The Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, had called for calm, but in the end the scene at Women of the Wall’s monthly visit on Friday morning was far from it. As Judy Maltz and Yair Ettinger report inHa’aretz, thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators turned up to picket and try and block Women of the Wall from worshipping as they deem fit:
The demonstrators jeered at the women as they prayed, some throwing water bottles and chairs in their direction. Dozens of riot police were on hand to separate them from the women’s prayer group and they grew increasingly violent. After the women exited Dung Gate, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators ambushed them with rocks.
…Several young seminary girls questioned by Ha’aretz said that they had come to the Western Wall because they were told to do so. One young woman, named Rachel, who refused to provide her last name or the name of her seminary, said she had come to protest women praying in the men’s section. Women of the Wall, however, do not pray in the men’s section, but in the women’s section.
Rabbi Aaron Frank, the principal of Beth Tefiloh, a modern Orthodox day school in Baltimore, said he had just “come to daven” at the Western Wall with a few of his students. But when a group of ultra-Orthodox noticed him being interviewed by a foreign TV crew, they began shouting in his direction: “You are a Reform Christian. You are a Muslim. You are the pope.”
This is shameful. The Western Wall belongs not to one Jew, nor one strand of Judaism — it is the collective property of all Jews: secular, Liberal, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox. It must be possible for haredi Jews to pray as they wish, and for Women of the Wall to do the same, without the two coming into conflict.
The onus, in this instance, is on the haredim: it is about time they acknowledge, at least in the public sphere, that there more than one way to be Jew. This begins with refraining from calling Jews who aren’t ultra-Orthodox goyim, and ending these brash displays of verbal and physical intimidation at the Wall and on the street. At the moment, their words and actions not only undermine religious pluralism in Israel, but the few gathered at the Wall today threaten the haredi community more widely, particularly given that their privileged position is evermore being called into question. The haredi community — known for its charity and dedication to study — is better than this.
Perhaps to clarify: It is not that one Jew does not have the right to tell the other how to be a Jew from time to time. To assert to the contrary would be a threat to discourse and argumentation, and evolution of thought and religious practice. Better to say, then, that while it is fine for one to Jew tell the another how to be a good Jew, they do not have to heed that advice, and should not be forced to do so, either.
The injection of theology into the Israeli-Palestinian real estate dispute has rarely proved helpful, particularly in cases where one side seeks to make a claim to all the land at the expense of the other.
The Church of Scotland’s laughably regressive new document, “The Inheritance of Abraham?: A Report on the ‘Promised Land,” which wilfully mischaracterises and then dismisses Jewish claims to a state in Palestine, is equally as unwelcome.
Its premise is that Zionism is not a national but a religious ideology, grounded in specific and unconditional biblical claims to the Land of Israel. The position of Zionism is that “God promises the land to the Israelites unconditionally,” it says, adding that “Zionists think that Jewish people are serving God’s special purpose.” As such, “Christians should not be supporting exclusive or even privileged divine right” to any territory. “If Jesus is indeed the Yes to all God’s promises, the promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people.”
When it isn’t promoting supersessionism — the notion that the truth of the New Testament renders irrelevant the claims of the Old — it’s borderline anti-Semitic.
“It has to be recognized that the enormity of the Holocaust has often reinforced the belief that Israel is entitled to the land unconditionally,” it states, but “Christians must not sacrifice the universalist, inclusive dimension of Christianity and revert to the particular exclusivism of the Jewish faith because we feel guilty about the Holocaust.”
Rather, “the Jewish people have to repent of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949. They must be challenged, too, to stop thinking of themselves as victims and special.”
Who is a Jew? Whoever is wrestling with the question “Who is a Jew?” Here is our personal definition: any human being crazy enough to call himself a Jew is a Jew. Is he or she a good or a bad Jew? This is up to the next Jew to say.
Jews and Words, by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2012), 203.
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York, April 21, 2013
By last spring, the atmosphere at school board meetings had become angry and bombastic. One activist parent had compared board members to Pontius Pilate; behind closed doors, one board member called another a “moral degenerate.” The chairman, an Orthodox family attorney named Daniel Schwartz, decided to escalate the fight by giving a speech denouncing anti-Semitism in the district. Elementary-school children, he said, were telling their teachers that they hated the Jews; high-school students were appearing before the board and questioning its moral authority. He cited St. Augustine’s instruction that Jews could be tolerated but not accepted, a sentiment that he said was alive in Auschwitz and “the crematoria of Treblinka” and that was alive in Ramapo today. The district’s demographics, he said, weren’t changing; the Hasidim could not be wished away. “You don’t like it?” Schwartz told the audience. “Find another place to live.”
…The students come to board meetings, in many cases, because their parents can’t. “Many parents don’t speak English or are too busy with work,” Olivia Castor says. But it leaves them in a difficult position: They are ostensibly the people the board is supposed to serve, but they have also become anti-board activists. “At a young age, you hear ‘Jewish’ and you automatically think, Oh, they’re trying to kill my school district,” says Tendrina Alexandre, a student leader at Spring Valley High School who graduated last year. “That’s not necessarily the case. I had plenty of Jewish friends that I grew up with. But then when you look at the school board, it’s like, What else are you supposed to think? Because it’s all Hasidic Jews. And it’s them against us.” In the past few weeks, while a state assemblyman was proposing the district be split geographically into two—one for the Yeshiva community and one for the public schools—the rhetoric intensified. Students held protests. After one contentious meeting, the board’s attorney buttonholed a high-school senior and called him a “piece of shit.”
There is a small, committed group of adult activists in the district—one remnant of the liberal middle-class culture that once predominated. They act as watchdogs and antagonists, have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the students, and run a monthly radio show, “East Ramapo Underground,” that serves as a communal vent. One of its hosts, Peggy Hatton, first became involved in the district’s politics in 2007, after she heard from a teacher that her son’s school might be sold to a yeshiva. She started to attend meetings, and when the board voted to cut a program in which her son was enrolled, she approached the board president and explained that he was making a terrible mistake. Hatton says the president gave her a blank look. “They have no idea what they are cutting,” she says. “They’ve not spent one day in the public schools to see what goes on in the lives of students.”
I am not Jewish, but then again, neither were most of the volunteers at Ein Hashofet, a kibbutz located somewhere between Haifa and the Sharon plain. It had been founded during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 by immigrants from Poland and the United States who were of the Left-wing Hashomer Hatzair movement. The first settlers had to manually drain the land and plant trees to make it viable, while residing in tents, eating meager meals, and using communal showers and toilets. They were also required to defend the fruits of their labors, not only during the revolt but also the War of Independence, during which the nearby kibbutz of Mishmar Ha’Emek was attacked by the Arab Liberation Army.
I would have made a terrible Zionist pioneer. After arriving from Tel Aviv, I managed to last a week as a gardener, working with power tools and doing tasks no more arduous than raking up dead brush before I started pleading for a change of scene. “Not everyone can be a gardener,” Roni, my extremely kind and understanding boss, told me. “Not everyone can be a writer.” He may have been humoring me with that one. So, for the remainder of my time at Ein Hashofet I worked in the main factory, which manufactured ballasts and transformers for fluorescent light fixtures (someone has to), spending hours hanging the near-completed items on hooks and reading Amos Oz novels during downtime.
Based on my observations, it is fair to say that people rarely have clear reasons for leaving behind the comforts of home for a few months of toiling under the hot sun. All the volunteers seemed to be trying to run away from something or leave something behind. Or they were searching for something, looking to remake themselves. Some didn’t seem to know why they were there at all. Others were simply looking for a good time. Arak was complementary at the kibbutz pub, so if you were so inclined, what could be better?
My own motivations were clearer. For me, the kibbutz was a place where I could explore my early attraction to Israel, which was more instinctive than anything else, and grounded in an understanding of Middle Eastern history. The time I spent exploring and putting something back into the land was a formative experience, the beginning of something larger. At Ein Hashofet, I began a greater examination of Israel—its history, its political and social divisions, its culture—out of which arose a deeper commitment to the ideology of Zionism itself, albeit from a goyishe perspective.
Not being Jewish inevitably means that I have a different relationship with the Jewish state than people who are. That much is inescapable. I do not have a direct, historical connection to Israel through lineage or conversion. No one in my family lives there. I am not entitled to make aliya. I will never have to serve in the IDF.
The most obvious result of this is that it has made me a secular Zionist. Indeed, in the earliest expression of my Zionism that I can find—a letter toThe Times from June 2010, at the time of the Mavi Marmara incident—I called Israel a “secular miracle,” an earnest phrase that does not necessarily make a great deal of sense. What I mean by it is that, while I appreciate that Jews of all denominations are able to practice their faith openly, actively, and vibrantly without fear or compromise (almost, anyway), the Israel I admire is to be found in the achievements of man: the kibbutz, the Knesset, and the novels of Oz and David Grossman.
Recall the joke about the Jew stranded alone on a desert island? When rescued, it turned out he had built one hut and two synagogues. Why two? Well, he said, I worship in the first, and will never set foot in the second.
Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger discuss why is it that Jews don’t and could not have a Pope in Newsweek.
Denmark’s experience of the Holocaust is unique among the occupied nations of Europe, protecting and ultimately saving nearly the whole of its Jewish population from deportation and extermination. But today, Denmark suffers from a new, bourgeoning, and dangerous kind of anti-Semitism, one that mixes strident anti-Zionism with a distain for Jewish customs and practices. This is not only a problem in Denmark, but an inescapable, growing burden throughout Scandinavia.
The Danish Jewish Museum and the Museum of Danish Resistance both tell that remarkable story. By August 1943, the tide of war had turned against Nazi Germany: the Allies had landed in Sicily; a German offensive at Kursk failed; and the British and Americans had strafed Hamburg. Anticipating the war’s end, the Danish resistance increased its activities, including violent disturbances, strikes, and sabotage. The Danish national government resigned on August 28, and the German administration declared martial law the following day.
Since the beginning of the German occupation on April 9, 1940, Denmark had avoided the adoption of anti-Jewish policies, such as the yellow star and the confiscation of businesses. An apocryphal story circulated that King Christian X — whose daily horseback rides through the center of Copenhagen came to symbolize Danish sovereignty — took it upon himself to wear a Star of David. This story, though untrue, spoke to the special relationship between the monarchy and the Jewish community. Following the imposition of martial law, however, the Nazi Plenipotentiary Werner Best moved to liquidate Danish Jewry.
The news was leaked via a German naval attaché, Georg Duckwitz, to Danish politicians who in turn alerted Jewish community leaders. Before German forces could arrest them, 7,000 Danish Jews were able to escape via train, car, and boat to neutral Sweden. This required cooperation and collaboration across Danish society, and not just the resistance movement. Local fishermen helped ferry the Jews to Sweden, and the domestic police force looked the other way. “Everyone who helped the Jews believed at the time that they were acting directly against the wishes of the Germans, and at great personal risk,” Laurence Rees asserts in Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution.
Not all Scandinavian countries distinguished themselves as Denmark did during the Holocaust. But it can be said that Scandinavians as a people have been less overtly and traditionally anti-Semitic than other Europeans. Indeed, the most recent Anti-Defamation League survey of anti-Semitic attitudes found that Norway performed far better than countries like France, Spain, and Germany. Twenty-three percent of respondents thought it was probably true that “Jews have too much power in international financial markets,” 21 percent believe “Jews have too much power in the business world,” and 25 percent felt “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” This is in no way comparable to countries like Poland and Hungary, where more than half of those surveyed believed these statements were possibly true.
The problem today, then, is not widespread traditional anti-Semitism but rather a new kind of hate, derived mainly from the failure to distinguish between Israel, Zionism, and local Jewish communities in political discourse. Put simply, anti-Zionism has rechanneled anti-Semitism. This exists alongside of, and sometimes combines with, an extremist, mainly Muslim anti-Semitism, which is especially acute given the proximity of Scandinavia’s small and vulnerable Jewish communities to larger and less well-integrated immigrant communities from North Africa and the Middle East. Finally, pervasive cultural attitudes stressing modernity and conformity above pluralism and tradition have seen the rejection of circumcision and other central symbols of Jewish identity. Taken together, these trends have fostered an unhealthy and disturbing sense of otherness that sees the Jews, with their connection to a foreign state and their peculiar customs and rituals, as markedly different from everybody else — and less welcome because of it.
by David Remnick, The New Yorker, January 21, 2013
To Kook and the religious Zionist leaders who have followed him, the land captured in 1967 is sacred, and integral to the Jewish state and to Judaism itself; possession of places like Shiloh and Hebron is a harbinger of redemption, the End of Days. No U.N. resolution, no Palestinian claimant, no American President had the right to say otherwise. The war of 1973, in which Israel narrowly escaped a military defeat, intensified the messianic sense of possession. The religious Zionists developed a corps among the settlers known as Gush Emunim, the Bloc of the Faithful, which fervently opposed the idea of giving up any part of the land: Sinai to the Egyptians; the Golan to the Syrians; the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
In 1977, Menachem Begin came to power, representing, for the first time, a coalition of constituencies that resented the Labor élite and felt excluded from the mainstream of Israeli life. Begin’s support came from the poorer émigrés from North Africa and Arab states; Jabotinskyite conservatives; the ultra-Orthodox; and religious Zionists, including the settlers. But when Begin, as part of his Camp David settlement with Anwar Sadat, returned the Sinai to Egypt and, with the help of the Army, went about dismantling the Jewish settlements there, leaders of the settler movement felt betrayed. Moshe Levinger, one of its most flamboyant extremists, threatened to carry out an act of suicidal martyrdom.
As government-financed settlements thickened throughout the occupied territories, the P.L.O. carried out violent attacks, and the Palestinian question came to dominate the national argument. Meanwhile, the politics of Gush Emunim became increasingly radical, even breeding a small group of homicidal fundamentalists. In 1984, authorities uncovered plots by a settler group known as the Jewish Underground to bomb Arab buses and to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount. Not long afterward, a Brooklyn-born rabbi, Meir Kahane, was elected to the Knesset on a poisonous political platform. Kahane was unapologetically racist—Arabs, for him, were “cockroaches” and “dogs”—and he was not squeamish about calling for violence. In February, 1994, five months after Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat signed the Oslo Accord, one of Kahane’s followers, an Army doctor named Baruch Goldstein, murdered twenty-nine Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron.
Kahane’s party was banned in 1988 and he was murdered two years later, in New York. His taste for violence may have fired Goldstein, but it did not enter the political mainstream. Yet, as Ami Pedahzur writes in “The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right,” the traces of Kahane’s legacy—the sacralization of xenophobia—are evident both in the Likud and throughout the radical right.
Much of Naftali Bennett’s support comes from mild-mannered religious suburbanites on both sides of the Green Line, but he has also been blessed by some of the more vehement fundamentalists on the scene. Avichai Rontzki, from 2006 to 2010 the chief rabbi of the I.D.F. and now the head of a yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, helped Bennett form the Jewish Home Party. Rontzki has said that soldiers who show their enemies mercy will be “damned,” and, after a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians that he opposed, he said that the I.D.F. should no longer arrest terrorists but, rather, “kill them in their beds.” Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the settlement of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, once called Baruch Goldstein “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust”; he endorsed Bennett before moving on to a smaller, more reactionary party.
Earlier this year, a minor tiff broke out in the pages of The Atlantic (a fine publication to which I occasionally contribute), after Armin Rosen published an article which asserted thatMondoweiss“often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise”. Robert Wright found Rosen’s piece “McCarthyite” in character, deeming Mondoweiss to be merely “an edgy website that is highly critical of both Israel and Zionism”.
Wright took umbrage with the idea of guilt by association: the notion that, if someone deems a publication or institution to be anti-Semitic, all those connected to it must be anti-Semitic as well. In Rosen’s article, Alex Kane – then a staff writer, now an assistant editor – was chided for not publically challenging Mondoweiss’ “lunacy”, while acknowledging that he is not responsible for the work of other writers. The latter point here is worth stressing: Kane holds political views that verge on the repugnant, including the idea that Zionism “helped drive 9/11”, but in general he appears to be a perfectly acceptable individual.
The question apposite to the one Wright raises and challenges is the far more interesting and important one, however. It is also one which underscores Rosen’s piece, namely if a publication or institution chooses to lend its imprimatur to an article or series of articles that can be deemed anti-Semitic – and Rosen cites numerous examples of questionable work – can said organisation be characterised as anti-Semitic as a whole?
Rosen and Wright’s particular quarrel is dead, and since I have no desire to reanimate it, I shall refrain from picking a side. Thus, I shall place my loaded gun upon the mantelpiece, and merely note that when all was said and done, Andrew Sullivancame downon the side of Wright and Mondoweiss.
For those not familiar with Mondoweiss, it is (in its own words) a “news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective,” which seeks to publish “a diversity of voices to promote dialogue on these important issues”. Herein lays the first canard, for claims of plurality are negated by its other commitment to “offer alternatives to pro-Zionist ideology as a basis for American Jewish identity”. Whatever diversity there is on Mondoweiss is akin to an argument between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea, for I have yet to read one article on said site that has been favourable to Israel.
Then again, this is understandable. The site’s founders, Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, are anti-Zionists. It is a political position which influences the way in which Mondoweiss addresses the important questions pertaining to the future of Israel and Palestine. Anti-Zionism informs the articles they select for publication and the commentators they choose to hire. It colours their coverage of the news coming out of the region, suppressing Israel’s achievements or pleasant news regarding the two-state solution, while augmenting the most awful effects of the occupation, and promoting developments which indicate things might be moving in the direction of Isratine and the death of the Jewish state.
Anti-Zionism – or, to put it other way, the belief it was a mistake to have created Israel in the first place; that Israel is not and can never be the answer or even an answer to the Jewish question – is, it goes without saying, a very problematic ideology. It constantly requires one to walk the thin line between disbelief in a Jewish state, and anti-Semitism, since anti-Zionists must constantly be forced to answer the question of why it is that Jews – and only Jews – are the only national group not entitled to a state of their own. One’s answer to that question says a good deal about a person’s character, for good or for ill.