Saturday, January 31, 2009

Updated Post on the Israeli election campaign

The Israeli election campaign is in full swing, and election propaganda is a crucial part of it - advertisements from the various parties broadcast after the evening news on television. Jeffrey Goldberg brought my attention to an incredible advertisement for the Israeli Green Leaf party. The party platform aims at legalizing marijuana. They have now decided to take up the cause of Holocaust survivors in Israel. Their election ad combines these two causes:

Update: From the JTA: "Perhaps the most unusual alliance in this year's election is between the Green Leaf Party, which has no seats in the Knesset, and the Pensioners' Party, which has six. Renamed the Holocaust Survivors' and Grown-Up Green Leaf Party, the party's prime issues are legalizing marijuana and pensioners' rights, especially those of Holocaust survivors. One of the party's TV ads shows party head Gil Kopatch smoking a joint at the grave of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion."

Lisa Goldman has also just posted on this bizarre match-up. (She also reports on the much more terrifying prospect that Bibi Netanyahu may be Israel's next prime minister - and as she said, he was the worst Israeli prime minister ever. I was living in Israel for part of that time, and he demonstrated the most amazing incompetence I have seen until the Bush II years in the U.S.)

From the "Holocaust Survivors and Grown-Up Green Leaf Party" website: "The Holocaust Survivors & Grown-Up Green Leaf party is a green, human rights, liberal movement founded in 2008 as a unity of activists from the Green-Leaf party and the Holocaust Survivors movement. Today we running for Knesset for the first time. The ideology we are interested in forwarding is personal freedom, quality of life and decriminalization and legalization of all applications of the cannabis plant. We are a movement of activists that are connected by a common love of Basic Human Freedom. We have no stable source of financial backing and only you can help us realize our vision by giving your personal generous support." Their blog is also entertaining to read and gives the names and biographies of the candidates on the list.

Lisa has also posted the election advertisement for the Hadash Party. Their slogan is "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies." On the evidence of the ad, if I were an Israeli citizen, I would be very inclined to vote for Hadash.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

U.S. campaign for academic boycott of Israel

There is now a U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel, alongside the British one that the UCU was forced to halt because it broke UK anti-discrimination laws. See this article in Inside Higher Ed for information on the campaign. This is in addition to a group called Teachers Against Occupation, which recently formed, and which publicized an open letter to President Obama written by David Lloyd (USC) and signed by about 900 academics. For the text of the letter and the signatories, see article in the Daily Star (Lebanon), also available here.

It's a very dispiriting letter, placing the entire blame on Israel, accusing it of committing "one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times." The last paragraph says that, "Almost certainly, the only hope of a lasting solution is a single state in Israel/Palestine, committed to the civil and human rights of all peoples within its boundaries, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. That is, after all, the standard to which we hold all other states in the world, Israel alone excepted."

What do they mean by a single state - what would happen to the Jews living in this single state once they are a minority in it? How can the Jews of Israel and Hamas live together in a single state without an even worse state of war than the one that exists right now? I'm not defending what Israel has done in Gaza - I think I've made it clear in this blog that I think that Israel should not have attacked Gaza, that negotiations are the only way to peace, that Israel should be talking to Hamas.

A single state is not the way to peace, it is the way to perpetual war. It is the way to worse atrocities than the ones we have just seen committed.

Even more dispiriting to me personally is that I know some of the people who have signed this letter.

Update: Haaretz today (1/29/09) has a good article on this boycott attempt.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Vatican: Comments by Holocaust-denying bishop unacceptable

Now the Vatican has said that comments by the Holocaust-denying bishop were unacceptable.

In a front-page article, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reaffirmed that Pope Benedict XVI deplored all forms of anti-Semitism and that all Roman Catholics must do the same....

The Vatican has stressed that removing the excommunication by no means implied the Vatican shared Williamson's views.

Williamson and three other bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent - a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.

Benedict has made clear from the start of his pontificate that he wanted to reconcile with Lefebvre's traditionalist Society of St. Pius X [SSPX] and bring it back into the Vatican's fold.

Lefebvre had rebelled against the Vatican and founded the society in 1969. He was bitterly opposed to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought liberal reforms to the church.

One of the key documents issued by Vatican II was Nostra Aetate, which said the Church deplored all forms of anti-Semitism. The document revolutionized the Church's relations with Jews.

In the article, L'Osservatore said Benedict and his predecessors had all made clear the Church's teaching on Nostra Aetate in documents, actions and speeches and that its contents are not debatable for Catholics.

"Williamson's statements, broadcast last week in a Swedish state TV interview, contradict this teaching and are thus very serious and regrettable," L'Osservatore said. "While broadcast before the Jan. 21 document lifting the excommunication, they remain unacceptable," it said.

This is good as far as it goes - but what about the anti-semitic opinions of Lefebvre and the SSPX itself? Why does the Pope want to welcome these people back into the church if he is so devoted to fighting against anti-semitism? See these two articles from the SPLC website on the group - the first one is about Williamson, and the second one is about the SSPX. The SSPX is itself a thoroughly anti-semitic group.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bad news for Catholic-Jewish relations

Pope Benedict has just let back into the church four bishops who were excommunicated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. The French bishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated them and then he and the four bishops were immediately excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for defying his authority. The Society of St. Pius X, to which they belong, denies the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council, which made Catholic-Jewish reconciliation possible when it absolved the Jewish people of the charge of deicide and denounced anti-semitism with these words: “The Church deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.”

One of these bishops is a man named Richard Williamson, who denies that the Holocaust occurred and believes in the truth of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

As Ruth Gledhill (Times of London) says:
If Benedict XVI goes ahead with lifting the excommunication in spite of Bishop Williamson’s comments, that will in turn wreak havoc on more than 40 years of attempts to rebuild relations with the Jewish community after nearly two millennia of Christian anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust.

The damage will be doubled, coming as it will on top of the Pope’s revival of the Tridentine Mass last year with its Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews.
She also says:
If he brings them back in with Williamson on board, then truly it will be a disaster. Vatican II might as well never have happened and it won't just be the Jewish community that would be justifiably disgusted. For many thousands of lay Catholics the world over, this could be the final proof that what the atheist bus campaign suggested was true: 'There probably is no God.' At least not the God that Williamson and his like believe in. Who could blame them, then, if they put traditionalist Catholic guilt aside, and get on and enjoy their lives.
Andrew Sullivan's response: "I am truly, deeply ashamed of my church for this action and hope this provokes such an outcry it is reversed. These are not the words of Christ. They are the words of evil."

An article in Der Spiegel outlines what Williamson has said and what the Society of St. Pius X has done. (Translation from
Problem for the Pope

A bishop of the Society of Pope St Pius X denies the holocaust.

Anti-semitic tendencies lead to tension between German Catholics and the Central Council for Jews in Germany.

The history of the Catholic Church is also the history of separations from her, of heresy and of error. When the religious deviationists win many supporters, they can be considered, like the Protestants, a church and when rather they remain among themselves, they can be considered as a sect.

Presently, one of the most important splits in the Catholic religious universe is an association of priests, which takes its name from an especially pious Pope, named “The Society of Saint Pius X”. The group founded in 1970 by the conservative and later excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre celebrates the Mass in Latin to this day, holds confession in high honour and fights in general things which conform to “an anti-Christian consumer and fun-fuelled society”.

The fundamentalists are thoroughly successful in conversion work. Just in Germany, they have about 10000 supporters and worldwide dependent operations in over thirty countries. In more than fifty places in Germany they have a church or at least a chapel. “We are the tip of the spear against the further destruction of Church and society” says the German district superior, Father Franz Schmidberger, convinced by himself.

The reality is that the Society is so subversive that the top of the Vatican recently tried to bring them back into the womb of the Church. Since Pope Benedict XVI invited the General Superior of the Society, Bernard Fellay and his German representative Schmidberger to his summer residence in Castelgandolfo a great shuttle diplomacy has been set in train.

As a sign of a great coming together, the Pope has given the word for Mass in the old Rite, which is again more often than in the past possible in the Catholic Church without the need to obtain special permission for a service in Latin. The Society sees the majority of the Sacraments which they dispense such as baptism, confirmation, Mass, Last Rites and also priestly orders as recognised by Rome. In May of last year, the Vatican published a clarification that the Society is being courted by the Vatican.

All was going along a good path, but now a problem has surfaced. The tip of the Catholic traditionalist spear is not only pious, it is in parts also antisemitic. This makes the change brought about by the rapprochement also into a problem for the German Bishops’ Conference and, at the same time, for the German Pope himself, who in May will make his first visit to Israel in order to push ahead reconciliation between Christians and Jews.

The antisemitism of the leadership of the Society of Pope St Pius X showed itself to the representatives of the Pope just before Christmas, when the District Head Father Schmidberger sent a circular letter to all 27 bishops, in which he took the position, “The Jews of our day.....share in the guilt of deicide so long as they don’t distance themselves from their forefathers through belief in the divinity of Christ and baptism”.

After this statement, there has been tension between the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Bishops Conference.

Dieter Graumann, Vice President of the Council sees the letter as propagating the “worst clichés against Jews” and asked the Bishops to distance themselves or to find a clear position statement. So far only the Hamburg Bishop, Hans-Jochen Jaschke has made use of the opportunity to answer publicly and that was in the form of a reprimand: Graumann probably does not know that the Catholic Church has nothing to do with the Society of Pope St Pius X, whereby every criticism of the Vatican and her representatives is irresponsible.

Schmidberger rejects the complaint, “These are only religious propositions.” For those knowledgeable in the matter, the anti-Jewish excursions are however no surprise, reservations about Jews having a long history in the Catholic Church and considered only to have been overcome since the Second Vatican Council in the middle of the sixties. The Society with its rejection of all fashionable innovations are also inheritors of this tradition. Exactly their fundamentalist convictions make them attractive to certain sorts of people, which is significant for the willingness of these people to donate money for the building of new churches.

Money flows because the Society does not only pray and talk, they are also prepared to fight for their case on Germany’s streets. Recently they could be found with demonstrators in front of the House of Art in Munich to protest against a “blasphemous exhibition”- which included a crucified frog. During the Christopher Street Day in Stuttgart, their supporters stood on the side of the street armed with rosaries, murmuring prayers against the alleged vice.

A particularly enthusiastic representative of the Society is Bishop Richard Williamson, born in Great Britain, who was commissioned by the founder, Archbishop Lefebrve when the latter was near death to continue the life’s work of the Archbishop. Williamson is frequently in Germany in order to push ahead with this development. In consequence, the next generation lies close to his heart, that will be introduced into the so-called crusader camps. “Life as we know it is coming to an end,” he said a short while ago in a talk to confirmation candidates. “Martyrdom is perhaps coming. Perhaps our blood will be necessary to bring about the cleansing of the Catholic Church.”

An event which took place on the sidelines of a deaconing at the end of last year on All Saints Day can only severely damage the in any case tense relations between Catholics and Jews. Williamson travelled to Zaitkofen where the Society operate a seminary in a small baroque castle to make a Swedish convert, Sten Sandmark into a deacon of the Society. As his departure from the Protestant church was taken as a scandal in the far north, a Stockholm TV reporter Ali Fagan was there. After the deaconing, they both placed themselves in the chapel for an interview in front of the camera

Talk turned to the Nazis. One sees in the film Williamson breathing in and then says he does not believe six million Jews to have been gassed.

To the surprised counter-question “Were there no gas chambers?” “I believe there were no gas chambers, yes.” In the matter of the Holocaust, he associated himself with the “revisionists” who believe that “two to three hundred thousand Jews died in Nazi concentration camps. But none of them died as a result of gas in gas chambers.”

Then the cleric talked much about technically unsuitable chimney heights and unsuitable, as they could not be sealed, doors which can still be seen by tourists in Auschwitz. “If this is not anti-semitism,” added the interviewer, “what is it then?”

Bishop Williamson, “If anti-semitism is bad, it is against the truth. When something is true, it is not bad. I am not interested in the word anti-semitism”.

SVT1 will show the one hour long documentary film on Wednesday this week on the programme “Uppdrag granskning” - “The Task of Checking” and it will also be available on the internet.

The Central Council is now going to examine whether a legal case be possible as denial of the holocaust is a crime in Germany.

Graumann is also awaiting a clear statement from the German Bishops Conference, in the context of the Papal visit to Israel.

“They who cannot or do not wish to distance themselves, make themselves complicit.”
More on Williamson at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gila Svirsky - co-chair of B'Tselem

Gila Svirsky, co-chair of B'Tselem, sent out this e-mail yesterday:

I was listening to the radio interview of two teens from the south of Israel, both of whom had been living under intolerable conditions for several weeks, caught in the crossfire of the adults.

“Oh my family never watches the foreign TV stations,” said one. “They’re not as accurate as the Israeli news.”

“My father forbids it,” said the other. “It could be demoralizing.”

Yes, indeed, it could be demoralizing. If you don’t watch the “foreign channels” – CNN, the BBC, or Sky News, let alone al-Jazeera – you don’t hear the (other) half of what is happening. You never heard, for example, that

al-Quds Hospital in Gaza took a direct hit yesterday; or that

UNRWA notified the IDF that a shell had struck their storage facility (food, medicine, and fuel), but that the IDF fired six more shells after that; or that

children were found cowering in their home near the dead bodies of their parents, probably for days, as ambulances could not reach them, despite strict international laws about the free movement of medical crews.

But Israelis hear only the Israeli news. So what does my neighbor say to me yesterday? “Israel has the most moral army in the world. What other army would drop leaflets warning civilians to leave so they won’t be hurt by shelling?”

Well, the answer is: many countries. It’s a common propaganda tool. Here’s an excerpt from a leaflet dropped by the US into Japan during World War II:

“The weapons used by the Japanese military authorities in order to extend this hopeless war will be completely destroyed by the US Air Force. However, bombs cannot see, so we do not know where they will land. As you know, we Americans are a humanitarian people and we do not want to injure innocent people. Therefore, please evacuate these cities."

And here’s an excerpt of one dropped by Israel into Gaza a few days ago:

"As a result of the acts undertaken by terrorists in your area against Israel, the IDF is forced to respond immediately and take action in this area. For your own safety, you are asked to leave the area immediately."

Needless to say, there is nowhere to go. Gaza is a tiny area – 10% the size of Rhode Island – densely occupied, and all the borders are sealed shut.

But Israelis are still repeating the mantra that turns my stomach: The IDF is the most moral army in the world.

Throughout these horrific weeks, the most carefully documented reports inside Israel of what is and what isn’t actually happening have been those of the human right organizations. You can see a combined blog of these organizations at You know there have been serious human rights abuses when eleven organizations come together to do something. B’Tselem even took the unprecedented step of issuing a call for a cease fire. All have done important work in getting the message out to Israelis.

Last but not least, the peace organizations continue raising their brave and lonely voices to the ongoing vilification of patriotic passersby and motorists. Here’s what I wrote on my sign yesterday: “We have become our own worst nightmare.” Most passersby didn’t get it.

Gila Svirsky

Co-chair, B’Tselem

Leah Shakdiel in house arrest

I just received this letter on the Israel Feminist Forum list. What Leah recounts is truly shocking - I have never heard of this kind of behavior towards totally peaceful Israeli Jewish protesters before.

A Letter from Leah Shakdiel

Until Sunday night, and please don't worry I am fine and even strengthened politically. I participated twice in protest watches in Beer Sheva (standing with signs with no microphone is legal and does not require police permit by law but the police of course does not know this). I carried a sign in Arabic "In Gaza and Sderot children deserve to live" and near me someone carried a sign in Hebrew that said, "Stop, hold fire, talk". The group Darom4peace ["South for Peace"] is that wishy-washy, yes, very middle of the road we thought, no extreme left, no accusation of Israeli govt or army, not even "peace now" type of thing.

Yet the police these dark days are apparently instructed to play an active role in boosting public morale and national unity, so they jumped into our midst literally and grabbed six of us on Wednesday into their cars etc. Four univ students, myself, and Nir Oren, the director of an NGO called The Parents Circle (look it up on the net), or in Hebrew, Forum Mishpahot Shakulot, Israeli and Palestinian families who lost a family member in the conflict and work together towards peace. Nir's own mother was killed in a suicide bombing of a bus in 1995. It turned out that one of the arrested students also lost his father in a terrorist attack several years ago and showed a great interest in joining the circle.

So now I am in house arrest for a few days, am not allowed into Beer Sheva for two weeks (my students will probably come to Yeruham instead), and we face trial on January 28. This is totally silly as Israel already has a landmark Supreme Court ruling from 1953 on freedom of speech (Bagatz Kol haÁm) but it does drive the message home that only traitors resist killing for their own group.

No one is surprised that the police wrongly thought we were breaking the law, disobeying the police, rioting (???!!!) and disturbing public peace (Orwellian enough, if you wish to disturb the war you actually disturb peace because war is peace, i.e. consensual, and we are controversial).

What is surprising and I think worrisome is the silence of the press on all this in a country where there is freedom of the press, i.e. it is self imposed censorship. Many journalists called, were there at the watch, took pictures and interviewed, telephoned later, promised to come to the court, and nada, not a word, no coverage published. So Israel crossed the line from self-defense to war crimes in my opinion the minute it refused to cease fire when Hamas requested it. We shall not give in. Arrests only radicalizes politically, but I am holding my ground and I still refute the reasoning of the extreme left ("Israel is fascist") or the extreme right: ("a nation state cannot be democratic").

Leah Shakdiel, Yeruham, Israel, and Shabbat shalom, no computer until tomorrow night

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Israel Declares Cease Fire

Israel Declares Cease Fire - this is certainly welcome, but what does it mean? If there's no agreement between Hamas and Israel for a truce, then how can Israel's declaring that it will stop attacking result in anything except a temporary respite? Hamas doesn't have any reason to stop firing rockets if they haven't made an agreement with Israel to stop doing so. Or does this mean that Israel will remain in parts of Gaza? I'm confused.

Haaretz editorial on the ceasefire - "A cease-fire, albeit a unilateral one, is a necessary condition, though it is certainly insufficient for a stable, long-term arrangement in Gaza. It would behoove the government not to flinch from its decision to end Operation Cast Lead immediately and act to change relations with the Palestinians. After the hard blows Israel has inflicted, the time has come to aid the Palestinian population in both the West Bank and Gaza, and to work toward an agreement with the moderate leadership."

What it means to be pro-Israel

What it means to be pro-Israel by Ezra Klein, in Haaretz.
The American center, thankfully, considers itself resolutely pro-Israel. But it does not agree with Israel's every action. It wants an immediate cease-fire and is only tepidly supportive of Operation Cast Lead. In this, it is well-represented by groups like J Street, which provides a home for those who support the state without justifying its every twitch and gesture. And in this, Israel is well-served by J Street, and by other attempts to broaden its base of supporters rather than narrow the definition of support. It would be deeply unwise to write that perspective, and those supporters, out of the community that can consider itself "pro-Israel." A country that cannot brook criticism cannot have friends. And when Operation Cast Lead ends, Israel will still need friends. Indeed, it may need them more than ever.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Israel must lose" the war against Hamas - UK academics

This is one of the most depressing responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I have seen in decades.

Engage has provided the text and signatories on a petition by UK academics asking that Israel lose its war against Hamas:
Israel must lose. It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.

We believe Israel should immediately and unconditionally end its assault on Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank, and abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders. We call on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

I read through the list, hoping that I wouldn't know any of the people on it personally, but was dismayed to read the names of two of the Israeli "New Historians" - Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim. I would guess that their immediate plans don't include visiting Israel anytime in the near future.

George Orwell, during the Second World War, used to write about pacifists being "objectively pro-fascist," because had they been able to convince enough Britons to agree with them, their advice not to fight would have led to British surrender to Nazi Germany. After the war, if I recall correctly, he apologized for using this rhetoric against the pacifists. After reading this petition, I think it is possible to say that the signers of this petition are both objectively and subjectively pro-Hamas, because by calling for Israel's defeat, what they are really calling for is Hamas's victory. The problem with their call for Israel to "accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours" is that not all of their neighbors agree with this contention, including Hamas.

I do not support this war. Whatever the contentions of Israeli spokespeople, Israel is not doing nearly enough to prevent the killing of civilians or the devastation of their homes and livelihoods. Otherwise over 1,100 people would not have been killed, including a significant number of non-combatant children, women, and men.

But I have no illusions about the peaceful intentions of Hamas. Just today, Khaled Mashall at an Arab meeting in Qatar rejected the latest ceasefire proposal, with these words:
Mashaal sought Arab support in a strongly worded address to the summit, insisting Hamas cannot stop fighting until border crossings into the Gaza Strip are opened. "We will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire," Mashaal told the summit. He said Hamas demands that "the aggression stop," Israeli troops withdraw and crossings into Gaza be opened immediately.

Mashaal insisted that Israel was to blame for the offensive in Gaza, and said that "the enemy turned to the murder of civilians and the destruction after it failed before the resistance." He promised residents of the Strip that "the Israeli aggression" would collapse before their "will and determination."

Mashaal said Hamas refused to renew a 6-month-old truce with Israel that ran out in December because the period of relative calm had not led to an end to the blockade of Gaza. "Did we do wrong, by rejecting a truce that let the blockade continue?" Mashaal said. "Don't the people of Gaza deserve to live free? ... They want to live free without blockade or occupation, just like all the Palestinian people do."

He said Israel wanted to impose their policies in the Strip and that the "resistance organizations" were the only barrier between these policies and the residents. "Please listen to the voice of the resistance," he said. "Don't think that Hamas wants an open war. We are defending our people."

Mashaal asked Arab countries to boycott Israel and cut off any ties with it. "We will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire," Mashaal told the summit. He said Hamas demands that "the aggression stop," Israeli troops withdraw and crossings into Gaza be opened immediately.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Was Jesus a Feminist?

Leonard Swidler has recently published a book arguing that Jesus was a feminist: Jesus Was a Feminist: What the Gospels Reveal about His Revolutionary Perspective. According to a recent review written by Kathleen E. Corley (PDF: book review), he is continuing his old contention that first century Judaism in Palestine was overwhelmingly oppressive to women and that the task of Jesus was to save women from it. "To support this thesis, Swidler reconstructs an overwhelmingly negative view of Judaism in Palestine of the first century but uses late rabbinic sources for his reconstruction." She continues:
This is an old script that the scholarship of the past thirty years has long disproved as being false. First, it is totally inappropriate to use late rabbinical sources to reconstruct first-century Judaism. When only first-century Palestinian sources are used, a different, more progressive picture of Palestine emerges. Women were in the Zealot movement and the movement of John the Baptist, may have written writs of divorce, owned their own property, and kept their own finances. Even the Gospels themselves show that women moved freely out in public and were in no way separated from men socially. There is social and religious mixture of women in the women’s court at the temple, where women such as the prophetess stayed day and night to worship God and greeted the infant Jesus (Luke 2). Far from being segregated from her community by some blood taboo, the women with the issue of blood moves freely amidst the crowd, nor was uncleanliness a matter of utter segregation, but both men and women became unclean as a matter of the course of their daily lives, and this was easily removed by ritual bathing. Furthermore, ritual uncleanliness may have only been truly significant when one entered the temple in Jerusalem, as the many ritual baths in the temple precincts show. Thus, the Judaism of Palestine was not one that made women utter social inferiors as Swidler attests.
What is more, Swidler completely ignores the feminist scholarship that since his first publication debunked his thesis and pointed out how without basis his argument was. Corley writes:
Finally, this book is marred by having no intercourse with feminist scholarship of the past thirty years, which has worked hard to correct the anti-Judaic reconstruction of Judaism that Swidler proposed when he first published his original articles in the early 1970s. The work of Ross Kraemer, Amy-Jill Levine, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Bernadette Brooten, Judith Plaskow and others has been simply ignored, and Swidler writes blithely on in this book as if thirty years of scholarship never happened to correct his ill-fated views since 1971. This book is thus a rehash of an argument long since abandoned by historical critics around the world in light of the last thirty years of feminist scholarship on Jesus and first-century Judaism.
One wonders why the publisher bothered to publish the book.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A possible plea bargain for Madoff?

It's hard to imagine, but apparently there are negotiations going on for a plea deal for Bernie Madoff! And the government failed in its arguments that his bail should be revoked on the grounds that he sent $1 million worth of jewelry to family members and had $173 million worth in checks in his drawer ready to send off.

"Prosecutors had asked the court to revoke Mr. Madoff’s $10 million bail, secured by various family homes held in his wife’s name, after he violated a court-ordered asset freeze by mailing about $1 million in expensive watches and jewelry to family and friends on Christmas Eve.In addition to the jewelry that was sent out, prosecutors said, Mr. Madoff had plans to transfer $200 million to $300 million of investors’ money to family members and friends. When authorities searched Mr. Madoff’s office desk, they found $173 million in signed checks ready to be sent."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Letter by British Jews to government of Israel

The following letter was published today in the Guardian newspaper. This letter comes pretty close to representing my current views.

To the government of Israel

We are writing this letter as profound and passionate supporters of Israel. We look upon the increasing loss of life on both sides of the Gaza conflict with horror. We have no doubt that rocket attacks into southern Israel, by Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups, are war crimes against Israel. No sovereign state should, or would, tolerate continued attacks and the deliberate targeting of civilians.

Israel had a right to respond and we support the Israeli government's decision to make stopping the rocket attacks an urgent priority.

However, we believe that only negotiations can secure long-term security for Israel and the region.

I believe this as well, but I don't see how negotiations with Hamas on a long-term settlement are going to go anywhere as long as Hamas is unalterably opposed to the existence of the state of Israel.

We are concerned that rather than bringing security to Israel, a continued military offensive could strengthen extremists, destabilise the region and exacerbate tensions inside Israel with its one million Arab citizens. The offensive and the mounting civilian victims - like the Lebanon war in 2006 - also threaten to undermine international support for Israel.

We stand alongside the people of Israel and urge the government of Israel and the Palestinian people, with the assistance of the international community, to negotiate:

• An immediate and permanent ceasefire entailing an end to all rocket attacks and the complete and permanent lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

• International monitoring of the ceasefire agreement, including measures to ensure the security of the borders between Israel and Gaza as well as the prevention of weapons smuggling into Gaza.

It is our desire to see a durable solution for ordinary people and our view that an immediate ceasefire is not only a humanitarian necessity but also a strategic priority for the future security of Israelis, Palestinians and people of the region.

Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield (head of the Movement for Reform Judaism)
Sir Jeremy Beecham (former chair of the Labour party)
Professor David Cesarani
Professor Shalom Lappin (University of London)
Michael Mitzman (who set up Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the Home Office)
Baroness Julia Neuberger
Rabbi Danny Rich (chief executive of Liberal Judaism)
Rabbi Professor Marc Saperstein (principal of Leo Baeck rabbinical training college)
Rabbi Dr Michael Shire
Sir Sigmund Sternberg
Paul Usiskin

When I was an undergraduate at Harvard, Professor Marc Saperstein was my adviser. I hadn't realized that he was now in Britain - the last I had heard he was teaching at Washington University in St. Louis. His brother, David Saperstein, is head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C.

Z-Word blog has an interesting response to the open letter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rally Roundup

War demonstrations

The protesters have been very busy.

Los Angeles
In Los Angeles there was a demonstration on January 6 (Tuesday) by Hamas supporters crying out things like "Free Palestine from the River to the Sea," and "Long Live Hitler."

Duisberg, Germany (from the Muqata)

Today, 10.000 people demonstrated against Israel here in my hometown Duisburg (Germany) and to express their solidarity with Hamas. So, my girlfriend and me put two Israel flags out of the windows of our flat in the 3rd floor. During the demonstration which went through our street the police broke into our flat and removed the flag of Israel. The statement of the police was to de-escalate the situation, because many youth demonstrators were on the brink of breaking into our apartment house. Before this they threw snowballs, knifes and stones against our windows and the complete building. We both were standing on the other side of the street and were shocked by seeing a police officer standing in our bedroom and opening the window to get the flag. The picture illustrate this situation. The police acquiesced in the demands of the mob.

London - a good report from Harry's Place. Plenty of Nazi imagery and the slogan of "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free."

A sample of Nazi imagery from the London rally below:

A.N.S.W.E.R. rally in Washington, D.C.

What happened at today's A.N.S.W.E.R. demonstration in Washington, D.C., which a group from Ithaca attended? From the reports I've been able to find, the official ANSWER posters and slogans seem to be much less "pro-war" than the protest today in London.

A video from the AP -

Signs: "Faith over Fear and Justice for all," "Free Palestine: Let Gaza Live."
One anti-semitic sign - "Jewish controlled Congress supports Jewish terrorism." Slogans: "Allahu Akbar!" "Free Free Palestine, Occupation is a crime." "Long live Palestine!" Another slogan - the Shehada, plus another line in Arabic that I didn't understand.

A report from AFP on the rally:

Several thousand protesters descended on the White House Saturday in support of Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza, as other protests took place across Canada and in the Mexican capital.

As many as 10,000 people, according to organizers, gathered from about 1:00 pm (1800 GMT) in Washington's Lafayette Park, across from the White House, chanting "free Palestine" as protest leaders and activists spoke from a podium.

An interesting article by someone named Jeff Nall on divisions in the anti-war movement over Israel/Palestine. After listing the range of groups protesting Israel's attacks in Gaza, he writes:

A definite consequence of anti-war organizations’ unanimity against Israel’s Gaza assault will inevitably lead to a loss of some supporters. I have witnessed firsthand the immediate backlash of the anti-war movement’s stance against Israel’s invasion of Gaza. One-time supporters of organizations such as Code Pink have expressed outrage over support for the Palestinians and have begun asking to be removed from email lists. Other activists have begun to report of falling out with friends. I have personally had heated debates with family members.

Even key activists are likely to oppose this new phase of the movement. When I attempted to organize a South Florida protest against the Gaza assault I received criticism from a fellow organizer. A key activist who has organized actions for Code Pink in the area took issue with my praise of the anti-war movement for its unified "condemnation of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza." In direct response to this statement she wrote: "As peace activists I think it is counter productive to spend energy on laying blame and ‘condemning’ one side—in this situation there is plenty of blame on all sides and yet plenty of room to look for understanding as well." Ironically, the peace activist made this statement on precisely the same day the Associated Press reported that Israel had killed at least 30 Palestinians when it attacked a United Nation’s school, acting as a shelter, twice in a few hours.

At this critical juncture the anti-war movement must not waiver. Our stand against the disproportionate and unjustified assault on the Palestinian people is grounded in the basic moral principle of universality – that we can no more freely destroy innocent people than our enemies – and the realization that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is as unjust as U.S. occupation of Iraq. The anti-war movement must maintain its ethical high ground by condemning all unjustifiable assaults on and killing of civilians.

In the past, many peace groups and individuals have bemoaned the plurality of issues taken up at both local and national anti-war protests. Many have specifically taken issue with ANSWER’s inclusion of the Palestinian struggle in protests principally aimed at ending war in Iraq. Both ANSWER’s militancy and its prominent treatment of Palestinian freedom have made some in other movements uncomfortable. A thawing of the ice dividing our movement and its most capable organizations, however, may be occurring as all groups unite against Israel’s Bush-backed assault on Gaza.

Now, for some actual peace rallies, in Israel

The first one, from the Galilee: "Jews, Arabs hold peace rally."

Hundreds of Jews and Arabs from the north and center of Israel gathered near Kfar Kara'a on Highway 65 Saturday in a rally for peace. The only sign present at the demonstration read "Hand in hand – neighbors for peace".

A demonstration in Tel Aviv - Meretz and Peace Now

Some one thousand Israeli activists from Peace Now and the left-wing Meretz party protested Saturday against the offensive in Gaza, opposite the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.

"We have assembled to call on Israel to think twice before expanding the [Gaza] operation, we are here because we care about the IDF soldiers," said Peace Now chief Yariv Oppenheimer.

Israel indicated Saturday that it would begin a third phase of its two-week operation aimed at halting rocket fire on its southern communities, dropping leaflets in Gaza warning civilians that it plans to step up its military campaign.

"This is a demonstration that includes many true Zionists who fear for peace in the country, but our Zionism does not make us crave blood and war," Oppenheimer said.

Meretz chairman Haim Oron also attended the demonstration, and called on the Israeli government to "Stop the war and reach an agreement as soon as possible." This is "the only way to stem the bloodshed," he said.

Oron and Meretz initially supported the Israel Defensive Forces operation when it first began. But, he explained Saturday, "We said that the action's objective was to reach a cease-fire as early and as quickly as possible in order to achieve calm." He said that the time had come for even those who back the operation to call for a truce.

The protesters were joined by activists from the Hadash movement and members of the radical left in Israel. There was a minor skirmish at the sidelines of the protest when Oppenheimer, who is also a member of the Labor Party, tried to pull down a banner reading: "Not pleasant, a murderer," a reference to the election campaign headed by Labor Party leader Ehud Barak.
If I had been in Israel, I would have gone to this demonstration.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Jew's Prayer for the Children of Gaza

From Bradley Burston of Ha'aretz -

Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.

Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.

Restore to them their stolen childhoods, their birthright, which is a taste of heaven.

Remind us, O Lord, of the child Ishmael, who is the father of all the children of Gaza. How the child Ishmael was without water and left for dead in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba, so robbed of all hope, that his own mother could not bear to watch his life drain away.

Be that Lord, the God of our kinsman Ishmael, who heard his cry and sent His angel to comfort his mother Hagar.

Be that Lord, who was with Ishmael that day, and all the days after. Be that God, the All-Merciful, who opened Hagar's eyes that day, and showed her the well of water, that she could give the boy Ishmael to drink, and save his life.

Allah, whose name we call Elohim, who gives life, who knows the value and the fragility of every life, send these children your angels. Save them, the children of this place, Gaza the most beautiful, and Gaza the damned.

In this day, when the trepidation and rage and mourning that is called war, seizes our hearts and patches them in scars, we call to you, the Lord whose name is Peace:

Bless these children, and keep them from harm.

Turn Your face toward them, O Lord. Show them, as if for the first time, light and kindness, and overwhelming graciousness.

Look up at them, O Lord. Let them see your face.

And, as if for the first time, grant them peace.

Gaza - top news story on Google News

One of the things that has been amazing me since the war in Gaza started is how prominent the coverage has been all around the world (not just in Israel or the Arab world). One way to measure this is through looking at the Google news front page - which lists the most popular topics plus how many news articles are devoted to each topic. I couldn't figure out how to make a screenshot of the page, so I've turned it into a PDF and put it on my Google Sites wiki, where it's available as a document with the name Google News.pdf. This is on the home page of the wiki.

The "Top Stories" are about Obama's speech today on the economy (4,524 articles), the Madoff scandal (368 articles), and Blagojevich (520 articles). Certainly from the perspective of people in the U.S., the economy is currently the main story. 

When we turn to the "World" stories, the top one is about Gaza and Israel (33,226 news articles), followed by the Russians turning off natural gas for Europe (7,538 articles), the sacking of the Pakistani security chief (apparently because he admitted that the surviving Mumbai gunman actually is Pakistani) (5,081 articles). 

So, at least according to the Google news algorithm, the top story in the world today is Israel's attacks on Gaza and the conditions in Gaza. Isn't this kind of peculiar?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Just War theory and the Gaza War

Andrew Sullivan is conducting an interesting discussion on his blog about Just War theory and the Gaza War. I think that he has brought up many interesting ethical issues about how to judge whether a war is worth prosecuting. One problem for me in his discussion is that it seems to be firmly based in the Catholic Just War tradition - he mentions the Catechism and other Catholic documents. It is troubling to me that he does not seem to be aware that not everyone would accept the Catholic Just War tradition as a basis for discussing this issue. It's a little startling to me that he and his other Catholic interlocutors mention the Catholic documents so frequently when the combatants in this particular war are primarily Jews and Muslims. I think that in order to discuss whether a certain war is just or not that we should be discussing it from a more ecumenical or even secular basis. There is also a Jewish Just War tradition, which I taught to the students in my Judaism class several years ago during the run-up to the Iraq War. I'll try to dig up my notes and post something about it here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Unde Malum

Unde Malum

Where does evil come from?
It comes
from man
always from man
only from man
- Tadeusz Rozewicz

Alas, dear Tadeusz,
good nature and wicked man
are romantic inventions
you show us this way
the depth of your optimism
so let man exterminate
his own species
the innocent sunrise will illuminate
a liberated flora and fauna
where oak forests reclaim
the postindustrial wasteland
and the blood of a deer
torn asunder by a pack of wolves
is not seen by anyone
a hawk falls upon a hare
without witness
evil disappears from the world
and consciousness with it
Of course, dear Tadeusz,
evil (and good) comes from man.

Czeslaw Milosz

Digression: Michael Lerner on 9/11

Michael Lerner reveals his true colors in an e-mail to Oliver Kamm today (in response to Kamm's criticism of a recent Lerner op-ed). To read the whole thing (which mostly has to do with Gaza), see Oliver Kamm. I'm mostly interested in the first part of his e-mail.

Lerner writes:
Nothing in my current thinking is tied to agnosticism about 9/11. I do not doubt that the official story is possible, and so, after reading the evidence amassed by 9/11 doubters, is their alternative story. But in thinking about the Middle East, I assume the worst case scenario, namely that 9/11 was in fact a strike by anti-imperialist Muslims who had worked carefully for years to pull off an amazing venture requiring a group of suicide bombers who simultaneously hi-jacked airplanes and caused incredible suffering and murder.
The conclusion I draw from this paragraph is that:

A) he doubts that the 9/11 attacks were actually carried out by Al-Qaeda, a view that as Kamm puts it, "consigns him immediately to an extreme and irrationalist fringe."

B) if that claim turns out to be true, it was a strike by "anti-imperialist Muslims." That's a new one on me - Al-Qaeda as "anti-imperialists"! How about the truth - Al-Qaeda as anti-semitic, anti-western, mass murdering terrorists? Frankly, I think that Lerner has definitely gone off the deep end.

Genocide in Gaza?

Terry Glavin, in his essay "The Debasement of Language: 'Israeli Genocide,'" succinctly discusses the use of language equating Jews with Nazis and accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. This is relevant to a conversation I just overheard today.

I went to a local cafe this morning for a nice cup of coffee and to read a heavy tome on Angelomorphic Christology (for an article I should be writing on "Divine Beings"), and was sitting and sipping the coffee when I heard a couple of people at another table discussing the Gaza War. One of them started going on about Israeli genocide in Gaza - how Israel had already killed over 500 Palestinians and that this was genocide. Only my desire not to make a scene in public prevented me from going over to them and asking them what did they really think genocide was? And to add the comment that if the Israelis really wanted to commit genocide in Gaza, they were doing a really poor job at it. And that if the Israelis needed any models for how to go about it, they should consult the Syrians, who killed between ten and twenty thousand people in Hama, or perhaps Saddam Hussein and "Chemical Ali" for their Anfal campaign against the Kurds.

None of this should be construed, however, for support of Israeli bombing and killing of civilians - I am still deeply ambivalent about the Israeli assault on Gaza, at this time leaning towards being against; this is why I keep posting about demonstrations against the attacks in Gaza, in the hope that maybe I'll find one I might actually want to attend, were I to be present in the relevant location at the right time.

Unfortunately, while there has been a local demonstration against the Gaza War, I didn't see that I could support it, even though I agreed in part with the organizers' statement. It calls for, among other things, a complete halt to American military aid to Israel, which I do not support. It also very much dismisses the impact of the constant rocket attacks on Sderot and other Israeli towns near Gaza. While I think that one could argue that the Israeli response to those attacks is wrong and counterproductive, it is also incorrect to dismiss the suffering that the residents of Sderot have endured, even if the magnitude is much less than that endured by the people of Gaza.

I would ask the organizers of the demonstration to consider how they would feel if Ithaca had received rocket fire from nearby towns for several years - I think that they would not be inclined to dismiss the ill effects upon us even if only a few people were killed. The statement that "The airstrikes, which stoke the Palestinians' anger and desire for revenge, in no way contribute the security of Israelis," could equally well be turned upon Hamas - rockets upon Israelis also stoke their anger and desire for revenge, and do not contribute to the security of Gazans. There is no acknowledgement of any responsibility of Hamas for this horrible situation. I would prefer to see signs denouncing Hamas along with those denouncing Israel.

Update, a little later - I'm listening to the evening news show on Israel channel 1, Mabat, which is going back and forth between the anchors in the studio and reporters in Sderot and Ashkelon. As they were talking to the reporter in Ashkelon, the air raid sirens came on - warning of incoming rockets from Gaza, and they're now talking about the rockets that just landed. Mabat is a live news show, so this just happened - it's very scary to listen to, I can just imagine being there.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

More on Israeli demonstrations against the Gaza War

From my referrer logs, I discovered a Facebook posting on further demonstrations in Israel against the war, written by someone named Tom Pessah. He includes photos of a number of the demos.

"My father raised us all to love martyrdom"

The Maan News Agency, a Palestinian news service (see here for a longer description of who they are) has an interview with one of the surviving daughters of Nizar Rayyan, who was killed with most of his family last week by the Israeli bombing of Gaza. I found what she said so appalling that I'm copying the whole story here.

Date: 04 / 01 / 2009 Time: 12:15

Gaza – Ma’an – One of the surviving daughters of slain Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan, Walaa, spoke to Ma’an Saturday.

She is married with two young daughters, but hopes for a son so she can name him after her dead father. Three of her nephews already go by the nickname “Abu Nizar,” though their names are Bilal, Baraa and Muhammad.

Walaa’s mother, father, ten brothers and sisters and Rayyan’s three other wives were killed during an Israeli airstrike on the family home.

“My father raised us all to love martyrdom,” Walaa said. “If you had the chance to ask my 4-year-old sister Aaysha, who died in the attack, she would have told you that she preferred to die martyr.”

In the days before the attack that killed most of the family Walaa said “My father couldn’t sleep…after a woman came to him complaining that she had nothing with which to feed her children and had to soak days-old bread and give it to them. “Oh my God! We reached a point that a woman doesn’t have anything to feed her children?” she remembers her father saying.

Walaa recalls her father with great emotion, and tells the story of how he used to introduce himself as Nizar Abd Al-Qadir Rayyan Al-Asqalani An-Na’lawani Al-Filistiniy, or Nizar Abd Al-Qadir Rayyan from the villages of An-Na’lawani (a destroyed Palestinian village in Israel) and Asqalani (the current Ashkelon) of Palestine.

She says he told many stories about the village of Na’lawa, and would remember the village as long as she lived.

In the days following his death Rayyan’s elderly mother has received hundreds of women who have come bearing condolences. She tells them all, “May God save you from the evil of the Jews.”

Also at the mourning area was Eyman, who is the daughter of Rayyan’s brother, said that Rayyan used to say, “I want to die martyr and go immediately into paradise.” One of his children once replied to Rayyan, that people do not go directly to paradise; they first go to the morgue. Rayyan replied, “I don’t want to feel cold in the morgue, and there will be no room for my huge body there anyways, so, I want to be buried immediately and go to paradise.”

One hour before he was killed Rayyan’s daughter in law Eyman Asfora went to visit him. Walaa remembers that Eyman, wife to Rayyan’s eldest son Bilal, was received with a smile. He asked her if she would like to die a martyr with him, and she said “yes.” But she left seconds before the missile struck the four-storey home.

The one ton Israeli missile that fell on the building leveled the home and damaged several adjacent houses. When the dust cleared neighbors and media members rushed to the scene to see what happened, and found only piles of concrete.

According to one of his four wives, Rayyan would tease his children in the days before his death, and ask them: “Who wants to die martyr with me?” and all his children used to answer, “Yes daddy, we all want to be with you alive or dead.” His youngest son said, “I can’t imagine that you die martyr and leave me behind unable to see you. I want to die with you.

Dr Rayyan, who held a PHD in Hadith (the profit [sic] Muhammad’s narrated teachings), was killed along with his four wives, Hayam Timraz, Nawal Kahlout, Eyman Kassab, Sherin Udwan, and ten of his children, Ghassan, Abdul-Qadir, Ayah, Maryam, Zaynab, Abdul-Rahman, Aysha, Halima, Osama and Reem who were between four and 17-years-old.
I am not sure how to react to what Walaa said. When a four-year-old would say that she preferred to die a martyr - does she even know what she is saying? Does she really understand what death is? All of the children who died were 17 and under. What if any of them had doubts about what their father had taught them? Could they even have formulated them in their own minds? I feel that this is a deep tragedy. If the father wanted to endanger his own life, fine, he is an adult - but the lives of his own young children? Of course, it is the Israelis who killed the children together with their parents - but if he had sent them away from him, they would have been at far less risk of dying.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote about Rayyan a couple of days in his blog for the Atlantic. What Rayyan says reveals his deep attachment to theological anti-semitism

There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: "The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel." There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. "Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God."

I asked him if he believed, as some Hamas theologians do (and certainly as many Hezbollah leaders do) that Jews are the "sons of pigs and apes." He gave me an interesting answer that reflects a myopic reading of the Koran. "Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to reproduce. So it is not literally true that Jews today are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They are a cursed people."

What are our crimes? I asked Rayyan. "You are murderers of the prophets and you have closed your ears to the Messenger of Allah," he said. "Jews tried to kill the Prophet, peace be unto him. All throughout history, you have stood in opposition to the word of God."
And his devotion to his principles led to the death of most of his family.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Barak, Rabin

Left-wing demonstrators gathered tonight at Rabin Square to protest the Gaza War. There were also right-wing counter-demonstrators coming out to support the government.

Knesset members Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) were among the political figures who attended the rally.

"I came here to demonstrate along with thousands of citizens in Tel Aviv and all across the country, Jews and Arabs alike, who are calling to stop this war, which is a disaster. It hasn't solved the security problems in the south, and nothing good will come out of it," Khenin told Ynet.

"We came here to demand an end to the war, an agreement on a ceasefire, the opening of the border crossings and a prisoner exchange deal," he said. "This will be the outcome anyway, and no unnecessary blood should be spilled in the meantime."

Tibi added that "eventually there will be diplomatic negotiations on a truce, so why carry on with this phase of the war?"

The demonstrators chanted "Defense Minister Barak, how many children have you murdered today (ברק ברק כמה ילדים רצחת היום)?"

Twenty years ago, during the first intifada, I was living in Israel. I went there in the summer of 1987 to study Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and stayed until the summer of 1989. This was in the middle of my graduate program in religion at Harvard. My advisers had recommended that I go to Israel to improve my Hebrew and take classes that were unavailable to me at Harvard (in midrash, biblical interpretation, and Talmud).

The first intifada broke out in December, 1987. Almost immediately I became involved in the Israeli peace movement and went to many demonstrations sponsored by all kinds of groups - Peace Now, Oz v'Shalom (Orthodox peace group), Women in Black, the 21st Year (of the Occupation - so long ago!), etc. Yitzhak Rabin was defense minister in a coalition government led by Yitzhak Shamir (Likud). One of the orders he gave to Israeli soldiers faced by Palestinian demonstrators throwing stones at them was to "break their bones."

I remember going to a demonstration against Rabin somewhere in Jerusalem and chanting "Rabin, Rabin, Defense Minister, how many children have you killed today?" (It rhymes in Hebrew - רבין רבין שר הבטחון כמה ילדים חרגת היום). I guess the same slogan can be adapted to protest any Israeli defense minister.

Gaza War ground attack

Israel has launched its ground assault on Gaza just a short while ago. First word - from the Muqata (right-wing Israeli blogger who is reporting on the Gaza war). I just started listening to Israel Radio, Reshet Bet, for further news (Reshet Bet is the news and talk channel).

More on the attack from the New York Times.

Tens of thousands of Israeli reservist are being called up.

They're entering the northern part of Gaza - "large numbers of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and bulldozers." The goal is to "take some of the launch areas used by Hamas."

According to Israel Radio, the invasion will last many days.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Israeli demonstrations against the Gaza War

Update. Peace Now is also calling for an immediate halt to the bombing and finding a political solution.

Gush Shalom is organizing a rally for tomorrow. A statement of demands:

The killing in Gaza continues. Hundreds have been killed, thousands injured, air-strikes have caused utter devastation and entire families are left homeless.

Civilians in the south of Israel are being held captive by a government which lies to them and abuses them. Destruction and death in Gaza will not ensure their future, but rather lead to more violence and killings.

Join us in protest this coming Saturday, 3.1.2009, in Tel Aviv. Together we will call out:

Stop the Killing! No to the Siege! Yes to life for both peoples!

In these dark days, let us stick to our message:

Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!

Our demand: A full truce and the lifting of the siege on Gaza NOW!

Please note: For the past week mass arrests have been carried out amongst Palestinian citizens of Israel who are exercising their democratic right to protest. On Saturday, at 13:00, before the Tel Aviv demonstration, a mass protest rally will be held in Sakhnin by the High Committee of Arab Israelis against the killing in Gaza. Please make an effort to join – your presence is of the essence!

Demonstrations this week in Israel against the Gaza War

21 activists protesting Gaza op detained. "Left-wing activists arrested after attempting to block entrance to Sde Dov military airfield in bid to prevent pilots from 'taking off to bombard Gaza civilians.'" This demonstration was held today. The group was from "Anarchists Against the Wall." The sign they're carrying reads "The blood of children is on your hands." [See their website for a detailed report on a variety of Israeli left-wing demonstrations against the Gaza war - War on Gaza met with dissent].

Protesters call on PM to talk with Hamas.

Left-wing activists from across Israel demonstrated Thursday evening in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in protest of the IDF's continued military operation in Gaza, and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Some 200 people assembled outside the official residence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, and urged him to order the military to halt the fighting. "Our main message is – 'Children in Gaza and Sderot want to live'," said Ofer Neiman, one of the rally's organizers.

[The Hebrew signs at this rally read "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies" and "The IDF and Hamas are fighting on our account"].

Neiman explained that he and his friends sought to draw attention to the suffering of civilians on both sides. "We call not only for a ceasefire with Hamas, but for a comprehensive truce with our neighbors in order to resolve the core issues and find a way out of the cycle of bloodshed.

"The notion that Israel is completely right and the Palestinians are completely wrong is false and gives legitimacy to anti-humanitarian acts in the Gaza Strip," he stated.

According to Neiman, among the rally's participants were several Sderot residents who are members of the "Different Voice" organization, which calls for dialogue with the Palestinians in Gaza.

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv locals went out on their bikes to protest the operation in Gaza and the rocket fire on Israel. Hagai Matar told Ynet: "Some 40 bike riders gathered at the Rabin Square. This is a routine activity to protest the occupation, but we took this opportunity to call for an end to the fighting."

Matar said that "disproportionate" police forces attempted to forcefully disperse the protest.

"We left the place and reassembled somewhere else, rode through Rothschild Boulevards and Allenby Street and spoke to the passersby," he said. "We wanted to help people become aware of the complexity of the situation and of the fact that there are alternatives to the fighting, that dialogue is possible."

Matar noted that the group did not only sympathize with one side of the conflict. "We believe that the solution is dialogue. This is the only way to stop the suffering. The fact that we have been able to spread the message is very important to us, and it is important to keep that up," he concluded.

Police allow anti-war protesters to raise Palestinian flags "Following pressure exerted by High Court, police decide to reverse decision not to okay march against Gaza op if participants wave PA flags. The police announced Friday during a High Court hearing that it would allow left-wing protesters to raise Palestinian flags during a rally calling to end the military operation in Gaza."

Violent riots in Jerusalem; officer hurt. "Hundreds of Arabs clashed with police forces Friday throughout Jerusalem after religious services concluded in the Temple Mount and the capital's mosques."

Dueling demonstrations

Youtube video of a pro-Hamas rally in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, a couple of days ago.

Another video of the same events.

I had read about the video of this rally on a couple of websites (for example, Harry's Place has a post about it), but until I watched it I didn't realize how disturbing I would find it. At a big intersection in the city, a large pro-Hamas demonstration faces a smaller group of pro-Israel demonstrators; they're separated from each other by a main street and the police. The demonstration lasted a couple of hours, and as it grew dark, the pro-Hamas side grew more numerous and eventually people from that group tried to cross the street to confront the pro-Israel group directly, rather than simply hurling insults at them. (The level of political discourse was not very high, let's put it that way). Fortunately, the police intervened and forced them back onto the sidewalk. Had I been part of the pro-Israel group, I would have found it very scary at that point. This was no peaceful demonstration in support of the Palestinian people.

I noticed some signs from A.N.S.W.E.R. in the crowd but wasn't able to see many slogans.

Some slogans - "Free free Palestine," "Allahu Akbar," the Shehada, "Palestine will never die," lots of cars honking their horns.

Update: The Miami Herald has an article about the Ft. Lauderdale rally, with their own video that covers the pro-Israel demonstrators much more thoroughly. One of the pro-Israel demonstrators held a sign saying - "Nuke Gaza Then Iran." They also chant "Stop the missiles," one man chanted "Palestine does not exist," another said, "Jail Hamas then you'll have peace." Most of the pro-Israel demonstrators were pretty aggressive young guys. I don't think I would have felt particularly comfortable standing with them either.

Buffalo anti-Israel demonstration

Just looking through the list of other related videos on Youtube, I found a video of a demonstration on Tuesday in Buffalo. The slogans are less disturbing but not particularly comforting. I certainly wouldn't participate in this rally either. Some slogans: "Down with the occupation," "Down with Israel," then there's a speech by someone with a hoarse voice, and some cries of "Takbir! Takbir! Allahu Akbar!" He says, "Please stop supporting Israel." "Long live Palestine!" And that hoary old chestnut - "The people united will never be defeated!" "Viva Viva Palestina!" "Viva viva intifada!" "Stop bombing Gaza now! Free free Palestine!"

See here for a longer video of this same demonstration in Buffalo.

Innocent victims?

The killing yesterday of Nizar Rayyan, a senior leader of Hamas, exemplifies the moral problem that Israel faces in attacking Gaza.

The Israeli Air Force on Thursday afternoon bombed the house of Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader, killing him along with his four wives and nine of his children, four of them under the age of 18, Palestinian hospital officials said. An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, described Mr. Rayyan as one of the “most extreme” figures of Hamas, which controls Gaza. The military said he had helped plan a deadly suicide bombing in Israel in 2004, had sent his own son on a suicide mission against Jewish settlers in Gaza in 2001 and was advocating renewed suicide missions against Israel in retaliation for the current offensive.

Mr. Rayyan was known in Gaza as a highly influential figure with strong links to the military wing of Hamas, particularly in northern Gaza, where he lived, and as a popular Hamas preacher who openly extolled and championed the idea of martyrdom.

The Israeli military said in a statement that there were many secondary explosions after the air attack, “proving that the house was used for storing weaponry.” It was also used as a communications center, the statement said, and a tunnel that had been dug under the house was used by Hamas operatives.

Most Hamas leaders in Gaza have been in hiding since the Israeli operation began, but Mr. Rayyan was said to have refused to leave his home on ideological grounds. In the past, he had been known to gather supporters to stand on the rooftops of other houses in Gaza that Israel had threatened to strike.

When I first read this account and learned that Rayyan had sent his own son on a suicide mission, I was astonished and disgusted. He clearly cared nothing for the life of his own children. It seems that in this case also he deliberately ignored warnings that he was a target and left his own family open to the Israeli attack. It seems to me that he was a legitimate military target.

But the rest of his family? His wives and children? Did they deserve to die? Were they political figures in Hamas? The news reports don't say anything about the ages or activities of the children who were killed, so it's impossible to know if they were also part of Hamas. As for his wives - although there are some women who are political leaders in Hamas, and some have been suicide bombers - it's a fundamentalist political party that subordinates women to men.

So if we assume that his family was innocent - endangered only by the fact that they were related to him - is it ethical for Israel to target him, knowing that he was opposed to sending his family away to protect them?

Frankly, I have no idea.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

What do American Jewish organizations have to say about war in Gaza?

It occurred to me to wonder what various Jewish organizations are saying about the current war in Gaza, and what actions they advocate. So here I list links to statements from American Jewish organizations from the left to the right.

Farther left

Jewish Voice for Peace - "Jewish Voice for Peace joins millions around the world, including the 1,000 Israelis who protested in the streets of Tel Aviv this weekend, in condemning ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza. We call for an immediate end to attacks on all civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli."

While this statement seems rather mild to me, the blog attached to the JVP website, MuzzleWatch, is much more radical. See, for example, a recent post: "To be clear, attacks against civilians are generally to be condemned, whether occurring in Gaza or Sderot, but it is necessary to understand the causes of conflict and violence, and to properly assess the unambiguously disproportionate nature of this conflict. We get very little of this from the US corporate press which will almost always first discuss Israel’s need to defend itself, has the Israeli ambassador to the US on, etc, before mentioning the slight possibility that some people in some part of the world may think that the Israeli attacks might just be a tad too harsh."

The website for Common Dreams has a variety of left-wing views on Israel and Gaza, including many articles written by American and Israeli Jews.


Brit Tzedek - "There is no doubt that Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens. But Israel's only hope for survival as a secure and democratic Jewish homeland lies in a diplomatic - rather than military - solution, and in a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians."

American Friends of Peace Now - "APN mourns the loss of life and the suffering on both sides. APN supports its Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, in calling on the government of Israel to end its military operation in the Gaza Strip and to act toward achieving a ceasefire. APN strongly denounces the firing of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza into Israel and expresses its solidarity with the residents of communities in southern Israel, who have been subject to the unacceptable terror of incoming fire from the Gaza Strip. APN also expresses deep concern over the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Gaza."

Israel Policy Forum - "Israel Policy Forum (IPF) urges the United States to push for an immediate end to hostilities and resumption of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The ceasefire was terminated by Hamas on December 19, despite the stated willingness of the Israelis to extend it and the efforts of the Egyptians to negotiate an extension. Israel’s blockade was a response to continued Hamas firing of missiles at Israeli communities and other infractions, and the use of the ceasefire for building up its arsenal of longer range and more sophisticated missiles, the impact of which is now being felt in ever wider areas of Israel."


American Jewish Congress - "The American Jewish Congress today stated its support for Israel’s defensive measures in the Gaza Strip. The attacks against Hamas leadership, facilities, rocket launching sites, and weapons-smuggling tunnels have been precise and effective. No sovereign nation is required by either international law or morality to put up with attacks on its civilians as Israel has done. Any nation would act to put a stop to such attacks. Neither is a sovereign nation required to avoid the use of force by simply acceding to the demands of those who are less scrupulous."

Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations - "New York, December 27, 2008. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations stands solidly with the government of Israel and its decision to defend its people against terrorism through the targeted airstrikes made on Gaza today."


Zionist Organization of America - "The ZOA firmly supports Israel's long-overdue air strikes upon the Hamas leadership, personnel and fortifications in Gaza."

A couple of interesting Israeli perspectives

An interesting blog post on Israelity on the New Year in Israel - A new year | Israelity. And see Lisa Goldman's post on Z-Blog - Gaza: an alternative view. At the moment I don't quite agree with her, but on the other hand she's living in Israel and is much closer to the situation than I am.

War in Gaza

I honestly don't know what to think about the Israeli assault on Gaza. I just read through my blog posts over the last couple of years since Hamas took over Gaza, and each time I come to the same conclusion - that there is nothing good Israel can do in Gaza. Hamas lobs missiles at Israel, kills a few Israelis, causes more property damage, terrorizes people in communities like Sderot and makes it impossible to lead a normal life in them. Israel then bombs Gaza, destroys buildings, kills a lot of people including many Hamas "militants" (as they say in the American press) as well as innocent civilians, and eventually some sort of cease-fire is cobbled together.

This happened when I was in Israel in 2006, when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, and the Israeli reaction was bombing of Gaza and brief tank incursions (if I remember correctly). Of course the world condemned Israel at that time for being "disproportionate." Then Gaza was forgotten when the second Lebanon war began later that summer.

What should Israel do? Would negotiations with Hamas do any good? (Is Hamas even willing to negotiate with Israel? And if so, about what?) Or should Israel just go in and blow everything to smithereens? Aside from being immoral, probably a war crime, and killing many innocent people, this probably would not even stop all of the rocket fire from Gaza. Perhaps Israel should try reoccupying Gaza? No, I didn't think so - I still remember how much Israeli parents feared when their sons went into the army and had to serve in Gaza, how dangerous it was for them and what a moral swamp they entered enforcing the occupation.

If this war continues long enough, into the beginning of the spring semester, I am sure that there will be forums organized by concerned people on Gaza and Israel (mostly from the anti-Israel perspective), perhaps a demonstration or two with students wearing kaffiyehs, speakers declaiming about the awful things Israel is doing in Gaza, and not mentioning anything about Hamas, its goal to destroy Israel, or the rocket fire into Israel. I am not looking forward to this, if it happens. And will we hear anything useful about what might actually do some good? No, we'll be in the verbal prison of left-wing platitudes.

I've been reading articles around the blogosphere and either read reactions like mine (for example, Jeff Weintraub: Wartime in Gaza), over-the-top leftist attacks on Israel, or right-wing defenses of Israel that ignore the real suffering of Gaza's population.

It seems like Israel might be on the verge of a ground attack on Gaza. Based on comparison with the second Lebanon war and the results of the Israel ground assault then, I fear that Israel is about to make a big mistake. I think that there is some justification for the Israeli air assault on Gaza - but only if it stops pretty soon, and there is at least a temporary cease-fire that gives the opportunity to bring in humanitarian aid to Gaza. And also if real negotiations begin between Israel and Hamas (through a third-party) that will lead to the complete ending of rocket fire on Israel. (Although negotiations like this seem like pie-in-the-sky in the face of the current fighting).

Tel Aviv Municipality preparing residents for possible missiles

The Tel Aviv Municipality has begun distributing flyers to the residents of the city on how to prepare the bomb shelters in case Hamas missiles are able to reach the city.

Partial translation:

Essential information for the resident
Preparation of private shelters for a time of emergency

Dear residents,

In the framework of preparations of the homefront for a time of emergency, and according to the instructions of the Homefront Command, residents are requested to prepare routinely the private shelters that are in your control....

Anti-war? Or pro-Hamas?

A photographer who goes by the name of redsquirrel08 has posted photographs of demonstrations in New York City that have occurred since the weekend to protest the Israeli attacks on Gaza. It is instructive to read the signs the demonstrators carried to determine how exactly they think about Jews and Israel, and what should occur in Gaza. Reading these slogans would cause one to have grave doubts that the demonstrators actually seek peace. Those represented in the demonstration include Al-Awda, the International Action Center (who, among other things, support the current government of North Korea; founded by Ramsey Clark), the Islamic Thinkers Society, Neturei Karta and some group called

The slogans from the “Free Palestine” rally in NYC Dec. 28 include:

ISO - picture of six babies, holding up their fists – “Free Palestine."

Al-Awda slogans – "Long Live in the Resistance in Gaza," "Stop Zionist Genocide in Gaza"; "Long Live the Palestinian Resistance, Break the Siege on Gaza Now"; "Stop the Christmas Massacre in Gaza"; “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” with a drawing of Palestine in the colors of the Palestinian flag and a fist in front of it holding a key, “Gaza is Today’s Warsaw Ghetto”; "U.S.-‘Israel’: Hands Off Gaza" (the scare quotes around Israel I presume because it doesn't really exist).

Some handmade signs: “Free Palestine – One State with Rights of all” - This one has a drawing of a man knocking down a wall with a sledgehammer. “Another Jewish Mets fan against the Occupation"; a couple of home made signs saying “Might Does Not Make Right” and newsphotos from Gaza; "Collective Punishment is a war crime"; “We are all Palestinians”;“End U.S.-Israel Racist Atrocities” with a swastika. A woman wearing a shirt saying “Jews against the Occupation”; "Holy Innocents Herod at 1st Christmas, Israel 2008 in Gaza" (the old anti-semitism meets the new anti-semitism - Israel representing those who crucified Jesus, the Palestinians representing Jesus).

International Action Center: "Gaza’s Blood is on U.S. hands"

The signs from the Islamic Thinkers Society are the most violent - I hope the FBI is keeping an eye on these guys. Their website is revolting.
“God will send the Mushroom Cloud from the Sky on Israel”
“Allah will destroy the Terrorist State of Israel” with an Israeli flag below the words – inside the Star of David is a Swastika
“Israel does not exist – Palestine is Islamic Land, not Arab or Jewish land.”
“Who ever calls for Two State Solution is the Enemy of Islam and Muslims.”
“The Holocaust was a hoax” also has a very violent sign, showing a torso with an explosive belt on it, and the slogan, “May Allah Give Victory to the Islamic Resistance in Palestine,” and a drawing of an AK-47, also a slogan in Arabic. I certainly hope the FBI is keeping an eye on these folks also. The front page of their web site quotes Ayman al-Zawahari (no. 2 in Al-Qaeda) on the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

At another rally a couple of days later, which seems to have been sponsored by the same coalition of groups, there are some new signs printed by A.N.S.W.E.R. (connected to the International Action Center). Slogans include: "Free Palestine; support the right of return." Neturei Karta showed up again as well. There were also some people from the Green Party. A woman held a sign reading: "Apartheid: Wrong for South Africans, Wrong for Palestinians." Below it was the iconic painting of Barack Obama with the slogan, "Yes, we can. End U.S. military aid to Israel!"

There's a particularly disgusting sign - a photo of a mutiliated body, with the slogan, "What JEWS do to Palestinians and Iraqis."

And across the street from them, a pro-Israel rally - guys wearing kippot, Israeli flags, and some slogans in Arabic which I imagine are pro-Israel. Slogans include: "Stop Hamas Killers," "Hamas Stop Attacks." Also a sign - "Support the West Not Islam." Other signs: One with the slogan "If 15 rockets bombarded NYC daily, you'd be pretty pissed too." It also says "Stand with Israel in their right to defend their citizens." A sign in Hebrew: "The disengagement - terrible danger to Jews." On the top it says, "The Rebbe of Lubavitch, the King Messiah, warns." I think I saw this same sign last summer when I was in Israel, right after the terrorist attack on King David St. the last day I was in Jerusalem. A handmade sign: "Israel is dying for peace; Hamas and Hezbollah celebrate murder." I can't tell who organized this rally, which seems intended to counter the anti-Israel protestors.