Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rabin As A Symbol in the Jewish Wars; Palstineans Irrelevant

Yitzhak Rabin (and his antithesis, the assassin Yigal Amir) have become symbols.

Rabin stands for a secular, "normal" Israel. Amir for a Jewish state with a messianic mission.

At this 12th anniversary of Rabin's assassination, Yigal Amir's followers are lobbying hard for his redemption. And a shocking - though still a minority - number of Israelis support them. According to polls, 26% of all Israelis (and 46% of religious Jewish Israelis) want Amir freed in 8 years, when his minimum 20 years has been served. Nearly half of Israeli Jews think Amir should be given day leave to attend the bris of his soon to be born son.

Rabin supporters ask pointedly why was Amir allowed to marry in prison, and have conjugal visits.

The religious right, which has long been lobbying for Amir, has even propagated the theory that Amir is innocent and was framed by the Israeli security services. (A shocking 24% of Israelis believe Amir is innocent!) In their latest campaign, they have produced a short film titled "Peace is Made with Brothers" that announces "Next Passover Yigal will be home." Copies of the film are being handed out across the country.

Rabin supporters, of course, continue to revile Amir as symbol of all that is wrong about Israeli society. Eitan Haber, Rabin's close adviser and confidante, wrote in Yediot Achronot.

"You can all take note: This villain will only leave prison on a gurney covered with a sheet. Actually, why waste money on a sheet? A rag will suffice."

The situation was well summed up by author and historian Michael Oren.

"The societal divisions that marked the era in which the prime minister was murdered remain as wide as ever."

"The left has turned memorializing Rabin into a display of leftist power, and the right calls for Amir’s clemency or extols him as a hero."

"The Rabin assassination still goes to the heart of division that goes right through Israeli society, not only between the right and left but between Israel as a secular, normal state and as a Jewish state with a role in a Messianic agenda. The Palestinians are almost ancillary to the story."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are They Out Of Their Minds?

CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, has lost whatever little credibility it had.

At a news conference held to denounce Jewish defamers of Israel, who did they pick out for particular opprobrium? Not out right anti-Zionists like Finkelstein, Chomsky, or (l'havdil) the Neturai Karta representatives at last year's Iranian "Holocaust" conference. No. The real evil guys are Haaretz and Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun Magazine.)

Haaretz is labelled as "printing outright lies and failing to issue corrections, even when the mistakes are pointed out."

Lerner is labelled "one of a growing band of ambitious, self-touting Jews whose hostility to the State of Israel more and more takes on the character of spite."

In one of the more convoluted arguments of the press conference Alvin Rosenfeld, a professor of English at Indiana University, called furious criticism of Israel by Jews a new genre, a "central convention" of which is the notion that Israel's supporters try to shut up critics with charges of anti-Semitism. In other-words Israel supporters do not call critics of Israel anti-Semites - its just false paranoia, or a cynical tactic, on the part of Israel's critics.

But then Rosenfeld - author of the book "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" stated "There is a connection between anti-Semitic acts and anti-Semitic utterances. ... It is Israel's Jewish defamers who have contributed to rising anti-Semitism with their relentless demonization of the Jewish state."

(Way to shoot your argument in the foot, Alvin!)

Another speaker, Kenneth Levin, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, claims that Jewish critics of Israel are suffering something akin to Stockholm syndrome. He suggested that the tendency to identify with one's attackers is typical of besieged populations. He likened the condition to that of an abused child that blames himself, rather than his alcoholic father, for his suffering.

Author Cynthia Ozek rounded out the panel with a presentation, "Reflections on Apostasy," vilified Jews who appear to identify with the enemies of the Jewish people. Among its gems: "Only imagine Karl Marx davening and you will comprehend the dazzlement of Rabbi Lerner’s current achievement."

In response, David Landau, Ha'aretz's editor-in-chief, called CAMERA, "Mcarthyite."

More like the lunatic fringe, if you ask me. (Though sadly we know they are more lunatic than fringe.)

For more detail see this story at the JTA.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pride or Shame

President Bush has recently nominated Michael Mukasey for the post of Attorney General. Mukasey in an Orthodox Jew. As such has the potential to be a source of pride of of shame to the Jewish community.

Some, like the JTA, say he is "the prefect pick." An "emaculate human being". A fine judge. A fair conservative, with a good understanding of terrorism and its implications for the law.

But many others have their doubts. While stating that he opposes torture, he has studiously avoided naming specific practices used by the U.S. in the past (and in the present too for all we know) as torture. When asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, if waterboarding - a technique long at the center of the controversy about the U.S. use of torture - is indeed an act of torture, Mukasey replied that he wasn't familiar "how it was done", so he could not say. Whitehouse responded incredulously. "That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't." Read the full story in the Associated Press.

Mukasey will probably be confirmed anyway, but his positions on torture and Presidential powers are sure to be controversial, and his actions in these areas closely watched. Only time will tell whether he is a source of pride or shame to the Jewish community.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Hands of Esau.

Jewish tradition values deeds over words.

"Your actions will bring you closer and your actions will distance you." says the Talmud.

And further our tradition teaches that words and deeds do not always match.

"The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." (Genesis 27:22)

This verse applies to the Israeli Government today. The voice is that of Jacob - the man of thoughtfulness, negotiation and peace - but the deeds are those of Esau - the man of impetuousness, materiality and violence. Prime Minister Olmert tells anyone who will listen that he is ready for deep compromises to reach a fair two state solution. But in the ground his government does nothing to build good will and indeed it continues to expropriate land and expand settlements.

Read more details in this article by Akiva Eldar.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Beat(ings) Go On

"Shalom shalom v'eyn shalom" - " 'Peace! Peace!' , but there is no peace" says Jeremiah, commenting on the hypocritical peace talk of his day. But his harsh words could be equally applied to the Israeli leadership of today.

While the leaders talk about peace plans, on the ground the occupation continues to expand, and the day to day oppression of Palestinians continues. This story from Haaretz tells of Jewish settlers from an illegal outpost who beat and harass Palestinians trying to harvest their olive groves. The government does nothing to remove or limit the growth of the outpost nor to stop the, now annual, disruption of the olive harvest. The army does nothing to stop (and many say it actively encourages) the Jewish nationalist thugs, and the police only pretend to investigate. The government is aware (they read the same newspapers I do) but chooses to do nothing.

Peace is not just (or even primarily) geo-political strategy papers, but fair and neighborly relations on the the ground. But it seems that the Israeli leadership - and a large part of the people - is not ready for that.

Abed Al-Fatah Al-Hindi, a resident of the Nablus-area village of Tal, reaches the main highway between the Hawara and Git junctions, near the Gilad Farm. An International Red Cross crew stands waiting for him. He is bleeding from a large scalp wound, and his left eye is swollen.

A paramedic bandages his head, and a volunteer from Rabbis for Human Rights cleans his face. "Every year there's a mess," the villager tells Haaretz. "It's just the first day of the olive harvest, and six settlers attacked me. There wasn't much we could do."
Read the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In the Beginning, Feed the Poor

Here is a dvar Torah I gave at my synagogue - Darchei Noam - two weeks ago. I was asked two months ago to give this dvar by the Social Justice Advocacy Committee. As it turned out, it was Shabbat Berseshit - Genesis. So my challenge was to tie a call for social justice advocacy to the story of creation.

As it turns out it was not so difficult. And while preparing it, I managed to get further insight into the central idea of the French Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas: "Ethics precedes ontology." - human relationships are the core of creation.

If you are interested in the full text of the dvar you can download it here.

Monday, October 15, 2007

No Justice

In September 2005 my son was pepper sprayed while demonstrating against neo-nazis. (He was also arrested and held over night, and dragged through the courts system, only to have all charges dropped.)

Of course, I am his father, and biased. But this act was truly outrageous. My son sued the police in small claims court. To add insult to injury the police claimed during the trial, that not only where they justified in pepper spraying him, but that this was a perfect example of the proper use of force in crowd control. There was a video taken of the incident, (click here to see it - you have to wait to approximately 3 minutes in to see the incident itself) and the police claimed that they could use this video as a training video in proper use of pepper spray!

According to the police, my son was being "assaultive" by not quickly enough responding to there order to "back off", that he was "actively resisting" by yelling at them (to stop hurting another - completely non-violent - demonstrator who they had just arrested), and that the situation was fraught because the demonstrators had weapons (the sticks used to hold signs and flags), and violent (when in fact there had been no physical violence until the police showed up.)

If this policy and pattern is allowed to stand then de facto none of us has freedom of assembly and protest in this province. It is all at the discretion of the police.

Unfortunately, my son lost his suit against the police. (Read the very poor judgement here. The judge basically quotes back the police witness as the major part of his opinion.)

Well we all knew the justice system is not just.

I hope to pursue this through other means. I will keep you posted.