Yossi Klein Halevi’s book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (written in English, translated into Arabic and soon to be translated into Hebrew) is a must-read explanation of the Zionist and Israeli experience, the first time an Israeli Jew reached out to Palestinians to explain what Israel means to the Jewish people.
Yossi invited Palestinians to respond, and he received many hostile emails but also a thoughtful and serious response from Mohammad Dajani, once was a leader in Fatah.
Mohammad’s letters are included in the republished paperback of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor along with 50 pages of other Palestinian responses.
Both men come from extremist backgrounds. Mohammad explains how his mind and heart opened to the Israeli experience when his father was treated respectfully as a cancer patient at Hadassah Medical Center by Israeli doctors and nurses, and his mother was treated with respect by Israeli doctors at the time of her death.
As a teenager and young man, Yossi joined the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane in protecting elderly Jews in Brooklyn from anti-Semitic attacks, but he rejected Kahane when the extremist rabbi turned his wrath against Palestinian Arabs.
Below is the link to an interview of Yossi and Mohammad conducted by David Horowitz in The Times of Israel. The two men speak frankly and honestly about themselves and their personal histories, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the evolution of their understanding of the “other.” Their dialogue represents a pathway to reconciliation. Neither man, however, wears rose-colored glasses. Each understands the hatred and fear that define the relationship of Israelis neighbors with their Palestinian neighbors and the risks each takes in advocating for dialogue and learning about the other.
Palestinians bombed Mohammad’s car in an assassination attempt after he took 27 Palestinian students to Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust. He refuses to deny or retract on moral grounds anything he said publicly after his journey to the death camp.
Mohammad believes that many Palestinians are open to learning about Jews and Israelis, but Palestinian extremists threaten Palestinians who do so with the charge of treason and assassination.
Yossi believes that many Israelis and Diaspora Jews too are open to learning more about the Palestinian experience despite Jewish extremists charging such efforts as disloyal and treasonous.
Read the interview (link below) and then buy Yossi’s second edition paperback volume Letters to My Palestinian Neighbors.
In response to Ambassador David Friedman’s comments that the Trump administration could likely endorse potential unilateral Israeli annexations in the West Bank, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami issued the following statement:
“David Friedman has once again made clear that he is acting not as the US ambassador to Israel but as the settlement movement’s ambassador to the United States. By essentially giving the Netanyahu government a green light to begin unilaterally annexing Palestinian territory in the West Bank the Trump administration is endorsing a flagrant violation of international law. They are discarding decades of bipartisan US policy, trampling on the rights of Palestinians and helping the Israeli right-wing to destroy Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
Even limited unilateral annexations in the West Bank would be intended to help make the occupation permanent and to prevent the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Over the past few weeks, both the House and Senate have introduced resolutions opposing annexation and rejecting any US effort that would accept or promote it. All Members of Congress who genuinely care about Israel’s future and support a two-state solution should immediately add their names to those resolutions and hold this administration accountable for its disastrous policies.”
Note: The following is a letter sent today to the Reform Movement by Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice President of the Reform Zionist and Israel Committee for the Union of Reform Judaism and the President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). It is worthy to be read and distributed widely.
“The Zionist movement had a central goal of creating a Jewish State. Yet, it also had a goal of instilling Jewish pride. Of creating the “New Jew”, or as Max Nordau referred to it, to create “Muskeljudentum” or “muscular Jewry.” This would be the antithesis of the old Diaspora Jewry, who was weak and defenseless, who couldn’t handle physical labor and were not masters of their own destiny. But Jewish pride wasn’t only about backbone and brawn. It was about getting past the self-deprecation, being the anti-nebech and being proud of our tradition, our heritage, and of what we were able to accomplish.
Many Jews the world round felt that sense of pride with the State of Israel – especially in its triumphant moments after the Six Day War, the raid on Entebbe, and every subsequent Nobel Prize or public achievement. When Maccabi Tel Aviv won its first European championship and American-born Israeli star proclaimed “anachnu al hamapa, ve’anahnu nisharim al hamapa!” a literal translation of an English phrase into his adopted language, but a novel saying in Hebrew, became a new, popular phrase in Israel meaning: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”
Having Jewish pride meant the ability to raise our flag high and be unabashed to waive it proudly. But Jews never really had a flag until the Zionist movement came around. Which is why it was so deeply troubling that the Washington DC Dyke March chose to ban this flag as well as any semblance of the Magen David at today’s march.
Friday’s march, according to its organizers, seeks to celebrate groups of people who organizers said typically are excluded from messaging around Pride, including those of various races, religions, socioeconomic classes and gender identities. I don’t level this accusation lightly, but despite being promulgated by two Jewish activists, this reeks of antisemitism. The ban is so full of irony and hypocrisy as Rabbi Rachel Timoner writes:
“…you can’t be against nationalism when it comes to the Jewish people and in favor of nationalism when it comes to the Palestinian people. In this line of thinking, DC Dyke March organizers say that they’ve banned the Jewish star on flags because it’s a nationalist symbol, but that they welcome the Palestinian flag. They say that they stand with the Palestinians because they are a displaced people. A cursory study of Jewish history would demonstrate that the Jewish people have been displaced over and over again, all around the world.”
So, where does the symbol actually come from?
According to scholar Gershom Scholem’s “Magen David – History of a Symbol“, which was released 27 years after the author’s death, the symbol was seen in biblical times as decoration, but the first book that referred to the symbol as “Magen David” was written by Maimonides’ grandson, Rabbi David Ben Yehuda HaHasid, in the 14th century, and as a mystical talisman in the early middle ages.
The official usage of the Star of David as a Jewish symbol began in Prague. Scholem writes that it was either chosen by the local Jewish community or by the Christian rule as a means of branding the Jews, who later adopted and embraced it. In 1354 Emperor Charles IV granted the Jews the privilege of raising a flag of their own, and this flag contained the Magen David. (One of these flags can still be found in Prague’s famous Altneushul).
During the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 the Zionist flag, which bears a blue Star of David, was chosen. But Prof. Scholem claims that the symbol only became truly meaningful during the Holocaust, after the Nazis used it to mark the Jews, and thus sanctified it. According to Scholem, this gave the graphic symbol a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before.
Of course, not every Jew feels that sense of pride. For some, that symbol may stand for occupation and oppression. It is our job and to change that. Not through spin-doctoring or propagandizing, but through the real work of making our society better and righting the wrongs that have occurred. To make our flag stand for our values of Jewish peoplehood, and a Jewish Nation-State and just society. And a flag of justice, equality and peace.
The Dyke March and Pride marches the world around are incredibly important for LGBTQ rights and recognition. For the simple and basic human notion that a person should be able to be who they are, to be open, and free. We need more marches. We need them in places where those rights – after all these years of struggle – are still not a given.
We, as Jews, need to be there. To say that we’re proud to be Jews of many identities and orientations. And we need to fly our flag.
As Reform Jews, I’m proud that our Movement helped lead the Pride March in Jerusalem yesterday and that we led it with our Torah and values flying high.
On this Shavuot take pride in who we are. Learn our Torah and sacred tradition. And don’t be afraid to fly your flag high.”
I hold no hope for Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli peace proposal even before he reveals it because neither he nor his son-in-law Jared Kushner understands the dynamics within Israeli and Palestinian societies or between the two peoples. They think they can solve this intractable problem by infusing money into the Palestinian community. The Middle East doesn’t work that way. The history of failed peace attempts is proof.
Micah Goodman, an Israeli philosopher, author, and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, has written an important book called “Catch-67 – The Left, The Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). He describes well the conundrum facing Israelis and Palestinians within their own societies and in light of their histories, ideologies, demographic claims, religious and political orientations within each society, and in their relationship with each other.
For his conclusions and more detail, please go to my blog at The Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/catch-67-why-trumps-deal-of-the-century-is-folly/
On Thursday, May 22, 1969, I was arrested in a peaceful mass bust of 482 University of California Berkeley students and faculty for protesting the police killing of one man and the injury of hundreds more with buck shot and bird shot during the “People’s Park” controversy. I was sent to and spent a 24-hour period at Santa Rita prison. What I experienced there terrified me and transformed me into the political and social justice activist that I would become.
See my blog at the Times of Israel to learn what happened that day in the prison at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/i-was-a-prisoner-at-santa-rita-50-years-ago/
National survey finds Democratic voters most likely to back presidential candidate who acts as fair and impartial broker in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations
WASHINGTON, DC — A clear majority of likely Democratic primary voters have favorable views of Israel and believe it is compatible to hold these views and be critical of the Israeli government, according to a new poll. The poll found that most Democrats believe that the US should act as a fair and impartial broker for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The national survey, conducted by GBAO and commissioned by J Street, found that Democrats have a positive view of Israel (+25-point favorability) and the Palestinians (+13) and a highly negative view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (-27). An overwhelming 75 percent say that they would be most likely to back a candidate who supported both Israelis and Palestinians, while a similar 74 percent say that they want the US to act as a fair and impartial broker rather than side solely with Israel.
“The old playbook of unconditional support for the Israeli Prime Minister is clearly out of date, and presidential candidates should feel confident expressing both their support of Israel and their criticism of Netanyahu policies that violate long-held American positions,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. “When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s a clear path to a balanced, principled and forward-looking consensus position that the vast majority of Democratic voters are ready to rally behind.”
Democrats clearly believe that it’s compatible to be supportive of Israel and critical of its government. 81 percent agreed that “someone can be critical of Israeli government policies and still be pro-Israel” — including 92 percent of those who view Israel positively. 61 percent said they were less likely to support a candidate who believes that the US “must stand behind all of [PM] Netanyahu’s policies”, while 69 percent were less likely to support a candidate who says that the US “should continue financial and military aid to Israel without any restrictions, regardless of whether Israel expands settlements or annexes Palestinian territory.”
Democratic voters support Israel, and hold nuanced views toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Choosing between the Israelis and Palestinians is a false dichotomy for these voters, and they want the US to play an active role as an honest broker that helps the parties reach a peace agreement,” said pollster Jim Gerstein.
The poll found that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel is a non-issue among Democratic primary voters — only 36 percent have heard even a little about it, while 63 percent have heard nothing. There is neither strong opposition (13 percent) nor support (12 percent) for BDS. At the same time, however, Democrats are clearly against legislation that would penalize people who boycott Israel and potentially infringe on the Constitutional right to free speech. 54 percent oppose such legislation, while just 22 percent support it.
At a time when the policies of the Trump administration are increasing the prospects for a dangerous new conflict with Iran, the vast majority of Democrats (72 percent) believe the US should re-enter the JCPOA nuclear agreement, including 45 percent who strongly support doing so.
When asked who they were currently planning to vote for in the presidential primary, 36 percent said Joe Biden, 13 percent said Bernie Sanders, 8 percent said Elizabeth Warren and 6 percent said Kamala Harris. Other candidates receiving at least 1 percent support included Pete Buttigieg (5), Beto O’Rourke (4), Cory Booker (3), Amy Klobuchar (1) and Julian Castro (1).
GBAO designed the questionnaire for this national survey of 800 likely voters in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. It was conducted May 1-5, 2019 via landlines and cell phones. The sample is subject to a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Senior Digital Associate, J Street
The poll results, including the full survey, crosstabs and summary of findings, are available at https://jstreet.org/j-street-2019-poll-of-democratic-primary-and-caucus-voters
In this era of Trump, millions of Americans are stepping up to fight Trump’s distortions of fact, moral turpitude, corruption, and violation of law even as Senate Republicans neatly fold up their tents in ways similar to how Austria and Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium folded theirs eighty years ago. While our era and nation are in so many ways different than the 1930s and Germany, the moral collapse of societal norms in those years is similar to the moral collapse that we are witnessing today at the highest levels of the American government. One cannot help but read the past into the present when considering the era Eric Vuillard describes in his eloquent history-novella called The Order of the Day.
For the complete blog at the Times of Israel in which I compare Hitler’s march to war and the moral turpitude of the Trump era, see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-order-of-the-day-and-the-era-of-trump/
…Because I am not a citizen of the State of Israel, do not pay taxes or send my children into the military, and because I respect the democratic right of Israelis to determine their own future, I am considering anew what I personally can do from America to help Israelis who believe as I believe in a progressive, Jewish and democratic Israel to fulfill the vision of a democratic and Jewish state as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
For my complete blog at the Times of Israel – see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/putting-our-money-where-our-values-are-after-the-israeli-elections/
Last evening I participated on a panel at the American Jewish University with moderator Rabbi Elliot Dorff and with fellow panelists Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabb Elazar Muskin in a conversation between rabbis of different religious streams (Reform, Conservative/non-denominational, and Orthodox) that, if not checked, can tear apart the fabric of the American Jewish community.
The three of us panelists represent similar and dissimilar approaches to what we believe is appropriate for rabbis to discuss on the bima and within the synagogue setting. We didn’t always agree – in truth, at times we disagreed substantially.
For my full statement and a link to the discussion, go to my Times of Israel blog at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/politics-on-the-pulpit-is-there-a-line-and-where-do-you-draw-it/