Archive for July, 2011

Kindergarten Zionism

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Little Zionists celebrate Purim in Kibbutz Sarid, 1930's

Little Zionists celebrate Purim in Kibbutz Sarid, 1930's

You’d think that this doesn’t deserve mention in a newspaper:

Beginning this September, Jewish nursery and kindergarten teachers will be required to open the week with the raising of the Israeli flag and the singing of “Hatikva,” in accordance with new directives issued by the Education Ministry.

The preschool teachers will also be required to teach the children the state symbols once a week. The directives state that by next Independence Day, “All the children will know the words to the national anthem.”

Could anything be less exceptional? This is done in the US and certainly in many other nations.

According to the Education Ministry, the directives will not be implemented in the Arab sector. “We are conducting discussions in the Preschool Department to see how we can adapt [the directives] to this sector,” the ministry said.

Oh — a problem. OK, leave Arab schools out. Israel is a special country where a large part of a large minority identifies with its enemies. That’s a subject for another post. I just hope ‘adapting’ doesn’t mean that they will be allowed to raise a Palestinian flag and sing the Palestinian national anthem, which, by the way, includes this:

With the resolve of the winds and the fire of the guns
And the determination of my nation in the land of struggle
Palestine is my home, Palestine is my fire,
Palestine is my revenge and the land of endurance

But some Israeli Jews are unhappy. The article continues,

“It looks like a competition between members of the Likud to see who can push us faster into the arms of fascism,” said Prof. Gabi Solomon of the University of Haifa, an Israel Prize laureate for education.

“There’s definitely a place for Zionist education for Jews,” Solomon said. “But it has to be balanced by democratic values. We are a Jewish and democratic state and without this balance even the best of intentions sound chauvinistic.”


It is ‘fascism’ to raise the flag and to learn the words to the national anthem? Americans did these things all through WWII and it didn’t make them pro-Hitler — probably the opposite. And how is it anti-democratic — does it take away anyone’s right to vote?

Prof. Solomon thinks that Zionism must be ‘balanced’ by democratic values. But there’s nothing undemocratic (or democratic, for that matter) about Zionism, which is compatible with any form of government that allows Israel to be the state of the Jewish people.

The tension is in the mind of those like Solomon, who appear to think that ‘democracy’ means that each group in a state has an equal voice. It doesn’t. In a democracy, each citizen has a vote, and — with safeguards to ensure the civil rights of minorities — the majority rules.

Israel is a Jewish state with a Jewish flag and national anthem, and that is the way the majority wants it. While Arab residents might prefer otherwise, as long as their civil rights — the right to vote, fair treatment in housing, employment, etc. — are not violated, this does not make it undemocratic.

Israel can be a democratic state that gives equal civil rights to all of its citizens, while still being the state that belongs to the Jewish people and that exists for the Jewish people. For those non-Jews who nevertheless feel diminished or infuriated by living in such a state, they are not required to do so. After all, there are 23 Arab states among 192 other members of the UN to choose from.

Some anti-Zionist Israelis seem to be prepared to resist in a passive-aggressive way:

Y., a kindergarten teacher in the Tel Aviv area, said she didn’t think teachers would implement the directives.

“I’m certain that no teacher will even know about this,” she said. “Even the most diligent teachers read until page 7 of the pamphlet of directives; no one will get to page 11.”

“Even though it obligates us, nobody bothers asking us about it,” she continued. “In any case, I have no way of raising a flag, because I don’t have a flagpole.

“In the past they tried to do something like this and it didn’t go over,” Y. said. “I know that in Binyamina there was a kindergarten that tried something like this two years ago, and the parents just rebelled. They started bringing their kids late in the morning on purpose.”

I can see it now: “Moshe, put your pants on more slowly, do you want to arrive early and become a fascist?”

The new directives are part of a series of initiatives launched by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar aimed at strengthening pupils’ Jewish and Zionist identity. These have included “adopting” a grave of a fallen soldier, school visits to Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Israeli Journey program sponsored by the Bereshit association headed by Rabbi Motti Elon, and expanding visits to Jerusalem, with a stress on the City of David.

Sa’ar has also instructed schools to increase their cooperation with the IDF, and officers are invited to motivate both teachers and pupils.

Last year, the ministry introduced a new subject to the state schools’ curriculum called Jewish Heritage and Culture, taught in grades six through eight for two hours weekly. The class teaches about the Jewish calendar and “the Jewish people’s link to the Land of Israel.”

Why is this necessary? Because in recent years the Israeli educational system has removed material about Jewish history in the land of Israel from the curriculum. After 1993, a succession of left-wing Education Ministers took out references to ancient Israel and even recent wars in order to “educate for peace” (of course the Palestinian Authority developed its educational system to create a generation of haters and even encouraged ‘martyrdom’ for their cause). Emphasis on Jewish history was replaced by a universalistic approach that was more congenial to the Left.

At the same time, propaganda from anti-Zionist sources — the false history of the ‘new historians’, the nakba narrative, even pseudo-scientific arguments that there is no Jewish people — proliferate.

In part as a result, the number of young Israelis avoiding the draft has soared. Intellectual destruction makes possible physical destruction.

There is nothing inherently fascist or wrong with loving one’s country, with identifying with one’s people, and even with valuing them more than other groups. This is a normal human characteristic, which should not be confused with manifestations of excessive particularism like racism or chauvinism. It is not necessary to destroy the former in order to prevent the latter.

Maybe it’s because we live in a world where ethnic and religious hatred is more the rule than the exception — may I point out that this is especially a problem in the Muslim world? — that we go to extremes to try to stamp out any such attitudes among ourselves. The Jewish people has been particularly ‘extremist’ in this regard, in some cases to the point of encouraging national suicide.

Let’s get a grip: raise the flag, sing the national anthem, learn about the history of the Jews in the Land of Israel and the heroism of the Jewish fighters that have made it possible for, finally, there to be one tiny Jewish state.

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A short history lesson

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

If you haven’t seen this 6-minute video starring Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, it’s worth watching.

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He touches on some important points, which I’ll expand into a short history lesson:

There never was an Arab state of ‘Palestine’.  After WWI, the victorious Allies carved up the territory that had been in the possession of the Ottoman empire for about 400 years.  ‘Palestine’ was actually composed of several former Ottoman provinces, and 74% of it was east of the Jordan River.

All of this land was earmarked for Jewish settlement by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was adopted by the victorious Allies at the San Remo conference in 1920, and made part of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1922. In the Mandate, Britain was charged with facilitating the development of a Jewish national home (that didn’t work out too well).

Several Arab countries were created at about the same time, including ‘Transjordan’ — the part of Palestine east of the Jordan, which was given by the British in 1921 to Abdullah, the great-great-grandfather of the present Jordanian king, as a present for his (minimal) support during the war. This was really the first ‘partition’ of Palestine.

In 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution calling for the area from the Jordan to the Mediterranean to be divided into a Jewish and Arab state. Every Arab state and the representatives of the Palestinian Arabs rejected it.

In 1948, when the British Mandate ended, Israel declared a state in ‘Palestine’, and five Arab nations joined with the Palestinian Arabs to try to nip it in the bud. When they failed, armistice talks in 1949 demarcated a line of disengagement — which the Arabs specifically demanded must have no political significance. This line is what everyone calls the “pre-1967 borders.” They are not and never were borders!

After the war, Jordan ‘annexed’ the territories. They called this area the “West Bank.” Before then, it had always been “Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.” But only the UK and Pakistan recognized the annexation.

In 1967, Egypt, Syria and Jordan launched another war to destroy the Jewish state — yes, they ‘launched’ it. Although Israel fired the first shot, even the UN agreed that Israel was not guilty of aggression but fought a defensive war. As everyone knows, Israel conquered Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem in that conflict.

After the war, the Arabs refused (Khartoum, Sept. 1, 1967) to negotiate with Israel, recognize her or allow her to live in peace. And UN Security Council resolution 242 was passed, stating that all nations in the area, including Israel, had a right to “secure and recognized boundaries,” boundaries that were to be negotiated between the parties and not intended to be identical to the 1949 lines (which were neither secure nor recognized).

So now Judea, Samaria and Eastern Jerusalem are called ‘occupied territories’, as if it were like the US occupation of Japan after WWII. But what country was occupied? Not ‘Palestine’, which was not and never had been a country. And not Jordan, which had no legitimate right to be there in the first place.

Danny Ayalon calls them ‘disputed territories’, after the model of so many other places in the world that are claimed by more than one nation. But I wouldn’t go even that far. First, there is no legitimate Palestinian nation to claim them — and even if there were, Israel, the state of the Jewish people, has a prima facie claim on the area from the Mandate.

Note also that settlements are said to be illegal in occupied territory “by the Geneva Convention.” Even if the fourth Geneva Convention (art. 49) — which was intended to prohibit actions like Germany’s forced population transfers during WWII — can be construed to apply to voluntary settlement which does not displace anyone, it certainly cannot apply to territory that is not ‘occupied’ or another country.

Now look at President Obama’s ‘peace’ plan in the light of the above:

He calls for an end to Jewish settlements — in other words, he demands the forcible transfer of a population of as many as 500,000 people against their will from a place where they are legally resident. If this isn’t a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, I don’t know what is! And to add icing to the cake, a religious criterion is applied to decide who will be deported!

He insists that Israel must withdraw from all of the “West Bank” — with the exception of “mutually agreed swaps.” This implies at best that the 1949 armistice lines determine the absolute size of the state of Israel, since any expansion requires equal compensation. But at worst, if the Arabs refuse to agree to swaps, then the 1949 lines become the borders!

If Obama isn’t aware of history, neither are the Palestinians. Negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Ayalon’s video “expresses open hostility to the Palestinian people.” It’s impossible to understand this in a meaningful historical sense, so I presume it’s based on the “Palestinian narrative” in which their (invented) ancient civilization was dispossessed by European Jews, and that is what is meant by ‘occupation’.

Now that the Palestinian Authority has made it clear that it does not and will not accept the existence of a Jewish state, it’s time for new ideas. Caroline Glick recently suggested that Israel should unilaterally annex all of Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem, including its Arab residents. This idea doesn’t appeal to me (the part about the Arab residents).

But I do think that Israel legitimately can and should annex parts of the territories, in particular those with large Jewish populations, those containing holy places — because otherwise no Jew will set foot in them again — and those necessary for strategic reasons, to create the secure boundaries that the Arabs and Obama wish to deny Israel.

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A local girl in the IDF

Monday, July 18th, 2011
Darrow Pierce (left) with Bedouins

Darrow Pierce (left) with Bedouins on her first trip to Israel

I can’t overemphasize how honored I feel to have received permission to publish the following letter. It is from a young woman from Fresno, Darrow Pierce, who recently moved to Israel and began her army service.

So what’s so special about this? Darrow is. She’s very, very smart, but there are lots of smart people. What distinguishes Darrow is the degree to which she is able to perceive the world clearly, think for herself and act on her beliefs.

I’ve known Darrow and her parents for some years — her parents are well-educated professionals who would describe their politics as ‘progressive’. Darrow even participated in an interfaith summer program led by a Palestinian, one who is anything but a friend of Israel.

It would be an understatement to say that her parents were not enthusiastic when Darrow informed them of her plans. But you don’t raise someone like Darrow by accident, and they understood that an adult gets to make her own decisions — and also that the Israeli-Arab conflict is more complicated than it may have seemed before.

I have reproduced Darrow’s letter exactly as received, including some things that sound like she was thinking in Hebrew.

By Darrow Pierce

In December of 2009, despite great opposition from family and friends, I moved to Israel, gained citizenship and started learning Hebrew in a kibbutz in northern Israel. In 2010, I joined Garin Tzabar (a program that helps new Israelis acclimate and prepare for their army service). My “garin” (meaning “seed” in Hebrew) has people from 10 different countries and lives on Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak. After living, learning, drafting, complaining, fighting, bonding, crying and laughing with each other, we’ve become a wonderfully eclectic sort of family. We live two kilometers from Gaza and a five-minute drive (as I accidentally discovered one day) from Egypt.

Life on a kibbutz is normally a quiet one, but that’s not the case where I live — Hamas regularly fires Qassam rockets, ‘patzmarim,’ (rockets too small to trigger alarms) and the occasional phosphor bomb into my neighborhood. On weekends home from the army (I’m on base from Sunday to Thursday, and my weekends are free off base), I often find myself running for my life to nearby bomb shelters or cooped up in them for hours on end. It was a hard thing to get used to after growing up in the Tower District [Fresno’s ‘bohemian’ neighborhood]. I can’t begin to describe the immobilizing hopelessness you feel waiting for bombs to fall. Sometimes, you don’t have time to be scared. You suddenly hear explosions and your doors and windows unexpectedly shake. It’s not like this in the whole country; living so close to Gaza has some disadvantages.

I drafted in January to be a physical trainer/sports instructor in the army. In basic training, we learned to shoot an M16. My officers repeatedly emphasized the responsibility of having a gun, the importance of using it only when absolutely necessary, respect, self-discipline, humility, and many other values good soldiers display. After finishing my course, in which I learned (in my new language) about physiology, nutrition, sports injuries and anatomy, I was placed on a base eight hours away from my kibbutz. The base focuses on education. New immigrants whose Hebrew levels aren’t high enough go to study Hebrew and start basic training there.

Because I have no family in Israel, I’m classified as a ‘lonely soldier.’ While other soldiers go back to a clean home and cry on mom’s shoulder, complain to dad about how incompetent their officer is, and eat home-made food, lone soldiers must go home, do their own laundry, shop for and cook their own food, clean their own houses, and maybe skype their family if the time difference allows. The toll it takes on one is heavy and unexpected. I haven’t seen my parents for eleven months, and by the time I go back to California, I won’t have been home for a year and a half.

Overall, I’d say my experience in the Israeli army has been a positive one. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because I spoke no Hebrew before moving to Israel, I often found myself in trouble but unable to understand why. But the army has taught me many things besides a second language. I’m exposed to many different cultures and people — immigrants from all over the world, kibbutzniks, Druze, Israeli Arabs, people from villages, cities, religious, secular, etc. I’ve matured immensely and learned how to deal with stress better.

I’m comfortable living alone. I’m financially independent. I can figure out how to get anywhere on a bus. Being forced to draft after high school creates a more mature younger generation. Instead of thinking about classes or work or what to do because they dropped out, Israeli high school graduates are focused on getting into the best army units possible. Because I drafted instead of going to college, I will bring a seriousness and focus to my formal education that I didn’t possess before.

Both being in the army and living in a war zone have also changed much of my political view on Israel. Before I moved here, I thought that it was easy for people to get along, and that everyone should simply do so. I once thought it unproductive to build walls and enforce blockades. But after seeing violence, deep-rooted, blind hatred and stubborn ignorance from both sides, and how every single person in Israel and Palestine is affected by war, I understand that it’s not so simple. I’ve met many families that have had to bury children or parents or loved ones. Fear and pain are constant presences at every age. And when your own life is threatened time and time again, your opinions change.

It’s eternally frustrating to see how international media muddy things by irresponsibly regurgitating inaccuracies about what happens here without checking facts. The result is one-sided stories that distort Israel’s actions. I’m not saying that Israel can do no wrong, but there are two sides to every coin, and there are no innocent parties here. So much falls through the cracks. For example, the world claims that Israeli aircraft indiscriminately bomb Gaza, but fails to mention Israel’s extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties, and that Israel launches airstrikes only in retaliation against Hamas’ own strikes against the Israeli civilian population.

There have been many times when I’ve wished to go home with all of my aching body and mind. But when I really think about it, I’d never trade this experience for anything. It was especially during those hard times that I grew as a person and as a citizen of this world. I once heard that moving to Israel is like a marriage — you give, take, fight, love, disagree, compromise, and work on your relationship with the country and the people. For some it doesn’t work out, and others are happy for the rest of their lives. I don’t know what’ll happen after I discharge from the army, but for now, my marriage is going great.

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Why the Palestinian Arabs can’t be ignored

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Someone recently asked me why I write so much about the Palestinian Arabs rather than Iran, which is really a much greater threat to Israel. One reason is that everyone knows how serious the Iranian threat is, while there continue to be be people who think that the ‘peace process’ is worth pursuing. So I write articles like yesterday’s piece about Palestinian Arab attitudes, or my recent post arguing (for the nth time) that the real issue is recognition of the Jewish state, not borders or occupation.

Another reason is that the Palestinian Arabs, combined with the increasingly radicalized Arab citizens of Israel, really are a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. Perhaps not so much a military threat — at least, by themselves — but as a wedge issue for the anti-Zionist forces throughout the world. Think of the massive resources poured into anti-Israel NGOs by the European Union. They could almost bail out the Greeks if they would only leave Israel alone!

The Palestinian Arabs also have hurt Israel greatly over the years by waging low-intensity war — several thousand Israeli Jews have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since 1993, and many more seriously injured. It’s impossible to ignore the human, economic and psychic damage in the tiny Jewish population for which they are responsible.

If they do succeed in establishing a sovereign state in the territories, then it is likely to become another base for Iranian proxy forces, like Lebanon and Gaza.

And finally, when the inevitable war with Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Syria plays out, we can expect that they will at least ramp up terrorism and perhaps open another front.

With respect to the Iranian threat, we probably know what’s coming, although of course we don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be. Former Mossad head Meir Dagan, as well as ex-CIA officer Robert Baer — both individuals who must be taken seriously — seem to believe that the present Israeli government is moving toward an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Even if this is not true, there is no doubt that Iran already has or shortly will have the ability to produce a deliverable weapon. Once this happens, I think a preemptive attack will be inevitable.

Finally, it’s unlikely that Israel can allow the massive conventional and chemical/biological threat from its northern border to remain.

It may be that all of these issues will be resolved at the same time.

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Poll demolishes Arab “grass roots” theory

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

One of the things I used to hear, and sometimes still do, was that Israelis and Palestinian Arabs could solve their problems if they could just get together at the “grass roots” level. It’s those extremist leaders, they would say, Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, who are the problem. The average Israeli Jew and Palestinian Arab just want the same things everyone else does, peace, a good job, a dignified life. Each side only needs to understand the other, and they’ll see that conflict is counterproductive.

To this end there were numerous initiatives, organizations, encounter groups, etc. which tried to make possible the communication that their promoters believed would dissolve the conflict.

It never worked, and it will not work because grass roots Jews and Arabs do not want the same things — in particular, what the Arabs want is to possess the land and evict the Jews. This isn’t something that you can compromise about, nor will better communication change anything.

Palestinian Arab leaders reflect the grass roots point of view as much or more than they create it. Recently the leaked ‘Palestine papers’ got some Fatah negotiators in very hot water because it was suggested that perhaps they may have been willing to compromise to some degree on the issue of ‘right of return’.

Now a new poll of Palestinian Arabs exposes the grass roots for what they are: rejectionist.

Only one in three Palestinians (34 percent) accepts two states for two peoples as the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to an intensive, face-to-face survey in Arabic of 1,010 Palestinian adults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip completed this week by American pollster Stanley Greenberg…

Respondents were asked about US President Barack Obama’s statement that “there should be two states: Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people and Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people.”

Just 34% said they accepted that concept, while 61% rejected it.

Sixty-six percent said the Palestinians’ real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state.

Asked about the fate of Jerusalem, 92% said it should be the capital of Palestine, 1% said the capital of Israel, 3% the capital of both, and 4% a neutral international city.

Seventy-two percent backed denying the thousands of years of Jewish history in Jerusalem, 62% supported kidnapping IDF soldiers and holding them hostage, and 53% were in favor or teaching songs about hating Jews in Palestinian schools.

When given a quote from the Hamas Charter about the need for battalions from the Arab and Islamic world to defeat the Jews, 80% agreed. Seventy-three percent agreed with a quote from the charter (and a hadith, or tradition ascribed to the prophet Muhammad) about the need to kill Jews hiding behind stones and trees. — Jerusalem Post

There were, it’s true, some results that were interpreted as positive:

only 22% supported firing rockets at Israeli cities and citizens and … two-thirds preferred diplomatic engagement over violent “resistance.”

Among Palestinians in general 65% preferred talks and 20% violence. In the West Bank it was 69-28%, and in Gaza, 59- 32%.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence that these peaceful tendencies can be attributed to fear of Israel’s retaliation. And today the Arabs see clearly that the diplomatic track — with background pressure from ‘militants’ who are naturally not connected with the leadership and allegedly can’t be controlled by them — is inexorably producing gains for the Arab program, without the need for massive violence.

Two decades ago, the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state was supported only by Arab-related interests and the extreme Left. Today, it is a major policy goal of the US and the European Union. Until recently, the blueprint for creating such a state was UNSC resolution 242, which called for borders to be determined by the parties involved, borders which were specifically not intended to be the 1949 lines. Today, it’s 1949 lines plus swaps. A few years ago, the idea of ‘right of return’ for the descendents of Arab refugees was not taken seriously. Today, Obama refuses to rule it out — or to insist on recognition of the Jewish state.

The conventional wisdom today, accepted by most of the Western world, is that the territories are ‘Palestinian’ and Israeli settlements there are illegal. Never mind that these propositions are historically, legally and morally wrong.

There is also the purported urgency. Everyone believes, or at least repeatedly says, that the Palestinians can’t wait any longer. Never mind that they turned down statehood several times, because the terms that were offered didn’t include the end of Israel.

The diplomatic strategy is going quite well for them, thank you, and they don’t see any need to bring about another operation Defensive Shield or Cast Lead.

No, there is remarkable unanimity of opinion among Palestinian Arabs — they know what they want, and it isn’t coexistence. But the poll’s pro-Israel sponsor, The Israel Project, is remarkably upbeat in the face of what is objectively a complete demolition of the “communicate with the grass roots” theory:

Israel Project president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said she was encouraged that the Arab Spring would bring more accuracy to Arab media and by the 59% of Palestinians who are on Facebook. The Israel Project has 80,723 friends for its Arabic site, which has had 9.5 million page views in two months.

“Some of the numbers in the poll are discouraging, but we are trying to change them,” she said at a Jerusalem press conference in which Greenberg presented the findings.

Greenberg said the survey proved that there was a big need for public education and leadership on the Palestinian side.

Facebook isn’t the answer. How long will it be before these people start to get it?

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