Reinvent Yom HaAtzmaut?

Robbie Gringas makes a case:

Yom Ha'atzmaut is currently far from being an event through which the Jewish community "celebrates itself". While Chanukah, a festival marking momentous events in the land of Israel, is celebrated in the home and in the community with comfort and ease, Yom Ha'atzmaut, another festival marking momentous events in that far-away land, is neither comfortable nor homely. Chanukah has become a festival that is 'owned' by the local population, no matter where in the world they live. Yom Ha'atzmaut is and has always been owned by Israelis...

Nor, for example, is St Patrick's Day to those of Irish descent what Yom Ha'atzmaut is to Jews... St Patrick's Day has now moved far beyond being an Irish Catholic event. The largest St Patrick's Day Parade now takes place in Chicago not Dublin. The slogan throughout the States, "Everyone's Irish on St Patrick's Day", marks its ecumenical, non-ethnic intentions, as the festival celebrates more the sale of Irish-style goods (mainly great beer) than the promotion of Irish life and authentic culture. Despite this gradual draining of the festival's content, St Patrick's Day nevertheless celebrates a more authentic, less complicated sense of exilic longing, than does Yom Ha'atzmaut for Jews...

The time may have come for us to begin draw inspiration not from other nationalisms, nor from other ethnicities, but from our own. We need to begin to see and develop Yom Ha'atzmaut as a Jewish holiday: a chag. Paradoxically, because Yom Ha'Atzmaut is such an established yet unclaimed festival in the orthodox world, we may find ourselves with a great deal of room for maneuver. We may draw from religious wisdom without committing to its authority: we may refer to religious constructs without commenting on their essence...

Each chag has a narrative and a theme that express themselves through a designated experience, structured reflection, and symbolic action...

We would suggest that Yom Ha'atzmaut should mark the following theme: להיות עם חופשי בארצנו – To be a free people in our land. This would allow us to focus on the four areas of Zionism that together would suggest a unique aspect to Jewish existence...

For Chag Ha'atzmaut it might be tempting to reach for the Declaration of Independence, or for one's Tanach, to find the specific megillah appropriate to our Chag Ha'atzmaut. But before doing so it would be useful to increase the breadth of our options. Perhaps a piece of literature from beyond the Tanach might be equally appropriate? What might the story of the Golem of Prague reflect on Israel's narrative of sovereignty, power, and tradition? How could a biography of Albert Einstein – an individual, Diaspora-dwelling, light unto the nations, almost-President of Israel – comment on Am Chofshi b'Artzenu? Must we choose only one text?...

As we have stated, there may be value in drawing on Jewish 'traditional forms' of ritual so as to lend - not necessarily authority - but contextual familiarity to our Chag Ha'atzmaut rites of passage. One such form might be the Seder Plate, as applied to the four principles of Chag Ha'atzmaut... one might raise and drink a glass of water to mark the life-giving simplicity of להיות , to cut open a pomegranate to mark the unified and diverse nature of עם , to eat a wild sabra fruit to mark the prickly yet sweet ambivalence of חופשי , and to light a vial of olive oil to mark ארצנו .

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There are  several worthy observations here, but color me skeptical about any attempt to create a really meaningful ritual celebration intentionally and all at once. Isn't it possible that the ancient festivals are so rich with meaning precisely because no one human individual (or, God save us all, committee) designed them? Do we really want to perform rituals born in a brainstorming session and tailored to express themes X, Y, and Z, as defined by seventeen bullet-pointed specifications? Aren't the contradictions and opacities and confusions of the classic Jewish holidays a significant part of the reason we'll never exhaust the ways they can be meaningful? It's not that I disagree with Gringas that Yom HaAtzmaut ought to develop further, but perhaps it will best do so if we let it do so in unexpected and unplanned ways.

1947: Discrimination Against Shoah Survivors, and the Need for Zionism

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Today we remember between five and six million Jews whom the Nazis murdered, and look to the survivors still among us to bear witness to what they saw.

Of course, concentration camp survivors (and others who ended up in DP camps following the war) were not always accorded such honor and reverence as they often are today. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the image of the DP in sectors of the American public was too often an image of the pitiful victim, the uncivilized wretch, or the sneaky criminal. Today's installment of the J-Vault provides a glimpse into this larger topic, among numerous others.

Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah: The Psychology of Jewish Displaced Persons (1947)

The title to this article is a bit deceptive. Its primary resonances today are less in relation to the human psyche, and more in relation to group issues of socioeconomic classes, race relations, and the need for Zionism.

American Jewry today has little or no understanding of the Jewish Displaced Person. By and large, our ideas of the Jewish "D.P." are built up entirely on descriptions of horror and hunger portrayed by fund raising appeals or on the contrasting stories of "black marketeering," "continual demanding," and "unwillingness to work" in blanket generalizations by newspapermen who often have interviewed some official who himself has little understanding of the Jewish Displaced Person or of what makes him act as he does.

It is easy to understand the point of view of the American, British or French army or UNRRA official who condemns the Jewish Displaced Person. Usually that official is an ordinary citizen who is part of the stream of thought and philosophy of his country, and he measures those he meets by the standards of this background... He tends to forget the fact that some people were more discriminated against than others, and being more deprived, may exhibit the results of the more difficult lives they have experienced, in behavior which will not make for peaceful living, quiet, and cleanliness. It is difficult for such an official to understand (and emotionally accept the idea) that those who exhibit such negative behavior are those who need the most patience and help. More often, instead, the Jewish Displaced Person is characterized as ungrateful, unclean, lazy or unambitious...

It must be understood that that which may have helped a person survive concentration camp does not necessarily help him in his future adjustments after liberation. By and large, these abilities may retard his after liberation adjustment. The Jewish group attitude, except in occasional instances, was opposed to the "law and order" of the Nazis. "Law and order"—after liberation—continued for many to be something to oppose. It is difficult, for example, for the Jewish Displaced-Person who is so close to hunger, to realize that it was good for him to black market and do anything else that would oppose authority (under the Nazis) but that now, under an Allied power, he is to accept freely whatever limitations they see fit to set on him...

Another aspect of the Jewish ex-concentration camp inmate's attitude is his resentment of the general population in the nearby and surrounding towns in Germany and Austria. Most of the general population represent to the Jews their oppressors and supporters of the oppression against them. That they should be treated theoretically on an equal plane with the general population after their years of suffering only adds to their resentment of the authority which imposes this policy. It is difficult for them to see why people who have had full rations, their families complete, their household furnishings, their positions and comparative security, should be given equal treatment with those who have lost everything. That the Jews should be restricted in movement when the non-Jews are not is also a basis for resentment. In general, the Jews from concentration camps do not look to the Allied or local authorities with any great degree of acceptance...

The British point of view is the most difficult for the Jew to understand. His attitude of treating all persons alike (an antithesis of the Nazi philosophy) has often been referred to by Jewish intellectuals as "pseudo liberalism." The Jews feel that it is naive to treat emaciated, harassed victims with the same amounts of food, clothing and other materials as their oppressors. The British attitude is reminiscent of the Abraham Lincoln story of the wife who came upon the scene of her husband in life and death struggle with a huge bear. The wife, feeling she had to do something, said "Go it husband! Go it bear!" The Jew and anti-Nazi similarly want to know on whose side Britain is — the former Nazis or those who were their victims...

The longer Jews have to remain in lands where they can plan no future, the sooner will all Jewish behavior in these lands become more uniformly aggressive and difficult to work with. As time goes on without a bold and decisive plan, more and more insecurity will develop, and with it can be expected hostilities between native residents and Jews, selfishness, rivalry, suspicion and all the behavior expected in cases of severe dependency. With these, and aggravating these conditions, will be the daily increase of ill health, unsanitary conditions, ignorance due to lack of educational facilities, and unemployment with all its depressive characteristics...

Actually, even if all of the possible facilities for social adjustment of Jewish Displaced Persons were available in the occupied zones, (and this would be difficult to secure so long as Allied political aims dictate the general national internal policies), adjustment of the group in the occupied zones would be doomed to failure. There the D.P. is unwanted by the populace, and he faces daily risks of having physical harm done him, when and if the Allied forces are withdrawn. There he daily faces open and veiled discrimination in finding a job, getting a place to live, getting a business license, or even a telephone. Few, if any, of even the highest authorities are interested in seeing that he gets equal opportunity to build an individual economic and social existence. The recent measures of leniency to Nazis, loans to Germany and Austria, and granting of greater autonomy to local governments by the Allies are pretty clear indications of the future of the Jew in these countries...

In work with most of the small handful of immigrants who have already arrived in the United States, the same problems which displaced persons have exhibited in Europe have been found, but in aggravated form. The same techniques which they developed in the process of self-preservation in the concentration camps are often their main "standbys" of behavior in the new environment. Since these techniques have little or no application to life in America, they become useless appendages which do not help to "make friends and influence people."... His seething hostility against a Nazi government (tied up with a general resentment based on his deprivations) is transferred to the new world about him. The Americans, in turn, cannot understand him. They are indifferent to the problems of Nazism, which they prefer to consider distant and of the past...

America and other lands are reluctant to open their doors to such a group. To sit idly by and philosophize on the sensibility or justice of this or that plan is only to draw out the daily growing problem. The greatest number of the group have expressed the wish to be resettled in Palestine. They have learned of the failure of colonization projects in forgotten and little populated parts of the world. They fear the growing anti-Semitism of lands such as Argentina.

Their behavior continually voices the question, "whom can we trust?" They have been able to trust few in the past, except for people who have seen and understood the meaning of their experiences. They want to be among their own, and instinctively express the feeling that only in Palestine will they have people to come to, who will receive them and want them and give them security. In Palestine, the readjustment of the Jew is within the realm of possibility. In the occupied zones, it is not. Here the Jewish Displaced Person can build and work for the future and feel that it is permanent. In the cooperative farms and groups, he gains a feeling of group belonging, so akin to the need for family life and security. Here, he can find understanding of the problems and experiences he has faced, because many of the Jews of Palestine are themselves refugees from the concentration camps and seek the adjustment of the new refugees as an ideological goal...  Here too, he can work out his need for authoritarian leadership learned in the concentration camp, and gradually learn participation and democratic methods within the working group...

Never before in the history of social work has it been necessary to plan for so large a group of disturbed people. Only by introduction of wholesome group life can any progress be expected. As it stands now, every day away from such a therapeutic atmosphere is a day of further regression. Eventually, and not too far in the future, it will be too late.

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Prophets and Protectors

Posted at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

The discourse about Israel – that conducted by those who see themselves as Israel’s friends -- seems to come in either of two varieties.

One variety of Israel-related discourse focuses on Israel’s shortcomings, usually entailing mistreatment of one or another group – women, immigrant workers, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, and, most prominently, Palestinians, both those who live within the Green Line (once known as, “Israeli Arabs”) and those who live in Gaza or the West Bank (the “real” Palestinians).

The other variety of discourses focuses on Israel’s moral virtues in the context of its struggle for peace and security. This variety emphasizes Israel’s claims to democracy, progressive social values, industriousness, ingenuity, sensitivity and respect for human rights in the midst of a protracted, existential struggle. Often, in this discourse, Israel is compared with other Western democracies, the Palestinians, and the Arab or Muslim worlds.

Why do these two types of discourse -- both conducted by Israelis, Zionists, pro-Israel Jews and their non-Jewish friends and allies – seem so dissonant, so disconcerting, and so mutually distasteful?

I’m reminded that I am not the first to take note of the disparate discourse on Israel. Almost 30 years ago, in September of 1982, during a temporary lull in the (first) War in Lebanon, and just before the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, Leonard (“Leibel”) Fein wrote these words in Moment:

There are two kinds of Jews in the world.

There is the kind of Jew who detests war and violence, who believes that fighting is not ‘the Jewish way;’ who willingly accepts that Jews have their own and higher standards of behavior.  And not just that we have them, but that those standards are our lifeblood, and what we are about.

And there is the kind of Jew who thinks we have been passive long enough, who is convinced that it is time for us to strike back at our enemies, to reject once and for all the role of victim, who willingly accepts that Jews cannot afford to depend on favors, that we must be tough and strong.

And the trouble is, most of us are both kinds of Jew.

Although Leibel later partially re-thought or re-canted (having developed doubts that most of us had both sorts of Jews within us), the distinctions are still resonant.

Thirty years later, these two kinds of Jews are alive and living, and they have been with us for some years, if not centuries. And the destiny of the Jewish nation has been at the heart of the contention between the two camps. One camp speaks with Judaism’s prophetic voice; the other primarily acts out of protective concerns. Both draw upon a wellspring of Jewish moral values and both see themselves defending the interests of Israel and the Jewish People.

The historic (if fanciful) images of Yochanan ben Zakkai and Simon bar Kokhba come to mind. Faced with the Roman oppressor, the former counseled surrender in 68 CE; 70 years later, the latter led a rebellion that was crushed. (Truth be told, history has judged some Jewish Protectors far more kindly than bar Kokhba.)

Nearly two millennia later, Jewish Prophets and Israel’s Protectors emerge once again, loosely associated respectively with Labor Zionists and Revisionist Zionists. In the last generation, we saw them denoted as, “doves” and “hawks” or, more broadly as the “Peace camp” and the “National camp.”

And today? The pro-Israel world is still divided between a more Prophetic and more Protective camp. Among the former, loosely speaking, we have: the New Israel Fund, J Street, Ha’aretz, Jewish Democrats, and Israel educators who call for “hugging and wrestling” with Israel’s complexities. Among the latter: ZOA, AIPAC, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Republicans, and the Israel advocacy industry who see advancing Israel’s cause in the public arena as a moral imperative.   

The lines may be blurry, but the impulses are still present. The two camps feel thoroughly justified and deeply worried. And the more they raise their voices, the more the other side feels vulnerable, if not defeated. Protectors see Prophets as doing grave harm to Israel’s image and security: Who needs Israel’s friends – let alone its enemies – reading stories alleging sexism, religious intolerance, human rights abuses, fascist tendencies and racist motives?

For their part, Prophets see Protectors undermining Israel’s security as well. They ask, how are Israelis ever to confront the hard and fateful decisions to make risky concessions for peace (or at least more security), if they are told that 1) all is right with them and their leaders,  2) that the world is uncaring to unsympathetic, and that 3) the other side is inherently hostile, untrustworthy and fanatical? And, in the interim, how does the Protectors’ discourse reeking with self-righteousness motivate  Israelis to avoid committing the most egregious abuses in several spheres – and in particular in conducting the Occupation – abuses, that are wrong morally, and harmful politically?

Reconciling Prophets with Protectors is not in the cards. But perhaps each can begin to see the value of the other – or even draw upon the sensitivities and world views that each bring to the pro-Israel discourse.

Podcast: Jewish Values, Jewish Interests

Ruth Wisse

This was easily our most provocative event to date.

On Monday, December 5th, Prof. Ruth Wisse and Rabbi Joy Levitt joined BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the NYU Law School for a wide-ranging, passionate, broad discussion of how the Jewish community should relate to the outside world.

After a brief ceremony honoring Gail Chalew for her 20+ years as editor of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (the digitization of which on BJPA was the impetus for the event), Rabbi Levitt spoke of her decisions, as Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, to reach out to non-Jewish poor and minority communities, as well as the Muslim community leaders affiliated with the Cordoba Center / Park 51 "Ground Zero mosque" now known as Prayer Space. Prof. Wisse spoke of Israel under attack and an American Jewish community lacking in moral confidence, and judging Judaism based on liberal standards instead of liberalism based on Jewish standards. Our fearless leader, Prof. Cohen, acted as moderator, but without setting aside his own positions on the issues.

Click here to listen.

The Israeli Ad Campaign and Some Essential Truths

(Cross-posted at Makom.)

The imbroglio over these videos should not obscure some essential truths.

One is that massive numbers of American Jewish people and families are indeed being lost to the Jewish People, both through cultural challenges and to the downstream impact of intermarriage, as it seems that less than 10% of the grandchildren of marriages between Jews and non-Jews identify as Jews.

Second, the Israeli Jewish public is convinced that high levels of assimilation characterize American Jewry.

Third, that perception is a matter of national pride among Israelis, one rooted very deeply in the classic Zionist ideology that undergird the Yishuv and then the State in its early days.

There’s a flip side. American Jews are convinced that Israelis exhibit tendencies that are anti-democratic, super ethnocentric, excessively nationalistic, and borderline theocratic (some Israelis would agree). For their part, Israeli Jews take offense when American Jews give voice to their critique of Israeli society.

In short, (many) Israeli Jews think American Jewry is excessively universalist and cosmopolitan. And (some) American Jews think that Israeli Jewish society is excessively particularist and parochial.

A good and honest dialogue around these issues would be helpful and healthy. We Jews, despite our cultural penchant for discourse and disputation, haven’t quite figured out how to conduct that dialogue.

UN Votes for Palestinian State(s)

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Today, November 29th, is the 64th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's decision to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, laying the groundwork for the declaration of the State of Israel the following year.

Six and a half decades later, with the American Jewish community still of multiple minds about the ifs, whys, hows, wheres and whens of a Palestinian state, it is worth looking back at the concerns of the same community before and after the historic vote for partition that took place on this day in 1947.

In this special installment of the J-Vault: the Practicalities of Statehood.

Both of the publications below were printed in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly, a predecessor to the Journal of Jewish Communal Service.

Partition of Palestine and Its Consequences. In March 1938, nearly a decade before partition became reality, Maurice J. Karpf spoke before a Jewish communal gathering in Minneapolis. Karpf was President of the Faculty at the Graduate School for Jewish Social Work in New York, and a Non-Zionist Member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine (as it was then called).

"It is the customary and gracious thing," he began, "to say, when a speaker begins his address, that he is very glad to be here. I trust I shall not be considered ungracious when I tell you... that I am not very glad to be here now." He explained:

 ...the subject of Palestine is in the emotional realm. People are unwilling to reason about it. They feel about it, and you~can't reason with them. They approach every subject relating to Palestine with a bias-either in favor, or against. If the speaker agrees with them, or happens to express what is in their own minds and hearts, he has done well-they agree with him. If he does not, if he happens to speak on the other side of the fence, regardless of what he may say, and how well reasoned and how well substantiated his argument may be, there is neither logic, nor force, nor truth in what he says...

...It will be my aim to present to you the situation facing Palestine, and facing the Jews of the world, as a result of the proposed partition, as I know it. I shall not argue either for, or against partition. I shall try, in the time allotted me, to give you the arguments for and against both sides.

Karpf went on to describe in fascinating detail the positions and machinations of Arabs, pro-partition Zionists, anti-partition Zionists, and non-Zionist Jews. Click here for more.

Overseas Relief Needs in Light of United Nations Decision on Palestine. "[W]hat could one expect from the UN?" asked Nathan Reich, an economics professor, in September 1948. "Spelled backwards, it reads NU. Well, NU, NU, what of the decision?"

The decision was perhaps not of the kind anticipated by some of the nations of the world; it was not anticipated by some Jews. It is reported in the unofficial chronicles of the UN Assembly that a wise, pious Jew, after observing the futile debates and procedures of the UN in its dealing with the Palestine problem, remarked rather sadly: The Jews will get Palestine in one of the two ways possible; through a miracle--if Great Britain should hand over Palestine to the Jews, or through the natural way--Meshiach vet kumen. Well, the decision took neither form.

Reich summarized the state of Jewish relief needs, especially in Europe, concluding:

The establishment of Israel will not for some time to come reduce the scope of relief needs. It will, however, introduce clarity, direction and purposiveness in the operation of relief programs. Like a flash of lightning, the act of May 15 illuminated the Jewish scene and opened new vistas and new horizons. This is Israel's significance to the problems of Jewish overseas relief needs.

Click here for more.

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The Obama-Sarkozy "Gaffe" Proves Obama Strong For Israel

Just assume the mic is on.

The global media are all aflutter over two lines of an overheard dialogue between Presidents Obama and Sarkozy.

"I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar," Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation. "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you," Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.

The lede in coverage has been, naturally, that Sarkozy called Bibi a liar, and that Obama sympathetically implied that Bibi is an enormous pain. Just as naturally, many Zionists see this gaffe as an embarassment, and many American Israel activists see the affair as a sign that President Obama is less supportive of Israel in private than he is in public. (Leftist Zionists may interpret the matter this way with much wringing of hands, and right-wingers the same way, but with purrs of contentment.)

But the real story isn't these two lines. The real story is how the subject came up in the first place, and how the subject came up demonstrates conclusively that President Obama is working behind the scenes to advance Israel's interests.

During their bilateral meeting on November 3, on the sidelines of the Cannes summit, Obama criticized Sarkozy's surprise decision to vote in favor of a Palestinian request for membership of the U.N. cultural heritage agency UNESCO. "I didn't appreciate your way of presenting things over the Palestinian membership of UNESCO. It weakened us. You should have consulted us, but that is now behind us," Obama was quoted as saying...

...Obama told Sarkozy that he was worried about the impact if Washington had to pull funding from other U.N. bodies such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the IAEA nuclear watchdog if the Palestinians gained membership there. "You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately," Obama said.

The full story, in other words, is this: Obama approaches Sarkozy to say, you shouldn't have supported the PA UN membership bid. Sarkozy responds, But Bibi is a liar. Obama counters: I don't like him either, and still I'm telling you this statehood bid was a bad move.

Whether Obama's sympathetic response to Sarkozy's complaint was genuine or merely a sympathetic nod to build rapport hardly matters. In either case, our President's message was that, irrespective of the Israeli Prime Minister's personality, Israel's preferred course of negotiations rather than unilateral UN recognition of Palestinian statehood is correct.

In this light, Obama's personal disdain for Bibi strengthens, not weakens, his pro-Israel bona fides. First, it shows that Obama's analysis of the situation genuinely favors Israel's position, rather than being a concession to a friend. Second, since the President would never have said such a thing knowing a microphone was hot, it demonstrates that Obama's private views of this matter match his public pronouncements. To hear Republicans talk, you'd think an unguarded moment between these two leaders would sound something like: "I wish I could have stood with you, Nicholas, but I need Jewish and Christian Zionist votes." Or, "I'm glad you took that stand. I couldn't, but just for political reasons." Or, "At last, my fellow mujahid, our plan to assert Shari'a law over all the world is coming to fruition."

Instead, what we heard was: Bibi's a pain, but "You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately." As an American Zionist who cares much more about Israel's geopolitical position than about Bibi Netanyahu's personal dignity, I certainly like what I hear.

It nearly need not be said that everyone (and not just politicians) would be wise to assume that every microphone they ever see is presently on and recording. It should be added that the wisest course of all is simply to assume that at every moment such a microphone is present, whether or not one is visible, but that may be asking too much of most people. In any case, when these gaffes appear, they are indeed revealing. Let us have care, however, to discern what is really being revealed.

[The obligatory caveat: BJPA is apolitical. This post represents my own analysis, not the organization.]

David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

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.

Rogan Kersh on AIPAC and J Street

Lobbying expert Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner examines AIPAC, J Street, and Israel lobbying, in this installment of our Office Hours video series.

Rogan Kersh: Israel Remarkably Relevant in American Politics

In the second installment of our Office Hours series, Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner discusses the place of Israel in American politics.

 

Intermarriage and Complexities of Antisemitism

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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...

 

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Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem

Happy Yom Yerushalayim! On this day in 1967, Israel captured and reunited Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

 Here are just a few of many BJPA publications having to do with Jerusalem:

1967 Borders, and How to Lie With Maps

Israel, sans Green Line

As Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere continue to mull over President Obama's Middle East speech last Thursday, and his subsequent explanation at the AIPAC conference, "1967 borders" have become the topic du jour.

In 2008, Hannah Weitzer of Windows-Channels for Communication observed in Sh'ma that Diaspora Jews are accustomed to looking at maps of Israel which do not mark the Palestinian territories, or the "Green Line" that represents the 1967 border. "Drawing in the internationally recognized border between Israel proper and the occupied territories is not a quick fix for all of the issues surrounding Israel education," she writes. "But teaching with maps that lack the green line is indicative of a larger gap between fact and myth that runs rampant in teaching Israel to Diaspora Jews."

But if a map without the Green Line is deceptive, might not a map featuring a hard, solid, 1967-style Green Line be equally deceptive? In the same issue of Sh'ma, history professor Derek J. Penslar cautions against oversimplification in cartography:

"I have a colleague at the University of Toronto who teaches a course called 'How to Lie With Maps.' Supporters of Israel might well suggest as required reading for this course Palestinian maps that show a unitary Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with no sign of Israel’s existence. Yet Israeli maps, and those produced by and for Diaspora Jews, rarely mark the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders."

Yet is the answer simply to replace one simplistic map with another simplistic map?

"The best way... would be through maps that faithfully depict the constant presence of Jews and Arabs in the same landscape... Superimposing maps would display the geographic structure and distribution of each community along with the points of intersection between them."

Penslar's chief concern is diachronic -- he wants to help people to understand the development of Arab and Jewish populations in Israel/Palestine over time. But I think his point is even more interesting if taken synchronically -- as a model for looking at the present moment. The reality of Jewish settlement blocs, along with Arab-majority population centers in Israel proper, makes the prospect of a neat and tidy border along the Green Line completely untenable. Besides which, the Green Line was not set in stone or decided upon by any kind of treaty or decree -- it's basically a cease-fire line marking troop positions during a pause (lasting from 1949 until 1967) in a war that started in 1948 and has never actually ended. President Obama, of course, recognizes this, which is why he included the phrase "mutually-agreed swaps" in his speech.

In any case, Penslar's point at its core is that a simple map is a deceptive map, and I think perhaps observers of all but the most extreme positions can agree with that.

Complexity

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