all-consuming and repressive Israeli occupation and a deeply flawed and dysfunctional “peace process.”
On tax day, Monday April 15, I was enjoying my daily ritual of watching General Hospital when my soaps were interrupted by the shocking breaking news that there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon. As the chaos and carnage unfolded live on television, the media immediately began to guess out loud, the race and religion of the monster who had committed such a heinous crime. Before the smell of blood and smoke had cleared, they had come to the conclusion, based on little to no facts, that the bombings must be the work of Islamic extremists who hated America.
The cover of the New York Post on April 18, 2013, which wrongly identified a high school track star and another man as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.
Grotesque acts of violence are considered Muslim-esque by self appointed experts. The thought that such horror could be wrought by a white boy who wasn't hugged enough, doesn't seem to occur to them. Their rush to place the blame on shady brown people who hate bacon triggered a witch hunt. In the wake of this heartbreaking tragedy, at least three men were publicly, virally, and falsely accused.
A good Samaritan at the Boston Marathon claimed to have seen a Saudi spectator acting strangely in the direct after math of the bombings. Their definition of strange was the fact that the man was brown and running away from the blast. I'm in awe of the heroes who ran towards the victims of the explosion, but I cannot tell a lie I too would have run in the opposite direction, as fast as my palsy legs could carry me. Chatter on the interwebs suggested that the Saudi national was a prime suspect. Sources, who you should never tell anything to because she will always leak it, claimed he was being interrogated at the hospital by the police. The media parroted this, ignoring the fact that everyone being treated at the hospital for injuries sustained at the marathon was also being questioned. They were all witnesses. Several hours later, during one of the many press conferences, spokespeople made it clear that the Saudi dude was a victim, not a suspect. They said he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and by that they meant cheering on a marathon during a domestic terror attack.
Next to take the fall was a 17-year-old high school track star, who woke up to find his face splashed across the front page of the New York Post. The headline implied that the teen of Moroccan heritage was implicated in the bombings. The Post failed to mention that the kid, whose head they had circled in the photo on their front page, was not a suspect or even a person of interest at any point. His crime was simply being born brown which the editors found to be the equivalent of a full written confession.
What does military occupation look like?
It looks like a lot of things. In the case of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, it looks like Israeli soldiers in full riot gear using a handcuffed Palestinian as a human shield; it looks like armed incursions into Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government; it looks like the arrest and imprisonment of children (for instance, an 8 year old arrested by Israeli soldiers while playing with his cousin).
But occupation also looks like this:
Runners in the first ever Bethlehem Marathon [held on Sunday] were forced to run two laps of the same course, as Palestinians were unable to find a single stretch of free land [26.2 miles] long.
Competitors take the start of the first marathon in front of the Nativity Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on April 21, 2013. Hundreds of athletes braved freezing rain to take part in Bethlehem's first ever marathon, which started at the Nativity Church and ran through refugee camps. (Musa Al-Shaer / AFP / Getty Images)
And in case you were wondering if Gaza is really still under Israeli military control, occupation also looks like this:
"Settlements are the most evil and foolish act since World War II."
--Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair in a discussion on his Facebook page.
- 19th Knesset opens summer session - Knesset is to enter summer session Monday; most pressing issues on agenda are equal share of burden, State budget, peace process with Palestinians. (Ynet)
- Tel Aviv high school censors David Grossman's Memorial Day speech - Aleph High School for the Arts insisted on editing text of speech by author David Grossman ahead of Memorial Day ceremony due to concerns it might offend some of those in attendance. (Haaretz+)
- Israel says drones to eventually replace manned aircraft - Military industry's to shift to drone-based air force within 40 to 50 years, IAF official says. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Next generation of ultra-Orthodox recruits - Despite challenges, IDF decides to form additional Nahal Haredi battalions to be completely operational, identical in size to existing Netzah Yehuda Battalion. (Yedioth/Ynet)
- Jericho man wins Bethlehem marathon - Hundreds of athletes brave freezing rain to take part in West Bank city's first-ever long-distance race. Runners came from the U.S., Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Finland as well as Arab countries. Marathon's initiators view it as project aimed at promoting tourism, public health. (Agencies, Ynet)
- Boston bombing will boost U.S. support for Israel, says Netanyahu aide - WATCH: More Americans identify with Israel after terror attacks, says Ron Dermer, possible next Israeli envoy to Washington, to U.S. Jewish leaders. (Haaretz+)
- Netanyahu to visit China to boost trade ties - Beijing sees PM as vital to Mideast peace, after relative cool in bilateral ties. (Ynet)
For the full News from Israel.
What we're doing isn't working. In fact, it's making things worse.
That's the upshot of a letter from a group of 19 prominent Europeans to the E.U.'s top foreign policy official, Lady Catherine Ashton. The former officials, drawing on their time as top policy-makers in European governments, urged Ashton to break with past policies and make bold changes in the way the E.U. classifies various facets of the concept. The signers—organized by the European Eminent Persons Group on the Middle East Peace Process—implied that while the E.U. has a record of solid statements on the conflict, these statements just aren't enough.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with EU foreign commisioner Catherine Ashton on May 09, 0212 in Jerusalem. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO via Getty Images)
"We have watched with increasing disappointment over the past five years the failure of the parties to start any kind of productive discussion, and of the international community under American and/or European leadership to promote such discussion. We have also noted with frustration and deep concern the deteriorating standards of humanitarian and human rights care of the population in the Occupied Territories," they wrote. "We are therefore appealing to you, and through you to the members of the Council of Ministers, to recognize that the Peace Process as conceived in the Oslo Agreements has nothing more to offer."
The letter placed blame, notably, not only on Israeli settlements, but on Western policies themselves: "It is time to give a stark warning that the Occupation is actually being entrenched by the present Western policy." That didn't mean settlements didn't come in for criticism, too: "The steady increase in the extent and population of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, and the entrenchment of Israeli control over the [occupied Palestinian territories] in defiance of international law, indicate a permanent trend towards a complete dislocation of Palestinian territorial rights."
Israeli parliamentarian Ruth Calderon, whose now-famous inaugural Knesset speech took the form of a Talmud lesson, recently made the controversial move of speaking at the Komemiyut Conference in Jerusalem. Because she’s an unapologetically secular Talmudist and a known liberal, Calderon’s decision to participate in a far-right religious Zionist conference drew the ire of left-wingers, who weren’t crazy about the idea of her fraternizing with a movement that encourages Jews to refrain from employing Arabs, to protest Jerusalem’s gay pride parade, and to view their lives as inherently more valuable than those of non-Jews. But Calderon insisted on attending, because she believes in engaging in dialogue, even—especially—with those who disagree with her.
Addressing the movement, Calderon made a number of impressive, bold, and—given the context—even revolutionary statements. She called their discrimination against Arabs just what it is: racism. She decried their homophobia and transphobia, referring to it as “bigotry, injustice and a profanation of God’s name.” She insisted that “all people…non-religious and religious, women and men, homosexuals and heterosexuals, Jews and non-Jews, all were created in the image of God.” She even went so far as to say that the women in the room were in possession of “important Torah that men cannot teach.” But, believe it or not, that wasn’t even the most revolutionary thing about Calderon’s remarks.
The most revolutionary thing can be heard toward the end of the video posted above, which Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg provided and blogged about yesterday. Here’s how the English subtitles render Calderon’s words to her audience:
We have waited many years for an alliance like this. A true alliance between the non-religious and the religious, within the Zionist project, within which there is a place of course for the Haredi community and for others. I very much hope that we will succeed in building this partnership in truth and in equality, and with honor for the Jewish culture that we carry.
When dealing with certain politicians, to borrow a phrase from comic Patton Oswalt, I don’t always know where to start or where to begin. Take Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).
Gohmert appeared on CSPAN’s Washington Journal on Wednesday to discuss immigration reform, but he and host Greta Brawner understandably opened with the Boston Marathon bombings. Gohmert led by singing the praises of 9/12—that is, the day after 9/11: "There were no hyphenated Americans that day, there were no Euro-Americans, African-Americans, everybody was an American, and it was just such a warm time," he said.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
Ok, first of all: I have the sneaking suspicion that hyphenated Americans who have the words “Arab,” “Muslim,” “South Asian,” “Iranian,” “Sikh,” or, in some cases, “Latino” to the left of their hyphen would beg to differ regarding the warmth of 9/12. These Americans surely suffered alongside the rest of us (indeed, some were among the dead), but pretty much no one let them forget that hyphen—not for a day, not for a minute.
Then the good Congressman managed to link this week’s bombings to his opposition to immigration reform, using Israeli blood to make his point:
We’ve seen this in Israel, and after Israel had to suffer the slings and arrows, and deaths and the maimings for so long—I’ve been in the coffee shops over there: ‘Oh this was a coffee shop where a bomber killed a bunch of people, oh this is a park bench area where people were killed, that’s where that bus blew up that killed a bunch of people’….
Finally the Israeli people said, you know what: Enough. They built [the Security Barrier] to prevent snipers from knocking off their kids and they finally stopped the domestic violence from people that wanted to destroy them, and I am concerned we need to do that as well.
Barack Obama's Jerusalem speech was an appeal directly to the Israeli public, even mentioning that change must start "not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people." Obama went on at length: "Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see." With Israel having just sworn in perhaps its most right-wing government ever just before the visit, Obama's message—and its reception among the students in the room—must have heartened the young, ambitious Israeli liberals who last year started a new think-tank called Molad.
A screen-capture of Molad's English-language website.
Obama's message was narrowly about peace, but it dovetailed with Molad's. Billing itself as "the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy," the new group aims to foster a liberal political ethos capable of pushing Israel back from its hard-right turn, alleviating both the prevailing economic and geopolitical pressures on Israeli citizens wrought by the dominant factions' policies. "We're trying to be very political. We're not trying to hide it," Assaf Sharon, one of Molad's founders, told me recently at the group's headquarters in Jerusalem. "We're trying to build a political camp and give it ideas."
To do that, Molad draws heavily from the well of lefty activism. Along with Molad co-founder Avner Inbar, Sharon comes from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement, a group that organized against evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to make way for settlers. Molad's policy and communications director Mikhael Manekin was the director of Breaking the Silence, an NGO that collects anonymous testimonials from Israeli veterans (Sharon also worked with BTS). The former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg makes for what some call a sort of spiritual guide—though the website lists him as just a "Senior Fellow and Advisor"—and the staff roster and board are rounded out by a few other notable former officials, academics, and young go-getters. (Full disclosures: the Molad analyst and editor Elisheva Goldberg is a friend and former Open Zion editor; Manekin's father Charles is a personal friend.)
Margaret Thatcher's death has been the catalyst, in Britain, for a wide-ranging debate over her legacy. It's a debate that was conducted, by mainstream politicians at least, with a great deal of reverence, in contrast to the spontaneous street parties that broke out in celebration of her death. Tony Blair and many others, however, stood up for the respect that should be shown to a person in “their moment of passing.”
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to the photographer from her London office window, Aug. 21, 1991. (Nigel Marple/AP)
I disagree with the chorus of hatred for Thatcher. In order to be characterised as evil, I think your probably need to do evil things for evil reasons. Thatcher did some evil things, but very rarely, if ever, for evil reasons. On many issues she was wrong, and the left were right to oppose her bitterly. On many issues she was in the right, and ahead of her time, and thus many of the policies over which she was opposed have become part of the political consensus. The British economy was in need of radical restructuring, and she made this happen, although she often did this with a callous disregard for those who stood to lose out. I wouldn’t have voted for her, but I certainly don't celebrate her death. She was Britain's longest-serving Prime Minister of modern times and therefore deserved, I think, some sort of public recognition upon her passing. But it would be disrespectful to the memory of this great parliamentarian—this woman who used to revel in the cut and thrust of public debate—not to subject her legacy to continued public scrutiny. And I would like to do so as a Zionist.
Thatcher—despite being a great friend of Israel (such that our Prime Minister attended her funeral), and despite serving as something of an economic role-model for Netanyahu's own personal financial policies, making modern-day Israel a beacon of Thatcherism—espoused an ideology that basically threatens to usher in the death of Zionism.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.