Archive for December, 2011

Ron Paul: anti-Zionist, racist, homophobe

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
Ron Paul on MLK day, 1992

Ron Paul on MLK day, 1992

More scans of Ron Paul’s newsletters, including racist and homophobic conspiracy theories can be found here.

Recent developments in the Republican contest for the presidential nomination have put Ron Paul in the leading position.

I never imagined that I would write the sentence above. Paul has always been considered an extremist, someone who might swing a race by attracting a few votes, but never a serious candidate for President of the United States. Many believe that it’s impossible for him to be nominated and even more so that he would be elected, but the increasing paralysis of our government, its inability to deal with even simple issues, the downward spiral of the world economy and its possible implosion, have angered and frightened many to the point that almost anything ‘different’ looks good — the more different, the better. And we all know historical precedent of yesterday’s extremist, even laughing-stock, becoming the leader of a great nation.

And Ron Paul is very different. Let’s just take his attitude toward Israel. Here’s what Philip Klein wrote recently:

Nearly three years ago, Israel launched a counterattack on Palestinian terrorists in Gaza who had been firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. In early January 2009, Paul released a web video in which he charged that Israel was launching a “pre-emptive war,” that Palestinians were living in a “concentration camp” and that they merely had “a few small missiles.”

He then repeated this claim on Press TV — the state-owned propaganda channel of Iran’s Islamist government. “To me, I look at it like a concentration camp, and people are making homemade bombs,” he said of the situation in Gaza, adding sarcastically, “like they’re they aggressors?”

Here’s the Iranian TV interview:

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Not good.

But there’s worse. Ron Paul tries to present a reasonable image today, and the Romney and Obama campaigns are happy to let him do it in order to draw support from candidates to the right of theirs. But Paul has a paper trail that is downright ugly. Here’s how James Kirchik described it in 2008:

Paul’s newsletters have carried different titles over the years–Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, TheRon Paul Survival Report–but they generally seem to have been published on a monthly basis since at least 1978. (Paul, an OB-GYN and former U.S. Air Force surgeon, was first elected to Congress in 1976.) During some periods, the newsletters were published by the Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, a nonprofit Paul founded in 1976; at other times, they were published by Ron Paul & Associates, a now-defunct entity in which Paul owned a minority stake, according to his campaign spokesman. The Freedom Report claimed to have over 100,000 readers in 1984. At one point, Ron Paul & Associates also put out a monthly publication called The Ron Paul Investment Letter.

The Freedom Report’s online archives only go back to 1999, but I was curious to see older editions of Paul’s newsletters, in part because of a controversy dating to 1996, when Charles “Lefty” Morris, a Democrat running against Paul for a House seat, released excerpts stating that “opinion polls consistently show only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions,” that “if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be,” and that black representative Barbara Jordan is “the archetypical half-educated victimologist” whose “race and sex protect her from criticism.” At the time, Paul’s campaign said that Morris had quoted the newsletter out of context. Later, in 2001, Paul would claim that someone else had written the controversial passages. (Few of the newsletters contain actual bylines.) Caldwell, writing in the Times Magazine last year, said he found Paul’s explanation believable, “since the style diverges widely from his own.”

Finding the pre-1999 newsletters was no easy task, but I was able to track many of them down at the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Of course, with few bylines, it is difficult to know whether any particular article was written by Paul himself. Some of the earlier newsletters are signed by him, though the vast majority of the editions I saw contain no bylines at all. Complicating matters, many of the unbylined newsletters were written in the first person, implying that Paul was the author.

But, whoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him–and reflected his views. What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing–but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics.

There’s lots more that could be said about Ron Paul (see here for example). But I’ve seen more than enough.

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Palestinian incitement hits the big time

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
Palestinian cartoon equates the Israeli army with Nero, Hulagu (Mongol ruler), Bush, and Hitler. Text on helmet on skull reads "Israeli army moral values". Courtesy PMW.

Palestinian cartoon equates the Israeli army with Nero, Hulagu (Mongol ruler), Bush, and Hitler. Text on helmet on skull reads "Israeli army moral values". Courtesy PMW.

One island of stability in a sea of change has been the continuous, vicious incitement to hate and murder Israelis and Jews that issues from every mouthpiece — schools, media, mosques, summer camps, textbooks, etc. — of the PLO (and I am not even talking about Hamas).  Dore Gold tells us,

Formally, there are many clauses on incitement throughout the Oslo Agreements, especially the 1995 Interim Agreement. The parties are legally bound to abstain from incitement and hostile propaganda. They were supposed to foster “mutual understanding and tolerance.” The first phase of the 2003 Roadmap calls on “all Palestinian institutions to end incitement against Israel.” But in practice many of these clauses were dormant. Israeli governments put the greatest attention to the most politically explosive issues like borders and security. The most senior officials in the Prime Minister’s office were involved in those committees and not in the incitement committee. There were those who undoubtedly felt that if Israel complained about incitement, it would be perceived that it was looking for an excuse to get out of the peace process and not make any concessions.

But it ought to be a matter of the highest priority. “After all,” Gold asks, “what prepares a Palestinian terrorist to slit the throats of Israeli children and kill their parents in cold blood?”

Arafat and Abbas both promised to end it, and Abbas even announced that he had, but neither did. Although the PLO can make concessions to Israel when it sees an advantage, this seems to be something they will never concede, either because Palestinian honor demands it, or because indoctrinating the youth to create the next generation of murderers is too important.

The contrast between Israel’s ‘educating for peace‘ by replacing Zionist history with special ‘coexistence’ curricula, and the PA’s glorification of the worst terrorists has been stark.

Until recently, this issue was below the radar of the mass media. But Newt Gingrich’s recent comment about “the hatred [Palestinians] teach in their schools” (although Gingrich gave an example which apparently was not genuine) seems to have forced them to take notice. And the issue is impossible to ignore or deny, thanks to the Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) organization, which simply records and translates material from the official Palestinian media.

The frustrating thing about PMW for those who try to blame Israel for the ongoing conflict is that what they present is cold, hard fact. They are recordings, not interpretations or arguments. Here’s a recent example, chosen at random:

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Now the NY Times’ Isabel Kershner has taken up the subject.

For years, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have said that what Palestinian leaders tell their own people in their own language — as opposed to English-language statements tailored to opinion in the rest of the world — is the truest reflection of their actual beliefs. This has had the effect of further entrenching the sides to the conflict and undermining confidence that it can ever be resolved.

“There is no doubt in my mind that in the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement, Israel is not considered legitimate,” said Shlomo Avineri, an Israeli professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflecting a widespread sense of disillusionment. “This is the inner truth of the Palestinians,” he said. “They really mean it. It is not what they say on CNN, but it is what they teach their children.”

But for many, the subject of incitement and media monitoring has become as contentious as some of the messages, especially since these pronouncements are often used to score propaganda points.

Wait a minute — evidence of Palestinian duplicity is bad because it undermines confidence?  What about the more basic issue, which is that it shows that the whole project of trading land and security for ‘peace’ is misguided? The suggestion is that publicizing Palestinian dishonesty damages the Peace Process, which might otherwise succeed. From this point of view, of course the activities of PMW are ‘contentious’!

Am I going too far? Look at this, which appears later in the piece:

Some Israelis struggle with the practice of monitoring the Palestinian news media, acknowledging the importance of knowing what is being said in Arabic, yet disturbed by how its dissemination is exploited by those not eager to see Israel make concessions.

Not clear yet? Let me make it more explicit:

The delusional Israeli Left, which wants Israel to make concessions regardless of the likely consequences, finds exposing the truth about Palestinian intentions inconvenient.

Still, it’s hard to criticize someone for simply documenting reality. What to do? Any student of rhetoric knows: attack the messenger with a traditional ad hominem:

Mr. [Itamar] Marcus, who set up Palestinian Media Watch in 1996, says that he wants to foster genuine reconciliation. His critics, however, note that he is a settler who lives in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, a contested area of the West Bank that Israel intends to keep under any agreement with the Palestinians. [my emphasis]

Let me insert an aside, although of course the question of where Marcus lives is beyond irrelevant; if Marcus lived in the most flagrant of Judean hilltop caravans, his recordings would be no less accurate. The Gush Etzion region was settled by Jews long before 1948, when the Jordanian army expelled the Jews from the region (all but four of the defenders of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion there, founded in 1927, were massacred by the Jordanians).

In response to PMW items that show maps of the entire area from the Jordan to the Mediterranean as ‘Palestine’, Kershner tries to argue that Israel, too, is guilty of bending the truth:

While the Israeli government and news media usually say the same things in Hebrew and English, Palestinians and Israeli critics say they also do little to promote the idea of a Palestinian state. Official Israeli maps do not show the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary that demarcates East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In Israeli officialdom, the West Bank is routinely referred to by its biblical names, Judea and Samaria. The Israeli education minister recently adopted a plan to take Israeli schoolchildren on trips to a historic Jewish holy site in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Actually, I have an Israeli road map in my hand that does show the Green Line, and I’ve seen it on maps produced by the government as well. It may be true that maps do not show it as a border, but the position of the Israeli government (and that of the US) is that borders will be decided by negotiations between Israel and the PA. And while it is true that Israeli maps don’t include something called ‘Palestine’, there is a state of Israel and there isn’t, at least not yet, an entity called ‘Palestine’.

The ‘biblical names’ Judea and Samaria are the names that were used for these places by everyone, including Arabs and the UN, until 1950 when the Jordanians decided to rename them to make a political point. Should Israel follow them?

Finally, what exactly is the problem with Jewish children visiting a site in Hebron (incidentally, a place where Jews lived for centuries, until 1929 when they were forced out in a murderous pogrom)? Does Kershner think we should go back to the pre-1967 condition in which Jews were not permitted to visit their holy sites?

Finally, she adds,

This summer, the Israeli police briefly detained two rabbis for questioning over their suspected endorsement of a treatise co-written by a third rabbi that seemed to justify the killing of non-Jews, even babies, in wartime.

Perhaps this is intended to show that Jews  can also be guilty of incitement. But the difference is that these are extremists, not the official TV station of the Israeli government. And note — they were detained by police. They were an embarrassment for the government, not official heroes.

Kershner wants to show, in keeping with Times ideology, that Israel is as responsible for the lack of peace as much as the Arabs and that an agreement between Israel and the PA that creates a Palestinian state is the answer to the conflict. But she concludes with an anecdote that, I think, contradicts both of these ideas:

In one of the most egregious examples of Palestinian doublespeak, Yasir Arafat spoke in a mosque in South Africa in May 1994, only months after the signing of the Oslo accords, and called on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. [Itamar] Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process.

Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”

Perhaps those “rightist groups” are on to something?

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More about Palestinian identity

Monday, December 19th, 2011

John E. Sununu, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, took issue with Newt Gingrich’s remark that the Palestinians were a [recently] “invented people.” Here is the main part of his argument:

With one callous statement he dismissed the plight of 4 million people and their desire for self-determination. Questioned about the controversial statement during a debate on Monday, he piled falsehood upon falsehood. The word “Palestinian,’’ he asserted, “did not become a common term until after 1977.’’ In denying the legitimacy of Palestinians’ identity, Gingrich’s only purpose was to deny any justification for a two-state solution for Middle East peace. If Palestinians are invented, the implication goes, so too must be their objection to the status quo.

During the debate, Gingrich claimed to “stand for the truth,’’ but that apparently does not require telling the truth. His statements are a complete fabrication. Documents prepared by the Arab Office in Jerusalem during the 1930s and ’40s refer frequently to “Palestinian Arabs,’’ “Palestinian Citizens,’’ and the potential formation of a “Palestinian State.’’ The 1973 CIA Atlas of Middle East Issues speaks of “Palestinians’’ and “Palestinian Refugees.’’

Contrary to Gingrich’s insinuation, Palestine is a real place found on maps of all kinds, created by people of all races, for hundreds of years; and the people living there have long been identified with it. The Official 1931 Census of Palestine, conducted under British auspices, counted 850,000 Palestinian Arabs – both Muslim and Christian – and 175,000 Jews. Gingrich noted that the Ottomans once ruled the region, as if that justified his statements. But the Ottoman Empire included Syria and much of the Balkans. Are they invented people too?

The name ‘Palestine’ comes from “Syria Palæstina,” a part of the Roman empire which included parts of present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, extending from the Mediterranean to the land east of the Jordan. After the defeat of the Bar-Kochba revolt in 135, many anti-Jewish actions followed. The Romans chose to name the province after the Biblical enemies of the Jews, the Philistines, who were long gone by this time.

When the area was under Ottoman control, there actually was no vilayet (province) of ‘Palestine’; the area was divided into the sanjak (a semi-autonomous region) of Jerusalem and the vilayet of Beirut. With the end of the Ottoman Empire, its Middle Eastern possessions were transferred to the British and French. The British got the area of ‘Palestine’ including what is now Jordan; they quickly detached the eastern part of it and set it aside for an Arab state (Transjordan). The western part became the British Mandate for Palestine, intended as the site of a Jewish National Home.

This was the second time in history, after the Roman period, when the name ‘Palestine’ referred to a geographical entity.

During the Mandate period, everyone who lived in the area was called a ‘Palestinian’. There were Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. My wife has a bag of buttons produced before 1948 in a Jewish factory, by the “Palestine Button Company,” in “Tel Aviv, Palestine.” The Jewish Brigade that fought with the British Army in WWII was composed of the 1st through 4th Palestine Regiments. The newspaper that is today called the Jerusalem Post was formerly called the ‘Palestine Post’. The fact that Sununu found correspondence referring to ‘Palestinian citizens’ (etc.) does not imply that there was a Palestinian people distinct from other Arabs.

Daniel Pipes places the birth of a Palestinian identity at December, 1920:

Until the late nineteenth century, residents living in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean identified themselves primarily in terms of religion: Moslems felt far stronger bonds with remote co-religionists than with nearby Christians and Jews. Living in that area did not imply any sense of common political purpose.

Then came the ideology of nationalism from Europe; its ideal of a government that embodies the spirit of its people was alien but appealing to Middle Easterners. How to apply this ideal, though? Who constitutes a nation and where must the boundaries be? These questions stimulated huge debates.

Some said the residents of the Levant are a nation; others said Eastern Arabic speakers; or all Arabic speakers; or all Moslems.

But no one suggested “Palestinians,” and for good reason. Palestine, then a secular way of saying Eretz Yisra’el or Terra Sancta, embodied a purely Jewish and Christian concept, one utterly foreign to Moslems, even repugnant to them.

This distaste was confirmed in April 1920, when the British occupying force carved out a “Palestine.” Moslems reacted very suspiciously, rightly seeing this designation as a victory for Zionism. Less accurately, they worried about it signaling a revival in the Crusader impulse. No prominent Moslem voices endorsed the delineation of Palestine in 1920; all protested it.

Instead, Moslems west of the Jordan directed their allegiance to Damascus, where the great-great-uncle of Jordan’s King Abdullah II was then ruling; they identified themselves as Southern Syrians.

Interestingly, no one advocated this affiliation more emphatically than a young man named Amin Husseini. In July 1920, however, the French overthrew this Hashemite king, in the process killing the notion of a Southern Syria.

Isolated by the events of April and July, the Moslems of Palestine made the best of a bad situation. One prominent Jerusalemite commented, just days following the fall of the Hashemite kingdom: “after the recent events in Damascus, we have to effect a complete change in our plans here. Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine.”

Following this advice, the leadership in December 1920 adopted the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Within a few years, this effort was led by Husseini.

But as I’ve argued before, this doesn’t matter. Whether ‘Palestinian’ political identity was created in 1964 by the PLO, 1977 as Gingrich says, 1920 according to Daniel Pipes, or even goes back to the ancient Canaanites — someone recently quipped that that only connection between today’s Palestinians and the Canaanites is that both of them sacrificed their own children — the problem with the proposed “two-state solution” is that for the Palestinian leadership, both states are Arab states. The rejection of a Jewish state goes back to the Mandate period and hasn’t changed since then. The differences have only been in what Palestinian leaders say in English.

Today the PLO strategy is to get a foothold in the territories and then use it to continue the struggle, by diplomatic, legal, propaganda and ultimately military means, to finally dispossess the Jews from what the Arabs consider their land. Sununu says,

According to the CIA Atlas, the fighting that followed Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948 displaced 750,000 Palestinian Arabs. Several hundred thousand more were displaced in 1967. Israelis and Palestinians have struggled to find a path to a peaceful resolution since. My point here is not to litigate this struggle, but to recognize that the conflict is real, the people are real, and the grievances are real on both sides: Israel’s unquestionable right to security, and Palestinians’ right to self-rule.

Of course the Arab refugees were displaced in a war they started, after they rejected (several times) peaceful solutions that would have given them the right to self rule. Palestinians have not “tried to find a path to a peaceful resolution since”, either — rather they have waged terrorist warfare against the Jews before and since. It is disingenuous to claim that this conflict is about self-rule, unless you mean denying it to Jews.

Sununu says, correctly, that Gingrich’s statements “contradict over 40 years of bipartisan US policy.”

Maybe it’s time that we reconsidered that policy. It certainly hasn’t brought peace any closer.

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Europe: Hands off!

Saturday, December 17th, 2011
European Union officials. Fix your own problems, leave Israel alone!

European Union officials. Fix your own problems, leave Israel alone!

The European Union, as well as EU countries independently, provide millions of dollars annually to finance left-wing Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which could not survive on what they would get from the small number of Israelis that support them.

These organizations use their resources to try to influence Israeli policies, laws, actions and even elections. They sponsor anti-government demonstrations, protests against the security fence, etc. In addition, they present highly distorted ‘data’ to the UN and to the media outside of Israel. For example, the majority of the material cited by the Goldstone Commission to support its false and libelous conclusion that Israel deliberately targeted Arab civilians in Gaza came from these NGOs.

They have also participated in ‘lawfare’, instigating prosecutions in foreign countries of Israeli officials for ‘war crimes’ which did not occur, supported boycott-divestment-sanctions, encouraged anti-Zionist activities among Arab citizens of Israel, etc.

These groups are in the forefront of the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state from without and destabilize it from within, and there is an ongoing debate in Israel’s Knesset about how to control, or at least expose, their foreign funding. An excellent summary of the issue is provided by NGO Monitor here.

No nation likes it when others interfere in its internal affairs, and the massive scale of intervention in the case of Israel is remarkable. But recently an internal EU document has come to light which calls for an even greater attack on Israeli sovereignty:

The European Union should consider Israel’s treatment of its Arab population a “core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to a classified working paper produced by European embassies in Israel, parts of which were obtained by Haaretz.

This is an unprecedented document in that it deals with internal Israeli issues. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials, it was written and sent to EU headquarters in Brussels behind the back of the Israeli government.

Other issues the document deals with include the lack of progress in the peace process, the continued occupation of the territories, Israel’s definition of itself as Jewish and democratic, and the influence of the Israeli Arab population.

The original document also included suggestions for action the EU should take, but these were removed from the final version at the insistence of several countries.

Among these were the suggestion that the EU file an official protest every time a bill discriminating against Arabs passes a second reading in the Knesset, and that the EU ensure that all Arab towns have completed urban plans, “with each member state potentially ‘adopting’ a municipality to this end.”

There is no internal issue more pressing for Israel than the relationship between the Jewish population and the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Arabs. Simplistic understandings of the admittedly difficult relationship as one of a powerful majority discriminating against a minority ignore the increasing perception of many Arabs that they are ‘Palestinians’, not Israelis (and the idea that ‘they are all disloyal’ is also simplistic and wrong).

Regardless of the details, the last thing that Israel needs is for the sanctimonious, hostile and (to a great extent) stupid European Parliament to stick its nose into the relationships between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Ironies abound here: the document was said to have been initiated by Britain, which did such a good job with Arabs and Jews during the Mandate! And the Europeans apparently fancy themselves experts on the question of integration of ethnic and religious minorities because they are doing it so successfully in their own countries!

But that’s not all:

VATICAN CITY (AFP) — Peace negotiations in the Middle East must tackle the issue of the status of the holy sites, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said Friday.

“There will not be peace if the question of the holy sites is not adequately resolved,” the Holy See’s former foreign minister said in response to a question on Jerusalem and the Israel-Palestinian problem at a Rome conference…

The Vatican says the answer is to have the global community regulate the sites — and it favours handing the task to a “large group” of states, rather than placing it in the hands of the United Nations Security Council or Europe.

There is really no ‘question of the holy sites’ that needs to be resolved. Israel, since 1967, has been guaranteeing access to all three major faiths to their sites for the first time in history. The problem is that Islamic radicals do not accept anything other than total Muslim sovereignty over the area, as shown by the recent fury over Israel’s actions to in closing a decrepit wooden bridge outside of the Temple Mount for repairs.

The fact that Muslims, and apparently some Christians, simply can’t bear the idea that these sites are in Jewish hands is not a legitimate reason to take actions that would almost certainly end in one or more religious groups being denied access.

So Israel is considered not capable of running its own politics, not capable of managing the relationship between its ethnic groups, and not capable of protecting the holy sites in Jerusalem. One would think that both the European Union and the Church ought to devote their energy to solving their own problems, some relatively serious, rather than Israel’s.

But unfortunately it seems that much of the world, while accepting without question the legitimacy and sovereignty of some rather tenuous ‘states’  (an extreme example being the recognition by many countries of ‘Palestine’) still does not think — after 63 years in which Israel has accomplished far more in science, medicine, literature, music, art, industry, standard of living and, yes, democracy than almost all of them — that Israel has a right to exist unmolested.

The message to them from Jerusalem should be simple:

Hands off.

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If not here, then where?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh: men must not listen to women sing

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh: men must not listen to women sing

It’s getting harder and harder to insist that Israel is responsible for the conflict as Arab rhetoric and actions have become more and more aggressive. Mahmoud Abbas and others have admitted that they do not now and never will accept a Jewish state in the Middle East. It’s clear that the ‘two-state solution’ that they want is in fact two Arab states.

Hamas has been happily firing rockets at Israeli civilians in the south  — 32 so far this month — and Hizballah has also launched several rockets at northern Israel, as it prepares for war and tries to push out the practically useless UN peacekeeping force. At the same time, the threats come fast and furious from Syria and Iran.

Despite this, the Obama administration would like to tamp down popular support for Israel in order to justify its hard line against her. Following Jewish critics of Israel like Peter Beinart, Tom Friedman, etc., the administration and  the usual suspects in the media have been calling Israel ‘undemocratic’, to try to drive a wedge between Israel and democracy-loving Americans.

Hillary Clinton’s remarks a couple of weeks ago are an example. Comparing Israel to Iran, she mentioned the sex-segregated buses in Mea Shearim and the controversy about observant soldiers in the IDF walking out of a performance where women were singing.

It doesn’t improve matters when an institution like the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) provides ammunition for Israel’s political enemies in this country.

Here is part of an article by an American Reform Rabbi, Daniel Allen, the Executive Director of ARZA, the Reform Zionist association, which was distributed on the URJ’s “Ten Minutes of Torah” email list:

Israel is suffering from the role of religion in the state and in the lives of its people. Judaism, as administered by the official government rabbinate is coercive in the public domain.  The Israel Defense Forces is now under pressure to prohibit women from singing in the company of men. In the halachah this is known as Kol Isha which refers to an edict in Talmud from Rav Shmuel that states that it is forbidden for a man to hear the voice of a woman.

Leading Israeli Rabbis have recently said that if a male soldier is in a situation where a fellow soldier, a woman, is singing he must leave the setting even on pain of being court marshaled and executed. The basis of this judgment comes from several passages in the Talmud. In one such passage (Sotah 48a) Rav Joseph said “When men sing and a woman joins in, it is licentious, when a woman sings and men answer, it is like a raging fire.”

Can it be that the rabbis thought so poorly of men that they are viewed as incapable of controlling their own sexual urges? Must it be that in order for men to remain “pure” women must not be present in their public, civic, communal and religious lives lest men not be able to control themselves?

It is a demeaning view of men as well as women. It is a view that plays to the basest of human behavior rather than aspiring to the highest forms of human conduct.

One of the gifts of America to the world is the separation of religion and the state. We must share that gift with Israel.

Rabbi Allen’s  remarks are misleading in several ways. First, no one reasonably imagines that the IDF would “prohibit women from singing in the company of men.” The issue is whether highly observant soldiers will be permitted to leave a venue where there is such a performance. In the case that sparked the controversy, a soldier was dismissed from an officer’s course because he walked out of an event where a woman was singing, and Israel’s Supreme Court allowed the dismissal to stand.

Second, the rabbis who insisted that a soldier must leave regardless of the consequences (Rabbi Allen apparently refers to R. Elyakim Levanon, see previous link in Hebrew) did not speak in the name of the “official government rabbinate,” and even if they had, their words would have only moral force. Israel is not governed according to halacha [Jewish law] and the last time I looked, even a rabbi has the right to express his opinion on matters of conscience.

Finally — and I would like Rabbi Allen to think carefully about this, given his patronizing remark about sharing our gift — Israel is not America.

Israel is the one and only Jewish state. As I said before, this does not mean that it is governed according to halacha, but it does mean that it must be a place where Jews can express their Jewishness as fully as possible. Of course Israel is also a democratic and tolerant state, unlike the Iran to which Ms Clinton so inappropriately compared it. So sometimes, as in this case, it requires walking an exquisitely fine line in order to permit the highly observant Jew to follow his interpretation of the commandments without coercing others, even if a less observant one finds that interpretation objectionable.  It would be wrong to prohibit women from singing, but it would also be wrong to force someone to listen.

Yes, it’s difficult, and Israel has been struggling with these issues since its beginning. Recently, the Reform Movement’s arm in Israel has been pushing very hard against what it considers the unfair monopoly held by the Orthodox establishment in Israel on family law, against anything it regards as coercive — and also for government financial support of all forms of Judaism, including Reform.

Sometimes — as it did in the case of the Rotem conversion bill which it presented as an attempt to delegitimize Diaspora Jewry, and in the case of the soldiers, it has tried to apply pressure on Israel by stirring up American Jews with oversimplified and even disingenuous interpretations of complicated issues. Especially now, when the administration has picked up the “Israel isn’t democratic” line, this is unfortunate.

Israel is not America. Israel must be a place where every Jew can feel comfortable — secular Jews, Haredim, and yes, even Reform Jews. If not here, then where?

Rabbi Daniel Allen responds:

The final paragraph of my remarks are the heart of the matter;

“Israel is truly extraordinary by its very existence. This is all the more reason for us to work every day for a more inclusive, democratic, Jewish pluralistic Israeli society. Kol Isha v’Kol Ish – the voices of all men and women are needed to protect Israel and to enable her to thrive.”

You draw a distinction between those who are more observant and those who are less observant. I assume your reference is to traditional halachic Jewish practice. I appreciate that you did not suggest that differences in observance correlates to “being religious” or superior in any way. Pluralism, which is historically common  within the Jewish people( see Hillel and Shammai, Mitnagdim and Hassidim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim for a start) is the essence of the issue. It is not an easy task to create and sustain a Jewish democratic state living in a tough neighborhood. Yet, that is the privilege with which we are blessed in our time.

We have no desire to change the private practices of other Jews, nor do wish them to change our private practices. However, there must be equality, parity, and acceptance of all Jews in the public square. If Israel chooses to fund Jewish religious life, which is certainly a different decision than America, it must do so for all Jews. Israeli Orthodox Rabbis are paid by the State, congregational buildings are built by the state, schools are funded by the state – we  demand  the same funding based on our growing numbers.  Gender separation in the public domain is antithetical to the very essence of democracy. It must not be allowed.

Ours is a movement open to all, a big tent like that of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah. Israel must be more than a place where all Jew can feel comfortable. Israel must be a place where all Jews can thrive, where issues of personal religious status are not determined by only one segment of society, in this case Orthodoxy, and where equal funding based on levels of participation are normative. I agree that Israel is the one and only Jewish state. However there is not just one way to be Jewish, or to do Jewish, or to embrace and be embraced by our God.

— Rabbi Daniel Allen

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