About Me

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On American Jews and Moral Elitism

Another piece from my first blog, The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, worth revisiting

This article by Gil Troy sums up much of my thinking about the moral elitism that many well-meaning American Jews suffer. At its heart is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that no amount of Israeli good will or sechel (intellect) - of which, these Jews see themselves as possessing in massive quantities - by Israel's leaders can magically bring peace to the Jewish state, and that, as Troy states, is has become un-pc to:
"acknowledge [in regards to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other radical groups] that we are dealing with a different culture and a murderous ideology,"
This ideology, it should be pointed out, doesn't share our assumptions about tolerance, pluralism, and peace.

But, Troy is also making a broader point about a Western Jewish world that has become so well-off, and lives in such freedom, comfort, and safety in the nations where they reside, that they have lost the sense of what it means to have to struggle for your existence, to have to take up arms and fight for your life, your family, your community, your nation, the right to live freely as Jews in a world (and certainly a part of the world) that is still hostile to such modest aims.

No matter how openly hostile Israel's enemies are to their existence, no matter how serious and complex the myriad of threats that Israelis face are, such a disconnect results in an inability to empathize with such fears - the very real concerns of Jews whose lives aren't as easy as theirs.

Still, many of these Jews insist, they do indeed feel bad about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, do spend countless hours worrying about it, decrying the violence, and hoping for a resolution, to which Troy stresses,
"We need warrior Jews, not worrier Jews. Israelis should justifiably say: “don’t cry for us New York Jewry (and elsewhere). Our State, for all its challenges, is thriving. Our neighbors – and the world – need fixing.”
Among the more silly statements by an American Jewish organization during Israel's Operation Cast Lead - and one which perfectly illustrates the disconnect I'm referring to - was issued by the new left-wing Israel lobby group, J Street, when they issued a press release scolding Israel for its behavior and pointing out that, “only diplomacy and negotiations can end the rockets and terror.”

I'm truly baffled how anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of the democratic world's experience in the last century battling totalitarian and terrorist movements can seriously make such a claim. And - as a new Israeli who now must burden the real-world consequences of such facile notions about war, peace, diplomacy, and the right to self-defense - I nervously ponder the degree to which such ideas have planted roots and taken hold within the American Jewish community.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Seat at the Table

Last week I attended the the Annual Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem.

Established by Foreign Ministry, the Forum has developed into a widely influential annual event, and represents the largest international Jewish body that focuses on coordinated efforts to combat antisemitism.

The two-day meeting was attended by members of Parliament, diplomats, journalists, legal experts, NGO representatives, and leading academic figures, and senior leaders of Jewish communities and organizations from around the world - participants representing more than 50 different countries.

In addition to the wonderful opportunity to network with colleagues in the field, the Forumincluded ten in-depth working group sessions focused on a wide variety of issues related to antisemitism, including: nationalist trends in Central and Eastern Europe; Rising antisemitism in Latin America and the Iranian Influence; Delegitimization of Israel through Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions; and Online antisemitism.

My invite (and my participation in the breakout group focusing on online antisemitism) can be attributed to the relationship I've developed with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs - specifically the essay I recently had published on the JCPA website concerning antisemitism and anti-Zionism on progressive American political blogs.

While I certainly have tried to maintain a degree of humility concerning my participation at theevent, its hard for me not to appreciate the long and, at times, arduous road which led me here - here in the literal sense of my Aliyah, as well as in the broader professional sense.

This professional journey actually began many years ago, as a college student during the first Intifada - as a witness to quite extreme and hateful eruptions of anti-Israel activity on campus at Temple University -but didn't come fully to fruition until the second Intifada was at its peak in 2002, as a witness to the horrifying outbreak of antisemitism around the world as a result of Israel's efforts to defend herself from an unrelenting terrorist onslaught.

This latter phenomenon - and my realization that, despite my early optimism in the mid to late 90's around hopes pinned to the Oslo process, the prospect of a gradual end to the historic enmity faced by Jews around the world (as well as Israel, in so far as it continued to represent the collective Jew) would continue to be merely a chimera.

Indeed, it was this somber realization which inspired me, at the age of 35, to become an unpaid intern at the Philly Regional office of Anti-Defamation League. This internship would eventually lead - after quite a few professional ups and downs over the course of 6 years - to my decision to make Aliyah, my relationship with the JCPA, the essay, and subsequent invite to the Conference.

During my interview with the Philly ADL Regional Director, prior to becoming an intern, I recall telling him that - though I lacked any real professional experience - I felt strongly that I had something to contribute to this cause, something unique to say. My years in the professional wilderness had provided me time to read and think, to ruminate and ponder the big picture - to perceive the subtext beneath surface of the debate. I said that I wanted to use this understanding to become a foot soldier in the battles the Jewish community would, sadly, have to continue to fight. In short, I wanted a seat at the table.

While there is no silver bullet in which to defeat this persistent antisemitism and anti-Zionism, we must continue in our efforts to expose and fight - aggressively, and with a dogged determination, using everything in our rhetorical, political, and intellectual arsenal - those who continue threaten both Jews as individuals, as well as the state of Israel, which represents the historic Jewish longing to be, as Herzl stated, ''a free people in our land''.

But, we also must continue to remember, as individuals who often possess the vanity and egos which naturally accompany the dogged pursuit of great accomplishments, what Sen. John McCain wrote in his memoir, Faith of My Fathers. Referring to his Vietnam prisoner-of-war experience, he said that he had never felt freer because, “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”

Words to remember, as we continue to fight the good fight

On ''Demopaths and Dupes''

This was posted on my first blog, The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, a while back, but serves a a relevant reminder of the propensity of many progressives to engage in truly dangerous moral equivalency between open, democratic nations and closed totalitarian regimes - resulting in the willingness to believe that the of leaders of such totalitarian movements truly seek ''peace'' and ''justice''. Those wishing to further explore this phenomena should read this piece by Richard Landes, on ''Demopaths and Dupes''.

Briefly, ''Demopaths'' are people who use democratic language and invoke human rights only when it serves their interests, and not when it calls for self-criticism or self-restraint. Demopaths demand stringent levels of human “rights” but do not apply these basic standards for the “other” to their own behavior. The most lethal demopaths use democratic rights to destroy democracy.

''Dupes'' refer to the fact that, in order to be effective, demopaths must convince others that their human rights talk is sincere. Only when the Trojans believed that the horse was a “gift” acknowledging their strength, did they take it into their city. When demopaths succeed, a dysfunctional relationship emerges with sincere human-rights activists in an increasingly demonizing rhetoric – against the demopaths’ target – that seeks to influence public attitudes and eventually, policy.

"Apart from the time restriction (a truce that lapses after 10 years) and the refusal to accept Israel's existence, Mr. Meshal's terms approximate the Arab League peace plan . . ."

-- Hamas peace plan, as explained by the New York Times

"Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

-- Tom Lehrer, satirist

Here is a spot on take-down of the, at times, unintentionally hilarious recent NY Times piece on the "Hamas peace plan", by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Only the Times could conduct a full-length interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and argue, with a straight face, that he seeks peace. One of the most tragic aspects of the devolution of left-wing thought is their propensity to project their own values, of tolerance and accomodation, on governments and cultures who continually make clear, by word and by deed, their opposition to such democratic mores. While there clearly are some grey areas, Hamas is not one of them. Their malicious intent against Jews and Israelis has been annunciated countless times - including being codified in their founding charter, which actually quotes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to "prove" that Jews are indeed trying to take over the world - and has been demonstrated in deed in the form of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians since their rise to power in Gaza in 2007.

At its core, the left-wing propensity to argue that Hamas is willing to make peace with Israel seems to be motivated by a wish to legitimize their hope in the "peace process" - a process and a goal which most Israelis, and most of Israel's supporters in the West, view with increasing suspicion in light of what's occurred after the Israeli withdraw of Gaza, and the horrid possibility that a Palestinian state in the West Bank will eventually be ruled by Hamas - despite overwhelming evidence that the presence of Hamas (not to mention Hezbollah) and other radical elements within Palestinian society make such a process futile at best.

The only way to get to an effective two-state solution is for Palestinians to rid their political culture of such radicalism, and build a democratic culture and institutions of government capable of actually implementing an eventual peace deal. In short, peace can not be dictated from above (by the U.S., the E.U., the Quartet, etc.), but must be created from below.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stephen Walt HEARTS Israel, and other such fantasies

Here's an early post from my original blog, The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, which comments on the often vicious criticisms of ''The Israel Lobby'' by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer - arguments whose current manifestations are related to the founding of the left-wing Israel lobbying group, J Street - based on the notion that the main obstacle to peace in the region isn't Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian violence/radicalism more broadly, but, rather, mainstream pro-Israel groups in the U.S.

Stephen Walt is at it again. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, his essay, Treason of the Hawks, Walt (as he did in his book co-written with John Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy), blames Israel, and only Israel, for the failure to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and then bizarrely implies that his vitriolic attacks on the Jewish state is undertaken as an act of concern for its future. He then contrasts this "love" with what he audaciously refers to as the "betrayal" committed by Zionists, such as Prime MinisterNetanyahu and Israel's supporters in the West who, he implies, are so war hungry that they fail to seize the opportunity to achieve a two-state solution - the only solution that would secure Israel's long-term survival.

First, here's a good reply to Walt's piece in Commentary Magazine.


Now, a few of my own thoughts.

1. In order to advance this narrative of Zionists as pro-war and rejectionist, Walt minimizes the threat Israel faces from Iran, implying that fears of Iranian nukes are an intentional over-reaction...simply meant to provide rhetorical cover for Israel's hawkishness. He bizarrely quotes Richard Cohen as evidence that Iran's intentions towards Jews are benign, and is just implies that Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to wipe Israel off the map have been mistranslated. In fact,Ahmadinejad has been quoted dozens of times repeating some version of this threat - statements that are on record. Further, Ahmadinejad addressed the UN last year and advanced a classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Zionists (i.e., Jews) control the world's financial markets, and the policies of most Western governments. He is anti-Semitic to the core, and for Walt to simply say that he has made "foolish remarks about the Holocaust" and leave it at that is incredibly naive or dishonest. Ahmadinejad didn't just make foolish remarks, he knows that casting doubt on the Holocaust can serve to legitimize his hostility towards Jews. After all, implicit in any Holocaust denial is the charge that Jews have acted conspiratorially to create this "fiction" in the minds of most people.

2. He also erroneously casts doubt on Israelis confidence in the Zionist Ideal, ignoring surveys year after year that show Israelis to be among the most patriotic citizens in the world (the number of Israelis who express love of country and a willingness to die for their country is even higher than that of Americans.) The fact that Walt quoted Ian Lustick is pretty telling - Lustickis a leftist Penn professor known for his hyper-critical essays about Israel. Here's an article about that survey I mentioned, which shows them to be the most patriotic nation in the West.


3. The greatest weakness, however, is how puts all the onus of making peace on Israel - assuming that if Israel simply wants peace it will happen - and ignores that there has been a consensus within Israel about a 2 state solution since the 90's. In fact, most Israelis are skeptical of the possibility of a peace agreement because of what happened when the left S. Lebanon and Gaza and what the result of such unilateral withdraws portends for any subsequent withdraw from the West Bank. I honestly don't know how Walt can write a long essay about "peace" w/o even once mentioning Hamas - both in terms of what they've created in Gaza, and in terms of the possibility that they could eventually seize control of the W. Bank after an Israeli withdraw. Indeed, I think the biggest problem the anti-Israel crowd makes is to ignore the Palestinians alltogether in their narrative, as if how they behave now, and how they will behave politically if Israel gives them a state, is not a huge factor to be considered.

I've supported the idea of a two-state solution for some time, but, like many Zionists, am increasingly skeptical of the Palestinians capacity for responsible self-government. While the status quo (Israel continuing to occupy the W. Bank) is a horrible situation, the possible alternative (another hostile Islamist regime bordering them on the East) could be much, much worse. And, as politics is often about the lesser of two evils, I think that the status quo is the lesser of the two evils.

(Finally, he's simply wrong to imply that the organized community doesn't support the peace process and the idea of a two-state solution. Poll after poll demonstrates this to be patently untrue.)

Inconvenient Truths about Terrorism in our Age

Before making Aliyah, and starting my current blog, Adam's Zionist Journey, I created a more explicitly political blog called: The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, with the intent of maintaining both blogs. Since Adam's Zionist Journey has become my main forum to write about both my Aliyah from a personal perspective, as well as my more political thoughts and arguments regarding Aliyah, Zionism, and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, more broadly, I decided to copy (and at times update) some of the early posts from Anti-Imperialism of Fools which I felt were interesting and worth exploring. Here's the first of these: A post which elaborates on a letter of mine which was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in response to an essay by Naif Al-Mutawa entitled The Many Faces of Extremism.

Naif Al-Mutawa's central point, in his essay (which, unfortunately, I couldn't find a link to), The Many Shapes of Extremism, published earlier in the year in the Philadelphia Inquirer, was this:

"My intent was to advance the notion that extremism is nothing more than a bunch of neurotransmitters working overtime - or perhaps under time. It is not Islam or Judaism or Hinduism that creates extremism; rather, some people are predisposed to extremism and will pursue it in any faith."

And my published reply:

Naif al-Mutawa's op-ed ("The many shapes of extremism," April 8) advances the erroneous notion that extremism is equally distributed among the three major faiths.While it is important to stress that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists, the overwhelming majority of terrorist acts - according to data published online by the National Counter-Terrorism Center - committed by those inspired by religion are indeed (Sunni) Muslim.While I understand that many well-meaning Americans would cringe at the suggestion that terrorists are far more likely to be Muslim than Jew, or Christian, the problem with extremism in our time is the radical, violent manifestations of specific faith traditions. Empirical data should never take a back seat to feel-good assumptions and platitudes. At stake isn't merely the intrinsic value of truth and accuracy but, more specifically, the broader truism that we can't rally the civilized world to win a war - militarily or morally - against an enemy that we're not allowed to name.

Adam Levick
Al-Mutawa may be correct to some extent. I'm sure certain individuals are indeed naturally (even, perhaps, biologically) more predisposed to extremism than others, just like some people are more predisposed to abusing drugs or alcohol. But, as with alcohol abuse, we wouldn't deny an element of choice involved in the behavior would we? Further, if certain cultures have a higher degree of alcoholism than other cultures it would be reasonable to ask why...what are the cultural and ethical norms that may contribute to this disparity. Naif Al-Mutawa refuses to acknowledge or address the fact that (while, again, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not extremists), violent extremist acts are, when movtivated by religion, dramatically more likely to be carried out by Muslims than by non-Muslims (Christians, Jews, Budhists, Hindus, etc.)

The point isn't to demonize Muslims but, rather, to make the point, as other writers have observed, that, as extremism in our day is to a large degree a radical Islamic phenomena, it is incumbant for the Muslim community to acknowledge this problem, examine it closely, figure out the religious/cultural factors influencing such aborant behavior, and stop insisting (contrary to all the evidence) that other religions are also plagued with the same degree of extremism, and for the moderate forces in their community to do ideological battle with the extremists in their midsts - to win hearts and minds for a future Islam not compromised such radicalism.

Here's the report by the National Counter Terrorism Center which I made reference to in my letter. Open link and go to page 22 to see relevant graph:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Essay Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism in Progressive U.S. Blogs/News Websites:

Influential and Poorly Monitored

Adam Levick

  • Sixty-seven percent of the worldwide internet population visit social networking sites and blogs (web 2.0). These are now outpacing email in popularity. According to Nielsen Online they have become the fourth most popular online category. The popularity of political blogs is increasing as traditional media struggle to stay afloat.
  • The three most popular progressive political blogs in the United States are Huffington Post, Salon, and Daily Kos. These three together have over thirteen million unique visitors per month.
  • Within these three blogs a number of historical anti-Semitic staples appear frequently: excessive Jewish power and control over society/government; Jewish citizens are more loyal to Israel than to their own country; Israel resembles Nazi Germany; Israel is demonized.
  • In part because of the huge size of the blogosphere - there are thousands of bloggers at Daily Kos alone - such hateful commentary often escapes the kind of scrutiny that the traditional media faces. A major challenge is that anonymity provides bloggers with moral impunity.

Full article HERE:


Monday, December 7, 2009

Pulling shots in Jerusalem

It is supposed that Ethiopians were the first to have discovered the energizing effect of the coffee bean plant. Once upon a time, or so the (mostly likely, Apocryphal) story goes, there was an Ethiopian goatherder named Kaldi. One day, as Kaldi was watching his herd, he noticed that some of the goats were eating the berries from a bush. After eating the berries, the goats became friskier and more excited. With a flash of insight, Kaldi made the connection between the berries and the extra energy his herd possessed. He gathered some of the berries and boiled them, producing a bitter concoction that had the benefit of warding off weariness. That is, it made him happy.

I recently concluded a temporary job at an espresso bar at the American Consulate, somewhere at a ''secure location'' in Jerusalem. As was the case in the U.S. before I finally landed a job with ADL, coffee retail, working as a Barista (a coffeehouse bartender of sorts) - pulling shots - will continue to be my fall back until I land a job in my field. I spent quite a few years, before I knew what my calling would be (in the professional wilderness) working full-time, both as a Barista and cafe manager - a career which began at the first Philadelphia Starbucks at the corner of 16th and Walnut St.

By 1475, the first coffeehouse opens in Constantinople. By 1600, coffee enters Europe through the port of Venice. The first coffeehouse opens in Italy in 1654.

My passion for coffee, and my interest in hanging out in coffee shops, started out quite simply. Back in college, I discovered it as a quick and inexpensive stimulant (like 50 cents at the machine) to help me stay awake when pulling those ''all-nighters'' when writing a paper or studying for finals. These occasional academically necessary perks - the procrastinator's best friend - evolved into an everyday custom, so that when espresso bars finally began to penetrate the Philly market I was quick to recognize both the superior quality of the beans they brewed, as well as how comfortable I felt taking in the coffeehouse culture - caffeinated coffee beverages being naturally conducive to reading, writing, and the political conversation that I so loved.

1607 Coffee is introduced to the New World by Captain John Smith, founder of Virginia at Jamestown.

Though I only began really drinking coffee on a regular basis in my senior year of college, my father deserves credit for introducing me to the bitter black brew. Dad used to stop at a Northeast Philadelphia diner every day before work - where he spent a few precious moments before his daily grind - conversing with his fellow ''regulars'' at Linton's Diner on Roosevelt Boulevard. Though I only accompanied him to Linton's once - prior to him taking me to the office on a ''take your son to work'' day - knowing dad, the topics most likely discussed over coffee were politics (of the liberal variety) and sports (of the Philly variety).

I remember the coffee he'd drink at home on the weekends, that strange yet pleasurable aroma wafting through the house, and the first tentative sip he allowed me to take as a kid - which wasn't very agreeable to my young palate, and now, looking back, reminds me of the time my dad bought me a slim jim (beef jerky) and the utter disgust I felt upon tasting this strangely salty and cured beef product, consumed under the entirely false impression that it was some sort of chocolate!

The famous Boston Tea Party of 1773 began when a large shipment of tea was dumped into the Boston Harbor to protest the British tax on the product, proclaiming, ''no taxation without representation''. After that, drinking tea became unpatriotic. And, by 1900, Americans were consuming half of the all the coffee produced in the world.

At first I drank my coffee with cream and sweet 'n low (essentially a coffee flavored warm beverage, closer to ice cream than the actual bean) but then gradually began to appreciate the taste of actual coffee until - not too long after one of my cheeky friends suggested that ''real'' men don't add cream and sugar - I finally began to drink my brew black, uncorrupted by anything sweet or light.

Ín 1822 The prototype of the first espresso machine is created in France.

Espresso bar culture has totally penetrated the Jerusalem scene. In addition to quite a few chains, like Cafe Aroma and Cupa Joe, there are also lots of quality ''Indy'' espresso bars - most, unlike in the U.S., offering, in addition to coffee beverages and pastries, ''real'' food - freshly made (usually kosher) salads, sandwiches, etc - and, not too infrequently, alcoholic drinks, too.

My favorite Rehavia neighborhood espresso bar is Cafe Nocturno נוקטרנו. I've become somewhat friendly with one of the owners, Amit, and, as I've come to recognize over the years the difference between cafes who pay lip service to quality and those who actually work hard to get the espresso just right (which, for anyone who has ever been a barista will attest to, takes a lot of work and constant committment), I'm constantly impressed by Amit's passion for coffee and the resulting quality of his espresso.

1995 Coffee is the worlds most popular beverage. More than 400 billion cups are consumed each year. It is a world commodity that is second only to oil.

Today, I do much of my blogging, and various other forms of Zionist activism via the social media, at cafes with free WiFi such as Nocturno, downing shot upon shot of the expertly brewed blend, served in an appropriately warmed demitasse cup.

My love of drinking coffee continues, unfettered by the humorless killjoys who warn, as if by rote, of its injurious effects, of the ''danger'' posed by this ''narcotic'', of the ''necessity'' to switch to decaf (an idea which one anonymous writer quipped was like consuming a non-alcoholic Single Malt Scotch), while ignoring the most simple truth about why I, and millions of other passionate souls consume it: Its a simple, affordable pleasure that makes you happier and provides many who seek such inspiration with that vital creative verve. Coffee isn't just another beverage. Its a state of mind, a way of looking at the world.

Honore de Balzac, in "The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee", said:

This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.

I think Kaldi the Goatherder would have enthusiastically concurred!

Friday, November 27, 2009

My letter to the editor, published in the Nov. 25 Jewish Exponent

Don't Call Them Activists; They Are Clearly Radicals

In reply to your Nov. 12 cover story, "Dueling Voices Duke It Out on Campus," I'd like to note that the "activists" noted in your piece, Elliot Ratzman and Jeff Halper, who claim Hillel unfairly denied Halper the right to speak, should in no way be considered victims, as their agenda is quite radical, and they are prone to express sympathy to groups who justify violence against Israelis.

Ratzman, in an article published in the magazine American Foreign Policy, accused Israel of practicing ethnic cleansing, and has volunteered with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions -- a group that routinely defames Israel with the charge of being an apartheid state.

Further, Ratzman works with ICAHD founder Halper, a radical anti-Zionist who speaks wistfully of the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, and who, during his frequent speaking engagements for Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center (a group that often compares the Palestinians to the crucified Jesus, and Israel to his murderers, alluding to the ugly and false deicide charge against the Jewish people), has used language equating Israel with Nazi Germany.

Halper has also justified Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, even refusing to condemn attacks against a 4-year-old. He is also a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a group, according to the Web site of the Anti-Defamation League, that has associated with known Palestinian terrorists.

There is nothing remotely reasonable, yet alone "progressive," about Ratzman's and Halper's views on Israel; and the Jewish community has no obligation to give a platform to such individuals, who aid and abet those who openly seek the Jewish state's destruction.

Adam Levick


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gila's Shrapnel

The suicide bomber who sent hundreds of pieces of shrapnel tearing into Gila Weiss's body when she blew herself up at a bus stop next to Mahane Yehuda market (The Shuk) in Jerusalem in 2002, was a 21 year old Palestinian woman disguised to look like she was pregnant.

The bomber, Andaleeb Taqataqah, was recruited by Aksa Martyrs Brigade - controlled by Fatah, which, at the time, was controlled by Yassir Arafat.

Weiss, then 31, was also so badly burned and disfigured by the blast that her roommate was able to identify her only by the nail varnish on her toenails - her feet protected, she noted, by the ''...brown leather Naot brand mini-boots that covered my feet up to right below my ankles''.

Nearly every part of Weiss's body was pierced by shrapnel - bits and pieces of metal, glass, wood, pebbles, and plastic from objects damaged or destroyed by the blast, as well as, more than likely, pieces of the suicide bomber herself. Despite the many surgeries she had to endure, the doctors weren't able to locate or remove every last piece, and, to this day, projectiles from that horrible day remain in her body.

The bomb which tore through Weiss was manufactured from three tubes of plastic explosives and a battery, which were placed in a black purse to camouflage it.

On the day of the attack, the terrorist was driven to Abu Dis and from there she took a taxi to Jerusalem and made her way to the Shuk. When the terrorist realized that everyone was being checked at the entrances to the market, she turned around and walked towards the nearby bus stop, opposite Hava Bakery. There, she waited a short while, until a bus arrived. When the driver opened the door, and the passengers began getting on and off the bus, she blew herself up - killing 6 people, and injuring a total of 105 (including Weiss).

A number of days prior to the attack Taqataqah was videotaped dressed in black and holding a Koran.

In the introductory post for her blog (called, My Shrapnel) - which she launched shortly after the attack - Weiss speaks of the powerlessness she felt. She said:

I [could] have died and never known it. There would have been no goodbyes, no final thoughts of my loved ones, nothing. Everything that was in my mind, all of my loves and hates and hopes and dreams, everything that makes up who is Me, would have been instantly and completely wiped out.

But this is too terrifying and you cannot accept it. You want to believe that, when this happens to you, you will be on notice. You will be able to fight for your life. If you see the terrorist, you can dodge. If you feel the heat of the explosion you can turn away.
If you feel the shrapnel entering me, you can declare to yourself: “I will not die” and force the breath in and out of your body. Knowledge is power.
How can you possibly accept a vision of yourself as without power, as powerless? How can you accept a picture of yourself knowing nothing, and having absolutely no option or opportunity to fight? How can you just die, without even realizing that anything hit you. One moment you exist. The next you do not. This shakes you to the soul.

The two hours I spent with Gila recently, on an organized bike tour near Mesilat Zion - 7 years after the attack - through often hilly and challenging terrain that afternoon seemed to suggest that she has largely recovered from her injuries and that the reconstructive facial surgeries were very successful.

What most struck me when reading Gila's blog posts following the attack was that the thing which seemed to shock her the most, the element of the assault that she simply couldn't accept, was her complete powerlessness in the face of an enemy who strikes at Israeli civilians, arbitrarily, wherever the ''opportunity'' presents itself, and without warning - without even a second to fight back and resist the attacker.

From 2000 until the end of 2004 (the period known as the 2nd Intifada) there were over a thousand innocent Israeli men, women, and children killed in such attacks and more than 7000 wounded - many of whom suffered catastrophic injuries (such as severe burns, amputated limbs, paralysis, etc.) that they are forced to deal with for the rest of their lives - a constant reminder of the brutal attack which changed them forever, and one which, like Weiss, they were powerless to resist.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ethiopian Israelis, The Right of Return, & the Issue of Race

While spending the day volunteering in Beer Sheva with the Jewish Agency last week, we visited children at an Ethiopian Absorption center/school. While there we interacted with the children (actually helped them make small kites), and learned about the the unique challenges facing Ethiopian Olim through the years - a community that is now over 100,000 strong here, but whose integration into Israeli society has been hampered both by the vast differences between Ethiopian and and Israeli culture, as well as by lingering discrimination.

While there we heard from Micah Feldman, who gave us an overview of the efforts undertaken by Israel to rescue the Jews of Ethiopia. Feldman, quite the hero in the Ethiopian Aliyah movement, known as Abba Micha among his many Ethiopian friends, worked to facilitate Operation Moses, which brought 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and was actually one of the chief engineers of Operation Soloman, which brought over an additional 14,000 Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa to Tel- Aviv.

Operation Moses was the mission which rescued Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during a famine in 1984 - an effort of the IDF, the CIA, the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, mercenaries, and Sudanese security forces. Begun November 21, 1984, it involved the air transport of some 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from Sudan directly to Israel, ending January 5, 1985.

Thousands of these Jews had fled Ethiopia on foot for temporary refugee camps in Sudan (who secretly agreed to take them in) but, once the story broke in the media, however, Arab countries pressured Sudan to stop the airlift and about 1,000 Ethiopian Jews were left behind. Most of them were evacuated later in the U.S.-led Operation Joshua. More than 1,000 so-called "orphans of circumstance" existed in Israel, children separated from their families still in Africa, until Operation Solomon took 14,000 more Jews to Israel in 1991.

In Operation Solomon, several Jewish organizations, including the state of Israel, concerned about the well-being of the sizable population of the remaining Ethiopian Jews (as the Ethiopian government was close to being topple), launched what would be the largest emigration of Ethiopian Jews to date. In only 36 hours, non-stop flights of 34 Israeli aircraft transported these 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

While Israel, of course, has its flaws - and, indeed there are many Israeli NGOs, and individuals, working hard to increase opportunities for Israelis of Ethiopian background, and working to end the lingering discrimination which continues to hamper such progress - Israel's willingness to take immense political, economic, and military risks to rescue black Africans from poverty and war in one of the poorest and least politically stable regions in the world, and grant them immediate citizenship, is hard to reconcile with the facile narratives of Israel as a racist state.

In fact, Ethiopians weren't the only Jews of color who were rescued from harm in their 61 year history. Operation Magic Carpet was an operation between June 1949 and September1950 that brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews - as well as 500 Djiboutian and Eritrean Jews - to the nascent state. Today, Jews of color (Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America) actually account for over 50% of all Israeli Jews.

The fact is, you'd be hard-pressed to find any other ''progressive'' Western nation that has done anything even approaching what the Jewish state has done in rescuing black Africans from danger and granting them immediate citizenship - an eternal open-invitation, or sorts, for Jews all over the world, of any race, ethnicity, or economic status, to come and join our national family.

However, many people - even those who don't make the mistake of accusing Israel of racism as such - still have problems with the nature of Israel as a Jewish state, and ask, often quite innocently, why Israel must give immigration preference to those of Jewish descent, rather than to all, irrespective of their ethnic or religious background. To this, it is important to point out two things - first, that the historic mission of Israel (that is, one of its primary reason for being, is to be a refuge for Jews all over the world - as Herzl said, a state that would serve as the ''Guardian of the Jews'').

While we'll never know the precise number of Jews who would have been saved during the Holocaust if Israel had become an independent state a decade or so prior to 1948, one other thing is for sure. As even the more progressive and tolerant nations at the time only allowed a trickle of Jews to immigrate, sealing the fate of millions attempting to escape the Nazi onslaught, the existence of a sovereign Jewish polity - with the means: economically, militarily, and diplomatically to protect Jews at home and abroad - is no mere religious, abstract, or ideologically driven desire. Rather, it is a rational and pragmatic approach to ensuring the safety and well-being of a small minority who has understandably tired of relying on the good-will of the enlightened nations of the world to ensure its well-being, and indeed its very (individual and collective) survival.

The second point that needs to be made is the common misconception that Israel is at all unique in granting citizenship preference to certain groups - whether based on differences in religion, ethnicity, or some sense of shared history and/or people-hood - over others. For instance, there are 53 nations who belong to an international group known as the Organization of Islamic Conference - that is, nations who self-identify as Muslim states, most of whose citizenship laws codify preference towards Muslims over non-Muslims.

However, even in the democratic West, nations have citizenship laws that give preference to those can claim some historic, ethnic, or linguistic connection with their nation. Many countries provide immigration privileges to individuals with ethnic/familial ties to these countries (so-called ''leges sanguinis''). As examples: Bulgaria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Poland, Romania, S. Korea, Spain, Turkey, and Ukraine, all have citizenship laws based partly or largely on this principle - that is, a Right of Return of sorts for people determined to share a preferred common national trait. Apart from France, ''jus sanguinis'' still is the
preferred means of passing on citizenship in many continental
European countries, with benefits of maintaining national unity (while not in any way necessarily denying equal civil rights for minorities within the country who have citizenship, but who don't share such traits).

So, in fact, Israel is not at all unique in seeking to maintain a nation unified by a citizenry who share a similar historical memory and a common sense of political & moral destiny. Moreover, it important to remember that Israel undertook such extraordinary efforts to grant citizenship to over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews due in part to the rulings, by Israeli authorities, that they are indeed Jewish despite the fact that, genetically, they are more similar to other non-Jewish Ethiopians than to Israeli Jews, giving credence to theories that such Ethiopians converted to Judaism somewhere in the past, and are not, indeed, descendants from the original Jewish tribes - that is, they don't share a ''leges sanguinis'' with other Jews.

The immigration of Ethiopian Jews - and other ''Jews of Color'' - over its 61 year history, is a lasting testament to the fact that race, as such, is not a consideration in determining who can become a citizen and contribute to the national enterprise of the Jewish people.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My essay in today's Jewish Exponent

Opinion: His Aliyah Motivated by Need to Be a Partner With Israel

October 08, 2009

Adam Levick
Adam Levick
On May 20, at 9:30 a.m., I became a citizen of Israel, the first sovereign Jewish state in more than 2,000 years. And, as I walked around Jerusalem on that first day, what struck me most was the feeling of responsibility -- that I wasn't just a supporter anymore. This was now my country, and the responsibilities of citizenship weighed heavily upon me.

Though I have only been here for several months, what I've experienced in this short time has amazed me.

I've lamented our peoples' suffering at the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av; begun learning Hebrew, our people's ancient tongue that Eliezer Ben-Yehuda miraculously revived; attended state ceremonies on Yom Yerushalayim; bargained with vendors at the shuk; walked aimlessly through the winding alleyways of the Old City; toured the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim; and, for the first time, observed the High Holidays -- here, in the birthplace of the Jewish people.

I have, often through mere happenstance, met some extraordinary Israelis. While roaming aimlessly through the artists' colony of Yemin Moshe, I came upon an open house at the home of Bridgitta Yavari-Ilan, artist, writer and intellectual. Bridgitta, quite an anomaly, is a passionate Zionist, but also happens to be a Protestant from Sweden who spent her first years here caring for Palestinian orphans. Yes, she said, I could take her picture. Yes, I said, I'll buy her book, costing 195 shekels, "but, for you," she said, "I give a special price -- 100 shekels."

I also had the good fortune of meeting a woman at the Herzl Museum named Francis Greenberg. When Greenberg, last year, at age 88 left the Pittsburgh home where she'd lived for 60 years, walked off an El Al plane and became a citizen of Israel, it was her second time trying to make aliyah -- the first being 61 years ago, in 1947, on a ship called the Exodus.

My interest in meeting as many real actors as possible in this drama known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inspired me to tour the Dheisheh refugee camp, just outside Bethlehem. The people we met there reflected the kindness, complexity and pathos of the Palestinian people. While we were treated with warmth by our hosts, the art in the community center, which is used by the children of Dheisheh, contained works depicting messages of peace side by side with murals glorifying bomb-throwing terrorists.

It's also not every day that two middle-aged drunk Israeli Arabs sit down on the bench you're occupying on Ben-Yehuda, share their bottle of wine with you and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the ideas of Spinoza and Camus. This impromptu, and quite spirited, tete-â-tete with Nadi and Razy seemed like the stuff of fiction but it was very real.

I toured the settlement of Eli, a few miles from Ariel, stretching over a vast mountainous area and encompassing a cluster of neighborhoods with nearly 3,000 residents. Kobi Eliraz, head of Eli's local council, spoke with immense pride about his community, and also wanted to make clear that he recognizes the authority of the state. If it decides to evacuate him from Eli, he'll fight the decision politically, but peacefully go along with the wishes of the democratic majority.

I also recently visited the military cemetery at Mount Herzl to attend a memorial (the third yahrtzeit) for Michael Levin, an American oleh from the Philadelphia area killed during the Second Lebanon War. Though I didn't personally know Michael, there is something about his life -- and death -- that has always touched me. This connection was heightened by my aliyah and my presence at the ceremony, witnessing the profound grief of his family, friends and fellow soldiers on a warm July afternoon.

It was extremely moving when Kaddish was recited, when Michael's father spoke, when his closest friend spoke -- seeing and hearing their pain as they tried to hold back tears and carry on as they all must. Later, we all sang "Hatikvah" with Michael's family, as one family.

My move was motivated by a wish to do more than just experience Israel; I wanted to become an Israeli. It was inspired by the righteousness of the Zionist cause and an increasing sense of the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders. And so, my Zionist journey continues.

Adam Levick worked for the Anti-Defamation League before he made aliyah.

See more articles in: Editorial & Opinion

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Attempting to explain the world's oldest hatred, to my new friends

I was sitting in Cafe Aroma with my new French friends - two people I met while on a tour in Jerusalem - having a really enjoyable conversation...the kind you often have on vacation, especially long vacations where you're more likely to throw your usual social caution to the wind..when, the liberation you feel by being so far from everything and everyone you've ever known allows a greater daring, a willingness to take more risks. Though I'm not technically on vacation, being nearly 6000 miles away from home for, at the very least, a very extended period of time, has definitely put me in a mood similar to what I felt when I was backpacking across Europe in my 20s - the sense of limitless possibilities.

I think the three of us ended up talking for like 2 hours, a conversation which revolved around many things, but politics and religion took up most of our time - which seemed quite natural given their obvious erudition and genuine curiousness (I, believe it or not, do try to avoid politics if I sense folks are not interested). My new friends genuinely seemed to have more questions - about Judaism, Israel, the U.S. - than answers, assumptions, or specific opinions, which made for an unusual encounter.

They, after all, were not Jewish, not evangelical Christians or religious in any sense, not in any way connected to the Jewish state in the usual way and only visiting Israel out of curiousness...the kind of visitors most countries take for granted but for Israel is at least a bit unusual, and which made me think through my answers a bit longer than I normally would have. I felt that - especially when the conversation touched on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Zionism, and, American Jewry - I was, simultaneously representing my strong national identity as an American, my new Israeli identity, as well as my identity as a (American) Jew more broadly.

I must admit, my answer to the question, ''why did you move to Israel'' is a bit different when posed by a non-Jew, both in the discourse I use, broadly speaking, as well as in terms of the language I use. How many non-Jews, for instance, know what the word ''Aliyah'' means? To what degree do I need to defend/explain the Israeli Right of Return? Even the word, ''Zionist'', for instance, tragically, often has negative connotations for many in the non-Jewish progressive community - which caused me to wonder if much of what I was going to say would be lost in (political) translation.

Further, while conversing with my new friends I was trying hard to take them and their questions at face value, and not put them in the pre-assigned category of progressive Europeans viscerally hostile towards Israel - and, indeed, there was nothing even remotely indicating they held this view. And, in fact, I found their erudition quite refreshing -that even though they may not be overly informed on the topic of modern Zionism, their education and open-mindedness allowed them absorb what I was saying with a broad understanding of the political, cultural, and religious themes I was exploring. They were truly European in the very best sense of the word. However, though their English was excellent, and I don't think they missed much of what I was saying, there is, when discussing complex matters with non-native English speakers, always the fear that some of the nuance of the words and phrases you use may get lost or even slightly misinterpreted.

The most interesting part of our conversation was when my new friend asked me - during the course of the talk which touched on issues of perceived Jewish power in the U.S. - to provide any insight I had over the broad phenomena of anti-Semitism. ''Why do you think it occurs'', was what he was wondering.

Boy, there's a topic!!! (And, sure, I realize that some of my friends may be asking "G-d, why couldn't you have kept the conversation a bit lighter? There's so much to discuss that isn't so controversial and emotional...art, music, sports, or Croissants! But, what can I say, these conversations seem to follow me. As someone once said, "I is what I is''.)

Anti-Semitism is an issue which has shaped much of my professional and intellectual life, and one which I have spent a lot of time contemplating, as well as reading and writing about. There were so many angles I could have tackled the subject from, as anti-Semitism has gone through different stages over the years, and varies widely depending on the part of the world where this phenomena takes place. For instance, early Christian anti-Judaic polemics - predicated largely by Jews' rejection of Christ, and the related charge that Jews were responsible, as a group, for the death of Christ (deicide) - dates back to the first or second century CE, and certainly is/was quite a different creature than 20th century secular incarnations, such as the racially-based anti-Semitism of the Nazis.

However, there were two themes which I thought worth commenting on, having decided to speak broadly on what I believe to be at the root of much (but, obviously not all) of the modern manifestation of anti-Semitism. The first one pertains to the reaction of many non-Jews to a very particularistic Jewish identity in a world increasingly under the influence of post-identity politics (which, for the sake of brevity, I didn't explore), and the other, which I chose to elaborate on, was the reaction to the perception of Jewish power in the world.

Put simply, I explained - and as I touched on in my blog post about Tisha B'Av and Jewish power - classic anti-Semitism (such as the Jewish conspiracy posited in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) was predicated upon the fear of Jews (Judeophobia, as such) as aliens, different, the other who can't be trusted and who, it was supposed, meets in secret with other Jews with some malicious intent, so that anything undersirable, economic or political could be projected upon the them. In the Middle Ages, Jews, to use but one example, were accused of being behind the Black Plague.

Today, however, while such wildly conspiratorial narratives pertaining to the Jews, sadly, still have currency in many parts of the world, by and large, such views have lost credibility in most of the West, and has instead morphed into a general fear of Jews insofar as they - who have achieved a good deal of economic and educational success - are perceived to posses power which is, in this view, disproportionate to their numbers. Indeed, a poll taken during the height of our current economic downturn in the U.S. indicated that 25% of Americans believed that Jews were primarily responsible for the downturn. Jews were no longer accused in polite circles of ''poisoning the wells'', but, as representing in the eyes of many, the ruling class and perceived to to be the group who has benefitted most by our system, they could be associated with other modern social and economic miseries which, even for the well-educated, often defy simple explanations.

This perception of Jews as wielding a disproportionate degree of power and influence in the world can also be found in critiques suggesting that Jews wield too much power over the course of our nation's foreign policy. The book by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which argues that many of our nation's foreign policy decisions (such our support for Israel, as well as the recent decision to go to war with Iraq) was only made possible as a result of the disproportionate influence of the organized Jewish community, is the intellectual ground zero of such a narrative.

This is obviously a much longer discussion, but, I think that our modern political culture has come to almost fetishize powerlessness, and, indeed, much of our discourse seems to almost lionize those perceived to be victims. Its as if the status of being perceived to be an ''underdog'' is assumed, a priori, to carry with it a positive moral dimension - a position which (though when applied to, say, sports is understandable and quite innocent) often allows political actors in the world arena perceived to be weak to get a sort of moral get-out-of-jail-free card. After all, they're so weak...how could we possibly ask as much from them as we do their stronger competitor? (Hamas may have an openly anti-Semitic founding charter, and be at its core, a a totally reactionary political movement, but, it is often argued, at least implicitly, ''who are we to condemn their use of civilians as human shields in their war with Israel''? ''What can we expect from them''? ''Look how much stronger the Israeli military is than those ''rag-tag'' fighters in Gaza''.)

And, as Jews in the West have shown that an historically oppressed minority can indeed overcome their oppression and succeed and prosper, they are, tragically, now often on the wrong side of this political paradigm. For, taking this politics of victimhood to its natural end, if the weakest members of society are weak for no reason other than the arbitrary machinations of a system which oppresses them, then the inverse would naturally be true - those who benefit most from this same society must invariably reap these benefits by some nefarious undertakings or at least owing to some inherent systemic injustice. Much of modern anti-Semitism, I argued, is only one component within a broader Western political current which, at its core, is about our perception of the relationship between power, personal (and group) responsibility, and success.

I don't know if I necessarily converted my new friends to my view, but they did genuinely seem interested in what I said, and, as they departed, we exchanged contact information (and even became Facebook friends). I don't normally ''hold court'' like this, and really hope I didn't come across to them as defensive, accusatory, or haughty, (this wasn't my attempt at some sort of ''Jáccuse'' moment). But, what can I say? They asked!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hadassah, Mt. Scopus Hospital

I'm now mostly recovered from hernia surgery, which was performed recently at Hadassah (Mt. Scopus) Hospital in Jerusalem. My injury occurred while playing softball - was rounding first base, felt something pull or tear, and knew right away that it was more than just a minor injury.

The care I received, from my surgeon to the nursing staff, was superb - and, indeed, prior to my surgery, the consensus among my family and friends was that, while they would have, of course, preferred for me to be closer to home so they could look after me while recovering from the operation, umm...how can I put it...they seem to suggest that...let's see...I'll put it like this...Jews aren't exactly strangers to the field of medicine and, well, they assumed that surgeons at one of the leading hospitals the Jewish state could, more than likely, handle my little hernia.

A brief history of the hospital: Hadassah was the first teaching hospital and medical center in Palestine, opened its doors in 1939, and quickly developed a reputation for providing medical services to all the communities in the region, providing modern medical care previously unavailable to the poorer classes amongst the Arabs.

In March 1947, as tension, and violence, in the region was mounting at the impending British withdrawal, the leader of the Arab Forces in Jerusalem, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, threatened to blow up the hospital and, though that didn't occur, attacks were carried out on traffic to and from the hospital - leading up to April 13, 1948 (about a month before Israel declared Independence), when an armored convoy of doctors, nurses, medical students, and other staff on its way to the hospital was ambushed, and 78 people were killed in what became known as the Hadassah medical convoy massacre.

Following Israel's War of Independence, under the 1949 armistice agreement with Jordan, Mount Scopus was declared a demilitarized zone and operation of the hospital became impossible. The staff moved to temporary quarters in Jerusalem and eventually, a new campus was built in Ein Kerem. After the unification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, Hadassah Mount Scopus underwent extensive renovations, reopening in 1975.

With over 300 beds and 30 departments and clinics, the hospital serves all populations in Jerusalem without distinction - treating thousands of Arab patients from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. (Indeed, while resting in my room, following surgery, I heard, at various times, nurses speaking to patients in Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Russian.) In conjunction with Hebrew Univ. Medical School, they have trained hundreds of medical personnel from Egypt, Jordan, sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.

Hadassah now has a reputation as one of finest medical institutions in the Middle East and the world, pioneering in computer aided diagnosis, cardiac surgery, as well as embryonic stem-cell research (apparently, stem-cell research isn't at all controversial here, as it is in the U.S.). Hadassah has also become a pioneer in Terror Medicine and Mass Casualty Management, and has treated 40% of all terrorism-related victims in Israel since 2000. (Terror medicine is related to emergency and disaster medicine but focuses on the myriad of medical issues uniquely related to terrorist attacks.)

One final note, my surgeon, Professor Oded Zamir, happens to be on facebook, and apparently has a sense of humor, as would be indicated by his profile photo, below:

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Facebook, Jewish Social Activism, and Israel Advocacy

Facebook is an interesting window into what people in your extended community think about - what occupies their time, what moves them culturally and socially. A few status updates, or the posting of a link or video, can tell you who's a Yankees fan and who is partial to the Red Sox; who grooves to Madonna and who prefers Brahms; who likes hanging out at the trendy club downtown and who feels more at ease at the neighborhood dive bar; whose sister just had a baby, and who recently returned from vacation.

Someone as political as me, however, is constantly looking for signs of friends' political leanings. Do they identify with a political party/ideology/movement on their Info page? Do they subscribe to fan pages for politicians of certain political persuasions? Did their posts reflect support for Obama or McCain during the recent election? Do they show their support or disapproval Obama's healthcare reform proposals? Do they post patriotic messages on July Fourth? Are reproductive rights important to them, or environmentalism? And, who inspires them to anger - evangelical conservatives or secular liberals?

While I post many non-political updates, am fond of commenting on pop cultural or sports, sometimes post the latest pic of my little nephew, and will post the simply humorous, the pithy one-liners, and the ''just because'' updates like most people, my greatest political passion involves Israel and, as such, Facebook for me is an incredible opportunity to use the new social networking media as an extension of my Zionist activism. From linking to my latest blog posts, to posting links to polemics I find persuasive, or more creative/personal essays I find moving or evocative, facebook is a great way to spread the ''word'' about Israel and to rebut the dangerous rhetoric of Israel's critics.

Recently, I posted a link to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest speech in which he once again called for the elimination of Israel and denied the Holocaust. I later posted a link to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech at the UN, where he eloquently criticized those in attendance at Ahmadinejad's speech who actually applauded at its conclusion. I also, posted a link to a translation of a Hamas children's show in which the main character, a bear named Nassur, informs the children that it is their duty to slaughter all of the Jews.

Among many of my progressive Jewish friends on Facebook, however, religious and non-religious, even those whose support for Israel has been demonstrated by frequent visits to the Jewish state, there is (with some notable exceptions) not much political content about Israel on their updates, nor are there comments (or the facebook ''thumbs-up) to Israel-related posts of me and other Zionist activists within their network. And, to the degree that these at least marginally socially aware friends do post political content, the issues which they seem most comfortable highlighting their support for tends to be healthcare, environmentalism, poverty, homelessness - lending their support for ''social justice'' related concerns, consistent with how they view a commitment to ''Tikkun Olam'' (repairing the world).

While many of these causes are indeed admirable, there is a ferocity in their support for these causes which seems, anyway, strangely absent in their support for Israel. For instance, the anger among my progressive friends with Republican opposition to President Obama's healthcare proposals was palpable in a supportive post which people were being asked to use as their status update, which read:
''No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status update for the rest of your day''
While I'm not certain if this status update exactly went viral, many of my friends responded in kind to this request, and posted this sentiment, which was then seen by their network of friends, etc. While my thoughts on the health care proposals being debated by Congress are a bit complicated, I do admire the passion many have for this topic, and - while I wish there was a bit more tolerance for those of us who have at least some reservations about increased government involvement in the health care sector - I am, more broadly, heartened whenever I see people engaged in a cause greater than their own self-interest. However, it seems that the only ones who ever post on Israel are (again, with a couple notable exceptions) those on the political right - broadly defined. While using my admittedly limited social network on Facebook to assess a community's passion for a given cause is, I readily acknowledge, not the most rigorous method for determining such a complex phenomena, there are polls and more empirically-driven data which seem to indicate at least prima facie evidence in favor of my conclusions.

While the politics of progressive support for Israel, and their views of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, more broadly, is a very complicated topic - and, I have at least begun to address the issue in two essays I wrote which were published by the Jewish Exponent right before I made Aliyah, here and here - the seeming ambivalence many on the Left feel when confronted with the topic of Israel concerns me greatly, and one which may lead to some very uncomfortable conclusions about the nature of modern progressive thought and the future of Jewish support for the democratic Jewish state.

A Jewish writer, Jay Michaelson, recently wrote an essay which appeared in The Forward expressing his diminishing ''love'' for Israel, and his increasing reluctance to mount a defense against her critics. And, while this, in itself, is, sadly, not a totally unique sentiment for a progressive Jew to express, at least one of the reasons he provides does seem unusual, as he openly laments that defending Israel within his progressive social circles (not to mention on college campuses, European liberal political circles) is an extremely risky endeavor. He says,
''In my social circles, supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid...the war in Iraq, or George Bush ...It’s gotten so bad, I don’t mention Israel in certain conversations anymore, and no longer defend it when it’s lumped in with South Africa and China by my friends.''
Yet, he goes on to admit that he knows it is,
''...a sign of weakness of will on my part...this is wrong of me, I know.''
He, remarkably, concludes by acknowledging:
''I still support the State of Israel, its right to exist and the rest. Most important, it is still, in part, my home.... But as an outsider, I no longer want to feel entangled by their decisions and implicated in their consequences.B’seder: It’s your choice to make… but count me out''.
Michaelson's acknowledgment that, though he still supports Israel and believes the arguments against it are often weak and quite facile, he is simply unwilling to burden the social consequences of that support is remarkable in its honesty, but depressing in its lack of resolve - and expresses a politics which writer Anthony Julius aptly referred to, in his powerful essay on Jewish anti-Zionism, in the American Jewish Committee website, Z-Word, as the ''morality of vanity''. Anthony states:
''The moralizer makes judgments on others and profits by so doing. He puts himself on the right side of the political fence.''
While I wish to be clear that I'm not accusing all, or even most, progressive Jews who don't feel comfortable expressing public support for Israel of such vanity - and I am fully aware that there are Jews who don't support Israel for what I feel are misguided, but principled reasons, I am asking to what degree the fact that identifying too closely with Israel has become unfashionable (indeed, a social liability) plays a part in many Jews' unwillingness to openly show their solidarity for the state - a nation which has historically served as the only true political refuge for Jews all over the world, as well as the religious and spiritual home for Jewish culture, the Hebrew language, and Jewish religious life, as well as a politically liberal state, one which is fully consistent with our progressive ideals.

Let me further suggest that progressive politics, the way the word is typically understood in most Jewish circles, has largely come to mean the identification with the oppressed, those fighting for freedom against tremendous odds...as well as the urge to provide ''comfort to the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.'' And, as such, it should be remembered that Israel is still - despite its incredible economic and social achievements over the last 61 years - in many ways also a beleaguered state, the David fighting Goliath, a state surrounded by enemies who openly and repeatedly call for her physical destruction, and one who is also forced to confront a furious intellectual assault - those who use the media and international bodies to weaken Israel morally and politically. There is nothing even remotely right-wing (or ''reactionary'') - in what these terms have come to broadly denote in our current political context - about Zionism.

So, allow me to conclude by saying that if being a progressive in good standing requires you to abstain from expressing your solidarity with the state of the Jewish people then you may wish to reconsider your political alliances, and start to ask the question, ''where have my progressive friends gone wrong?''

With 192 nations in the world, all representing various ethnic, religious, social or tribal affinities, Israel - the only homeland representing the religious, political, and cultural aspirations of the Jewish people - should never have its right to exist as a state for the Jewish people questioned, nor should her passionate supporters be excluded from the progressive community. Post this as your status update for the rest of your day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Despite my pleas of innocence, they would not reconsider my sentence. It was scheduled to be carried out the following day and, as the finality of it all weighed upon me, as I began pondering the dread of what was to be, I somehow came across an opening in the fence, and was able to escape with others to a city in some amorphous land where I sensed that I was safe for the time, but still must continue to run...was still hounded by the fear of the being captured and sent back...to that place.

This Holocaust dream was one of only a few I've had a few in my life, and it was the first one I've had in Israel. My great-grandparents all left Russia and immigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century, and so our family was left...in tact. And, yet...

One of the more unusual experiences I've ever had was at an old train station in Germany some years back. I was backpacking across Europe with a close friend, and was truly having an incredible time, we were both fully experiencing the joy of being on our first European journey together, were living in the moment. Yet, while waiting for our train to depart...my mood began to gradually change...a subtle fear had taken hold. Perhaps something about the weathered steel, the harshness of that foreign, yet - in some ways - familiar, toungue announcing each arrival and departure. I knew rationally that I was safe, that nothing was going to happen, and yet I - not typically one for drama - was genuinely nervous, possessed a palpable fear I was unable to control. I wanted more than anything just to leave, to get out of...that place. The train couldn't have arrived sooner.

My friend, Sarah, had lost family members in the Holocaust, and the others who escaped had only barely done so, managing somewhow to flea the fire that would consume millions. But she grew up in a house, a family, that was consumed by the fear, the insecurity, the memory of what could have been, and, even after all of these years, the knowledge of what could happen still.

Sarah once dremt of a Rabbi she had known all of her life. He ran up to her in a fit of panic, and warned her, with the look of fearful urgency, a tragic recognition on his old, weathered, face, that it wasn't safe anymore, that she must be warned, that we must all be warned, that she must leave, that we must all leave at once, that we were once again in danger and must flea!

Her dream was something of a jolt - I was shaken by the unfamiliar. I had already known so much , I thought...had read so much, has seen so much - a camp, a cattle car, as well as those shoes, all of those shoes. I had even heard from survivors. And yet, hearing this from Sarah, younger than me, and yet haunted - the vividness of her vision reminding me of a fear that may exist to some degree in most of us...a fear somewhere beneath the surface that, though we were now so safe, we are still so small in numbers, still vulnerable, and the worst could conceivably, again, happen. We could once more be in danger, the political tides could turn. And, would we realize in time? Would we get out in time? Of course I don't really believe it will ever happen, and yet...I guess that somewhere inside of me, inside most of us...

I felt a sadness for my friend...for the feeling of safety she, even as a child, never knew. And, I wanted to tell her that everything would be okay....that she would be safe, that it was all just a dream. But, really, how could I? How could anyone say such a thing to her?

I've recently become friendly with an older nieghbor who lives upstairs from me - in my building on our quiet tree-lined street in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem. I occasionally go up to visit Anna, who always places a bowl of fruit in front of me before helping me with my Hebrew. Anna was a hidden child. Her family (like many Jewish families in Europe in the 30s), placed her with a gentile family to keep her safe until the end of the war.

Only her mother made it out alive. Her father, and 60 other members of her extended family, perished.

I imagine what her mother may have told Anna - the little girl - as she was left with that strange family. Did she promise her daughter that they would all one day be reunited? Did she tell her that her father and the rest of her family would all be okay? Did she assure her that life would once again be for her as it once was, and as it should always be for Jewish children everywhere? Did she tell her she would feel safe again? Did she tell her everything would be okay?

Did she assure her that the nightmares would be over forever?