Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When Peter Beinart proposed of a boycott of goods coming from the occupied territories, the most widely read responses came from American Jews—among them Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, Gary Rosenblatt of the New York Jewish Week and Barry Shrage of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
I wrote about the response of the American Jewish establishment to Beinart, which has been a combination of, “Jews don’t boycott other Jews,” and “A boycott would only reinforce the settlers’ idea that they’re under attack, and therefore wouldn’t work.”
That last response came from J Street’s Founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami, among others. But Israelis on the left have, for at least the last year, been promoting a boycott of goods from the areas beyond the pre-1967 borders of Israel without taking a hostile position vis-à-vis the settlers who live there, and even if American Jews can’t do the same, it’s instructive to see how they’ve managed to pull it off.
The Israeli left-leaning NGO Peace Now, which has been opposing Israel’s settlement of the West Bank since at least the 1980s, recently instituted its own boycott of settlement goods. When I asked Hagit Ofran, who has been tracking construction in the West Bank as director of the group’s Settlement Watch project since 2006, about their boycott, she pointed out that the group only started the campaign (which, like Beinart’s, doesn’t extend to the Golan Heights) in 2011, when the Knesset passed a law against such boycotts.
“If that’s the law,” Ofran said, recalling the group’s thinking at the time, “then we will dafka [specifically] call to boycott settlements.”
Even the slogan the group uses to promote their boycott—“Sue me, I boycott settlement products”—emphasizes the anti-boycott law’s role as an inspiration. The law, which would allow Israeli settlers to sue other Israelis who promote such boycotts, has not been invoked since its passage, Ofran said.
Beinart’s position—that the continued occupation of the West Bank threatens Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state—is widely accepted among left-leaning Zionists in the United States and Israel. But it’s clear that despite holding this position, Israelis in the peace camp feel a connection to the settlers whose actions they so vehemently oppose.
“Ironically we have the same obsession about houses and construction,” Ofran said, talking about the settlers whose activities she tracks. “They and I think it’s crucial for the future of the state of Israel.”
But this position—simultaneously supporting an anti-settlement boycott while also expressing a kind of kinship and fellowship with the settlers—hasn’t been available to American Jews who support Beinart’s boycott.
Consider the JTA op-ed published in late March by Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, a US-based group that supports the activities of the Israeli NGO.
“If American Jews want to save Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy, they need to act. And that means, for a start, showing at least as much courage as Israelis by differentiating between Israel and the territories,” Friedman wrote. “Publicly declaring an intention to ‘buy Israel but boycott settlements’ sends a powerful message to Israelis living in both.”
While Ofran’s position about the occupied territories and the settlers is something akin to, “Don’t hate the players, hate the game,” Friedman’s full-throated endorsement of Beinart’s boycott sends a different, less nuanced message.
Ofran isn’t the only dovish Israeli to profess this kind of peculiar fellowship with the settlers.
Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Israeli Navy and its secret service Shin Bet, as well as a former member of Knesset for the Labor party, has long been an advocate of the Geneva Initiative, a peace plan drawn up in 2003 by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators that would see two states created roughly following the pre-1967 borders of Israel.
And in an appearance with J-Street’s Ben-Ami in November 2011, Ayalon made clear that an essential ingredient of the plan is for Israel to bring those settlers living beyond the security fence erected by Israel in the last decade back into pre-1967 Israel. And in addition to the assistance and subsidies that such a policy will require, Ayalon said Israel needs to offer those Israelis official recognition that they settled where they did in the service of the country.
“We sent them,” Ayalon told the audience at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. “They are our pioneers. And suddenly they realize that they are fighting for nothing. That it [the areas of the West Bank beyond the fence] will not be the state of Israel, and they tell us, ‘Bring us back.’ And we owe them, morally.”
In his speech last year, Ayalon didn’t talk about boycotting settlement goods—it wasn’t part of the conversation at the time. And it’s entirely possible that Beinart’s support for a boycott signals a broader shift in the position of left-leaning Zionists in Israel and the United States vis-à-vis the settlers.
But it’s also possible that this dual message—a strong opposition to the occupation of the West Bank coupled with a policy of supporting the settlers when they return to the areas that would remain in Israeli hands under a Geneva-like two-state agreement—could be very useful for American Jews uncomfortable with the continued occupation of the West Bank.
Beinart, in defending his boycott, has repeatedly said that Jews boycott other Jews all the time. Perhaps he should have followed the lead of Israelis who haven’t focused on the boycott’s impact on people and instead have pointed to the support they are prepared to offer those very same settlers upon their return.
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April 4, 2012 | 11:14 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
“How do vegans do Passover?”
That was the subject line of an email I got in my inbox last week, and I couldn’t ignore it.
I once tried to cut animals from my diet—it was just before Passover—and the effort ended on the holiday’s first night. As an Eastern European Jew who doesn’t eat lentils, beans or rice during Passover—the very same good, protein-rich legumes that can sustain non-meat-eaters for the rest of the year—going vegetarian during this holiday felt like a strange kind of cleanse.
So it was with some measure of anticipation that I asked Gary Smith, who runs Evolotus Public Relations with his wife, what he, a committed vegan and advocate against all types of animal cruelty, did last Passover:
Last year, my wife and I decided to start a new Passover tradition for our friends: a “veder,” or vegan seder. All of the traditional dishes were served - matzoh brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzoh ball soup, kugel and macaroons - in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs,” Smith wrote in an email. “This included discussing the slavery of farmed animals such as egg-laying hens, cows, and pigs as part of the Passover story.
As Smith broke down what went into the meal, it quickly became apparent that the veder menu was rather unorthodox. Vegan matzah balls and matzah brei depend on using egg substitutes, like Ener-G Brand egg replacer, which doesn’t appear to be kosher for Passover. The same goes for macaroons and other baked goods.
Gefilte fish made of faux lump crab is simple enough, and vegetable soup (sans matzah balls) could work, but Smith’s “seitan ‘roast’ made of wheat gluten, mushroom and onion and vegan beef broth,” which looked rather appetizing in the picture he sent me, is about as forbidden for Passover consumption as any food item can be.
Hametz, the very stuff forbidden to Jews on Passover, is any mixture of water and either wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats that is allowed to stand for 18 minutes or longer. Seitan is made of vital wheat gluten flour mixed with vegetable broth, shaped and then baked for at least 20 minutes. The recipe might as well be called “How to make hametz.”
But if the veder is a bit more vegan than it is kosher for Passover, it made me wonder if there’s anything particularly wrong with that.
Jews go to great lengths in their urge to purge their houses, cars and other possessions of hametz before Passover, and the reason given is usually quite simple. The punishment for eating hametz on Passover is karet, or God-driven excision of a person from the Jewish people.
Imagine being banished from your people—for all time—because of something that you ate: You can see why some Jews vacuum every pocket of every jacket they own.
But it turns out that to actually earn that severe punishment takes some work.
In a lengthy rumination laden with the kind of terminology that only rabbis and true scholars understand, Rabbi Aaron Alexander explained that karet only applies in certain very specific cases:
“To receive the punishment of karet one has to:
a) Eat a significant amount (olive’s worth) of full fledged hametz (not a mixture).
b) do it with intention to sin, be-meizid. (See MT, Laws of Hametz, 1:1-7)”
Alexander is associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinics at American Jewish University and he’s not telling people not to clean their houses with care and exactitude. He doesn’t even want people to stop talking about the severe punishment of karet—only to address it to the situations where it actually applies.
Here’s his final concluding thought:
I find the spiritual and physical transformation from slavery to freedom to be quite compelling and religiously powerful. Consciously moving from human-enacted slavery to God-enacted freedom service (slavery) is essential to this holiday. The fact that the Torah itself has so many ritual laws (not counting sacrifices… more than any other, I think?) concerning the journey to, and life in, freedom service - it exclaims something quite profound. Transforming our homes and what we eat elevate this idea with limitless potential. Freedom isn’t anarchy. Religious freedom is a conscious, intentional, and free-will submission to something greater than ourselves. But it has to be reasonable, grounded, attainable, and as potentially inclusive as our hearts demand it to be.
Which brings us back to the veder.
I am certain that Alexander, as a member of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, won’t have any seitan on his seder table. But in our modern age, when you can find a haggadah for every flavor of Jew or non-Jew in the world, is the idea of having a consciously vegan Seder such a bad one? If Smith’s idea of slavery extends to the animals we put to our service laying eggs and making milk, isn’t his elimination of food products from his diet and his table, on this night (and all others) an equally “conscious, intentional, and free-will submission to something greater than ourselves?”
I’ll sign off with the traditional greeting for this time of year:
Chag Kasher v’sameach.
May your Passover be liberating, happy, and—in some sense or another—Kosher.