West Bank Settlement Policy Today – Questions and Answers


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policy resembles his predecessors’ in many ways, but it is a march toward permanence in a time when prospects for peace are few.

So wrote Jodi Pudoren and Jeremy Ashkenas in a NY Times piece called “Netanyahu and The Settlements” (March 12, 2015). (See link below for full article).

In the spirit of Pesach, I pose a series of questions and answers:

• What is the current status of settlement construction beyond the Green Line? Lior Amichai, Deputy Director at Jerusalem’s Shalom Achshav Settlement Watch Project, reported to the J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C. last week that between 2009 and 2014 Israel began construction beyond the Green Line a total of 10,858 housing units. In that time Israel also proposed 5711 tenders for future building, promised to submit 13,077 plans for future projects and changed the status of 20 illegal “outposts” to “legal settlements.”

• Since the Oslo process began in 1993, what is the Jewish population growth in the west bank? In 1993, 110,300 settlers lived on land over the Green Line. Today, the Jewish population totals 356,500 settlers. 12% of Israeli settlers control 60% of west bank land and the Palestinian Authority controls the other 40%.

• How are Palestinian Arabs and Israelis who live beyond the Green Line treated by Israel? Palestinian Arabs who live beyond the Green Line enjoy none of the rights of Israeli citizenship because those territories, taken by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, have never been formally annexed or incorporated into the State of Israel. The legal status of west bank Palestinian Arabs is therefore different than Israeli Arab citizens who enjoy all the rights and privileges that Israeli Jewish citizens enjoy. West bank Palestinian Arabs are subject to the Israeli Military Authority without the same democratic rights and protections enjoyed by Israeli Arab citizens living within Israel itself. Israeli confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in the west bank is the most serious inequity. It is estimated by Israeli human rights organizations B’tzelem and Shalom Achshav that one third of all land held by Jewish settlements in the west bank is built on Palestinian deeded land. Israeli settlers in the west bank, however, enjoy all the same rights of citizenship as do those Israeli citizens (Jewish and Arab) who live within the Green Line.

• What is Israel’s budget for settlement construction beyond the Green Line? Labor MK Stav Shafrir is now conducting an investigation as a member of the Knesset Budget Committee to determine exactly how much money has been allocated for settlement construction in the past and on an annual basis. She reported to the J Street National Conference last week that, in truth, there are two Israeli budgets – one public and one she called “secret.” MK Shafrir estimates that at least 1 billion NIS has been allocated in the last couple of years to build settlements and infrastructure (e.g. roads, electricity, water) with money that shows up nowhere in Israel’s official budget and has not been approved by the Knesset.

• What are the policies of the different American Jewish Federations regarding funding projects beyond the Green Line? J Street U (J Street’s college division) is investigating the policies of America’s largest Jewish Federations about funding projects in Israel beyond the Green Line, if it is done at all. That report will be published once information has been collected and analyzed.

• What is the future of the large settlement blocs in a two-state agreement? Israeli and Palestinian negotiators last year reached a consensus that the large Israeli settlement blocs and neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem will be part of the state of Israel in any two-state agreement, with corresponding land swaps given by Israel to the future state of Palestine. This means that 75% of all Jewish settlers living now in the west bank beyond the Green Line will be absorbed inside the borders of the state of Israel. The remaining small Jewish “outposts” and settlements not inside the settlement blocs in the west bank where approximately 90,000 Israeli settlers now live will either be vacated or will come under the authority of the state of Palestine. Despite this consensus amongst the negotiators, PM Netanyahu recently declared (see NYT below): “I do not intend to evacuate any settlements.”

• Will the Palestinians file charges against Israel in the UN International Criminal Court? Martin Indyk, the chief American negotiator in last year’s failed talks and once a leader of AIPAC, has charged that PM Netanyahu’s “rampant settlement activity” has a “dramatically damaging impact,” so much so that next month the Palestinians may file a case in the UN International Criminal Court charging that Israeli settlements are an ongoing war crime.

• What ought to be the role that liberal American Zionists play? Our role ought to be to support our Israeli brothers and sisters who protest against continuing settlement construction except, perhaps, in the large settlement blocs that likely will remain in Israel once a two-state agreement is attained, and to continue to support all efforts to bring about an end-of-conflict agreement of two states for two peoples.

This NY Times piece “Netanyahu and the Settlements” includes maps showing exactly where the settlements and outposts are located beyond the Green Line as well as the history of settlement activity since the Oslo period began in 1993.


“We Don’t Want You Here!” – Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli Parents Speak to J Street

“Anachnu lo rotzim etchem po — Ma bidnaash an takuunu hone! — We don’t want you here!

30 Israeli and Palestinian men, women, and children spoke these words alternately in Hebrew and Arabic in a short film shown to 3000 delegates of the J Street National Convention in Washington, D.C. this past week. Each person had lost a close family member to Palestinian or Israeli violence, and they wanted no more to join them in grief.

At the film’s conclusion, Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin walked arm-in-arm onto the stage.

Robi is an Israeli mother whose 28 year-old son David, a student who was working on his masters in the Philosophy of Education at Tel Aviv University, was murdered by a Palestinian sniper a few years ago. The murderer had witnessed the killing of his uncle when he was a child, and when he was grown stepped onto a path of revenge and took David’s and 9 other Israeli lives.

Bassam is a Palestinian father whose 10 year-old daughter, Abir, was shot dead by an Israeli border policemen in 2007 as she walked down the street with her sister and two friends after buying sweets in a shop across the road from her school in the West Bank village of Anata at the end of a math exam.

When David was murdered, the first words his devastated mother spoke were: “Do not take revenge in the name of my son…get out of the occupied territories.”

Robi and Bassam are the Israeli and Palestinian Spokespersons for The Parents Circle, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost children to violence (see http://www.theparentscircle.com/). They say, “There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… More war creates more victims on both sides … The power of Israel and the resistance of the Palestinians doesn’t work. We need to sit down and negotiate.”

J Street is a pro-Israel pro-peace American organization based in Washington, D.C. that advocates before Congress and the President the necessity of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J Street has 180,000 members, a college division of thousands of students on 125 American campuses, 60 chapters in cities around the country, and a rabbinic cabinet, that I co-chair, of 850 rabbis from across the religious streams of American Jewish life.

J Street represents, however, the opinions of far more American Jews (and many thousands of Israelis) than its membership numbers reflect. J Street’s positions are held by roughly 70% of the American Jewish community who believe that a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is in Israel’s best long-term interests. J Street has endorsed more than 90 members of Congress (its endorsees are growing by roughly 15-20% in each Congressional cycle) who agree with J Street’s principles and who have welcomed J Street as a pro-Israel organization that does not necessarily agree with every policy position taken by any particular Israeli government or Prime Minister.

Like Robi and Bassam, J Street recognizes that there is no military solution to this conflict, that the only way Israel will remain secure, Jewish and democratic is in a negotiated two-state end-of-conflict agreement.

Specifically, J Street agrees with the broad consensus of the international community of what a two-state solution will look like. The border will be drawn roughly along the 1967 Green Line with land swaps that would include within Israel 75% of all Israelis living in the large settlements blocks in the West Bank and around Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be the shared capital of Israel and Palestine. Palestine will be demilitarized except for necessary police forces. There will be firm security arrangements in place for the benefit of both Israel and Palestine. Palestinian refugees will have the right of return to the new state of Palestine and not to Israel. Appropriate compensation for refugees will be given.

My purpose here is not to get into the weeds of this conflict which are long, deep and complicated, but rather to communicate the human costs of this conflict as embodied by the pain and suffering of only two families, that of Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin, and to articulate what I believe is ultimately at stake for the Jewish people and state of Israel if a two-state resolution to this conflict is not reached soon.

Without a negotiated settlement, in a short amount of time Israel will cease either to be a democracy or a Jewish state. Settlement building by Israelis and population growth among Arabs in the West Bank, Gaza and within the Green Line of Israel, all taken together, ultimately will doom the Zionist enterprise, arguably the most important historical event in the life of the Jewish people in the last two thousand years.

Yes – there is still time for a two-state solution, but time is running out.

For the sake of the future of Israel and the Palestinians, the status quo is unsustainable. “Managing the conflict,” as many in Israel believe is their only option, is unsustainable. Only a two-state solution can, as J Street’s communication Vice President and journalist Alan Elsner recently wrote, “complete the Zionist dream” of Israel being Jewish, democratic and an “or lagoyim - a light to the nations.”

There are risks no matter what Israel chooses to do, but the risks are far greater in doing nothing.

Perhaps the insights of one of Israel’s greatest poets, Yehuda Amichai, will inspire clarity and hope:

“From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.



The World-Wide Media’s Mis-characterization of Israel’s Election Results


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[The following is a letter I received from a friend, Glenn L. Krinsky, a long-time progressive Zionist, who I believe accurately, corrects the media’s mis-characterization of the 2015 Israeli election. I am posting Glenn’s letter by permission. Glenn L. Krinsky is a law partner in Jones Day – One Firm Worldwide in the Los Angeles office. I add some reflections following Glenn’s email.]

“It’s just amazing how the worldwide media, including the Israeli media, have so vastly mis-characterized the election results. 

In 2013, Bibi prostituted himself to Lieberman, and their combined Likud/Yisrael Beitenu slate won 31 seats. Naftali Bennett’s then-new party, Habayit HaYehudi, won 12 seats. So Bibi/Lieberman/Bennett won 43 seats.

This year, Bibi purposely shifted to the extreme right to cannibalize votes from Lieberman and Bennett to ensure that Likud was the largest single vote-getter and would be asked to form the coalition. The strategy succeeded in the sense that Bennett went from 12 to 8 and Lieberman was marginalized down to 6. But note, this year the Bibi/Lieberman/Bennett trio got 44 seats, only one more than 2 years ago.

What happened to the center/left? In 2013,Yesh Atid won 19 seats (but sold out and went into Bibi’s coalition). This year Yesh Atid got 11 (a decrease of 8). Labor went from 21 (15 for Labor plus 6 for Livni’s Hatnuah party) to 24, and Meretz went from 6 to 5. So, these parties won 46 seats in 2013 and only 40 in 2015.

Where did the other six seats go? Not to the right, since we saw that they went only from 43 to 44. Instead, they went to Kahlon (the former Likud-nik who moved from the right to the center) who got 10 seats, whereas in 2013, the former Likud-nik who moved from the right to the center–Shaul Mofaz–got only 2 seats. In other words, the ‘we want change but don’t want Labor or Livni’ vote stayed right at 21 seats (in 2013, 19 for Yesh Atid + 2 for Mofaz; in 2015, 11 for Yesh Atid + 10 for Kahlon).

The Arab parties went from 11 to 13 (because of the drawing power in 2015 of the 3 Arab parties consolidating into one joint list), and the ultra-Orthodox went from 18 to 13 (due to the split in Shas, which went from 11 to 7 seats since Yishai’s half of Shas barely missed the threshold which would have given it 4 seats, which would have matched exactly Shas’ 2013 results when added to Deri’s half of Shas in 2015). 

So, it’s clear that, with minor variations (the largest being Kahlon’s showing), the 2015 results are strikingly similar to the 2013 results.

The real story in 2015 was one of ‘expectations versus results.’ The opinion polls showed Herzog pulling away from Bibi in the last week, and everyone was conditioned for a Zionist Union victory. Instead, Bibi went so far to the right that far right-wingers didn’t feel the need to vote for Bennett or Lieberman. As set forth above, the right-wing trio merely went from 43 to 44. But Bibi took enough votes away from Bennett and Lieberman that Likud far outstripped Herzog/Livni as the largest party, which the media are characterizing as a ‘resounding’ or ‘striking’ win when it’s merely a reflection of Likud moving so far to the right that it cannibalized votes from Bennett and Lieberman.”

As I indicated, I believe Glenn has interpreted the election correctly. He alludes to the final weekend of the campaign in which PM Netanyahu appealed to the worst in the Israeli character. His racist and demagogic disenfranchisement of 20% of Israeli citizenry represented by the Arab population inside the Green Line has done serious damage not only to his credibility as the Prime Minister of all Israeli citizens, but his appeal to fear and hate is unbecoming to the nation state of the Jewish people.

Further, Bibi’s rejection this last weekend of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sadly conforms to what many of us knew to be the truth even after the Prime Minister’s speech in 2009 at Bar Ilan University in which he said that he supported a two-state solution.

Reports emerged following the break-down in the American sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that Tzipi Livni, who served as Israel’s chief negotiator, was constantly undermined and second-guessed by Bibi’s lawyer who sat in (on orders of the PM) on every negotiation session and made Livni’s work next to impossible. In truth, as Bibi revealed to settlers after his Bar Ilan speech, he never intended to make a deal with the Palestinians for a state of their own in west bank territories.

Now, the challenge will be for all of us who love Israel, to continue to love her and support her, even as we insist that Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state depends on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In truth, there is no other solution to this conflict, and we American ohavei m’dinat Yisrael have to join with half of Israel’s population in supporting them in advocating for an end to the conflict which will not only be in Israel’s best interest internally, but internationally as well.

The Morning After – Exchange with Jeremy Ben-Ami



As I went to sleep last evening, news was already reporting the six point spread between Likud and the Zionist Union, and that given the math, PM Netanyahu will be able to form a new government with all right-wing parties without needing to create a national unity government.

Yes – I am deeply disappointed, but I’m not down.

I am printing a letter below in its entirety from Jeremy Ben-Ami, the President of J Street, because my perspective matches his – though he and I debate personally whether or not there is a higher power. I believe there is, and he has his doubts.

After Jeremy’s letter, I will share an email I sent to him this morning appropriate for this moment, our J Street national convention beginning this motzei Shabbat in Washington, D.C., and our Pesach season that is fast approaching.

Here is Jeremy’s letter sent this morning to 200,000 supporters of J Street in the United States and Israel:

Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory is a deep disappointment to all who hoped that Israel might choose a new direction for the country in yesterday’s election.

The Prime Minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and resort to a campaign grounded in fear and tinged with racism successfully moved 150,000 votes from other right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days. But we fear that the cost to Israel in the long-run will be steep in terms of support here in the United States and internationally.

The Prime Minister’s outrageous statements in the campaign’s final days may have pushed him from 19 percent in the polls before the election to 23 percent on election night and cemented his position as the leader of Israel’s right wing, but this was not a broad mandate in support of the direction in which the Prime Minister is leading. Seventy-two percent of Israelis on the eve of the election felt the country is headed in the wrong direction, and only one-third of Israel’s voters supported the hard-right represented by Likud, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, a number roughly comparable to last election. Even in the next Knesset, the blocs of the center-left and of the right wing will continue to be evenly balanced.

Without question, we respect Israel’s democracy and the outcome of the election. We celebrate the vibrancy of debate and dissent in Israel over essential matters that was on full display during the campaign. And – contrary to the Prime Minister’s panicked attack on the participation of Arab citizens in the election – we view their increased participation in this year’s election as a positive sign about the strength of Israeli democracy.

None of that can change our core belief, however, that the policies that the Prime Minister articulated in order to win – outright rejection of the two-state solution and territorial compromise – should and will be rejected by the international community, including the United States. Sadly, the results of this election will only deepen Israel’s growing isolation.

The manner in which the Prime Minister secured his victory – shredding the broad bipartisanship that underpins American political support for Israel and preying on fear and racism at home – also demonstrated that he willingly put his own political interests before his concern for Israel’s relationship with the United States and his commitment to Israel’s democratic character.

Moving forward, J Street will be unwavering in making the case that Israel’s security and survival as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people require a change in course, recognizing that the need for change is ultimately a matter for the citizens of Israel to debate in the years ahead.

Here, in the United States, J Street, however, has a clear role to play. We will stand up strongly and proudly in American political and Jewish communal debates for an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.

We will speak out on behalf of the majority of American supporters of Israel – Jewish and not – who support a two-state solution and oppose moves to limit the rights of any Israeli citizens or to deny the collective right of the Palestinian people to self-determination in a state of their own.

Faced with a return to power of a Prime Minister who has publicly demonstrated that he does not share those beliefs, we will advocate strongly that the American Jewish community must maintain and even more actively promote its commitment to the core principles and policies which have been bedrocks of the US-Israel relationship for decades.

We’re counting on your support as we continue that work.

- Jeremy Ben-Ami

My email to Jeremy:

Dear Jeremy:

Many express doubts about there being a higher power in light of this election – understandable, and I know many American Jews have altogether given up on there being a higher power.

Martin Buber would have said not that God doesn’t exist, but that God is “in eclipse” and has permitted the darker forces to run amok. Good people doing good work is evidence of God’s presence, I believe, and there is plenty of that around.

Remember the Midrash of Moses and the Israelites at the sea. While Moses prayed, Nachshon ben Aminidav jumped in the water and began to swim, essentially taking history into his own hands. The rabbis said that God was watching, and the combination of Moses’ prayer and Nachshon’s activism persuaded God to split the sea.

All metaphor, of course, but don’t give up on the existence of a higher force, just that too many people are disconnected from it and we need more  to transcend fear, which is a dark force that keeps us from higher vision, and carry on the good fight.

Ometz Lev (strength of heart),

In conclusion, Meirav Michaeli (Member of the K’nesset from the Zionist Union) said it well as quoted in the NY Times today taken from her tweeter feed:

“As difficult as it is, it’s just another round. We have to raise our heads, recover and start preparing for the next round. This is our country. This is our society. We are here to work for both.”

We in America that love Israel need to support those Israelis (Jewish and Arab citizens alike) with whom we share a common vision.


While Waiting for Israeli Election Results – Thoughts on ‘Optimism’ and Important Articles to Ponder


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The only poll that matters is the one taken today, on election day. Then what matters is who President Rivlin will ask to form a coalition government and how the parties will line up, which could take weeks.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts about optimism and pessimism and a few articles I recommend.

The alternative to Hamas is Abbas. He is a serious man who has declared himself in favor of peace and compromise, of a demilitarized Palestinian state and against terror…There are always skeptics in life…To be an optimist you have to work very hard and have a lot of patience. It’s more natural to be a skeptic, be on the safe side…But in my experience in life I feel that being optimistic is wiser and more realistic…Optimists and pessimists die the same way. It’s how they live that’s different.” -Former President Shimon Peres addressing Israeli High School Students

“Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and say why not.” -Robert F. Kennedy

“A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn’t see the clouds at all – he’s walking on them.” -Leonard Louis Levinson, writer

“An optimist is the human personification of spring.” -Susan J. Bissonette, writer

“A pessimist finds difficulties in every opportunity; an optimist finds opportunities in every difficulty.” -President Harry S. Truman

“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” -Nelson Mandela

“B’Yisrael ye-ush lo optsia – In Israel despair is not an option.” -Yaron Shavit – past President of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and military commander of Milluim in North Israel

5 Recommended articles:

1. The American Jewish Community Is Fracturing. What’s Causing It? Steven M. Cohen, The New Republic. Professor Cohen is among the most respected demographers of the American Jewish community. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121304/generational-divide-american-jews-israel

2. Amos Oz – Last Chance for a Jewish State,  The Los Angeles Jewish Journal. A landmark speech delivered before the eighth international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/transcript_of_amos_oz_remarks_to_inss

3. LIVE UPDATES: Some 26% vote before noon; Likud ‘worried by high Arab turnout’, Times of Israel. http://www.timesofisrael.com/ballot-stations-open-as-israelis-choose-new-leadership/

4. Israel’s New Political Center, New Yorker, Bernard Avishai. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/israels-new-political-center

5. Bibi’s Opponent: ‘I Trust the Obama Administration to Get a Good Deal’, Atlantic. Jeffrey Goldberg notes in an extensive interview with Herzog that unlike Netanyahu, the Zionist Union head “is clever enough to talk about the US-Israel relationship with discretion and nuance.” http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/03/goldberg-isaac-herzog-interview-on-iran-and-obama/387628/?utm_source=btn-twitter-pin

The Final Week Before the Israeli Election – 3 Articles


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Those interested in the Israeli election are no doubt following the news carefully in Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel , the LA Jewish Journal, The Jewish Daily Forward, and other news sources. The following three items encapsulate the dynamism of this election in Israel among Jews, Israeli Arabs and the American Jewish community.

Though anything can happen, as past Israeli elections have shown, I believe that this election may truly represent a sea-change. Polls indicate that in the closing week, Israeli opinion is solidifying. Here are two edited articles and a link to a third that reflects that dynamism and what this election means to Israelis, Arabs and American Jews.

[1] From a Letter of Rabbi Dow Marmur from Jerusalem. March 15, 2015. (edited)
Ari Shavit, whom the world reads nowadays more than ever thanks to the deserved success of his book, “My Promised Land,” suggested in his Ha’aretz column earlier in the week that the very possibility of a Herzog government has restored hope to many Israelis. They’re hoping, it seems, that:

*he’ll restore normal relations with the United States instead of siding with Republican extremists in Congress;

*he’ll see Israel’s security problems in the larger context than just Iran, something many experts in the field believe to be necessary;

*he’ll tackle the economic issues of the day, particularly the cost of housing which has soared because, according to one report, a third of all new homes have been bought by investors, not owner-tenants;

*he’ll stem the massive flow of funds and subsidies to the settlements;

*he’ll restart negotiations with the Palestinians and release the tax revenues which rightfully belong to the Palestinian Authority but that Israel is currently holding as retaliations for the Authority turning to the International Criminal Court.

[2] “Why I’m voting Meretz and not for the Arab ticket.” Salman Masalha. Haaretz. March 12, 2015. (edited)

The actions of the Joint List of Arab parties for the Knesset over the question of a surplus votes agreement with Meretz was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Meretz was willing to cancel its surplus votes agreement with the Zionist Union to sign such an agreement with the Joint List, just to prevent tens of thousands of votes from going to waste – but the Joint List refused….

I admit that I boycotted recent elections, and that I recently used this platform to call for boycotting the present election too. I had many reasons in favor of a boycott. The reasons have not changed. The circumstances have.

When Islamist imams declare in the Arab media that a vote for the Joint List will bring down the rule of the right, yet the Joint List includes an Islamic Movement whose candidates live a polygamous life, I wonder which right they are talking about. Do they themselves not represent the very same thing just in a different costume, the sheitel or the hijab?

We must say clearly that the Joint List includes not only the equivalent of Yisrael Beiteinu of the Arab street, in the form of the Arab nationalism of Balad; but also the racist parallel of Habayit Hayehudi in the shape of the Islamic Movement.

…Here it turns out that the nationalists of Balad, who are fighting with all they have to enter the Knesset and swear loyalty to the “Jewish and democratic” State of Israel, are not willing to sign an agreement with Meretz based on the claim that it is a Zionist party, but when the time comes they embrace the racists from the “Habayit Haislami” (“Islamic Home”) of the Arab street.

Therefore, this is the time to disperse the fog and put everything on the table. I confess that I have never voted for Meretz. I always gave my vote to Hadash. But the time has come to voice a clear and pronounced civil Arab call: If the choice is between a vote that will give Meretz a Knesset seat or a vote that will give another seat to the Arabs from the Joint List who are the counterparts of Habayit Hayehudi or Yisrael Beiteinu, then the proper choice of every responsible citizen is clearly Meretz.

Every vote for Meretz is a sure vote for separating religion and state, for civil equality and equality between the sexes. Every vote for Meretz is a sure vote for social justice, cultural and national justice, freedom of expression and freedom of thought. And above all, every vote for Meretz is a certain vote for the peace we all aspire to. It is impossible to say all these things with certainty about any other party.

That is why, for a sane country and equal citizenship for everyone, I have decided to vote for Meretz.

[3] “Israel’s Debates Creep (Back) Into Our Bloodstream – American Jews Realize They Are Part of Election Drama.” JJ Goldberg. Jewish Daily Forward. March 13, 2015.


Shabbat shalom!

The Back Story of the UCLA Judicial Anti-Semitic Incident

Despite every effort by the four original nay-voters to reverse themselves and clean up the mess they made in the recent vote against the nomination of the Jewish student, Rachel Beyda, to serve on UCLA’s student Judicial Board, and despite the UCLA Administration’s sincere efforts to deal appropriately with this matter, and despite the 12-0 vote of the UCLA Student Government to condemn anti-Semitism in all forms this week (see below), there is a back story that ought to be known.

That back story, published by the “Faculty Lounge: Conversations about Law, Culture and Academia,” shines a light on three of the four initial voters against Ms. Beyda. These three students have been activists in the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA.

“For the past year, there has been a concerted effort at UCLA to rid the student government of anyone who might be insufficiently antagonistic toward Israel, which was seen as necessary to the passage of a BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) resolution. And as it turns out, at least three of the four anti-Beyda voters have been closely connected to that campaign. It is often said that the BDS movement is aimed only at Israel and not at Jews, but this incident shows just how easily anti-Zionism can give rise to what might be called Judeophobia – the assumption that Jews are politically suspect until proven otherwise.” http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2015/03/ucla-the-untold-backstory.html

Though it is possible to accept the right of the Jewish people to a nation state of our own and at the same time support limited-BDS in the occupied territories (a position I do not support because I believe it unfairly targets Israel and does nothing to further a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians), the fact is that the main proponents of BDS deny the right of the Jewish people to a nation state on any part of our historic homeland. This position is not only anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, it is also anti-Semitic.

Yes, those three students changed their vote and apologized for offending Jews, but I question the sincerity of those apologies given these three students pro-BDS activism.

See story on UCLA Student Government resolution condemning anti-Semitism in all forms: http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/ucla_student_government_passes_resolution_condemning_anti_semitism1

New Israeli Feminist Ultra-Orthodox Party Runs in Election – Biz’chutan

If ever there was a time that ultra-Orthodox women need political, economic, and social power of their own in the state of Israel, now is the time.

For those who have seen the Israeli entry to the Academy Awards this year “Gett” (the third in a trilogy of films) by the brother-sister team of Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz, you have witnessed how horribly insensitive and misogynist is the Hareidi rabbinic community in Israel.

Gila Yashar is a Hareidi wife and mother of 7 children who tells her heart-breaking story on the TLV1 broadcast aired on March 8. (see link below). Both the film “Gett” and this story about the women running for the Knesset on the Biz’chutan (“In Their Merit”) list, will shock you. If you are not a part of the Hareidi community or knowledgeable about the place of women in it, it is likely that you have no idea of the depth and breadth of the discrimination against women who stand up for their rights, nor of the dismissive attitude towards injustices they have sustained and which have been ignored by the all-male batei din (rabbinical courts).

I hope that this new political party Biz’chutan wins a necessary minimum (3.25%) of the Israeli electorate so that all four of the Hareidi women running for office – Ruth Culian, Noa Erez, Tami Bilui, and Gila Yashar – will be able to take seats in the next Knesset.

Their courage to defy the ultra-Orthodox Israeli Hareidi community has already given heart to many Hareidi women in similar circumstances who feel utterly alone and abandoned and as though no one cares about them.

Click here to hear this heart-wrenching and inspirational story: http://tlv1.fm/so-much-to-say/2015/03/08/going-against-the-grain-the-bizchutan-party/


Zionism and Crisis – A Conversation

In late February I was invited to participate in a dialogue on the meaning of Progressive Zionism, Israel’s character as a Jewish homeland and democratic state, why Israel is important for American Jews, our role in US-Israeli politics, and our relationship with each other vis a vis the state of Israel.

I was questioned by Dr. Joshua Holo, Associate Professor of Jewish History and Dean of the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, in a 45-minute conversation. Dr. Holo and I covered many of the most critical issues facing American Jewry in relationship to the state of Israel today. Our conversation can be watched at http://huc.edu/academics/learn/zionism-and-crisis.

This program, called “Zionism and Crisis – A Conversation,” is part of an on-going series of discussions led by Dean Holo on a wide variety of themes in a series called “THE COLLEGE COMMONS.” Currently, 20 Reform synagogues throughout the western United States from Seattle to San Diego and throughout the southwest are participating in a live-stream and real-time conversation followed by discussion in each synagogue led by their respective rabbis. Dr. Holo prepares study materials for those synagogue conversations.

There is no charge for synagogue participation. This is not what Josh calls “Pajama Torah,” meaning that you cannot access this conversation in real-time on-line from home. It must be done in community with others, and so synagogues are signing up and gathering congregants to watch, question the speakers and then discuss together these themes.

If you are interested in participating, ask your rabbis and adult learning chairs to contact HUC and schedule these events. They occur on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings four times annually. If you live in other communities around the country, you are welcome as well but note the time changes.

For more information see collegecommons@huc.edu. Also see http://huc.edu/campus-life/los-angeles/college-commons and http://huc.edu/academics/learn/theme/458

Upcoming Conversations include (all moderated by Dean Holo):

DEATH BY SUCCESS? WALKING THE TIGHTROPE OF IDENTITY: with Dr. Kristine Garroway and Rabbi Tali Zelkowicz
REBIRTH IN GERMANY?: with Dr. Leah Hochman and Dr. Sharon Gillerman
THE MYSTERY OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS: with Rabbi Joshua Garroway, Ph.D

Past Conversations are now available on-line (above) for viewing from home:

POLITICS AND THE PULPIT: with Rabbi Stephanie Kolin
HOW JUDAISM IS CHRISTIANITY?: with Rabbi Joshua Garroway
A FORUM ON THE 2013 PEW STUDY OF JEWISH AMERICANS: with Sr. Sarah Bunin Benor, Dr. Bruce A. Phillips and Dr. Steven Windmueller

This is an exciting new forum for synagogue learning with leading scholars and teachers. My own synagogue will be part of next year’s series.

I wish to express my gratitude to my friend Dr. Josh Holo for conceiving and initiating this forum and thereby bringing scholars and HUC faculty to our communities on a regular basis.

Anger Management and Leadership – Ki Tisa

Recently, I found myself sitting in a traffic jam in my supermarket’s parking lot. One driver decided (wrongly) that I was the one holding up movement, and so he rolled down his window and with a vulgar gesture cursed me crudely with such venom that I feared he was going to get out of his car and attack me. I rolled up my windows and didn’t look at him! He went away, thank God.

Of course, his outburst had nothing to do with me. I have no idea why he was so angry. However, I got to thinking about how much rage plagues common discourse today, in our relationships with family, friends and colleagues, with people we don’t know, within the Jewish community, and between peoples and nations.

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, shines a light on Moses’ rage at his people. He had brought the tablets of the law down from Mount Sinai and en route learned from Joshua that the people were celebrating around a golden calf. As he descended the mountain he heard for himself the revelry and became enraged.

After all God had done for the people and after all he had done to facilitate God’s will in their redemption, the people were short-sighted and ungrateful. With righteous indignation Moses smashed the tablets, burned the golden calf, ground it to powder, mixed it with water, and force-fed the substance to the guilty Israelites. (Exodus 32:15-20)

Moses’ indignation went unabated and we read in the next chapter: “Now Moses would take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp.” (Exodus 33:7)

Rabbi Menachem Sachs, quoting from the Jerusalem Talmud (B’chorim 3:3), explained why Moses pitched the Tent of Meeting so far away:

…because he was tired of the people’s constant complaining and criticism. As Moses walked around the camp some would say ‘look at his thick neck, his fat legs – he must eat up all our money.’”

Insulted and exasperated, Moses moved the tent out of the people’s sight so that only those who really wanted to draw near to God would have to deliberately choose to do so and then make the effort to come to the meeting tent.

Watching disapprovingly, God appealed to Moses (Midrash Rabbah 45:2):

“I want you to change your mind, go back to the camp, and deal with the people face to face, as it says, ‘The Eternal would speak to Moses panim el panim – face to face, as one person speaks to another.’” (Exodus 33:11)

We can’t blame Moses for his weariness and impatience with the people. He had suffered their obstinacy since leaving Egypt. He was old and tired, and had had enough.

Tradition, however, reminds us that leading a community while angry is no way to lead. Once leaders lose their temper publicly and become impatient with the people whom they lead, they lose not just whatever argument is immediately before them, but the faith of the people in their leadership.

As a congregational rabbi and leader of a large religious institution, I’ve learned over a period of more than 35 years that the very worst thing a leader can ever do is to respond to individuals, to the community, to staff, and to strangers with impatience, condescension and anger. This is true in religious institutions and education most especially, but in business, non-profits, the arts, politics, diplomacy, and government as well.

Tradition says that Moses lost the right to enter the Promised Land when he hit the rock with his stick out of anger at the people, instead of speaking to it as God had commanded him (Numbers 20:11).

No less an equivalent consequence should be exacted from trusted leadership when they lose control, condescend, humiliate, and sow division amongst those they lead.

The Talmud says, “If a person loses his temper – If he is originally wise, he loses his wisdom, and if he is a prophet, he loses his prophecy.” (Bavli, Pesachim 66b).

Here are a few additional reflections about anger worth noting:

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
-Mark Twain

When angry you will make the best speech you ever regret.”
-William Ury, American author, academic, anthropologist, and negotiation expert

When the spirit of anger asserts itself over a person, the trait of mercy flees and cruelty takes over to shatter and destroy.”
-Orchot Tzaddikim, 15th century Germany

Shabbat shalom!


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