Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stupid Things That People Say When They Talk About Israel, Part One

Today's favorite: "Why doesn't the UN build a new headquarters on the Temple Mount? Then all the nations could help pay for its defense." Yes. I certainly want the UN on top of the Temple Mount, and I'm sure that the Muslims of the world will smile happily at the thought of the al-Aqsa mosque being turned into a bureaucratic headquarters for the United Nations. (Interestingly, the Knights Templar did exactly this during the Crusades, I mean, a headquarters for themselves, not the UN, and peace did not ensue.) Because the UN has worked so hard to bring peace to the region. MASSIVE FAIL. On the other hand, perhaps this is EXACTLY what is needed. Then, Israelis and Palestinians would unite to get the UN off the Temple Mount, and forget all of the petty land-water-national sovereignty stuff until that was over.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Roman Polanski, Gore Vidal, and "Charges of Anti-Semitism"

Goddamnit, I get tired of this.

So I wander over to Tiger Beatdown, to see what the hardcore feminists are talking about, and as it happens, they're talking righteous smack about the newly late Gore Vidal, and his defense of Roman Polanski. I am still, as it happens, unbelievably angry about the spineless, unbelievable defense of Polanski exhibited by far too many Hollywood names ('rape-rape', Whoopi? WTF?), so I settle down for a quick read.

Now, apparently Vidal said this: "The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko – that’s what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now from what it was then."  And then right in the middle of the take-down of Vidal's victim-blaming and viciousness, I get this, not from Gore Vidal, but from blogger Garland Grey:
"I take charges of Anti-Semitism very seriously, but I also know that sometimes (as when people show even a sliver of support or concern for the state of Palestine and its people) accusations of such are misused to shut the conversation all the way down."

I wrote a quick response on the comment thread:

I agree that accusations of anti-Semitism were used to deflect blame in the Polanski case, and avoid confronting his actual rape and abuse of this young woman.

You should, however, be aware that the formulation used above, that accusations of anti-Semitism are used to control conversation about the Israel/Palestine conflict, is, in fact, often used to cover for actual anti-Semitism, and to provide people with an excuse for not learning the real history of the conflict, or taking responsibility for the bigotry they may speak.

It's remarkably similar to many other accusations about people 'playing the race card', and it plays a similar function.

Was there some reason for bringing in an unrelated topic to illustrate your idea that people sometimes lie about the bigotry they face? Or was it easier than explaining why you don't believe anti-Semitism was a factor in the Polanski case?

That was was much more restrained and polite than I felt like being. There's a fine line between trying educate and just wanting to break stuff, and this makes me want to break stuff. For real? Is there some way this does not break down into "I take accusations of anti-Semitism very seriously, but Jews and their friends sometimes lie about it, anyway, to shut people up, you know, like if you show any sympathy (a 'sliver') for the Palestinian people, so I guess I can dismiss this contention of Gore Vidal's without seeming like I'm not giving it enough attention, because this is just another example of using charges of anti-Semitism to make people be quiet"?

Is there another form of racism that a serious anti-oppression blogger would treat like this? I'm betting not.

It's really pretty funny, because I think Polanski is scum, so it's fairly hard to offend me when railing on him and his defenders. I wouldn't have blinked if the writer had simply said she thought Vidal was full of shit on the anti-Semitism issue re: Polanski.

Hilarious, too, is the fact that Vidal himself was an anti-Semite fond of veiling his hate in rants about Israel:

Commenting for the Huffington Post on his infamous 1986 piece "The Empire Lovers Strike Back", David Greenberg writes:

It was the kind of piece that should give pause to those who ritually deny that anti-Zionism is rooted in anti-Semitism; it should be read in full. Describing the Podhoretzs as propagandists for Israel (“in its never-ending wars against just about everyone … a predatory people”), he cast Podhoretz, who was born in the United States, as someone who would never become “an ‘assimilated American,’ to use the old-fashioned terminology.” Addressing Decter, he declared, “I’ve got to tell you I don’t much like your country, which is Israel.”

So unquestioningly has this idea been accepted, that calling anti-Semitism by name is only a way to 'shut the conversation down', that it now creeps into conversations as far afield from Israel as this. Charming. Really charming.

Stunning Photos from This Weekend's Pride Parade In Jerusalem

Over at CIFWatch, Adam Levick posts his gorgeous pictures of the tenth annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. Pinkwash this!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dividing Nations at the Olympics

What is it about judo and the Middle East? First, Iran decided to leave their judo champion home, osenstibly because he had an iffy tummy, more probably because he was the only Iranian competitor in danger of facing an Israeli. Now, the Lebanese judo team has decided that they can't train while looking at the Israeli judo team. And the Olympic officials have decided to accomodate them, erecting screens across the gym.
This is, frankly, disgusting. It is part of an ongoing attempt to portray Israel as a uniquely transgressive nation, one which can be freely discriminated against, with accomodation from the Games themselves. And it is already being defended by anti-Israel voices such as Ben White's, and compared to boycotts against apartheid South Africa. The Olympics have made their message loud and clear this year, first through refusing to honor the memories of the Israeli athletes murdered in 1972, and now through giving in to the political posturing of Lebanon. At an event supposedly dedicated to allowing nations to meet without political burdens, in an open spirit of athletic dedication and competition, Israel, and no other nation, is being delegitimized by her enemies, with the cooperation of the IOC.

A Spectacular Piece from Chas Newkey-Burden

This is something so good I just had to repost it immediately, and get it out to as many people as possible. Over at Oy Va Goy, Chas Newkey-Burden takes apart the inherent anti-Semitism of the common anti-Israel plaint that after the Shoah, the world has the right to demand more moral behavior from Jews than others.

Newkey-Burden writes: Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Stand With Israel, Jimmy, And Call Your Sister

This sign is, according to, somewhere in South Texas. It's been there for a while.

As you can see, Jimmy owes his sister some money for his fourth divorce. This is not the part that made me laugh. The part that made me laugh is the 'Stand With Israel' lawn signs, standing guard to either side of the big pink sign.

I'm on Jimmy's sister's side. Her brother owes her $2,500 bucks, and she's an Israel supporter.

Commenter Aquapt writes: And then there are the “Stand with Israel” signs. Somehow, I’m picturing Israel inching away, in a desperate attempt not to stand with this.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Play Attendee Reports From London

Sarah AB at Harry's Place was able to see the performance. Sounds like an excellent performance, although I really hate Merchant.

Loved this part: Generally people heeded the opening plea to keep calm and not respond to disruption. But at one point, when an audience member started to recite a Palestinian themed parody of Shylock’s famous ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ speech, an exasperated ‘piss off’ met with warm applause.

BDS Activists Lose, Act Out In London

I've been trying to recast Shylock's "Hath Not A Jew Eyes" speech to be spoken by a BDS activist, but I don't have the talent, or the heart to do that to Shakespeare. I'll settle for just popping in to mention that, amazingly, the London BDS crowd didn't take being told by the Globe Theatre to shove off lying down. Nope, they showed up with signs, flags, and band-aids over their mouths.

One man was arrested for assaulting a security guard outside.

Please note the message of the Band-Aids: "Allowing Israelis to perform in the same festival with Palestinians means that I am being silenced. Me, me, it's all about me!!!"

Cultural Boycott Fails, Israeli Shakespeare Performance Sold Out

I almost want to scold Habimah, Israel's national theater group, for choosing The Merchant of Venice to stage at the Globe Theate as part of an international Shakespeare festival. Merchant? Really? It's an edgy choice, but edgy in a sort of dated way. I would, honestly, rather have seen an Israeli-nuanced King Lear, or The Winter's Tale. But I'm not in London anyway, and nobody asked me.

However, any criticism of Habimah's choice has to be overshadowed by the cheerfulness with which I report that, yet again, the forces of BDS have produced great Sturm und Drang, and two sold-out performances for Habimah in London.

In the end, it all came down to a protest outside, a counterprotest, a lot of police checking bags, and then,

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

Israel wins, Shakespeare wins, London, strutting her cultural stuff for the Olympics, wins, and the Palestinian company who performed Richard II wins. BDS loses.

In nosing around for information on the event, I happened to run across this piece by Harry Glass at Worker's Liberty. They're a Trotskyite group, which raises my hackles to begin with, and I am not thrilled by Glass's light use of the term 'atrocity' toward the end of this piece. (So basically, this is a reading suggestion, not an endorsement) It is a well-written, well-reasoned, far-left critique of BDS, thorough and coming from a clear worldview that extends beyond the irrational self-congratulation of BDS supporters. I found myself impressed.

Glass writes: BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region.

Read it in full.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Arabic Translation of the Talmud Now Out--The ADL Reports

Translating the Talmud into a new language is no light matter. It's a long shelf full of books, made up not of a single text, but of interlocking commentaries, and written in a terse, legal Aramaic in which lengthy arguments are reduced to a sort of telegraphic shorthand, and then unfolded by generations of scholars to lengthy arguments once more. This is not the latest Harry Potter book, or a set of directions for an IKEA desk, this is a challenge for a translator on a par with Finnegans Wake, but more of it. Much more.

So the news that the entire Bavli has been translated and published in Arabic was fairly big news in the scholarly world. It does raise some questions though. Who actually needs a Talmud in Arabic? English, sure, I myself have learned a little using Adin Steinsaltz's spectacular life's work of a translation. Hebrew translations are available, and French, Russian, and Spanish. But more than sixty years after the founding of the State of Israel triggered the expulsion of the ancient Jewish communities of the Arabic-speaking world, you have to wonder how many potential learners are out there who cannot read Aramaic, Hebrew, English or French, and must have an Arabic translation.

Don't ponder that question for too long. The translation is not for us.

As the ADL reports, the purpose of this translation, made explicit in its introduction, is to present the Talmud as a deeply racist text, which reveals the deep racism of Jews, and has formed the deeply racist State of Israel. Racist all the way down, and therefore completely illegitimate as a nation.

The ADL quotes the introduction: “These texts confirm the racist and hostile perception toward the non-Jews, especially those who threaten the ‘chosen nation’ and stand in the way of its ambitions and hopes. There is no doubt that Israel is the best example of this racist position, both in the level of its daily crimes against the Palestinians and the level of its rejection and contempt for international resolutions and laws. For what applies to other countries in the world does not apply to contemporary Israel, as it is unique...Jews, according to this racist position [of the Talmud], are permitted to do what is not permitted for non-Jews.”

The ADL article concludes: The conclusion of the introduction neatly merges the publishers’ anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclivities: “The Talmudic heritage has a significant impact on the formulation of Jewish identity based on holy [principles of] racial isolation…It [the Talmud] also established the extreme positions that advocate hatred toward non-Jews, the violation of their rights and looting of their lands and property.” The publisher then refers to the Zionist movement’s alleged “crimes” against the Palestinian people as an example of the Talmud’s validation of racist policies.

So, who commissioned this?

MESC, established in 1991, is a Jordan-based political think tank that focuses on the Middle East and North Africa. The Center has a special unit on Israeli affairs, which monitors Israel, Zionist organizations and Hebrew-language media. MESC is highly critical of Israel, and organized a conference last year on the Palestinian unilateral declaration efforts to which they invited senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders as well as Hamas officials.

Al-Jazeera has specifically promoted this book as a contribution to the “establishment of Arabic language Jewish studies” as well as claiming that the translation “identifies the features of the Jewish character that blend elements of racial superiority with Mosaic teachings.”

Nicholas Donin's legacy lives on. This is an old tactic, relatively newly adapted to a new political goal, the delegitimization of Israel. Anyone who has spent much time dealing with hard-core Israel-haters has probably encountered this already, the desperate attempt to take Jews out of time and space--out of history--and reduce them, against any rational interpretation, to a people driven to conquest and oppression by a scattering of quotations taken out of context from a thirty-seven volume legal code.

It's a sickening tactic, but clearly, seen as effective enough for MESC to invest the time and the money to commision this translation, and that worries me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This Bird Controls the Media

State Bird of Israel. This is what a Zionist with wings looks like.
This is a hoopoe, called in Hebrew a dukhifat. It is the national bird of the State of Israel. They are insectivores, also sunbathers. According to the good folks at Wikipedia "hoopoes sunbathe by spreading out their wings and tail low against the ground and tilting their head up; they often fold their wings and preen halfway through. The hoopoe also enjoys taking dust and sand baths."

I am, of late, developing an interest in Israeli wildlife, having realized at some point that many of the animals referred to again and again in Torah were things I really didn't know very much about. I am rather embarassed to say that well into my thirties, I believed that a hyrax was a kind of gazelle or something, when it turns out that they are actually "fairly small, thickset, herbivorous mammals in the order Hyracoidea"*. Apparently they are sort of the raccoons of the Middle East, and have been known to raid trash cans. I think they're adorable. They also get Biblical mentions, and not only in terms of being trayf, which they are, but also poetically in the Psalms; The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax."

But enough about the hyraxes for now. Today we're talking about the hoopoe, which is also not kosher**, and which has also inspired Manchester’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign to be critical of the socialist British daily newspaper the Morning Star.

What the heck could the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have against the humble, bug-eating, dust-bath-taking hoopoe, you ask? And how did the Morning Star get involved in this? Well, I'm glad you asked. The Morning Star has a daily quiz, in which one of the questions recently made reference to the fact that the hoopoe is Israel's national bird. This is a fact suitable for a trivia quiz, right up there with the fact that the national animal of Belize is the Baird's tapir, or that the bangus is the national fish of the Philippines. And yet, there was an element in town that objected.
In a letter to the newspaper, Linda Claire, the chairwoman of Manchester’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign, asked why it had referred to the bird after it has “always been the newspaper you could rely on to support the cause of the Palestinians.”
“Maybe you don’t support the methods chosen by the international solidarity movement of BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel] to assist the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and justice,” she said, adding that this included any reference to Israel’s wildlife.
No, no, you didn't misread that. She considers BDS to apply to free-range wildlife. Her husband also seems to consider the hoopoe, an indigenous bird that has never been known to harm anyone who wasn't a beetle, to be a wedge fowl.
“Despite its condemnation of zionists [sic] it yet finds space to include an item in its daily quiz about Israel’s national bird. Is the Star not aware there’s a cultural boycott going on?” Claire’s husband, George Abendstern, asked in another letter.
 (George, a tip here...the Israelis did not INVENT the hoopoe. They are not MARKETING it. Its inclusion in the quiz does not indicate any sort of policy statement.) This may just leave you scratching your head in puzzlement, or, if you're a hoopoe, off to take another dust bath and take it easy, but this nutty couple underline something very real about BDS: it's not about policy, it's not about any positive goal, it's about the blind hatred of Israel, and the desire to reject anything connected to Israel--hoopoes included.

 After being criticized for being really weird, the PSC clarified. “It was not the bird we object to but what this bird represents – the racist and apartheid State of Israel.”

It's not racism they want to get rid of, folks, or the imagined's Israel.

*'Thickset?' say the hyraxes. 'Thanks.'

**Just as well for the hoopoe, one might point out.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hypocrisy at Muzzlewatch: AIPAC, PennBDS, and Mitchell Plitnick

Over at MuzzleWatch, Mitchell Plitnick is upset that AIPAC has taken back his press credentials, and will not give him media access at their Annual Policy Conference.

Now, AIPAC does not consult me about these things, so I don't know why his press credentials were either granted or revoked.  However, I would like to note that JVP, which produces MuzzleWatch, and of which Plitnick is a former co-director, did not protest or comment when, a month ago, the National BDS Conference at the Univerity of Pennsylvania, which JVP officially endorsed, revoked the press credentials of one local Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Exponent, and refused press access outright to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

MuzzleWatch's newfound concern about censorship rings hollow. They are happy to complain when AIPAC withholds press credentials, but the barring of the local Jewish press from a major anti-Israel conference (which JVP endorsed, did I mention that?) rates not even a yawn.

It's convenient to be the eternal victim over at MuzzleWatch, proudly wearing tape over your mouth for all to see. It's less convenient to hold all conferences to one standard, especially when one conference is being run by a group you want to please, and another by a group you despise. But that's the only way to avoid being rightly identified as a whiner and a hypocrite.

(I also hate to point this out, but AIPAC has had some trouble with JVP activists, which Plitnick certainly is, in the past. To the best of my knowledge, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice has no record of disrupting BDS conferences.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Nicholas Donin, and the Proud Self-Hating Jew

On February 24th of this year, Gilad Atzmon published two tweets in close succesion. The first read: It's ironic that Anti-Defamation League @ADL_National defames me calling me anti-semite, I am jewish #ThoughtPolice. US tour begins Feb 25

Shortly thereafter, Atzmon seemed to feel the need to clarify, and tweeted again. Meant to say, it's ironic that Anti-Defamation League @ADL_National defames me calling me anti-semite, I am jewish by origin.

Atzmon's followers love this line of reasoning--a Jew, they believe, even one who calls himself 'proudly self-hating', must be accepted as an authentic Jewish voice, (in fact, a more authentic Jewish voice, for some reason) and cannot be called an anti-Semite. This reminds me of the people who haunt the Internet, linking over and over to the same video of black people talking about how they like Ron Paul--proof absolute, they insist, that Ron Paul cannot be a racist.

It also reminds me of Nicholas Donin.

You may not have heard of Donin. 'Of Jewish origin', like Gilad Atzmon, he became a Christian, and was in 1225 excommunicated by Rabbi Yehiel of Paris. Donin spent his life trying to destroy Jews, and he was appallingly successful. Joining a monastic order, he first appears to have incited attacks by Crusaders on the Jewish community in France, leading to 3000 deaths. In 1236, he approached Pope Gregory IX with a list of accusations of blasphemies supposedly contained in the Talmud. Books were seized, and after the Disputation of Paris, in which Donin faced off with his old adversary, Rabbi Yehiel, the Talmud was burned in Paris.

Donin used his identity as a person 'of Jewish origin' to effectively destroy the stability of the medieval Jewish community of France. His legacy persists to this day--anti-Semitic websites still quote the same passages Donin mined from the Gemara in the thirteenth century to smear and defame Jews and Judaism.

Gilad Atzmon, the man who feels that Hitler was hard done by when Jews organized a boycott of German products, would probably have liked him. Donin and Atzmon share a deep and abiding hatred for Jews and for Judaism, and a willingness to use their status as 'insiders' to claim special knowledge, and harm other Jews.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Great Gilad Atzmon Paperchase

Respectfully submitted by the Makabit, notes on the events befalling the Bay Area Zionists on the evening of February 25, Oakland, California:

Gilad Atzmon can be described in a variety of ways. You could describe him, as his adoring fans do, as a 'prolific performer, composer, author and activist'. You could describe him as nearly everyone else does, as a unhinged hater whose writings drip with classical anti-Semitism and a poisonous hatred of Jews and Judaism. Or, you could describe him, as a lady of my acquaintance does, simply as 'someone who makes a living being a self-hating saxophonist'.

A brief primer on Gilad Atzmon for those of you who may have blissfully erased him from your memory banks since the last time he popped up. Atzmon is on record as saying:

“I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue. I can see that it is a rational act.”

“American Jews do try and control the world by proxy” 

“There is no such thing as anti-Semitism”
“Why is it that the Jews who repeatedly demand  that the Christian world should apologize for its involvement in previous persecutions, have never thought that it is about time that they apologized for killing Jesus?"

“I wanted to be an ordinary human being, which is very unusual for a Jew.”
He is most recently the author of a book entitled The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics, described by Walter Russell Mead as "a genuinely anti-Semitic book by a deeply twisted anti-Semite — who happens also to be Jewish." The book, among other things, speculates about the truth of the blood libel, and points out in Hitler's defense that American Jews were persecuting him by boycotting German goods. Atzmon also adds, of the Shoah: I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start to ask the necessary questions. We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws. 

I won't even get into what he says about Israel, a nation that had the misfortune to count Gilad Atzmon as a citizen until he renounced his connections to Israel, Judaism, and sanity. (He now lives in Britain, which deserves better.) So you get the idea: proudly self-loathing, comfortable with the tropes of Holocaust denial, and reviving the ugliest smears of classical anti-Semitism. 

This charming fellow is much beloved by people who hate Israel, and are pleased by the vicious image that Atzmon creates of Jews and Israelis. Which is why he is repeatedly invited to star at various 'fundraisers' for various anti-Israel activities. Most recently, this led to his being invited to Oakland, CA, on the evening of Saturday, February 25, for an evening of music and anti-Semitism, to raise funds for the Global March to Jerusalem. For reasons that will follow shortly, I do not believe that they can have possibly raised enough money to cover the cost of flying Mr. Atzmon out from England. In fact, one of the most consistent things about Atzmon's fundraising endeavors is that they never seem to raise much in the way of funds. But that is a consideration for another day.

Of course, if we was gonna be there, we were gonna be there. The Zionists and proud Jews of the Bay Area revved up. We took old signs out of storage, and painted new ones. There was no way Atzmon was going to speak anywhere in the Bay Area without us standing by and telling the world the truth about his vile shtick. We were a little nervous, after the peaceful organizers of this event contacted anarchists at Occupy Oakland for 'security', soliciting the response "Who do you want us to beat up?" But we went anyway. We were determined to speak truth to...whatever it is Gilad Atzmon is.

Things got complicated after that, though, because rather than face being called out for being a purveyor of hate speech, racism, and vile lies, Gilad Atzmon went on the run.

We arrived at the designated location, only to find that the only people stirring around the building were young and fashionable--not exactly the typical Atzmon fans. Several of the girls were wearing wigs teased into big Afros. It was, as we later learned, the Seventh Annual Say it Loud 70's Fashion Show.

We admired the young people's retro ensembles. But where was Atzmon? We found this notice taped to the inside of a nearby door.

As you'll note, they didn't leave an address or phone number, which is customary when a piece of theater has a change of venue, but then again, the point of the change of venue may simply have been to shake off pursuit. While a forlorn pair of Atzmon fans called several numbers, trying to find out where the event had gotten to, the Zionists surveyed the scene, and shrugged. The field was ours, and we were on the point of declaring victory and going out to dinner. We even took a few photographs.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we then found out where Atzmon was hiding. (It was cold and bleak and dark, and I was actually looking forward to dinner.) However, one of the organizers showed up to discreetly hand out flyers with the new address, and armed with one of these, we leaped back in our assorted conveyances and headed out to find Atzmon's new hide-out.

The new location was on a residential street, and as we rolled down it looking for street numbers, we came to the conclusion that the new location was probably someone's living room. But we were wrong. Oh, how wrong we were.

Atzmon's new venue turned out to be the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, and I confess that when I saw the sign, I actually shrieked a little, and our driver was so discombobulated that she accidentally parked in the cultural center's parking lot. This later turned out to be something of a problem, but we were, to put it mildly, startled.

I do not know how Gilad Atzmon managed to find shelter from the storm at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, seeing as he is neither a Muslim, nor particularly cultured, aside from his saxophone playing, which is apparently pretty decent. I can only assume that he was seriously mischaracterized to the poor soul in charge of scheduling, who therefore made the disturbing mistake of letting a man who thinks burning a synagogue is a 'rational act' into a building which serves as a mosque.

We all spilled out of our cars, and lined up along the fence in front of the ICC parking lot. We had signs, and a banner, and a flag, and we all made ourselves fairly comfortable. (It was cold, it was dark, and we were protesting a nasty bigot in front of a local Cultural Center, but other than that, we were comfortable.)

After that, things went fairly smoothly. An event organizer hovered outside, glaring at us, and denouncing our flyer as a pack of lies. A few young men, wearing sunglasses in the middle of the night, were produced from somewhere, and stood around, nominally protecting the entrance to the ICC. I believe they were intended to look menacing, but they seemed more intrigued by us than anything else.

Meanwhile, no actual ticket-holders seemed to be showing up. We gathered, from hurried conversations between the organizers, that things were being delayed, while everyone was apprised of the new location. That was OK. We waited. Meanwhile, people kept exiting the ICC, many of them with young children, apparently leaving some other event inside. I felt rather awkward as they walked past me. It seemed like mere politeness to scream a warning. "Your cultural center has Gilad Atzmon in it!" I mean, I would want to know. But I wasn't sure of the etiquette for this situation. I settled for smiling politely.

The organizer-in-chief threatened to call the police, so we tried to be helpful and called them ourselves. They showed up several minutes later, and chatted with our representative and that of the Atzmon fans, familiarizing themselves with the situation.

They also turned out to be useful because, as I may have mentioned, we had parked in the ICC's parking lot, and getting out was now starting to seem somewhat perilous. I'm trying to make this whole outing as lighthearted as possible, but the truth of the matter is that any fan of Gilad Atzmon's is pretty much automatically a pretty special kind of hater, and these people scare the heck out of me. Luckily, one of the police officers, apprised of the situation, agreed to escort our car and driver out of the parking lot.

After that, we stood around and held our signs and got very cold, while the Atzmon people engaged in their favorite pastime, filming Zionists. One of them attached to one of our activists and kept him talking for the entire hour and a half we were there, filming the whole thing. A young woman smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and wearing an "I Heart Gaza" t-shirt filmed the rest of us.

Oh, yes, the actual event? Well, fewer than twenty-five people attended in the end. A trickling handful arrived and were ushered into the parking lot as we stood there. There may have been more activists outside than suckers inside.

We were freezing outside, and in the dubious company of Gilad Atzmon's fans. We were still doing better than those inside, who were listening to Gilad Atzmon. Transcript of the hideous speech that transpired inside coming up in the next post.

Monday, February 27, 2012

'Murdering Assad more important than killing an Israeli'

Well, this is different.

Saudi cleric who once offered cash prize to whomever kidnaps Israeli soldier comes out against Syrian president

Saudi cleric Dr. Awad al-Qarni is claiming that killing Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a more noble deed than killing an Israeli person.

Saudi newspaper Sabah quoted al-Qarni as saying that Assad deserves to die for heresy, referring to him as "Basharon," in a jab alluding to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The Muslim cleric claimed that the Golan Heights will not be freed until Assad's "treacherous" regime falls.

I guess it's important to keep your priorities straight.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coates, Goldberg, and a Question of Approach

Another day, another comment thread online, and the Makabit is slinging comments with another 'critic of Israeli policies'. This isn't a good one; it's like playing ping-pong with a robot. His moves are predictable, his shell impenetrable, and we can do this for as long as I'm willing to send the ball back across the table. As the conversation deteriorates, it gets even more routine.

We've identified one another's agendas, and are no longer even pretending to talk. "Israel seized a country," he says. That's not true, by any possible definition, I tell him. He doesn't bother to bring the facts he's been demanding from everyone else, defaulting to telling me that I 'know' I'm not right about that. Finally, he informs me that if I want people to think I'm a peacenik (a goal and title I hadn't actually laid claim to), I should change my name. "Makabit" apparently, is too warlike...darn those indigenous freedom fighters!

I sign off, bored and frustrated, and vowing, probably in vain, not to engage in this sort of futile fight again. And I start thinking:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a reputation for having an excellent and active group of commenters at his Atlantic blog. I read there often, and occasionally comment, and I find it to be an extremely pleasant experience. The commentariat is bright, literate, and interested in the issues Coates addresses. Conversely Jeffrey Goldberg only recently opened comments on his blog at the Atlantic, and the results have been mixed.

Goldberg is currently carrying on a running feudette with Glenn Greenwald over Greenwald's use and defense of the anti-Semitic slur "Israel-Firsters", but I think that any widely read blogger with a positive attitude toward Israel would have drawn a similar crowd. The words 'anti-Israel' are enough to bring them popping out of the woodwork. "Define anti-Israel!" they scream. "Was is racist when South Africa was boycotted? Define anti-Semitic! Give us links!"

Under these circumstances, any conversation deteriorates back to the ping-pong game. You have to start from basic principles every time, going over the essential history of the region, fighting over framing. Then the rest of the bag of tricks. It is combative, and mind-numbingly repetitive. Trying to have an intelligent conversation about Israel, anti-Semitism, or pretty much anything else under these circumstances is like trying to play chess under artillery fire.

How does Coates do it? I started to wonder. After all, he frequently writes about race in the United States, not exactly a non-controversial subject on the Internet, and one with its own endless framing arguments. How has he created a place where people have intelligent discussions about the things he posts, without endlessly setting the discussion back to, "Wah, wah, you say everything's racist! Define racism succinctly! I want links!"?

Well, Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't allow people to show up and pee on the floor, and he bans people when they do that. I've watched him do it. He's not liked by some for it. They complain bitterly, elsewhere. If you show up referencing racist authors, or pouting that you could say that affirmative action is black supremacism, and why doesn't anyone want to discuss that, or wanting to go over the complicity of Africans in the slave trade, Coates will show you the door. Then you can go and talk about what a coward he is on your own blog, and the rest of us can actually talk about whatever the subject du jour is.

Most pro-Israel blogs with discussion-prone comments sections don't do this, and many blogs (by no means most, or all, I have no statistics) dealing with racial issues or gender issues do.

I suspect we don't do it because we think that banning commenters who are being asses is censorship. We don't want to provide ammunition to people who already like to claim they're being silenced all the time. I think we've also developed within the BlogoZion a belief that action online means addressing these people, all the time, and debating them wherever they show up.

It's kind of pointless, though, and I think it hinders our ability to talk about more nuanced issues. What would happen if, instead of indulging the "Define anti-Israel!" crowd, Goldberg simply blocked them and left them to go elsewhere? Would we be able to talk about a wider range of subjects? Would people feel freer to explore nuance, without the artillery fire coming in from everywhere?

Beyond the practical, I think that setting standards for discussion about Israel and enforcing them is a healthy move toward reframing. It says: Israel exists, and has a right to. We won't discuss this any longer, and we won't allow the conversation to be derailed with false history or attempts to put words in our mouths. We won't waste our time endlessly playing games with people whose clear agenda is to harm Israel, any more than we waste our time playing games with people who want everyone to agree that racism is over, and women have too much power in modern society.

What would it mean to actually log out of conversation with the armchair anti-Israel crowd? What could we do with that time? That emotional and spiritual energy?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Meet Sherian Kihia

In the last several years, there have been more and more Israeli Arabs and other Israeli minority groups, especially women, moving into areas of Israeli society where they haven't previously worked. I like highlighting these, and other Israeli pioneers, here. They offer a slice of life in Israel, good and bad, that you really can't understand from anything but an individual's experience.

Today's profile is of Sherian Kihia, a young Muslim woman from East Jerusalem, who is Magen David Adom's first Muslim ambulance driver. (Note: a commenter on this piece says that they work for MDA, and that there are other Muslim drivers. S/he thinks the article may mean to say the first Muslim woman driver.)

For years, 24-year-old Sherian Kihia of east Jerusalem dreamed of volunteering with the Magen David Adom emergency organization. In order to realize her ambition she had to overcome internal and external criticism about working alongside men and until the small hours of the night. 

For a moment she even feared she won't be able to find a match. But all this did not stop her from fulfilling her life's dream.

Now, after being admitted by MDA and making history as the organization's first Arab volunteer, she says with complete confidence: "I engage in saving lives and don’t get into questions of religion or nationality. I'm actually receiving a lot of support within my sector."

Her husband is supportive: "One of the problems was the fact that I get home late, which is unacceptable in my sector," she shares, "but my family supported me and so did my husband. He said, 'Do what you want. You have my support.'

"The truth is that I didn't even think about what people would say. Even before I met him I said I wouldn't want to marry a man who would be annoyed by the fact that I return home late or drive an ambulance."

It's hoped she will be a role model: Murad Salman, director of the east Jerusalem team, concludes: "We hope that Kihia's decision to join us will raise awareness for volunteer work among other young people from the Arab sector."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The First Druze "Lone Soldier" Reaches Israel

It doesn't hurt that he's hot...
This is Pvt. Fadi Abad Ahallik. He's a Brazilian Druze, who recently made aliyah to serve in the IDF as his father and grandfather did, making him the first Druze 'lone soldier'.

Over at the IDFblog, there's a profile up: 

Fadi was born in Hurfeish, Israel, but during fifth grade, he and his family moved to Brazil. Being raised in Brazil, he was not obligated to serve. However, just a few months shy of his 18th birthday–the IDF conscription age–Fadi decided to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps by making Aliyah to Israel and volunteering to serve. “I didn’t want to be different, and I wanted to do my part for the country,” he explains.

Fadi’s grandfather, Col. (res.) Sayid Abad Allhallik, is a reservist in the IDF and takes care of Fadi in his parents’ absence. He was the first commander of the all-Druze Herev Battalion, the same battalion Fadi joined, and was the first person from a Druze family to achieve such a position. Sayid had an illustrious military career and he even met the former chief of staff, Ehud Barak. Upon his grandson’s arrival, Sayid contacted Fadi’s future battalion commanders to inform them and assigned Fadi a personal translator to help with the Hebrew.

Fadi is progressing rapidly in Hebrew, as well as in his weapons training. “At first, the weapon seemed dangerous to me, but after you learn to use it you realize that’s not the case,” he says. Fadi also met a fellow Brazilian during his training: “Speaking Portuguese in the middle of the desert was a very special experience for me.”

When he reached his base, Fadi received an international phone card in order to keep in touch with loved ones in Brazil. He also keeps in touch with friends through social media sites. To the girl he dated before he left, he promised: “I’ll visit again in a year, since I deserve a flight home, just like any other lone soldier.”

This young man inherits a great legacy of Druze in the IDF. Kol ha'kavod, Fadi.

Friday, January 27, 2012

This Is How You Do It

Ruben Navarette seems to be visiting Israel with a group sent by "America's Voices In Israel". I found out about this when I opened the Oakland Tribune to find an article of his about a recent High Court decision, "Israel's Wrong Turn On Citizenship".

Navarette believes that the Israeli court made a bad decision when they upheld a law preventing Palestinians from gaining Israeli citizenship through Israeli spouses. Depending on your feelings about this issue, you may want to write to Mr. Navarette and tell him he's right on, or totally wrongheaded and stupid. Personally, I'm a little torn on the issue, but I'm not linking and commenting on this article because of my take on Navarette's take on Israeli immigration law.

I'm linking it because it's a rather unusual piece of reporting. Unfortunately.

It's a criticism of an Israeli policy. That's all. It does not accuse Israelis broadside of racism or atrocities. It does not question Israel's right to exist. It does not question whether Israel can be considered a democracy. It does not carefully include any heart-tugging dubious anecdotes.

It reports on a specific Israeli policy, accurately, and then discusses, with some practicality, and realistic reference to reasons why such a policy exists, why he does not believe it is a good one. He acknowledges that he does not live in Israel, but that he believes that this was a poor call.

And he manages to describe the decision as 'troubling', without throwing in a wholesale dismissal of Israel's legitimacy among nations. Even that headline: "Israel's Wrong Turn ON CITIZENSHIP", not "Israel's Right Wing Takes Over Everything Even More".

You know how rare that is? I was almost puzzled when I finished reading it. It was as though something was missing. If you spend enough time reading about Israel in the papers, you get used to the myriad small buzzing stings of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that leave poison all over the most innocuous article topics if only Israel gets involved. I kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting. For the second shoe full of malice to drop. It didn't. I think Navarette is just...for real, not in the sarcastic, malevolent sense it's usually used...criticizing an Israeli policy.

That's not to say that this is a perfect piece. I think the connection he tries to make to U.S. immigration issues is clunky and forced, the situations too dissimilar to make a good parallel.  I think that it's inevitable that he would try to make a connection to U.S. immigration policy, both because it's familiar to his readers, and is a topic he frequently discusses, but I don't think it works.  I also think that some of the consequences he envisions are, similarly, not terribly relevent to the situation.

Nevertheless: for all the whiners who complain that if you 'criticize Israel's policies', you're immediately marked an anti-Semite, please take note of Mr. Navarette. I think he did a good job.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tefillin Banned In Jordan

Further putting the regional conflict into context. At IMRA:

Makor Rishon correspondents Avinadav Vitkin and Asaf Gabor reported in the 19 January edition that Jordan continues to ban the entry of tefillin (phylacteries) into Jordan by Israeli tourists.

A veteran tour guide recommended that religious tourists enter Jordan via the Eilat-Aqaba border as the ban is not strictly enforced there.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry told the reporters that they are in contact with Jordanian authorities trying to lift the ban but that there are a number of elements in the Jordanian establishment who are preventing it.

I'm curious to know what the worst thing that could happen if Israelis bring tefillin into Jordan. Actually, I'm kind of curious to know if there's any way at all to spin this as being something other than simple anti-Semitism.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"A Jewish Boy Is Going To Represent Turkey!"

This nice young man is Can Bonomo. His family has lived in Turkey for 540 years, and now he's going to represent that nation at Eurovision this year. Oh, yeah, and he's Jewish.

Naturally, there's an element in town that objects:

Turkey’s Jews are pleased as can be that for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at the Eurovision song contest.

But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment -- at least not the Jewish part.

“We would like to inform that Mr. Can Bonomo is bound to refuse answering all the questions about his religious beliefs, anti-Semitism and political subjects,” Bonomo’s spokesman, Ece Kahraman, wrote in a statement to JTA.

Bonomo has taken pains to tell fans that he will be participating in Eurovision as a Turk, not as a Jew.

“My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the "Aksam" news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

Prior to his appearance on "Aksam," radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons.

The way in which the anchor framed her question in the interview probably didn’t put him at ease.

“People might say you were chosen because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with Israeli lobby groups,” she said. “I would like to get your comments.”

Bonomo is choosing to deal with this simply by emphasizing that he's going to Eurovision as a Turkish singer. That's probably for the best, and I can understand why a 24-year-old Turkish hipster musician doesn't want to wade deeper into the morass that is anti-Semitism and paranoia about Israel, not when he's on his way to Baku. (Yes, seriously, it's in Baku this year. A town I can never hear the name of without beginning to quote the opening lines of a poem by Zelda Knizhnik that begins (in Yiddish), "My husband's in America, a son is in Baku...")

It's worth noting, though, the ways in which anti-Israel and anti-Semitic threads are so casually drawn around a kid who's entirely apolitical, singing Turkish hipster music. This, the fact that this kid, whose family has lived in Turkey for over five hundred years has to be asked to prove that he's not a Zionist front man, this illustrates perfectly how foolish it is to imagine that anti-Zionism exists without anti-Semitism.

On a lighter note, here's Can singing "Mezcup". I have no idea what this song is about, but he's got some style. And he's just adorable.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Chosen People Have To Be Perfect"

If providing human rights to LGBT Israelis is 'pinkwashing', what is it when they provide excellent prenatal care to expectant mothers? "Blue-and-pinkwashing"? "Babywashing"?

I really cannot add much to this excellent dissection of an article that appeared in a Dutch paper, written by Yochanan Visser, and crossposted to CIFWatch, in which Israel's prenatal health program is cast as a sinister eugenics project:

Last week the Dutch Christian daily ‘Trouw’ reached a new low when it published a vicious article about prenatal care in Israel entitled: “The chosen people have to be perfect”.

The writer, Ilse van Heusden, gave birth to a healthy baby boy while temporarily living in Israel.

She succeeded in portraying the prenatal care in Israel as a government instigated ‘military operation’ aimed at the production of babies as perfect as possible.

Apart from distortions and lies the article contained many accusations and insinuations which are reminiscent of classic anti-Semitic rants.

Read the whole thing. This is a new classic in the subgenre of anti-Israel writing called, "I was in Israel, and nothing much happened, but I could feel it was all icky and fascist in my bones". (If anyone can come up with a shorter name for the genre, that would be much appreciated.) She is asked to do a lot of tests. She doesn't want to, but does anyway. The healthcare system is different from the one in the Netherlands, and she doesn't like the way they do things. She is asked to do the tests, even though she's healthy, and not Ashkenazi. She asserts, with no proof given, that the state 'demands' children. (They do seem to expend a lot of energy on hers, however, who isn't 'chosen', nor will he be an Israeli citizen.) She has a strange (and I think, fictional) encounter with another mommy, who tells her that the 'chosen people' must be physically perfect. (If I read the Dutch correctly.) Finally, her son is born healthy, with an undersized toe which she sees as some sort of personal triumph over Israeli medicine. (Really. He can take off his sock at BDS meetings for the rest of his life, and show how he defeated the Zionazi OB/GYNs.)

The overall effect is of a series of perfectly ordinary events, being dramatized through scary music and horror-movie lighting. Israel (like dozens of other countries), offers a small (smaller than the Netherlands') subsidy to families with children. (SCREAMING!) Israeli doctors are kind of test-happy. (MORE SCREAMING!!!) Israelis like children. (HYSTERICAL NONSTOP SCREAMING!!!)

This article is the perfect fusion of anti-Semitism and navel-gazing. Four stars.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tel Aviv Named "Best Gay City"

Now, this is what pinkwashing is all about.
Israel's malicious campaign of pinkwashing--giving LGBT Israelis full civil rights, recognition of foreign marriages, health care for domestic partners, and all that other dreadful imperialist stuff they do...has paid off.

Tel Aviv has been named Best Gay City for 2011.

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Tel Aviv has been named the best gay city for 2011 in a poll sponsored by American Airlines and

The city was selected as the "Best City of 2011" in the "Best of Gay Cities 2011" poll. Tel Aviv garnered 43 percent of the votes, followed by New York City with 14 percent and Toronto with 7 percent.

"Winning this competition constitutes an additional strengthening of the fact that Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a city that respects all people and allows everyone to live according to his/her own principles," Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said. "Ours is a city in which everyone can be proud of who they are."

New York won in the Best Night Life category, San Francisco took the Best Pride city category, and Buffalo, N.Y., was the Most Up-and-Coming city.

More than 5,000 gay tourists visited Tel Aviv in June for its annual pride parade, according to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality.

If you go to, and look at their map of great gay cities, you're going to notice something, and that's that Tel Aviv stands alone in the Middle East. I mean, entirely alone. That little pin in the map marks the lone gay party town of the region.

Kol ha-kavod, Tel Aviv!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Women Now Majority in Israeli Justice System

In a week when there's been a lot of bleak talk about women in Israel, a reminder of how egalitarian Israeli society really is:

More than half of serving judges in Israel are women
Women account for almost half of lawyers in country

 Jerusalem, Jan. 8 – The appointment over the weekend of new judges to Israel’s Supreme Court included Daphne Barak-Erez, a rising legal star who will be the youngest jurist on the top bench.

Barak-Erez, the dean of Tel Aviv University’s law faculty, was among the four nominees. Her background includes military service in the armed forces Military Prosecutors office, and a reputation for a strong stance against corruption.

More than half of the 646 judges serving on the benches of Israeli courts are women, and Israel’s Labor Court is also presided over by a woman, Nili Arad, with women comprising just over 60 percent of the labor court judges. Israeli female judges vastly outnumber their American counterparts, where in the U.S. roughly one fifth of federal judges are women, while at the state level that number goes up to only 26 percent.

Israel’s Supreme Court matches the United States in that one third of the judges are women, including the top judge, Dorit Benisch. Israel first appointed a woman, Miriam Ben Porat, to its top legal body in 1977, four years before Sandra Day O'Connor became America’s first female member of the Supreme Court.

On the other side of the bench, women comprise almost half the 49,000 lawyers in Israel, with women holding the posts of legal advisors in the Ministry of Defense, the Police force, the Histadrut National Trade Union and the Civil Service Commission.

The Israel Bar Association says it “supports and promotes the integration of women working in the profession,” and is happy with the current situation where there is an almost total balance between the numbers of male and female attorneys.

For reference: today, in the United States, women comprise 26.3% of the judgeships on state courts of last resort, 19.2% of federal district court judgeships, 20.1% of federal appellate judgeships, and 33.3% of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

How Do You Say "Jewfication" In Turkish?

From Roi Kais at YNet News:

Hamas prime minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday received a warm welcome from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during an official meeting in Istanbul.

Palestinian media outlets reported that Haniyeh and Erdogan met in the prime minister's residence along with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other officials.

Palestinian sources said the meeting lasted two hours, during which the leaders agreed that a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be reached without involving Hamas in the negotiations.

For some reason, I am not surprised that they came to this conclusion.

According to reports, Haniyeh and Erdogan discussed the "The 'Jewfication' of Jerusalem, and the cruel attacks against its Arab residents."

Erdogan, who expressed support for reconciliationefforts between Hamas and Fatah, spoke about "the necessary steps to preserve the holy sites for Muslims and Christians," and expressed hope that the Palestinians will have "an umbrella organization that will offer significant and democratic representation to all political groups."

Three guesses. Who's missing?

During the meeting, the two also discussed the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, and the May2010 IDF raid on the flotilla that aimed to break it.

Haniyeh thanked Erdogan for his firm stance on the Palestinian issue, praising him for demonstrating "solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead."

The Hamas prime minister departed on his first official visit outside of Gaza since 2007 last week. He left the Strip through Rafah Crossing and is expected to also visit Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Tunisia and Bahrain.

I hate to tell them this, but the "Jewfication of Jerusalem" started some three thousand years ago, and shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

Beit Shemesh and Israel Advocacy: Some Thoughts

Like the rest of the Judeoblogosphere, I have been fixated for days on the situation in Beit Shemesh, where Israelis from all religious and political backgrounds are finally saying 'enough is enough' to the increasingly aggressive and violent Sikrikim gang, and other anti-Zionist, religiously fanatical groups in the Jerusalem area.

After months of increasing violence and petty harassment, largely against women, and other members of the haredi community, and struggle over gender segregation on the buses going through Mea Shearim and nearby areas, the Sikrikim upped their game by harassing little girls at the local Orthodox Orot Banot school in Beit Shemesh. The parents of one of these girls, Naama Margolese, age eight, who was spit on and called a prostitute, went to the media. And Israel responded.

Naama Margolese, with her mother, Hadassah
The last several days have been filled with demonstrations against the violence and intimidation of the extremist groups, along with voices speaking out against them from every corner of society.

Netanyahu declared: “Israel is a Western liberal democracy, and as such its public space is open and safe for all, men and women. There is no place in [Israel] for discrimination. The police will continue to arrest all those who spit, raise their hands, and harass.”

Chief Military Rabbi, Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz said: “The spirit of Jewish law does not allow discrimination or violation of women in any circumstance and on any grounds.”

Left and right, religious and secular, Israelis have found common ground, as have Jews across the Diaspora. The photographs coming out of Beit Shemesh have been inspiring:
The center sign quotes from 'Hatikva'--
Lihiot am chofshi. To be a free people.
Prominent Israelis spoke out. Netanyahu opened the Knesset, declaring: “Israel is a Western liberal democracy, and as such its public space is open and safe for all, men and women. There is no place in [Israel] for discrimination. The police will continue to arrest all those who spit, raise their hands, and harass.”

Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz said: “The spirit of Jewish law does not allow discrimination or violation of women in any circumstance and on any grounds.”
Yelling in the streets for justice.

This gentleman's sign makes me terribly happy.

I immediately became a member of Occupy Bet Shemesh on Facebook, friended the Orot Banot school, and began to send off letters and signing petitions, as is my custom when something in Israel or elsewhere has me riled up.

Other Diaspora bloggers were doing likewise. Vicious Babushka wrote an amazing blog post, from the perspective of a Chabad grandmother of 29, many of whom live in Israel, and appeared on a radio panel.

A young man in payos, and a young woman with her hair uncovered,
stand together, with gentle, thoughtful faces.

Seeing the unifying activist theory rising these past couple of weeks has been a remarkable and heartening experience. At the same time, I could see that people were nervous about the degree to which dirty laundry was being aired, in a world in which even the most positive story coming out of Israel can be quickly appropriated for Israel-bashing purposes. (See, 'pinkwashing'.) "How can Gentiles understand this?" one friend asked me. "I don't understand it myself." And sure enough, I saw people approaching the story understanding only that the 'ultra-Orthodox', a dimly envisioned group who are imagined to be universally fanatical, anti-Arab, anti-woman, and disproportionately politically powerful, were up to something. "How can Israel criticize religious fanaticism anywhere else in the Middle East," the line generally ran, "when they have this happening and home, and the government does nothing to stop it?"

That, of course, is the mistaken part. Actually, two mistaken parts--first, the idea that Israel goes around complaining about other people's religious fanatics, except when those fanatics are directly talking about wiping Israel off the map, (they don't), and secondly, that the government is doing nothing about it, or is somehow supporting these crazies by not doing what, say, many other governments in the Middle East would do if offended by an anti-government group like this, and arresting anyone connected to their movement, torturing them, and keeping them in lockup without charging them. My first instinct, regardless, was to compartmentalize--to speak out about Beit Shemesh, but not to connect it to my Israel advocacy, for fear of making 'a shanda for the haters'.

Ronn Torossian at Algemeiner explores the various ways in which the international media has gotten the wrong end of the stick on this story, in what I consider a very good article. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about a variety of conversations I've had with anti-Israel activists, in which I've told them, bluntly and repeatedly that in contradiction of their assumptions, I do not think that Israel is a perfect fairy-tale land, and that not only am I aware of problems within the society and the government, but I speak out against them, and am an activist against them as much as I am an activist against those who would destroy Israel from without. So I have determined to be as open about my joy at the demonstrations in Beit Shemesh as I am about any other positive event in Israel, as clear about my opposition to religious extremists terrorizing their neighbors, religious and otherwise, as I am about my opposition to the Israel-haters of the world.
The stickers on this boy's face read "Beit Shemesh is a Zionist city".
He is protesting against the religious extremists, who are anti-Zionist.

Denying the validity of a Jewish state.
One point I think we need to make, clearly and loudly, is that while people who are unfamiliar with Israel, and have been ably misinformed by Israel-haters, may think of Toldot Aharon and the Sikrikim as the 'ultra-orthodox' they associate loosely with the settler movement, these people are actually, among other things, rabid anti-Zionists, loosely connected to the Neturai Karta movement, and staunchly opposed to the idea of a secular, democratic, self-determining Jewish state. They are, in fact, the allies of the anti-Israel activists of the West, and closely resemble them in their histrionic sense of theater, willingness to traumatize innocent children, and general ugly behavior.

Secondly, while it may be reasonable to think that something could have been done to rope in the extreme behavior of this fringe group, as I said above, had they tried something similar to this in Egypt under Mubarak they might simply all have vanished off the street one day, and in other places in the world, their spiritual brethren are running the whole show. Israel, a democracy with rule of law, faces a more complicated challenge, similar, perhaps to the one that the American legal system has faced in dealing with groups such as the FLDS. There is a fine line between allowing people to worship and live as they like, and hold their own political beliefs, and preventing them from harming people both in and out of their group, and Israel, like every other democracy worldwide, has to walk this line.

Looking at events unfolding in Beit Shemesh I am proud of us. I am proud of the Israelis and the Diaspora bloggers, I am proud of the people Hadassah Margolese referred to repeatedly in her speech to one of the demonstrations as 'the chareidi, the chiloni and the dati leumi' members of the Beit Shemesh community. I am proud of the Zionists. This is not dirty laundry, this is washing day, and for me it is another reminder of what I love about Israel and the Jewish people worldwide.

Talking About Dual Messages

What we've been saying for years--that the difference between what Palestinian leaders say in English and what they say in Arabic represents a real and chilling issue for any kind of effective moves toward peace--is now the subject of a New York Times article, Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages That Aren’t So Public.

JERUSALEM — A new book by an Israeli watchdog group catalogs dozens of examples of messages broadcast by the Palestinian Authority for its domestic audience that would seem at odds with the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution. Instead, the authors say, their findings show a pattern of non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist, demonization of Israel and promotion of violence.

Of course, this is nothing new. 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.”

This is in some ways a very positive article, but there is enough poison slipped in that I feel the need to point some of it out. The next paragraph goes on:

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.

Well, yes, when people are talking peace out of one side of their mouth, and endless war out of the other, it does make an oddly good propaganda point.

I'm also bothered by some of the counterexamples of Israeli bad faith that are provided, particularly the comment about the education minister planning to take schoolchildren to Hebron on field trips. Given Hebron's enormous historical significance to Jews, this does not strike me as an action which should be taken as threatening to the Palestinian position. Another example given is of the arrests made over the endorsements of The King's Torah, something that should in fact be a point in favor of Israel's promotion of peace. Set against the large, public, and officially sanctioned gestures of respect toward terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi, whose face graces the banner in the photograph accompanying the article, this seems like desperate reaching for equivalency straws.

And, of course, this raised my hackles: Mr. 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.

Note the logic here. (Actually, first note the anonymity of the critics, and the neutral use of the word 'note'. Itamar Marcus declares that he wants reconciliation and peace. Set again this is the criticism that he is living on disputed territory. Clearly, the 'critics' who 'note' this believe that any Israeli (although no Palestinian) who claims to want peace must prove it by living in undisputed territory. Ironic, given that the whole point of Mr. Marcus' work is to point out that, according what Palestinian leaders say in Arabic, all of Israel is 'disputed'.