Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Election Day in Israel

It's just after 9 pm in Israel, and when the polls close at 10:00 pm, we'll get news about the exit polls. I'm starting to get nervous.

I went on a pleasant tiyul (walking trip) today with people from the Zion synagogue in Jerusalem. Some photos from today:

Menorah in front of the Knesset.

Rakefot (cyclamens) in the Valley of the Cross.

Courtyard of the Monastery of the Cross.

The all-seeing eye, above one of the doorways of the monastery.

Election posters for Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Camp.

Election posters for the Likud.

Binyamin Netanyahu in a Likud election poster.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The New York Times and Antisemitism Today

Whenever I see an article in the New York Times that mentions Israel or Jews in any way, and comments for the article are open, I feel dismay, because I know that many commenters will seize this opportunity to write antisemitic responses. The same is true of the Washington Post (I think it's worse there). Why do the Times, or the Post, or many other online publications not moderate the comment sections in an effective way to keep out antisemitism? (By the way, this is also true of the Forward, and of the English editions of Haaretz and Ynet - I really don't understand why they don't erase such comments). Often one can even see antisemitic remarks in comments on articles that have nothing to do with Israel or Jews.

It's clear (to me, at least), that the lack of moderation of antisemitic comments is an important way that antisemitism is being spread today. Vile ideas that should have buried with the Nazis are now published on the websites of respected, leading newspapers and magazines, with no criticism or condemnation ever coming from the writers or editors of these news sources. If David Duke or Louis Farrakhan wanted to publish an op-ed in the New York Times denouncing the Jews, the Times would never print it. Why do they let equivalent words remain in the comments sections?

This issue came up for me today because of a column by Roger Cohen (pictured left). It is not political. It has nothing to do with Israel or with the negotiations with Iran.

Roger Cohen writes movingly today about the book Where the Road From Auschwitz Ends. He ends his essay with these words:
Written with tender precision, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” recently published in the United States, is the most powerful account I have read of the other death — the death after the camps, the death from damage that proves insuperable, the death that in this case comes 15 years later, in 1960, after electroshock treatment, in a Swedish lake beside a mental hospital. The project was indeed brief.
The entire essay is about David Rosenberg, the father of the author, Goran Rosenberg. Contemporary politics are not mentioned. Cohen says nothing about the state of Israel.

Yet among the 109 comments currently posted to the article, quite a few take the opportunity to attack Israel and Jews for not learning the lesson of the Holocaust. 

One writer says: 
A touching recount of the lingering wounds that must accompany such trauma. Perhaps someday an articulate Palestinian refugee will pen a book describing the enduring psychological and physical wounds the he or she suffered in Israeli prisons or in the aftermath of the cluster bombings of schools and hospitals, or in observing the intentional demolition of his family's home by Israeli soldiers whilst his parents were still inside.
Another writer castigates the United States, taking Sweden as an example to be followed (because it was neutral during WWII):
Death comes to us all, and is sometimes a merciful end to suffering. Nothing says we must all be so "heroic" and to slough off the worst torture humans can devise for us. 
Sweden was "neutral" in WWII, not because that's what they all wanted. Some, wealthy industrialists, supported Hitler the workers supported his enemies. Swedes opted for a course that would not tear their country apart irreparably. America could learn from that. BTW, it's Göran and Södertalje. Let's try to end America's disdain for foreign languages and our assumption that they don't matter.
Another writer complains that we always hear about the Jews at Auschwitz - how about the non-Jews? 
There are so many stories of Jews who were confined in Auschwitz. Such a terrible place for everyone confined there. And so many confined there were non-Jews whose stories have never been told. Why?
Another writer, thank goodness, recognizes the viciousness of such comments:
Reading the bitter denunciations of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu and Jews (yes, Jews) that appear each day in large numbers among reader comments in this newspaper, I can't help but think that the day when Holocaust memoirs, no matter how beautifully written or evocative of the damage done to the Jewish people during and after the Hitler-time, can have much, if any, real influence or impact is past.
This writer received the following response, from another person who thinks that Jews didn't learn the correct lesson from the Holocaust:
It is wrong for you and others to equate my condemnation of the practices of the State of Israel with antisemitism. I am not against Jews, or the existence of the State of Israel. I am against the barbaric treatment of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. It is easy and morally dishonest to brush aside the protests against the actions of the State of Israel as being anti-Jew. The Holocaust is no excuse to treat the Palestinians the way Israel does.
Another response is even more revolting. This author has failed to comprehend that the arrow of time points only one way:
The Holocaust will never be adequate justification for Israel's behavior, today. If fact, that behavior besmirches the very memory of that evil time.
Whatever the state of Israel does today cannot "besmirch" the memory of the Holocaust, since the state was founded after the Holocaust.

This writer is confused, and comes close to equating the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews with the actions of the IDF:
I am not Jewish, but the stories of the Holocaust move me to tears and anger. It doesn't matter how many stories of I've heard- each is different, yet each is painfully the same. I feel these same emotions for every story I hear of Palestinian suffering - lives lost, despair and brutality of the IDF. Mr. Netanyahu has it exactly wrong. By showing compassion towards their enemy will Israel keep the Holocaust flame lit. Mr. Netanyahu, himself, diminishes the Holocaust by using it as a defense for the murder of thousands of civilians who pose no real danger and whose only crime is being stuck in an open air prison and not being Jewish.
Another righteous soul writes:
From 1950 to 1962 I attended the Fieldston branch of the Ethical Culture Schools which was about 95% Jewish. We even had mandatory Ethics Class taught by a Holocaust Survivor. "Never Again" was a part of life. Being non Jewish and German on my fathers side I couldn't help but feel some guilt even though my father's family had left Germany over 80 years before the rise of Hitler. 
Reading this column I couldn't help but think about how years from now my children or grandchildren will be reading about the personal damage caused by the oppression and dehumanization of despised minority. It seems even worse to me that now it is the Jews "Mowing the grass" as they call dropping bombs on Gaza, and not even allowing students to leave to study in America, Israel's biggest supporter. 
I always thought "Never Again" was supposed to apply to all oppressed peoples. Obviously I was wrong, at least when we are talking about Israel.
He also belongs to the club of those who think that "the Jews" failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust.

One response to him: "If rockets would be falling on your head or your relatives dying in suicide bombing attacks you would not be comparing Israel to Nazis. Thanks to people like you 'Never Again' will never work."

Another person is annoyed that the tour he took of Auschwitz did not devote enough attention to the death of Maximilian Kolbe:
The holocaust was a terrible thing but I was very disappointed when I visited Auschwitz with a tour group and there was not one mention of St. Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die in order to save a Jewish man with a family. The holocaust was horrific but it was not only Jews who were murdered even though they were the majority.

They had St. Koble's cell on display with his religious artifacts and I do think it should have been pointed out to our group. He was a courageous man who should have been honored.
Any sentence that starts out "The holocaust was a terrible thing but...." does not end in a good way. As a respondent commented, Jews were the overwhelming majority of those killed at Auschwitz.

A writer from France accuses Roger Cohen of writing about the Holocaust because Israel is once again in the news.
I have nothing against keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, so that "never again" remains front and centre. But I do have a problem with the Holocaust memory being abused for political gain. It seems every time Israel gets itself into hot water, there is a surge in Holocaust writings in the press. Mr. Cohen should not confuse our pledge of "never again" with our acceptance of Israel's transgressions.
As I said before, Cohen didn't mention anything about Israel in his essay - this conspiracy exists only in the mind of the author. Fortunately, someone else responded: "Trust me, Mr. Cohen is not an apologist for Israel; this essay has nothing to do with Israel's 'being in hot water.' It is about the half-life left to most survivors."

Another commenter, bizarrely, seems to think that Cohen is opposed to the US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Although he claims to be an avid reader of Cohen, he doesn't seem to have understood what he said.
I have been an avid reader of Mr. Cohen for quite a long time. But I was aware of the Holocaust before I read one of his column. In fact, as a Vietnam veteran. I actually witnessed a Holocaust many Americans wish to forget about or remain in denial about, namely, how we attempted to commit genocide against the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. I'm still waiting for that column from Mr. Cohen. But Mr. Cohen fails the crucial test to me for being a true and credible public intellectual, that is, using a tragedy merely to manipulate the readers rather than guiding them on the search for the truth. And to be really blunt with you, I grew up in what can only be termed an anti-Semitic family of origin. So I have always been quite sensitive to that issue having grown up around that virus when I criticize one of Mr. Cohen's column. But we have to give - at least for now - diplomacy a chance in our negotiations with Iran. But what really disturbs me about Mr. Cohen's latest column really isn't what he wrote about, it's about what he avoids writing about. That was my main point. He's being intellectually dishonest. And that debases his currency as a public intellectual. But that is his choice.
Another writer thinks that Cohen wrote this column about a man who survived the Holocaust in order to deceive his readers about Israel. He accuses him of using the "Auschwitz card." This is among the most vile comments on this article.
This deeply biased commentary should not be left unrefuted. The Palestinians had no role in what Europeans did to the Jews among them, and owe no one anything. Indeed, they are the inhabitants and owners of Palestine and have been for thousands of years. European Jews forced their way onto the land, with the connivance of British imperialists and expelled the Palestinians at gunpoint or worse. They have ever right to our support in their fight to regain at least some of their land. At a minimum we should resist those among us who would give yet more weapons and money to help the Israelis in their oppression of Palestine.

Cohen knows this only too well and writes about it, but can not refrain from playing the Auschwitz card. Decent Americans should not be taken in by it.
And finally, another response (confused, badly written, and conspiracy theory ridden) that traffics in antisemitic tropes:
Why is the media not also conducting, distract our attention from contemporary genocides -out sourcing of US jobs, flood of immigrants used as the functional equivalent of US slaves etc, with almost daily rehashes of the "Second Holocaust" that the east European countries and Russia conducted before, during and after WWII that killed another 6 million Jews? Could it be, that again distraction is the fundamental Zionist part of the 1% reason for the continual avalanche of "never forgetting" the Nazis, while to "remember" the radical east European and Russian pogroms and gulag Holocaust would anger potential customers for high profit margin junk, and threaten access to all that now cheap East European labor. Seems it really is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!
The Nazis killed 6 million Jews; there was no "Second Holocaust" by the Russians and Eastern European countries that killed another 6 million. What is the "fundamentalist Zionist part of the 1% reason, etc."? Why is the New York Times permitting the publication of such an insane piece of nonsense?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

"Walking while Jewish" in Europe

An article from the Daily Mail presents several instances of people "walking while Jewish" through various European cities - all men wearing kippot.

In Bradford and Manchester, British journalist Jonathan Kalmus encountered antisemitic jeers and insults, and one person followed him and took pictures of him.
He writes: "'You Jew' was the anti-Semitic scream which came from a passing car. My shaken wife tried to explain it away to my seven-year-old daughter as a very large sneeze. They were simply playing in a local park in Manchester a few weeks ago when the incident ripped through what should have been a peaceful and wholesome time for any mother and child. 
"'Fight the Jewish scum' and 'Jew, Jew, Jew... Run', were the more vicious threats hurled at me in the past few days, however, when I decided to secretly film and find out whether 'Jew-hatred' really is alive and kicking on British streets."
The article also reports on similar walks; in Paris, by Israeli journalist Zvika Klein, who was a victim of harassment, threats, and spitting; in Copenhagen, where Omar Shargawi, an award-winning Palestinian-Danish documentary maker, put on a kippah - for the most part he was not harassed except when someone shouted "F**k you little Jew"; in Rome Ben Katz was greeted in a friendly fashion by some people who said "Shalom" or "Shabbat Shalom" to him, but he was also cursed at by right-wing hoodlums; in Berlin Adam Goldman was undisturbed, except when some teenagers "turned their heads and pointed as if they couldn't get over the fact that there was a real living Jew standing close to them but that is just ignorant teenagers"; and finally in Stockholm, Simon Moser rode the subway and got no reaction whatsoever from people who saw him.

In Germany I've felt quite apprehensive about wearing a star of David on a necklace, but perhaps I shouldn't be so nervous about it. It seems like I'd get a far more hostile response in other parts of Europe.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A visit to the Eshta'ol Forest - Cyclamens and Poppies

A couple of days ago, a friend and I went in search of a calm, natural place to spend a couple of hours, and we found the Eshta'ol Forest, next to Ta'oz, in the Judean foothills.

We first found a strange lookout tower, the Harel Lookout Point. It turns out that this tower was first constructed during the 1948 war. A sign nearby reads: "The building that served until 1948 as Beit Jit's school stood on this spot. During the work on the Burma Road, the site was a Seventh Brigade outpost that guarded the detour. Today it is the site of a lookout tower for KKL forest rangers and the starting point for a trip along the marked section of the Burma Road." The Burma Road was built as an alternative route to the regular road to Jerusalem, which was very dangerous to Jewish travel because Arab fighters regularly shot at and ambushed the Jewish convoys. Because the road was nearly blockaded, Jerusalem was cut off from supplies from other parts of the country. The Burma Road enabled convoys to reach the Jewish parts of Jerusalem. The second map below is taken from Wikipedia Commons and shows the state of fighting in the area on June 11, 1948. It also shows the area of the Burma Road ("Route de Birmanie") and where the Seventh Brigade was stationed.As you can see, almost all of the villages were inhabited by Palestinian Arabs,  The villages were conquered and destroyed by the Haganah during the the war.

We walked behind the lookout tower and found a short trail that went into the woods, and found a beautiful site - fields full of cyclamens (called rakafet in Hebrew) interspersed with the occasional red poppy. There were other pretty flowers as well, but I don't know what they're called.

An Assyrian winged being