Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The film “Gatekeepers” was made, according to Director Dror Moreh, for Israelis who do not think much about the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank under Israeli occupation nor about the negative and corrosive impact the occupation has had on the moral and political character of the people and state of Israel. It is also intended for those American Jews who love Israel in their kishkes, who understand that Jewish history in light of the Holocaust compels them to appreciate the central importance of the Jewish state in their lives, but who have come to the wrong conclusion, that in order to love Israel they have to support her policies right or wrong.
The film has been nominated for an Academy Award at this year’s Oscars, and I am personally mixed about whether I want it to win or not, because winning means even wider exposure of this disturbing story before the world at large.
The film features interviews of six retired Directors of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security services. These are hardened, pragmatic men, people with blood on their hands, who have seen it all, who have been the chief practitioners in the fight against terrorism, and who understand that though there are things Israel’s military has had to do to protect Israeli citizens, there is still something “unnatural” about this fight.
Why are these Shin Bet former directors speaking out now? After all, anyone working in Israel’s intelligence services historically has been closed-mouthed about what happens there. They agreed to be interviewed and part of this film because they believe that the direction of Israeli policy is leading the Jewish state towards a catastrophe, that the continued occupation of one and a half million hostile Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank is doomed for disaster, that the occupation is eating away at Israel’s political and moral heart and soul and threatening the survival of the Jewish democratic state of Israel.
The six characterized Israel’s policy in the West Bank as short-sighted, based on tactical matters and not reflective of a cogent long-term strategy. To a man they are soured on Israel’s political leaders who they say have failed to grapple with the core of the conflict and who have not demonstrated the courage necessary to find a two-state solution. They do not understand, for example, Prime Minister Netanyahu who on the one hand says he is for a two-state solution and on the other embraces the most extremist elements within Israeli society that are against a Palestinian state anywhere west of the Jordan River.
One can only hope that there will be a more moderate Israeli government that forms in the next few weeks reflecting the Israeli public’s rejection of extremism and a renewed effort by the United States to bring the parties together to talk and negotiate in good faith.
“Gatekeepers” is a must-see film for anyone who cares about Israel as the democratic state of the Jewish people.
Below is a 25 minute interview with Dror Moreh, the Director of Gatekeepers by The Huffington Post.
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January 29, 2013 | 8:32 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
So threatened Ohed Shaked, a self-described Hareidi (Ultra-Orthodox) teacher of citizenship in an open letter to Yair Lapid, as printed in the Israeli daily Yideot Achronot (January 24).
Mr. Shaked expressed the view that Lapid’s success in the recent elections (19 seats) means that he now has a pivotal role to play vis a vis the Hareidi community. Shaked appealed to Lapid’s sense of decency that he showed during the campaign in not attacking key rabbis and leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism. He also asserts that the future of the state of Israel is in Lapid’s own hands.
What is Mr. Shaked (and by extension) the Hareidi community most worried about? Two things: 1. Yair Lapid’s call for shivyon b’netel (sharing the burden), which refers to the conscription of the Orthodox into either military or civilian service, like all other Israelis, and 2. The new government’s reordering of budgetary priorities given the massive deficit of $39 billion, $20 billion more than was expected. One of the budget’s large expenses is to the Orthodox community that is estimated to be between $500 million and $1 billion annually. Note: The Reform and Conservative communities receive almost no funds from the government. Lapid is a pluralist and attends occasionally Beit Daniel, the starship Reform synagogue of Tel Aviv, and it is the hope of Israel’s liberal religious streams that official Israeli government discrimination will end.
Mr. Shaked is concerned that military conscription of all Orthodox students would devastate the commitment to Torah learning and practice in the Orthodox world, which they believe sustains the Jewish people and the Jewish state. He understands that there are, however, two categories of religious students – the serious students of Torah (“Torah faithful”) and others. The difficulty is in defining who is “Torah faithful” and who is not. At the very least, Shaked believes that bonafide “Torah faithful” students should be given a pass when it comes to military service.
Mr. Shaked called for a meeting of the minds between Yair Lapid with the second on his party list, Rabbi Shai Peron, and the rabbis of Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7 seats).
Since the election, Shas and United Torah Judaism have created a voting block of 18 seats, hoping to compete with Lapid's Yesh Atid (19 seats). The question is whether the religious parties will be invited by Netanyahu into the ruling coalition in the next Knesset. Netanyahu, if press reports are correct, is leaning towards giving Shas a role in the government instead of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party (Bayit Yehudi), which won 11 seats. Bennett, a young modern orthodox wealthy entrepreneur, represents the settler movement and is categorically against a Palestinian state existing anywhere on land west of the Jordan River.
If PM Netanyahu invites Bennett’s party into the government, he would not need Shas to give him a majority of seats in his coalition. If he invites Shas he would not need Bennett’s Jewish Home Party.
Yair Lapid said immediately after the election that he would push hard in his discussions with Netanyahu for renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority towards reaching a two-state solution, as well as the goal of Orthodox conscription and efforts on behalf of the middle class. Essentially, it seems that Lapid has become the “King-maker” as Bibi strives to piece together a coalition that would be secure enough to rule.
Shas is more open to negotiations with the Palestinians than is Bennett. Should Bibi invite Shas, Lapid would then insist that the Rabbis agree to go forward in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. If Shas does agree, it is likely that Bibi will accommodate the Ultra-Orthodox community somewhat on the issue of “sharing the burden” of military service.
My own view is that at this point in Israel’s history, a two-state solution must be number one on Israel’s agenda (along with concern about Iran’s nuclear development) for Israel’s sake as a Jewish and democratic state. Though there is much resentment towards the ultra-Orthodox in Israeli society (they make up 20% of all Israelis) because of the military deferments and the large budgetary expense for their yeshivot and communities, it may be politically necessary to set that issue on the back burner. Perhaps, there will agreement on the goal of a more gradual “sharing the burden.”
The politics of coalition building may avert Mr. Shaked’s veiled threat of a Milchemet Achim, (war between brethren) while also averting the next war with the Palestinians.
That would be a win-win!
January 27, 2013 | 8:28 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
So writes Charles Blow of the Republican Party on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times (January 25, 2013).
In key toss-up states controlled by Republican legislatures in the most recent presidential contest, the Republican Party had attempted to skew the vote towards Governor Romney by rigging the system so as to reduce the number of Democrats who would be able to vote. The GOP used a number of strategies including reducing the number of voting places and voting machines in Democratic districts, eliminating the weekend for voting before the election, and shortening the number of hours the polling places would be open that would adversely affect areas populated by minorities, seniors and the poor who tend to vote Democratic. The Republicans had also attempted to require photo identification in order to vote which puts the poor and elderly at a disadvantage, most of whom, of course, tend to vote for Democrats.
Despite this blatant assault on the most basic of democratic freedoms (i.e. the right to vote in free elections), voters in those targeted districts defiantly either voted early by mail or stood for hours in rain and cold to vote. Such long lines, of course, did not exist in districts where Republicans were in the majority.
After trying to unsuccessfully suppress the Democratic vote in 2012, the Republicans have devised a new strategy to win future presidential elections. Though both the Democratic and Republican parties have gerrymandered their state districts to give their respective party advantages, the 2010 gerrymander effort by Republicans has effectively enabled them to retain their majority in the House of Representatives despite the fact that Democrats nationally won more than one million more votes than their Republican colleagues.
Now the Republicans (as described by Charles Blow) are trying something new, to rig the election by changing the way states allocate electoral votes in presidential elections.
Currently, states are winner-take-all for the Electoral College, meaning that the candidate who wins a state’s popular vote receives all that state’s electoral votes. The Republicans want to change the system and award electoral votes proportionally by congressional district regardless of who wins the most votes state-wide. On its face, this does not seem unreasonable until one looks at the numbers and connects the dots. This system would favor less populated rural areas that vote Republican over more populated urban areas that vote Democratic by giving them equal weight. Had this system been in effect in 2012, Governor Mitt Romney would have won the presidency despite losing by millions of votes nationally to President Barack Obama.
The only comfort I take from these underhanded undemocratic shenanigans is that they are a reflection of desperation within the GOP that is struggling to stay competitive in a country in which demographics have changed against Republicans and that Republican ideas and approaches to government are no longer held in the majority.
If the Republicans are defeated in these vote-rigging efforts I suspect that the GOP as currently constituted will die from its own self-inflicted wounds. In its place I would hope that there would emerge a new kind of Republican Party that is more moderate, more pragmatic, more inclusive, more compromising, and more democratic.
The United States works best with a viable two-party system that can meet often on common ground and arrive at a workable national consensus on policy while checking the excesses of the other. We certainly do not need one party like the current Republican Party that thinks nothing of cheating the public and undermining our democratic system.
See Charles Blow’s column here.
January 25, 2013 | 3:58 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Israelis have spoken – that is, 67.52% of Israel has spoken equaling 3,777,977 votes with a smaller percentage of Israeli Arabs voting than ever before. In the next six weeks we will learn what the ruling coalition will look like.
There were some big surprises in the final vote tally representing a kind of tikun (correction) within Israeli politics. Rather than continuing the trend towards a more extremist right-wing government, Israelis wanted their next Knesset to turn back towards the middle of the political spectrum.
The two most significant winners are Yair Lapid of “Yesh Atid” (i.e. There is a Future) representing the middle with 19 seats, and Naftali Bennett of “Bayit Yehudi” (i.e. The Jewish Home) from the right with 11 seats. Netanyahu was the big loser though he will likely remain Prime Minister. Kadima dropped to 2 seats and the ultra-Orthodox parties lost strength as well with a total of 19.
What does it all mean?
For the past two months I have been studying modern Hebrew by Skype with two wonderful teachers in Israel. Tomer lives in Tel Aviv, is 25 years old, secular, a graduate student in history and literature at Tel Aviv University, a jazz musician, and interested professionally in the media. He was among the 20% of “undecided voters” until he walked into the voting booth and cast his vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
My other teacher, Avital, lives in Efrat (on the West Bank), is 28 years old, religious, a graduate student in Hebrew grammar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and wishes to be an editor and translator. She was viscerally excited whenever speaking about Naftali Bennett.
Both teachers are smart, sophisticated, educated young Israelis. They are concerned about quality of life, the Israeli economy, the growing deficit, and the future of the middle class. Each was drawn to a candidate who is straight-talking and unencumbered by political corruption.
Tomer worries that Lapid yitkapel (slang: “he will fold/cave” to the pressures of Netanyahu and politics). Avital had wished that Bennett would have fared better. She liked his campaign's emphasis on family and Jewish study. Both Tomer and Avital liked that their respective candidates each emphasized the importance of shivyon b’nitel (“sharing the burden of military/civilian service, including the ultra-Orthodox).
Bennet and Lapid are alike and dissimilar, mirror images of each other. Lapid has called for a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution, is against the division of Jerusalem and wants the large settlement blocs to remain in Israel with appropriate land swaps in a final settlement.
Bennett wants to annex 60% of the West Bank and is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian State anywhere on the land west of the Jordan River.
Lapid is a secular Jew and attends our starship Reform synagogue Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv occasionally. He believes in a pluralistic democratic Israel.
Bennett is a modern orthodox Jew who is married to a secular woman and wants the government to support all the orthodox parties and not just Shas. He and Bayit Yehudi have provoked the scorn of Shas' 90 year old spiritual father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who branded them as a party of "goyim." Bennett does not speak about religious pluralism nor about equal rights for Reform and Conservative religious streams. He wants to change the way judges are appointed so as to prevent them ruling on the constitutionality of legislation passed by the Knesset. He charges that the media is controlled by the left, though neglects to note that the most widely read Israeli newspaper is Israel Hayom, financed entirely by the wealthy American right-wing Jew, Sheldon Adelson.
A defining decision will be whether Netanyahu includes Bennett in his coalition or excludes him. If Bibi excludes him the government will essentially re-affirm the goal of a two-state solution. If he includes Bennett, he will signal his disinterest in negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
Secretary of State designate John Kerry is planning to visit Israel and the Palestinian communities in February to get a lay of the land. I would hope that President Obama will come as well, or very soon thereafter, in order to speak heart to heart with the Israelis and demonstrate his personal concern for their security and welfare as a Jewish and democratic nation, and then do the same with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, thereby opening up the process leading to a final two-state solution.
Granted, the President has much on his plate, not the least of which is the Iranian nuclear threat. But only the President can act as the divorce mediator between the Palestinians and Israelis, and I hope he will take on that role.
Tomer and Avital, their generation and the people of Israel deserve nothing less.
January 21, 2013 | 5:34 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
As I watched today and saw one million citizens standing on the Washington Mall waving small American flags in a flutter of red, white and blue as the first African American President was inaugurated for the second time, I felt such deep pride in being an American.
On NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today, I heard Nikkey Finney, Professor of English Literature at the University of Kentucky, read part of a poem called “The Cure of Troy” by Seemus Heaney (1939-2013), the 1995 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, and thought – Yes! That is what this moment in time is all about and that is what we are here to feel, think and believe.
The Cure of Troy
…History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells…
January 16, 2013 | 8:12 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Eric Yoffie has challenged Prime Minister Netanyahu to bring religious pluralism to the Jewish state and show respect and honor to Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
American Jews are exceedingly agitated about issues of religious freedom, and there are things that you—acting on your own—can do about it.
I write to you now because after the election, which I am sure that you will win, you will be immersed in the politics of putting together a new coalition. Everyone, including the Orthodox parties, will be making demands of you, and it will be easy to forget that the citizens of Israel are not your only constituency. The Jews of the Diaspora—and of America in particular—also look to you, as the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, for leadership. And what they need right now is your help in creating a new alliance between the Diaspora and Israel built on trust and mutual respect.
And the starting point must be a new approach on Israel’s part to issues of religious pluralism. Peace, settlements and the Iranian threat are all matters of deep concern, in the Diaspora as they are in Israel. But the simple fact is that the failure of Israel to offer recognition and support for the streams of Judaism with which the great majority of American Jews identify is nothing less than a disgrace—and an obstacle to engaging fully on all the other issues on Israel’s agenda.
Read the full post here.
January 13, 2013 | 7:53 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
It would be easy to throw up one’s hands in despair about prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal anytime soon. Most of the news is negative except that Israeli pollsters say the vast majority of Israelis dearly want peace and accept the principle of a two-state solution, but few expect it to happen soon.
Mahmud Abbas does not sound of late like the peace-partner Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres believe him to be. In a major speech last week, for example, President Abbas made no mention of the necessity of a two-state solution and the land-for-peace formula. Instead, he called on the Palestinians to continue their struggle and he pointed to Hajj Amin al-Husseini as a memorable past Palestinian leader. Al-Husseini was in alliance with Hitler during WWII and developed plans to build an “Auschwitz” in the West Bank.
I understand why Abbas has turned to more extreme rhetoric, to counteract the ascendency of Hamas. But his doing so is a tragedy. I had hoped that after his successful UN bid he would take the opportunity to drop his preconditions and sit down with Netanyahu to negotiate an end-of-conflict solution. It is exceptionally disheartening that he did not do so.
On the other hand, Israel’s election campaign has given voice to the most extreme elements in Israeli society and politics. Naftali Bennet and his new “Jewish Home” party has called for the unilateral annexation of 40% of the West Bank into Israel, and polls indicate that he would attain between 16 and 18 mandates in the next Knesset. Likud’s Moshe Feiglin, representing the extreme wing of Netanyahu’s party, has called for the unilateral annexation of the West Bank and suggested that Israel pay each Palestinian family $500,000 to leave their homes and go to another country. The growth of the right-wing settler movement combined with the ultra-Orthodox religious parties will likely pull Netanyahu further to the right, which will make achieving a two-state solution even more difficult in the next Knesset.
Both sides are frustrated, afraid of losing face and are digging in their heels. Palestinians see Israeli intransigence, continued occupation and a denial of their human rights and a state of their own as intolerable. Israelis fear the radicalization of the Palestinians and Hamas’ potential overthrow of the PA and endless terror and war, and they worry further that the “Arab Spring” will continue its hostility to Israel. And, last but certainly not least, they regard Iran’s development of nuclear weapons as a mortal threat.
And then there are those of us in Israel and America who believe that the only solution that preserves Israel’s Jewish majority and democratic character, while being the best guarantor for the Jewish state’s long-term security and improved international standing as a progressive nation is the two-state solution.
I asked recently an Israeli friend whether he feels despair given the current trends and he said, “John, in Israel despair is not an option.”
In difficult times as these I find it worthwhile to look to history for wisdom and hope, whose ark often swings from one extreme to another. With this perspective, it is remarkable indeed that our own American founding fathers created the constitutional democracy that we have today, that the allies defeated the Nazis, that in their place emerged a new Germany and eventually a strong European Union, that the State of Israel was created at all, that the Berlin Wall fell and soon thereafter the Soviet Union crumbled, that peace came to Northern Ireland, and that an African American was elected twice as President of the United States.
History holds many surprises, and I hope that the next big one is peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav taught: “Remember: Things can go from the very worst to the very best…in just the blink of an eye.”
And Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we recall this week, said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
I wish the Israelis well in their election next week. Should Prime Minister Netanyahu form a new government, as he is expected to do, I pray that he commit himself to find a way to work hard for peace between Israel and Palestinians in a two-state end-of-conflict solution.
From here, thousands of miles away, we American Jews have the duty, I believe, to do everything we can to support that effort by persuading President Obama and the United States to engage aggressively and soon to help the Israelis and Palestinians achieve an agreement that addresses the yearnings of both peoples for dignity, security, justice, and peace.
None of this will be easy, but as my Israeli friend reminded me, “In Israel despair is not an option.”
January 9, 2013 | 8:19 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster’s blog, printed in The Jewish Daily Forward (below) expresses well why torture is contrary to Jewish values and tradition.
She is Director of North American Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and a board member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
The resources she cites (below) show why, in truth, torture does not work and that the torture shown in this remarkable film, “Zero Dark Thirty” did NOT lead to information identifying Osama bin Laden’s courier, per Senators John McCain, Diane Feinstein and Carl Levin with access to classified CIA information.
Rachel and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America have done us a tremendous service in bringing this material to public attention, and I am happy to post the links to her article and this information here.