Archive for July, 2010

Liberal Jewish anti-Zionists get together — and stay confused

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Every time I think that I can’t be surprised by the things Jews do and say, I come across something like this:

A 25-year-old environmental activist named Hillary Lehr from Oakland, California, said she no longer wanted to visit the Reform synagogue she’d attended as a child because its pro-Israel stance was casually embedded into ritual life, from prayers for the Jewish state to tzedakah boxes for the Jewish National Fund. “I want to de-Zionize my synagogue because it’s not about being a Zionist, it’s about Judaism,” Lehr said. “There’s a generation that’s ready to go back to those religious and spiritual spaces. I want to say to my rabbi, ‘I want to come back to my spirituality and I want there to be space for all of us because we’re all Jews.’ ”

Yes, yet another group of anti-Israel Jews. Described as “first major gathering of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network,” the 2010 “U.S. Assembly of Jews” was held in Detroit this summer.

Since the founding of the Jewish state, Jewish anti-Zionists have fallen mostly into two groups: observant Jews who believe that Judaism teaches that they may return to the land of Israel only when the Mashiach takes them there, and highly secular left-wing ideologues who think that Jewish nationalism is just another bourgeois detour away from international anti-colonial solidarity.

But these people, although closer to the latter than the former, insist that they are Jewish not just by culture or tradition, but  because they observe some form of Judaism:

[Aaron] Levitt helped start a non-Zionist minyan this year called Page 36 with fellow Jewish pro-Palestinian activists including a young Reconstructionist rabbi, Alissa Wise [about whom I wrote last year – ed] — not, he said, because he ultimately wants to pray only with political comrades, but as a kind of stopgap measure while truly “Zionist-neutral” congregations remain few and far between. At the same time, he added, the minyan was inspired by frustration with what he sees as a lack of interest among many of his coreligionist political comrades in aspects of spirituality and peoplehood [but a people without a state! – ed] that go beyond Jewish-flavored universalist politics.

Two points:

One is theological. The Torah, on which all streams of Judaism — no matter how orthodox or liberal — are based in some way, is a story about a three-sided relationship between God, the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Regardless of one’s concept of God or the origin of the Torah, it’s impossible to read the Torah and ignore the land. The anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidim and the vile Neturei Karta don’t deny this, they just interpret the relationship differently from Zionists. And secular Marxists have no interest at all in ‘das Opium des Volkes‘.

So one wonders exactly what’s Jewish about Hillary and Aaron’s Judaism. Liberal Judaism without the land of Israel is indistinguishable from Unitarianism, it seems to me, which explains why so many Unitarians used to be Jews.

The second point is that the members of the “International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network” have the same problem that all Jews have: the antisemites (including the Jewish ones) don’t like them:

“Folks like us get it from both sides,” said a 27-year-old Jewish religious professional at the conference who requested anonymity because, she said, she feared repercussions if her views became known. “We’re not loyal enough to the Jews and we’re not pure enough for the anti-Zionists.”

The use of the word ‘pure’ is suggestive. It has a definite racial connotation, intended or not.

“It’s startling how much easier it is to bring my politics to Jewish spaces than to bring my Jewishness here,” said a participant active in the Boston minyan scene who wanted to remain anonymous because she hopes to apply for Hebrew school teaching jobs. “The organizers kept asking, ‘What is the material benefit this will have? How is this going to end Zionism?’ And it was like, we don’t want to justify why we pray.”

It’s not enough, apparently, for a Jew to support the Palestinian cause. It’s also necessary to purge any commitment to Judaism in order for a Jew to feel welcomed on today’s Left — as the professionally obnoxious Michael Lerner found out when he got the cold shoulder from the International ANSWER coalition in 2003 after he objected to left-wing antisemitism.

I wonder why, of all the causes available, they have to choose this one. Despite thinking about this for the past few years, I still don’t have a satisfying answer.

It certainly can’t be because Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO exhibit the liberal, tolerant viewpoint that they find so lacking at their local synagogues!

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The Zionist League for Preemptive Self-Defense

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Recently, a fellow mentioned that he was putting together a new pro-Israel organization and that he was trying to decide what to name it.

He was considering something like “Peace and Justice for the Middle East.”

My first thought was that this sounds like an anti-Israel group. All he would need to add would be something about human rights and it would be perfect. Of course this is because the people who want to see an end to the Jewish state have co-opted the language of peace, justice and human rights. They own it now, despite the fact that this entails an Orwellian reversal of meaning.

For example, let’s take a local organization, Peace Fresno. They support the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian Arab ‘refugees’. Now I know a number of their members and they say they are against all war. I would like to ask them how the influx of several million violently hostile Arabs into tiny Israel would affect matters of war and peace. Would it make things more peaceful? We know that it would be the beginning of a bloody civil war, 1948 all over again except with ten times the number of combatants. We know this because the Palestinians themselves tell us.

But they would say that the Palestinian refugees deserve justice. Really? Is it just that the Palestinian Arabs, who started the 1948 war under the leadership of the Nazi Mufti al-Husseini and lost it, should have the result of that war reversed after 62 years?  Is it just that other refugees, like the 800,000 Jewish ones who fled Arab countries between 1948 and the 1960’s were absorbed by Israel and other countries, but the Arab nations refuse to absorb even one Palestinian?

More generally, is it just that there are 23 Arab nations with a combined population of 358 million and one Jewish state with about 5.5 million Jews, and this is intolerable to the Arabs?  Is it just that one unelected royal family rules all of Saudi Arabia, where they have institutionalized racism, misogyny and antisemitism? Is it just  that Arab terror organizations are rewarded for their murder campaigns?

Peace Fresno also calls for justice for the ‘victims’ among the ‘peaceful activists’ (Turkish IHH thugs) on board the Mavi Marmara. Justice must mean that you can beat somebody with an iron pipe until his brains start coming out and he is expected to do nothing. ‘Justice’ must mean something different for Israelis and Turks.

And Peace Fresno wants no restrictions on traffic of goods or people in and out of Gaza. Their Hamas friends in Gaza need more building materials, so they can rebuild after the recent war that they started and were losing, at least until the incoming Obama administration made Israel stop fighting. They have already started rebuilding — fortifications and tunnels and a big new prison (with a reinforced basement bunker, I’m sure), not homes. That’s how to promote peace.

Speaking of human rights, the ‘activists’ on the Gaza Flotilla, who belonged to multiple organizations with ‘peace’, ‘justice’ and ‘human rights’ in their names, were asked to deliver a message to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped four years ago (when he was 19 years old) and has been held incommunicado — in violation of international law — ever since. They refused, because apparently ‘human rights’ mean something different for Israelis and Arab residents of Gaza.

So who wants peace? Israel, which wants to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (PA), or the PA, which refuses to negotiate unless Israel agrees to all of its demands in advance? Hamas, which — still — fires rockets into Israel and continually probes the border, trying to kidnap more Israelis?

Who is more concerned with justice? Israel, whose Supreme Court often issues orders that Palestinian rights require changes in the route of the security fence, whose army command arrests and tries Israeli soldiers for improper behavior in wartime, and which allows security prisoners — even those convicted of multiple murders — access to television and university courses in prison? Or Hamas, which executes ‘collaborators’ and political opponents without trial, and will not let the Red Cross visit Gilad Shalit in his underground bunker?

But it’s no use. The language is corrupted. Better he should call his group “The Zionist  League for Preemptive Self-Defense,” in keeping with the adage that if you can’t be liked, you might as well  be respected.

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Does this make you feel peaceful?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

At various times — for example, this May — the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority has promised to stop incitement. In fact, back in 1993 the Oslo accord required that the PLO, soon to be raised from a terrorist gang to a government by the US and a naive Israeli government, would stop incitement.

So what’s incitement? In the words of Palestinian Media Watch, it’s behavior like this — all of which has been observed in the past two months, since Mahmoud Abbas’ most recent  promise to end it:

  • The PA continues to teach on PA educational TV that Israeli cities across the entire country, including Jaffa and Haifa, are Palestinian cities.
  • The official [PA] media deny Israel’s right to exist by using terminology to refer to Israel as “the homeland occupied in ’48.”
  • The conflict with Israel is defined by PA-appointed political and religious leaders not as territorial but as Ribat — a religious war for Allah.
  • The PA senior religious leader demonizes Jews as the “enemies of God.”
  • PA TV host: “The Jews are our enemies, right?”
  • The PA continues to honor terrorists [by naming streets, schools, etc. after them].
  • [A] PA-Fatah leader defends “the right to return to the armed conflict.”
  • [A] PA-Fatah leader explains negotiations as “a tactical decision, i.e., a temporary, defensive decision.”

PMW has it all on video here, especially including the programming for children.

Does this inspire confidence that the PA intends to join in a peaceful two-state solution which will end the conflict? Is this what you would tell your people if you were on the verge of making peace? I didn’t think so.

Remember, we are talking about the PA/Fatah/PLO. The people that the US is supporting and arming (so they can ‘fight terrorism’). The people with whom we are having a ‘peace process’. Not Hamas, whose media — particularly children’s programming — is far worse.

Here’s a music video with a catchy tune, directed at young Palestinian shaheed material (er, teenagers). According to PMW, PA TV broadcast it live on June 4, 2010, and then on June 24, July 9, July 13, July 16, and yesterday, July 20.

Doesn’t it make you feel peaceful?

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Attacks on conversion bill are misleading

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) — the largest Jewish denomination the US — sprung into action recently to protect us from a “dangerous threat”:

Sunday, July 12th, abruptly and with no warning, a committee vote was held on the bill sponsored by Member of the Knesset David Rotem that poses a dangerous threat to the rights of Conservative, Reform, and all non-Orthodox Jews, who comprise the overwhelming majority of world Jewry…

For 2,000 years, Judaism has treated Jews-by-choice (converts) the same as Jews-by-birth. This treatment is rooted in the Talmudic teaching that “as soon as a convert emerges from the mikvah (ritual bath) she or he is Jewish for all purposes.” (Yevamot 47b).

Since its founding 62 years ago, the State of Israel, through the Law of Return, has welcomed Jews from around the world as citizens in the world’s only Jewish state.

This legislation would delegitimize all non-Orthodox conversions. It would also preclude conferring citizenship under the Law of Return to Jews who did not qualify for such status on a prior visit (ie. converts).
[my italics]

The URJ is calling for its members to write to the Prime Minister and to apply every kind of pressure available to US Jews to prevent the passage of this bill. Rabbis will be speaking to their congregations from the pulpit, mass emails have been sent to Reform Jews, etc. Recently, the president of the largest congregation in our city said to me that “I’ve always supported Israel [he has], but I’m going to fight on this.”

A change to the criteria used by the State of Israel to determine ‘who is a Jew’ for the purposes of the Law of Return would indeed be big news. The Orthodox parties have tried in the past to change the law to disallow non-Orthodox converts from receiving citizenship, but have always been beaten back.

But in fact the bill doesn’t do anything like that.

Its main purpose is to decentralize the conversion process in Israel, in order to solve the problem of 320,000 Russian immigrants who would like to convert to Judaism but have been unable to, because of bureaucratic problems and ultra-Orthodox obstructionism. It makes it possible for local rabbis to perform conversions, and makes it harder for ultra-Orthodox ones to annul them.

This is a huge issue, and the bill tries to fix it without changing the traditional religious-secular status quo.

The Hebrew text of the bill is here. If you don’t read Hebrew, you will have to take my word for it that it doesn’t mention the law of return, nor does it discuss conversions that take place outside of Israel.

The big problem for the Reform movement is that the bill specifies that the Orthodox Rabbinate has overall authority over conversions in Israel. In fact, it has always been the case that conversion in Israel has been an Orthodox monopoly. This will not change. But this bill might be an obstacle to a legal challenge, mounted by the arm of the Reform movement in Israel via the Supreme court, to legitimize non-Orthodox conversions that take place in Israel.

By the way, the Reform movement in Israel has not generated much interest among secular Israelis, for most of whom “the synagogue that they don’t go to is Orthodox.”

David Rotem, who introduced the bill, is a member of the Israel Beiteinu [Israel, our home] party, which mostly represents Russian immigrants — and is strongly opposed to ultra-Orthodox control of family law. The bill is intended to reduce ultra-Orthodox influence on conversions. Israel Beiteinu also favors the institution of civil marriage, something which could be the subject of a forthcoming bill.

Lately there has been a great deal of tension between his party and PM Netanyahu’s Likud on various matters. This issue is seen on the Left as a way to split the coalition.

And this is another reason the Reform movement in the US is so energized. The leadership of the movement, which strongly supported the Obama administration, has always been left of center in Israeli politics. They are not comfortable with PM Netanyahu — whom they suspect of not being sufficiently committed to the ‘peace process’ — and violently dislike the head of Israel Beiteinu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. They would be much happier with Lieberman’s party replaced in the coalition by the left-leaning Kadima — and so would the administration.

This issue is perfect. For years there has been a simmering feud between the Reform movement in the US and Israeli Orthodoxy. Part of it is due to the arbitrary and sometimes corrupt stranglehold on matters of marriage and divorce held by the Rabbinate (ask me about how my daughter’s wedding was delayed for almost a year until her Jewishness could be documented). And it’s not helped by frequent comments from Orthodox Jews that, for example, a Reform rabbi is not a rabbi but is — I am not making this up — “a treif-fressing am ha-aretz” (an ignoramus who stuffs himself with non-kosher food).

So the URJ’s campaign has hit a nerve. Here are some examples of comments on their site:

I say: either accept those Americans who claim their Jewish heritage or those Jews will not support Israel. We are either important to Israel or the minority Orthodox outweigh us. Israel, DECIDE!

Who needs to worry about religious extremists in the Arab world, when we have our extremists in our own midst. Great civilizations have been destroyed from within, rarely from without. Get the message before it is too late.

I will like to see how the Orthodox Movement survives without the rest of the Jewish world. Let’s not just talk money wise, without the support of  “the rest of us” Israel will be alone and surrounded by enemies. I will not support “this Israel” in anyway.

A long time supporter of Israel, I must, with great sadness, announce that I am asking my fellow American Jews to shut down support of AIPAC until this disput [sic] is resolved and the rights of ALL Jewish people are protected fully under the “Law of Return”.

There is more to this from a psychological point of view. There’s a tension that exists in liberal American Jews between their overall ‘progressive’ ideology and their fear that much the Left supports those who want Israel to disappear. This gives them an opportunity to be ‘progressive’ by venting their anger against the “extremists” in Israel without getting in bed with Hamas.

There’s no doubt that the Rabbinate and ultra-Orthodox interests have created (and continue to create) a great amount of trouble for secular Israelis. In my opinion, matters of family law should be governed by the state, not by religious authorities.

But I think that the URJ and others have seized on this bill and presented it in a deliberately misleading way. They want to advance the interests of their Israeli branches — and also their political agendas — and have found a way to stir up a storm of opposition among Diaspora Jews. But from an Israeli point of view, the bill would do a great deal of good in relieving an intolerable situation. And from an Israeli point of view, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are irrelevant, just another craziness of some American immigrants.

If you want to read more about the conversion bill, here is a link to a good, detailed article in a somewhat right-wing blog, and one in the left-wing newspaper Ha’aretz. Both of these are relatively fair accounts from their respective points of view.

Update [1923 PDT]: I made a few minor changes for clarity.

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Why they bash Israel

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Yesterday I posted some light reading from the Hamas Covenant, just in case anybody still wonders who they are. It’s important to realize that those “human rights” advocates who call for boycotts and divestment from Israel are not just opposed to something. They are for something, too — and Hamas is it.

One of the themes repeated by the BIO people (Bash Israel Obsessively) is that those of us who support Israel in the US are putting Israel first, subordinating American interests to those of a foreign nation. Leaving aside the nasty implication that we’re, well, traitors, there is the premise that helping Israel hurts America. Really?

In a recent interview, Noah Pollak of the Emergency Committee for Israel asks,

I would like to know the following from those who view American and Israeli strategic interests as divergent: what interests do you advocate? Is it allowing Iran to go nuclear, or granting legitimacy to Hamas, or letting Hezbollah become stronger? Is it the desire for America to turn away from its democratic allies in order to placate dictatorships and terrorist groups? Is it the belief that we share common values with societies that sentence homosexuals to death, allow honor killings for women, and viciously discriminate against religious and racial minorities? Is it the campaign to delegitimize the only liberal democracy in the Middle East while ignoring the authoritarianism of nearly every other country in the region? What interests are these people talking about, exactly?

Here are a few choices:

  • Islamist maximalism, as exemplified by Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime, etc.
  • Saudi anti-Zionism and antisemitism (there’s no difference)
  • Pathological left-wing or anarchist extremism, ‘the new antisemitism’
  • Palestinian Arab irredentism (Fatah’s demand for ‘right of return’ comes to mind)

Which is it? Don’t keep us in the dark.

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