Netanyahu and Obama: Name-Calling and its Discontents

The obsession in politics and diplomacy with decorum–largely a relic from the past–can easily distract people from the realities of the present. 8575956802_b0f1918361_zCase in point, the uproar over Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest article in the Atlantic, the headline of which, The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here, would seem important enough to warrant more attention than it has gotten so far.

Instead, the whisper of an unnamed “senior Obama administration official,” who called Netanyahu a “chickenshit,” has occupied headlines. And instead of taking a strong, or even a weak stance on Netanyahu’s repeated declarations about expanding settlement activity everywhere in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the White House has only tried to distance itself from the remark, describing it as “unauthorized” and “inappropriate.” Read more at LobeLog

Views of Egypt show new Jewish discourse in USA

In a piece published at the UK news site JNews, I look at Jewish-American responses to the revolution in Egypt and examine how it reflects a new discourse within the Jewish community.

Lunatic Zealots: Right Wing Nuts Assault JVP Members

The Jewish community as a whole needs to start getting a grip on the insane zealotry inherent in lock-step support of Israel.

As someone who was raised in an orthodox community which supports settlements, anti-Arab racism and the sort of awful tendencies that have gained so much more prominence in both Israel and the American Jewish community in recent years, I also understand that the violence reported below, directed at two personal friends of mine whom I know to be non-violent, is not typical of most supporters of Israeli policies. 

But it is also the inevitable result of zealous nationalism, a force which not only leads so many Jews to support massive human rights violations by Israel but also to a growing split in our community between those who are willing to have a rational discussion about Israel (a group which includes many pro-Israel voices, ranging from supportive but critical ones like mine to others who believe that Israel is usually right but that discussion should remain free) and those who display the fanaticism that extremist nationalism so often produces.

And, while it’s true that criminal extremists like those who attacked my friends in Berkeley are the exception, they are also always to be found when people condone fanatic ideas and excuse behavior we would otherwise condemn because we identify in some way with the perpetrators. Sadly, that describes too much support of Israel, something that certainly need not be.

One can also make the point that criticism of Israel, crucial of course for the rights of Palestinians, is critical today more than ever as Israeli policies and actions lead it to the precipice of national suicide. But for the sake of the Jewish future, we must, in any case, confront the zealous lunacy that support for Israel has become in some quarters. We should, most of us, be able to band together for that.

If any readers would like to express solidarity or support for Alexei Folger or Glen Hauer, the two JVP members who were assaulted yesterday, send me a message using the contact form here and I will pass it along to them.  Continue reading

Am Yisrael Chai?

Walking down a street in Hebron that was once a bustling market, one sees shut up stores, and sometimes spray painted slogans in Hebrew on them.

Turn up the road near the Ma’arat Ha’Machpela (Tomb of the Patriarchs), which is also the Ibrahimi Mosque, and one can stroll down the deserted Shehadeh Street, and see the same slogans and symbols: rough Stars of David; stylized ones with a fist representing the movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane; the words “Kahane tzadak” (Kahane was

Symbol of supporters of Meir Kahane

right); and another common slogan—“Am Yisrael Chai.”

The literal translation is “the nation of Israel lives.” But the resonance for many Jews is much deeper. It represents pride in the Jews’ history of overcoming persecution and adversity and determination and confidence that we will be able to meet any challenges the future might bring.

Now, that slogan has been warped and distorted. It is no longer chanted by idealistic Jews who see their people’s survival as a human story of overcoming adversity. It is not an example to show to other oppressed people or groups facing discrimination.

No, now it is a club being used to bludgeon not only Palestinians, but also anyone who might oppose Israeli policy. It is now a chant of a mindless mass of people, consumed with nationalistic zeal. It is now the slogan bullies paint on terrorized innocents forced out of their homes and businesses in Hebron. And it is now the chant used to ridicule young activists who will no longer tolerate lies, political manipulation and human rights abuses being committed in their name. Continue reading

Moving Past Obama

A while back, I wrote about “Giving up on Obama.” A natural corollary to that declaration is, as my friend, Rabbi Brant Rosen inquired, “what then”?

Before I answer that, I wanted to clear up a misapprehension some took from my piece. I have, indeed, lost faith in Obama’s ability to confront the considerable political forces and act in the interest of the United States, Israel and the Palestinians and put force behind the nice-sounding words about a two-solution.

But I have not given up on a two-state solution. I still feel as I always have—I’ll take whatever solution will work and will be acceptable to the people that live in the region. And the two-state solution still has the advantage of being the preferred one by the overwhelming majority of Israelis and still, from all indications, a majority of Palestinians. It is also the solution endorsed by the United States, Europe and the Arab League as well as the PLO. If a two-state solution has been rendered impossible by the massive expansion of Israel’s settlements, as many argue, that isn’t very different from one-state proposals which seem to me at least equally fanciful. And, in any case, it remains true that a one-state solution will mean a very long period of time to reorient international diplomacy towards it.

But the issue is not how many states a solution will ultimately encompass. Whatever solution finally comes about, we are very far from that point. We all knew from the first that Obama’s notions of solving the conflict within two years were ridiculous fancy or, at best, empty political rhetoric. Now we also know that he is not the president who will reverse two decades of American deferral to Israel on all central policy matters. Continue reading

My Departure from Zeek Magazine

Several readers asked why I left Zeek Magazine. In general, this is the sort of thing I’m loathe to write about. However, since the Tikkun Olam blog posted an article about the goings on at Zeek, I thought I should say just a few words, even though the article only barely mentions my departure.

As I told Richard Silverstein, the author of the piece in question, my departure from Zeek was entirely my own decision. I was neither let go nor was I in any way pressured to leave. In fact, I declined a request to continue there on a monthly basis, but with a mutual agreement that I might submit articles there on an ad hoc basis in the future.  The parting was totally amicable.

Like Silverstein, I was dismayed to say the least that The Forward decided to publish an op-ed piece by John Hagee, giving him an opportunity to cover activities which are detrimental to a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict with friendly words to Jews which I believe were disingenuous. But this had nothing to do with my departure.

I also have nothing to add to the issues Silverstein raises regarding Rachel Tabachnik and her departure from Zeek. Both sides in that argument have presented their views and will, I’m sure, continue to do so. As I was not privy to any of the internal discussions involved there between Rachel and Jo Ellen Kaiser at Zeek, I have nothing to offer on either side. I can only say that I hope these things do not escalate as, at the end of the day, we all have the same ultimate goals and we only help the conservative forces in our community when we fight among ourselves.

As Silverstein mentioned, Zeek editor Joel Schalit departed Zeek last week.  Joel was the person who brought me into Zeek and has been working closely with me as my editor for years, long before we both came to Zeek.  I expect that Joel and I will continue to pursue mutual projects. Due to other personal changes that I am working with at this time, Joel’s departure seemed a good time for me to leave as well. That was all there was to it. In no way did anyone at Forward or Zeek encourage my departure, but to the contrary, asked me not to. I did not leave in protest or under pressure.

I hope that Zeek will continue to produce its unique material, I wish Jo Ellen and everyone there only the best, and I hope we will work together again in the future.

So, Let’s Talk About Gaza

Jim Besser has it right in his post today in the New York Jewish Week.

There is no doubt that Operation Cast Lead launched some fierce public discussion here in the US, but most of it was centered on the Goldstone Report and how best to defame one of the leading figures in international law (who is, also Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel) and delegitimize the report he led the production of.

But the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip is something rarely debated in either American or American Jewish political



Naturally, I disagree with Besser that Israel is justified in its siege. It certainly has a right to defend the security of its people, but that right is not limitless and does not justify teaming with Egypt to hold 1.5 million people inside a small patch of land and bar most imports from entering.

But whether one believes the siege is justified or not, it should be self-evident that this is a matter of humanitarian concern and a policy that, having not weakened Hamas one iota in its more than 2.5 year duration, is certainly open to debate.

This should be fundamentally clear: the human toll of the siege is undeniable, and both the ethical and legal justification for it as well as the effectiveness of a policy that has such a dramatic and inevitable impact on so many innocent people must be debated. Continue reading