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September 27, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Bennett Plans to Bolster Jewish Identity, Connection to Israel, via New Education Program

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

During Monday’s meeting of the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett presented a program to strengthen Jewish identity across the Diaspora and foster closer ties between Jews overseas and the State of Israel.

The new initiative, which is being promoted jointly by the Education and Diaspora ministries, will fund Jewish studies programs, Hebrew ulpans, and classes in Israel studies for school aged children around the world.

During the meeting, Bennett said the plan was to begin with a pilot program, focusing on dozens of elementary- and high-schools in Latin America and Europe, as well as the appointment of a planning committee to establish criteria for school programs to train teachers, and assist administrators in Jewish schools.

The committee will also operate a support network to connect educators in the Diaspora with their counterparts in Israel.

Diaspora Committee Chairman Avraham Neguise (Likud) called to strengthen Jewish identity among Jewish teenagers overseas, because, he said, they are feeling less and less connected to Judaism and the State of Israel.

Bennett responded that “Israel is responsible to protect and strengthen Jewish identity and affinity for Israel among each and every Jew everywhere in the world.”

“Jewish schools [serve] as important community centers, where the next generation is educated, and as a meeting place where Jewish identity is formed in wider circles. The State of Israel must aid educators to continue and expand educational programs bringing together the many parts of the Jewish people,” Bennett reiterated.

Bennett further said that his office was monitoring anti-Semitic activity and is accompanying Jewish communities abroad that are dealing with the phenomenon. His office is also following efforts in foreign countries to curb anti-Semitism through legislation.

Diaspora Affairs Ministry Director-General Dvir Kahane presented the ministry’s activities to strengthen Jewish identity across the Diaspora. The ministry spends tens of millions of dollars on such activities, which are also aimed at sharply increasing the number of Jewish university students who come to study in Israel, as well as assisting Jewish schools, mainly in Europe and South America.

One feature of the new campaign is to have Jews from abroad video themselves as they talk about their Jewish lives and their connection to Israel. Sample videos have already been posted on the Diaspora Affairs Ministry site.

According to Yogev Karasenty, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s Director for Combating Anti-Semitism, most anti-Semitism is fueled by Muslims who were born in Europe. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – the anti-Semitic, fabricated text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination, is very popular in Egypt, he told the committee.

JNi.Media

Iran’s Holocaust Cartoon Contest is no Caricature of Regime’s Identity

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

{Originally posted to the JNS.org website}

A haredi Jew looks into a mirror and sees the face of Adolf Hitler gazing back at him. The walls and guard towers of Auschwitz are squeezed into a snow shaker, with flying dollar bills replacing the fake snowflakes. Another haredi Jew waves a swastika-shaped fan at an Israeli flag, which blows furiously atop a corpse draped in a Palestinian flag.

Not enough? There’s more. The gates of Auschwitz, adorned with the deadly motto “Arbeit Macht Frei,” swing open to reveal the Al-Aqsa mosque, which sits on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, devils’ horns jutting from his forehead, gives a Nazi salute; instead of his usual business suit, he wears a bloodstained brown uniform, with a Star of David rendered as a swastika decorating the sleeve.

These are just a selection of the entries submitted to Iran’s latest Holocaust cartoon contest, currently on display in Tehran at the none-too-subtly named Islamic Propaganda Organization. By and large, the cartoons are crudely drawn, in keeping with the themes that they promote.

Yet I have to confess to being more bored than shocked. Such imagery is hardly new, after all. The depictions of Jews in this exhibit are straight out of Nazi propaganda, while the depiction of the State of Israel as Hitler’s inheritor was pushed by the Soviet Union for almost half a century. The Islamist barbarians who run Iran may be many things, but creators of pathbreaking art they are definitely not.

As fashionable as it is in President Barack Obama’s circle to pretend that the Iranian regime is in the throes of dramatic change, with a surging “moderate” wing that wants to engage the West, this latest cartoon contest—like last year’s contest, like the first cartoon contest in 2005, and like the conference of Holocaust deniers convened in 2006—demonstrates that the mullahs’ cannot kick their enduring pathology: striking a blow at the global Jewish conspiracy by wiping Israel off the map.

Even if we accept for the sake of argument that the regime can be simply bifurcated into “moderates” and “hardliners,” those Iranian leaders identified in the West as “moderates” come out of this latest cartoon scandal looking far shabbier than their “hardline” rivals. Recall that Iran’s “hardline” supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chose Holocaust Remembrance Day to question whether the slaughter of 6 million Jews had in fact occurred. The cartoon contest, backed to the hilt by the regime, is the natural outgrowth of Iran’s state policy of anti-Semitism, which holds that the Holocaust is a myth shamelessly used by the Jewish state to garner world sympathy. Khamenei and his cohorts, who are structurally and politically at the center of power in Iran, are quite open about all this and don’t feel the need to rationalize or excuse the state-sponsored mockery of the genocide of Jews.

Not so with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose detestation of Israel doesn’t blind him to the fact that the countries he flirts with, like Germany, take a dim view of Iran’s Holocaust denial antics. But unlike the “hardliners,” who are disarmingly honest about their views on the Jewish people and their desire to eliminate Israel, Zarif speaks with a forked tongue.

That shouldn’t mask the fact that Zarif is both a coward, since he refuses to condemn the cartoon contest, and a liar, since he insists that the regime he represents has nothing to do with it. Speaking to The New Yorker, Zarif clucked, “Don’t consider Iran a monolith. The Iranian government does not support, nor does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that you’re talking about.” That claim is about as truthful as the Obama administration’s reassurance that the nuclear deal struck with Tehran will prevent the regime from developing nuclear weapons. In other words, it isn’t at all.

No doubt, there are those who will take Zarif at face value, and perhaps even laud the fact that, by his account, artists exhibiting in Iran have creative license unfettered by government restrictions—so long, that is, as their subject is the Holocaust. For those not seduced by wishful thinking, there is the cold reality that the cartoon exhibit is completely dependent upon regime support. As the Iranian writer Majid Mohammadipointed out in a detailed briefing published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the institutions involved in the exhibit are “all organized, financed, and managed under the supreme leader’s office, his appointed bodies, and the executive branch headed by the president. There are no private or independent nongovernmental institutions active in this area. The government and its varied set of institutions are the only ones that pay for these types of ideologically oriented activities. There is no channel for private funds, and no provision in Iran’s tax code, to support these activities.”

Why engage in such an activity in the first place? “The Islamic Republic seeks to be the most prominent global voice of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment and in doing so has made connections with and promoted individuals espousing these views from across the world,” Mohammadi says. “The Holocaust is just a subject of a set of cartoons in this effort.”

This is not a recent development, nor is it related to Israeli policy or anything Israel actually does. Anti-Semitism among Iran’s Islamists in fact precedes the creation of the State of Israel. In his excellent book “Germany and Iran: From the Aryan Axis to the Nuclear Threshold,” German historian Matthias Kuentzel described the massive audience in Iran for Radio Zeesen, a Nazi propaganda outlet that broadcasted programming in Farsi. Among the listeners was the figurehead of Iranian Islamism, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. According to Kuentzel, Khomeini was an enthusiastic “connoisseur” of European anti-Semitism. “They are liars and determined,” Khomeini wrote in a tract entitled “The Islamic State.” There was also the following claim, based on the same wretched fantasies that lead to Holocaust denial: “We see today that the Jews (may God curse them) have meddled with the text of the Qur’an and have made certain changes in the Qur’ans they have printed in the occupied territories.”

These same views prevail among Iran’s leaders today, no matter what Zarif says. Indeed, to disavow Khomeini would be unthinkable in the current context, as demonstrated by the recent election of Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati as head of the “Assembly of Experts,” a key ruling body that chooses the supreme leader.

Jannati is a boilerplate fanatic who leads chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” at Friday prayers. It was Jannati who, in 2009, backed then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s blood-drenched crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators. The regime that existed in 2009 still exists today, with the same mechanisms of fearsome repression at its disposal. It cannot be reformed, and certainly not from within. But—heretical as it is to say this—it can, and should, be overthrown.

cart 2

Ben Cohen

In Search Of Jewish Identity

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The other day I was having a conversation with a Jewish intellectual and the question came up, as it often does, as to the nature of Jewish identity. What are we? What makes us Jewish? This has been one of the persisting debates about Jewish life ever since the nineteenth century. Until then, people by and large knew who and what Jews were. They were the heirs of an ancient nation who, in the Sinai desert long ago, made a covenant with God and, with greater or lesser success, tried to live by it ever since. They were God’s people.

Needless to say, this upset others. The Greeks thought they were the superior race. They called non-Greeks “barbarians,” a word intended to resemble the sound made by sheep. The Romans likewise thought themselves better than others, Christians and Muslims both held, in their different ways, that they, not the Jews, were the true chosen of God. The result was many centuries of persecution. So when Jews were given the chance to become citizens of the newly secular nation states of Europe, they seized it with open arms. In many cases they abandoned their faith and religious practice. But they were still regarded as Jews.

What, though, did this mean? It could not mean that they were a people dedicated to God, since many of them no longer believed in God or acted as if they did. So it came to mean a race. Benjamin Disraeli, converted to Christianity by his father as a young child, thought of his identity in those terms. He once wrote, “All is race – there is no other truth,” and said about himself, in response to a taunt by the Irish politician Daniel O’Connell, “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

The trouble was that hostility to Jews did not cease despite all that Europe claimed by way of enlightenment, reason, the pursuit of science and emancipation. It could now, though, no longer be defined by religion, since neither Jews nor Europeans used that as the basis of identity. So Jews became hated for their race, and in the 1870s a new word was coined to express this: anti-Semitism. This was dangerous. So long as Jews were defined by religion, Christians could work to convert them. You can change your religion. But you cannot change your race. Anti-Semites could only work, therefore, for the expulsion or extermination of the Jews.

Ever since the Holocaust it has become taboo to use the word “race” in polite society in the West. Yet secular Jewish identity persists, and there seems no other way of referring to it. So a new term has come to be used instead: ethnicity, which means roughly what “race” meant in the nineteenth century. The Wikipedia definition of ethnicity is “a category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences.”

The trouble is that ethnicity is where we came from, not where we are going to. It involves culture and cuisine, a set of memories meaningful to parents but ever less so to their children. In any case, there is no one Jewish ethnicity: there are ethnicities in the plural. That is what makes Sefardi Jews different from their Ashkenazi cousins, and Sefardi Jews from North Africa and the Middle East different from those whose families originally came from Spain and Portugal.

Besides which, what is often thought of as Jewish ethnicity is often not even Jewish in origin. It is a lingering trace of what Jews absorbed from a local non-Jewish culture: Polish dress, Russian music, North African food, and the German-Jewish dialect known as Yiddish along with its Spanish-Jewish counterpart Ladino. Ethnicity is often a set of borrowings thought of as Jewish because their origins have been forgotten.

Judaism is not an ethnicity and Jews are not an ethnic group. Go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and you will see Jews of every color and culture under the sun, the Beta Israel from Ethiopia, the Bene Israel from India, Bukharan Jews from central Asia, Iraqi, Berber, Egyptian, Kurdish and Libyan Jews, the Temanim from Yemen, alongside American Jews from Russia, South African Jews from Lithuania, and British Jews from German-speaking Poland. Their food, music, dress, customs and conventions are all different. Jewishness is not an ethnicity but a bricolage of multiple ethnicities.

Besides which, ethnicity does not last. If Jews are merely an ethnic group, they will experience the fate of all such groups, which is that they disappear over time. Like the grandchildren of Irish, Polish, German and Norwegian immigrants to America, they merge into the melting pot. Ethnicity lasts for three generations, for as long as children can remember immigrant grandparents and their distinctive ways. Then it begins to fade, for there is no reason for it not to. If Jews had been no more than an ethnicity, they would have died out long ago, along with the Canaanites, Perizzites and Jebusites, known only to students of antiquity and having left no mark on the civilization of the West.

So when, in 2000, a British Jewish research institute proposed that Jews in Britain be defined as an ethnic group and not a religious community, it took a non-Jewish journalist, Andrew Marr, to state the obvious: “All this is shallow water,” he wrote, “and the further in you wade, the shallower it gets.” He continued:

The Jews have always had stories for the rest of us. They have had their Bible, one of the great imaginative works of the human spirit. They have been victim of the worst modernity can do, a mirror for Western madness. Above all they have had the story of their cultural and genetic survival from the Roman Empire to the 2000s, weaving and thriving amid uncomprehending, hostile European tribes.

This story, their post-Bible, their epic of bodies, not words, involved an intense competitive hardening of generations which threw up, in the end, a blaze of individual geniuses in Europe and America. Outside painting, Morris dancing and rap music, it’s hard to think of many areas of Western endeavour where Jews haven’t been disproportionately successful. For non-Jews, who don’t believe in a people being chosen by God, the lesson is that generations of people living on their wits and hard work, outside the more comfortable mainstream certainties, will seed Einsteins and Wittgensteins, Trotskys and Seiffs. Culture matters…. The Jews really have been different; they have enriched the world and challenged it.

Marr himself is neither Jewish nor a religious believer, but his insight points us in the direction of this week’s parsha, which contains one of the most important sentences in Judaism: “Speak to the whole assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Jews were and remain the people summoned to holiness.

What does this mean? Rashi reads it in context. The previous chapter was about forbidden sexual relationships. So is the next chapter. So he understands it as meaning, be careful not to put yourself in the way of temptation to forbidden sex. Ramban reads it more broadly. The Torah forbids certain activities and permits others. When it says “Be holy” it means, according to Ramban, practice self-restraint even in the domain of the permitted. Don’t be a glutton, even if what you are eating is kosher. Don’t be an alcoholic even if what you are drinking is kosher wine. Don’t be, in his famous phrase, a naval bireshut ha-Torah, “a scoundrel with Torah license.”

These are localized interpretations. They are what the verse means in its immediate context. But it clearly means something larger as well, and the chapter itself tells us what this is. To be holy is to love your neighbor and to love the stranger. It means not stealing, lying, or deceiving others. It means not standing idly by when someone else’s life is in danger. It means not cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block before the blind, that is, insulting or taking advantage of others even when they are completely unaware of it – because God is not unaware of it.

It means not planting your field with different kinds of seed, not crossbreeding your livestock or wearing clothes made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen – or as we would put it nowadays, respecting the integrity of the environment. It means not conforming with whatever happens to be the idolatry of the time – and every age has its idols. It means being honest in business, doing justice, treating your employees well, and sharing your blessings (in those days, parts of the harvest) with others.

It means not hating people, not bearing a grudge or taking revenge. If someone has done you wrong, don’t hate them. Remonstrate with them. Let them know what they have done and how it has hurt you, give them a chance to apologise and make amends, and then forgive them.

Above all, “Be holy” means “Have the courage to be different.” That is the root meaning of kadosh in Hebrew. It means something distinctive and set apart. “Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” is one of the most counter-intuitive sentences in the whole of religious literature. How can we be like God? He is infinite, we are finite. He is eternal, we are mortal. He is vaster than the universe, we are a mere speck on its surface. Yet, says the Torah, in one respect we can be.

God is in but not of the world. So we are called on to be in but not of the world. We don’t worship nature. We don’t follow fashion. We don’t behave like everyone else just because everyone else does. We don’t conform. We dance to a different music. We don’t live in the present. We remember our people’s past and help build our people’s future. Not by accident does the word kadosh also have the meaning of marriage, kiddushin, because to marry means to be faithful to one another, as God pledges himself to be faithful to us and we to him, even in the hard times.

To be holy means to bear witness to the presence of God in our, and our people’s, lives. Israel – the Jewish people – is the people who in themselves give testimony to One beyond ourselves. To be Jewish means to live in the conscious presence of the God we can’t see but can sense as the force within ourselves urging us to be more courageous, just and generous than ourselves. That’s what Judaism’s rituals are about: reminding us of the presence of the Divine.

Every individual on earth has an ethnicity. But only one people was ever asked collectively to be holy. That, to me, is what it is to be a Jew.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

2.2M Israeli Children Return to the Classrooms

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Slightly more than two million children returned to school this morning (Tues. Sept. 1) in the State of Israel.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett visited a local school in Ra’anana where photographers snapped pictures of the minister and other parents bringing their children to class and ceremoniously bidding them farewell.

Children arrive to their first day of First Grade at Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem.

First Grade at Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem.

Bennett recently presented a national plan to increase the number of students graduating from advanced mathematics classes, with an initial goal to double the numbers in four years.

The plan, at an estimated cost of NIS 75 million, will double the number of advanced math teachers within four years from 1,000 to 2,000. In addition, 15,000 hours of classes and study assistance will be added to the curriculum.

“All districts are ready, the schools are ready,” the minister wrote on his Facebook page Monday night, adding, “166,208 teachers are ready for 2,194,931 Israeli students.

First Grade students attending school at Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem.

First Grade students at Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in Jerusalem.

“The school year will open as planned, without any strikes or surpises. I wish the children of Israel – Good luck! We love you!”

Despite those warm wishes and the successful start to the new school year, however, Bennett is already under attack from Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a former government minister.

Livni attended opening day at the Yachad School in Modi’in, where she slammed Bennett’s recent statement that one can achieve more social tolerance by strengthening Jewish identity, rather than by a “melting pot” approach.

“Bennett is forgetting the other side of the equation,” she said. “The ‘other’ does not need to be ‘me’ but the other has to respect the ‘me’… to respect his heritage, to respect his language, and following the proliferation of incidents of racism and hatred this summer, we must teach that the ‘other’ does not need to be a frightening, incited and besmirched enemy.

“Along with improving and strengthening studies in mathematics, it is essential that we first teach our children to be human beings,” Livni said.

Bennett covered precisely that concept in a statement last month, saying “If I study my identity as an Israeli, as a Jew, in depth, and I am at peace with this identity, I do not need to fear meeting a person who is different, respecting him, appreciating him, working alongside him.

“We need to respect identity while advancing tolerance.”

Hana Levi Julian

The Undivided Past

Friday, October 4th, 2013

There are several words used in the Bible to describe the Jewish people. At one stage we were simply tribal. Then we became an “Am”, a people, a “Goy”, a nation, a “Mamlacha”, a kingdom. Post-Biblically, if the gentiles called us Jews, Judeans, Israelites, Hebrews, Yids, or whatever, we used “Yisrael” as the name of choice, in the main, which meant a people, a culture, a religion, a relationship with God and a land, all of that in varying and amorphous degrees. We knew what it meant, even if others were confused or bemused. It takes one to know one.

Under pagan empires religion was not a factor, just loyalty to an overarching regime or royal family. If you were a serf it was loyalty to your lord and village. Neither the Persian, nor the Greek, nor the Roman Empires cared how you worshipped or behaved, so long as you professed loyalty to the empire. Then Christianity emerged as the religion of the Roman Empire and other religions were marginalized. Ironically the bloodiest battles were within Christianity, between one theological variation and another. The same thing happened under Islam. Ideals soon got perverted by politics and as today, Muslims of different sects killed more Muslims than all their enemies put together and doubled. Freud memorably described this internal divisiveness as “the narcissism of minor differences”.

In the West, most Jews that non-Jews encounter are not particularly committed to being Jewish. For Jews like a Soros or a Zuckerberg, it’s an accident of birth, a minor casual affiliation, like belonging to the Church of England. And this explains why most of those in the West who think about the matter reckon that the Jews are not really too concerned about having a land of their own and that it was only the accidental intervention of imperialist powers that explains the Jewish presence in the Middle East. It was a misjudged adventure. And really the Jews ought to pick up and leave and stop being nasty to the indigenous population.

It takes an objective observer to notice that for millennia Jews have shared a powerful core identity, even if in almost every situation except when they were given a choice, most Jews actually abandoned the community of Jews. But it took a determined minority within a minority to fight hard, relentlessly, and ultimately victoriously for its Jewish identity.

In his book The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, David Cannadine writes:

“Egypt under the Pharaohs may have resembled a nation…but there was no accompanying sense of public culture or collective identity. As for the ancient Greeks, their limited pan Hellenic aspirations embodied in their shared language, Homeric epics and Olympic games foundered on the disputatious reality of their fiercely independent city-states. Similar objections have been made to claims that the Sumerians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Arameans, the Philistines, the Hittites and the Elamites were ancient nations, or that the Sinhalese, the Japanese or the Koreans might be so described during the first millennium of the common era. Only in the case of Israel does it seem plausible to discern a recognizable ancient nation with its precise though disputed territoriality, its ancient myths, its shared historical memories of the Exodus, the Conquest and wars with the Philistines, its strong sense of exceptionalism and providential destiny and its self-definition against a hostile “other” and its common laws and cultures. These were and are the essential themes in the unfinished history of the Jews this example has also furnished ever since a developed model of what it means to be a nation.” (p. 58)

Throughout exile we somehow did preserve a sense of belonging to a people, to a tradition, to a land, a sense of community, Klal Yisrael. This is why the problem of Israel in the Middle East, the Jewish problem, is so intractable. The overwhelming majority of Jews now living in Israel or the West Bank are committed to the notion of a Jewish people. It is not to be compared as ignorant opponents of Israel try, to a few British or white imperialists imposing themselves on a vast majority “other”. Some may try to delegitimize us by overturning a decision of the United Nations, but they cannot delegitimize or wish away the Jewish people.

Jeremy Rosen

What Does It Mean to Be Jewish?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The question “What does it mean to be Jewish?” has often been asked. I suppose you could invoke the old joke “Ask two Jews a question and you’ll get three opinions” to better comprehend how different Jews would respond to this question, so when I weigh in here, I hope readers will forgive me if my opinions don’t always accord with theirs.

But the question is legitimate and should be asked. Jewish people share a common heritage and are affected by many of the same issues today. They face a world in which their religion is part of their identity; no matter how far apart they are on the religious and political spectrums (not to mention any others), they share a common bond that unites them in terms of how they relate to each other and to the outside world.

So what does it mean to be Jewish? To me, it means the following:

● To believe in God. Divine affirmation is the foundation of Judaism. Everything else comes after.

● To observe Shabbat and the various yom tovim. What could be more meaningful, spiritual, and fulfilling – more Jewish – than practicing the religious aspects of Judaism?

● To lead an honorable life. Shouldn’t we all aspire to become tzaddikim, righteous people?

● To keep kosher. Certain things just seem to go together, like lox and bagels, gefilte fish and horseradish – and being Jewish and keeping kosher.

● To do mitzvot. There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, including the above. Carrying out mitzvot is part of our code.

● To carry on Jewish traditions. There’s life after davening, and it’s called Jewish culture. Chanukah gifts, hamantashen, and singing niggunim on Shabbat are just a few of the wonderful customs that have evolved from the religion and its people.

● To be proud of your Jewish heritage. Wear it on your sleeve – you’re a member of a tribe that has nearly 6,000 years of history.

● To feel an immediate bond with fellow Jews. Have you ever felt like you can be anywhere in the world and if you find a fellow Jew, you feel an immediate kinship?

● To involve yourself in a community of Jews. As birds of a feather flock together, it’s only natural for Jews to be immersed in a Jewish world – having Jewish friends, engaging in Jewish activities, living in Jewish neighborhoods.

● To feel a Jewish identity. Even if you’re not as religious as you could or should be, what could possibly make you more Jewish than feeling Judaism is an indelible part of your soul, or that being Jewish is simply who you are?

● To feel a special connection to Jewish history. Who can feel the pain of Jewish persecutions, expulsions, and genocides more than a Jew? Who can feel the catastrophe of the Holocaust more deeply than a Jew?

● To take great pride in Israel. Do you get the chills when you hear “Hatikvah”? After 2,000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora as a weak, defenseless, persecuted people, what greater modern miracle could there be than the resurrection of the Jewish homeland?

● To place an emphasis on education. Jewish parents may be the original “tiger moms and dads.” Perhaps that is why some professions are disproportionately populated by Jews.

● To feel empathy for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden. You only have to consider how much we’ve suffered as a people to understand how this got into our DNA.

● To have a Jewish funny bone. You can relate to Jewish humor because you’re laughing at yourself and other Jewish people you know – and, nu, do you think there’s any shortage of Jewish foibles?

● To think in “Jewish ways.” How do Jews think? Oy vey iz mir. We think the number 18 brings good luck, so we sometimes give gifts in denominations of 18, like $36 or $180. We try to ward off the evil eye after hearing compliments or wonderful news by saying “kenohora” or mimicking spitting by going “pooh-pooh-pooh.” Oh, and there’s the proverbial Jewish guilt, as well as our inimitable designation of “mishagas” to explain a panoply of crazy behavior with a Jewish edge. Is there such a thing as a Yiddishe kop? Suffice it to say that when you do something stupid, you’re not using it.

Harvey Rachlin

Nothing ‘Reasonable’ about Mideast Divide

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Thanks to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to swallow a painful and embarrassing concession to please the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry had his moment of triumph.

In announcing the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks, Kerry has seemingly justified the way he has concentrated his efforts on an issue that was not in crisis mode and with little chance of resolution while treating other more urgent problems such as Egypt, Syria, and the Iranian nuclear threat as lower priorities.

But now that he has had his victory, the focus turns to the talks where few, if any, observers think there is a ghost of a chance of that the negotiations can succeed despite Kerry’s call for “reasonable compromises.”

The reason for that is that despite the traditional American belief that the two sides can split the difference on their disagreements, as Kerry seems to want, the problem is much deeper than drawing a new line on a map.

Ironically, proof of this comes from a new poll that some are touting as evidence that both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution. The poll was a joint project of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. It shows, among other often-contradictory results, that a majority of Israelis (62 percent) supports a two-state solution while 33 percent oppose it. Among Palestinians, 53 percent support and 46 percent oppose the two-state solution.

But the question to ask about this poll and the conflict is what the two sides mean by a two-state solution. The answer comes in a subsequent query:

We asked Israelis and Palestinians about their readiness for a mutual recognition as part of a permanent status agreement and after all issues in the conflict are resolved and a Palestinian State is established. Our current poll shows that 57% of the Israeli public supports such a mutual recognition and 37% opposes it. Among Palestinians, 42% support and 56% oppose this step.

In other words, Israelis see a two-state solution as a way to permanently end the conflict and achieve peace. But since a majority of Palestinians cannot envision mutual recognition even after all issues are resolved and they get a state, they obviously see it as merely a pause before the conflict would begin anew on terms decidedly less advantageous to Israel.

There are many reasons why the peace negotiations are likely to fail. The Palestinians are deeply split, with Gaza being ruled by the Islamists of Hamas who still won’t even contemplate talks with Israel, let alone peace. Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, but he is weak and hasn’t the ability to make a peace deal stick even in the unlikely event he signs one.

Though Netanyahu went out on a political limb to enable the talks to begin by releasing scores of Palestinian terrorists, Abbas has shown in the past that he will say no, even when offered virtually everything he has asked for. Netanyahu will rightly drive a harder bargain and refuse to contemplate a deal that involves a complete retreat to the 1967 lines or a Palestinian state that isn’t demilitarized. But it’s hard to imagine Abbas ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

The real problem, however, isn’t about where negotiators would draw those lines. As the poll indicates, even after Israel withdraws from almost all of the West Bank (reports indicate Netanyahu is ready to give up 86 percent of it), a substantial majority of Palestinians still can’t fathom the possibility of mutual recognition and normal relations.

How can that be?

The reason is very simple and is not something Kerry or his lead negotiator Martin Indyk (a veteran of numerous diplomatic failures who hasn’t seemed to learn a thing from any of them) can fix. Palestinian nationalism was born in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism, not by focusing on fostering a separate identity and culture from that of other Arab populations. That doesn’t mean Palestinians aren’t now a separate people with their own identity, but it does explain why they see that identity as indistinguishable from the effort to make Israel disappear.

Jonathan S. Tobin

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/nothing-reasonable-about-mideast-divide/2013/08/01/

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