Friday, July 20, 2018

Commentary on Israel's New "Nation-State" Law

Full text of the law in English translation, published by the Jerusalem Post.

1.  The State of Israel
a) Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the state of Israel was established.
b) The state of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, in which it actualizes its natural, religious, and historical right for self-determination.
c) The actualization of the right of national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

Comment by Amir Fuchs:
The stated purpose of the bill, at least according to some of its supporters, is to override the “constitutional revolution” of 1992 and erode the legal interpretation of the Supreme Court that the right to equality applies to non-Jews as well. A law of this sort, which is not balanced by an acknowledgment of absolute equal rights for minorities (in contrast with the balance expressed in the Declaration of Independence), is a law that seeks to alter the status quo rather than safeguard it. The bill clearly has the potential to turn into a “deal-breaker,” jeopardizing the balance between Israel’s identity as the Jewish national home and its identity as a democracy. No other nation-state defines itself in such a way, with no mention of democracy or minority rights. 
Clearly, the bill’s real goal is to sabotage the existing ruling of the Supreme Court, according to which Israel’s status as a nation-state does not imply that Jewish citizens have privileges which other citizens do not. There is no better proof for this than the explicit opposition to including the right to equality in the bill.
RL: Notice that the law excludes the possibility that the "right of national self-determination" might exist also for Arabs in the state of Israel. While the law doesn't mention Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it implies, in my opinion, that only Jewish national self-determination has any legitimacy between the (Jordan) River and the (Mediterranean) Sea. As such, it is the mirror opposite of the BDS cry: "Between the River and the Sea, Palestine will be free," which completely negates any legitimacy to Jewish national self-determination.

Comments by Zachary Braiterman:
It undermines democracy in Israel, subordinates democracy to Jewishness, violates the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and its statement regarding “complete equality of social & political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender.” Against the vision of Israel’s founding fathers, including deep democratic impulses in classical rightwing Revisionist Zionism, there is no mention of rule of law, equality, equal citizenship, human dignity.
Regarding religion and state, it is unclear what constitutes a “religious right to self-determination” and how this might be constituted. But there it is, the invention of a new right for religion, in this case Jewish religion only, slipped surreptitiously into the law. It should be noted how religious discrimination against Muslims and Christians is rooted in another exclusive relation between Jews and the State.
2.  National symbols of the State of Israel
a) The name of the state is Israel.
b) The flag of the state is white, two blue stripes near the edges, and a blue Star of David in the center.
c) The symbol of the state is the Menorah with seven branches, olive leaves on each side, and the word Israel at the bottom.
d) The national anthem of the state is "Hatikvah"
e) [Further] details concerning the issue of state symbols will be determined by law.

RL: All of these details were already part of Israeli law and practice.

3. [The] unified and complete [city of] Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

RL: This is also not new - Jerusalem officially became the capital of Israel in about 1950, and the language of "unified Jerusalem" has its origin in the period right after the Six Day War, when East Jerusalem and the West Bank were captured from Jordan.

4. The Language of the State of Israel
a) Hebrew is the language of the state.
b) The Arabic language has a special status in the state; the regulation of the Arab language in state institutions or when facing them will be regulated by law.
c) This clause does not change the status given to the Arabic language before the basic law was created.

RL: Hebrew is the language of the state, despite the fact that the native language of 20% of the country is Arabic, not Hebrew. This provision of the law formally gives a second-class status to Arabic.

Zachary Braiterman:

Arabic language is demoted from being an official language of the state to being to a special one. It’s unclear how clause C follows clause B. The status of Arabic language in Israel, such as it is and such as it could become, is definitely damaged.
5. The state will be open to Jewish immigration and to the gathering of the exiled.

RL: Also not new, and already stated in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

6. The Diaspora
a) The state will labor to ensure the safety of sons of the Jewish people and its citizens who are in trouble and captivity due to their Jewishness or their citizenship.
 b) The state will act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious legacy of the Jewish people among the Jewish diaspora.

Comment by Shuki Friedman (director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State, and lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center):
Previously the bill said that state will act to preserve the link everywhere – in Israel and in the Diaspora as well. This legalistic turn of phrase has great practical significance, as it essentially allows the government of Israel to carry out any action in Israel that may harm Jews in the Diaspora or Israel’s relationship with them. This small yet far-reaching change was made against the background of the tensions with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and the struggle to define prayer norms at the Western Wall, and paves the way for the state to exclude international Jewish sectors from the process. The supporters of the bill claimed that one of its pillars was providing a legal-constitutional status to the connection of the State of Israel with Jews in the Diaspora, yet what has emerged is precisely the opposite. Instead of strengthening the bridge with the Diaspora, the State of Israel is placing more explosives beneath it, which are one day certain to destroy it.  
Comment by Gil Hoffman:
The old version of the bill said that: “The state will take action to maintain the connection between the state and the Jewish people wherever they are.” 
The new version released Monday replaced “wherever they are” with “in the Diaspora.” 
UTJ MK Uri Maklev told The Jerusalem Post that he requested the change, because he did not want the state to help Diaspora Jews advance religious pluralism in Israel in general and at the Western Wall in particular.
7. The state views Jewish settlement as a national value and will labor to encourage and promote its establishment and development.

Editorial by the Jerusalem Post:
In reality, the state combines aspects of all of the streams of Zionism which built it. It enshrines privileges to Orthodox Judaism. It has hundreds of communities that openly discriminate based on religious and national factors. The education system offers several streams to citizens but in essence segregates them into separate Arab and Jewish systems, and within the Jewish system into different religious streams. It is a compromise state in this respect. No one would mistake the State of Israel for anything but the nation state of the Jewish people. 
But right-wing religious parties fear that these aspects of the state could be eroded in the future and want them anchored in law. “Those who do not know how to defend Israel as a Jewish state in a practical way should return their keys and go home,” MK Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich said on Sunday, criticizing Netanyahu’s attempt at compromise. Aymen Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, argued Saturday that it was important to raise a hand against creeping “fascism” in the country.

Since a Supreme Court case in 2000 brought by Adel and Iman Kaadan, discrimination against Arabs seeking to move to or join Jewish cooperative settlements has ostensibly been against the law. But the ruling didn’t bring the equality that rights activists thought it would. The NGO Adalah was still fighting cases in 2016 against the Israel Lands Authority regarding a company’s refusal to sell homes to Arab Israelis. Most recently, protests were held in Kfar Vradim and Afula after plots there were sold to Arabs. 
This points to widespread de facto discrimination and segregation between communities. Some of this segregation is put down to the fact that different communities self-segregate. But rights activists have asked why, for instance, Negev Beduin were not permitted by the state to build communal settlements on state land the way kibbutzim or moshavim were over the last 70 years. Opposition to the nation-state bill and compromises therefore only address part of the elephant in the room. Arab and Jewish citizens should not have to go to court to move to a community. In a community near Sderot discrimination against Mizrahi residents forced them to seek legal redress to move in. Ethiopian Jews have faced hurdles in access to housing. 
Struggling against segregation is not just about one law. It is about the larger struggle for coexistence and having more contact between Israel’s numerous diverse communities. The discussion of the nation-state bill should give impetus to a discussion about how we can bridge gaps in society and coexist. The state is a Jewish state, but in its soul it is also a state where coexistence should be a powerful value underpinning its strength in a region where intolerance too often dominates. 
8. The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the secular calendar will serve as an official calendar. The usage of the Hebrew calendar and of the secular calendar will be determined by law.

9. National Holidays
a) Independence Day is the official holiday of the state.
b) The Memorial Day for those who fell in the wars of Israel and the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and heroism are official memorial days of the state.  

10. Saturday and the Jewish Holidays are the official days of rest in the state. Those who are not Jewish have the right to honor their days of rest and their holidays. Details concerning these matters will be determined by law.

RL: sections 8-10 have already been in practice for many years.

11. This Basic Law may not be altered except by a Basic Law that gained the approval of the majority of the Knesset members.

Zachary Braiterman's conclusion:
What the Jewish Ethno-State Law is supposed to fend off is that final reckoning when Jews become a minority in the entire territories under sovereign Israeli political and military control. This is an opening gambit to annexing the West Bank, or large parts of the West Bank, and keeping West Bank Palestinians disenfranchised non-citizens in an apartheid-like polity. One day, Israel will have to make a choice between Jewishness and democracy, absent a Jewish majority. This law stacks the deck in advance. In the Jewish majority running roughshod over the Palestinian minority who are citizens of Israel, the way is opened for Israel to continue controlling and even annexing the West Bank while safeguarding what will one day be Jewish minority rule in the total area comprising Israel and the West Bank.

Where are the children?

Where are the children, and why haven't they been reunited with their parents yet?
The Trump administration said in a court filing late Thursday that it has reunified 364 of more than 2,500 migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border, just one week out from a court-ordered deadline. 
Of 1,607 parents eligible to be reunited with their children, the filing said, 719 have final orders of deportation, meaning they could be removed from the country as soon as they are reunited. Those parents may have to choose between bringing their child back to a violent country or leaving them behind in the care of the government, nonprofits, foster families or relatives in order to seek asylum in the United States. 
“That’s a pretty horrifying statistic,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, Executive Director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center, of the 719 figure. “We have had such limited communication with parents it was difficult to know where they were in their case.”  
Toczylowski said the number was “way higher than I thought,” and said attorneys would need to immediately make contact with reunited families to advise them on potential legal avenues to stay in the United States.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Holocaust deniers try to disrupt conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust

In March 17 and 18, I went to a conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust that was held at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. It was very interesting, and I've been meaning to write up my impressions, but haven't gotten to it it.

The conference was disrupted a couple of times by a Mennonite denier of the Holocaust named Bruce Leichty, who was finally kicked off campus by the local police. He attempted to speak a couple of times during the question and answer period after the academic presentations, but was told to leave by the conference organizers.

Update: Lisa Schirch, in a contribution to the blog Anabaptist Historians, describes one of the incidents when Leichty attempted to disrupt the conference:
A Mennonite holocaust denier, Bruce Leichty, attended parts of the conference. Leichty is a California-based lawyer known for representing the Holocaust deniers Ernst Zundel and his Mennonite wife Ingrid Rimland Zundel. Leichty has passed out anti-semitic literature at the past several MCUSA gatherings. At the introduction of the conference, the organizers told the audience there was someone attending the conference who they were watching. But many were not in the room or did not understand what was being said. When Leichty began to ask an offensive question during the conference, the organizers removed him by calling campus security, but did not inform the audience of who the man was or why he was being removed. The lack of communication confused many in the audience.
Two of his compatriots in Holocaust denial, who are affiliated with the antisemitic group Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), also went to North Newton - Daniel A. McGowan, emeritus professor of economics at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and Henry Herskovitz, who leads a weekly vigil outside a synagogue in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I saw and heard Leichty, but didn't see McGowan or Herskovitz, but apparently Herskowitz was hanging around the auditorium where the conference was held and he was also told to leave campus by the police. Herskovitz wrote up his reaction on his blog, hosted on the DYR website, where he wrote that Leichty was arrested and held by the local police for a number of hours. His arrest is recounted in an article posted on a Holocaust denial website, which I will not link to.

Herskovitz says that he and McGowan intended to give a kind of counter-talk outside the conference at a at a local meeting hall, called "Two Revisionist Jews Consider the Holocaust," and Leichty tried to hand out flyers about this meeting to the people at the conference. In all the reading I've done by and about McGowan, I've never seen the claim that he himself is Jewish, so I'm not sure where the title comes from. [I just looked again at Herskovitz's post, and he provides a link to a farcical document where he and Paul Eisen declare McGowan to be a Jew; Eisen is a co-founder of DYR].

The conference itself was very moving to me as an outsider, because so many of the Mennonite speakers and attendees were obviously troubled by the fraught history of Mennonites during the Holocaust. Mennonites were not persecuted by the Nazi regime, and in some places (Germany, Poland, and Ukraine) some collaborated with the Nazis, even to the extent of being part of one of the Einsatzgruppen (in Ukraine) - the Nazi killing squads that targeted Jews. Some Mennonites did try to protect and hide Jews, but most did not (as most European Christians did not). One of the talks was about Mennonites in the Netherlands who did work to rescue Jews.

Given the pained sincerity of most of the participants in the conference, it was really a violation to have Leichty appear and attempt to disrupt these difficult conversations with his crude and obtuse attacks upon historical truth. It is a pity that he and the other two deniers decided to push their agenda at such an important conference.

Update: Leichty apparently has a long history of pushing his antisemitic and Holocaust denial views among Mennonites. Vic Rosenthal, writing in Fresno Zionist in 2007, describes a talk organized by Leichty in a local Mennonite church. The speaker was Ingrid Rimland Zündel, wife of Ernst Zündel, who was imprisoned in Germany for Holocaust denial. The pastor of the church himself did not want Rimland Zündel to speak, and passed out flyers to try to dissuade people from going in and listening to her.

Leichty is a problematic figure who has defended a number of Holocaust deniers, including Ernst Zundel, who is imprisoned in Germany for denying the Holocaust. Leichty also represented 9-11 widow Ellen Mariani in lawsuits against various entities she held accountable for her husband’s death. In motion papers, Leichty apparently used research from Bollyn to make spurious accusations against a Jewish judge on the case. In May 2012, the United States Court of Appeals sanctioned Leichty and Mariani for making frivolous arguments before the court and also highlighted the anti-Semitism reflected in the papers filed by Leichty.
Leichty is also a believer in other conspiracy theories, including those about the 9/11 attacks. He belongs to a group called "Lawyers for 9/11 Truth."

Leichty's antisemitism also showed up in a lawsuit he brought on behalf of a widow of a man who died in the 9/11 attacks: 9-11 Widow and Lawyer Sanctioned for Raw and Ugly Antisemitism. For a more objective report, see the New York Times article: Court Penalizes a Lawyer Over Slurs in a 9/11 Filing

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Ages of Our Unfolding Disaster (Josh Marshall)

Josh Marshall at TPM analyzes this photo from the G-7 meeting in Canada that just ended in chaotic disaster, in an article titled A Photo for the Ages of Our Unfolding Disaster.

Trump is at the right, facing Angela Merkel across the table. Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan faces us. To the right of Trump is John Bolton, National Security Advisor. To the left of Merkel, Theresa May is hidden by Larry Kudlow (head of the National Economic Council) and President Macron of France. To Trump's left, but out of this photo, is Justin Trudeau of Canada. If you click on the title of the article, above, you can see several other photos of the same scene that show that many other people were at this encounter. This photo was taken by Jesco Denzel, a German government photographer from Chancellor Merkel's office.

This disastrous meeting, which has just ended, is only the latest sign that President Trump is trying to destroy the foundations of the post-WWII order.

In another article, Marshall writes:
Over the course of 16+ months, President Trump has acted consistently and with some success to destabilize and break up the western alliance (both its formal manifestation in NATO) but also its less formal dimensions in trade and other partnerships. He has also worked consistently on really every front to advance the interests of Russia.
Less obviously to many Americans, he’s been doing something similar in East Asia. The U.S. alliance with Japan and South Korea, which in recent years we’ve taken steps to extend to other states on the periphery of the East Asian landmass (which is basically to say, China) is not simply to protect against North Korea. It is to build a series of security relationships with countries on that periphery to act as a counterweight to the regional (perhaps world) great power, China. Allies in the region are closely watching President Trump’s apparent desire to remove U.S. troops from South Korea for that reason, among others. [RL: In my opinion, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was trying to do the same thing in the economic realm - which is why I supported it (probably all of my friends would disagree with me on this point). Trump, of course, cancelled it once he came into office. TPP did come into existence among all of the other Asian trade partners, without our participation].
The last twenty four hours of attacks on our closest allies capped by President Trump’s seemingly out of the blue demand to bring Russia back into the G-7 (making it again the G-8 which it was for most of the post-Cold War era until Russia was expelled over the annexation of Crimea) simply brings the matter into a newly sharp relief. [RL: Russia is now trying to get Austria to organize a summit this summer between Putin and Trump].
Marshall then writes, "If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilize all U.S. security and trade alliances (especially NATO, which has been Russia’s primary strategic goal for 70 years) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done."

I know people have been saying this for months and months, but it is still astonishing to me to see that an American president, sworn to uphold the American Constitution, sworn to defend the United States against our enemies, has sold our country to the Russian government - a dictatorship led by Vladimir Putin. It is still more astonishing to know that it is a Republican president who has done this, with very little protest or pushback from the Republican Party - the party that ran for many years on a virulently anti-Russia and anti-communist platform. 

Just remember Richard Nixon, who defeated his opponents in his races for Congress and the Senate by red-baiting them. Remember his support for Joseph McCarthy.

Just remember Ronald Reagan (who supported Nixon's opponent in his successful run for Senate), labeled the Soviet Union the "evil empire." (Of course, he ended up making landmark arms reductions agreements with the Soviets in his second term, but he was always an anti-communist).

Would either of these iconic Republican presidents ever have considered turning their backs on the Western alliance and showing deference to a Russian president who had once been part of the KGB? Of course not!

There are still Republicans in the House and Senate who remember the days of Ronald Reagan (at least) and the Cold War. Why do they not rise up and protest when an American president kowtows to the Russian president and turns his back on our allies? Were they suborned by Russian support in their most recent election campaigns? Or are they simply afraid and have decided to bow down to our mini-Putin wannabe in hopes that they can stay in office and escape the wrath of Trump's supposed base?

If someone had predicted the process of Trump's betrayal of the United States to Russia in a novel published in 2016, no publisher would have printed it - it would have been too incredible. But it's not.

I kind of feel like we're living through the first part of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America - the first part, when Charles Lindbergh is elected instead of Roosevelt in 1940, decides to support Germany instead of Britain, and implements a wide variety of anti-Jewish measures in the US. Of course, in the novel, a deus ex machina saves the US (and its Jews) from Lindbergh and the Nazis, and leads events back to the timeline that unfolded in our reality. What will be the deus ex machina that will save us from our current reality and lead us back to the timeline of sanity?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Three Myths about Gaza

I'm getting infuriated by what I'm reading about Gaza by so many people who are pro-Israel: 1) that Israeli no longer occupies Gaza and has no responsibility for what happens there; 2) that Gazans chose Hamas to rule them in 2006 and that they should lie in the bed they made; and 3) that Gazans are solely to blame for the miserable state of their economy. None of these claims are true. 

Trudy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Enquirer, explains why they are not true.

She begins:
Two million Gazans, imprisoned in a tiny strip of land with a collapsed economy, see no political and economic future. They are trapped between a reckless Hamas, a feckless Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, and an Israeli government that ignores them except for military action. Add to that a blinkered White House that pours fuel on dry tinder. 
Rather than face facts – and address Gaza’s economic ills – Jerusalem and Washington promote convenient myths that absolve themselves from responsibility. If both governments continue down that blind path, the violence in Gaza will explode again with huge costs to Israel as well.
Her response to Myth #1, that Israel no longer occupies Gaza:
In reality, Israel has retained control of Gaza’s border, air space, and sea coast, except for one outlet into a remote area of Egypt. Thus Israel entirely controls Gazan imports and exports, its coastal fishing, along with its supply of electricity. It also controls all movement in and out of Gaza. Since Hamas took control, Israel has mostly bottled up Gaza’s population while border closures strangle its industry and agriculture.
Her response to Myth #2, that Gazans chose Hamas to rule them and therefore should shut up about their problems:
As for the 2006 elections, which the Bush administration urged on a reluctant Palestinian leadership, polls showed that the main reasons a plurality of Palestinians voted for Hamas were not its ideology. Rather, they were frustrated that the then-ruling Fatah party was corrupt and hadn’t delivered a promised two-state diplomatic solution. 
Moreover, in 2007, the Bush administration encouraged Fatah to retake control of Gaza by force, but Fatah lost the battle to Hamas. Thus Washington shares the blame for Hamas’ total control of the strip.
Her response to Myth #3, that Gazans are entirely responsible for their own economic misery:
But the most pernicious Myth, number Three, posits that Palestinians are sole authors of their economic misery. The prime example given is the case of greenhouses turned over by Israeli settlers when they quit Gaza in 2005 (they demolished half of the greenhouses and stripped the rest before leaving). The remaining greenhouses were refurbished with $14 million by Jewish American donors, but were supposedly destroyed by Palestinians immediately upon the settlers’ exit.

Yes, there was looting, but the Palestinian Authority quickly refurbished the greenhouses, which were soon brimming with crops of sweet peppers, tomatoes, and herbs worth $20 million. The Palestinians’ then-finance minister Salam Fayyad even gave Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a gift of peppers on her birthday in mid-November 2005, and the greenhouses exported 8 tons of them in mid-December.
What actually destroyed the greenhouse initiative were Israel’s restrictions on Gazan exports at the Karni border crossing. You can read about this in the memoir of Australian Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, a former World Bank head and special envoy for Gaza disengagement, who contributed $500,000 to the greenhouse project.

“In early December [2005],” he wrote, “the much-awaited first harvest began … but their success relied on the Karni crossing … which was closed more often than not.
“Everything was rotting. … If you went to the border and saw tomatoes and fruit just being dumped on the side of the road, you would have to say that if you were a Palestinian farmer you’d be pretty upset.” 
Fast-forward to now. For more than a dozen years, border crossings have opened only sporadically. Industry and agriculture in Gaza has collapsed. Unemployment of 15- to 29-year-olds is 60 percent. Electricity is sporadic (Gazans can’t pay), water polluted, medicines scarce. 
To make matters worse, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which still pays many salaries in Gaza, cut back the money when an effort at reconciliation with Hamas failed.

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Rujm al-Hiri (Galgal Refaim) in the Golan Heights

Credit: By ​Assaf Tzaddik, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Credit: Haaretz.
From Haaretz article, Morbid Theory in Mystery of Israel's Answer to Stonehenge:
Rujm al-Hiri's unremarkable appearance from the ground belies its striking form when seen from the air: It consists of four circles — the outermost more than 500 feet across — made up of an estimated 42,000 tons of basalt stone, the remains of massive walls that experts believe once rose as much as high as 30 feet. It is an enormous feat of construction carried out 6000 years ago by a society about which little is known.

It seems likely that Rujm al-Hiri served residents of excavated villages nearby that were part of the same agrarian civilization that existed in the Holy Land in the Chalcolithic period, between 4500 and 3500 B.C. This predates the arrival of the Israelites as described in the Bible by as much as three millennia....

Most scholars have identified Rujm al-Hiri as some kind of ritual center, with some believing it connected to astronomical calculations. Archaeologist Yonathan Mizrahi, one of the first to excavate there, found that to someone standing in the very center of the circles on the morning of the summer solstice in 3000 B.C., "the first gleam of sunrise would appear at the center of the northeast entryway in the outer wall."...

[Mike] Freikman's excavations have yielded almost no material remains of the kind that are common at most archaeological sites, he said. That is significant, however, as it confirms that the site was never lived in and was thus not a defensive position or a residential quarter but most likely a ritual center of some kind — possibly, he said, one indeed linked to a cult of the dead.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

My grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses

Mark Falcon Lesses and Helen Rosenman Lesses
My brother Richard, the genealogist in the family, just uploaded my grandfather's obituary. He was born on May 15, 1903 and died on April 6, 1965. He was a doctor, and published extensively in several areas of medicine.
Dr. Lesses, Blood Bank Authority, 61 
Dr. Mark Falcon Lesses, 61, of 63 Hancock Ave., Newton Centre, internationally known authority on blood banks, died yesterday in Massachusetts General Hospital. 
An internist and endocrinologist, he was a graduate of Harvard College, class of 1922, and Harvard Medical School in 1926. He was an instructor at Harvard Medical and a lecturer at Simmons College. 
Dr. Lesses was chief of the blood bank at Beth Israel Hospital and was noted for his work in blood transfusions and blood banks. He was vice president of the American Association of Blood Banks and was an editor of "Transfusion," the journal of the association. 
He was the author of a comprehensive study of diseases of the thyroid gland published by Oxford Medical Publications. 
He was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Phi Beta Kappa and Alpha Omega Alpha. 
He leaves his wife, Helen (Rosenman); two sons, ....; a sister, Mrs. Gertrude Bloomberg; and a brother, Harrison, both of Swampscott. 
Memorial services will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, Brookline.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Israel vs. Iran?

When I was in Israel in the spring of 2012, on sabbatical, there was lots of war talk between Israel and Iran, but nothing happened. I even wrote a short blog post on the question of when to plan the European vacation, wishing to be notified ahead of time when I should visit Europe to avoid the Iranian counterattack if Israel bombed the Iranian nuclear facilities. Well, today it sounds like there actually will be an Iranian attack on Israel, in retaliation for several recent Israeli attacks on Iranian weapons depots in Syria.

According to Haaretz, just now:
Also Tuesday, the Israeli ordered communities in the northern Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, to open shelters to the public after identifying "unusual movements" of Iranian forces in Syria, the military said in a statement.

The Israeli army believes Iran is making efforts to carry out an imminent retaliation against Israel. Intelligence officers and other specialized forces have been called up, though reserve combat units have not been drafted.

CNN reported that Pentagon officials are concerned about signs that Iran might be preparing a military strike against Israel from Syria.

Israeli military bases were preparing for a possible Iranian attack.

Israel believes Iran is determined to retaliate for the April 9 airstrike on Syria’s T4 airbase, which killed seven Iranian military advisers and members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Iran blames Israel for this attack. 
The military said any Iranian strike against Israel will be met with a severe response, even as the working assumption is that Iran is has limited capabilities to engage in conflict with Israel. 
Earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Israel issued an alert warning all U.S. government employees not travel to the Golan Heights unless they obtain an approval in advance. "Due to the recent tensions in the region, until further notice, U.S. government employees are required to obtain advance approval if they wish to travel to the Golan Heights," the warning on the website read. 
For more details on the opening of bomb shelters in northern Israel, see this Ynet article:,7340,L-5255105,00.html
The IDF went on high alert for a possible flare-up with neighboring Syria on Tuesday as US President Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. 
The IDF said that, after identifying "irregular activity" by Iranian forces in Syria, it instructed civic authorities on the Golan Heights to ready bomb shelters, deployed new defenses and mobilized some reservist forces. 
The order to prepare bomb shelters on the Golan was unprecedented during Syria's civil war. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

"In recent years, we've been making preparations in coordination with the IDF and the Home Front Command so we could deal with escalation in the Golan area in the best possible way," said the head of the Golan Regional Council Eli Malka. "We've been witnessing the very significant preparations the IDF has been doing all over the Golan, and we're confident the IDF could provide a proper response and defend the residents of the Golan and the State of Israel.
In addition to the Golan, mayors in other northern communities ordered the opening of bomb shelters.

In Safed, while receiving no specific instructions from the IDF on the matter, the mayor decided to open public shelters to help residents feel more secure.

"The public is being asked to ensure the shelters in residential buildings are accessible, clean and aired-out," a message to Safed residents said.

The mayor of Karmiel got no special instructions from the military either, but nevertheless decided to open public shelters as well.

Israel has posted Iron Dome short-range air missile defenses on the Golan, suggesting that the anticipated attack could be by ground-to-ground rockets or mortars.
Also, Israel apparently just carried out airstrikes in Syria, south of Damascus.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Yom ha-Shoah 2018 - the murder of the Jews of Liepaja, Latvia

Tonight and tomorrow are Yom Ha-Shoah, and this is a post commemorating the deaths of the Jews of Latvia, among whom were my grandfather's uncle, Mordekhai Falkon, and his wife, Dobra Falkon.

A few years ago, I joined a Facebook group for Latvian and Estonian Jews in Israel. One of the latest posts provided a link to a documentary that has been made recently on the murder of the Jews of Latvia. (It is one of several made in the series, "SEARCHING FOR THE UNKNOWN HOLOCAUST").

The documentary, called "Drawers of Memory: The Holocaust in Latvia," interviews Jewish survivors and their non-Jewish neighbors about what happened in 1941, after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and conquered the Baltic states. A very high proportion of the Jews of Latvia were murdered by the Nazis and their Latvian collaborators, mostly by shooting (part of the "Holocaust of Bullets" which was perpetrated by the Einsatzgruppen, the squads of killers that followed the Wehrmacht as it invaded and conquered the western Soviet Union).

If you click on the video, it brings you to the segment on Liepaja (also known as Libau), where my grandfather's uncle, Mordekhai Falkon, lived with his wife Dobra. Mordekhai was probably killed in the summer of 1941, while Dovra probably died at the beach of Skede, north of Liepaja, where thousands of Liepaja Jews were murdered during December 15-17, 1941. The video shows the memorial at Skede, and the beach where people were killed. There are shown some photographs in a book of the Jews at Skede, before, during, and after they were shot. (My assumption is that a Nazi soldier or a Latvian collaborator took the photographs).

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Cave of Hands

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Hugo Odeberg and Nazi Germany (update)

Hugo Odeberg, professor of theology at the University of Lund in Sweden from 1933-1964, is of interest to those who study early Jewish mysticism because in 1928 he published the first edition and translation into English of a Hekhalot text. This is a text known in several of the manuscripts as Sefer Hekhalot, but which he called 3 Enoch, as if it proceeded in a linear fashion from 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch. His publication of Sefer Hekhalot brought the knowledge of this work into the scholarly world, and it continues to be influential up until today in the study of the Hekhalot literature. (Philip Alexander published another English translation of the work in James Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 1, published in 1983. He used Odeberg's critical edition as the basis for his translation). 
Notwithstanding Odeberg's importance for the history of modern scholarship of the Hekhalot literature, I think we need to take another aspect of his career into consideration when we continue to use his work.

In the 1930s Odeberg became a sympathizer with the Nazis, and he worked together with antisemitic German theologians in the later 1930s and 1940s. This aspect of his career is finally being revealed by current research on the involvement of Swedish scholars and theologians in the Nazi movement. Should this influence our use of Odeberg's work in contemporary research on the Hekhalot literature? I think that at the very least it should be mentioned when we cite his research. Odeberg also wrote on the Gospel of John, and his scholarship is still used also by some researchers.

An article by Andreas Åkerlund provides some information on Odeberg’s Nazi sympathies.[1] The article is about another Swedish scholar, Åke Ohlmarks, who founded an institute on the science of religions at the University of Greifswald in 1944. Åkerlund mentions Odeberg because he helped Ohlmarks find a position at the University of Greifswald in Germany.

In 1937, the “Swedish-Germany Society” was founded by “academics who wanted to support the new Germany. Chairman was the professor of theology in Lund, Hugo Odeberg, an expert on Jewish mysticism and, according to himself, a ‘competent antisemite.’”[2] Odeberg had many contacts in Germany, especially with German Christian theologians (who wanted to found Christianity on Nazi racist principles). “Ohlmarks also belonged to a research group on Old Norse religion called ‘Odal’ founded by Odeberg.” Odeberg was also an active member of the “Institut zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben” (Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life”) in Eisenach.[3] Odeberg had also invited another member of the institute to give lectures in Lund in 1941, Wolf Meyer-Erlach, who was a professor of theology in Jena. Odeberg and Meyer-Erlach helped Ohlmarks get a position at Greifswald in 1941.[4]

The article asks the interesting question of “why German theologians aiming to free Christianity from the ‘Jewish impact’ support a scholar specialized in Old Norse religion?”[5] The German Christians “did not see Christianity and National Socialism as opposing forces.” These German Christian theologians used the term “Religionswissenschaft” for their own work, in part to protect theological faculties at universities from plans by the Ministry of Education of the Third Reich to remove them,[6] and also because it “justified an expansion of the theological work field to include pre-Christian, Indo-Aryan, or Germanic religions as well. The academic program of such a voelkish and Christian science of religion was to free Aryan Christianity from all oriental-Jewish influences. In 1938 German Christians were discussing the set-up of an academic institute to carry out this work. The debate led to the ‘Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life” in Eisenach, which opened on May 6, 1939.”[7]

According to Susannah Heschel in, “When Jesus was an Aryan: The Protestant Church and Antisemitism,” the Institute “built an alliance with faculty and students in Scandinavia, led by Hugo Odeberg, a distinguished scholar of Judaica at the University of Lund.”[8] In 1941, the academic director of the Institute, Walter Grundmann, and Meyer-Erlach, “formed a working group Germanentum und Christentum, which brought Scandinavian theologians and writers to participate in two annual conferences in Germany. Odeberg took the initiative among the Scandinavians, inviting thirty academics, students, and writers from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark to lecture at the conferences, which were held in Weissenfels and in Eisenach. Impressed by the high quality of scholarship practiced by Institute members, Odeberg sent seven Scandinavian students to Jena to write doctoral dissertations under Grundmann.”[9] Heschel also writes about the membership of the Institute that “It is worth noting that precisely those scholars who trained in early Judaism during the 1920s became active members in the Institute: Paul Fiebig, Hugo Odeberg, Georg Bertram, and Georg Beer, among others.”[10]

In another article, Heschel reports on a paper presented by Odeberg at one of the Institute’s conferences, in 1942. The topic was whether Jesus’ mother tongue was really a Semitic language.[11]

Sverker Oredsson’s book, Lunds universitet under andra världskriget (Lund University during World War II) also reported on Odeberg’s activities. A notice of the book, published in the “Lund University Reports, No. 6, 1996,” written by Solveig Ståhl, reports of Odeberg in this way: “Hugo Odeberg, however, was Nazi-friendly and never left that position. In 1937, he spoke of the Jewish question in the National Students Club and showed great understanding of the ethnic cleansing that started in Germany. “A nation should not find themselves in an unauthorized Jewish influence.” (This article was accessed on November 8, and the URL is Translation from Swedish provided by Google Translate).

Jesper Svartik presented a paper at the SBL in 2006 on "Hugo Odeberg's Pharisaism and Dejudaized Christianity Anno 1943." An abstract of the presentation can be found on the SBL website. Unfortunately, I only found out about the talk after it had already been given.
Hugo Odeberg's Pharisaism and Dejudaized Christianity Anno 1943  
Program Unit: Bible and Cultural Studies 
Jesper Svartvik, Lund University 
Dr. Hugo Odeberg, Professor of Biblical Studies at Lund University in Sweden 1933-64, wrote in 1943 the notoriously influential book Pharisaism and Christianity. The purpose of the book, which has been translated into Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and English, was to describe the essential difference between two religious types. His book has influenced Jewish-Christian relations in Scandinavia during the last century more than any other theological work. Odeberg has gone down to posterity as a foremost connoisseur of Semitic languages, Jewish texts and Jewish mysticism. Therefore, this book has often been thought of as an objective presentation of the factual difference between “Pharisaism” and Christianity — wie es eigentlich gewesen. However, at the time of his writing this book during the Second World War, Odeberg was the President of a pro-Nazi Swedish-German Society. This paper examines its theology in the light of a number of lectures which Odeberg held at conferences in the Third Reich, published in the series of the Institute zur Erforschung und Beseitigung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben. The paper seeks to demonstrate that Odeberg during the early 1940’s was so heavily engaged in a pro-Nazi construal of a dejudaized Christianity that it must affect our understanding of the book Pharisaism and Christianity. Whereas his political affiliation has been known for some time — although its extent has not been recognized hitherto —, this paper will also expose that Odeberg actually plagiarized a German anthology published in the 1920’s with ancient and modern Jewish sources translated from Aramaic and Hebrew into German. This embarrassing piece of information explains some of the inconsistencies in the book. A critical examination of Pharisaism and Christianity helps us understand the impediments which the study of Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations in Scandinavia are still facing.

This is the relevant portion on Odeberg:
The “forgotten” sympathisants – Odeberg and Stadener 
The case of Hugo Odeberg, who had been a priest in the south of Sweden before he took over the chair of exegetics in Lund after Erling Eidem in 1933, is a good example of how recent research has changed the official picture of a person. Odeberg was an internationally renowned expert on Jewish mysticism and one of the first Swedish theologians to point out the importance of Jewish sources for the understanding of Early Christianity.  
Odeberg showed strong sympathies for the “new Germany” in the late 1930s and early 40s. In 1941 he took over as chairman of the Swedish-German Association, which had been founded in 1937.[12] The association had the outspoken aim to “promote understanding for the new Germany” in Sweden. Odeberg was also founder of a Research Group on Old Norse Religion in Lund called “Odal”, which collaborated with the German “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life" in Eisenach.[13] A member of this institute, the professor of theology in Jena, Wolf Meyer-Erlach, had held lectures at the University of Lund in 1941, invited by Odeberg.  
Odeberg participated in a number of conferences in Nazi Germany during the years 1941-1943 arranged by the institute and also sent some of his doctoral students to study for Meyer-Erlach in Jena. Odeberg also kept in contact with the Pro-Nazi theologian Gerhard Kittel, from “Forschungsabteilung Judenfrage” in Munich which Odeberg also visited.  
Recent investigations have also drawn attention to the strong anti-Semitic bias of Odeberg’s book “Pharisaism and Christianity”, first published in Swedish in 1943 and course literature on the priest seminars of the Swedish Church until the 1970s. The article on Odeberg in the Swedish Biographical Lexica, written by Tryggve Kronholm, professor in Semitic languages at the University of Uppsala, in the early 1990s however, does not mention any of the facts I just mentioned. What it does say is that Odeberg was accused of being a Pro-Nazi Anti-Semite during the war, but that his friendship with a number of Jews “speaks another language”.[14] A conclusion which is not only weak, but obviously a lie considering the facts mentioned above. This is a rhetoric figure with the one and only aim to excuse Odeberg’s Anti-Semitism as well as his work for the Swedish-German Association during the war.
Image of Odeberg was found at In December 2016, the History Department at Uppsala University in  Sweden held a symposium on "A Treason of the Intellectuals? International Scientific and Intellectual Relations with Germany during the Nazi Era."

Selected publications by Odeberg:

3 Enoch, or The Hebrew Book of Enoch. New York: Ktav, 1973 (reprint of the 1928 edition together with a prolegomenon by Jonas B. Greenfield).

The Fourth Gospel: Interpreted in its Relation to Contemporaneous Religious Currents in Palestine and the Hellenistic-Oriental world. Uppsala, 1929.

"Hellenismus und Judentum. Verjudung und Entjudung der antiken Welt," in Die völkische Gestalt des Glaubens, ed. by Walter Grundmann. Liepzig: Georg Wigand, 1943. This was one of the publications of the “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life."

"Die Muttersprache Jesu als wissenschaftliche Aufgabe,” in Walter Grundmann, ed., Germanentum, Christentum, und Judentum: Studien zur Erforschung ihres gegenseitigen Verhältnisses: Sitzungsberichte der dritten Arbeitstagung des Instituts zur Erforschung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben vom 9. bis 11. Juni 1942 in Nürnberg. 3 volumes; Liepzig: Georg Wigand, 1943. Vol. 3, pp. 69-82.

Pharisaism and Christianity. St Louis: Concordia, 1943 (translated from Swedish).

[1] "Åke Ohlmarks in the Third Reich: A Scientific Career Between Adaptation, Cooperation, and Ignorance," pages 553-575 in Horst Junginger, The Study of Religion Under the Impact of Fascism (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
[2] Ibid., 560. Another article, however, says that Odeberg became head of the society only in 1941: Håkan Bengtsson, "Hugo Odeberg, Kännare av Judendom och Nazist?", p. 2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 560-61.
[5] Ibid., 562.
[6] Ibid., 566.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack, eds., In God’s Name: Genocide and Religion in the Twentieth Century (Berghbahn Books, 2001), 84 (79-105).
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., 80.
[11] Susannah Heschel, “Reading Jesus as a Nazi,” p. 30 (27-41), in Tod Linafelt, ed., A Shadow of Glory: Reading the New Testament After the Holocaust (Routledge, 2013).
[12] Oredsson, Sverker, Lunds universitet under andra världskriget. Motsättningar, debatter och hjälpinsatser, Lund 1996, pp. 113.
[13] Heschel, Susannah, “Theologen für Hitler”, in Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz (ed.), Christlicher Antijudaismus und Antisemitismus, Frankfurt am Main 1994, pp. 125-170.
[14] Kronholm, Tryggve, ”Odeberg, Hugo” in: Svenskt biografiskt Lexikon 28, Stockholm 1992-1994, pp. 1-5, p. 2.