Insisting on Forever

Jonathan S. Tobin is incensed in Commentary that Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh doesn't accept the formula of Israel as "a Jewish State." Nusseibeh feels that the term "Jewish state" implies either a theocracy (if Judaism is a religion) or apartheid (if Jewishness is racial or ethnic). He instead suggests "that Israeli leaders ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish."

As Tobin correctly points out, "that is what it is now and what Israelis and those who support it understand to be a Jewish state." Nusseibeh's is a classic distinction without a difference.

Still, I can't seem to bring myself to care as much as Tobin what Palestinians think about Israel being a Jewish state. "The reason for Israel’s demand is simple," writes Tobin. "Unless and until the Palestinians specifically accept that the part of the country they do not control is forever Jewish, the conflict will not be over."

Forever Jewish, he wants from them? Forever is a pretty big deal. Will Israelis agree that even one inch of the West Bank will be forever Palestinian? (Giving up entirely the messianic visions of the Hebrew Bible.) Forever is an entirely unreasonable demand to make of either side. Maybe it's just me, but I say let's work on a practical peace deal for the forseeable future and leave the question of forever to a higher Authority. Both parties should be willing to let the other nation live in peace in its own state, and both parties will doubtless continue to dream of the messianic utopian day in which our side gets all the land back. As long as everybody's stays calm and respectful in the here and now, who cares about competing dreams of forever? Let the songs and dreams embrace and contain the conflict, and let the practical reality contain only peace, tolerance, and mutual dignity and security.

Tobin is right when he says that "Jewish identity is complex, and Israelis may well spend the rest of eternity trying to define themselves." (What a Jewish state means is a topic of constant debate among Jews.) That's all the more reason to say it's an unnecessary waste of time and diplomatic capital insisting that Palestinians call Israel a Jewish state.

Brandeis to Host Socio-Demography Conference Oct 23-24

Brandeis

You may recall that in our August newsletter, BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen lamented: "The lack of a 2010 NJPS leaves a gaping hole in our knowledge of the American Jewish community." Next month, a conference at Brandeis will attempt to overcome this difficulty and make the most of the data available:

Although there is no longer a national study of American Jews sponsored by the Jewish community, the past decade has witnessed the growth of alternative approaches to understanding the U.S. Jewish population. To assess current understandings of the socio-demography of American Jewry, Brandeis will again host a conference of research scholars and policy makers to take stock of current knowledge, consider future research, and engage producers of research and policy makers in conversation about the usefulness of the information being generated...

...The specific goals of the conference are to assess the current state of knowledge about the size and characteristics of the American Jewish community, illuminate current socio-demographic research, and consider how the findings of demographic research can be used by scholars, funders, and policy organizations concerned with the Jewish community. One outcome will be a scholarly publication summarizing current research and application. But, more importantly, the conference also aspires to foster better informed dialogue about American Jewry and enhanced development and use of socio-demographic research.

The relevant links:

BJPA is one of the co-sponsors for this conference. Browse our holdings on Demography here.

Crown Heights Riot Anniversary

 

Friday, August 19, is the twentieth anniversary of the Crown Heights Riots. A number of interesting articles have already appeared marking the milestone, and I imagine more are forthcoming. See especially this by Jane Eisner and this by Josh Nathan-Kazis, but if you read only one article on this anniversary, read Ari L. Goldman's "Telling It Like It Wasn't":

My job was to file memos to the main “rewrite” reporters back in the Times office in Manhattan about what I saw and heard... Yet, when I picked up the paper, the article I read was not the story I had reported. I saw headlines that described the riots in terms solely of race. “Two Deaths Ignite Racial Clash in Tense Brooklyn Neighborhood,” the Times headline said. And, worse, I read an opening paragraph, what journalists call a “lead,” that was simply untrue: “Hasidim and blacks clashed in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn through the day and into the night yesterday.”

In all my reporting during the riots I never saw — or heard of — any violence by Jews against blacks. But the Times was dedicated to this version of events: blacks and Jews clashing amid racial tensions...
... On Aug. 21, as I stood in a group of chasidic men in front of the Lubavitch headquarters, a group of demonstrators were coming down Eastern Parkway. “Heil Hitler,” they chanted. “Death to the Jews.”..
...Suddenly rocks and bottles started to fly toward us and a chasidic man just a few feet away from me was hit in the throat and fell to the ground. Some ran to help the injured man but most of us ran for cover. I ran for a payphone and, my hands shaking with rage, dialed my editor. I spoke in a way that I never had before or since when talking to a boss.

“You don’t know what’s happening here!” I yelled. “I am on the streets getting attacked. Someone next to me just got hit. I am writing memos and what comes out in the paper? ‘Hasidim and blacks clashed’? That’s not what is happening here. Jews are being attacked! You’ve got this story all wrong. All wrong.”

I didn’t blame the “rewrite” reporter. I blamed the editors. It was clear that they had settled on a “frame” for the story. The way they saw it, there were two narratives here: the white narrative and the black narrative. And both had equal weight.

On the anniversary of this low point in the African-American and Jewish relationship, here are some selected publications from our Black-Jewish Relations topic:

Gov. Christie: Shari'a Concerns Are "Crazy"

The video below demonstrates that not every popular Republican has jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, best known for his (to put it mildly) bluntness, reacts to criticism of his appointment of a Muslim judge to the state bench:

We've had something of an anti-anti-Islam theme going on this Jewish policy blog for the past few weeks, but I think that's appropriate. It's not only that Muslims and Jews share key values, as the JTA reported this week. It's also, naturally, that American Jews have a strong communal knowledge of what it's like to be a vilified religious/ethnic minority. The fact that our two communities are so bitterly divided over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues makes it all the more important to recognize these and other points of commonality.

Background:

BJPA Publications on Islam
BJPA Publications on Jewish-Muslim relations
BJPA newsletter on Jewish-Muslim relations, September 2010

Other recent Islam themed blog posts:

July 18
July 28
August 1

Publications for Ramadan

Hodesh tov, it's Av. And Ramadan mubarak, it's Ramadan.

Here are a few highlights from our publications relevant to the Muslim community and Jewish-Muslim relations:

See also Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's Ramadan greeting:

Orthodoxy and Same-Sex Marriage

As the JTA reports, the Orthodox Union opposed New York's recent measure legalizing same-sex marriage. But might one Orthodox rabbi have exerted a degree of influence in favor of the law's passage?

Possibly. Influence is difficult to measure, and the decision ultimately rested in the mind and heart of each state senator... but possibly. Zeek reprints an open letter from Rabbi Steven Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, to Sen. Steven Saland of Poughkeepsie, one of the two crucial Republican swing votes. In the letter, Rabbi Greenberg appeals to the memory of Saland's rabbinic ancestor, Rabbi Shmuel Salant -- a tactic shared by Agudath Israel in their own appeal to the senator, from the opposing side.

Whether Rabbi Greenberg and the Agudah had any impact or not, Saland voted for the measure in the end, putting the legislative question to rest in the state of New York. But within Orthodox Judaism, the question of how to relate to the modern world's ever-solidifying acceptance of homosexuality will continue for many years to come. Rabbi Greenberg, of course, is a significant voice in this internal debate, as are other gay Orthodox Jews, whose personal experiences make this issue impossible to ignore.

Yet, for all the consternation that this issue understandably causes in Orthodoxy when it comes to questions of halakhah, ritual, and other internal matters, it is somewhat baffling that Orthodox Jews should feel the need to maintain a correspondence between secular and religious definitions of marriage. As Rabbi Michael Broyde and Rabbi Shlomo Brody point out in the context of an article articulating a clear and strict opposition to homosexual sex,

Politics makes strange bedfellows, especially in multicultural democratic societies like America. The pragmatic decision to support equal rights for gays in the political realm is not inconsistent with our view that the underlining activity violates Jewish (and Noachide) law. We support religious freedom for all, even as we are aware that some might use this freedom to violate Jewish or Noachide law. Similarly, it is wise to support workplace policies of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, just as we support such non-discrimination based on religion, even though these laws equally protect, for example, pagans. Discrimination based on lifestyle choices may threaten our own liberties, including freedom of religious expression... 

Rabbis Broyde and Brody go on to specify that both political opposition to and political support for same-sex legal marriage are within the realm of reasonable Orthodox choice:

If one believes a civil prohibition of same-sex marriage does not threaten our rights in the long term, then joining a political alliance opposing such, based on shared values or interests, seems reasonable. If, however, one views such a campaign as an infringement of civil liberties, or a potentially bad precedent that might endanger our interests in other areas of civil life, then one should not feel compelled to combat gay marriage.

If this is not a ringing endorsement of civil marriage equality, neither is it the stance of clear opposition taken by the Orthodox Union.

The Orthodox argument in favor of maximum liberty is not a recent invention; as the blog Failed Messiah notes, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was essentially anti-abortion (except to save the life of the mother), and yet also essentially pro-choice. "In Rabbi Feinstein's view, the decision to abort was a decision that should be made by the woman and her rabbi, not by Congress."

Ultimately, as homosexuality becomes increasingly normalized in the broader world, Orthodoxy's internal and external stances on this issue will be increasingly tested and challenged.

Intermarriage and Complexities of Antisemitism

rings

Jewish Ideas Daily recently highlighted a fascinating gem from the Atlantic Magazine in 1939: I Married a Jew, an anonymous personal reflection by a German-American woman married to a Jewish American man.

The article is an amazing read, deserving of much more detailed discussion than I have time to devote in this post, but I will say in briefest summary that the mix of sympathy for Jews as individuals and revulsion for various expressions of Jewishness which this author displays is incredible. She loves her husband and his family (unless they're all together as a family), and she will even countenance a little (not too much) Jewish pride, especially as relates to Biblical figures such as Moses, Solomon and (naturally) Jesus, but she is also very put off by Jewish cultural distinctions, favoring complete assimilation, and speaking of the world's "Jewish problem" as a product of oppression on one hand, and of Jewish (stereotypical) villainies, which she takes to be very real and very problematic, on the other.

What strikes me as so important about this article is not its being out of date, but rather its relevance to the present. If one removed the dismissive comments about Hitler being unfortunate yet not particularly unique or worrisome, and made only a little subtle revision to the terms, emphases and frames of reference, then this woman's viewpoint could just as easily have been written yesterday as in 1939. (Indeed, a few reader comments below the article reveal that some people apparently thought it was written in the present. Not that internet comments prove anything.) Modern American culture does not embrace all of the anti-Jewish views which are affiliated with traditional Christian anti-Judaism, but modern American culture certainly does share with this author a distaste for Jewish "clannishness" and particularism -- witness the ubiquity of intermarriage among Jewish characters on TV and in movies. Hollywood's usual portrayals of intermarriage assume that intermarriage is not only acceptable, but actually desirable. This perspective differs in many ways from our 1939 author, who blames the Jews for their own persecution during European history. But it shares with her the fundamental assumption that Jewish assimilation is the answer to Jewish problems. This reflexive sense that Jews are okay as long as they aren't too Jewish is very much alive in 2011.

Intermarriage as a catalyst for the exposure of uncomfortable disagreements is another element that makes this 1939 article strangely up-to-date. These marital dynamics are echoed in this recent blog post by Allison Benedikt, another deeply personal reflection centering on an intermarriage, this one from the perspective of the Jewish partner. In the post, which has prompted many strong reactions, especially from Jeffrey Goldberg, Benedkit describes her unquestioningly Zionist childhood and her transformation, as an adult, into a passionate anti-Zionist, influenced significantly by the strong anti-Israel views of her non-Jewish husband. I hasten to add that I'm not making an equation or a conflation with this juxtaposition of the two articles. By comparing them, I don't mean to equate Benedikt's husband to the 1939 author of I Married a Jew, or to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. But I do mean to note that in both cases, an intermarriage has the effect of forcing the couple to take a stand on an extremely divisive issue of peoplehood. Writing in response to Benedikt's piece, Julie Wiener notes that Intermarried Does Not Equal Anti-Zionist. She's right, of course, but it would be folly not to admit that a marriage across the religio-ethnic divide is more likely than an in-marriage to force a conversation on these, and other, difficult topics.

Not that conversation is a bad thing. One difference between today and 1939, perhaps, is that conversations about these feelings do not tend to occur as openly. Nobody wants to be branded a bigot, and these days Americans of all persuasions tend to throw around such labels quite freely. We seem to think of antisemitism, like other forms of intergroup hatred, as a binary, all-or-nothing phenomenon. To listen to contemporary American discourse, a person is either "an antisemite" (a noun and an identity), or else a "normal" person, who is presumably completely free of anti-Jewish bias. (The same underlying assumption could be cited with regard to homophobia, sexism, racism, etc.) Reality, of course, is much more complicated, as this 1939 article reveals. Love and hate can be present in the same person. Faulty assumptions, negative emotional reactions, and prejudices can (and usually do) coexist in the same brains with genuine love and respect for the "other" group in question. Admitting as much might allow everyone to be more honest with one another, without anyone being afraid of being labeled a bigot, and without anyone else being afraid to point out when an idea is bigoted. The trick is to be able to criticize ideas (even quite strongly) without demonizing the people who hold them (except in the most extreme and obvious cases of open hatred). That would leave space for quite a few difficult -- and necessary -- conversations.

From the J-Vault: Arab-Jewish Relations, Pre-Statehood

J-Vault logo

On a day which saw comedienne Sarah Silverman offer her prescription for Middle East peace at the Israeli Presidential Conference -- a conference whose theme is "Tomorrow" -- let's take a look back at the Israel of yesterday, through the eyes of one of America's most important Zionists: Henrietta Szold.

This week, from the J-Vault: Recent Jewish Progress in Palestine (1916)

While Szold's report is mostly concerned with immigration figures, economic development, urban planning, village life, and other such logistical concerns, one section discusses relations between Arabs and Jews, and makes the reader long for an alternate and peaceful past that did not occur:

In general, the relation between Jews and Arabs is not unsatisfactory, in spite of the friction that occurs at certain points of contact. The reasonable expectation is that it will improve, because the mutual respect is increasing. The Arab has begun to recognize the value that has accrued to him and the land by the presence and the activity of the Jew. He already pays him the flattery of imitation. In some places he has adopted the modern methods and implements introduced by the Jew. On the other hand, the Jew recognizes that the Arab may be his teacher in all that relates to the soil. His fiber is, as it were, habituated to it. He knows it by instinct. For instance, the primitive plow of the Arab husbandman, wielded by his predecessor on the soil three thousand years ago, it was thought must be baniyhed beyond recall. More careful investigation has demonstrated that on some soils deep upturning is harmful; the superficial scratching of the wooden plowshare with its small iron attachment is exactly what is needed. Such recognitions of mutual helpfulness will multiply and make for a better understanding and neighborly tolerance. But that the relation is an aspect of Jewish colonization that will require wisdom and tact and statesmanship can and should not be minimized; nor are the leaders of Palestine public opinion guilty of neglect in this particular.

Szold goes on to describe the presence of a significant number of Russian converts to Judaism. She also predicts that Yemenite Jews, who are "tenaciously and loyally Jewish, intellectually alert," but "Arabic in speech and habit," will be "a cement between Arab and Jew, between the industrially-minded Jew of the city and the agriculturally minded Jew of the country, between Sefardi and Ashkenazi."

 Download this publication...

 

J-Vault logo

Video: Building a Passionate Middle Ground

In a video interview, Dr. Micha Goodman of Ein Prat tells BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen that religious Israelis are too closed, and secular Israelis are too disconnected from tradition. We need a passionate middle ground, he says. Watch on YouTube, or below.

 

Publications on Difference at Passover

Four Cups

Across Barriers

 

Publications on the mixed, modern Seder

 

The First Cup: Mixed Marriages

Passover, a Lesson in Inclusiveness

Adam Bronfman, Kerry M. Olitzky, 2009

 

The Second Cup: Jews and Christians

Is Every Seder Kosher for Passover?

A. James Rudin, 1999

 

The Third Cup: Jews and Palestinians

Sharing Pesach with a Palestinian

Lawrence Baron, 1988

 

The Fourth Cup: Jews and Jews

Keeping Peace at the Seder Table

Sally Shafton, 1984

 

Explore many more publications about Passover at bjpa.org

PLO Representative at BJPA: “Don’t Blindly Support Israel”

(Cross-posted at Jewschool.)

by Aimee Gonzalez

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner hosted PLO Representative Maen Areikat at a luncheon on March 2nd to discuss the role of American Jews in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

A mix of professors, students, Jewish communal leaders, journalists and others came to listen to Representative Areikat discuss the situation between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government, and what needs to happen for the peace process to move forward. As the JTA noted, this appearance is part of a larger effort on the part of the PLO “to open dialogue with the Jewish community.”

“Time is not on either side,” said Areikat, but he emphasized that it is of the essence. He stated that Israel has the opportunity to work with a willing Palestinian government who is committed to peace. Palestinians are frustrated, however, with the fact that Israel continues to build settlements while also claiming to want peace, he said. Areikat held firmly to the stance that “peace negotiations and settlements cannot go hand in hand” and contended that it is necessary to find a new approach.

Perhaps a new approach is on its way; in an article about the event, Haaretz noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu “is considering a plan to cooperate with the Palestinians on the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, as part of an interim peace agreement”. As that story had not yet broken widely in America while the event proceeded, no one asked Ambassador Areikat during the Q&A whether this idea would be acceptable to the PLO.

This discussion built up to the main point of the event—what American Jews should do. On this Areikat was clear: “Don’t blindly just support Israel. Do not abandon [it], but…look beyond tomorrow.” Practically speaking, he stated that American Jews should support their government’s efforts to end this conflict. Many Jews are reluctant to criticize Israel or support anyone who does, he argued, but a successful peace process requires recognizing positive steps from both sides, and condemning those who won’t cooperate—including Israelis.

The Jewish leaders in the audience for this event showed no signs of “blindly” supporting Israel. Every Jewish questioner during the Q&A voiced support for a Palestinian State. This may be because those who chose to attend this event were those who were most inclined to this position, but it may also indicate how marginal the position against Palestinian self-determination has become in contemporary American Jewish discourse. A few decades ago, opposition to any form of Palestinian nationalism was well within the American Jewish mainstream (see this piece by Avraham Weiss, and this by Richard Cohen). But at Wednesday’s event, this perspective was not evident.

The content of the discussion was hardly surprising, but the fact of the discussion is still noteworthy. While the event began with the formality of a diplomatic speech, by the end, when the Q&A broke down the wall between speaker and audience, it was a lively conversation over lunch.

Watch the video below:


Video streaming by Ustream

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