by: Ayana Nir on April 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, and Israeli government ministers participate in March of the Living. Credit: Creative Commons/JAFI Israel
On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.
The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.
That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.
Israel has been told by the United States that, unless it stops discriminating against Palestinian-Americans (and Americans of Middle-Eastern descent) trying to enter the country, Israel will continue to be denied entry into its visa waiver program.
Israel would like to gain entry into the program, which grants visitors to the United States from approved countries visas of up to 90 days. However, American officials remain concerned about the high percentage of Palestinian-Americans who are refused entry into Israel.
In March, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister told U.S. officials that Israel would stop discriminating against Palestinian-Americans if the U.S. granted Israel entry into its visa waiver program. However, its seems the State Department is not interested in promises alone, but rather wants to see a pattern of concrete actions.
For years, discrimination against Palestinian-Americans entering Israel has been a main obstacle against Israel’s joining the program … The State Department has repeated this concern a number of times in recent years, including last month.
“The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian-Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the visa waiver program,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing in March.
by: Ricky Fishman on April 21st, 2014 | 5 Comments »
On the beaches and in the hip cafes of Tel Aviv, it is easy to escape the feeling of life at the edge of a precipice. Israelis refer to this modern Mediterranean city as “the bubble”: a place where one can imagine an Israel of secularism and safety.
That feeling, however, quickly dissipates in Jerusalem where I wandered the ancient alleyways of the Arab, Jewish, and Christian quarters, and followed the Stations of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; where I watched pilgrims crying as they kissed the marble slab on which Mary, mother of Jesus, washed her crucified son. And where, at the Dome of the Rock-one of the holiest sites of Islam-I saw praying women protesting the presence of orthodox Jews who had been escorted by Israeli military police onto the grounds. Though also sacred to Jews, this spot has long been respected as an Islamic place of worship. So the women wailed as the Jewish men marched around the site as if it belonged to them alone. I then saw one of the men spit, desecrating the Muslim holy ground, infuriating those at prayer.
In the Aida refugee camp, just a few blocks from our hotel in Bethlehem (in the occupied West Bank), we drove under a tear gas cloud, to go see the Palestinian side of the “separation” wall. The wall is covered with revolutionary art and has become a “tagging” destination for international and local graffiti artists. When we came to a street corner, we looked to the right and saw an Israeli jeep surrounded by five soldiers in full battle gear. Our van then turned left into a crowd of Palestinian teenagers, their faces covered by masks and bandanas, armed with slingshots and rocks; apparently a typical day in the life of the camps.
The tour group I was leading moved from place to place in the West Bank and Israel. The 10 of us met with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, religious leaders, Jewish settlers, and ordinary people just trying to get by in some very tough circumstances.
by: Alex Kane on April 17th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
What’s the ideology undergirding opposition to the construction of mosques in the United States? How are anti-Muslim groups funded? How have Jewish groups reacted when confronted with issues like the proposed construction of the Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City?
Elly Bulkin and Donna Nevel answer these questions and more in their new book Islamophobia and Israel, a sobering analysis of the Jewish establishment’s dalliance with anti-Muslim bigotry.
Based on a series of articles that I had the pleasure of editing before their initial publication on AlterNet, Bulkin and Nevel’s book takes a close look back at the summer of 2010, when the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry were fanned with vigor. It had been nine years after the September 11, 2001, attacks by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. But Islamophobia – collective animus targeting all Muslims – was still ingrained into swathes of the American body politic. And the Park51 Islamic center was exploited to bring that bigotry to the surface.
When anti-Muslim bloggers like Pamela Geller first started railing against Park51, the name of the planned mosque and community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero, not many people noticed. But in a matter of months, concern over what was dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” migrated from the fever swamps of Islamophobic blogs to Fox News. Then the rest of the mainstream press started paying attention. Ugly protests broke out. Heated debate captured the airwaves. The majority of Americans said they opposed the mosque.
The Jewish community was split on the issue. But the voice that captured the most attention was the Anti-Defamation League, a thoroughly mainstream group that calls itself the “nation’s premier civil rights” group. On July 28, 2010, the group issued a statement calling for the planned mosque to be moved away from the World Trade Center site, a rationale that only makes sense if you blame all Muslims for 9/11. With that statement, the ADL joined the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier, who said that Park51 was insensitively being built at the “wrong location.”
Today, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, issued the following statement about NATO’s military response to increased Russian government manuevering in eastern Ukraine:
Today, we agreed on a package of further military measures to reinforce our collective defence and demonstrate the strength of Allied solidarity.
We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land (read boots on the ground).
For example, air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, as required. Military staff from Allied nations will deploy to enhance our preparedness, training and exercises. Our defence plans will be reviewed and reinforced.
We will start to implement these measures straight away. More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come.
The NATO Secretary General’s announcement will be music to the ears of those who have been calling for more U.S. troop deployments to eastern Europe in response to Putin’s provocations. Last month in the National Interest magazine, for example, Dick Kirckus, a former “Chair of Warfighting Strategy at the U.S. Marine Corps University” wrote:
Today, the most vulnerable members of NATO in the East Baltic Sea region share a common border with Russia and desperately want American boots on the ground – not combat engineers constructing an antimissile system in Poland to evaporate Iranian rockets – to deter a reckless Russian military provocation. The prospect that U.S. troops will die should Russian troops cross their borders will give meaning to Washington’s pledge to honor Article Five guarantees. After all, the Americans have demonstrated on numerous occasions that if challenged, they will fight.
Got that? No mere missiles and rockets will suffice to deter Putin, only people willing to sacrifice their lives in European military chess matches will be enough to deter Putin’s westward aggression. The glaring flaw in Kirckus’ thesis is that Americans of our generation have by no means demonstrated a willingness to fight and die in pointless wars. On 9/11 our nation was attacked by a ruthless criminal gang, which for a period of time found sanctuary under the ragtag rule of the Taliban. Eventually, most Americans, as evidenced by their refusal to enlist in the military, came to see the demise of the Taliban’s governance and going after the terrorists as the appropriate response to those horrific attacks on our own country; to shed our own blood in pointless wars, most Americans have concluded, is wrong.
The U.S. needs a defense apparatus, not a taxpayer-funded culture of death. Credit: Creative Commons
The New York Times has published a chilling article about the greatest anxiety for this year’s West Point graduates: the newly-commissioned officers won’t get to see any combat action, owing to the end of the Iraq war and the winding-down Afghanistan war. Times reporters Tom Shanker and Helene Cooper write:
For as much as military commanders will publicly say differently, men and women with combat experience are bound to be taken more seriously in today’s military than those without it, defense experts say.
The last time this happened was after a different war, Vietnam, and in an Army different from today’s volunteer and more career-oriented force. But even after Vietnam, the return to peace came with unexpected anxieties.
“As Vietnam was winding down, young officers were begging to go there so they could get the coveted combat infantry badge,” said Col. Robert Killebrew, a defense expert at the Center for a New American Security in Washington and a Vietnam veteran. “It’s not so much a thirst for glory as a professional impulse. When you’re a soldier, if the game is going to be played, you want to be there.”
That’s right, these young men actually want wars to continue – not to end wars which is what most people want – so they can get their ribbons, medals and badges of honor which will help them advance their military careers, which begs the question: Why the heck are we, the American people, continuing to enable these people who are quite obviously willing to embroil our country in wars for their own personal glory?
by: Uri Avnery on April 11th, 2014 | No Comments »
Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble.
In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process”. They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof”.
“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe.
by: Robert Cohen on April 11th, 2014 | No Comments »
For our Passover meal this year (Monday 14 April) I have a fifth question and answer to add to the traditional quartet of the Ma Nishtanah.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
A seder plate. Credit: Creative Commons/Gwen Harlow.
Because on this night we make a meal, literally and metaphorically, of our unique story. Via mouthfuls of bitter herbs, salt water, nuts and raisins mixed with wine, and unleavened bread, we promote the damaging mindset that tells us that we are the world’s eternal victims.
I expect an immediate challenge to my liturgical liberties.
“Enough already with your iconoclastic itch! How can you say such things? Surely, Passover is the quintessential expression of our physical and spiritual liberation. Hasn’t the escape of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery become the biblical paradigm of freedom from oppression that has brought hope to countless peoples across the centuries?”
I know, I know. But my fifth question and answer is true none the less. This is the night when we are most at risk from locking shut the Jewish capacity for empathy and blinding ourselves to the suffering of others – most notably, the Palestinians.
There will be some around the Seder table who will resent me wanting to recount the woes of another people (“the Palestinians for heaven’s sake!”) rather than those of my own kith and kin.
When it comes to Israel/Palestine, Actor and Writer Danny Bryck isn’t the first to consider this question: “When everyone tells a different story, how do we tell the truth?” He may, however, be the first to work so hard to hear quite so many different stories that come from the thin strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
In his documentary play The River and The Sea, which recently had a staged reading at The New Repertory Theatre in Boston as part of the “Next Voices” playwriting fellowship, Bryck uses transcriptions of interviews that he completed with individuals from all over Israel and the West Bank to create nearly sixty separate characters who represent everyone he met there, from a young soldier in Tel Aviv, to an Eritrean refugee, to a young mother in Gaza. Through these, and many more diverse characters, he gives voice to the vast cross-section of people who call Israel/Palestine home.
Photo Courtesy of New Repertory Theatre
Bryck initially went to Israel on a Birthright trip, but instead of returning home when the trip ended, he stayed on in the Middle East and set out on a three-month-long adventure with the goal of interviewing as many varied people as possible in order to begin the process of writing a play. He wanted to get a more nuanced and deeper version of the narratives in this part of the world, and so, through friends, friends of friends, various organizations, and even through talking to strangers, Bryck found himself having opportunities that no guided tour could or would ever provide.
by: Ronnie Barkan and Joshua Tartakovsky on April 4th, 2014 | 28 Comments »
A recent law obligating military service on religious Yeshiva students reveals the inherent flaw in Israel’s claim to be Jewish
An earlier version of this article has appeared on AlterNet
Prime Minister David Cameron got more than he expected at the Israeli Knesset in his last visit, receiving a cold shoulder from ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian legislators who share common interests, being the state’s most oppressed communities. Cameron’s visit to the Knesset took place on the same day that two controversial laws, the Conscription Law and the Governability Law, were finally approved following a prolonged legislative battle. As Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the guest of honour the ultra-Orthodox parliamentariansleft the plenary session in protest while their colleagues, Palestinian Members of the Knesset, refused to attend the event altogether. This was the culmination point of several months of heated protest over the Conscription Law which brought to the surface contradictions between Zionism and Judaism.
Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) of all denominations took to the streets of Jerusalem to oppose the draft law several days before its legislation. In a mass prayer, the worshippers-protesters declared their faithfulness to Torah study rather than to the military. United under the banner declaring that “the State of Israel is fighting against the Kingdom of Heaven” they held signs stating that military draft is a spiritual suicide. The event was not merely an opposition to the law but nothing short of a battle cry against the very legitimacy of a state that encroaches upon their spiritual autonomy and poses a danger to their religious liberty.