Saturday, March 12, 2016

Where Did All The Blog Posts Go?

During the first ten years I had this pro-Israel blog there were periods of furious activity and periods of almost total inactivity. For the past 15 months it's been entirely silent. Most of my pro-Israel activism had shifted to social media and, while dealing with a difficult period in my personal life, my muse was essentially gone anyway. I needed a break.

I'm writing a lot about Israel again. I have maybe a dozen half written articles and notes for more. However, most of them won't end up here. Why? I'm now blogging for The Times of Israel which, I hope, will help me reach a much larger audience. Anything which isn't TOI material will still end up here.

So... please visit my page and my writing on The Times of Israel page and feel free to comment, criticize, kvetch, you name it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Burning Witches and Heretics

I find myself deeply disturbed by the fact that Kay Wilson. an Israeli Jewish victim of Arab terrorism, is under attack for somehow not being Jewish enough. Worse, she is accused of being a traitor to the Jewish people and a secret Messianic Jew or Christian, something she has repeatedly denied in her writing. Her words are clear, unequivocal and should have put this matter to rest. She has written at length about her faith which is unquestionably Jewish but not Orthodox. Somehow, though, those self-appointed pillars of the purity of Judaism keep attacking and harassing her. I have come to know Kay Wilson as on online friend and I have no doubts about her integrity. I am beyond disgusted.

Penina Taylor wrote an excellent piece for The Times of Israel about what Kay is currently enduring appropriately titled "The Witch Hunt". Taylor described the terror attack:
"It was December 2010 and two women had been out hiking in a forest near Beit Shemesh when they were attacked by two Arab terrorists. The two women were Kay Wilson and her friend, Kristine Luken. Luken was an American Christian missionary visiting Israel and Kay was a Jewish immigrant from England who was a tour guide. Kristine was brutally murdered – stabbed multiple times, and Kay almost so. Kay attributes her survival to pretending to be dead already and not moving as the attacker continued to thrust his knife into her."
How can anyone think that someone who is attacked and nearly killed by Palestinian terrorists simply because she is Jewish is somehow not Jewish enough? Kristine Luken died because her killer thought she was Jewish as well.

As much as I find the attacks on Kay Wilson disturbing I do not find them surprising based on my own much milder experiences. Perhaps a week ago I posted a news story on Facebook about a "Christian" pastor who wants all LGBT people killed. My comment, exactly one line long, quoted Christian scripture. I asked "What ever happened to 'Judge lest not ye be judged'?" One Orthodox Jew who had friended me on Facebook immediately asked if I was "Messianic", pointing to the fact that my name is not typically Jewish. (I could post using my Hebrew name or my original family name, but I don't.)

Anyway, to summarize a long discussion, he felt that quoting one relevant line of Christian scripture in response to a Christian pastor was giving power and legitimacy to Christianity and hurting Judaism. When I pointed out the book "Kosher Jesus" by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach I was told that the rabbi is a dangerous heretic. When he advised me to seak out Chabad to have this explained to me I responded that I am Conservative (Masorti). I did attend modern Orthodox congregations at times in my life and, sorry, my beliefs fit better into the Conservative stream of Judaism. Anyway, his conclusion was to unfriend me on Facebook. I am terribly misguided, also a heretic, and clearly not Jewish enough.

I've also been attacked because I support LGBT rights and have been accused of placing liberalism ahead of Judaism. I have also been attacked for standing up for human rights for all human beings, including Arab Muslims. Liberalism, I have been told, is my religion, even though I'm quite conservative on many issues. If I don't share the bigotry and outright hatred of some on the far right I am, once again, insufficiently Jewish according to our very own Jewish inquisitors.

So... no, I'm not surprised by the attacks on Kay Wilson. I am deeply saddened by them and I find them disturbing. We Jews are often our own worst enemies. People within our community often do more harm than all the antisemites put together because their own Judaism, however narrow, gives them legitimacy with some people.

[Note: Part of this article started out life as comments to Penina Taylor's article on the Times of Israel. Those comments have also appeared on Facebook.]

Monday, December 29, 2014

American Jews Are Not A Liability To Israel

On December 27th an unusual pro-Israel activist, Fred Maroun, published a piece in The Times of Israel titled Have American Jews Become a Liability to Israel?. I greatly respect Fred. He brings a unique perspective as a staunchly pro-Israel Arab living in Canada but originally from Lebanon. He often sees things very clearly in ways those of us who are part of the Jewish community and who have strong direct ties to Israel cannot. We've become friends online and I greatly value his insights. However, while he makes some very valid points in the article he comes to an entirely incorrect conclusion.

Writing from outside the Jewish community and from outside the United States the article seems to judge where American Jews are perhaps by social media and news media, which often give a distorted picture. While most American Jews are politically liberal there is a slow but steady move rightward in response to the challenges Israel is facing and the increasing hostility of the left, including the left wing of the Democratic Party. Yes, there are American Jews who are uneducated about Israel, do not read the Israeli or Jewish press, and see things through an American prism. Yes, there are always people in any group who oversimplify things. Yes, there are Jews who lack any real connection to Jewish beliefs or Israel and take default left wing anti-Israel positions. I wrote about that phenomenon last year and I believe this is what Fred is addressing.

Where I differ from Fred is that he sees this as widespread among American Jews. I do not. Social media has a tendency to amplify extremes. Media outlets from the left and right chose to cover those who share their views. The result is a distorted picture of American Jewry.

The overwhelming majority of American Jews, roughly three quarters according to most polls, support Israel. Most support Israel strongly. Neither Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) nor J Street reflect the opinions of anywhere near a majority of Jewish public opinion in the United States. They do represent a loud, vocal minority who get disproportional coverage in liberal media and on Facebook. For many of the people they represent liberalism trumps Judaism every time. When people immerse themselves in liberalism and don't do the same with Judaism the result is predictable.

So, no, American Jews are not a liability to Israel. However, the minority of Jews, both in Israel and abroad, on the far left often are, especially during times of conflict. [Note: Parts of this article first appeared in comments on The Times of Israel and Facebook.]

Monday, July 28, 2014

I'm Heartless - Part 1: Flare Guns and Firecrackers

Back in 2006 I wrote about the comments to this blog, the ones filled with hatred and vitriol and the ones filled with nothing but Palestinian propaganda and misinformation, which I don't publish. I've received some like that in response to my post about the extreme anti-Israel bias in CBS News broadcasts, comparing it to the relatively good coverage we've seen from most other mainstream media in the United States. One of those comments from an anonymous coward started and ended with two words, all in caps: "You're heartless". What makes me heartless? I'm going to handle his or her points in reverse order.

Those 2,000 Hamas rockets fired into Israel in this conflict, and the 12,000 fired from Gaza in total, "might as well be flare guns". One equally deluded person on Facebook called them "firecrackers". Take a look at the Syrian-made M-302 rockets Hamas is using and tell me that nonsense again. Yes, it's true Israel has a defense in Iron Dome that works 90% of the time. No other nation would tolerate the rocket fire that can and does kill people. Why on earth would Israel? Oh, and yes, Israelis have died from the rocket fire. All it would take would be a rocket landing on a school, busy shopping mall or a "peace" demonstration in Tel Aviv and the death toll would suddenly be a lot less uneven. 90% effective isn't 100%, is it?

Look, every civilian death is a tragedy. Hamas is responsible for most Palestinian deaths. A higher body count is better PR in their twisted calculations. They are deliberately using their own people as human shields, firing from in or near hospitals, schools, mosques and densely populated neighborhoods. If they had stopped firing when Egypt twice proposed cease fires before the ground offensive began there would have been no Israeli incursion. None. Israel accepted those cease fire proposals and Hamas did not. Now that Israeli troop are in Gaza it became clear that the thread from Hamas was far greater than previously believed.

Every nation has a responsibility to protect it's citizens. Why is Israel denied that by the left? I believe the answer has been shown over and over again in the demonstrations in Europe, with their calls to "gas the Jews" and "Jews to the ovens". So, no, anonymous cowards, I am not heartless. In part 2 I will show how this particular bleeding heart actually favors genocide, so long as the victims are Jews.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When Was CBS Sold to Hamas?

During the current conflict between Israel and Hamas I’ve been watching, listening to and reading a wide variety of media. Mostly it’s been a pleasant surprise this time around. The BBC did a remarkable piece about all the false images claiming to show the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. Media outlets around the world picked up the story which highlighted the lies and propaganda in places that never report on it. France 24 showed IDF footage taken from one of Israel’s planes which showed a pilot calling off an airstrike because Hamas has put children on the roof to act as human shields which, once again, got a surprising amount of coverage in places where I least expected to see it. (Shown here with English subtitles.)

Just last night on CNN’s Crossfire former US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich pronounced the calls for Israeli restraint in the face of relentless rocket fire from Hamas his “outrage of the day”. He pointed out: "If the United States had 1,000 rockets fired at us, would we show any restraint? Of course not. We would annihilate whoever did it." Paul Begala, the left wing commentator who normally debates Gingrich, first three words in response: “You're exactly right.” That is not what CNN viewers are used to seeing on Israel.

CBS has been as bad as the far left fringe outlets. Watching Holly Williams report on Gaza from Sderot I learned the most amazing things. For example, most Gazans were displaced from their homeland in 1948. Considering that the median age in Gaza is just 15 most Gazans have never seen Israel. They are the granchildren and great grandchildren of the actual refugees, but Ms. Williams clearly believes in inherited refugee status. Her main theme was that “Israel claims” it’s targeting terrorists but it’s really aiming for poor, innocent Palestinian women and children. Her reports show children going to hospital (some with no obvious injuries), wailing and screaming women, and rubble which supposedly was their homes. There usually is no mention of Hamas using human shields except for last night, when she had a Hamas spokesman on to claim that is a lie. No Israeli was included in any of her reports I've seen during the conflict.

If Ms. Williams does mention Hamas rockets briefly at the end of her report she makes sure to tell us that no Israelis have died and that Palestinians don’t have anything like Iron Dome to protect them. (One Israeli was killed today.) She apparently believes that rocket fire into Israel should be ignored. No mention of injuries and property damage gets into her reports. She needs to use all her time to convince us to pity the poor Palestinians.

If that Hamas spokesman had been given editorial control of the CBS News report he couldn’t have written more favorable propaganda. When I was young the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was the most respected and trusted television newscast in America. That is no longer the case. Sadly journalistic standards and fairness have been entirely abandoned by CBS. Nowadays they are combatants in a media war against Israel, even when many mainstream left-leaning media outlets have decided they cannot participate this time around.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

A Little Family History - and Why Israel's Survival is Critical to the Jewish People

In 1926 three brothers left their homes in Munkatsch (Mukachevo) in what was then Czechoslovakia. (It's western Ukraine today.) They traveled to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine and became part of the great Zionist undertaking: the building of a modern Jewish state in our ancestral homeland. They eventually built homes and settled in Netanya. These were my father's uncles, my great uncles. My grandfather stayed in Munkatsch.

In 1935 my (great) uncle Moshe came home for a visit. He told my grandfather that Hitler would be trouble for the Jews, and that my grandfather should bring his family to Palestine. When my grandfather told this story decades later he said that if he didn't know better he would have thought Moshe was a nuvi (prophet) but he knew his brother and Moshe was no nuvi.

In 1938 Munkatsch was occupied by Hungary after the Munich Agreement. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared "peace in our time". It was the beginning of the end for the Jewish community in the small city; the only city in Hungary with a Jewish majority. The Nazis occupied Munkatsch in 1944. On May 30, 1944 the city was pronounced Judenrein. My grandfather, my father's stepmother, my father and his two younger brothers were deported to Auschwitz. Uncle Moshe was serving in the British Army in Egypt at the time. My grandfather and my father survived. The three brothers who had left for Palestine years earlier avoided the Holocaust. Everyone else in my family who was in Munkatsch at the time died.

In 1947 the Communists took over control of Czechoslovakia. My father was living in Prague. Fearing he was seeing the rise of something eerily similar to Nazism he left the country illegally to join his family in Palestine. This was during the revolt against the British. The British sank the ship he arrived in within an hour and opened fire on the Jews trying to reach our homeland. This was the same British army in which uncle Moshe had served.

My father found himself in the Palmach just before Israeli independence, fighting the Arabs who were trying to destroy the nascent State of Israel and push the Jews back into the sea. Those Arabs fought under the command of a British general. Never mind that it was the British who decided western Palestine should be a Jewish state in the first place, a decision affirmed in the San Remo Resolution and the League of Nations Mandate For Palestine. This was accepted by the legitimate Arab sovereign at the time in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement and reaffirmed in Emir Faisal's letter to Felix Frankfurter. Now the same people who promised a Jewish state decided to destroy it.

In the 1930s, when Hitler first wanted to expel his Jewish population, nobody would take the Jews. The British didn't want any more Jews in Palestine despite their previous support for a Jewish state. In refusing to take in the German Jewish population and then closing Palestine to Jewish immigration on July 13, 1939 the British government became complicit in the Holocaust. In the words of Liberal MP James Rothschild, "for the majority of the Jews who go to Palestine it is a question of migration or of physical extinction". The very country that turned Zionism from an unlikely dream into a reality, the country that was supposed the be the best ally of the Jewish people, stabbed us in our collective backs.

Why tell this story now, in 2014? Antisemitism in Europe today is at the highest levels seen since the 1930s and the rise of Nazism and fascism. Some claim it's actually at a higher level. The shootings which killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Belgium are simply one horrific example. French Jews are leaving in record numbers for Israel while others choose the United States and Canada. We see marches with Nazi flags being flown and anti-Semitic chants in European countries.

"Progressives" in North America are also largely anti-Israel. When I have tried to engage many of these people in discussions and debates their responses echo the antisemitism of the 1930s, often repeating falsehoods and slurs that date back to the 19th century or earlier. As I raise their ire the terms Jew, Israeli and Zionist often become interchangeable.

In the 20th century Jews trusted in allies and friends and the result was the death of over a third of our people. We can no longer afford the luxury of such trust. The State of Israel is the guarantee of a safe haven for the Jewish people. It is, as my friend Ryan Bellerose frequently points out, the only place on earth where an indigenous people have reclaimed their ancestral lands and established a modern state. The Jews of Munkatsch in 1944 had nowhere to go. They faced either slavery or death. So long as we have a strong, secure Israel the Jewish people have a place to go, to escape if antisemitism turns to violence. It is the only guarantee that we won't face another Holocaust.

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.