Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
“ְהָפוּך” in Hebrew means opposite, upside-down, reversed, or backward!
However, in regards to the reading of the Book of Esther backwards, Jewish law (Halacha) says: “One who reads the Megilah backwards has not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment) of reading the Megilah.”
The Baal Shem Tov (the founder of modern Hasidism) comments, saying: “If you read the Megilah thinking it’s only about the past [i.e. looking backwards], you miss the point.”
We Jews need to look forward always. Though we are a people with a long memory and we do not forget very much in our history and experience, we become mired in the past to our own detriment because then we find ourselves responding to current challenges inappropriately and unwisely.
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March 2, 2012 | 8:36 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
My friend, Rabbi Stanley Davids, writes from Jerusalem in response to my review of Sari Nusseibeh’s autobiography Once Upon A Country – A Palestinian Life and referred me to a recent article in the English language Al Jazeera in which Dr. Nusseibeh critiques the Israeli government’s demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish state.” http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192614417586774.html
In my review of Once Upon A Country I quoted Dr. Nusseibeh: “Palestinians need to know that to get their state requires acknowledging the moral right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.” (p. 446)
In his Al Jazeera piece, however, Dr. Nusseibeh argues that Israel’s own stated claim to be a democracy that is inclusive with equal rights for all its citizens (e.g. Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, secular, etc.) demands that Israel not be defined as a “Jewish state.”
The current debate about the nature of Israel as a Jewish state and democracy, in fairness, was initiated by the current Israeli government when it demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” Dr. Nusseibeh’s article shines a light on the inherent problems in this demand not only for Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens but for Israeli democracy. It is one thing, he says, to call Israel the “homeland of the Jewish people” (which he supports) and quite another to call it a “Jewish state” (which he does not support). One points to a people at home in its land and the other to a modern political entity.
In Al Jazeera Dr. Nusseibeh wrote:
“In short, recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ in Israel is not the same as, say, recognition of Greece today as a ‘Christian State.’ It entails, in the Old Testament itself, a Covenant between God and a Chosen People regarding a Promised Land that should be taken by force at the expense of the other inhabitants of the land and of non-Jews. This idea is not present as such in other religions that we know of. Moreover, even secular and progressive voices in Israel, such as former president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Aharon Barak, understand the concept of a ‘Jewish State’ as follows:
‘[The] Jewish State is the state of the Jewish people … it is a state in which every Jew has the right to return … a Jewish state derives its values from its religious heritage, the Bible is the basic of its books and Israel’s prophets are the basis of its morality … a Jewish state is a state in which the values of Israel, Torah, Jewish heritage and the values of the Jewish halacha [religious law] are the bases of its values.’ (‘A State in Emergency’, Ha’aretz, 19 June, 2005.)
So, rather than demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ as such - adding ‘beyond chutzpah’ to insult and injury - we offer the suggestion that Israeli leaders ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish. Many states (including Israel’s neighbours Jordan and Egypt, and countries such as Greece) have their official religion as Christianity or Islam (but grant equal civil rights to all citizens) and there is no reason why Israeli Jews should not want the religion of their state to be officially Jewish. This is a reasonable demand, and it may allay the fears of Jewish Israelis about becoming a minority in Israel, and at the same time not arouse fears among Palestinians and Arabs about being ethnically cleansed in Palestine. Demanding the recognition of Israel’s official religion as Judaism, rather than the recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’, would also mean Israel continuing to be a democracy.”
Should Israel do as Dr. Nusseibeh suggests raises important issues that would need to be clarified including the Jewish right of return, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, who is obligated to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, taxation and equal distribution of tax revenues, etc. Some of these problems can be accommodated in a two states for two peoples resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the right of return.
Dr. Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset who leads his party, the Arab Movement for Change, put it poignantly and painfully this way: “Israel is Jewish and democratic - Jewish for the Arabs and democratic for the Jews.”
March 1, 2012 | 10:58 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
It has taken me five years to read Sari Nusseibeh’s autobiography since it was first published in 2007. I now recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the Palestinian experience during the past 45 years. That experience is brought to light by this brilliant and sensitive witness who celebrates Palestinian national life on the one hand and is a harsh critic of it on the other.
Sari Nusseibeh is President of Al Quds University in Jerusalem and Professor of Philosophy. Called the “Philosopher of the Revolution” by his friend and mentor Faisal Husseini, in the 1990s Nusseibeh emerged as the point person in Jerusalem before the consular corps for Yassir Arafat. Yet, Nusseibeh spares little in criticizing Arafat himself, the PA and Hamas charging that Arafat failed his people at Camp David in 2000 when he had the chance to close a deal for a Palestinian state.
Nusseibeh was arrested a number of times and imprisoned not for any violent act, but rather for his consistently peaceful and moderate advocacy of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For this he was called by some Israeli security hawks as “the most dangerous Palestinian alive.”
Though a witness and/or a victim to daily degradation, confiscation of land, imprisonment, deportation, threats, and violence, Nusseibeh has argued for decades that Israelis and Palestinians are, in truth, not enemies at all, but natural strategic allies. Respectful of the State of Israel and of Judaism itself, when others among his PLO colleagues sought to deny the historic roots of Judaism in Jerusalem, Nusseibeh called those Jewish roots “existential and umbilical.”
None of this means, however, that Sari Nusseibeh is a “good Palestinian” by Israeli right-wing standards. He hates Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, its military harshness, its security fence, and its ever-expanding settlements.
After the outbreak of the 2nd Intifada in 2001 when all seemed chaotic and going up in smoke, Dr. Nusseibeh was approached by former Israeli Shin Bet Chief, General Ami Ayalon, to craft a statement of principles. That statement would affirm the creation of two states for two peoples with the border running roughly along the 1967 lines, the capitals of each country based in Jerusalem and a just and reasonable solution to the refugee problem. It would be signed by 300,000 Israelis and 175,000 Palestinians.
Nusseibeh is a pragmatist and he knew that the Palestinians would have to give up their right of return if there were ever to be a Palestinian state. He even engaged in a very public yelling match on this point with Machmud Abbas in the presence of Arafat where Nusseibeh screamed in frustration, “Either you want an independent state or a policy aimed at returning all the refugees to Israel. You can’t have it both ways.”
In addressing the heart of this conflict, Nusseibeh wrote the following:
“Isn’t this inability to imagine the lives of the ‘other’ at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?...The average Israeli [seeks] security and a Jewish state, and the average Palestinian [seeks] freedom from occupation…Israelis need to know that for them to keep their Jewish state requires a free Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians need to know that to get their state requires acknowledging the moral right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. There can be no blanket right of return into Israel for the refugees…If both sides fail in this out of expediency or weakness, we’ll find ourselves one day in a hybrid state that fulfills neither the Israeli quest for a Jewish state, nor the national Palestinian quest for an Arab state.” (p. 446)
Once Upon A Country – A Palestinian Life is a great book because of the intelligence, passion and courage of its author. It is an essential read.