Monthly Archives: March 2013

It’s been a relatively slow news week, in Palestine and Israel. So the articles we are highlighting this week are a bit more big-picture pieces than current events. But they are well worth your time this weekend. If you think we missed an important article, leave a comment below.

  • Starting things off on a positive note today, Sami Michael, President of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, has a fabulous op-ed in Ynet arguing against the epidemic of racism spreading throughout his country. 
  • Khaled Elgindy of the Brookings Institute criticizes U.S. politicians and media personalities for failing to take notice of internal Palestinian politics when talking about the Middle East.

[T]he United States continues to operate as though Abbas’ West Bank leadership has no political opposition or public opinion to answer to. For too long, American policymakers have treated Palestinian politics as something that can be avoided, suppressed or, if need be, reshaped. Indeed, if an accommodation is to be made, it is usually Palestinian politics that must bend to the perceived needs of the peace process rather than the other way around.

After reading Khalidi’s revelations, a Western liberal in favour of the Two State solution, as envisaged in the Oslo Accords, might well feel as though he has been sitting at the children’s table at a wedding for the past 20 years oblivious to the fact that the adults have been busy entrenching a system of Israeli occupation on the West Bank, which makes a Palestinian state a near impossibility.

  • And finally, the Alternative Information Center captures these incredible images from Palm Sunday processions protesting against restrictions to the practice of religion throughout Palestine.


Computer problems and time constraints are responsible for this post is coming out a bit behind schedule. My apologies.

This past week, formerly extreme right-wing cum mainstream Knesset member Moshe Feiglin was prevented from entering Haram al-Sharif, current home of the Dome of the Rock and former site of both Holy Temples. Feiglin has tried and occasionally succeeded entering and praying there several times before. His stated goal is the exertion of Jewish sovereignty over the site, with the ultimate goal of bringing about the Third Temple.

This week, both the Torah and the Haftorah portions give us strong reasons to doubt the religious reasoning behind Feiglin’s actions. In this week’s Torah reading (Shemini), we get the tragic story of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. On the day of the  inauguration of the Mishkan (the traveling temple used by the Israelites prior to the construction of the First Temple), the two attempt a sacrifice to God. Despite following the same procedures as their father, it doesn’t go too well:

And Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

The Rabbis offer a host of reasons for why their sacrifice was rejected: everything from disobeying Moses, to being drunk, to getting minor details of the sacrificial procedure wrong. Personally, though, I like the explanation offered by Rav Solovechik, mostly for its simplicity and fidelity to the original text. Seizing on the line “which He did not command of them,” Solovechik notes that the transgression of Nadav and Avihu is their attempt to fulfill the sacrifices when God has not commanded it. And so, God punishes the pair for their arrogance.

Attempts like those by Moshe Feiglin and the Temple Institute to bring about the Third Temple without the explicit command of God would seem to be remarkably similar to the sin committed by Nadav and Avihu. It represents incredible hubris on the part of those who would misuse God’s name to pursue their narrow political agendas. And in this week’s Torah portion, we see how God reacts to this sort of thing.

One reason that the Third Temple cannot yet be built can be found in this week’s Haftorah. In II Samuel 7, David seeks permission to build the First Temple in Jerusalem:

And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies.That the king said unto Nathan the prophet; “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within the curtains.”

Initially, the prophet Nathan agrees, telling David to go forth and build God a permanent Temple. That night, however, God instructs Nathan to reconsider:

When your days are finished and you shall lie with your forefathers, then I will raise up your seed that shall proceed from your body after you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

David’s son, Solomon, will build the Temple after his father’s death. The reasons for this decision comes in I Chronicles 28:

And King David rose to his feet and said, “Hearken to me, my brethren and my people; as for me, it is with my heart to build a house of rest for the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I prepared to build.But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house in My name, because you are a man of war, and you have shed blood.’

King David, a man of war, is not worthy to build a Temple to God. Only Solomon the Wise, a man of peace is capable of building the Temple. We cannot know when the Messiah will come nor how the Messianic era will play out. But the indication from the Haftorah portion this week is that the building of the Third Temple will first require the achievement of a peace and just world.

Moshe Feiglin is certainly not a man of peace (nor is he a King David, but that is a subject for another time) ; quite the contrary. His attempts to claim Jewish sovereignty over Haram al Sharif are designed to incite violence and racism. As such, they are not the sorts of actions that could ever lead to the building of the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the Third Temple. Much like Nadav and Avihu’s, Feiglin’s actions represents the worst sort of hubris. As such, he and his ilk take the Jewish people further away from God.

Working towards the Messianic era means working for peace and justice. And today, that means working against Moshe Feglin.

On 25 March, President Obama released the standard pre-holiday message to Jewish Americans as preparing to celebrate Passover that night. These sorts of messages are released for just about every major religion’s holidays, and as such are generally a bland sort of affair, wishing people a meaningful celebration and good tidings. This time, not so much:

Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as President. I reaffirmed our countries’ unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world. And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu, “To be a free people in our land.”

Let’s get the more general issue out of the way first: By tying the celebration of Passover to suport for the State of Israel, the President has effectively excluded me and a great many other Jews in America and around the world who do not support the State of Israel, and in fact see the holiday as a reminder of all of the reasons we cannot. But this is standard-level offensiveness for U.S. politics; certainly not fodder for a blog post.

No, what bothers me in particular about the President’s message is the quotation from HaTikva, Israel’s national anthem. According to President Obama, the Zionist dream of an exclusively Jewish state is “the fullest expression” of “the dream of true freedom.”

Unintentionally, the President here obliquely references one of the darkest legacies of European anti-Semitism: the Jewish Question. Stated in its broadest terms, the Jewish Question (sometimes called the Jewish Problem) asked whether Jews could ever truly be part of the nation. Jews in Europe were inherently the subject of suspicion, either because they could not be assimilated into a nation that defined itself as Christian (Great Britain,  Germany) or because their status as an “alien nation” meant they could never be more than a community apart from the nation (France). Regardless of the reason given – and there were many – European anti-Semitism held that Jews were incapable of being full citizens of the nation-state, at least as long as they remained Jewish.

It was in this context that political Zionism took hold. In 1896, Theodor Herzl explains

The Jewish question still exists. It would be foolish to deny it. […] The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized–for instance, France–until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.

[…] I think the Jewish question is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, which can only be solved by making it a political world-question to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.

We are a people–one people.

For Herzl, the Jewish Question is interminable. Even when things seem like they are going well, Jews inevitably carry with the them the seeds of anti-Semitism that will inevitably sprout, even in the seemingly tolerant United States. It’s an argument you still hear today when people talk of Israel as their “insurance policy,” just in case their own country’s politics begin resembling 1930s Germany. And it is the argument that inspired Naftali Herz Imber to write the line quoted by the President in his Passover message.

So when the President quotes that line from Hatikva he is, I’m sure unintentionally, telling Jews that they cannot truly be free in America. They cannot really be American. They can only realize their true collective project by emigrating. A any good community organizer ought to know, it is the unintentional messages that often do the most harm. That is not the sort of message that a President ought to be giving to any of his citizens.

Every week, this blog tries to chronicle the most egregious acts of racism committed by Israel. You can find a longer explanation of the purpose of this exercise here. As this list will, unfortunately  be far from exhaustive, feel free to add additional stories of relevance and importance in the comments below.

This week, I received a stark reminder of the limitations of this series. I started this feature to chronicle the constant and pervasive racism in Israel today. Of course, I can only report on the things which make it into the news. A manager at a store I frequent in Jerusalem was verbally accosted and pushed by someone this week, simply for being Palestinian. He didn’t report it, not wanting to make a big deal of the situation (and out of respect for his decision, I am not going to describe any more detail of what was said to me). Incidents like this happen all too frequently and will never make the news. They are just a part of everyday life in Jerusalem.

With that caveat in mind, here are 12 of the worst examples of racism in Israel, all from this past week.

  • Last week, we highlighted a Hebrew language report about Israeli school teachers’ feeling that not only are their students increasingly overtly racist, but that their capacity to legitimately challenge such racism in the classroom is diminishing. Haaretz translated the story over the weekend and it is well worth a read.
  • To celebrate Passover, when Jews celebrate the ancient Israelites finally being free to move to move across arbitrary borders that an oppressive sovereign would not let them cross, Israel imposed a general closure on the West Bank.
  • The Wadi Hilweh Information center reports on two similar attacks by Jewish settler-colonists against Palestinian residents of Silwan. First, two women were violently attacked while walking through a Jewish area of the Old City of Jerusalem by a male assailant, who chased the women, pulled at one of women’s hijab, choking her in the process.
  • Second, a 14-year old settler-colonist attacked two other children, ages 12 and 14, on their way to school. The police arrested the Palestinian children, as their word is inherently less valued than a Jewish settler-colonists whenever conflicting versions of events appear.
  • Rabbea Eid, the Palestinian Citizen of Israel who interrupted President Obama’s speech last week, explained his motivations to the NYTimes’s Lede blog:

I was listening to the speech of Obama and he said a lot of things that made me upset so I just stood up and shouted. He was talking about democracy and justice and at the same time he said he supports Israel as a Jewish country. So, from my perspective and that of a lot of people, Arab people, Palestinians who were in the building listening to the speech … the Arabs, the minority in Israel are also against a Jewish country because it’s not a democratic country. It’s against us, so how can Mr. Obama be democratic and in the same time support an ethnic country?

  • Also during the President’s visit, Palestinian students in Hebron donned masks of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, engaging in a nonviolent protest against the racial segregation of Shuhada Street. The Israeli army responded by arresting 8-year olds and local settler-colonists organized a violent counter mob. Shades of Selma.
  • All of these incidents fit very nicely into the settler-colonist Yesha Council’s plans to Judaize the West Bank, as profiled by 972mag.
  • In a textbook example of collective punishment, Israel responded to the firing of several rockets by the  reducing the fishing zone around Gaza from 6 to 3 kilometers. To add an element of irony to this tragic narrative, the rockets were fired by Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin, a group that Gaza’s ruling Hamas faction has strong tensions with. Hamas arrested two connected with the firings, pretty much meeting Israel’s demands. Despite this, the additional collective punishment measures against all Palestinians remain in place.
  • Al-Monitor captures this incredible photo of Emad al-Malalha smuggling his bride into Gaza from Egypt, using one of the tunnels beneath the border. Ynet has some more background here. As this photo indicates, the same tunnels which smuggle arms to militant groups are also used to smuggle all sorts of other things, including food, medicine, and even people. All the inevitable results of a stifling siege imposed by Israel and aided by Egypt.
  • The (cringe inducingly named) Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality issued a report this past week, noting the systematic failure of Israel to provide government services to Bedouin communities. This neglect is especially stark when compared to government services rovided to the surrounding Jewish communities.
  • Lest anyone think discrimination in Israel only affects non-Jews, Haaretz reports that out of 5000 boards of directors registered within the country there is not a single Ethiopian Jew.
  • Newly inaugurated head of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee Miri Regev, who has perviously said that she is “happy to be a fascist” and called African asylum seekers “a cancer on the nation’s body,” continues her unbroken streak of disgusting comments. This week, she talks about how her new job is to kick out all African migrants (Heb).

The occasional Teaching Tuesday posts focuses on education strategies and practices. The issue of Palestine, while of concern to a great and growing number of people, still has a long way to go before it is widely known and understood by the general public. This series tries to think through and produce tools and strategies for public education.

 In part 1, we took a close look at the worrisome top line results of a recent Gallup poll on Americans’ attitudes towards Palestine and Israel. Although the top-line were interpreted by most media outlets, Gallup included, as indicating record level support for Israel, looking mostly at question wording in this and other polls, I argued for a more nuanced interpretation of the results. Today we jump a bit deeper into the other questions asked in these polls as well as some of the demographic breakdowns to look at the possibilities for public education campaigns moving forward.

Education is possible. The headlines last week seemed to indicate growing support for Israel. Looking more closely at the numbers, however, there is good reason to believe that this support may be softer than the numbers appear.

We have several bits of data to suggest that the increased support for Israel is coming from low-information respondents. This is evidenced by the fact that the increased support from Israel in the Gallup poll is coming at the expense of the “don’t know / both / neither” category. In the last post, we speculated that this might partially reflect the increasing frequency with which declarations of support for Israel appeared in the 2012 political campaign season. In this case, it’s possible that those who didn’t care are now adopting what has become a necessary platitude for entry into American politics.

Another reason to think that these may be low information voters is that the increased support seems to be coming primarily from independent voters. Republican support for Israel held steady from last year at 78%, and is actually off 7 points from its 2010 high, while Democratic support ticked up 2 points from a year ago, though remains 2 points lower than in 2011 (we’re might just be looking at statistical noise here). Independents, by contrast, registered 63% sympathy for Israelis, an all-time high. Surveys have shown that independents are much more likely to be low-information voters on any number of issues, and it is probably the case here as well.

Taken together, this indicates to me that public opinion is probably far from set in stone and that a public education campaign can be particularly effective at the moment.

There is a significant generation gap on Palestine-Israel. Another bit of good news is that younger people are markedly less supportive of Israel than older folk, though majorities in all age categories do support Israel. Support for Israel drops off about 9 points with every age cohort in both the Gallup and the ABC/WaPo poll. This generational difference is only slightly off of the generational gaps on gay marriage was showing in the early 2000s, and we all know how quickly public opinion shifted there..

While there is a party gap, it is not growing. Both Gallup and ABC/WaPo show about a 20-point gap between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to sympathizing with Israel. Contrary to some of the signs that we saw in the last election, however, we have yet to see any evidence of this gap in the numbers. Once again, it seems like it is independents and low information voters who are up for grabs.

Conclusions. While still generally supportive of Israel, Americans’ opinions on the matter are far from determined. The more you dig into the numbers, the more you get a picture of frustration than anything else. When ABC/WaPo asked if the U.S. should take a leading roll in advancing a peace settlement or leave it to the parties, 69% of Americans respond the former.

Getting through this frustration will be difficult, but it is not impossible. The status quo benefits Israel and Israel advocates have been pursuing a strategy to take advantage of this frustration by encouraging people to see Palestine and Israel as “complicated,” i.e. too confusing for you (the under-informed) to oppose.

The message of Palestine solidarity needs to be simplified in order to cut through Americans’ frustrations. At this blog, we’ve been trying to do with Memes for Palestine. Visualizing Palestine also does so with great success. Now is the time to brainstorm and implement new, simple communication strategies so that we may achieve broader public action in the future. 

The Occasional Movie Monday presents critical analyses of recent films from Dr. L. PresumablyDrL is a New York-based educator who works to promote the critical use of documentary film in secondary classrooms. 

You can usually tell a lot more about the state of a society from what its artists are up to than from the pronouncements of its politicians and mainstream media. For Americans, Israeli cinema has long provided a much-needed window on Israeli life and politics. So in the coming weeks, this space will take an occasional peek into recent releases – at least those that have been made available to American viewers with English subtitles – that we hope will add depth to the discussion of the issues at the heart of this blog.

Israeli documentarians in particular have been quite busy of late, and much of their work has engaged in some very deep soul-searching about the Occupation, the rights of minorities, and a bit more indirectly, the whole Zionist enterprise.  It escaped few people’s notice that Israel accounted for two of the five documentaries recently nominated for an Academy Award – The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras (which isn’t really an “Israeli” film at all, but more about that in a future post). Of the two, both of which focus on the Occupation, Five Broken Cameras is the far more interesting piece of cinema, but a headline in Sunday’s papers made me think The Gatekeepers may be the best place to start.

Israel’s US Envoy: Gatekeepers Hindering PR efforts” relates Ambassador Michael Oren’s apparent discomfort at the negative effect the film and the considerable attention it has received are likely to have on “hasbara” efforts – as though it is somehow the film and not the realities behind it that are the actual source of the problem.  This is, of course, nothing but a repetition of the very old and very tired admonition in the Jewish community not to air one’s dirty laundry publicly, lest it give some sort of aid and comfort to the proverbial enemy. (“The other side is well aware of how to act and manipulate the media,” Oren notes.)  It’s an admonition that has been used most effectively in the American Jewish community in efforts to silence open discussion about Israel: You don’t live here, you don’t really understand, so you don’t have the right to an opinion. It’s an admonition this writer took seriously for a good long while – until I realized that all it accomplished was to allow everything one knows is wrong to flourish unchecked and unchallenged. Dirty laundry left in the hamper has a tendency to get ever dirtier.  Only laundry that hangs in the fresh air and rain stands a chance of getting clean.

Which is why recent films such as The Gatekeepers are so important. It’s not exactly clear from his piece whether Oren’s ire is aimed at the filmmaker, Dror Moreh, or at the six former Shin Bet chiefs who were interviewed in the film and the stuff that comes out of their mouths. He seems to have particular ire at viewers who are not getting a “balanced” view of things. He says: “This is a good movie that presents a narrative of 45 years of occupation, but is completely devoid of information on Israel’s peace plan offers – Barak’s Camp David attempts, then Olmert, from the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the rocket fire on us. Whoever views the movie without knowing the background, can leave feeling that Israel is to blame and didn’t do a thing.” (Who exactly does Oren think is plopping down $12 to see a Hebrew-language talking-heads documentary, anyway?)

Oren seems unaware that it is not the documentarian’s job to provide “balance,” but to document, to use the camera to bring viewers to places they would be unable to see and hear with the naked eye.  That is what The Gatekeepers does – or at least tries to do.  If anything, as a viewer, I rather felt that Moreh was a bit too timid with his subjects.  He simply lets them have their say, allowing them to criticize Shin Bet actions and policy without prodding them about their own complicity in it, or their motivations for speaking out at this particular moment. He simply sticks a microphone in front of them and lets them speak.  And while much of their commentary – e.g., Yaakov Peri’s statement that “I think, after retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist” – is eye-opening, much of it seems rather self-serving, not unlike Robert McNamara’s participation in The Fog of War. They are quick to point the finger at politicians from Rabin to Netanyahu. But it seems the film fails miserably at asking the larger unspoken question of the role all Israelis play in the perpetuation of an unjust and unsustainable system of occupation. There is no abstract “system” into which these men found themselves pulled and which unwittingly manipulated them into doing things they may now regret.  The “system” is created by individuals who make (or fail to make) decisions, and I’m always inclined to think there’s a particular cowardice in saying after the fact, “I really wish I hadn’t done that,” as though that undoes everything that has happened. (These are issues that Ra’an Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts, addresses head on; much more on that film in a later post.)

All in all, The Gatekeepers is very much worth a look.  It is by no means great art.  As a work of film, its presentation is rather dull and its relentless score of scary-movie music is headache inducing. (One should not find himself thinking midway through a film, “Damn, this would have made an excellent New Yorker article.”)  Still, it is an important document.  Viewers should by no means take what the six subjects have to say at face value, but if they care at all about the futures of Israel and Palestine, they most certainly should hear them out.   The fact that it so gets under Ambassador Oren’s skin, and that the current Prime Minister flatly refuses to see it, speaks for itself.

Now that Obama’s pointless visit to Palestine and Israel is over (complete with a sandstorm that forced President Obama to actually see a checkpoint), we can look forward to things getting back to normal. We’re off preparing next weeks’ posts; and I use the first person plural because Monday will see Jeremiah’s Laments very first first guest blogger! So check back in next week for all of our regular features, plus Movie Monday, part 2 of our Gallup poll analysis, and (if I’m productive) a post about one state vs. two-state solutions.

In the meantime, here are my picks for this week’s must-read articles about Palestine and Israel:

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