By now the story almost writes itself: A high-ranking representative of the U.S. government—in this case, John Kerry—is slated to arrive soon in Israel, part of an effort to reinvigorate a peace process described as “moribund” since at least the early aughts. That effort is already making everyone mad, and Israel has taken the same steps it always takes to ensure that the U.S. government understands exactly where it stands: It’s expanding settlements.
The state said that it will act to legalize four West Bank outposts for which a delimitation order was issued in 2003 by the Israel Defense Forces GOC Central Command. Such an order allows the army to demolish at any time structures located within the delimited area.
In 2007, attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zecharya petitioned the High Court on behalf of the Israeli anti-settlement organization Peace Now, to implement the order.
…construction in the outposts continued despite the order. The High Court requested clarification from the state, and on Tuesday a detailed opinion concerning each one of the four outpost[s] was submitted to the court. In the document, the government said it had taken steps in recent weeks to retroactively authorize the outposts, which were built without official permission.
Israeli settlers walk past caravans decorated with posters calling for struggle against Israel’s government's decision to dismantle the West Bank settlement of Givat Asaf, northeast of Ramallah, on October 27, 2011. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images)
Built illegally, even by Israel’s standards; acknowledged as illegal, and thus ordered demolished; construction continues, despite state acknowledgement of the illegality of the outposts’ very existence—so sure, ten years later, why not rejigger your country’s laws to provide a patina of respectability? Why not give cover and support to lawbreakers in a manner that is not only insulting to all Israelis who respect the law, but which also flies in the face of the very thing to which your greatest ally has called you to commit yourself time and again?
John Kerry is so far not having a good run at Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. It's not for a lack of effort: he's about to make his fourth trip of his young tenure as Secretary of State to Israel and the Palestinian territories to try to jumpstart talks. So far he seems to have done little but raise the ire of both sides—or so say a host of Israeli and Palestinian sources speaking to Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid:
One of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior advisers was asked a few days ago for his opinion of Kerry’s efforts. The man responded with a smile and a wink. “The guy has a lot of energy,” he said dismissively.
About one thing, there’s no disagreement between Jerusalem and Ramallah: Kerry has a lot of good intentions and a real sense of mission; he truly wants to make peace in the Middle East. But despite his good intentions, Kerry so far looks like a naive and ham-handed diplomat who has been acting like a bull in the china shop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Or as former Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan once put it, he’s a good chap in the worst sense of the term.
Over the last two months, Kerry has managed to upset both sides and make both more suspicious of him by a series of misguided moves and statements.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in 2010 in Jerusalem. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)
So what has Kerry done that's riled up both sides of the conflict? According to Ravid, anything and everything. Kerry said he would launch an initiative for economic growth in the Occupied Territories... and didn't tell either side in advance (never you mind that the occupation itself is the largest obstacle to Palestinian economic growth, according to the World Bank). Then there was Kerry's deadline on the feasibility of a two-state deal, upsetting the Israelis... because though it may never come, continued lip-service to a two-state solution remains essential to veiling the increasing permanence of Israeli control over the territories.
"This is a slap to the efforts of Kerry. Instead of protecting the interests of the State, the Defense Minister is protecting the 'Hilltop Youth' and asking for the legalization of outposts that are supposed to be evacuated."
--Peace Now on the Israeli government's request to legalize four settlement outposts.
- Israeli law professors call out IDF on draft resister's 10th jail sentence - Academics wrote letter criticizing policy of jailing conscientious objectors, called for release of Natan Blanc after 150 days in prison. (Haaretz+)
- After one-year break, weekly protests to resume in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah - Activists to demonstrate Friday ahead of Supreme Court's hearing of a Palestinian family's appeal against its eviction. (Haaretz+)
- Settlers plan to build road in Hebron's Old City - A group of extremist settlers on Thursday assaulted Palestinian homes and lands in Wadi al-Husayn neighborhood of Hebron in the southern West Bank. (Maan)
- Senior Fatah officials call for single democratic state, not two-state solution - New initiative would allow Palestinian refugees the right of return to ‘a state of all its citizens.’ (Haaretz+)
- Israel closes al-Aqsa Mosque - Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the mosque was closed to visitors "to prevent incidents." On Wednesday, dozens of Israeli right-wingers raided the compound through the Moroccan gate, leading to clashes at the Bab al-Hutta gate as Israeli forces escorted rightists into the mosque area. (Maan)
- Israeli ministries propose toll on Palestinian goods to plug budget deficit - The Defense and Finance Ministries proposed making Palestinians pay more for importing and exporting goods; opponents say move violates international treaties Israel signed. (Haaretz+)
- Nakba survivor: 'If you wanted to live, you left' - Ghatheyya Mifleh al-Khawalda was 15 years old when she fled her home during the Nakba of 1948. "We had a very nice house, a big house with marble floors in the hallway. My father was a farmer, and we had farmland with orange trees, apple trees, grapefruit trees and others." (Maan)
- Despite US objection, Erdogan to travel to Gaza, West Bank - US President Barack Obama hosts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at White House. On agenda: Syrian civil war, Iranian sanctions, Jerusalem-Ankara relations. (Ynet)
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A peaceful and sustainable resolution to the Syrian crisis is not within reach in the short-term. But a significant reduction in the violence and bloodshed can be achieved because the appetite for diplomacy is stronger now than at anytime in the past two years. The peace summit prepared by the U.S. and Russia can achieve this if they bring all the parties to the table.
What started as peaceful struggle for political reform in Syria has been hijacked by geopolitical rivalries at the regional and global levels. Today, it is above all a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the U.S. and E.U. on the one hand, and Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and the Assad regime on the other. Several factors has led to a situation in which the desire for diplomacy among most of these parties is at a climax.
Members of the U.S. delegation photograph a vote tally display following a UN General Assembly vote in favor of a resolution calling for political transition in Syria on May 15, 2013 in New York City. (John Moore / Getty Images)
First, despite expectations of imminent downfall, the Basher al-Assad regime has managed to survive and even regain military momentum. Whereas talks could have provided Assad with an undeserved lifeline in the past, there is a different perception of the regimes sustainability today which in turn has reduced the perceived risk of talking.
Moreover, Assad’s military gains and the likelihood of it having used chemical weapons has strengthened the chorus of voices demanding U.S. military intervention at a time when the U.S. is dead set against such a move. Few factors would strengthen the President's ability to resist military intervention than a productive diplomatic process.
As the push for military action has increased, so has Obama's appetite for diplomacy.
Nour Joudah, a 25-year-old Georgetown master's degree-holder, set out for Palestine last fall to teach English at a nearly 150-year-old school founded in the West Bank by American Quakers. But Joudah lasted only a semester at the Ramallah Friends School. The length of her stay had nothing to do with her work: by all accounts, Joudah was great with the kids. Instead, she left a classroom full of students behind because Israeli authorities refused to let her back into the country. Twice. For the second try, in February, she brought to bear her power as an American citizen, seeking assistance from Congress and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which funds the school. All to no avail. As Israeli authorities turned her away and deported her, she didn't even receive an explanation. "They didn't say anything at all," she said of being rejected. "They processed me for deportation, I spent the night in detention, and they put me on the first flight in the morning."
An Israeli border policeman stands next to the international arrivals board at Ben Gurion air port near Tel Aviv on April 15, 2012. (David Buimovitch / AFP / Getty Images)
A week after Joudah's deportation, California Democrat Barbara Boxer introduced a bill—the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013—that would add Israel to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, ensuring visa-free travel for Americans and Israelis to each others’ countries. Boxer's bill stated that to ensure the required reciprocity, Israel must make "every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.” While no nation would agree to forfeit its security, the words “without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel” were unique. None of the 37 other countries currently in the program are subject to that caveat.
Boxer claimed in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that her bill "gives us important leverage to ensure Israel welcomes Americans" and doesn’t compromise Americans' rights. "This provision does not waive reciprocity. In fact, it requires the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the State Department, to certify that Israel is taking appropriate action to ensure that Americans receive reciprocal travel privileges," said Peter True, Boxer's press secretary. “If Israel does not live up to the principle of reciprocity, the country could be blocked from entering the program or removed at a future time." It's unclear why, then, the language specific to Israel's entry into the program remains necessary. Israel’s supporters maintained, according to JTA, that the country faces unique and acute security threats. But opponents of the bill said Israel needs the special language because the Jewish State routinely turns away Americans with impunity—especially Americans of Muslim or Arab background, as evinced by the case of Nour Joudah and others. Because many such entry denials are justified by unexplained claims of security concerns, critics said the unique caveat gives Israel wiggle room to continue turning Americans away.
Asked about Joudah's rejection in a March briefing, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, "The decision of whether or not to admit a foreign citizen rests solely with the country controlling the port of entry. So our country-specific information on Israel advises that travelers may be denied entry or exit without explanation." The rejection patterns so strongly suggest discrimination that the State Department outlines profiling at the border in its travel warning for Israel: "Some U.S. citizens," it reads, "of Arab or Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank."
This week I spoke with Sarah Posner of Bloggingheads.tv about Friday's confrontation at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which saw thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting the pluralistic prayer group Women of the Wall. I explain why I think this was a watershed moment for Israeli feminism, and put it in the broader context of last week's other feminist victories, including the introduction of a new bill aimed at criminalizing gender-based discrimination in Israel.
In our Bloggingheads conversation, Sarah and I also ask: Have Women of the Wall's goals become blurred, over time, with the goals of their American Jewish egalitarian supporters? To what extent do mainstream Israeli Jews support Women of the Wall—or even follow this story closely? And finally, were the thousands of ultra-Orthodox girls sent to protest Women of the Wall's activities inadvertently offered a radical opportunity to encounter feminist activism firsthand? Click through below to watch a clip, and then head over to the Bloggingheads site to watch the whole video.
A rusty, iron key to the past sits on a windowsill in my home. Three years ago, when the man I married left the refugee camp he was born and raised in to move to The States, this clunky key came with him. It is his prize possession. The key opens the door to a house that no longer exists, in a village that no longer exists called Dar Abayn. Dar Abayn is located underneath present-day Mahseya, which was founded by Israel in 1950, two years after my refugee’s grandparents fled their farming village and began the trail of tears that led them to Dheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Six decades later, and older than dirt, they have never given up hope that they will someday miraculously return. That hope is symbolized by the keys they carry to this day.
A key belonging to the author's husband, a Palestinian descended from refugees who were expelled from what is today Israel during the state's founding, on top of a shirt commemorating the Nakba. (Maysoon Zayid)
Dar Abayn is one of the over 500 villages whose name is remembered by Palestinians on Nakba Day 2013. Now in its 65th year, Nakba Day has become a global event, making it a challenge for Israel to escape a history it would much rather forget. It is not a celebration, but a commemoration of all the cities and villages that were depopulated to make room for Israel in 1948, and the folks who lost everything in the process. My village, Deir Debwan, is not one of those villages. Nestled in the hills near Ramallah, we still exist. I like to tease my refugee husband by claiming that we weren’t yellow-bellied and didn’t run and get displaced like his people. We also weren’t being massacred and chased at that time, because my people lived on the right side of the Green Line. While hundreds of thousands, on the wrong side, ran for their lives during the original Nakba, some 150,000 Palestinians in grave danger held strong and refused to leave. They and their offspring now comprise the over 1 million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship.
While some Israelis acknowledge the harsh reality of the Nakba, most seem to have severe issues with it. The Nakba deniers are a fun bunch. They claim Palestinians didn’t exist; that there was nothing there before Israel made the desert bloom and these so called refugees were just marauding gangs of Arabs that rushed to the empty land, when they heard the Jews were moving in. I like old people. They love to tell me their stories and I’ve talked to a bunch that fled during the Nakba. They most certainly did exist. They had communities, businesses, schools, fashion sense, and farms and they lost everything except those darn keys. As much as Israeli extremists like to deny it, the Nakba most definitely did occur and there are pictures to prove it.
I was not going to begrudge the Netanyahus their ice cream.
When it emerged in February that Israel’s Prime Minister was spending hundreds of dollars every month at a local ice cream parlor, I honestly thought “C’mon, now. Let the man have his ice cream!” Because you know what? He’s the Prime Minister, and I’m comfortable with the notion that heads of state get little perks here and there. You want $2,700 worth of ice cream every year? Go ahead. You’re Prime Minister.
But dagnabbit, even in those rare moments in which I’m feeling magnanimous toward Bibi, he has to come along and ruin it.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
You see, on Monday we learned that the Netanyahus have been extravagant with much more than just dessert. According to Ynet, between 2009 and 2012 the Prime Minister’s food and hosting bills more than doubled; cleaning expenses went from $17,000 to $30,000; and “representation expenses”—clothes, shoes, makeup, and hair—“nearly doubled.”
And then, then—then there was the in-flight rest chamber.
In a rambling essay on Al Jazeera, Columbia University professor Joseph Massad seeks to establish what he calls the “anti-Semitic” roots of Zionism. It’s not the first time this year that an alleged relationship between Zionism and Nazism has been tossed into the wind. Back in January, Mahmoud Abbas made similar claims, prompting historian David N. Myers to respond in Open Zion.
But Massad’s argument goes beyond historical aspersion and into the realm of the philosophical. It can be summed up by this sentence:
What Israel and its American and European allies have sought to do in the last six and a half decades is to convince Palestinians that they too must become anti-Semites and believe as the Nazis, Israel, and its Western anti-Semitic allies do, that Jews are a race that is different from European races, that Palestine is their country, and that Israel speaks for all Jews.
Let’s start with the least controversial—but still lacking—of these three claims, namely that Israel and its allies attempt to cast Israel as the legitimate speaker of the Jewish people. Certainly there is some truth to this observation. But Massad misses an important component of the dynamic.
It seems as though in recent weeks, Israel’s Labor Party has returned its attention to the peace process. This is a good thing, because Shelly Yachimovich has an opportunity to push the issue and throw Labor’s weight behind real progress.
Yachimovich has urged Benjamin Netanyahu to respond positively to the revised Arab Peace Initiative and, even more interesting, has met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss how to move forward. What’s more, she did so without consulting her party, indicating she wants to both keep control over party ideas and to claim the spotlight on the issue.
Israeli Labour party leader Shelly Yachimovich attends a press conference in the Knesset. (Lior Mizrahi / Getty Images)
Although the Labor Party has long been identified as the political representative of the peace camp, these recent developments are noteworthy because Yachimovich made the decision to all but ignore the Palestinians, the settlements, and the peace process during the election campaign. She took heavy criticism for it; analysts thought she was being too cynical for playing politics. She certainly made mistakes, but I maintain that her election strategy was the right one for the time—Israelis were simply not interested in thinking about the peace process, and it’s not clear she could exude much credibility on the issue. But given that this is the most propitious moment for real progress in negotiations in a long time, this is an opportunity for Yachimovich to exert leadership and to make a real difference.
There is an odd convergence of themes around the festival of Shavuot. The Book of Ruth is read in synagogues, the enigmatic story of a stranger/convert (Ruth the Moabite) who makes her way into the Israelite family through a semi-illicit sexual encounter and then ironically becomes the mother of redemption (King David is born from her progeny). The festival also converges with the beginning of the recitation of the Book of Numbers that includes a string of conflicts from inside Israelite society, the Korah rebellion to unseat Moses, Pinhas’s murder of Zimri, and from without, Balak and Balaam’s attempt to curse the Israelites out of existence. Finally, Shavuot always falls in early summer, a time when people again take to the streets, where communal strife that simmered during the rainy winter months begins to emerge. This season gave us the social protests in Israel two years ago and always produces conflicts between the police and haredim on a variety of issues.
The blessing (or is it the curse?) of Balaam that Israel “shall dwell alone” (Numbers 23:9) still echoes throughout the Jewish world even as Zionism was supposed to accomplish just the opposite. “Normalization” was Herzl’s clarion call, “alienation” the spirit of the pre-Zionist Jewish diaspora, the Judaism of the ghetto. Normalization was not simply between Israel and the world but inside Israel as well, a society that did not live in the amoral universe of victimhood, did not blame all its troubles on anti-Semitism, a society where fear was not the norm but the exception. And yet, as this Shavuot season shows, normalization (tolerance being one of its salient features) is hardly a word to describe the internal strife that plagues contemporary Israel.
An Israeli policeman grabs an Ultra Orthodox Jewish man as he shouts slogans against the liberal Jewish religious group Women of the Wall on May 10, 2013 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. (Gali Tibbon / AFP / Getty Images)
While the conflict with the Palestinians is ongoing and the engine of occupation continues to churn, many Israelis seem almost bored by it all. Instead, internal eruptions have caught the headlines. Hate-speech from the hasbara machine and the righteous defenders of Israel has reached a heightened pitch against any who dare criticize Israel (Stephen Hawking and Dustin Hoffman being the latest victims). Anti-Semitic tropes are shamelessly deployed against Israel’s critics. Now that the government, after decades of inaction, has finally decided to allow Women of the Wall to pray at the Kotel, haredim gather to spit and throw stones and chairs at the women and their supporters (religious and secular) and unleash verbal abuse, calling the Israeli police “Nazis,” crossing a red line in the Jewish psyche.
"They stepped on me like a dog."
--Coptic Priest Father Arsanius on being beaten by Israeli police on Holy Saturday of Light.
- Settlers exhume graves, spray racist graffiti - Settlers from the Eli settlement exhumed a number of graves and sprayed racist graffiti in the Sawiya village near Nablus. He added that a plant nursery and two tractors, belonging to local Abdel Azziz Nasserallah, were also damaged in the attack. (Maan)
- Tel-Aviv: Left-wing activists commemorated the Nakba; Students protest - Arab and Jewish students demonstrated yesterday at Tel-Aviv University requesting to commemorate Naqba Day. Students and right-wing activists from 'Im Tirtzu' expressed opposition to the ceremony. Jerusalem police prepared for Nakba Daytomorrow by increasing forces, although it received no intelligence information about intentions to disturb the peace. (Israel Hayom, p. 11)
- 'PMO freezing Jerusalem construction for diplomatic reasons' - Plan to build 1,500 new houses in northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo on hold despite having necessary approvals. Housing official: We are not engaged in peace talks, but we are also not building. It is a lose-lose situation for us. (Israel Hayom)
- PA to stop paying Israeli prisoner fines in June - The boycott of fines levied by Israeli courts will begin on June 1. "Paying the fines to Israeli courts is theft, illegal economic plunder and funds the Israeli occupation," said Minister of Prisoners' Affairs. Relatives of prisoners on Thursday criticized the move. (Maan)
- IDF to stop using shells with white phosphorus in populated areas, state tells High Court- Human rights groups say the announcement does not obviate their demand for a prohibition against the munition, which they say killed dozens of Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- The inspectors poured chlorine into the cooking pots of the N. African migrants - Day after Health Ministry inspectors and Tel-Aviv municipality officials raided the restaurants of N. African migrants and poured chlorine bleach into their cooking pots, claiming poor conditions, the asylum seekers living in the area were still upset. "It was more humiliating than what we went through in Sinai." (Maariv, p. 6/NRG Hebrew andHaaretz+)
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The new Israeli government recently raised the idea of amending the existing referendum law to require the Israeli people to vote on any future peace accord, along with other measures designed to raise the bar needed to pass an agreement. The current law from 2010 requires a national vote only in the event of concessions over territory Israel considers sovereign, such as East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. But Israel never formally annexed the West Bank. So in an imaginary world where Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are revived, a fantastical world where an agreement is reached, and a hallucinatory parallel universe where the leaders are actually prepared to sign and seal the deal to create a Palestinian state there, the Israeli people would have to vote on it first.
Does the Israeli public even want such a role? Is the country within the Green Line not already sufficiently democratic? Aren't elections lively and famously competitive enough, with over 30 parties contending in the last round?
In the first poll about this to be made public since the revival of the topic, conducted exclusively for Open Zion, we gave respondents two positions and asked which was closer to their view: "A referendum should be held on any final status accord with the Palestinians. Because the subject is so sensitive, it's important to check if the people support it," or "A referendum should not be held on a final status accord with the Palestinians, because the people already chose the government in a democratic process." The options were rotated so as not to bias the answers; the survey was conducted by New Wave Research, using the internet, among a representative sample of 500 adult Jewish Israelis, on May 7 (margin of error +/-4.4%).
The results of a New Wave Research poll of Israelis conducted exclusively for Open Zion on a potential referendum for Israeli peace with Palestinians. (Dahlia Scheindlin)
The poll found that for a clear majority of Jewish Israelis, vibrant democracy just isn't enough: 53 percent of respondents side with the view that on this sensitive subject, people should prove their support. One-third (34 percent) chose the option that democratic elections were sufficient, and about 14 percent either didn't know or expressed conflicting feelings (choosing "both" or "neither").
Rabbi Sholomo Amar has been the Sephardi Chief Rabbi in Israel since 2003, but his 10-year term is almost up, and he will soon be replaced. The man expected to be nominated by the Jewish Home party to replace him is none other than the current chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.
Unfortunately, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu happens to be a racist. The most well-known incident came in 2010 when he purportedly ruled that it was forbidden by Jewish law to rent or sell property to Arabs. At the time, many of those in Safed felt his ruling was spot-on. A great many signs around town read: "Don't rent rooms to Arabs. Don't give work to Arabs. Don't give Arabs any foothold in our community." Perhaps the thing that got him in the most trouble was a letter, signed by more than 40 other municipal rabbis, in support of his ruling. The letter said that anyone who sold or rented to Arabs "causes his neighbor a great loss, and his iniquity is greater than can be borne." It also recommended communal ostracism for those who failed to comply:
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu on June 14, 2005 in Israel. (Yoel Ben-Avraham / Flickr)
It is incumbent upon the seller's neighbors and acquaintances to warn and caution, first in private and then they are entitled to punish him in public, to distance themselves from him, to prevent trade from being done with him, not to have him read from the Torah and so forth until he reverses his decision that causes harm to so many people.
Although the charges of incitement brought against him were eventually dropped by the Ministry of Justice, it's hard to get past the fact that a letter like that was written at all, inspired by a man who may very well become the next decade-tenured Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.
As Peter Beinart wrote in his piece, “Collapse of the American Jewish Center?”, the way Alan Dershowitz was treated at the recent Jerusalem Post conference in New York is another indication of the marked rightward shift of many, if not most, of the traditional American Jewish organizations. Beinart’s observation that the decision by the leadership of these organizations to double down on an “Israel right or wrong” position, while at the same time trying to maintain nominal support for a two-state solution, is one of the main causes of this rightward movement.
This does not mean, however, that the community’s center has collapsed. What has happened is that these organizations have moved out of mainstream Jewish thought, making themselves less and less relevant to the debate. Their over-the-top attacks on Chuck Hagel reflect how far out on the limb some of these organizations are willing to go and how they are marginalizing themselves with their positions.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center on March 5, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Where Beinart errs is in defining the whole of the community in relation to these organizations, as being either with them (on the right) or against them (on the left). In this paradigm, the center is reduced to nothing more than its geometric definition—a middle point chronically subject to the shifting of the poles and, implicitly, without an ideological integrity of its own.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.