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Archive for the ‘General News’ Category



Israeli Vengeance Runs Wild—Violating Torah Law and International Law

Jul7

by: on July 7th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

“Thou Shall NOT Take Vengeance” is a key law of Torah, but it is being ignored in Israel today both by the government and by significant parts of the people of the State of Israel (read Chemi Shalev’s article and Gideon Levi’s article).

We at Tikkun condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teens several weeks ago, and we rejected the suggestion by some on the Left and some in the Palestinian world that this act had to be contextualized to the Occupation. Instead we insisted that acts of kidnapping and then subsequently of murder are ethically wrong and should not be minimized or morally excused on the grounds that just before those kidnappings Israeli occupying forces had killed several Palestinians in nearby Hebron.

Now we watch in horror as Israelis march through the streets of Jerusalem and many other cities calling for vengeance, as some Israelis kidnap and murder a Palestinian teen in East Jerusalem, as the Israeli Army blows up dozens of homes of “suspected terrorists” without the slightest attempt to give them an opportunity to defend themselves against this charge, and as the IDF bombs Gaza though there is no evidence that the Israeli teens were killed by order of anyone in Hamas.

A right wing protest after the funerals of the three kidnapped Jewish teens. Lerner writes,"Now we watch in horror as Israelis march through the streets of Jerusalem and many other cities calling for vengeance." Credit: Tali Mayer/ActiveStills

This, of course, is not fundamentally different from what the United States did after 9/11, or what China did after the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square or what many other countries do. But it is particularly vexing to ethically conscious Jews for the following reason: Israel claims to be “the Jewish state,” and yet its Occupation policies and the violence that flows from those policies have a devastating impact on the ethical claims of the Jewish people, defame God’s name, and leave a historical memory that for thousands of years will plague our people in the eyes of others and in the relationship that ethical Jews will have to our traditions.

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Happy Birthday America!

Jul4

by: on July 4th, 2014 | Comments Off

July 4, 2014. My dear adopted country, I am so happy to be a part of yet another celebration of independence, another anniversary of your birth! For the last fifteen years I have celebrated with you, and with each passing year I have realized how special you are to me. Many people, especially the talking heads on certain cable news networks, think that the scarf on my head diminishes in me the ability to feel loyalty and pride, but they are wrong. I can wear whatever I want, pray however I wish, and still wave the American flag high on the fourth of July. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I am American Muslim I have a deep appreciation of what those two things mean in that combination.


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On the Death of Zalman Schachter Shalomi, z’l: A Great Jewish Teacher and the Founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement

Jul3

by: on July 3rd, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, and one of the most creative and impactful Jewish theologians of the last forty years, died today. I write with tears in my eyes and love in my heart for this incredible teacher, a source of inspiration for literally hundreds of thousands. I loved this man very very deeply for the past fifty one years that I knew him.

This is not a eulogy, but a personal statement of loss and an invitation to those who did know him to share stories about him with us at Tikkun which we can send out to the tens of thousands of people who read our communications. This is my form of grieving after I stopped crying at hearing this news today.

Zalman was born in Europe and barely escaped the Nazis when he was able to flee from France to the U.S. He became a Lubavitcher Hasid and Rabbi in Brooklyn, and was chosen by the rebbe along with his friend Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to reach out to the generation of Jews coming of age on college campuses in the 1950 and 1960s. Zalman served as a campus Hillel rabbi, and there tapped into the emerging new consciousness that we subsequently called “the counter-culture.” His experience with LSD and other hallucinogens opened for him a deeper level of experience that fortified rather than undermined the spirituality that had always sung to his heart and which had been the inspiration for much of the Kabbalistic and Hasidic movements. Like his friend Shlomo Carlebach, Zalman’s teachings and his approach to prayer (davvening) excited young Jews whose experiences in the established synagogues of mainstream American Judaism were quickly alienating the whole generation from the spiritual deadness, materialism, and fearfulness (which often translated into a kind of idolatry of Israel as the only savior assimilated American Jews could believe in) that was at the time parading as “Judaism.”

I was first introduced to Zalman by my mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and am forever grateful for the relationship that we developed after that. As a counselor at Camp Ramah, I invited Zalman to teach my campers some of the ways to pray the “Shma” prayer – and these 13 year olds were mesmerized by Zalman’s ability to translate deep spiritual truths into a language they could understand, and then to embody his teachings in the way he actually led the davvening. So it was no surprise to me that after Heschel died, Zalman became the de facto leader (or perhaps co-leader with Shlomo Carlebach) for all those Jews seeking a spiritually alive Judaism.

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I am being tracked by the NSA

Jul3

by: on July 3rd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Today, I learned that my IP address is being tracked by the NSA, and that – as a law-abiding citizen – it’s likely both the metadata and the actual content of my internet traffic is being analyzed and stored as well.

I know this because of a stunning investigation just published in Germany, which may have been furthered by a second, secret whistleblower, rather than documents released by Edward Snowden.

In this investigation, Jacob Appelbaum, Lena Kampf and John Goetz reveal some of the actual source code and rules for XKeyscore, one of the NSA’s most powerful and comprehensive deep-packet inspection programs. In short, XKeyscore can analyze and store both the metadata and the full internet content of individuals being targeted.

So who is being targeted? According to the investigation, anyone globally who has done an internet search for any number of popular privacy software tools – including Tor and Talis – as well as anyone who has visited either of those sites or been determined to utilize their programs.

Not only are IP addresses automatically tracked by XKeyscore for anyone who might have done so much as search for a web privacy tool, but XKeyscore’s code reveals that the metadata and the actual content of emails and web traffic may be analyzed and stored as well.

Like millions of Americans, I have searched for and used a number of popular privacy programs, including Tor, which I use daily. (Tor is a volunteer-operated initiative, funded by the US government, which annonymizes the internet traffic of users, and is particularly important for journalists and human rights activists.) And like millions of Americans, it’s now clear that my IP address is being tracked by the NSA, and based on the XKeyscore rules published in the investigation, there is a very good chance that deep-packet analysis and storage of my emails and the content of my web traffic has occurred as well.


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Torah Commentary Perashat Balak: Rising Above Being-Animal, Particularly Now

Jul3

by: on July 3rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Once again we find ourselves in a world of brutal murders, teenagers this time, with heart-rending images of mothers crying, on both sides of the political spectrum. The ensuing scenes of mobs calling for yet more violence, and the apparent “revenge” killing that occurred, make it likely that we will witness, and then become blase again, about the kind of violence that is truly endless- no parent can ever live normally after the death of children, it is an eternal sorrow that no human should need to suffer, and certainly not for reasons of “politics”. I submit that the point of this week’s Torah reading, which tells the story of a failed attempt by haters to do harm to innocent people (with “curses” prior to actual violence) foiled, in part, through a talking donkey, is meant to teach us just this lesson.

Perashat Balak, this week’s Torah reading, stands as a unique narrative segment in the Torah. For the first time, we are presented with a narrative episode which is entirely not experienced by the Israelites; a “behind the scenes” presentation, or to use contemporary film theory terminology, we are “sutured in” from an entirely different vantage point, outside of the usual concern with the Exodus. It can be assumed that if the Torah had not told us this story, no one would have ever known it, as it all takes place outside the horizon of the participants of the Exodus.

The film theory analogy may not be far off. In reading through this passage, one is struck by a preponderance of visual terminology. Again and again terms dealing with sight are used, even down to the description of the Israelite masses as covering “eyn haaretz”, the “eye of the land”. The Daat Moshe (son of the Magid of Kozhnitz, and an important thinker in his own right) suggests that even the name of the king of Moab, protagonist of our tale, Balak ben Zippor, reflects this, as the word “zippor” is akin to the aramaic “tzafra nahir”, inferring a certain type of clarity, as of daylight. Perhaps our text is trying to teach us a lesson in how to “see”?

This passage is so cinematic that there is even a novel special effect thrown in, when the bad guy Bilaam’s donkey starts to speak, a bit of “magical realism” tossed in, a sort of effect not found elsewhere in the Torah.

Now even if the Torah felt it necessary to give an historical perspective on how the surrounding tribal peoples responded to the emergence of the Israelites on the scene, and even if the resulting positive spin of Bilaam’s blessings are worth preserving, why tell us the odd story of the talking mule? The text never finds it important to present, for example, the rituals or political structures during the period of slavery in Egypt, so why do we need to know the details of Bilaam’s escapades? This type of story seems more reminiscent of those odd Midrashim that attempt to fill in gaps in the narrative, as in the details of Moshe’s adventures in Midian, etc. So what is this episode, and particularly the talking donkey segment, attempting to teach us?

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The NSA Should Be Worried After Supreme Court Ruling

Jun25

by: on June 25th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled today in Riley v. California that digital privacy is protected by the Fourth Amendment, holding that law enforcement must produce a warrant to search an arrestee’s cell phone or mobile device.

While this decision only addresses physical searches of a person’s cell phone, Riley v. California may not-so-subtly be signaling that potential legal thorns exist for the NSA and the intelligence community, particularly after one specific sentence written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the decision. However, before examining this aspect of the court’s decision, first let’s briefly examine how Riley v. California has unmistakably distinguished digital privacy as a Fourth-Amendment-protected entity when it comes to physical searches by police.

One of the most significant aspects of today’s ruling was the court’s distinguishing digital devices from other items a person might have on their person when searched by law enforcement. Justice Roberts wrote that such devices today contain digital records of “nearly every aspect of [one's] life,” and therefore cannot be treated during a search as merely one in a number of items an arrestee might have in her pockets:

Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos. This has several interrelated privacy consequences. First, a cell phone collects in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record. Second, the phone’s capacity allows even just one type of information to convey far more than previously possible. Third, data on the phone can date back for years. In addition, an element of pervasiveness characterizes cell phones but not physical records. A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.


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Eric Cantor and Karma

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

When former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary election, the Washington punditocracy was stunned. A flurry of breathless stories and commentary followed seeking to determine and to explain what the loss portends for public policy and for the 2014 mid-term elections. Since Cantor’s opponent, David Brat, a college economics professor and a Tea Party conservative, ran against what he calls “amnesty” in comprehensive immigration reform, conventional wisdom says immigration reform cannot pass during this Congress. At the same time, it seems that Cantor, busy with the responsibilities of national leadership, failed to stay in touch with his constituents. I say Cantor’s loss is a function of Karma.

I am not a Buddhist, but the concept that derives from eastern religions, in its most basic sense, is an economical way to think about the relationship between act and consequence, cause and effect. Karma means “act.” Good consequences come from good acts; bad consequences from bad acts. Karma reminds us that the things we do – the good, the bad, and the ugly – thinking it will have a negative effect on someone else will have a negative effect on us.

Karma says: “you reap what you sow.” It is akin to the wisdom found in Proverbs 26:27 – “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” (English Standard Version) The late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson echoed the same principle when she said: “If you dig a ditch you better dig two ’cause the trap you set just may be for you.” It is a more specific understanding of the African-American wisdom: “The Lord don’t like ugly.”

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The Presbyterian Divestment Vote: Toward a New Model of Community Relations

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2014 | 19 Comments »

Jews and Presbyterians pray together during deliberations at the 2014 Presbyterian General Assembly in Detroit

In the wake of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s recent decision to divest from three companies that profit from Israel’s occupation, Jewish establishment leaders have been expressing their displeasure toward the PC(USA) in no uncertain terms.

Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman stated last week that church leaders have “fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel.” Rabbi Noam Marans director of inter-religious relations at the American Jewish Committee, declared that “the PC(USA) decision is celebrated by those who believe they are one step closer to a Jew-free Middle East.” And Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, publicly accused the PC(USA) of having a “deep animus” against “both the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

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Israeli Rabbi Evokes Hiroshima to Justify Collective Punishment of Palestinians

Jun22

by: on June 22nd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

The fate of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped last week by an unconfirmed entity in the West Bank, remains unknown, a deeply concerning truth that has refocused attention on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, while their fate remains unknown, what is known is the fate of those Palestinians who have been killed, detained and shuttered with the Israeli military’s search for the missing teens transitioning into a collective punishment of an entire people.

Israeli troops raid Bethlehem as search for missing teenagers enters its eighth day (Credit: Creative Commons)

Since the IDF launched “Operation Brother’s Keeper” on June 12 to search for the missing teenagers, four Palestinian civilians have been killed, hundreds have been detained, and hundreds of thousands in the Hebron region have been confined to their homes. This in addition to over 1,600 sites in the West Bank which have been raided by soldiers, including Palestinian media, government offices and NGO headquarters.

The response has been so striking that the Obama administration has called for restraint, and human rights groups, including Rabbis for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have called upon Israel to cease what has clearly become a strategy of collective punishment which contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Despite these calls, Israeli officials are becoming explicit that Israel should collectively punish all Palestinians until the kidnapped teenagers are safely returned. Consider these words from Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Danny Dannon:

“[Israel should] shut off the electricity in the West Bank and Gaza … In my opinion there is room for extensive actions against the civilian population. I am saying something harsh here, but I believe it.”


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Presbyterian Church Votes to Divest from Israel Occupation Profiteers Caterpillar, Motorola & HP

Jun20

by: on June 20th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

In a contentious vote guaranteed to be met with outrage by hawkish U.S. politicians and some Jewish leaders, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310-303 to divest from three major U.S. companies engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel-Palestine.

PC(USA) voted on Friday evening at its 221st General Assembly in Detroit to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, three companies which provide equipment and technological implements utilized by the IDF in its military occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank. The church’s divestment overture focused only on these three companies, and was careful not to align itself with the international BDS movement or with any efforts to divest from the State of Israel (per a passed amendment during the proceedings).

At the General Assembly before the vote, Caterpillar was singled out for providing the IDF with equipment used in home demolitions, the construction of settler-only roads and the uprooting of Palestinian farmlands illegally appropriated by Israel; HP was singled out for providing biometric scanners used on Palestinians at checkpoints and customized software for the Israeli Navy; and Motorola was singled out for providing surveillance systems used by the settlements in the West Bank.


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