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'.