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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

I’ve become increasingly irritated of late listening to President Obama, former American ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurzer, and various Israeli politicians proclaiming that the road to peace now requires Bibi Netanyahu to make a concrete offer.  Had Israel been dragging its heels to come to the negotiating table, placing absurd roadblocks to the talks (like the freezing of Arab building in Jerusalem), or naming town squares after Baruch Goldstein, I could understand the need to pressure him to lighten up.  But Israel hasn’t been doing any of those things.

Instead, Obama tells Bibi he must present his own plan for peace, but without presenting any more preconditions.  These include, presumably, stopping the preaching and teaching of Jew-hatred, stopping naming of town squares after mass murderers (and murderesses), and disarming terrorists–forever.  Yet somehow, nothing is demanded of the Arabs.

This is not new.  It’s actually a continuation of the status quo.  I listened to an interview with Harvard professor Ruth Wisse by Mordechai I. Twersky recently that helps explain the reasons why Israel can’t seem to get any peace, and while she waxes eloquent on the use of anti-Semitism in Arab society to wage war against Israel and avoid the self-examination and embrace of tolerance that could lift up Arab society from the medieval mud it’s stuck in, she also observes that Israel’s plight is not just the fault of the Arabs.  Some of it is pressure from third-party sources like Obama and Europe which accept a paradigm of the situation which says that this is a war between equals over a piece of land, with Israel the more powerful of the two sides, and therefore the side better positioned to offer concessions.  Another piece is the worldview of the Jews which makes us feel compelled to find solutions to problems, even when we can’t.  Professor Wisse says,

I’ve called Jews a failed polity in the past very reluctantly because my main point is that Jews cannot solve the problems of which they are accused, and that’s the dilemma in which Jews have found themselves for many, many centuries and find themselves in today in a different form.  How can we solve the Arab situation?  How can we make them accept the State of Israel?  What can we do?  What can we do?  And it’s such a natural desire to solve this question because of course the aggression is being aimed mostly at you.  I think that the first thing that has to be recognized is that you are the last people who can do anything about this aggression.  The only way you can help is to make sure that the aggressor understands that he will never defeat you.  And if you can do anything to change the aggressor’s need for that aggression, if you can persuade the aggressor that that aggression is ultimately detrimental to him, then I think you have a chance.   But so far, neither Israel nor the Jewish people has ever understood its role in politics sufficiently to be able to begin that enterprise.

I think Wisse articulates this problem well.  Strange as it seems, Israel seems to be held responsible for solving its own problems as well as those of the Arabs around it, as though they are somehow helpless, infantile, and lacking in any resources at all (despite the decades of handouts they’ve received from the world community).  The fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza, leaving behind infrastructure for the Arabs to use to build their own nascent state went unnoticed or has been long forgotten.

Wisse observes that the expectation that the Arabs improve their own lot is often perceived as pessimistic.  People “think that it is more optimistic to hold Israel responsible. … If I really insist that the problem begins in this unilateral aspect of the conflict and that it’s the Arabs who have to decide that they will give up this instrument of their politics, it seems pessimistic because it’s going to take a long time for the Arab world to change in that respect. But I would say that I’m the optimist because I really do expect the Arab world to change.”

Listen to the whole interview here.  She has fascinating things to say about the current flotilla, the Arab Spring, her own study of Yiddish literature, what she calls “the history of Jewish mistakes,” and how Jews should endeavor to be less humorous.

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Flotilla flake-out

I read last week that the “humanitarian” IHH has pulled out of this year’s Gaza flotilla fracas.  Ynet reports that fewer than 300 nutjobs activists will be setting sail — far fewer than anticipated, with more dropouts expected.  If this trend continues (and please God, it will), this year’s flotilla will end up looking something like this:

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Sandy Cash is back with another song, this one hailing the upcoming Free Gaza Flotilla II.

In case Allen Krasna’s masterful video editing makes you miss some of the lyrics, here they are:

HEY JEWS (parody lyrics based on the song Hey Jude by Lennon & McCartney)

Hey Jews, we’re setting sail
Bound for that big jail that’s known as Gaza.
“Flotilla” was once a word no one knew;
Here comes number two, we’re back to Gaza.

Hey Jews, don’t be afraid,
You know your blockade can’t last forever.
The Egyptians tried too, but let down their guard.
Deterrence is hard; surrender’s better.

And if we hide Iranian bombs, hey Jews, come on!
We’re all just humanitarian sailors
With ammo belts and bars of steel.
Hey Jews, get real!
Code Pink buys the same at Lord and Taylor.

Hey Jews, don’t lose your cool,
The revolution is all around you
From the Golan to Sinai’s lines in the sand.
We’ll cross overland ’til we surround you.

No matter what we smuggle in, hey Jews, give in.
We’re riding the wave of world opinion
‘Cause don’t you know when we attack and you fight back,
It tightens the noose we hold your head in.

Hey, Jews, can’t you excuse 10,000 rockets on civilians.
You’ve spent all that dough on reinforced rooms,
The whole world presumes you want to use them.

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I read this article a couple of months ago on Ynet news. There are a number of reasons why the claim that Israel is an apartheid state is absurd, and this is one of them. The story of Avi Be’eri, a Guinean former slave whose journey brought him to Israel, Judaism, the IDF, and the completion of the army’s officers’ course, is almost stranger than fiction, and further proof of what PM Netanyahu said to Congress last month: Israel is what’s right with the Middle East.

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I hate the phone.  I’m fine talking to people in person, and I love writing emails and letters.  But keep me away from the phone unless it’s absolutely necessary.  I don’t love it in English, and like most people struggling with a language that is not their own, I HATE it in Hebrew.  When the Cap’n worked at home, I had him do most of the phone calls, but now that he’s sitting all day in an office in Jerusalem, I have to call the matnas (community center) about enrolling the kids in swim lessons, the mothers of my kids’ friends about playdates and who’s going to bake the cake for the upcoming class birthday party (usually me), and the health clinic to make medical appointments, all in Hebrew.  Since those phone calls are often the only time I speak Hebrew all day, I suffer from arrested development in the language, and while I sometimes get out my thoughts just fine in fairly fluid Hebrew, if someone calls me out of the blue or wants to discuss something for which I have no context, I freeze up.

That’s what happened yesterday when Peach handed me the phone to give driving directions to the mother of a girl playing with Beans this afternoon.  I hadn’t given anyone directions in a while, and with a sleeping Bill in the crook of my arm, and half asleep myself, I couldn’t even remember the word “intersection” in Hebrew.  I stammered, made long pauses, but finally got out the information.  (She found us just fine a few minutes later.)  When I got off the phone, though, Peach looked up from her homework and said, “Wow, your Hebrew was really bad just now.”

Normally I don’t make much of those comments.  I try to be good-natured about them, laugh them off, and not take it too personally when my children make fun of my admittedly pathetic Hebrew.  But I had just finished correcting Beans on a question she missed on a Hebrew language test (telling her that luchot, despite the feminine plural ending, is an irregular masculine noun), I’d been caught unawares by this phone call, and I have days here and there when I’m feeling more vulnerable than usual.  I began thinking about all the things I gave up to come here: my family (which has already had to do without me every Christmas for the past 16 years since my decision to convert), my friends, my community, my quirky, charming Victorian house on a tree-lined street, my career as an English teacher (teaching it as a second language or to students who aren’t going to school in English is not the same), my shul community, and not least, understanding everything that is going on around me.  The vast majority of the time, I can focus on what is wonderful about living here, but every now and then, I think about what I don’t have anymore, and it gets to me.

Peach stepped on a landmine when she make that disrespectful crack (even more so since she’s working on a contract where she needs to demonstrate kibbud av v’em every day to earn a dinner out with me, one-on-one).  I kept my cool at first, but when I went up to her room to debrief her, I realized that my nerves were more raw than I’d thought and I lost it, listing for her all the things I’ve mentioned that I gave up so she could grow up here, speak the language, and feel at home.  Because while I don’t doubt for a minute that this is my homeland as much as a tenth-generation Yerushalmi‘s, it doesn’t feel like it every minute of every day.

Maybe this is good.  After all, while I sometimes miss the US, I don’t regret coming here, and can’t imagine going back.  But I think it’s also okay sometimes to let myself acknowledge that there are times when I feel like a fish out of water.  For Peach, too, I think it might have been good to hear that while we wanted badly to come here, doing so has not always been a joy ride for the Cap’n and me.  It will never be as easy for us as it will be for the kids.  Despite the fact that the girls, too, are immigrants, their Hebrew is very good, they’re going to school here from a young age, and will have all the formative experiences Israeli kids have that shape who they are, who their friends are, and their lives as Israelis.  As badly as I wanted my conversion (and as agonizing as it was), when I held Beans, my firstborn, in my arms in the hospital, I looked down at her and whispered, “I did it for you.”  Similarly, while the Cap’n and I knew we wanted to come here to live someday, we really let the children decide for us, and chose to come when Beans was beginning kindergarten so they would not be too far behind in first grade.

I’m not going to tell the kids I spent my childhood walking to school everyday through the snow, uphill both ways.  On the other hand, perhaps for them to know what I gave up to be here will make the experience of living here mean more to them, help them understand what it’s like for adult immigrants, and in some way tell them how much we love them in giving them this life.  It’s not like buying them a present and showing them the price tag; I think it’s more like giving them a rare gift and telling them it’s the only one like it.

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Being unpopular

One of the things I find so challenging about being Jewish is that, at the same time that anti-Semitism has gotten a new lease on life (this time from the Left rather than the Right), Jews are told to sit down, shut up, and stop seeing every critique, assault, or massacre on them, their culture, and their institutions as anti-Semitism.  One of my favorite news blogs had a heated comment thread in which Rabbi Meir Kahane’s name came up, was predictably slandered, and the blogger’s rationale for practically banning discussion of his words and deeds was that Kahane was crazy (evidence: his belief that there could one day be a second Holocaust on American soil).  A high school classmate living in the Bay Area has hopped on the anti-circumcision bandwagon, and when I explained that this measure is a gross distortion of the procedure and a direct assault on the identity and practice of Jews and Muslims, she insisted that the measure, and the accompanying comics which portray mohels as evil, sinister, and fanatical, are not anti-Semitic.  And today I read that Yale University is shutting down its Initiative for the Inter-disciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA).  Its reason?  The university claims that the initiative “has not borne the kind of academic fruit to justify its continuation,” according to Phyllis Chesler.  Chesler, who argues that the Initiative bore far more academic fruit than most academic departments and scholarly fora these days, sees a direct correlation between the shutting down of YIISA and the rise in financial contributions from Arab states and influence at the university of voices that promote Arab/Islamist/terrorist agendas.  She also perceives that the focus at YIISA on contemporary anti-Semitism’s warm home in the Arab Muslim world is unpopular in the current academic climate, which increasingly marginalizes voices which critique the messages of hate and blame that frequently come out of the Arab world’s despotic and/or Islamist regimes.

Even the Shoah, a watershed in the last century proving what inhumane depths Western civilization can sink to and the urgency of defending Jewish identity, culture, and mere existence, is under attack.  Holocaust denial by politicians and “academics” is given credence as “the other side of the story,” and infamous Holocaust deniers like Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and Westerners like David Irving, are given the podium at universities and the UN to spout their “revisionist” history.  Those who vow “never again” are cheered and patted on the back, but if they support Israel’s right to defend its citizens against terror and mayhem, they are silenced as aiding and abetting “the Occupation.”

Those who claim to revere international law show a very vague understanding of it as it relates to Israel.  (The video below breaks down beautifully who the West Bank and Jerusalem really belong to.)

Here, too, ignorance seems to reign supreme.  Those who claim that Israel’s possession and settlement of the West Bank and Jerusalem are violations of the Geneva Conventions have either never read the Geneva Conventions, or have no knowledge of the history of this region (or both).  They are ignorant of the fact that there is no precedent, historical, diplomatic, or otherwise, for earmarking these lands for Arabs to create another Arab state.  Quite the contrary, in fact; these lands belong to Israel diplomatically, historically, and in every other way.

One of the rabbis on my beit din made a little speech on the day they agreed to convert me.  He said, “The Jews are not a popular people.”  I’ve known that ever since I saw the mini-series “Holocaust” (1978, with a young Meryl Streep) on television when I was ten.  I knew it when I was told I was going to hell by a Christian classmate in Georgia when I was eleven.  And everything I’ve learned about Jewish history, from its earliest days to the present, has corroborated that statement.  That suits me fine.  I have never looked for popularity.  I’ve always been geeky, enjoyed having a small cadre of close friends and my solitude, and wouldn’t know what to do if I were suddenly sought-after.  Over the years, Jews have become more accepted in America, and this newfound measure of popularity has proved a double-edged sword: Jewish women pursued by non-Jewish men who find them “exotic,” non-Jewish women discovering that Jewish men make excellent husbands and fathers, and non-Jewish couples getting married under a chuppah because it’s a beautiful custom.  I don’t know if one sees that kind of attitude toward Jews in other parts of the world.  But if one isn’t popular, isn’t it possible at least to be accepted?  Or is the necessary opposite of popular, a pariah?  Must we be reviled, boycotted, sanctioned, and divested against?  Is it subversive for Jews to be in positions of responsibility and influence beyond their proportion in society?  Does it discomfit the world to see a Jewish state established in its homeland and able to defend itself, by itself?  Is it really so easy to believe that the Middle East’s only democracy, with freedom of press, religion, speech and all the rest, ranks with North Korea as the greatest threat to world peace?

I know that the Ahmedinejads, the Helen Thomases, and the Vanessa Redgraves don’t speak for all of humanity.  I know there are a good number of staunch supporters of Israel and Jewish life on the streets as well as in the corridors of power.  But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that Israeli Apartheid Week enjoys an increasing presence on university campuses every year (which makes me wonder whether the university community has abandoned holding students to any level of serious scholarship, or whether they stand aside and let these circuses set up every year to allow the students to blow off steam and exercise their rights to freedom of speech, even if it’s full of lies and hatred).  It’s hard to ignore the fact that the UN General Assembly invites Ahmedinejad to spew forth his wrath every year, and doesn’t rise and file out as a body while he’s speaking.  It’s hard to ignore the traction the idea of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state has gotten in the international community, when it is clear (at least to those of us living here) that such a state will not create peace in the Middle East or anywhere else, and will very likely create more war and bloodshed than ever.

So what’s a Jew to do?  Pandering is distasteful, and never garners popularity anyway.  Keep explaining ourselves?  While I may be overly pessimistic about this, I think those inclined to understand us do so already, and the rest can’t be bothered with the facts.  I remember a (Jewish) professor of mine in graduate school telling me to stick to my own path of scholarship on an assignment, saying “Don’t look left, don’t look right.”  Looking it up, I see it’s paraphrased from Isaiah 30:21.  “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right, and when you turn to the left.”

What matters is that we keep to the Torah, to our faith, and our ethical principles.  After that, as they say, יהיה מה שיהיה.

(Thanks to Ruti Mizrahi and Westbankmama for the video tip.)

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Wondering

Months after the murder of the Fogel family by Arab teenage products of PA “education,” I have finally reached the point where I don’t think about the slain, or the remaining children, every day.  But sometimes, their name comes up in conversation, in a newspaper article (the most recent being that the vermin who committed the atrocity are proud of what they did “for Palestine”; this is news?), or my kids’ questions.  “Did they shoot the boys?  How did they kill the baby?  Did you see the pictures?”  None of us can begin to fathom the horror, but they’re still trying to get their heads around it.  They asked me about it again the other night, and it occurred to me again when I was shopping in Rami Levy this morning for Shabbat.

My local Rami Levi supermarket is located at Gush Junction.  It is staffed by Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and patronized by the same.  The butchers are all Arab, the loading dock workers are Arab, most of the stockers are Arab.  The two men we usually see behind the cheese counter are also Arab.  One is in his 40s with a round face that manages to be both pleasant and unsmiling.  He doesn’t appear to love his job, or the customer contact.  The second is in his 50s, graying, with eyes that wrinkle around the edges when he smiles, and he always gives whatever children I have tagging along with me a free slice of cheese, teaches my eldest a new Arabic word (she’s interested in learning the language), and clearly enjoys talking to the customers he interacts with.  Since the massacre in Itamar, I have sometimes looked at these two men (the closest thing I have to Arab acquaintances) and studied their faces to try to discern what they REALLY think about Jews and Israel.  I learn nothing from this.  It may be that the dourer of the two men has some secret sorrow in his life that keeps his mood low, but wouldn’t dream of committing or approving of violence to achieve any ends.  And it may be that the warm, smiling face of the older Arab disguises a compartmentalized view of his situation, where in day-to-day interactions he can exercise civility towards his Jewish “occupier” employer and customers, but given a choice, would prefer to have them gone from this land by any means necessary, including bloodshed.

The cheese man today was a new one.  In his late 30s or 40s, he was nice-looking, friendly, and very taken with Bill, who he said is the cutest kid in the world.  After packaging my cheese slices, he went back and sliced one more which he gave to Bill.  While he cut a hunk of parmesan for me, I asked if he has children.  He looked up and smiled.  “Ten,” he answered.  “And I want more.  I love kids.  Whenever I feel down, all I have to do is look at an adorable kid’s face,” he said, glancing over at Bill munching his slice of Emek, “and I feel better right away.”  I felt tears well up in my eyes for a moment, and was terribly tempted to ask him, “Then how can someone enter someone else’s house and stab their children, and slit their throats?”  But I didn’t.  Perhaps as a father, he can’t imagine either.  Perhaps he found the incident as revolting as I did.  Or perhaps not.

At the same time that I occasionally crave answers to these questions, part of the complication of living here is that I don’t dare make any assumptions about the Arabs I see, good or bad.  I don’t want to embarrass them when they’re at work and doing their jobs.  I don’t want them to say what they think I want to hear, that it was terrible, if in their hearts they secretly rejoiced at the horrific news.  I also don’t know if I really want to know the answer, on the off-chance that they would throw their employee’s caution to the wind and answer me straight, that they hate and resent the “occupation,” and that while for the moment, they and I can be face to face in a civil, vendor-customer situation, in the bigger picture, I am a foreign occupier of Arab lands, and whatever it takes to dislodge me and the rest of the Jews is fair.  There is a barrier of civility which prevents me from asking what I might want to ask, and from their answering as they might wish—or not wish.

Some might read this and think, “Who cares?  What’s done is done.  Their society is what it is, controlled by hate and oppression, brooking no opposition or dissent.  Yours is holding the wolf by the ears, and it doesn’t matter what they think or feel, only what they do.”  There might be truth to this, but it doesn’t stop me wondering.

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