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Archive for the ‘Healing Israel/Palestine’ Category



An Open Letter to Carlos Santana: Don’t Play in Israel in July

Apr14

by: on April 14th, 2016 | 33 Comments »

Dear Carlos,

We have met several times before, in a very different era, when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and then again when Apartheid had just ended and the world seemed so full of hope, including in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The first time we met was at a mid-1980s concert of yours at The Pier in New York City, when you let my friend and I climb on stage and hang a huge banner we’d made calling for freedom for Nelson Mandela. Later, when we met at Woodstock ’94 and had lunch together before your show (I was there helping direct the house band of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe), we talked about how beautiful it was that banner was no longer needed, and hoped that the world would keep moving towards the peace, love and humanity your music has always represented.

When I helped arrange and perform on Ozomatli’s 2005 Grammy-winning album Street Signs, bringing together Moroccan Gnawa legend Hassan Hakmoun and French Jewish Gypsy band Les yeux noirs with Ozo, it was your amazing collaborations with other artists that inspired me. Perhaps most important, my lifelong commitment to human rights, from setting up a college chapter of Amnesty International to working with the global anti-music censorship organization Freemuse, emerged out of your honesty and spirit of love and commitment to social justice and human rights globally.

It’s no understatement to say that I cannot imagine my life as a musician, professor, human rights activist or father without you and your inspiration. And so, with the profoundest possible respect and belief in the rights of all peoples to have their full measure of justice, peace, self-determination and freedom, I am begging you: Please don’t perform in Israel this July.

I write these words with a very heavy heart. I’ve lived, studied and worked in Israel most of my adult life. The first language I ever dreamed in besides English was Hebrew. The greatest music I’ve ever played has come from there, and I enjoy nothing more than working with the many Israeli artists I’ve come to know and respect. However, none of this holds a candle to the suffering of the Palestinian people, which I have seen up close time and time again for the last 25 years. Carlos, you don’t have to believe me, talk with Archbishop Tutu, who I’m sure you know and can easily reach. As he wrote in 2010: “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.” The next year Bishop Tutu came out in support for BDS, as I urge you to do now.

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Israeli Religious Freedom and the Need for American Voices

Apr12

by: Jeremy Sher on April 12th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

One point of agreement between American liberal Jews and their Israeli Reform and Conservative counterparts is the need for equal rights for Orthodox, secular, and liberal Jews in Israel.  We agree, as Union for Reform Judaism head Rick Jacobs put it in a speech after the Israeli government agreed to construct a space for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall), on “being for an israel that is inclusive, that is pluralistic,” and the Kotel is a powerful symbol of that.

The Kotel (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Askii)

The Kotel agreement “would not have happened had it not been for strong, growing pressure from American Jewry,” says Rabbi Uri Regev, president of the Israeli religious-equality organization Hiddush, in The New York Times.  But the Kotel is not our Israeli liberal friends’ top priority.  As symbolically important as the Kotel may be to American Jews, Israelis suffer tangibly in their daily lives from government policies that unjustly favor Orthodoxy.

Until I spent a year in Tel Aviv as part of my rabbinic training, I had no idea how hard it is to be a Reform Jew in Israel.  During my year in Israel, I learned how our people can’t get to our synagogues because (unlike Orthodox Jews) we only have one or two synagogues in any city, and the buses don’t run on Shabbat.  (Which, by the way, is not for any shortage of secular Jewish or Arab drivers who could use a job.)  Each week I baked a cake or two for my Reform synagogue in my toaster-oven, so that people would stay to socialize after services, and I spent the whole year hiding my cakes from the kashrut enforcers, who would be sure to find something wrong with the kitchen of the hotel we met in if a Reform congregation stepped out of line.  I learned how Israeli Jews can’t get married in Israel without the permission of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate — heterosexual and same-sex couples alike.  I learned that there is a whole industry of “wedding tours” whereby Israeli couples escape ultra-Orthodox control by flying to Cyprus for a day.  (Trivia question I’ll answer in the comments: why do you think the homepage of weddingtours.co.il is in Russian?)  In a Jewish democracy, citizens shouldn’t have to fly elsewhere to get married.

Whether it be the rush of pro-Israel rhetoric touting Israel as a principled democracy, or whether it be the language barrier causing different conversations to happen in Hebrew than in English, we Americans too often miss our Israeli compatriots’ suffering.  This isn’t about right and left; it’s about right and wrong.  Israel was founded as a haven for all Jews.  To the extent we are Zionist, American Reform and Conservative Jews can ill afford to let Israel become a haven for Orthodoxy only.

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Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Apr11

by: on April 11th, 2016 | 10 Comments »

If you grew up in the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s and were a hippie, black or latino–never mind a hippie who spent most of his time with blacks and latinos–chances are you had occasion to call a police officer a “pig.” Real pigs are actually kind of nice, as Charlotte’s Web, the movieBabeand the fact that people keep them as pets attests.

But at least in places like Paterson, NJ, Harlem or the Lower East Side, cops seemed to behave with regularity the way people generally imagine pigs to be: dirty–as in corrupt, gluttonous–as in often overweight and also corrupt, sniffing into people’s business, and often running amok in the communities they were supposed to “protect and serve.”

Sadly, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing police brutality and corruption it’s brought to light reminds us that things haven’t changed too much. Is calling a cop a pig today a sign of bigotry or prejudice? Or can the insult, however crude, reflect a reality that needs to be highlighted?

I raise these questions because at its last meeting the Regents of the University of California approved a new Principles of Intolerance which, despite the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults on UC campuses, decreasing of our pensions, weakening of health care benefits, lowering of educational quality and rise in tuition, focuses on the alleged plight of one of the least vulnerable groups at UC by most measures (including UC’s own “Campus Climate” report) – Jewish students.

As word leaked of the language being considered for the final version of the Principles, which would have explicitly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism an international uproar ensued that condemned the equation as historically ill-informed and empirically wrong much if not most of the time (to cite the most obvious problem, Jews themselves have been and continue to be anti-Zionist).

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The Case of Soldier A

Apr8

by: Uri Avnery on April 8th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

IT SEEMS that everything possible has already been said, written, proclaimed, asserted and denied about the incident that is rocking Israel.

Everything except the main point.

THE INCIDENT revolves around “the Soldier of Hebron”. Military censorship does not allow him to be called by his name. He may be called “Soldier A”.

It happened in the Tel Rumaida neighborhood of the occupied South West Bank town of Hebron, where a group of super-extreme right-wing settlers live in the midst of some 160,000 Palestinians and are heavily protected by the Israeli army. Violent incidents abound.

On the day in question, two local Palestinians attacked some soldiers with knives. Both were shot on the spot. One of them was killed, the other was severely wounded and was lying on the ground.

The place was full of people. Medics were tending to the wounded soldier (but not the Palestinian), several officers and soldiers were standing around, together with some of the settlers.

After six minutes Soldier A appeared on the scene. He looked around for 4 minutes, then approached the wounded assailant and coolly shot him dead with a bullet to the head from close up. The autopsy showed that this was indeed the shot that killed the Palestinian.

As a finale, the camera clip shows Soldier A shaking hands with one of the settlers, the infamous Baruch Marzel, a leader of the outlawed party of the late Meir Kahane, who was designated by the Supreme Court as a fascist.  

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The UC Regents and Anti-Semitism: A Q&A with Judith Butler

Apr4

by: Ben Rowen on April 4th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

There has been a lot of discussion, and furor, about a recent statement approved by the University of California Board of Regents.

The original statement of “principles against intolerance” contained language both condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the UC system.

“Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California,” the proposed statement read.

The language asserting anti-Zionism as an instance of intolerance and discrimination became the center of debate about free speech and the suppression of political viewpoints. Jewish Voice for Peace, California Scholars for Academic Freedom, and activist Judith Butler, among many others, all voiced opposition to the clause.

The UC Board of Regents eventually approved a revised draft of the statement. The language about anti-Zionism was changed to: “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

Tikkun reached out to Butler to discuss the revised statement, free speech, and anti-Semitism on UC campuses. Below is our Q & A.

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After the Delegation

Mar31

by: Talia Bornstein on March 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Al-Quds University (Source: Keleti, Transferred from he.wikipedia)

The first time I went to Israel, I was two. Since then I have returned for various different reasons. But it wasn’t until my gap year that I realized that Israel, a place I had the privilege of traveling to over six times, was at the center of a conflict I knew almost nothing about. On my gap year I took classes on the conflict, traveled to the West Bank, visited Israeli settlements, and learned about the complexities within Israeli society regarding ethnicity and religion. I returned from my year in Israel with the intention and determination to advocate for a two state solution, voice the reality of Palestinians’ lack of human rights, and fight for Israel’s tarnishing image.

But once I settled back into my apartment in New York, I realized that the in-depth global experience I had in Israel was not quite as well-rounded as I thought it was. I left Israel without ever having had an intentional conversation with a Palestinian. How was it possible that I lived in West Jerusalem for a year yet never even stepped foot in Palestinian East Jerusalem?

I was eager to begin my freshman year at Brandeis, where the conversation on Israel and Palestine dominates campus politics. But once I got here, I was disappointed to learn that I would not have the opportunity to engage with Palestinians’ narratives as I would have had several years earlier, before the suspension of Brandeis’ partnership with Palestinian Al-Quds University. Without this partnership, Palestinian narratives are scarcely represented at Brandeis.

In 2013, President Lawrence suspended Brandeis’ ties with Al-Quds in response to an Islamic-Jihad affiliated political rally held on the Al-Quds campus by a small group of students. Despite the Al-Quds administration’s condemnation of the protest, Brandeis suspended its ties indefinitely. Though Brandeis’ administration is unwilling to restore contact with Al-Quds, students from each school have maintained this valuable relationship for two and half years. The Brandeis-Al-Quds Student Dialogue Initiative (B-AQU SDI) is comprised of students from each university, working to take steps toward renewing our universities’ relations. 

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Gideon Levy on Israel’s Influence on America

Mar23

by: Gideon Levy on March 23rd, 2016 | Comments Off

In his keynote address to the March 18 “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” conference, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy described where he would take, and what he would say to, a U.S. congressional delegation to Israel.

He would take them, Levy said, to meet the Abu Khoussa family in Gaza, whose 6-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were killed in an Israeli missile strike on their home. He would tell them about 16-year-old American Mahmoud Saalan of Tampa, Florida, who had been shot dead at a military checkpoint by Israeli soldiers, allegedly for carrying a knife. And, Levy said, he would also take the American legislators to Hebron, because “I never met an honest human being who had been to Hebron and didn’t come back after a few hours in shock.”

Days later and blocks away, members of Congress and three of the four remaining presidential candidates were professing their undying allegiance to Israel at the yearly policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s Washington, DC lobby.

Aware of this annual parade of elected U.S. officials, Levy knew that, in his remarks at the National Press Club, he was describing a “virtual tour of those congressmen who would never come to listen to me and will never let me take them around.”

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AIPAC Influence Bad for the US and Israel

Mar22

by: Allan C. Brownfeld on March 22nd, 2016 | 2 Comments »

The annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has attracted almost 20,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital. Every presidential candidate except Bernie Sanders appeared as a speaker, as did Vice President Joe Biden.

AIPAC is considered Washington’s second most powerful lobbying group after the National Rifle Association. Israel has received more foreign aid from the U.S. than any other country, more than $235 billion so far. With its friends at AIPAC, it is asking for more.

Just prior to the AIPAC meeting, another conference in Washington asked the question,  “Israel’s Influence: Good Or Bad For America?” It was sponsored by the American Education Trust, which publishes The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (to which this writer is a regular contributor) and the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy.

The keynote speaker was Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz. In Levy’s view, AIPAC, which says it is promoting Israel’s best interests, is doing precisely the opposite. Writing in Haaretz on March 20, Levy  argues that, although AIPAC members and leaders say they are friends of Israel, in reality they are not.

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What We Must Do Now, One Year after the Israeli Election

Mar21

by: Jeremy Sher on March 21st, 2016 | 5 Comments »

A Netanyahu Campaign Billboard for the 2015 Election

One year ago, Israeli voters reelected Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, backed by a new coalition from the hardest of the hard right, with the antidemocratic Ayelet Shaked at Justice, Naftali Bennett politicizing the Education Ministry, and Tzipi Hotovely, of “This land is ours, all of it is ours” fame, heading the day-to-day operations of the Foreign Ministry. How did the Israeli left lose so badly? And is there any hope now?

Yes, there is. Israeli democracy is in grave danger but it is not dead. We do not have to resign ourselves to a future that leads inexorably to a bloodbath in the Middle East. But we are close, and if we want to avoid that fate, Israeli politics must change. In this article, I write about one big opportunity to create that change, albeit at this time an opportunity mainly for political professionals to act. In future articles, I will share other, very specific ideas for individuals of conscience to become part of the solution.

If anyone’s going to change Israel’s trajectory right now, it will be Israeli voters. And the Israeli political situation certainly looks bleak. However, progressives do not need to buy hook, line and sinker into the propaganda of Netanyahu’s so-called landslide victory in 2015. Netanyahu eked out a 61-seat coalition, the thinnest possible margin in the 120-seat Knesset, on the very last legally allowable day before new elections would have had to be called. That’s not a landslide in my political experience. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition rules with an iron fist, attacking democracy and installing ethnocracy and theocracy wherever possible. But they rule from a glass throne. A coalition with the thinnest allowable margin cobbled together on the last allowable day is a politically vulnerable coalition. The key is finding the right tools to break the right-wing status quo.

In this article, I argue that the Israeli left must improve its overall operational competence, and it must start now. Americans can and must help.

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Debbie Weissman and Others Respond to Rabbi David Gordis on Israel

Mar7

by: Debbie Weissman on March 7th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Not yet a Failure

by Dr. Debbie Weissman

[Editor's note: Debbie Weissman came on Aliyah in 1972, has had a long career in Jewish education, and is the Immediate Past President of the International Council of Christians and Jews.]

I am responding to the “Reflections on Israel 2016″ by David M. Gordis. In some things, I agree with him, and in some others, my criticism is even sharper. However, I take great exception to his conclusions. Let me begin with the term “failure.” There are a number of failed states in our region – most notably, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Israel is certainly not in that category.

Gordis writes that “in every important way Israel has failedto realize its promise for me.” Are the following unimportant: Hebrew language and culture; Shabbatot and Chagim; Kashrut; experiments in community living; widespread study of Jewish texts; religious, cultural and educational alternatives; Jewish scholarship in a variety of fields; the creation of a refuge for all kinds of Jews and the absorption of Holocaust survivors, Ethiopians, Jews from the FSU, etc.; many wonderful Tzedakah and Hessed projects; and the only Jewish community in the world with a positive birth rate?

We now have a former President and a former Prime Minister sitting in jail. I suppose that many people might see that as an indictment of this country; it actually makes me proud–no one is above the law. Most countries in the world have both political corruption and the abuse of women by powerful men. The question is: what do they do about it? We have growing representation by women and Arabs in the Knesset, and progressive legislation in the field of sexual harassment, as we do in women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, the environment, health care and many other areas.

I agree that the Occupation is a serious blot on the record – I would say not only of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. For many years, I have said that the best fulfillment of Zionism will not come until we have a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. We have also not yet succeeded in working out what it means to be a Jewish and democratic state, especially vis-a-vis our Arab citizens. We’re not worse than many other countries with regard to the migrant crisis, but I would have expected us to be better – to be at the forefront of absorbing refugees and asylum-seekers. Perhaps the roots of these problems lie deeper than just within the State of Israel.

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