Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In watching “Game Change” on HBO this weekend about the rise and fall of Sarah Palin, as well as the controversy around Rush Limbaugh’s nasty slander of a decent young woman activist and law student, the scandal in Britain emanating from the hubris of Rupert Murdoch and his empire, the rise and fall of Glenn Beck after calling the President of the United States a racist, and the failure of Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump among the Republican presidential contenders, one character flaw seems to be held in common by them all – egotism.
Frank William Leahy, a Hall of Fame college football coach, once said that “Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”
The Pirkei Avot (4:1) offers counsel to those of us whose egos rage out of control:
“Who is the wise one? The one who learns from all people. Who is the strong one? The one who subdues his/her passions. Who is the wealthy one? The one who is satisfied in what s/he has. Who is the honored one? The one that honors her/his fellows.”
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March 7, 2012 | 5:35 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
When I was in Israel several weeks ago I had the opportunity to accompany one of Shalom Achshav’s Settlement Watch staffers on a 4 hour trek into the West Bank around Jerusalem to investigate building activity in both the “legal” settlements and the “illegal outposts.” The Israeli government has made a commitment to dismantle the dozens of “illegal outposts,” but to date has not done so. These outposts and some of the settlements built deep inside the West Bank pose problems in imagining a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank in an eventual two-state peace agreement.
This past week Peter Beinart wrote an important piece in The Daily Beast entitled “AIPAC, Israel, and the Hypocritical Claim of backing a Two-State Solution.” It is, in my view, a persuasive argument contending that AIPAC’s policy in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nothing more than lip service. For the complete article, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/05/aipac-israel-and-the-hypocritical-claim-of-backing-a-two-state-solution.html.
Beinart reports that on the morning the most recent AIPAC National Conference began, AIPAC’s national body approved its 2012 action principles. Nowhere, however, is a “Palestinian state” or “two-state solution” mentioned. The action principles also call for an “undivided Jerusalem,” (point #6) a problematic statement given the consensus among many that a final resolution of this conflict will include Jerusalem serving as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. The Clinton-Barak-Arafat plan, the Geneva Accord, and the Olmert-Abbas proposals all designated Jerusalem as the eventual capital of both states. It is a bottom line issue for both peoples, and for AIPAC to dismiss this is a non-starter.
Recognizing that AIPAC’s 2012 principles present a question about AIPAC’s commitment of support for a two-state solution, a progressive group that sits on AIPAC’s National Council, Ameinu, introduced an amendment to AIPAC’s action principles that read, “AIPAC supports Israel’s commitment to democratic values and the rule of law, including the protection of minorities and the dismantling of illegal settlement outposts.”
In advance of the vote, the AIPAC Board attempted to discourage Ameinu from introducing the amendment arguing that AIPAC should never tell the Israeli government what to do. But the Israeli government had already committed itself to dismantling these “illegal outposts.” The Ameinu amendment only sought to put AIPAC on record in supporting the Israeli government’s own policy decision. One has to wonder why it would demur in this case when so often AIPAC boldly supports other Israeli government decisions. The only conclusion one can reasonably draw is that AIPAC wants to see settlement construction continue and make a two-state solution virtually impossible, if it isn’t already.
By a vote of 300 to five, AIPAC voted down Ameinu’s amendment.
Israel has a choice. If it intends to maintain its Jewish majority and its democratic institutions it needs a negotiated two-state solution. If it intends to hold onto all the West Bank in Israel, then Israel will have to either deny 1.2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank full Israeli citizenship rights thereby sacrificing Israel’s democratic ideals, or grant those Palestinians citizenship and lose its Jewish majority in just a few short years. Either way, Israel will cease to embody the original Zionist vision as the homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic state based upon equal rights for all.
Beinart put it this way:
“AIPAC serves as a political bodyguard for the settlement process that brings one state ever closer [i.e. a secular and bi-national state]. [AIPAC] serves as a pallbearer for that quaint idea envisioned by Israel’s declaration of independence, a state that both safeguards the Jewish people and offers “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.””
When the AIPAC Board takes positions as it did in voting down Ameinu’s amendment in such a lopsided vote, I fear for Israel’s future. More sober AIPAC supporters ought to as well.
March 5, 2012 | 5:58 pm
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.
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.
February 23, 2012 | 7:51 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
For the 8th year on campuses around the world, the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement is organizing for Israel Apartheid Week to take place during the next several weeks.
Israel Apartheid Week is part of an international delegitimization campaign against the state of Israel led by the international Palestinian solidarity movement. The delegitimizers equate the racist apartheid regime of the former South Africa with Israel in its policies towards Palestinians living in Israel and the West Bank. However, even a cursory comparison between the old South African apartheid regime and the democratic State of Israel negates the equivalence.
In “An open letter to Archbishop Desmond Tutu” by Warren Goldstein, chief rabbi of South Africa, published in the International Jerusalem Post (November 12-18, 2010), Rabbi Goldstein wrote:
“…Israel has no Population Registration Act, no Group Areas Act, no Mixed Marriages and Immorality act, no Separate Representation of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, no pass laws or any of the myriad apartheid laws. To the contrary, Israel is a vibrant liberal democracy and accords full political, religious and other human rights to all its peoples, including its more than one million Arab citizens, many of whom hold positions of authority including that of cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, and judge at every level, including that of the Supreme Court. All citizens vote on the same roll in regular, multiparty elections. There are Arab parties and Arab members of other parties in Israel’s parliament. Arabs and Jews share all public facilities, including hospitals and malls, buses, cinemas and parks, universities and cultural [venues]”.
Rabbi Goldstein’s claims are true, but this is not to say that Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the same benefits and rights that Israeli Jews enjoy such as equal access to government funds and services, and the right to live anywhere in the state of Israel. The reality in which Israel’s own Arab citizens live coupled with the injustices experienced by Palestinians living in the West Bank must be addressed if Israel is to maintain its democratic institutions and traditions.
Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank have a different status from Israeli Arab citizens and are treated accordingly. They are not Israeli citizens and they do not enjoy the same protections as do those living in Israel. For them, their fight is and has always been one against occupation. We Jews may not like that claim, but it is a legitimate one born of a century of neglect by Arab and world powers who callously used the local Arab population as game pieces on a shifting board of changing geopolitical aims. While the case can be made that Israel’s strong and often harsh security measures imposed on Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank are a necessary evil in light of terrorism, we cannot ignore the fact that holding this territory for more than 44 years and keeping the residents there under occupation has had a corrupting moral influence on Israeli troops who have served in the West Bank and upon Israel as a whole. Even
David Ben Gurion recognized the dangers of occupation when he said in 1967: “Return [the captured territory] immediately, even if no one wants it back; return it.”
The foundational Zionist dream as reflected in Israel’s Declaration of Independence did not envision the Jewish people becoming military occupiers nor did they anticipate the corrosive effects that occupation would have both upon the Arabs and the Jews. However, this truth does not equate to apartheid.
Relative to Israel Apartheid Week I recommend the following piece by Brad Burston that appeared yesterday in Haaretz: “It’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Just tell the truth.”
February 15, 2012 | 1:14 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Several have written to ask me what Israelis are thinking about Iran. Since I have arrived here I have been asking that question of everyone I encounter. All I need to say is “Yes or No?” and everyone knows what I am talking about. Everyone is thinking and worrying about Iran, but going about their daily lives as if there is no problem at all. The cafes are full. Kids are in school. People are going to work, seeing friends, and celebrating Shabbat with their families and dear ones.
Two very plugged-in Israeli friends, each of whom is close to the leadership of the country, had opposite views. One said to me, “I think it is a 90% probability that Israel will attack Iran between March and June of this year, because Israel simply cannot allow Iran to become nuclear.” The other said the opposite. “It isn’t going to happen. There will not be a war. It’s not in anyone’s interest. Pakistan has a bomb. We’ve got the bomb. So what!?”
Part of the angst that people naturally feel both here and in America is fed by the media that reports everything related to Iran’s nuclear program. The rhetoric and saber rattling is noisy, harsh and relentless. Yes, Iran has a brutal anti-Semitic government obsessively fixated on Israel and we would be fools to ignore the threat the Iranians pose. However, conventional wisdom says that if there is talk about it, it isn’t going to happen. When the talk stops, then we should worry.
It is the thinking of many here that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have ratcheted up the rhetoric as a strategic move to pressure President Obama to push harder on sanctions and hopefully provoke protests in Iran that will lead to regime change. Sanctions are having a biting effect and anything could ignite street protests leading to an Iranian spring.
In this election year, an attack against and possible war with Iran led by the United States is remote in the view of most observers. It is the same for Netanyahu who is considering calling early elections to solidify his current popularity in a new Knesset.
If either Israel or the United States were to initiate an attack, Israel can expect missiles to fall on Tel Aviv. When Israelis are killed as a consequence of either Bibi or Obama making the first move, both can reasonably expect to suffer at the polls in their respective re-election bids.
What are Israelis thinking? Everything!
Do they believe there will be a war? Some yes – others no.
Will there be a war? Who knows?
I have also asked everyone here another question - my young ulpan teacher, senior citizens, soldiers, human rights activists, rabbis, working Israelis, everyone I talk to -“Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future?” To a person each smiles and says, “Yes, I’m an optimist! I couldn’t live here if I didn’t feel optimistic.”
I too worry, but in the end I agree with most Israelis. Call me an idealist, a romantic, an optimist, a fool. But as I too tend to say what Israelis say, Yehiye b’seder (Everything – God willing - will be fine.)
February 14, 2012 | 4:26 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Israel’s democracy had several significant victories this past week:
First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed as the next President of the Supreme Court Asher Dan Grunis, a jurist who respects an independent judiciary. There are those in Israel who do not.
Second, the Knesset is expected to pass overwhelmingly next week a bill against sex trafficking by making it a crime to pay for prostitution. Sex trafficking has reached epidemic proportions in recent years with an estimated 15,000 individuals working in the prostitution industry, of whom 5000 are minors. Violence and abuse are common, and targeting clients will dramatically discourage demand by diminishing supply.
Third, the most serious general labor strike in the last two decades ended yesterday with a victory for the poor with a rise in the minimum wage and more benefits for many contract workers.
Fourth, Israel’s Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he will decide this spring whether or not to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of fraud, breach of trust, fraudulent receipt, money-laundering and witness harassment.
And fifth, op-ed articles appear in every newspaper criticizing the government and nation’s leaders attesting to the strength of Israel’s free press.
All the above show how vital is Israel’s democracy, indeed, the only functioning democracy in this part of the world. Not only do Israelis enjoy free elections, but Israel’s democratic institutions are strong. Free elections without democratic institutions are meaningless, as we are seeing in Egypt and Gaza where elections ushered in anti-democratic parties whose goal is to subjugate the population to a new tyranny of the majority.
In every democracy there are flaws, imperfections and abuses. Such is the case in Israel too. The following news release today is unflattering to Israel and the Jewish people.
I believe this report to be generally true based on the work of two Israeli human rights organizations, B’tzelem and Shalom Achshav. Though this report is the product of a UN investigative body, this does not necessarily mean it is anti-Israel propaganda.
A UN investigation charged that Israel has strategically “Judaized” its housing policies vis a vis Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Bedouin living in the Negev.
The announcement was made yesterday by Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, on the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination. Ms. Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urbanist, recently visited Israel and the West Bank where she met with representatives of the Israeli government, Palestinian Authority and international organizations. She visited Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Negev, Galilee, East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and the Gaza Strip.
Ms. Rolnik said that in the past Israel had an impressive housing record on affordable housing for all its people, but the situation has deteriorated over the last 20 years.
Among her claims is that state land goes for the highest price to maximize profitability, thus forcing Palestinians to move who cannot afford their homes, and that Palestinians and Bedouin suffer from discriminatory practices and land expropriation. She found that Palestinians cannot easily get permits to build or expand their existing homes. As their families grow (it is customary for all the generations in a family to live together in a single dwelling) many resort to adding add onto their homes without permits to accommodate the increased numbers of people.
Tens of thousands of such homes are at risk of being demolished. Ms. Rolnik noted that 70% of the demolitions in Jerusalem are carried out against Palestinians though they make up only 20% of the infractions. Last year Israel demolished 622 Palestinian structures of which 222 were family homes thus displacing 1,094 people.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry called Ms. Rolnik’s statements evidence of profound “misunderstanding of basic realities” and that she needs to “do her homework.”
One of the inherent problems in Israel and the West Bank concerns jurisdiction and authority. One set of law is applied within Israel itself by the civil authority while another set is applied by the military administration within territories taken by Israel after the 1967 Israeli-Arab War.
When all is said and done, how Israel treats its minorities will determine the moral character of the state. In this regard I was happy to learn today of the Knesset’s impending legislation to protect women and girls from the violence and abuse of the sex trafficking industry. We should all be waiting to see improvement in the way Israel treat the Palestinians living within Israeli jurisdiction.