Thursday, April 10, 2014

'70s Israeli Progressive Rock: Sheshet

I grew up on the progressive rock of the '70s. Mostly we heard US and UK bands in the States, but some European bands, particularly Italian bands like PFM, Le Orme and New Trolls recorded songs in English and had a following in the U.S. Israeli prog? Not so much. First, it never was a terribly popular sound in Israel from what I can gather, and without a big commercial success in their home country these bands just didn't get exported. I only discovered them in recent years and a few were truly exceptional.

Sheshet is my personal favorite, a band that was as good as anything that came out of the US or UK. They had Yehudit Ravitz for a vocalist and acoustic guitarist and Shem-Tov Levi on flute and vocals. He also wrote most of the music, which is an amazing mix of the softer side of progressive rock and Canterbury scene style jazz, plus unique touches of their own. Prog bands always needed exceptional keyboardists and Sheshet had one in Adi Renert.

The 30th anniversary deluxe edition, released in 2007, is a two CD set currently available from Amazon. The first disc is their self-titled debut album, which was exceptional from beginning to end. Some tracks have Yehudit Ravitz singing lead; others have group vocals. Some of the album has Hebrew lyrics but there is also a lot of wordless vocalise. I always loved when Annie Haslam did that with Renaissance. It takes a talented singer to pull that off well and Yehudit Ravitz is up for the task. The one track that was a single in Israel is All Thumbs Samba, a track which really is a samba with Hebrew lyrics. Despite the very different sound from the other tracks it has enough depth added to make it fit seamlessly into the album.

Their second and final album is the soundtrack to the film "The Stretcher March" (1977). It's filled with lovely prog instrumentals and more vocalise. The 30th anniversary deluxe CD reissue of Sheshet's self-titled debut includes all the original, previously unreleased music from the film on a second bonus CD. (The three tracks that appeared on both albums are only on the first disc.) It includes two versions of the theme song from the film. The disc opens with an instrumental version and finishes with a vocal version, with Gidi Gov singing lead. The one set basically gives you everything the band ever recorded. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Notes: Photos from the CD booklet. This review was originally written for Amazon with some minor differences.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Palestinian Mythology: Indigenous People and European Jews as Colonists

Back in 2007 I wrote what supposed to be the first of a series of posts on Palestinian Mythology, tackling "Arab" East Jerusalem first. Almost seven years later it's way past time I resume debunking the Palestinian narrative that denies Jewish history and attempts to rewrite the reality of what happened over the millennia in what is now Israel.

My friend Ryan Bellerose, a Métis (native Canadian) man from northern Alberta, has been making the argument that Jews, the indigenous people of what is now Israel, and Native (North) Americans should find common ground and common interests. He is a Zionist and has argued that Israel should be an example to indigenous peoples. Why? Here is his explanation:
"Israel is the world's first modern indigenous state. Those who are arguing for Palestinian “indigenous rights” are usually those who have little grasp of the history, and no understanding of the truth behind indigenous rights."
As you might expect, such an assertion has generated some fairly harsh replies. One comment to such an article made three specious claims:
  • Jews are not indigenous to "Palestine" and were expelled in the first century
  • Modern Israelis are European colonists
  • Israel was created by the United States to establish U.S. hegemony in the Middle East
Clearly this man needed a history lesson, as do many supporters of the Palestinians, who know only their propaganda. Here is my response:

Jewish people are indigineous to what is now Israel, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) as well as western Jordan (the East Bank) and southernmost Lebanon. We have had a continuous presence that dates back to the return from Egypt, sometime between 1200 and 1250 B.C.E. We were not expelled in the first century C.E. as you claim. The First Jewish Rebellion against Rome (67-73 C.E.) was one of many. The most famous is the Bar Kochba Rebellion (132-135 C.E.) when Jews expelled the Roman legions for nearly three years, which was actually the third Jewish rebellion. The Romans then renamed Iudea (in Latin) to Syria Palestina in their attempt to quash Judaism. Even the names Palestine and Palestinians were given by conquerors and are not indigenous.

Oh, and while some Jews were expelled in the second century and many scholars consider what the Romans did at that time genocide, there was still a very substantial Jewish population outside of Jerusalem. Further rebellions against the Byzantine Empire continued, most notably in the 4th and 7th centuries C.E. Indeed, how did Benjamin of Tiberias manage to raise a Jewish force of 26,000 to ally with the Persians during the Byzantine–Sasanian War if there were no Jews? The consequence of that alliance was the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in 614 C.E. The Byzantines didn’t retake Jerusalem until 628 C.E., meaning there was a Jewish state in Israel five hundred and fifty years after you say we were expelled.

Similarly, there was a Jewish majority or plurality in Jerusalem throughout most of the period of Ottoman rule, before the Zionist movement ever started. A British consular report from 1857 claimed that Jews made up nearly 80% of the population, though that number is higher than most other reports from the era. A reporter for the New York Daily Tribune, in a report dated April 15, 1854, put the Jewish population at 8,000 out of a total population of 15,500, which is still a majority. That reporter was Karl Marx.

While the Zionist Movement certainly started in Europe, the fact remains that a majority of modern Israelis are people with no ties to Europe whatsoever. Two thirds were born in Israel. A majority are either descended from or are people who were expelled from Arab countries, not Europe, Jews who have lived in what is now Israel for centuries, or from other non-European places like Ethiopia. Genetic studies, most importantly recent ones since the decoding of the human genome, make clear that European Jews are Middle Eastern people. If you accept the (rather nonsensical) idea of generational refugees as the Palestinians do, then Ashkenazi Jews must also be refugees from what is now Israel.

Put simply, Jews are the indigenous people of Israel. Palestinians? 80% are descended from people brought in by the British from neighboring countries to build infrastructure. Of the remaining 20% most are descended from Arab conquerors, not native to the Levant.

Finally, you assert that Israel was created with aid from the U.S. to create and maintain American hegemony. That is entirely false. Jews were under an arms embargo from the United States during the revolt against the British (1946-48) and the War of Independence (1948-49). Not one penny of military aid went to Israel from the U.S. until the Kennedy administration in the 1960s. The arms mostly came from Czechoslovakia (at the direction of the Soviet Union) and France, not the U.S. Last I checked there is no Czech hegemony anywhere. Meanwhile, during the 1948-49 war, the Arabs fought under the command of a British general. In that war, as others, the Arabs (including the people who would come to be known as Palestinians later) were on the side of the foreign conqueror.

I really suggest that you read real history rather than propaganda. Ryan Bellerose clearly has.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A Note About Dinner and Kosher Foods in America

I made a big pot of bean and leek soup (with carrots, garlic, a little bit of onion, a finely minced habanero pepper to add a little kick, plus spices) in a Crock Pot. I had some as part of dinner tonight topped with some shaved Parmesan cheese, with a piece of baked Alaskan cod and a piece of very fresh rye bread. It's wonderful, but since it's just me that eats it I'll be having it for a week or more. That's why I do things like this (big pots of soup, chili or cholent) so infrequently.

I used half of a bag of a 15 bean mix intended for soup. It had the appropriate kosher certification on it. On the back cover it had a soup recipe which started by telling me I'd need 1 lb. of ham hocks. Really? Tell me this: why would a company go through the expense of kosher certification and then only put a blatantly treyfe recipe on the back of the package? Wouldn't it be better to have two recipes, one of which appeals to the people who looked for that symbol of kashrut and perhaps vegetarians as well? Wouldn't that make more sense? Trust me on this: you can make a delicious soup from those beans without any pork.

[Note: This started out as a Facebook post. I've also published it in my personal blog.]

Sunday, February 02, 2014

My Response to Paula R. Stern's Angry Open Letter to John Kerry

An open letter by blogger Paula R. Stern to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry echoes much of the right wing commentary I've seen coming out of both Israel and the diaspora Jewish community. It also echoes the really unfortunate comments by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon who told Kerry to "leave us alone."

Stern writes, in part:
"You won’t fail in your goal of ramming peace down our throats because of this, however. You will fail because, amazingly enough, you don’t even understand Israel. We are the easiest to get, the easiest, honestly. All you have to do is listen and see – but even that is beyond you.


For a long time now, the Arabs have fooled you. They’ll speak to you of peace over the coffee they serve you and then when you leave the room, they slap each other on the backs and laugh – another successful day at making the US look stupid."

Secretary Kerry did not threaten Israel. He simply relayed the dangerous trends he sees building around the world. BTW, the Palestinians want to haul him before the ICC for supposedly threatening Mahmoud Abbas, something else he did not do. Let me just say this is the strongest terms: I disagree with this letter.

Secretary Kerry is no simpleton. He has not been fooled. He may be on mission impossible but he is anything but stupid or naive. Predicting a failure that seems likely doesn’t mean that trying is not worthwhile. It is the correct and moral thing to do. It’s what separates Israelis and Jews from the Palestinian Arabs: we value life and we strive for peace.

Of course, I could make equally negative comments about Naftali Bennet, whom Stern praises. Bennet fails to understand that Israel cannot possibly rule over millions of hostile Arabs and survive as a democratic Jewish state. Right wing Israelis also live for an impossible dream. In that sense they are just like the Palestinians Stern is so critical of.

When my father fought for Israel’s independence in 1948-49 he fought for a state that, for the next 18 years, did not include Judea and Samaria and yet it was still a Jewish State in Israel. In 1967, when other Israelis celebrated, his first words on hearing of the great victory were, “Occupation. Bad business.” I think history has proven him right.

Stern knows her history. Indeed, she has seen it first hand, including the horrors of terror perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs on innocent Israelis. Sadly, possibly due to her very real pain and justified anger, she draws the wrong conclusions from that history. A peace agreement, should it ever come (which I seriously doubt) does not mean a terrorist state or greater threat. Gaza became a threat because it was a withdrawal without any peace agreement, and without basic steps to insure Israel’s security, such as controlling the border with Egypt. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made clear that he won’t make those mistakes again.

Peace with Egypt, on the other hand, has held for nearly 35 years. It held through two tumultuous changes of government and two years of Islamist rule by Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. How many Israeli Jewish lives have been saved by making peace and by giving up Sinai?

Instead of anger at John Kerry we should be thanking him for allowing us to demonstrate once again that Israel is the one side in the conflict that always strives for peace. Yes, he may fail and yes, if he does, it will be because the Palestinian leadership is not ready for peace. I give him credit for trying, and credit for trying to bring about what, for most Israelis, is the great hope and dream: peace and security.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

CD Review: R. Carlos Nakai & Uri Bar-David - Voyagers

[NOTE: Originally written as a review for]

Cello music can be dark. It can be downright dismal. Listen to David Darling's "Journal October" for a cello album that delves into dark ambient territory for an example. When I see cello I rarely think bouncy or upbeat, so I wasn't disappointed the way others were at the melancholy tone of much of this album. Rather, I find this a lovely and soulful collaboration. As an Israeli-American Jew many of the traditional Jewish melodies are familiar to me, but the interpretation and arrangements that the artists present are truly unique.

As Ryan Bellerose, a Métis writer from northern Canada explains in his articles, these are two indigenous peoples and a blending of these very different musical traditions into an album like this is worth noting not just because it's a very good listen. This music, to me, expresses the common dark history the Jewish and native North American peoples share: one of displacement from the land, one of loss, and one of genocide. There are brighter moments on this release. "Bashraf Farahfaza" is downright joyful and features some Will Clipman percussion to add depth. The final piece, Indigena Indigenous, is also uplifting, with plucked cello and playful flute melodies. It's a perfect ending for this album because we live in a time of hope for both peoples.

I really enjoy this music, both as a pleasant background and for active listening. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Time of Hope

Before I start writing again about current events which I find truly disturbing I wanted to post something different, something from a time a decade ago when I had real hope. It was a time when many of us saw a brighter future for Israel, for the Arabs, for the Middle East, for the whole world. The Oslo Accords, now generally regarded as a failure, made us believe that peace, real peace, was possible. We could talk openly with Arabs about it and find common ground in our shared hope. It was a different time and, in many ways, it was a better time.

This video is the late Ofra Haza singing a song written especially for the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres received their prizes. This is from the actual ceremony:

Both Yitzhak Rabin and Ofra Haza are long gone. So is the hope of those days. I hope I live to see that kind of hope again, but sadly it probably won't ever be because of a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: Karolina - Zohar (Special Edition)

[Notes: Posted after Shabat was over. A rare cross-post from my Entropy general purpose blog.]

For the first time since November, 2005 I wrote a product review for Amazon. Eight years ago it was a book I really enjoyed; this time it's a two CD boxed set:

If you've heard either Funset's "Pumpkin Ragga" or Habanot Nechama you probably already know that Karolina (Keren Avratz) has an amazingly flexible and expressive voice and is a very capable songwriter. When she sings in English her Israeli accent is thick enough to cut with a knife but somehow that doesn't matter.

"Zohar" (Glamor) is her second solo album. The original CD was rather short and included two different versions of Al Te'ahar (Don't Be Late), with an acoustic rendition closing the album. On this album she drops the soul and reggae influences which were so evident on her first album and with Funset and adds a little Mizrahi flavor, even though she is not from that tradition. Zohar, with the exception of her Chanson For Lebanon, has a much more contemporary feel. The words are entirely in Hebrew with the exception of "Save Me From Myself", and surprisingly that may be my favorite from this album.

The new version adds an EP of covers, three well known Israeli songs from the '60s and '70s plus a collaboration with Boom Pam on a version of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog, with a surprising amount of Middle Eastern flavor added to the instrumentation. Karolina practically channels Cilla Dagan, who sang the original version of Yom Bo Yakom, and does a beautiful rendition of Zohar Argov's Tzel Etz Tamar (Shadow of the Palm Tree).

This is an album I just keep going back to again and again. Definitely pick up the Special Edition if you're going to get a copy of Zohar. It's more than worth a little bit extra to hear Karolina rework the old songs.

Here are a couple of songs from the album:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

More Reasons Why the Peace Process is a Moral and Strategic Imperative

The only alternative to war is peace. The only road to peace is negotiation. - Golda Meir

I believe however that peace is attainable regardless of the Arabs mentality, society or government.-Yitzhak Rabin

In the last piece I wrote passionately and personally about the moral imperative to seek peace from my liberal, Jewish, Israeli-American perspective. On Thursday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of a strategic imperative to pursue peace talks. He's right. While I can't help be passionate about the peace process I can lay out some practical reasons why it must go forward and why I support the prisoner release which the Israeli cabinet approved.

Before I go on let me say that my heart does go out to the families of these murderers. Not a one of them deserves to be released. I read the accounts of the attacks they perpetrated and I was sickened. It would be so very easy for me to hate the Arabs. I certainly hate things they have done like this. The easy thing is often precisely the wrong thing. As much as it may bother some of the right wingers out there I still believe Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing the right thing, even though it is both unpopular and difficult.

Israel needs to seize any opportunity to make peace for it's own interests. Even if the process fails, as we all expect it will, at least Israel is seen as making every effort for peace. That is vital for U.S. popular and government support. Indeed, this may be something President Obama needed to get the gulf states to go along (or at least not interfere) with a strike on the Iranian nuclear program. In other words, these peace talks may well be a side show for something that is more important, both to Israel and the U.S.

Then again, maybe the U.S. and Israel really have put a new peace process front and center in their thinking. This may also be the one time in history when the Arab-Israeli conflict is the easiest one in the Middle East to solve. The other conflicts in the region: the Syrian civil war, Egypt on the edge of civil war as well and, of course, the standoff with Iran are all more difficult problems.

Permit me, however, to frame this strictly in terms of the Israelis and Palestinians. If you won't even negotiate with your enemy how will you ever have peace? Must Israel be condemned to endless wars, death and destruction?

I am not "gullible" for supporting a two state (really a multi-state) solution as some people have claimed. I can see clearly enough to know it's a choice between that and the eventual destruction of Israel. The Palestinians will never become Jordanians, they can't be bought off, they will never leave Judea, Samaria and Gaza voluntarily, and, if we include Gaza, there are almost as many of them between the river and the sea as there are of us. Once again, I say us because I have so much family and so many dear friends in Israel, plus, of course, I am planning a move there myself. Whatever happens, it will affect me directly.

If Israel tries to expel or kill the Palestinians, as hardliners online, many of them Americans and Christians, insist Israel should, the U.S. will almost certainly lead the international military against Israel. The Serbs weren't permitted to expel the Albanians, a much smaller number, in Kosovo. Do you really think Israel will get away with it? Insanity!

If you didn't read my very personal blog post and don't understand where I'm coming from, read it. If you did read it and still don't understand... fine.

Let me say this again, for the last time: if you oppose even negotiating for peace you and I have very different moral values and very different beliefs. You may, unwittingly, be an agent of the destruction of Israel. Have a nice life with your delusions of greater Israel or fortress Israel or whatever you think will work. Just please don't expect me to want or to have any part of it. I will continue to pray, as Jews have for centuries, for peace in Jerusalem and all of Israel. I will also work in any way I can to make peace a reality.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To Those Who Oppose Peace Talks

If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies. -Moshe Dayan

The late Moshe Dayan was a wise man who knew a thing or three about defending Israel. The wisdom of the Palestinian prisoner release is debatable at best, and while I support what Prime Minister Netanyahu did in the hope of advancing peace, I can understand those who disagree. What I cannot understand are those on the right who oppose any negotiation for peace. I cannot understand those who say Israel should not sit down at the table and talk.

I am an old peacenik going way back. Most of my friends know this. I guess I still am. I still believe in my heart that the only way Israel will ever know security is if there is peace. I believe every Prime Minister of Israel except Yitzhak Shamir has understood this and worked for the day that Israel will have peace with her neighbors. I believe the senseless deaths in endless wars has to end someday. That day will come only when there is peace.

The reason my family did not stay in Israel, the reason I finished growing up in the United States, is simple. My mother put her foot down. She said she did not want her children to go to war. If it was up to my father, who came to the States from Israel in the 1950s, we'd have settled in Israel permanently. A few years earlier when most Israelis were celebrating the great victory in the Six Day War in 1967, my father saw nothing to celebrate. His words: "Occupation. Bad business." I believe history has proven he was correct.

I believe Israel has the right to defend herself. I believe that unequivocally. However, I also believe, based on the liberal Jewish values I was raised with, that Israel also has an obligation to seek peace at every opportunity. The Jewish people have prayed for thousands of years for the peace in Jerusalem and all Israel.

Many right wing Americans, on various Internet sites, claim to be great supporters and friends of Israel. They also are dead set against peace talks. If you are opposed to peace talks, if you think war is preferable to compromise, if you believe annexation and expulsion is somehow the correct answer to the dispute, if you would in any way oppose even sitting down and talking, then I believe you are no friend of Israel or the Jewish people.

One of the most important principles in Judaism is pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life. It is so important it trumps all other religious considerations. It is perfectly permissible to travel on Shabbat, on a holiday, even on Yom Kippur, if you can save a life. Another important concept I was taught when I was growing up is tikkun olam, which literally means repairing the world. We have an obligation to leave the world a better place than what we found when we came into it. What could do more to make the world a better place than achieving peace?

I am really and truly skeptical that these peace talks will go anywhere, at least in the near term. I just don't see Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership being ready to compromise on pretty much anything, and compromise is essential on both sides to achieve a peace agreement. Having said that, if you had asked me in college during freshman or sophmore year if Egypt would ever make peace with Israel I would have said "no way". I know because that is precisely what I said. I would have pointed out that Anwar Sadat flew planes for the Nazis and led his country in the Yom Kippur War. Then, late one evening in 1979, I was sitting in Wilson Commons, the student union building on the University of Rochester campus, watching the premiere of "Battlestar Galactica" with friends. The network interrupted the show... to announce the signing of the Camp David accords. What had seemed impossible to me a year earlier became reality that night. I will never forget it.

If you would condemn us to more war, more death, more destruction without so much as sitting down and trying to talk to our enemies, as Moshe Dayan said we must, then you are no friend of Israel and the Jewish people. I say "us" because so much of my family and so many friends, so many people I love dearly, live in Israel. I say "us" because anyone who has read my writing over the years knows that once I meet certain obligations here in the States and reach some goals which would make aliya successful for me, I plan on finally moving to Israel.

To those who say no talks, I say: די כבר - enough already. Give it a rest. We've had enough killing, enough death. We must at least try to make peace even if we are doomed to fail. It is our moral obligation.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I Believe In Human Rights, In Peace and In Equality

Social media brings you into contact with all sorts of people. My own Zionism, my Israeli and Jewish heritage, and my passion for defending Israel has put me in contact with many Israelis and Zionists around the globe and it's been a wonderful experience. I'm using Hebrew more, gaining language skills I thought I'd never gain until I made aliya, and meeting some fantastic people in the process. (My Hebrew is still awful, just not as awful.) I have plans to turn some online friendships into real life ones as part of a group trip to Israel in 2014 if everything works out as I hope. For the most part, it's all good.

Over the years, as the peace process has failed and it became increasingly obvious to me that the current Palestinian leadership has no interest in peace at all my politics have drifted to the right somewhat when it comes to Israel. One thing interacting on Facebook has taught me is that I may now be more of a centrist than a leftist, but I still can't support the Israeli right or right wing Jews who are often, as Alan Dershowitz put it in his book "The Case For Peace," more Israeli than the Israelis.

Those who hate Israel and the Jewish people try to portray us as racist monsters who hate the Arabs. In my experience there are such people, but they are a truly tiny minority of Jewish and Israeli voices. Most Jews, Zionists, Israelis I know are tolerant people who simply want the right to live in peace in our homeland.

This is my response to a right-wing person who identified as a Sephardic Jew who, as it happens, isn't Israeli. Her views include the idea that Arabs don't belong in Israel or the territories and that Palestinians "don't exist" as a people. I've edited several of my posts from a discussion together, removed names, and reordered it a bit to make a coherent whole.

Call them Arabs instead of Palestinians and they do belong. 80% of the Arab population in 1948 was first generation. They arrived in the first half of the last century. Some of the other 20% had been in what is now Israel (including Judea and Samaria) for centuries. You are correct that they didn't have a national identity and saw themselves as Syrian, but Israel was part of Southern Syria under the Ottoman Empire. Those people have every bit as much right to their homes, which they've now lived in for generations, as we do.

Second, human rights apply to all human beings, even despicable ones. I don't have to respect terrorists. I do have to respect the rights of all people, even those I don't like. Israel is a democracy and a state for all it's people. Last I checked Arabs have equal rights under Israeli law. If you annex all of Judea and Samaria those rights will apply to the Palestinian Arabs there, who will suddenly be a huge voting bloc. For me the prime consideration is Israel's security but that has to be balanced against maintaining Israel as a Jewish democracy which respects the rights of all of its citizens.

I have a cousin who is Dati and lives in Samaria. [The last time I visited him] he lamented for his Palestinian friends who he no longer sees. Some were murdered during the first Intifada for being too friendly with Israelis. Those who still live are, in his words, "people just like us. All they want is to live in peace." If a Palestinian expresses that desire in the PA controlled territories their life may be forfeit. Please remember that.

You've denied that the Arabs have any rights in Israel including Judea and Samaria. You've denied that they belong in Israel at all. You've denied that the Palestinians exist as a people. Yes, their national identity was created as a weapon against Israel, but now two generations of people have grown up with that identity and it is real to them.

You disagreed with me when I said all people, even Arabs, have human rights. That really does qualify as hate speech. You generalized about every Arab on the planet in a way that really can be construed as hate speech. Yes, the anti-Semitism in the Arab world is horrendous. However, the only way we will ever change any of that is if we are open to talk to the ones who don't hate. You know there are a growing number of Arab and Muslim voices supporting Israel. Yes, I know they are a small minority, but it's a start and an important one.

Palestinian mythology attempts to delegitimize Israel. Posting things that delegitimize Arabs and championing denying them the same rights we demand for ourselves isn't helpful at all to our cause. It also doesn't represent majority opinion among Jews or Israelis.

Regarding ceding territory, you know, considering the historical and religious importance of Judea and Samaria I would love to see them annexed to Israel. How do we do that while preserving the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, preserving democracy, and preserving basic Jewish and Israeli values which include human rights and equality for everyone in Israel? My friends on the right have never been able to answer that question. Until they can I have to support some sort of divorce from the Palestinians even if it comes without a peace treaty.

Shabbat Shalom from east Texas.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The "As A Jew..." Phenomenon

One of the dangers of being an outspoken Zionist who is proud of my Jewish and Israeli heritage is that I find myself being put in a position where I end up defending Israel in what has become a truly hostile world. I've done that, in a small part, with this blog over the last nine years. More recently the main focus has been social media, particularly Facebook, where a war of words on not only Israel but on the Jewish people continues daily.

One phenomenon I've seen repeatedly on Facebook is the "As a Jew..." This is a person who identifies themselves as Jewish and uses that as a means of somehow strengthening their attack on Israel, at least in their own view. These attacks are often accompanied by the same old anti-Semitic canards about Jews controlling the media, Western governments and the banks. When you quiz these people on their Jewish identity many will admit to being atheists or otherwise secular, and in some cases their Jewish heritage is limited to one grandparent or great grandparent. Others do claim to have been raised Jewish but to have found the truth in their oh-so-liberal views. They, in general, have no knowledge of Judaism.They know nothing of Jewish history or religion or culture. However, because of a Jewish ancestor they feel justified in speaking for the real, moral, honest, decent Jewish people and feel equally justified in dismissing those of us who do not share their views as racist monsters.

Back in 2006 I shared my response to an anti-Israel, anti-American rant by a young American woman on one of the LinuxChix lists. The support she received from the movers and shakers in the organization at the time is the reason I left. For the "progressive" American left, and indeed for liberals around the world, hating Israel is seen as the morally correct position. The "As a Jew..." adopts this sort of their liberalism as their religion and they defend these beliefs with a zealous passion, abandoning what tiny little connection they may have had to their Jewish roots in the process.

What follows is a response I wrote to an "As a Jew..." today. I've removed names to protect the guilty:

You start from a lot of false assumptions and go downhill from there. First, being a Zionist Jew does not mean hating Arabs. Spend some time in a city like Haifa, where Jews and Arabs live side by side, and where they are good neighbors and friends. Then tell me if being a Zionist means hating Arabs. Hugh clue: it does not.

Second, you presume the Palestinians are underdogs and as someone who has very liberal views overall, that makes them worthy of your support. First, get out of the liberal echo chamber. I know what it's like because I'm an old peacenik and I used to be in there. Democracy Now! or AlterNet or ThinkProgress are not objective sources. They are left wing propaganda, much as Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart or Free Republic are right wing propaganda. The one thing all these sites on both the right and left have in common is that they have chosen sides. They won't let facts get in the way of their agenda. You've bought into the leftist agenda which, just like the right wing agenda. bears no resemblance to reality.

The Palestinians are suffering, but not primarily because of Israel. The issue is NOT and HAS NEVER BEEN occupation or oppression. Take this from someone who's father didn't celebrate the great victory of 1967. His words: "Occupation. Bad business." He was right, but mostly not for the reasons you think.

In 1948 80% of the Jews in Palestine were first generation immigrants. So were 80% of the Arabs. They came from neighboring countries to take advantage of economic opportunity created by Jewish immigration. There was nothing wrong with that. However, there was no national identity called Palestinian in the Arab world until after Israel was created. That national identity was created as a weapon against Israel. To be considered a Palestinian refugee by the U.N. you simply had to be in Palestine for two years prior to 1948. Tell me, if you go work somewhere, anywhere in the world for two years are you entitled to citizenship? Of course not.

So... for 65 years these Arab people, Egyptians like Yasser Arafat, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis, Lebanese, (Saudi) Arabians have been held hostage in squalid camps and denied basic rights because they are children or grandchildren or great grandchildren of people who worked in British Palestine to be used as a weapon against Israel. Is that Israel's fault or the fault of their real oppressors?

There was no ethnic cleansing, no expulsion in 1948. The Arab leaders told the Arabs to leave and then return when the Jews were pushed into the sea. That never happened. Did some right wing paramilitary groups on the Jewish side want to push the Palestinians out? Of course. Did most of the Arabs who fled ever see these groups? No. Did the Arab side exaggerate dangers to get their people to leave? Yep, as did the paramilitaries. Those groups were disbanded or absorbed by the Israeli government after independence. That government begged the Arabs to stay.

The Palestinians have been abused, but largely by their Arab brethren. No, Israel is not faultless. No, Israeli policy is not perfect. Far from it. However, it is NOTHING like you and your friends portray it. You found some far left Israeli friends to agree with you. That's nice, but it's not mainstream Israeli thought at all.

The main thing you need to understand: the Palestinians are not underdogs. They are part of the 300,000,000 hostile Arabs that surround tiny Israel. They have been offered peace and independence time and again and have turned it down. They are NOT interested. Their interest, and I am talking about the leadership now, is to destroy Israel. Ordinary Palestinians include many fine people who would love to live in peace. Unfortunately they have absolutely no say in the matter.

You are not supporting the underdog. When you support the Arabs you support the oppressors who have already driven nearly a million Jews and most of the Christians and other minorities out of their respective countries. You are not fighting colonialism. You are supporting the colonizers, the Arabs, against the indigenous Jews. You are betraying your own people for liberal ideology which does NOT accurately reflect history or the facts on the ground.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Day I Grew a Second Head

I moved to a small city in east Texas last year and, for the first time in my life, I found myself living in an area with a miniscule Jewish population. There must be some other Jews in the area because one local market does have a kosher/Israeli food section very similar to what I found in supermarkets in the Raleigh, NC area where I lived before. On the other hand, the nearest shul is more than 40 miles away.

As Pesach approached I expected that the market that had a kosher foods section would have foods which were kosher for Passover as well. Less than a week before Pesach there still wasn't anything there so I decided to ask and see if maybe they were just late in arriving. When I talked to the help and the manager and asked about "Passover foods" they looked at me like I had grown a second head. I was asked "What's that?" or even "What's Passover?" Special foods? Nope, not that they knew of.

There is a huge market about 20 miles away that is in the outermost suburbs of Houston. They have a somewhat larger kosher/Jewish foods section there including frozen foods. Surely they would have what I needed. No such luck. Once again, the looks I got as I explained what I meant would be appropriate if a two headed space alien had walked into the market. The next day a coworker suggested I try another large market in the town with the shul. That made sense. Sadly, the results were exactly the same as I had experienced at the two previous markets I tried.

There is a significant Jewish community down in Houston. Looking up where the Jewish community is online and where I'd likely find the selection of kosher foods I wanted revealed that it would be 80 miles each way to get to that part of the city. I decided to check the College Station/Bryan area which is closer to where I live. It turns out there is a Chabad there and they recommended two markets. Sure enough, I found a very nice selection of Passover foods only 50 miles from home.

I went back to the first market mainly for fresh produce a couple of days before Pesach started. Their little Jewish foods section was picked clean. The matzo that was clearly labeled "Not for Passover use" was gone, as was the gefilte fish and pretty much anything else that resembled food for the holiday. Clearly if the had brought in Passover food it would have sold well. It was also clear that what Jewish community we have is probably not religious and was willing to make do with anything that resembled what would be found on a seder table.

Anywhere else I've lived, from Raleigh to Green Bay to Florida to New York, asking those questions would have resulted in someone pointing me to the correct aisle or, at the very least, a "no, sorry" followed by a suggestion about which market would have what I was looking for.

Despite the very nice pay rate that came with the contract work here I've come to the conclusion that moving to east Texas was a mistake. Culturally I feel like a fish out of water here. Identifying myself as a somewhat traditional, somewhat observant Jew shouldn't have generated the kind of reactions I got when I went shopping that day. We tend to believe that Jewish people are accepted and welcome in the United States. My experiences served as a stark reminder that, once you go away from the cities with large Jewish populations, we are still seen as strange and somehow alien in America.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Time to March on Jerusalem? I Don't Think So

Yesterday on The Times of Israel website, blogger Emanuel Shahaf wrote an article imploring Israelis to march on Jerusalem and demand that the Israeli government gets serious about making peace with the Palestinians. He concludes:
If the Israeli public doesn’t take the initiative, gets its act together and without much further ado marches on Jerusalem to convince our fearful politicians that this is crunch time, that we have to act, seize the moment and negotiate this conflict away before it consumes us, then we deserve no better.
I strongly disagree with Mr. Shahaf and wrote a response which I posted as a comment. Here it is in full:

I've read the article as well as the comments and responses. עמנואל שחף, with all due respect, you can only make peace when both sides want peace. The majority of Israelis still accept a "two state solution." I put it in quotes because today that means a four state solution within what was the original British Mandate of Palestine: three Arab states (Jordan, Gaza, West Bank) and a Jewish one which would be much weakened. Most of the recent polling I've seen from the P.A. indicates a two state solution is only acceptable as a step to liberating "all of Palestine," meaning, of course, all of Israel. The percentage that accepts the idea of living along side of a Jewish state is around 19%, and that was the most generous number I've seen.

The fact is that Ehud Olmert's 2008 offer, while now "off the table" as you point out, certainly was about the maximum Israel could ever offer. Mahmoud Abbas didn't even grace it with a formal response. There was no counter offer. Prime Minister Netanyahu lost his first government, in part, over the Wye River Accords. Yes, I know the budget was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, but after withdrawing from most of Hebron he lost most of his support from the right. In his second term he tried the settlement freeze which was ignored up until the last minute by Abbas and then it's end was used as an excuse for not negotiating. Recently we heard of a possible freeze again and Abbas suddenly needed every last Palestinian prisoner released no matter what they had done. Neither the Prime Minister nor his predecessor have failed to work for peace at all.

The reality is that Abbas has little popular support and nowhere near the courage to risk his life for an agreement even if he believed in peace. Having read and listened to his statements over the years, and what he has to say to his fellow Arabs in particular, I don't really believe he has any interest in peace at all. Once upon a time I was a peacenik. Like so many in the '90s I thought peace might be right around the corner if only we worked hard enough for it. Like so many I've since come to realize that I succumbed to a popular delusion.

Israel should always leave the door open to peace. We should always be ready to sit down and negotiate in good faith. We shouldn't beg those who fire rockets into Israel daily or those in Judea and Samaria who plot destruction to please, please, please make peace. That smacks of weakness and achieves nothing.

A mass march on the government that fails to work for peace is a wonderful idea. You would need to march on Ramallah, not Jerusalem.

קייתלין מרטין

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Boston Blame Game: Left Wing Editon

[NOTE: This is a rare cross-posted from personal blog. I've added it here because touches at least tangentially upon Israel.]

Ever since the Boston Marathon bombings lots on lots of people on the Internet are playing a despicable blame game, blaming everyone and anyone they don't like for the terrorist attack; anyone except Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that is. The conspiracy theorist version of the blame game includes claiming this was actually a U.S. government plot or an Israeli/Mossad "false flag operation". The right wing version often includes blaming Islam as a whole and every Muslim on the planet. For right now I'm going to pick on a left wing version: blaming the victims (the United States) and our friends in the world.

It's pretty easy for hard core left wingers to blame American foreign policy here: the use of drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and American support of Israel are used as prime examples. The United States is blamed, often solely blamed, for the loss of innocent lives throughout the Muslim world. Here is a dose of reality: radical Islamists have declared war on the West. When you're attacked you do have to respond. Anything else is perceived as weakness and encourages more violence. Are innocent lives are lost? That is the sad and tragic reality in any war. Yes, if we have a choice war needs to be a last resort. Sometimes, sadly, it is the only resort left.

The problem with radical Islam, something which is growing and spreading like a cancer in the Muslim world, is that people are taught to hate in their schools, in their mosques and in the media. Add a very large poor population, poorly educated or hardly educated at all, a relatively low literacy rate, and little or no access to other viewpoints. If the infidel or the American or the Jew or the Israeli or the European is made a scapegoat for all that is wrong in their lives the hatred is there. It doesn't require a drone strike or ill advised foreign policy to nurture that hatred.

Some ultraliberals, when referring to the Muslim world, talk about how we ignore or harm "the government(s) that represents those people". In the Islamic world there are only such representative governments in Turkey, Indonesia, and Iraqi Kurdistan, which is independent from the rest of Iraq in many respects. Everywhere else you have dictatorships and theocracies that vary only in the extent to which they brutalize their own people. The worst poverty I have ever seen was in a Muslim country I visited several times on business. If I took the time to describe what I saw your heart would break. The sad truth is those kind of scenes are repeated in many, many countries throughout the Islamic world.

The poverty I refer to wasn't caused by drones, by American meddling or by any other excuse used to explain the problem. Those issues are factors but, honestly, they are relatively minor factors. They serve as propaganda points for those stoking the hate. No American government policy included meddling in Chechnya, where the Tsarnaev's come from. Honestly, that excuse is nothing more than an excuse.

The conflict between a modern, tolerant view of Islam and the more radical and fundamentalist view has been going on for more than a thousand years. To blame recent policies, no matter how short sighted or flawed, is to ignore history. The principle blame here belongs to the terrorists, to the ideology they followed, and to those who promote that ideology and justify terrorism. A small dose of blame goes to the left-wingers who enable terrorism by blaming the victims rather than the real sources of the problem.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Israel is Always Ready to Negotiate for Peace

The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” -Abba Eban
One of the popular but utterly false claims made by the pro-Palestinian crowd online is that no Israeli Prime Minister since Yitzhak Rabin has been willing to sit down and negotiate with the Palestinians for peace. That claim stinks to high heaven but none the less it's practically a meme on social networking sites like Facebook. Here is a summary of what each and every Israeli Prime Minister has done since the Rabin assassination.

The first Prime Minister after Yitzhak Rabin wase Shimon Peres, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with both Rabin and Yasser Arafat. Does anyone doubt his peacemaking credentials?

Next came Binyamin Netanyahu's first term. He not only negotiated with Arafat, but he signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 and withdrew from additional land, including most of Hebron, the second holiest place in Judaism. The consequences of that agreement were that the right abandoned Netanyahu and his government fell. He basically sacrificed his own political career at the time for an interim peace agreement.

After Netanyahu came Ehud Barak who negotiated both at Camp David and at Taba. President Bill Clinton blamed the failure of Camp David squarely on Arafat. When Barak upped the offer at Taba the response delivered by Yasser Abed Rabbo was that the Palestinians wouldn't give up "even one centimeter" of land. No counter offer was ever made. The offers from Israel were good enough that many moderate Arab leaders had encouraged Yasser Arafat to accept. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Mahmoud Abbas were among those urging Arafat to finally make peace with Israel. Prince Bandar, no friend of Israel, said Arafat's refusal to take the deal was "a crime". Arafat chose to fight the second intifada instead.

After Barak came Ariel Sharon who withdrew from all of Gaza without any agreement in the hope it would lead to peace. Instead the result was regular rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and two more conflicts. Then came Ehud Olmert who ran for Prime Minister on a platform of withdrawing from much of Judea and Samaria. He was at the 2007 Annapolis Conference, which was the first time both sides agreed that the final settlement would be a two-state solution. In 2008 he offered Abbas an area equal in size to the 1949 armistice line with land swaps to account for current demographics. He was turned down flat. Once again, there was no counteroffer from the Palestinians.

Now we have Binyamin Netanyahu again, who gave a 10 month settlement freeze and nearly lost his government for it. Abbas only negotiated in the last two weeks and then used the expiration of the freeze as an excuse not to negotiate. Since then the Prime Minister has offered to negotiate without preconditions whenever the Palestinians are ready. They are never ready.