Thursday, May 31, 2012

The "Merchant of Venice" in Hebrew

A beautiful article by David Hirsh about the Habima production of the Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre in London. He addresses the play itself and offers a very interesting interpretation of it, intertwined with his observations on the antisemitic protestors who tried to disrupt it in the name of supporting Palestinian rights.

About the play he writes:
When I see a production of the Merchant of Venice, it is always the audience which unsettles me.  The play tells two stories which relate to each other.  One is the story of Shylock, a Jewish money lender who is spat on, excluded, beaten up, and in the end mercilessly defeated and humiliated.  The other is an apparently light-hearted story about an arrogant, rich, self-absorbed young woman, clever but not wise, pretty but not beautiful, and her antisemitic friends.  Shakespeare inter-cuts the grueling detailed scenes of the bullying of Shylock, with the comedic story of Portia’s love-match with a loser who has already frittered away his large inheritance. 
Shakespeare offers us an intimately observed depiction of antisemitic abuse, and each time the story reaches a new climax of horribleness, he then offers hackneyed and clich├ęd gags, to see if he can make us laugh.  It is as if he is interested in finding out how quickly the audience forgets Shylock, off stage, and his tragedy.  And the answer, in every production I’ve ever seen, is that the audience is happy and laughing at second rate clowning, within seconds.  And I suspect that Shakespeare means the clowning and the love story to be second rate.  He is doing something more interesting than entertaining us.  He is playing with our emotions in order to show us something, to make us feel something....
[The audience] was there to face down those who said that Israeli actors should be excluded from the global community of culture, while actors from all the other states which had been invited to the Globe were celebrated in a festival of the Olympic city’s multiculturalism.  So, the audience was happy to laugh loudly and to enjoy itself.  We saw on stage how Shylock’s daughter was desperate to escape from the Jewish Ghetto, the darkness and fear of her father’s house, the loneliness of being a Jew. We saw how she agreed to convert to Christianity because some little antisemitic boy said he loved her, we saw how she stole her father’s money so that her new friends could spend it on drunken nights out.  And we saw Shylock’s despair at the loss and at the betrayal and at the intrusion.  Perhaps his unbearable pain was also fueled by guilt for having failed his daughter since her mother had died. 
And then the audience laughed at silly caricatures of Moroccan and Spanish Princes, and at Portia’s haughty and superior rejection of them.  And now, not representations of antisemites but actual antisemites, hiding amongst the audience, unfurl their banners about “Israeli apartheid”, and their Palestinian flags, and they stage a performance of their own.  How embarrassing for Palestinian people, to be represented by those whose sympathy and friendship for them had become hatred of Israel; to be represented by a movement for the silencing of Israeli actors; to be represented by those who show contempt for Jewish Londoners in the audience, who de-humanize them by refusing to refer to them as people but instead simply as ‘Zionists’.  And a ‘Zionist’ does not merit the ordinary civility with which people in a great city normally, without thinking, accord to one another....
The day after the performance, one of the leading boycotters, Ben White, tweeted a picture of the beautiful Jewish face of Howard Jacobson, an opponent of the exclusion of Israeli actors from London.  White added the text: “If you need another reason to support a boycott of Habima, I present a massive picture of Howard Jacobson’s face”. 
Faced with this, it is hardly controversial to insist that ‘criticism of Israel’ can sometimes be antisemitic.   
And here is a photo of Howard Jacobson's "beautiful Jewish face" (from the Telegraph):


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on desecration of Tiberias synagogue

Haaretz also reported today about the vandalism of the Tiberias synagogue: Vandals desecrate ancient Tiberias synagogue; authorities suspect Haredim.
The fourth-century Hamat Tiberias Synagogue was desecrated Monday night by vandals who sprayed graffiti on the walls and tore up the mosaic floor. The Israel Antiquities Authority suspects extremist ultra-Orthodox Jews who say the authority damages ancient graves during excavations. The vandalism was discovered yesterday morning by employees of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Similar acts have been carried out at other archaeological sites; one slogan sprayed Monday night read "A site for every grave [desecrated]." Another read "For Shuka," probably referring to Shuka Dorfman, the head of the antiquities authority.

One employee burst into tears yesterday when viewing the vandals' work. "Afghanistan is right here," another added.

Tiberias police are investigating the case, while the authority is trying to tally the damages and figure out if anything can be restored.

The synagogue, in Hamat Tiberias National Park, was discovered in 1921 by writer and translator Nahum Slouschz. It was uncovered in the first major archaeological dig led by Zionist Jews in the Holy Land.

"The most beautiful part of the mosaic from the fourth century was severely damaged," said Dror Ben Yosef of the Antiquities Authority. "The perpetrators drilled a hole in the drawing of the holy ark and damaged the menorah drawing as well. It seems they worked very hard trying to take apart the floor."

A zodiac wheel drawn on the mosaic appears to have been hit by a pickax. "There are Haredim who believe that if a zodiac wheel is drawn there, it can't really be a synagogue," Ben Yosef told Haaretz. "The zodiac wheel, in this case, is actually a Judaized Hellenistic motif." One corner of the mosaic was completely taken apart. Ben Yosef added that the synagogue was "probably the site where the Jerusalem Talmud was completed" and that the mosaic contained important symbols such as a holy ark with an ornamental curtain, along with a menorah, a shofar, a ceremonial palm frond and a coal pan.

The mosaic included inscriptions in Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. Ben Yosef said extremist Haredim have threatened other sites. "We'll protect the sites," he said. "Whoever vandalized it desecrated its holiness. These people damaged our historic heritage."

Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Antiquities Authority said conservation and restoration work would be carried out, but this wouldn't be enough. "It will never be the same mosaic that people prayed on 1,600 years ago," she said. "You can feel and learn here how people once lived, prayed, studied and talked. It will never be the same. We're facing a vandalist drive against heritage sites that's gaining momentum. Something has to be done to stop it."

In the past two months several other archaeological sites have been damaged. A mosaic was vandalized at Hurvat Hanut near Jerusalem, a 1,300-year-old furnace was damaged near Yavneh, and a container holding artifacts was set on fire in Afula. "Public servants who safeguard our historical heritage have also been threatened recently," Avshalom-Gorni added. "It's definitely a frightening situation."

Here's a photograph of the damage:


For comparison, two photographs of the undamaged site (from Artstor):

1) The menorah, lulav and etrog, fire pan, and coal pan.


Depiction of the Torah ark:


This is not the only location vandalized recently. A few weeks ago, I went to Hirbet Madras, in the Valley of Elah, with friends. One of the archaeological sites there is an ancient church, found last year (2011), which was briefly opened to the public by archaeologists before they were going to close the site again and cover up the antiquities. The night before they were going to do that, vandals came in and destroyed the beautiful mosaic floor of the church. Jim West, of the Zwinglius Redivivus blog has a short account of the destruction and photographs of the church before and after the damage was done - Despicable Destruction. The suspicion in that case also is that ultra-Orthodox Jewish fanatics destroyed the mosaics.

I hope they catch the vandals responsible for the damage at both places and lock them up for a good long time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vandals damage the Zodiac mosaic in Tiberias

I just read a really shocking story from the AP - Vandals damage the Zodiac mosaic in Tiberias.
JERUSALEM — Vandals badly damaged a rare 1,600-year-old mosaic in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias that formed the floor of an ancient synagogue, smashing parts to rubble and scrawling graffiti, antiquity officials said Tuesday. 
Experts suspect extremist Jews who object, sometimes violently, to excavations they claim involve ancient grave sites. There was no claim of responsibility. Police are investigating. 
Guards found the damage on Tuesday morning, said archeologists involved in the site.
The mosaic, dating 400 years after the birth of Jesus, was one of the best preserved and beautiful of its period, according to archaeologists. 
It featured illustrated zodiac signs and the traditional symbolism of a fourth-century synagogue: ritual candelabras and palm fronds. The synagogue's ruins, including its ancient mosaic floor, were in a fenced-off area of a national park in Tiberias, next to the Sea of Galilee. 
It listed the names of the synagogue's chief patrons in ancient Hebrew, Latin and Greek. 
Israel Antiquities Authority deputy director Uzi Dahari said a fringe group of ultra-Orthodox Jews were suspected of causing the damage, much of it irreversible. Dahari said the graffiti scrawled across parts of the archaeological site and previous threats against the Antiquities Authority suggested they were the perpetrators. 
Photographs issued by the Antiquities Authority showed parts of the mosaic floor reduced to gray chunks of rubble. Other photographs showed blue spray paint scrawled over the mosaic, covering ancient Hebrew and Greek letters spelled out in blue, red and beige tiles. Graffiti was also scrawled along rock walls beside the mosaic. Perpetrators also punched a hole in the mosaic between two candelabras. 
"On every grave, a site," one neatly written Hebrew slogan said. 
Dahari and other archaeologists said it referred to constant accusations by a tiny Jewish hard-line group that the Antiquities Authority was digging up Jewish graves. Disturbing Jewish graves is a deeply offensive act for devout Jews. 
Archeologists said they have found similar graffiti on other sites. The Hebrew word for "site" is also shorthand for an archaeological site, as in English. 
An archaeologist who frequently works in the Galilee area, Gilad Kinamon, said ultra-Orthodox Jews frequently turned up to his sites to demonstrate against his work. 
"It was the best of Jewish art of its time, of the late Roman and early Byzantine period," said Dahari. They ... destroyed what was in front of them without thinking," he said.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Shavuot and S. Y. Agnon

On Shavuot night this year I went to a tikkun (an all-night study session preparing for the Torah reading in the morning, which recounts the giving of the Torah at Sinai) organized by a group called Solidarity, which was held at congregation Kol HaNeshama. The first speaker was Professor Rachel Elior, with whom I studied at Hebrew University and who was one of the advisors for my dissertation. She gave a wonderful talk, which I wish I could recall in its entirety. Part of it was about a story written by S.Y. Agnon, the Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, about a mystical experience he had on Shavuot eve of 1943, just after he had received the news that the Jews of his town, Buczacz, had been destroyed by the Nazis.

Arnon Shimshoni, in Haaretz, discusses this story ("The Sign") and the other characters who appear in it, who were based upon real people whom Agnon knew in Jerusalem.
Agnon describes a mystical experience that he had on the eve of Shavuot 1943 in the wake of the first reports about the destruction of his birthplace, Buczacz. According to Elior, Agnon’s description of the experience both imitates and continues the prophet Ezekiel’s description of the mystical revelation that he had on the eve of Shavuot, and similar experiences that prominent kabbalists such as Joseph Karo, Nathan of Gaza and Moshe Chaim Luzzatto experienced on the same date.

The Sign describes two challenges and two worlds, both of which make their appearance in the opening sentence: “In the year when the news reached us that all the Jews in my town had been killed, I was living in a certain section of Jerusalem, in a house I had built for myself after the disturbances of 1929 (5629 – which is equal, numerically, to ‘The eternity of Israel’).” “My town” is the Galician town of Buczacz, which was destroyed utterly, and whose memory is preserved in the layers of memory. “A certain section of Jerusalem” is the neighborhood of Talpiot, of which Agnon was one of the earliest inhabitants.

Buczacz, with its halls of religious study and large synagogue, is destroyed, its Jews dead. To the author’s sorrow, in the story they gradually vanish from his memory. It takes a mystical experience, the mobilization of the poet Solomon ibn Gabirol on Shavuot eve, to give Agnon a sign so that he will not forget the town’s name. On the other hand, the neighborhood of Talpiot, in whose synagogue Agnon had the mystical experience on Shavuot eve, is real. “From the day we were exiled from our country, only thorns and thistles grew from this soil. Now that we have returned, it has been built up with houses and trees and bushes and flowers.” The year of the riots, when Talpiot was attacked, Agnon’s rented apartment was looted and his books scattered to the four winds – was 1929: in gematria [a system that assigns numerical values to a Hebrew word or phrase], the Hebrew letters denoting the year 1929 are equivalent to the biblical phrase “netzah Yisrael” [the eternity of Israel]. After the riots, Talpiot was rebuilt, and Agnon’s new home was built there.

Scholarship on the #14 bus in Jerusalem

I was taking the #14 bus back home from the National Library today, uncomfortably crammed into a small seat, and listening to the conversation between two people facing me, one who teaches at the Hebrew University and the other at the Schechter Institute (run by the Masorti movement, the Israeli version of the Conservative Jewish movement - religious, not political), when a young man got on the bus, dressed in a military uniform and carrying a backpack. He started to listen to the professors talking with each other and then entered into the conversation - he had a scholarly question he wanted to ask them. He asked them about how a classic work on the Pharisees by Louis Finkelstein had been received by other scholars. It turned out he had already corresponded with the Hebrew University professor on another topic and even received an answer for a paper he was writing. The two professors gave him advice and he continued talking eagerly with them.

So nice to see an eager student!


Friday, May 25, 2012

The game of chicken between Iran and Israel

Somehow I'm just not believing Iran's denials that it's trying to create nuclear weapons. Today's report is that uranium enriched to 27% has been detected at the Fordow centrifuge site near Qom. Haaretz reports:
The UN atomic agency has found evidence at an underground bunker in Iran that could mean the country has moved closer to producing the uranium threshold needed to arm nuclear missiles, diplomats said Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has found traces of uranium enriched up to 27 percent at Iran's Fordo enrichment plant, the diplomats told The Associated Press.

That is still substantially below the 90-percent level needed to make the fissile core of nuclear arms. But it is above Iran's highest-known enrichment grade, which is close to 20 percent, and which already can be turned into weapons-grade material much more quickly than the Islamic Republic's main stockpile, which can only be used for fuel at around 3.5 percent.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity because their information is privileged, said the find did not necessarily mean that Iran was covertly raising its enrichment threshold toward weapons-grade level. They said one likely explanation was that the centrifuges that produce enriched uranium initially over-enriched at the start as technicians adjusted their output.
Much as I would like to believe that the current talks about Iran's nuclear program will succeed in persuading them to stop enriching uranium to levels above those needed for peaceful use, and stop working on the other aspects of creating a nuclear weapon, like figuring out how to make a trigger for the nuclear fuel (which they have been accused of doing at the Parchin military base), I'm not getting the impression that Iran is serious at all about these talks. I think they're stalling until they've gone past the point of no return. Instead of putting forth some kind of goodwill gesture of their own (like temporarily stopping the enrichment of uranium to 20% at Fordow), they demanded first that sanctions should be halted, before they're prepared to do anything at all.

Do they really want the Israelis to attack them? Because, frankly, I think that Netanyahu and Barak are prepared to send the planes to bomb Iran, especially now that there is such a big government coalition. I think it would be both stupid and wicked for them to do so, but these talks are not giving them any incentive not to send the bombers. I hope that the US and the EU realize that if there isn't serious progress, soon, in these talks, that they're risking a disastrous war in the Middle East.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vicious mob attack on African migrants in south Tel Aviv

Last night, in Tel Aviv, a protest against African migrants to Israel turned from a demonstration into a murderous riot targeting the migrants and anyone else the mob saw as an enemy. The migrants have come from countries like Sudan and Eritrea - some as asylum seekers (especially people from Darfur), others seeking work that they can't get in their desperately poor homelands. They've been coming for the last decade, and there are now about 60,000 of them living in Israel. They come over the Egyptian border, smuggled in by Bedouin gangs that they pay to get them over the border (the gangs sometimes imprison and torture them in order to get their relatives back home to pay more money for the smuggling).

Once they get into Israel, they are taken to temporary detention facilities in the Negev, registered, released, and taken into buses to central Israel, where they go to poor neighborhoods that already house thousands of refugees. The government doesn't give them work permits, nor does it do anything to support them. Small human rights organizations do their best to take care of them, as do groups organized by previous migrants to help their fellow countrymen. The neighborhoods they live in, like the Hatikva and Shapira neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, were already poor and badly served by the government, and the government has done nothing to help the migrants integrate with the residents - it has provided no new resources whatsoever for either the veteran residents or the migrants. The situation has been boiling over in the last couple of months - a child care center for the children of the African migrants was firebombed, and there have been other attacks on the migrants. Last night was when the anger broke out into open, murderous violence that would have ended in someone's death if the police had not been on the scene.

The demonstrators were incited by members of Knesset who made xenophobic and dehumanizing statements about the migrants. Miri Regev, a Likud member of Knesset, said that "the Sudanese are a cancer in our body." Danny Danon, another member of Knesset from Likud said, "For this terrible situation that was created here, for this situation in which entire neighborhoods have turned into refugee camps, there is only one solution, and we must talk about it, and it's forbidden to be ashamed: We must expel the infiltrators from Israel, deportation now!" Another member of Knesset, from the National Union party, Michael Ben Ari, said to the demonstrators: “There are rapists and harassers here. The time for talk is over." And indeed, soon after he spoke, the demonstration turned into a riot.

From today's article in Ma'ariv by Yuval Goren (my translation):
Things began to heat up a short time after Knesset member Michael Ben Ari (National Union) began to speak. The crowd cried out after him - "Sudanese to Sudan!" The disturbances, whose like has not been seen in the neighborhood for a long time, started, however, in another place: during his (Ben Ari's) speech, one of the residents of the neighborhood attacked members of the social protest who were demonstrating close to the residents' protest, and said to the enraged crowd that these demonstrators were the same people who brought petitions to the High Court of Justice against the expulsion (of the migrants) and supported the organizations who helped the foreigners. 
Less than five minutes after that one of the demonstrators recognized a leftist activist who stood close to the group of demonstrators, and she began to shriek at him and to blame him for "throwing rocks at soldiers." In seconds, tens of young people surrounded the activist and a journalist who stood next to him [a writer for Haaretz named Ilan Lior, who also wrote about his experience], and they began to hit them. Hundreds of the demonstrators who saw the uproar began to run to the place where it was happening and after that the youth marched quickly to the Haganah bridge, where they called to their friends to come to the central bus station. "Deport them now!" they yelled. [The neighborhood of the old central bus station in Tel Aviv is the center of life for foreign workers and migrants, legal and illegal]. 
A police force that had apparently prepared beforehand for the possibility of disturbances did not succeed in quickly preventing the demonstrators from advancing, close to the train stop on the Haganah bridge. At that same time hundreds of youth from the neighborhood stood on the road. All of sudden, one of them saw that two young men with dark skin were sitting in one of the cars that was stopped and waiting for the traffic to resume - men who were apparently foreign workers. 
For the hundreds of aroused and angry young people there was no need for anything else. Within minutes they took apart the car around the people sitting in it (there's no other way to describe this).  Some of them smashed the windows with their hands and with rocks, while others kicked at the car, bent the plastic, and tried to attack the passengers. "I am not from Sudan, I am not from Sudan!" the driver tried to tell the attackers, but no one at this stage even paid attention.
This was only the beginning. Hundreds of young people made their way back to the neighborhood, and began to survey the stores belonging to the migrants and asylum seekers. There are not a few of them on Etzel Street. Close to a branch of Avazi [a restaurant], on Etzel Street at the corner of Avital, the young people found a store of Eritreans. They broke the display windows and made names for themselves [I this means they looted the store]. The streets of the neighborhood, that on other nights had been deserted because of fear, were suddenly filled with hundreds of residents, young people as well as older ones, who struggled with the (regular) police and the Border Police. 
According to the owners of the shop products were stolen from it. The rioters broke the glass on the refrigerators, turned them over and scattered much the contents on the floor - all in front of the owners of the store and their friends, who were left helpless and hoped that they themselves would not be injured. "I don't understand why they did this to us," one of the store's owners said. "I don't understand what I did, why anyone would have a problem with me." Despite the difficult experience, the same man said that he was not afraid, as his friends also said. "This looks to me like war, and if someone causes me trouble, I'll give him trouble in return," said one of them, only 15 years old. "We are not afraid because we've already seen everything, we've seen Christians, we've seen Arabs, we've seen Bedouin, my enter back is full of scars, this is not what frightens us."
Next to the entrance to one of the alleys in the shuk, when groups of young people passed in front of us running wild, I encountered Oved Hugi, who has worked for thirty years for the improvement of the neighborhood. Only yesterday he had warned me that the frustrated young people were likely to take the law into their own hands. "See, tonight you have the evidence," he said to me. "And what happened tonight is only the beginning, from here this only goes downhill, because people are fed up, and to my regret the state only understands violence, and now the young people also understand this."
For other reports, see Ilan Lior's own personal account:  How a Tel Aviv anti-migrant protest spiraled out of control. Mark Tracy of Tablet has a good summing up. An African migrant named Adam Ibrahim writes his own story in Haaretz.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Celebrating Jerusalem Day the racist way

Haaretz reports - For second straight year, marchers chant anti-Arab slogans during Jerusalem Day
Hundreds of Jewish youths participating in the Jerusalem Day flag procession shouted anti-Muslim slogans like "Mohammed is dead" at Palestinians holding a rally in the capital's Old City to protest the march.

The marchers yesterday also attacked three left-wing protesters trying to document the flag procession, the activists said. One said dozens of marchers surrounded them, shouting "Death to the leftists," and that a marcher broke the handle of an Israeli flag on her head. The left-wing activists also said the marchers spit at them and threw things at them.

Border Police protected the activists and escorted them away after 10 minutes.

Police also clashed with hundreds of the Palestinian protesters near Damascus Gate. They arrested 10 marchers suspected of shouting anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slogans, and five Palestinians suspected of throwing objects at the marchers.

Organizers of the march had pledged that unlike last year, participants would not shout incendiary statements. But while the organizers said only a few outliers failed to adhere to that standard, hundreds of young people spent hours shouting at the Palestinians protesting near Damascus Gate.

Among the refrains were "The Temple will be rebuilt, the mosque will be burned." The marchers also shouted that Arabs were "sons of whores" and applauded Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs during the Purim holiday in 1994.

A large police contingent was deployed at the event, which started in downtown Jerusalem, entered the Old City through Damascus Gate, continued into the Muslim Quarter and ended at the Western Wall.

Some left-wing protesters gathered at Damascus Gate to protest the holding of the march in Arab neighborhoods. Police separated the protesters from the marchers before the confrontations could escalate.

Most businesses on Hagai Street, the main road in the Old City's Muslim Quarter, closed before the march began, to avoid clashes with the marchers.

Throughout the day, groups from yeshivas and high schools paraded through the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, waving Israeli flags and singing songs about Jerusalem.

Police had planned to change the route of this year's event to avoid incidents. But they ultimately agreed to allow right-wingers to pass through the Muslim Quarter after speaking to the organizers, who pledged to prevent last year's ugly scenes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Knesset members on the Temple Mount

Haaretz reports:
Earlier Sunday, as part of Jerusalem Day events, National Union MKs Uri Ariel and Michael Ben-Ari arrived at the Temple Mount accompanied by a group of about 20 right-wing activists to conduct a tour of the site.

Temple Mount - Michal Fattal - 20.5.2012

Originally, Ariel and Ben-Ari were supposed to be joined by fellow National Union MK Aryeh Eldad, along with Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) and Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who all cancelled at the last moment.

During the tour, four or five of the activists, including Ben-Ari himself, kneeled to pray on the Temple Mount, with a nearby police force preventing them from doing so.

However, as a result of the questioning of two the group's participants following the act, the tour's leader, Yehuda Etzion, a one-time member of the Gush Emunim Underground, sat on the ground and refused to move on.

He was then forcibly removed by police and arrested, with MK Ben-Ari confronting police officers to try and prevent the arrest.
Yehuda Etzion was one of the leaders of the Jewish underground who plotted the blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, but was fortunately stopped by the police. Gershom Gorenberg wrote about him in his book, End of Days.

What I don't understand is why they knelt to pray - Christians kneel in prayer, not Jews (except for one prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).

Today is "Jerusalem Day"

More on the activities planned for today to mark Jerusalem Day - Haaretz reports (my translation, I couldn't find the article in the English version of the paper online):
A group of Knesset members from the right are expected to go up in the morning to the Temple Mount, in order to mark Jerusalem Day there. Among the Knesset members: Zeev Elkin (Likud), Aryeh Eldad (National Union), and Michael Ben Ari (National Union). Also Knesset members Otniel Schneller (Kadima) and Uri Ariel (National Union) confirmed that they were coming, but at this point it’s not clear if they will take part in this.

The ascent of the Knesset members this morning to the Mount is being done at the initiative of the members of the “Foundation for the Heritage of the Temple Mount.” “From our perspective this is the repair of a historical injustice,” Yehudah Glick, one of the heads of the Foundation, said to Haaretz. “The paratroopers who conquered the Temple Mount went up to the Mount, and then returned to the Kotel. We ascend today in order to remain.”

Later on, a different group for the Temple Mount is expected to go from Ammunition Hill in a march of flags – the “Temple Mount Faithful.” “We call this a ‘March for the liberation of our holy hill and for the wholeness of Jerusalem and the land of our fathers,” says Gershom Solomon, one of the initiators of the march tomorrow. “The emphasis, of course, is on the Temple Mount in the context of our fight to change the status quo, for Jewish rule over the Temple Mount.” Solomon expects several hundred to participate in the march.

In contrast to the central parade of flags which is expected to occur much later, the march of the “Temple Mount Faithful” did not receive police permission to enter through the Damascus Gate. Despite this, the route that was allowed for them did not entirely omit east Jerusalem, and the marchers were permitted to go by way of Sheikh Jarrakh. From there they will return to Bar-Lev Road and enter the Old City through Jaffa Gate. “The difference between us and the parade of flags is that they end at the Western Wall and we object to this,” Solomon continues. “We would like to arrive at the Temple Mount itself.” Nonetheless, according to the approved route for the “Temple Mount Faithful,” the march will end at the plaza next to the Jaffa Gate, where the marchers will hold a rally to mark Jerusalem Day.

The other event that draws much attention is the “Dance of flags,” in which tens of thousands of youth march, most of them from the religious Zionist (camp), into the Old City with flags. Last year hundreds of participants in the march took advantage of the occasion to make racist cat-calls against the Palestinian residents, and 24 youths were arrested, Jews and Arabs. In light of this, the Israel Police sought to change the path of the march, but after negotiations with the organizers a route that goes through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter was permitted. The organizers, on their part, promised to act to prevent a repetition of the images from last year. Against the march a demonstration by leftist activists is being organized.
In addition to the provocations from the Israeli right wing, inciters from the Palestinian side have also been stirring the pot of strife. Khaled Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post reports:
The Palestinian Authority mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, warned against attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians, especially in the Old City. He also voiced concern that Jews would try to storm their way into the Temple Mount during Sunday's celebrations.

The mufti said that the Israeli authorities would be held fully responsible for clashes that could erupt between Palestinians and Israelis during the "provocative" marches, especially inside the Old City.

Another senior Islamic religious official, Sheikh Yusef Idais, warned that Israelis were preparing to perpetrate "massacres" against Palestinians during Jerusalem Day celebrations. Idais urged Palestinians to converge on Jerusalem Sunday to "confront the extremist settlers."

He pointed out that in previous years settlers who took part in celebrations inside the Old City had chanted "Death to Arabs" and insults against Prophet Mohammed. Idais predicted that Jerusalem would witness "violent confrontations" during the celebrations and called on Arab youth in the city to put up "strong resistance."
Other east Jerusalem Palestinians expressed more rational fears:
Palestinian shopkeepers in the Old City rejected instructions from the Police to close down their shops on Jerusalem Day on Sunday....

Representatives of the Palestinian merchants in the city issued a statement in which they said that the purpose of the Sunday celebrations was to "make Jerusalem a Jewish city and provoke the feelings of Muslims and Christians."

Fakhri Abu Diab, member of the Committee for Defending Silwan, condemned the authorities' decision to block several roads and neighborhoods during Jerusalem Day, noting that this would disrupt normal life and prevent people from going to work and students from attending school.

Abu Diab said he expected Sunday to be a "dangerous and difficult" day for Arabs in the city.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Jerusalem Day"

Tomorrow is the anniversary (in the Jewish calendar) of the Six Day War, when Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli rule (it was divided from 1949-1967, with west Jerusalem Israeli and east Jerusalem Jordanian). There's an Israeli march every year to celebrate the victory, going from the center of west Jerusalem into the Old City. I've never been to it, and I'm not planning to go tomorrow.

Haaretz writes about last year's march:
In recent years, the procession has become a show of defiance against Palestinians and residents of East Jerusalem. Last year, tensions came to a head as 24 youths, both Jewish and Palestinian, were arrested in conjunction with violent clashes.

Tensions over last year's march reached their zenith, however, as hundreds of youth shouted slogans like “death to Arabs,” and “Mohammed is dead,” along with other racist slogans, while marching through the narrow Muslim Quarter streets. The event’s organizers renounced and condemned the phenomenon, stating that the slogans and songs were the actions of only a handful of participants.
As a result of the disgusting racism and violence of last year, the Israel Police were originally not going to permit the marchers to go through Sheikh Jarrakh (in east Jerusalem), the Damascus Gate, and the Muslim Quarter. As a result of political pressure upon the police, they agreed to let the march go through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, which runs the risk of more trouble this year.

In addition to a healthy dose of nationalist triumphalism and racism, once the marchers reach the Old City, they will also be separated by sex. "According to the approved route, the group of girls will march from the city center to the Jaffa Gate, while the boy’s group will march through the Damascus Gate."

A group known as the "Tag Meir Forum" is protesting this route. "Tag Meir" is a response to right-wing attack on Arabs that are called "Tag Mechir" (Price Tag). The Tag Mechir attacks are made against Palestinian targets, usually in the West Bank, after the Israeli Army has acted in some way to curb violent settlers, protect Palestinians, or destroy illegal Jewish settlements.
“We think that to march through an Arab neighborhood while singing songs of vengeance is no worse than ‘price tag’ attacks, we’re worried about the procession in the Muslim Quarter, and hope everyone behaves responsibly,” said a representative of the organization.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Obama Backs Same-Sex Marriage!

Much to my surprise, I now see that President Obama backs same-sex marriage. About time!

Here in Israel, Monday night we thought there was an agreement to have early elections on September 4, but when we woke up yesterday morning, there was a new unity government! The question is - unified for what? I've read many learned analyses in the Israeli press and no seems to know - except for Shaul Mofaz's motives - as the leader of Kadima, he was about to see his party lose big time in the September elections, and this now saves the jobs of about 20 Knesset members for the next 18 months. Other than that, who knows?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

New York Times coverage of Auschwitz

A comment on an earlier post about the British POWs who were held in one of the Auschwitz camps just wrote: "And the article's reference to the Red Cross reaction to rumours about Auschwitz reinforces the difficulty of verifying conditions at camps. Indeed, the Red Cross had some difficulty separating the German picture of life in POW camps from the harsh reality even at those they visited."

By the summer of 1944, however, quite a lot was known and the Red Cross, it seems to me, would have had full access to all the information known outside Nazi-occupied Europe. While the New York Times dragged its feet considerably about reporting on the extermination camps, by the summer of 1944 they were publishing reports about what was happening in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

This report was published on July 3, 1944, on page 3.
INQUIRY CONFIRMS NAZI DEATH CAMPS

1,715,000 Jews Said to Have Been Put to Death by the Germans Up to April 15

by Daniel T. Brigham

By Telephone to The New York Times

GENEVA, Switzerland, July 2 - Information reaching two European relief committees with headquarters in Switzerland has confirmed reports of the existence in Auschwitz and Birkenau in Upper Silesia of two "extermination camps" where more than 1,715,000 Jewish refugees were put to death between April 15, 1942 and April 15, 1944.
[Note: These figures are too high - according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "At least 960,000 Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war; and 10,000-15,000 members of other nationalities (Soviet civilians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, French, Germans, and Austrians)"].
The two committees referred to are the International Church Movement Ecumenical Refugee Commission with headquarters in Geneva and the Fluchtingshilfe of Zurich, whose head, the Rev. Paul Voght, has disclosed a long report on the killings.
The article goes on to give estimates of the number of Jews killed in Auschwitz, and then refers to what was then the ongoing killing of the Jews of Hungary.
To this must now be added Hungary's Jews. About 30 percent of the 400,000 there have been slain or have died en route to Upper Silesia. Discussing "malicious, fiendish, inhuman brutality" in the treatment of Hungarian Jews, the Ecumenical Commission says:
"According to authenticated information now at hand, some 400,000 Hungarian Jews have been deported from their homeland since April 6 of this year under inhuman conditions to Upper Silesia. Those that did not die en route were delivered to the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Upper Silesia, where during the past two years, it has now been learned, many hundreds of thousands of their co-religionists have been fiendishly done to death."
After a fortnight to three months' imprisonment, during which they were "selected" or worked to death, the Jews were led to the execution halls, it was said. These halls consist of fake bathing establishments handling 2,000 to 8,000 daily.
Another report was published in the Times on July 6, 1944, giving more details about the camp and the deportation of the Hungarian Jews, with the title "Two Death Camps Places of Horror," by Daniel Brigham.

An article from July 5 also discussed the deportations from Hungary, and includes this statement:
Information received by the World Jewish Congress leaves little doubt that the Germans are waging two wars - one against the enemies of Germany, the other against the Jews - and that, with Germany's defeat imminent, they are preparing to wipe out European Jewry. It is estimated conservatively that they have already massacred 4,000,000 of Europe's 7,000,000 Jews.
This article is called "Hungary Deports Jews, Eden Says." Eden was the British Foreign Secretary.

Later, on September 15, 1944, the Times reported on a German communique broadcast from Berlin. One sentence reads: "Enemy bomber and fighter formations yesterday attacked in the west and south of the Reich as far as central Germany. Terror raids were directly mainly against the towns of Stuttgart, Darmstadt, Osnabrueck and Auschwitz."

An earlier report, from June 20, 1944, reports on the killing of Czech Jews taken from Terezin to Auschwitz.
LONDON, June 19 - The Czechoslovak State Council disclosed today that, according to a report it has received from inside Europe, 7,000 Czechoslovak Jews interned in the fortress of Terezin have been killed en masse.
The report said that the victims were dragged to gas chambers in the notorious German concentration camps at Birkenau and Oswiecim. 
 Confirmation of the existence of these gas chambers and the execution of there of uncounted thousands was brought to London recently by a young Pole who had been imprisoned in both camps.
The first report in the New York Times of the liberation of the camp by the Red Army came on February 3, 1945, several days after the camp had been liberated (January 27).
 Saved from "Murder Factory"
MOSCOW, Feb. 2 (U.P.) - The newspaper Pravda reported today that the Red Army had saved several thousand tortured, emaciated inmates of the Germans greatest "murder factory" at Oswiecim in southwest Poland.
Pravda's correspondent said fragmentary reports indicated that at least 1,500,000 persons were slaughtered at Oswiecim. During 1941, 1942 and early 1943, he said, five trains arrived daily at Oswiecim with Russians, Poles, Jews, Czechs, French and Yugoslavs jammed in sealed cars. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Celebrating May Day in Israel


This morning I was listening to Reshet Bet (Israel Radio) and heard the Internationale sung in Hebrew, and then interviews with some of the Knesset members from the Hadash party. The word Hadash in Hebrew means "new," and it's also an acronym for the name of the party - HaHazit HaDemokratit LeShalom VeLeShivion - The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. The party was formed in 1977 out of the Israeli Communist Party and other left-wing Israeli groups. It is a joint Arab-Jewish party and currently has four members in the Knesset: Afou Agbaria, Mohammed Barakeh, Dov Khenin, and Hanna Swaid. Barakeh is the leader of the party.

This evening, as I was cooking dinner and feeling rather tired, I turned on Army Radio (Galei Tzahal), and discovered that they were broadcasting a program about Leon Trotsky! I haven't listened carefully to the whole program, but thus far it has included a survey of Trotsky's life, his role in the Bolshevik Revolution, his role as head of the Red Army, and of course his assassination by agents of Stalin in 1940. The talking is interspersed with rather outrageous music (for example a band called Baba Yaga singing what I think was the Internationale in Russian a heavy metal style, another group singing Bob Dylan's song "With God on our Side" in Hebrew - that was actually pretty funny). The program is taking place at a bar called "Barbi" in Tel Aviv.

From the advertisement on the Galei Zahal web site (Life of Others presents an evening with Trotsky):
On the first of May 2012 at 7:30 p.m. an evening program of the program "Life of Others" on Galei Zahal will be devoted to the daring revolutionary and persecuted fighter Leon Trotsky. This is a special evening, one-time, and out of the ordinary which combines live musical performances, mini-lectures of six minutes, video clips - all under the direction of the radio broadcaster Eran Sabag....

On the basis of the social protest awakening last year, we decided to devote the program to Leon Trotsky, the Soviet communist revolutionary, in order to try to remember and understand the revolutionary ideas that succeeded and that failed in the 20th century.
Also tonight, there was a May Day march in Tel Aviv, organized by a coalition of left-wing groups and parties.