Monday, January 31, 2011

No It Isn't !

Israelis - well most Israelis anyway - act as if time is on their side. They have done so at least since the 1960s.

The reasoning goes thus: since we are the stronger party, and since we hold all the cards we can outlast the Palestinians, and hold out for a better deal if the one on the table doesn't suit us to a tee. Sure, the Palestinians, and their Arab allies, can hurt us, but they will never be an existential threat, and when they do cause us really uncomfortable pain, we can hit back so hard that they will soon stop. They know this, and we know it. So if we don't get the deal we like today, we can hold out until we do get it. And if we never get a deal, well that's not so bad either. Peace and justice are strictly optional, and always weighed against the "cost" - in either land, economics, politics, etc ...

The only time in recent memory when this was not true, was after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. For a few days at the start of that war, Egypt and Syria came close to breaking through Israeli lines and winning. This gave Israel such fright that it eventually lead to the historic peace deal with Egypt and the return of every square inch of the Sinai. That peace deal has served Israel well for over 30 years. Egypt has been a trustworthy ally. It is a full partner with Israel in attempts to bottle up Hamas in Gaza. It's security forces have made the Egyptian border virtually terrorist free. Most of the border is physically unmarked - no fence, just open dessert. Yet Israel has been able to significantly reduce the size of its army, not having to seriously worry about the Arab worlds largest and best equipped military, and to redeploy most of it own forces to the West Bank and the northern borders.

But peace with a trustworthy Egypt only made Israelis return to their "time is on my side" nap. With Egypt not a threat, and indeed a quiet ally, - "what me worry?"

A similar attitude applied to Jordan, and even to the PA. Jordan made peace with us, so why do anything to satisfy its majority Palestinean population. Now that the PA has eschewed violence, they are no threat, so why give them a good deal. They are weak, so they will eventually have to bend to our terms.

But the "time is on my side" crowd fail to realize that history does not stand still. Advantages and opportunities available today may not be here tomorrow. Thus, if the PA collapses, it may not be able to offer any deal at all, and Hamas may be the only significant player on the Palestinian side. If Mubarek's regime in Egypt falls, it may be to a government that is not so willing to help Israel bottle up Hamas, or fight Israel's security battles for it in the Sinai, or use its influence to promote a conciliatory stance toward Israel in the Arab world. Or it may even join forces with the rejectionists, and return us to the days of open hostilities that preceded the 1979 peace treaty. And if Mubarek falls in Egypt, can Jordan's King Abdullah last? Or Mahmud Abbas?

Of course it is not certain that any of this will happen, but the events of the past week show that nothing is forever, and things can change for the worse as well as for the better, and that whatever can happen, likely will happen over the long haul.

Israel's only long term security lies in making peace and integrating into the region. Eventually, the tide ebbs, and both force and strategic diplomacy fail. At that time, only integration and a reservoir of good will will count. You would think Israel would have used the 30 "good years" to try and achieve some of each. Let's hope it is not too late to start.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BUDRUS - See It!

If you live in Canada, and haven't seen it yet, don't miss this.

Budrus is a unique film: the first and only one so far, showing the Palestinian unarmed resistance movement to Israel land expropriations in the West Bank. Budrus was the first village to adopt this strategy, now copied in Nilin, Bilin, and numerous of other locales around the West Bank.

I saw it at last year's Toronto Hot Docs film festival. Now CBC will be showing it on national TV. I am frankly surprised - though pleasantly so - that CBC is showing this. I imagine they will get a lot of flack from the usual suspects in the organized Canadian Jewish community.

So mark your calendars.

Below is the press release about this showing.

Canadian TV Premiere on CBC's " The Passionate Eye"
Sunday January 30, 2011 - 10pm ET/PT
Just Vision is pleased to announce the Canadian television premiere of its new film, Budrus. Hailed in The New York Times as " this year's must-see documentary," and featured in major international news outlets, including Newsweek, The Economist, The Washington Post and on Charlie Rose, Budrus tells the story of a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who unites members of all factions along with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement to save his village of Budrus from destruction. Success looks improbable until his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, launches a women's contingent that quickly moves to the front lines.
Recently, Matthew Hays of the Montreal Mirror picked Budrus as the top must-see film of 2010. A trailer of the film as well as full press reviews are available at:

Winner of multiple prizes at top international film festivals, including Tribeca, Berlin and San Francisco, Budrus is produced byJust Vision a nonprofit organization comprised of an Israeli, Palestinian, North and South American team of journalists, filmmakers and human rights advocates. Just Vision creates film and multimedia materials to increase the power, legitimacy and exposure of Palestinians and Israelis working towards nonviolent solutions to the conflict.

Budrus will also be in Vancouver at the World Community Film Festival
Friday, February 11 at 7pm. For more info and tickets, please click

(h/t to Zatoun)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Me Worry?
Salvation Available at Har Hamenuchot Cemetery, section 11, plot 2

Oh those wild and wacky Bratslavers!

See for a full explanation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

So, Its About The Settlements After All.
Security, Jerusalem, The Right of Return - Just Excuses.

According to the just leaked documents from 10 years of Israel Palestinian negotiations (you can read an account at Haaretz, but also check out the Guardian and Al Jazeera, or just google "leaks Israel Palestine") the PA negotiators were willing, in 2008, to give up all Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem (excluding one - the distant and relatively new Har Homa.) They where willing to give up about half the old city - including the Armenian and Jewish quarters. They where willing to put the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif) under joint administration. They where willing to limit the number of Palestinian refugees who would return to 10,000 a year for 10 years. And they were willing to agree to most of Israel's security demands re demilitarization.

In short they where willing to concede on all the seemingly "intractable issues." But the Israeli government of the day - Olmert/Livni - refused because Israel wanted to keep Ariel, Maale Adumim, and other large settlements deep inside the West Bank.

If Israel won't accept that deal - there is no hope for any deal.

And as a side effect of these revelations Abbas and company may lose so much face that they are effectively finished. In which case Israel will never get such a generous offer again.

Some days you just want to scream!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reason For Hope?
Is Lieberman an Instrument of God?

There is a meme going 'round that things in Israel are about to break, and break for the better.

To be sure, I am mostly hearing this from "Liberal Zionists", people who are both fiercely committed to the necessity of a Jewish State and who are equally aghast at the reality and direction of present day Israel. So maybe this is just wishful thinking on their part. From where I sit I am not so sure. But neither am I convinced they are wrong.
The gist of this meme can be summed up by Lenin's maxim "the worse it gets, the better it gets." - meaning that the more oppression and misery there is the more obvious it is that that the ancien regime is untenable and the sooner the revolution.
Rabbi Dov Marmur, in an open letter from Jerusalem writes:
Kol Haneshama (the Reform synagogue in Jerusalem) was born [in the 1980's] in the home of its spiritual leader Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman and gained prominence when, having moved to a public hall, the local Orthodox rabbi came with other thugs
to physically attack it one Simchat Torah because women were dancing with the Torah. The mayor, the late Teddy Kollek, was so incensed by this attack that he gave the congregation a piece of land that enabled it to grow. Today, it’s the largest non-Orthodox congregation in the country with an international reputation second to none. ...
The fact that the success of Kol Haneshama is at least in part due to an act of
bigotry and violence that propelled it into prominence may also be a clue to the theme of the demonstration in Tel Aviv. According reports, Avigdor Lieberman [was] ... considered to be an even greater menace from .. than Iran... The fact that the foreign minister’s latest rant, this time against human rights organizations in Israel,
has created such a reaction suggests that, instead of delivering a blow to democracy, he has in fact invigorated its exponents – just as that rabbi who attacked members of Kol Haneshama achieved the very opposite to what he intended.
Bradley Burtson, writing in Haaretz, in an article entitled Think Israel's a lost cause? Ten reasons to think again, goes further.
Something's started to happen here, and for the first time in a long time, something good, the decency that still somehow informs people here, has a chance of taking wing....
On Saturday night, the weather stone cold and threatening, Israelis who had no expectation that anyone would show up at an underpublicized Tel Aviv street march
- a demonstration, believe it or not, in favor of democracy and groups working for social justice and Israeli-Palestinian peace - decided to show up anyway.
The turnout was shocking. Marchers filled the broad square by the Tel Aviv Museum and swelled into the adjacent Shaul Hamelech Blvd., a sea of flags and signs, Jews and Arabs, young and old, spilling over to and lining the long wall of the Kirya, Israel's Pentagon. Well over 10,000 people, maybe as many as 20,000, blown away by the turnout, blown away, as well, by a sudden sense of hope.
Nafal, as they say here, davar b'yisrael. Something crucial, shattering, game-changing, is happening here. ....
Burston goes on to list among other causes for hope, the disgust among large elements of the population with Avigdor Lieberman's attacks on Israel human rights NGOs, public revulsion with the letters of the racist rabbis, and the recent break-up of the Labour Party over the stalled "peace process".
The right has over-reached, and the decent center has finally woken up. That is the gist of Burston's piece and of Rabbi Marmur's and several other similar articles in the Israeli press and blogosphere.
I am not so sure, though I hope it is true.
If so, it might mean that Avigdor Lieberman, is an instrument of God! At least that's the view of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (founder of Reconstructionism Judaism.) Writing in 1937, about his idea of God as the "Power that makes for Freedom", in the context of commenting on Passover and on the human contradictory impulses of seeking safety in doing nothing and seeking betterment by taking action, he says:
... in spite of man's desire to be let alone, there is a Power within man and above man that gives him no rest. That Power deprives him of the security for the sake of which he is all too ready to surrender his soul, and thrusts him out into the wilderness where he is compelled to achieve his freedom and reclaim his soul.
How does this come about? By means of that inner contradiction which develops within human bondage. Those in the master class over—reach themselves in their desire to exploit their slaves for purposes in which the latter have neither share nor lot. Before long they fail to afford them even that minimum security for which their slaves forego their freedom It is then that those in the slave class are compelled to rise in revolt and strike out for freedom. In ancient Israel they had a term for that inner contradiction which gives rise to the dialectic of freedom. They spoke of it as "God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.” ...
Such is the inertia produced by security on the human spirit, and such its wish to be let alone, that if the master class would supply the minimum needs ... to those whom they hold in thrall, human society would become crystallized into the type of organization that exists among bees and ants. Mankind would remain permanently divided into higher and lower classes of human beings; the caste system would remain iron-bound and unalterable. Such a caste system would exclude forever the vast multitudes of the human race from the possibility of salvation or self-fulfillment. But apparently there is something of the divine in every human being which does not permit mankind to reconcile itself to so dire a fate. That divine urge utilizes the Pharaonic tendency of the oppressors and exploiters to over-reach themselves, as a means of frustrating their most carefully devised schemes.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shiru l'Adonai

Today in synagogue we read of the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea.

Shiru L'adonai Ki Gao Ga'ah, Sus v'Rochbo Ramah baYam

Sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted: horse and rider hath He thrown into the sea.

Thus sang Miriam and all the people.

Turns out that the Jews are not the only ones impressed by this biblical story. The image above shows the suggested Great Seal of The United States of America submitted by Ben Franklin in 1776. Too bad Congress didn't pick this one. Instead they picked the dorky one with the eagle and the motto 'E Pluribus Unum.' I prefer both Franklin's suggested picture and motto.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Satire Cuts Close To The Bone

The video is from the popular Israeli TV news-satire show Eretz Nehederet. (Their motto for the current season: "When the ship is sinking, its good to have someone you can count on.")

The good news is - as long as someone in Israel can produce this stuff and others can enjoy it, all is not lost. The bad news is - that just like John Stewart's audience in the U.S. this segment of the population is a minority and a politically lazy and/or confused minority at that.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

If Ya Gotta Go ...

I really liked these videos.

The back story is that Rabbi Menachem Froman - the man in the videos with the long white beard seated at the table - has recently been diagnosed with advanced and inoperable cancer. In response he organized an evening of prayer and singing with his students, followers, and supporters. The guy playing the guitar is Ehud Banai a famous Israeli entertainer.

Froman is an unusual and controversial character. He is a settler, but also "pro peace". He thinks that in return for peace Israel should give back all the territories and settlers should be able to stay as citizens of the Palestinean state. He also believes that it is the truly religious people that can bring peace since they all believe in God, and for this reason he has had several meetings with Muslim clerics associated with Hamas. Some people think he is a saint, some people think he is a hypocrite, and some people think he is a fool.

But no matter what you think of Foreman's politics, what is amazing about the videos is the "kavana" and the joy of Rabbi Froman and his supporters. They may (or may not) believe that this session is about getting God to heal Rabbi Froman, but what it is certainly doing is letting him bask in the love of his friends and followers and letting them feel his charisma and joy. Rather than mope about his fatal illness, Rabbi Froman has chosen to live out his time bravely, intensly and joyfully. May we all be blessed to have such strength and such supporters when our time comes

The video at the top is an Israeli popular song - Hayom.

Below are three more videos from the same evening..

L'maan Achai vRe'ay (For the sake of my brothers and friends)

Haneshama Lach

23rd Psalm (The Lord is my Sheppard)

And thanks to Tikkun Olam for putting me on to this.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Thirty Four More To Go

Here is a small hopeful bit of news from Israel, about two of the founders of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement.

From today's Haaretz:

The two doctoral students, the religious Tel Avivian and the secular Jerusalemite, have discovered that the struggle over Sheikh Jarrah has become the way to revive the Israeli left and build a bridge connecting Jews and Arabs. They were drawn into the vacuum between Kadima and Hadash left by the failing Labor Party, confused Meretz and somnolent Peace Now.

Veteran politicians and peace activists are keeping track of them with a mix of envy and concern. They're storming the campuses, and their friends say they wouldn't be surprised if next year Sharon and Inbar stormed the Knesset.

..."We are showing in practice it's possible to establish a genuine partnership between the two peoples," adds Inbar. "The Israeli left's big challenge today is to develop a civil, Jewish-Arab vision that will confront the racist and fundamentalist visions and spectacles being sold by the right."

In recent months the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement has turned into a national movement called Solidarity, like the workers' movement established in Poland 30 years ago. The weekly demonstrations in the small neighborhood have begun to spread to other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Last month they marched in Issawiya in protest against the authorities' harassment of the residents there, and last week they went to Silwan to protest against the removal of a local activist from the village.

Recently the movement has also begun to operate in Taibeh, the Wadi Ara, Lod, Al-Araqib and Beit She'an. Meanwhile, Inbar, Sharon and their friends are setting up three student groups - in Be'er Sheva, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - under the slogan "Solidarity against fascism."

"Our method of operation is to expose people to the situation beneath the surface," says Sharon. "The Israeli majority is not aware that it is trampling the minority."

They take people to tour sites where the injustice is taking place and offer them lots of information and a bit of preaching. They seek to build a grassroots movement. They were particularly surprised at the tremendous response to Jewish-Arab activity in the Arab communities.

... We are not romantics, an aid organization or a human rights organization, say the two. We aren't coming to help, but to work together. We go to Taibeh or Dahmash, an unrecognized village next to Lod, in the belief that practical, ethical and political Jewish-Arab cooperation is Israeli society's only life preserver.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Bundism For Israel ?

The funeral of Marek Edelman, Poland's wartime (and last) Bundist leader, Warsaw Jewish cemetery, October 2009.

... the situation of Israeli Arabs is in fact curiously like that of the Jews of Poland during the interwar period, in that the Yiddish-speaking Jews represented an indissoluble minority that was culturally distinct, and would remain fiercely so, at least over a couple of generations; a minority with a centuries' long history and sense of place; a minority living in the interstices of a Polish nation with a quite distinct religious culture; a new Polish state, born out of deep historical grievance, and an equally fierce, once-repressed nationalism. How to absorb this growing, noisy Jewish minority, something over 10% of the population, into the new Poland?

And the strongest political movement in the interconnected Yiddish towns and cities (or parts thereof) was the Jewish Labor Bund. What this movement demanded was recognition as a national minority within the Polish state, constitutional equality, protection for its language and educational system, and more. Bundists ran as separate, Jewish national political parties. In December 1938 and January 1939, at the last Polish municipal elections before the start of the Second World War, the Bund received the largest segment of the Jewish vote. In 89 towns, one-third elected Bund majorities.

As socialists, Bundists sought "fraternal" relations with Polish workers, much like Israeli Arabs seek cordial commercial relations with Jews. But they mainly sought a kind of recognized autonomy in Yiddish towns, and, as individuals, the full rights in the great Polish cities like Warsaw and Krakow. And much like the rights of Israeli Arabs have become the crucial cause for Israeli Jewish progressives, so the rights of Jews were critical for Polish liberals.

SADLY, IT HAS become commonplace for Israelis, and American Jews, too, to look at the fate of Polish Jewry and consider the Bund hopelessly naive. But this view is itself naive--and cruel. The fact is, the Bund was suggesting an experiment in democracy that the Nazis ended, not the Poles, ... We simply do not know if the Bund's experiment could have worked, or how it could have been managed over several generations, particularly if there had been no war, and Poland had slowly begun to enjoy the benefits of European integration.

In any case, it is terribly wrong for us to look at the burgeoning cities of Israeli Arabs and see only a fifth column or a frightening birthrate. In any peace, Israeli Arabs will be a natural bridge to commercial, scientific, and cultural opportunities in the Arab world. ...

It might have worked in Poland, eventually. It had better work, with adaptations, in Israel.
Read the full piece here.