Archive for the ‘Religious Freedom’ Category

Yediot’s legal affairs editor on “the emergence of apartheid and fascism” in Israel

June 23, 2010 22 comments

Yediot’s legal affairs editor, Judge (ret.) Boaz Okon, lists a series of undemocratic events in the Israeli public sphere and urges his readers to come to contemplate what they mean when seen together:


These dots are growing evidence of the lack of the spirit of freedom and the emergence of apartheid and fascism. If you look at each dot separately you might miss the bigger picture. Like a child watching a military brigade march, and after seeing the battalions, the batteries and the companies, asking: “And when is the brigade finally coming?” the answer is that while he watched the marching of the battalions, batteries and companies, he was actually watching the brigade. So is the situation in Israel. You do not have to ask where the apartheid is. These events, which are accepted with silence and indifference, together create a picture of a terrible reality.


Draw me a Monster

Op-ed, Boaz Okon [legal affairs editor], Yediot, June 22 2010 [Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

Just like in a children’s connect-the-dots coloring book, where connecting random dots creates a picture, so in Israel, if you connect a number of horrifying, multiplying incidents, you begin to see a monster.

Dot number one: a school in Emmanuel segregates students along ethnic lines. The court, upholding the principle of equality, orders the segregation to be canceled, but is held in contempt by an entire prejudiced community. They rely on the old defense plea “tu quique” — “you too” — meaning you too maintain hidden segregation. That is a pathetic and perverse defense, but it is disturbing because the number of mizrahi Jews in academe, the legal institutions and the senior civil service is too low.

Dot number two: MK Hanin Zoabi joined the flotilla to Gaza. As a result, Knesset members shouted at her “go to Gaza.” Zoabi is an Israeli citizen. Even if her actions are infuriating, you cannot incite against her and call for her expulsion. In the US, when an elderly journalist suggested the Jews in Israel go to Poland, the president condemned her and she had to step down. Our legislators are trying to pass laws to block the funding of bodies such as the New Israel Fund or B’Tselem, only because they dare tell us the truth to our faces.

Dot number three: in Hebron there is segregation between Jews and Arabs, and entire streets are blocked to Arab Palestinians. This decree was passed after the Jewish Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Arabs. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Israeli Arabs are not allowed to walk around the streets of Hebron. It turns out that Arab identity in itself constitutes a provocation and pretext for disturbances by Jews. The situation is considered normal, and therefore the segregation regime on Highway 443, which the court canceled on paper, continues to exist in practice.

And another dot: among the senior civil service in Israel, in the courts as well as in academe, the number of Arabs is minute. And another dot:  punishment of Arabs is harsher than of Jews. And another dot: at the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrations police are heavy-handed with the demonstrators for Arab rights and gentle with the demonstrators for Jewish rights. And another dot: a judge places obstacles on two men who wish to bring their children born to a surrogate mother to Israel, because of their sexual orientation. And another dot: violation of suspects’ rights is widespread, and more than once false confessions have been extracted from suspects, usually members of minorities, foreign workers or Ethiopians. Nobody investigates the police. The evil spirit, which is quick to convict and loaths differences of opinion and the presumption of innocence, has become part of the culture.

And this too: foreign workers are forbidden from multiplying here, as if they were draft animals. And another dot: gag orders are issued routinely and without justification, and wiretapping orders are issued with a light hand. There is no reaction to illegal wiretapping by the government. In the same way a law is passed to establish a biometric database, despite its violation of privacy, as is the “big brother” law, allowing monitoring of cellular phone calls, e-mail and Internet. And there are many more points concerning the cheapening of the democratic process, buying votes and buying entire parties with offices and benefits. Read more…


Maariv: Did Rahm Emanuel cancel his son’s Kotel Bar Mitzvah following threats from Kahanists?

May 17, 2010 5 comments

Analogies with the Richard Goldstone Bar Mitzvah fiasco would probably upset both men.

Rahm’s Jerusalem furor

Eli Bardenstein and Amihai Attali, Maariv May 17 2010 [page 7 with front-page teaser; Hebrew original here and bottom of post]

It is not easy to hold a bar mitzvah ceremony for one’s son, certainly when one is the White House chief of staff.  Rahm Emanuel, one of the key figures in the Obama administration, will come to Israel next weekend in order to watch his son Zach be called up to the Torah — but the busy chief of staff is still having difficulty deciding on the nature of the affair.  Emanuel, who initially intended to hold the ceremony at the Western Wall, discovered that the fact that he is an American politician with Jewish roots and Israeli opponents is a recipe for trouble.

Emanuel already told political officials about his intention to visit Israel for his son’s bar mitzvah about a year ago.  But only last January did tangible rumors begin to surface about the planned celebration at the Western Wall.  “We received a call from Emanuel’s bureau at the White House, in which they asked in principle about coordinating the bar mitzvah at the Western Wall,” said yesterday an official who is involved in coordinating VIP tours at the holy site.  “But since then they have not contacted us again, and coordinating the visit of a figure on such a scale requires at least a month of advance preparation.”

The reason that Emanuel has canceled the Torah reading at the Western Wall may be a letter that his bureau received a few months ago from right wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir, with a threat that they would take care to “blow up” the celebration.  “We promise to accompany your son’s bar mitzvah events in Israel,” the two wrote to Emanuel, “we will make sure to receive you as you deserve to be received—not with flowers and candy, but with catcalls and disgust at what you represent.”

And perhaps the reason for the change in plan lies in the restriction that is imposed on American diplomats not to spend time over the Green Line for non-work related purposes.  The Western Wall, in the view of the Americans, is “occupied territory” that Israel annexed in the Six-Day War.

The alternative celebration for Zach Emanuel, which is scheduled for next weekend, will be a small family affair.  Jewish sources in the Old City of Jerusalem said that to the best of their understanding, Emanuel had apparently canceled the bar mitzvah ceremony he planned to hold at the Western Wall.  “The Emanuel family is not expected to celebrate at the Western Wall in the coming two weeks; no one has coordinated such a visit with us,” they summed up.

However, another source said that Emanuel might arrive at the Western Wall without coordinating it in advance and causing a commotion there.

In any case, it is reasonable to assume that the visit will also be used for meetings with political officials in the Prime Minister’s Bureau, and perhaps also with Binyamin Netanyahu himself.  Emanuel was among the initiators of the latest crisis between Israel and the US concerning construction in Jerusalem, which broke out after the visit of Vice President Joe Biden.  However, Emanuel was also the one who led the American consent to “get down from their high horse,” as one of the ministers from the forum of seven put it, and the understanding that the pressure on Israel should be stopped for internal political reasons.

“Rahm Emanuel’s arrival at the Western Wall, a place that should be given to the Arabs as far as he is concerned, is an unnecessary provocation,” Marzel and Ben Gvir said last night, “and therefore he acted wisely when he decided not to hold the bar mitzvah there.  However, we promise to try to locate the hall or alternative location in which the bar mitzvah will be celebrated, and stage a protest there.”

And what about young Zach, who is not involved in his father’s political business?  “We propose that the child come with us for a day of fun without his father,” the right wing activists said, “in which we will hold a jeep tour in various heritage sites of the Jewish people such as the Western Wall plaza, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Joseph’s Tomb.  We can only hope that after such a trip, he will return to his father and teach him a few things about the Jewish people’s heritage.”

Read more…

Sheizaf: The split personality of liberal Jewish-Americans, Ctd.

January 14, 2010 2 comments

Cross-posted from Promised Land.

I had some interesting responses to my post on the “split personality” of American liberal Jews. One of them was from Rabbi Jason Miller from Detroit, Michigan, who posted on his blog some of his thoughts regarding this issue. Among other things, he refers to “the seemingly ironic position that so many liberal American Jews find themselves in concerning their views on Israel.”

Admittedly, I am in this category. I never criticize Israel or its government’s policies publicly, because, well, it’s Israel — my Israel, my homeland. The Jewish state has enough critics, I reason; it could use more people playing defense for the team. But when it comes to religious pluralism, I have no problem expressing my frustration for the control that the ultra-Orthodox wields in Israel. A monopoly by one denomination of a religion for all official religious acts is not democratic.

I think that Rabbi Miller is being very honest here about his views on Israel. In a different post, he refers to the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians by the Jewish community as one of the most important development of the decade. This is another example of something that the religious establishment in Israel wouldn’t even consider doing – in fact, Rabbis and religious MKs here led the fight against Gay rights – and Rabbi Miller has no problems speaking against Israel’s orthodoxy.

I wonder, however, what is the different, in the eyes of a liberal person, between Gay and Arab rights. I understand Jews’ hesitations to come out publicly against Israel on issues that involve national security, but when it comes to minorities’ rights, the current government in Jerusalem is far worse than any administration America had in the past fifty years, yet Jews – who took part in some of the great civil rights fights in the US – remain very careful not to criticize Israel on these matters.

Just recently, the Knesset passed a law which would  allow Jewish settlements inside Israel (not to be confused with West Bank settlements), build on public state land, to forbid Arab citizens from purchasing a home within them. At the same time, the Knesset turned down a bill that was meant to make the state allocate land to Jews and Arab on an equal basis.

Doesn’t the fact that Rabbi Miller views Israel as his homeland only makes it more urgent to protest when this country is marching down the “separate but equal” road?


Going back to the national security issue, my question to Israel’s liberal supporters is if they can imagine a time in which it would be justified to come out publicly against Israel.

Naturally, this is something liberal Israelis ask themselves all the time – when does it become justified to speak against our country, even our community. Often I wonder how would a certain post or news item I might quote here be viewed, used or misused or taken out of context when people around the world read it.

Among leftist bloggers who write in English, we joke that after one raises some critical or controversial issue, you start by being praised by those fighting for peace and civil liberties, than by anti-Israelis, later on by anti-Semites, and finally Holocaust deniers. Naturally, many of these responses are not exactly what we aim for, but still, we think that some of Israel’s actions – more and more lately – deserve to be criticized publicly. The truth – about the West Bank, or about Gaza, or about civil liberties in Israel – must be told, even if it occasionally leads to some unfortunate consequences.

Sometimes I get the feeling that many American Jews exempt themselves from this dilemma by simply accepting Jerusalem’s view all the time. So again, my question to them is this: Can they think of an event that will make them come out against Israel, both privately and publicly?


Maybe there are signs of change. Here is something I read at James Besser’s blog on The Jewish Week, And Besser is far from being anti-Israeli or a radical lefty:

…there’s something disturbing about the growing determination to stifle debate in an American Jewish community with a multiplicity of pro-Israel views. Israelis engage in vigorous debate about these issues all the time, but apparently our own leaders believe that support for Israel is so shaky here that we can’t raise issues like whether or not the Gaza blockade is in Israel’s long-term security interests.

Interestingly, Besser makes the same point I had: that some of the stuff written on the Israeli mainstream media would be unacceptable for American Jews had it appeared at their town’s paper. After quoting the Haaretz editorial calling to reconsider the siege on Gaza, he wonders:

Wouldn’t any American Jewish group making such an argument be tarred as a violator of the pro-Israel orthodoxy, shunned, called “dangerous” to the Jewish state?

What do you think?

Please comment at Promised Land.

Sheizaf: Liberal Jews and Israel — A case of split personality disorder

January 6, 2010 5 comments

Cross-posted from Promised Land Blog.

Last Saturday I met an Israeli-American friend who came for a short visit from his studies in Europe. We talked some politics, and finally came to an issue which always puzzles me: the fact that American Jews are unwilling — almost unable — to criticize Israel, both in public and in private, and even when Israeli policies contradict their own beliefs. My friend noted that if some of the articles on the Israeli media – and not even the most radical ones – were to be printed in the US and signed by non-Jews, they would be considered by most Jewish readers like an example of dangerous Israel-bashing, sometimes even anti-Semitism.

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.


All known data indicates that the vast majority of US Jews support the democratic party, and many consider themselves as liberals (Barack Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote). Yet except for a group of well known activists, you can hardly hear these people criticize Israel, which is not exactly a picture-perfect liberal democracy.

I am not talking here about the old Jewish establishment or about AIPAC. AIPAC are professional politicians. Their status is based on their connections to the Israeli governments, and their ability to promote Israeli interests in Washington. Breaking up with Israel — even just criticizing Israeli politics — will not just hurt their status, it will simply leave them unemployed. Expecting AIPAC or other Jewish leaders with good ties in Jerusalem to declare that, for example, Israel should lift the siege on Gaza, is like asking an insurance lobbyist to speak in the name of the public option.

Naturally, I don’t expect anything from Jewish neo-cons either. These people like Netanyahu, they supported George Bush, and they will go on speaking about culture wars and Islamo-Facists versus Judeo-Christians even on the day Mahmoud Haniya converts to Zionism. You can agree or disagree with them, but at least their views are consistent.

With the Liberals it’s quiet a different story. It’s obvious they care much about Israel, and some of them are very passionate about politics and extremely well-informed about what’s going on here, but from time to time, I get the feeling they hold back some of their views.

I don’t think many liberals, if they really are ones, can accept the siege on Gaza. Even if they think that Hamas is to blame for the current state of affairs, surly they don’t support collective punishment against 1.5 million people, do they? What would they say if the US was to seal the areas in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan where the insurgents are hiding, not letting even basic supply in or out, preventing civilians from growing food or working, and practically leaving the entire population on the brink of starvation? I presume many Americans will oppose such policies. Read more…

Amb. Michael Oren’s credibility problem

January 4, 2010 8 comments

Michael Oren

UPDATE: January 5 2010 — Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar posits similar arguments.

In the run-up to his appointment as ambassador, Michael Oren, with the help of the mainstream US media, pulled off an amazing image makeover — the movement neoconservative became a pragmatic centrist. The Israeli media, however, is not playing ball.

On December 22 Haaretz revealed that he  had gone off the reservation as the American Jewish Committee’s representative in Jerusalem in the nineties — suggesting that the IDF Chief of Staff replace Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Last Tuesday (December 29 2009,) Oren gave an interview to Razi Barkai at IDF Radio (listen to it here in Hebrew.) Barkai was surprisingly well informed and pressed Oren on his treatment of J Street (translated transcript of relevant excerpt after the cut.)

Oren, under pressure, tried to use the Goldstone Report to differentiate J Street from Americans for Peace Now (APN), with whom he has deigned to meet. His implication is that J Street is beyond the pale because it did not denounce the report.

The facts do not back Oren’s argument. Both organizations have not denounced Goldstone. However, between the two, APN has clearly taken a markedly softer tone regarding the report. In fact, when the House of Representatives tabled resolution 867, condemning the Goldstone report, APN called on Congressmen to oppose it, while J Street only asked for its amendment. J Street is also closer to Oren’s and Israel’s position on the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009 (IRPSA), which it supports. APN, on the other hand, urged Congress members to oppose it. Indeed, last Friday (January 1 2009,) APN’s Lara Friedman published an blog post criticizing Oren for trying to force Obama’s hand on the issue.

Razi Barkai

Clearly, J Street is closer to the Israeli position on two issues that Oren deems crucial. Why then, as reported in the Forward, did he attack the organization for “fooling around with lives of seven million [Israeli] people,” while stating in this interview that outreach to APN is “very important”?

One option is that Oren is grievously misinformed. This was also the excuse for another recent incident casting doubt on his credibility.

Last November, a woman, Nofrat Frenkel, was detained by Israeli police and interrogated for 2.5 hours after she wore a tallit and carried a Torah in the women’s section of the main plaza of the Wailing Wall. When questioned, Oren categorically denied the report.

When asked about the incident at the annual meeting of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in December, Oren dismissed these accounts as “widely misreported,” saying she was simply “led away” from the area.

Such a blatant misrepresentation of facts could not be sustained for long, however. On December 22 2009, the Israeli Embassy issued a statement backtracking on the denial and shifting blame to the Foreign Ministry.

Oren responded to a question based upon information he had requested and received from Israel, which was later proven to be incomplete. The ambassador has since demanded a full and complete report on the incident.

Is it also the Foreign Ministry’s fault that the ambassador is misinformed on the respective positions of J Street and APN on Goldstone and IRPSA? That would be a stretch. It is Oren‘s responsibility to report on these to Jerusalem. He could shift blame to a staffer, but that would reflect badly on his performance regarding an issue at the core of his job description. More likely, as Barkai posits in the IDF Radio interview, Oren has “decided to go with AIPAC against J Street.” This is, as Leonard Fein points out, a breach of his post-appointment promise to “reach out to different groups, Jewish and non-Jewish, that have not felt a close attachment to the embassy in the past.”

Bill Kristol

That brings us to the second option: Faced with such a glaring gap, Oren makes up the facts as required. However, as with NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg, one is struck by Oren’s hubris. It’s hard to believe that Oren does not realize that this type of behavior will be quickly exposed, given today’s reality of instant internet-based fact-checking.

This carelessness could be the result of a situation where Oren’s fundamental political training tends to overpower his common sense. Michael Oren is a product of the Shalem Center, Sheldon Adelson‘s neoconservative institute in Jerusalem, which he joined in 1998 as part of its initial group of senior fellows.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald points out that the [Leo] Straussian “noble lie” is a tenet of neoconservative thought. He quotes Prof. Shadia Drury:

[Strauss] therefore taught that those in power must invent noble lies and pious frauds to keep the people in the stupor for which they are supremely fit. . . . Like the Grand Inquisitor, he thought that it was better for human beings to be victims of this noble delusion than to “wallow” in the “sordid” truth. And like the Grand Inquisitor, Strauss thought that the superior few should shoulder the burden of truth and in so doing, protect humanity from the “terror and hopelessness of life.

In this context, Greenwald specifically describes William (Bill) Kristol as a “Straussian clone.” It is probably no coincidence that Kristol is a member of the Shalem Foundation’s board.

Both options are worrying. The Israeli ambassador has a credibility problem, either the result of incompetence or, more likely, his ideological bent.

The confrontational Oren that has emerged in the little amount of time since his appointment may have bigger problems than his credibility, however. Oren’s dishonesty seems to be the result of a need to defend positions that do not resonate well in the beltway, among most American Jews and in Israel. It is hard to believe that these positions originate in Jerusalem. Increasingly, they appear to be closely coordinated with two groups disenfranchised under the Obama administration — the old Jewish-American establishment and the pundits at the Weekly Standard and the National Review. If this is case, Michael Oren, who disingenuously called J Street a “unique” problem, is becoming one himself, for both Israel and the US.

Interview with Michael Oren

IDF Radio, December 29 2009 10:07


Razi Barkai: because you are everyone’s ambassador in the US, not only the Israeli right’s.

Michael Oren: yes, that is how I see it.

Razi Barkai: so why did you avoid the very important J Street conference? Read more…

A little sanity from Jeffrey Goldberg

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Commenting on the latest bout of indignation, from people who have made sanctimonious outrage their profession — this time about the elevation of Pope Pius XII to sainthood

The Catholic Church today is respectful of Jews and Israel; it also adores its former Popes. I don’t see a contradiction. I’m not sure why I’m so unmoved by these Jewish protests — maybe because I think Jews should keep their powder dry for actual problems. Or maybe because excessive whining is just so damn annoying.

Those ‘actual problems’ include the obliteration, in Israel, of so many values I was brought up to believe were what Judaism was all about.

Yediot: The War on Christmas, Jerusalem edition

December 22, 2009 4 comments

This has probably already been in the news, and I am probably inadvertently plagiarizing someone else’s original sarcasm, but I couldn’t resist the temptation: Where is Bill O’Reilly when we need him?

On a more serious note, this type of behavior probably contributed to the State Department’s damning report on religious freedom in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Rabbinate versus Santa Claus

Itamar Eichner, Yediot, December 22 2009 [Hebrew original here]

A recommendation issued by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate to hotels and restaurants has generated new tension between Israel and the Vatican [see this for another recently reported source of tension].

While hotels, restaurants and clubs put up fir trees, Santa Claus dolls and red hats for the Christmas celebration and New Year parties that will take place in the next two weeks, the chief rabbinate  recommends not displaying symbols of the Christian holidays. Moreover, the rabbinical “Lobby for Jewish Values” recently began to take action against restaurants and hotels that intend to put up Christian symbols. “We are considering making public those business establishments that put up Christian symbols for the Christian holidays and will call to boycott them,” said the lobby’s chairman, Ofer Cohen. Read more…