Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Light Unto The Nations

Finally some good news out of Israel. An Israeli company will be building the worlds largest solar energy facility in California's Mojave desert.

The $2 billion project will supply enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in central and northern California. The Mojave Solar Park is expected to be completed in 2011.

Climate change, and the related energy crises, are the two biggest problem facing the world today. It is nice to see Israeli ingenuity being turned to help address these problems.

So, is energy poor Israel itself considering using this technology? Not yet it seems. Critics in Israel blame that on "bureaucratic roadblocks." However, the Israeli government did recently announced plans for a pilot solar plant near Dimona.

For more details see this article in from the JTA.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tishah B'Av

Here are some thoughts about Tisha Ba'av. Perhaps overly sad and scary. But Tisha Ba'av asks us to confront the worst possibilities in Jewish and human history.

This is an edited version of a conversation that took place on the Reconstructionist email list.

* * *

Eric: Lets start looking again for insights re Tisha Ba'av for this year. Let's not get mired in the detail of fasting or other ritual function, or in the smug politics of Judaism survived because the Temple's destruction permitted the Prushim (rabbinic) Jews to finally liberate themselves from the Tzdokkim (Temple cult Jews) or the old Zionist's idea that 1948 eliminated the need for Tisha B'av, or the idea that Jewish history is only Historia Dolorosa and Tisha B'av observances its major sancta. Let's try and draw out some real meaning for ourselves.

Me: Well a question that leaps to mind (at least my mind) is: If indeed - biglal chataeynu gaalnu - because of our sins we where exiled, then what will happen as a result of our sins in Israel today? : corruption, greed, sexual exploitation, a growing social gap nd underclass, mistreatment of foreign workers (including but not limited to Palestinians), systemic discrimination against Israeli Arabs, and of course the many crimes and multiple oppressions inflicted by the occupation. And what should be the attitude of these who see these sins and see the dangers.

Remember that Jeremiah, not only wrote the book of Lamentations, he also warned about the destruction prior to it happening and urged - to no avail - a change of course. And also let us not forget that Jeremiah, as a symbolic act, purchased a tract of land in Judea - even though he could not occupy it after the Babylonian invasion - as a sign that someday - after the Jews repentance and forgiveness - he or his descendants would return.

Then he went down to Egypt to help build a strong diaspora community there.

It also occurs to me that Israel may be a 2nd Maccabean State. Necessary, for sure, for the revitalization of the Jewish people and its long term survival, but seriously corrupt and riven by dissension and about the essence of what it means to be Jewish, and ruled by subsequently weaker and weaker and more and more corrupt leaders, till eventually it becomes a vassal of the great power of the day, and then ultimately is destroyed as an independent political entity, with great suffering to the Jews living in the Land. There likely would not be a Jewish people today if the Maccabees had not succeeded in their revolt, but nor would there be Jews if the Maccabean State had long survived in the pattern they soon established.

And it also crosses my mind that all the Diaspora suffering that we commemorate, as an add on - to Tisha Ba'av, is also real, and that the one of the hopes of a renewed Jewish State was to end that Jewish suffering. And now Israel is the centre of most Jewish suffering and existential threat.

Mark: I was with you right to the end, Syd. The historical analysis seems right. But the very last sentence seems a challenge. I'd agree that Israel is AT the centre of most Jewish suffering and existential threat. (Though not all. Religious bifurcation is a cause of much suffering, and assimilation is another big existential threat.) But I'm not sure it IS the centre.

The Maccabean state existed for generations before it collapsed. Corruption may have set in early, but as you say, the system served a purpose for a time. I'm inclined to think the modern state hasn't outlived its usefulness either. I'd like to see it transformed. I think it's useful to think of the Maccabean state as an object lesson. The current, embarrassing richness of corruption is a warning. But it's as wrong to deny the relief of Jewish suffering wrought by Israel as it is to deny the wealth generated by capitalism just because of Conrad Black.

The practical question is: How do you convert a state from wrong to right? The first part of the answer has to be to envision the state we want. Not a small challenge right there.

Ben: I think Mark has misspecified the practical question. The challenge is NOT to envision the state we want, but to envision the political arrangements we think will best lead to the future we want.

We need a radical change in our thinking. Regarding Israel, we have to stop thinking in terms of supporting a state and more in terms of supporting a set of political arrangements and structures we want and need. Perhaps reorienting our way of thinking is best facilitated by reminding ourselves of the following:

The Zionist movement did not embrace the political demand for a state until the Biltmore Conference in 1942. From an ideological and values-based perspective, the demand for a "state" was not essential. It became a political demand only when practical circumstances made this political demand a tactical -- but very definitely NOT moral -- imperative. The state that has emerged is the result of political compromises that nobody particularly liked.

Lee: "The state that has emerged is the result of political compromises that nobody particularly liked."

Since most modern states emerged from the result of such compromises, I'm not sure how useful it is to remind ourselves of this fact. Perhaps a more useful fact to keep in mind is that the State of Israel exists regardless of whether you like it or not.

Me: This discussion started on the topic of T'isha Ba'av, not practical geo-politics.

As a religious group, dedicated to articulating, promoting, and passing on our transcendent values, we need to be careful not to slip too quickly into the practical political mode. (That has its place, but it must always be the 2nd place.)

Israel is a compromise, as are all existing States. That is why we should not embrace, promote, idolize, or hold up as our goal any State. I would no more want to see an Israeli flag on the Bima of my synagogue as a Canadian Flag. States come and go. Sometimes they do more good than harm, sometimes more harm than good. We should not worship States, including the State of Israel.

I actively wish, hope, pray, and work (not as much as I should) for a world where Jews can live freely and have a flourishing and morally just culture, wherever they live, and especially in the land of Israel. I also wish this for other people and peoples.

On Tisha Ba'av we might wish to see that God (the normative Jewish Consciousness through many generations) decrees that a sinful people is not worthy of sovereign political power in its homeland. That righteousness must precede (in both senses of the word) power, and not vice versa.

This attitude may or may not change Israel's policies. But it will give us some integrity in our religious life, and may be more valuable for the preservation and thriving of Judaism and the Jewish people than a religious fixation solely on the survival of the State.

* * *

For some similar thoughts in the mainstream Jewish press see this article from the JTA.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Racist Jewish State

The headline of this article is not mine but rather that of today's Ha'aretz editorial. And if a proposed law that just passed first reading (it requires two more votes to become law) is enacted, there will be no doubt that the defacto discrimination against Arabs that exists in Israel will become fully de-jure. The law will become a full partner in Jewish chavanism and in anti-Arab discrimination. The Apartheid State will have crossed over from the territories to Israel proper.

The Knesset plenum approved a bill Wednesday, in its preliminary reading, which calls for all lands under the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to be allocated to Jews only. The bill passed by a massive majority of 64 MKS to 16.

The bill, is geared to bypass a 2004 court ruling which annulled an Israel Lands Administration (ILA) policy that prevented Arabs from participating in bids to purchase land owned by the JNF.

As a result of the ruling, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided that all land managed by the ILA, including land owned by the Jewish National Fund, will be marketed without discrimination or limits including to non-Jews.

Hadash Chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh called the bill an "abominable legislation" and added that, "this is another expression of a series of racist laws that are series of racist laws that are passed every day in the state of the Jews. The Arab population won't accept the theft of their rights to the lands that have been expropriated from them for years."

In response to the bill, MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra`am-Ta`al) said "this is institutionalized Jewish racism and ethnic democracy that is raging against anything Arab."

The Meretz faction said that the government's support in the racist bill exposes its real face. "The Knesset is giving an excellent excuse for whoever is asking to represent Israel as an apartheid state which must be destroyed," said the party's statement.

The JNF directly controls 13% of the land of Israel. Most of this was land of Arabs who fled in 1948, and was subsequently purchased from the State of Israel. Its sister organization, the Israel Lands authority controls another approximately 70% of the land.

We should all hope and pray that the Knesset comes to its senses and rejects this terrible law. The result will be to Israel's everlasting shame.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Debbie Freedman Goes Mainstream

Its more of an acknowledgment of what has already happened than the wave of the future, but nevertheless it was gratifying to see that folk/rock liturgical composer Debbie Freedman has been appointed to the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music in New York.

It has taken over 30 years for Freedman to gain this stature, though her music has infiltrated not only new age Havurot, but very many Reconstuctionist, Reform and even Conservative synagogues. Opera style, virtuoso cantorial performances may still be appropriate for Kol Nidrei, but most modern shul goers - myself included - want simpler melodies and music that we can sung along to when so moved. Freedman has provided these for 30 years, and its good to see her and her musical style and the modern do-it-yourself Judaism it represents finally being acknowledged by a major Jewish institution.

For more see this article by the JTA.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why Terrorism Doesn't Work

Here is an interesting article on why terrorism does not work. Why it rarely achieves the policy objectives of the terrorists.

Briefly, the thesis of the article is that the victims of terrorism, rather than listening to the terrorists declared objectives, assume that the terrorists real objectives are simply to cause their death and destruction. People, in general, assume the motive of an action from its results. They assume that declared objectives are just a smoke screen. Since terrorists kill innocent people, their ultimate goal must be to kill more innocent people. And why would you placate people who only want to kill you, your family and your friends?

This "correspondent inference theory" makes sense to me? It certainly explains the reaction of most Israelis and most Jews to Palestinian suicide bombings.

But it also explains why Israeli actions - such as: "targeted" assassinations that kill as many innocent passers by as "targets"; harassment and intimidation of Palestinians at checkpoints; limiting Palestinians freedoms and economic prospects so that most Palestinians are now impoverished; - are equally ineffective. The Palestineans assume, that since the results of these policies make their lives misearble, that that is the ultimate goal of these Israeli policies. And why would you compromise with a bunch of SOBs whose only goal is to make you a miserable third class being?

I wish all sides could read and absorb the implications of this article. Harming civilians rarely works. Not only is it immoral, it is counter productive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Irony, Insensitivity and Incompetance

Doesn't the Museum of "Tolerance" see the irony of its building its new Jerusalem museum right on top of a Muslim cemetery. And what do they plan to do with the bones they find when digging their foundations?

Of course if a museum was being built on a Jewish cemetery in Eastern Europe, the Simon Weisenthal Center- the Museum of Tolerance's parent body - would be leading the outraged charge to stop it.

And what of the Israel Antiquities Authority, that has approved this project? (See the article in Haaretz.) Is it racist? Or incompetent? Or gutless? But it also seems that the IAA can overlook Jewish interests when the political heat is on. It has refused, for example, to comment on whether it approved, or not, construction activity by the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount. Construction that will very likely damage any archaeological materials on the site. (See article here.)

Of course, it could be that the IAA is racist, incompetent and gutless.

But the IAA is a government agency. One should expect such things from faceless bureaucrats. The Museum of Tolerance, however, claims to be a moral force: working for tolerance and respect for all people. Except, it seems for Jerusalem's Muslims.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Maybe Barak Doesn't Need a Large Operation

Maybe I am not so smart. Maybe Ehud Barak will not need to start a major operation in Gaza to prove his mettle and improve his popularity.

In a previous posting, I predicted that Barak would start a major Operation in Gaza sometime in August or September: this primarily for domestic political purposes, to prove he is a worthy defense minister, and the best candidate for Prime Minister after Ehud Olmert's, no doubt, shorter than average one term in office.

But two headlines in today's Haaretz - "IDF pull out of Gaza After Killing 11 Palestinian Militatnts", and "Barak becoming increasingly popular as candidate for PM" - lead me to suspect he may be able to accomplish his goal with "only" a series of relatively minor operations. If he can keep these up, and convince the Israeli public that he is tough but balanced, and that he indeed can keep towns like Sderot relatively safe, we may be all spared the "major operation" which I predicted. And with Hamas so desperately trying to prove its "respectability" to the world, it may actually voluntarily cooperate reducing rocket attacks on Israel in the next few months. This despite it militant calls for immediate revenge.

Shvartze Chassidus

Shvartze Chassidus - ya gotta love it.

Watch this - especially the gospel music at the end.



Here is a link to an amazing set of photos of pre-war Polish Jewish life. Although skewed to the religious - perhaps Jews with beards and shtreimels simply are more photographicaly interesting than clean shaven bare headed Jews - it still well worth a look.