Inge Lederer Gibel (1930-2015): Progressive Zionist, Feminist and Interreligious Activist [ssba]

Inge Lederer Gibel (1930-2015): Progressive Zionist, Feminist and Interreligious Activist

A friend of ours — of mine — for many years, Inge Miriam Lederer, sometimes known by her married name, Inge Lederer Gibel, was born in Austria in 1930 and passed away June 9th in Des Moines, Iowa.  Family and friends mourn the passing of this thoughtful, passionate Jew, mother, and civil rights and progressive Zionist activist.

Coming to the United States from Vienna when she was a child of eight, her family were refugees from rising anti-Semitism in their native land.  Ironically, they also experienced anti-Semitism in the areas where they first lived in the United States, and alienation from Jewish neighbors who were trying to assimilate and were not always welcoming to refugees from Nazism. As a youngster, she joined the  Habonim Labor-Zionist youth movement, and spent most of her adult life as a committed community relations professional, and as an activist in the struggles for civil rights, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Inge worked in several capacities in the organized Jewish community.  For many years she was a program specialist for the American Jewish Committee’s Interreligious Affairs Department in New York City. In 1976, she organized a 25-woman interreligious study tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Israel. In 1981, she coordinated a conference of “Women of Faith in the ’80’s,” to bring together ”a leadership group of women of faith” — Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Moslems and Evangelicals — to talk in a supportive manner about what they did and did not have in common, and what the future might bring.

She was one of the founders of the short-lived organization, “Breira: A Project of Concern in Diaspora-Israel Relations” in 1973, serving as its treasurer. And in 1984, Inge became president of Americans for Progressive Israel, a predecessor of today’s Partners for Progressive Israel.  Many of the ideas espoused by these organizations, considered radical at the time, became part of the mainstream discussion in recent years. Read More »

My Cousin, Stuart Schoffman, a Supreme Ironist [ssba]

My Cousin, Stuart Schoffman, a Supreme Ironist

There’s an interesting item by my cousin Stuart Schoffman, published last week in New York’s Jewish Week newspaper (“We’ve Been in This Movie Before“).  I try to visit with Stuart every time I’m in Jerusalem.  He’s a brilliant writer — a journalist, screenwriter and translator. This piece exemplifies his discursive style, his liberal political perspective and his appreciation for irony:

The week after Independence Day, I took the Number 18 bus to the Mahane Yehuda market, to run a few Friday errands. I got off at Davidka Square, where the Street of the Prophets meets Jaffa Road. In the midst of the square is a monument of the 1948 War, displaying a homemade mortar nicknamed “Davidka,” one of six deployed by Jewish fighters; the mortars were notoriously inaccurate but incredibly loud, so much so, the story goes, that Arab forces thought the Jews might have the atomic bomb. It’s been quite a while since we were David and they were Goliath, but we still cherish the myth.

In June 2003, a Number 14 bus was blown up in Davidka Square by a Hamas suicide bomber dressed as a charedi Jew: 17 Israelis died. The Israeli Air Force promptly retaliated in Gaza. That was at the height of the second intifada, during which more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians were killed. In recent years, Arab terrorists in our midst haven’t blown up buses or cafés. (In Jerusalem, we get the occasional stabbing, and lethal attacks on pedestrians by local Palestinians driving tractors and other vehicles.) But we as a nation do experience traumatic eruptions such as last summer’s devastating Gaza war, also known as “Operation Protective Edge.” On this year’s Memorial Day, Israelis grieved for the 67 IDF soldiers killed in that war; and the very next day, we celebrated Israel’s 67th birthday.

So it goes here, the welding of mourning and merriment, existential paranoia and picnics at the beach, hard-wired fears and world-beating feats of innovation in medicine, technology, modern dance. For an inveterate ironist like me, Israel is endlessly inspiring. For human-rights activists and pro-Israel activists, it’s a perennial battleground. Of course, the definition of “pro-Israel” is forever up for grabs in today’s anxious, fractious Jewish milieu.  . . . Read More »

Akiva Eldar: New Knesset supports 2 states [ssba]

Akiva Eldar: New Knesset supports 2 states

Journalist Akiva Eldar reminds readers of Al-Monitor, the Mideast online news site he writes for nowadays, that both the hard right and the ultra-Orthodox parties lost support in Israel’s recent election:

. . . There are now 61 Knesset members who support the new government and 59 who oppose it. But this ratio is just one part of the story, and not necessarily the most important or interesting. The real story is the balance of power between the camp that prefers to maintain the status quo over any diplomatic arrangement that involves the creation of a Palestinian state, and the camp that supports a diplomatic arrangement that will result in the creation of such a state. In between, there is the ultra-Orthodox camp, which is more interested in initiatives for reaching some arrangement that will keep its young men out of the army than in those designed to advance a diplomatic arrangement with the Palestinians.

Despite the victory cheers echoing from the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, March 17 was hardly the great day that the ideological right made it out to be. The hard core of the Israeli right amounts to little more than a third of all Knesset members. There are the 30 members of the Likud Party, eight more from HaBayit HaYehudi and two or three out of the five members of Liberman’s party. Pollsters may have become the media’s punching bag after the last election, but they were not so wrong after all. The balance of power in the 20th Knesset will be the same as it was in the 19th, just as they predicted. Now, as then, the ideological right is actually smaller than the rest.

Read more:

Negev Bedouin win court ruling [ssba]

Negev Bedouin win court ruling

This is from Moshe Chertoff — an oleh from the States via Hashomer Hatzair, active in diverse peace actions near his kibbutz and further afield. He cites a Jerusalem Post article on a dramatic new development in the saga of the unrecognized Negev Bedouin village of Al-Araqib, demolished by Israeli authorities dozens of times:

Expanded Supreme Court gives historic victory to Beduins in land dispute cases with state

Click here to read on.

Ceasefire On & Off; Meretz favors unilateral ceasefire [ssba]

In response to a question raised in yesterday’s Partner’s teleconference with Abu Vilan, there’s a news report (ironically from a right-wing news source) announcing the Meretz party call for a unilateral ceasefire.  We now know that Israel observed an Egyptian effort to secure a ceasefire for six hours today, but when Hamas continued its rocket attacks, Israel resumed its air offensive.  Here is part of that Jewish Press online article on the Meretz position:

Meretz Calls for Unilateral Ceasefire

Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said Monday that Israel should declare a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza and call off Operation Protective Edge.  “We cannot eliminate the terrorist infrastructure,” Gal-on told Israel Radio. “… and the images being broadcast around the world are causing damage.”

Labor Relations Aspect of SodaStream Controversy [ssba]

Scarlett Johansson

Arieh here.  This story continues to produce headlines, as in the Christian Science Monitor, Palestinian SodaStreamers oppose boycott: “Palestinian workers at the West Bank … factory say it’s the best job option around, but lawyers and labor activists say the workers, while well paid, lack labor rights. . .”

Yet, According to a Reuters reporter:  a “mid-level Palestinian employee who spoke to Reuters outside the plant, away from the bosses, painted a far less perfect picture.”

“There’s a lot of racism here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced.”

On the other hand, the Jewish Daily Forward reports that “Palestinian Workers Cheer SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson — Occupation or No” and its editorial concludes, “Don’t Hate SodaStream: . . . Demonizing the company won’t end the occupation — and would hurt Palestinians.”
Below find relevant excerpts from Ralph Seliger’s SodaStream post, and relevant material I received from Avital Shapira-Shabirow, Director of the Histadrut’s International Department, followed by four observations of my own; first there’s this from Ralph’s post:

“The Electronic Intifada’s claim indicates a possible violation of the 2008 agreement between Israel’s Histadrut trade union confederation and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions [PGFTU], that since Israeli labor law applies within settlements, the Histadrut is obligated to assist Palestinian employees therein with legal representation.” 

“The Electronic Intifada’s source claimed that Palestinians working at the factory in the occupied territory did not benefit from labor laws applicable in Israel proper. `They treat us like slaves,’ he said. `This has happened many times on the assembly line: When a worker is sick and wants to take sick leave, the supervisor will fire him on the second day. They will not even give him warning or send him to human resources, they will immediately fire him.’ 

“We don’t know if Palestinian workers are aware of this resource or if the Histadrut is conscientious in performing this function.”

Comments from the Histadrut’s Avital Shapira-Shabirow:

“The precedent-setting agreement between us and PGFTU, which from 2008 to now transferred more than $7,000,000, refers to Palestinian employees who pay organization fees [i.e., union dues]. Money was also transfer[red] between 1995-2000 (since the first agreement which was signed on 5.3.95).   These are employees who are employed in Israel and not the West Bank.  Accordingly, the malicious claims of the excerpt are false. 

It is also important to emphasize that following the Histadrut’s’ petition to the Israeli High Court, the Israeli labor law is implemented in the plants in the West Bank since 2007.” 

“The problem is created when Palestinian workers’ rights are violated by Israeli employers whether it is in Israel (green line) or in the West bank and they do not complain. Naturally, we will be happy to assist any Palestinian employee regardless of his/her employment venue (Israeli or the territories)  if he/she complains and pays the organization fees or the membership fees as expected from any other member (Israeli or migrant) or we receive a request from PGFTU to help him/her as we have received in the past and in the present.”

My own thoughts:
The situation confronting Palestinian workers who work in the West Bank, whether for Palestinian or Israeli (i.e., Jewish settler) employers, can’t be seen totally separately from the larger issue of the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank.  But some of the issues raised in the material Ralph quoted lead to a few observations:
  1. It seems to me that Palestinian workers in the land beyond the Green Line probably should address what they believe to be cases of workplace abuse to either the PGFTU (if they are members, and possibly also if they are not members) as well as to the Ministry of Labor of the Palestinian Authority.  As noted above, the PGFTU has and still does send requests for assistance to the Histadrut.” And, as Ms. Shapira-Shabirow noted, “naturally, we will be happy to assist any Palestinian employee regardless of his/her employment venue (Israeli or the territories) if they pay their fees as expected from any other member.”
  2. One real problem, not at all unique to Palestinian workers employed by Israelis in the West Bank, is that too few employees are aware of their rights at the workplace, much less to whom they should complain when their rights as workers are violated.
  3. Too few Palestinian workers in the West Bank, regardless of their employer, belong to unions that can defend their rights. This is not unique to workers on the West Bank, of course!
  4. Finally, it seems to me that the PGFTU and other labor / workers’ rights groups within the Palestinian Authority, as well as the PA’s Ministry of Labor, have to do a much more effective job of letting workers under their theoretical jurisdiction know about their rights, and what they can do to defend those rights.  Just like anywhere else.

Israeli youth provide care for victims of Syrian conflict [ssba]

I’ve just learned about this, and also that the young adult Israeli organization Hanoar Haoved veHalomed, part of Israel’s labor movement, is centrally involved. People are bringing clothes to the organization’s branches around Israel. 

You may know others within Israel who would be interested, but may not know about this initiative — please share this as appropriate (and translate if necessary).
>> Arieh
Emergency Aid Operation “Human Warmth” is an effort by humanitarian and social justice youth in Israel to provide care for refugees from the Syrian conflict. Right now they are collecting life-saving supplies for the winter. Donate money or supplies. The website is in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

This is some other material from its website:

Israeli Flying Aid, Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed Youth Movement and Dror Israel are leading a nationwide humanitarian effort to collect lifesaving supplies for winter..The effort will collect items such as jackets, blankets and sleeping bags.

Emergency Aid Operation “Human Warmth”
The civil war in Syria has created a severe humanitarian crisis, with millions of refugees and displaced persons in constant mortal danger due to shortages of bare survival necessities. Today, in response to the harsh winter, Israeli Flying Aid, the Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed Youth Movement and Dror-Israel will begin a nation-wide humanitarian operation to collect life-saving winter supplies. The operation will continue until January 10, and will be called Operation Human Warmth – Israeli youth aiding Syrian youth.
A terrible civil war has been raging for some two years on the other side of the Syrian border. Since the conflict broke out, over 160,000 people have been killed, some half of them civilians, including 40,000 children. Approximately 9 million residents – 40% of the Syrian population, primarily women and children – live today without a roof over their heads. Most of the refugees and displaced persons lack basic and critical supplies necessary to survive the cold winter. 27 Syrian children lost their lives due to the recent cold snap in our region.
As a response to this awful situation on the other side of the border, Israeli Flying Aid, the Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed Youth Movement and Dror Israel have decided together to lead a nation-wide humanitarian operation in order to collect life-saving winter supplies, including coats, blankets and sleeping bags.
The project will be led by Israeli youth, in order to aid non-combatant women and children. Beginning tomorrow and until January 10, a nation-wide operation will take place to collect winter supplies. Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed clubs will serve as local collection points. Operation organizers call on the public to join this important project and bring winter supplies to one of the 15 movement clubs in which the supplies will be initially collected (list attached). Supplies will then be transferred to Israeli Flying Aid storage sites. Those donating supplies are asked to follow several guidelines in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the refugees and displaced persons who will use the items collected: for example, do not donate items with logos of Israeli brands or Hebrew print. Packaging coordinators will remove all tags from each item. Members and counselors of Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed will lead the collection, packaging and sorting of the supplies.
From now until January 10th, there is a nationwide effort to collect winter gear. Donations can be dropped off at all Hanoar Haoved VeHalomed Youth Movement centers and will then be delivered to Israeli Flying Aid.

Israel’s Delegation to Mandela Memorial [ssba]

Notwithstanding the serious issues related to neither Prime Minister Netanyahu nor President Peres participating at the memorial for Nelson Mandela, this article (from South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper), abridged below, contains some interesting and perhaps significant information regarding the Israeli delegation to South Africa.
>> Arieh

Israel joins the world in mourning Madiba

While the press focused on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision not to attend the memorial service to honour Mandela at FNB Stadium, it failed to give due credit to the high-level Israeli delegation that did attend. It is especially notable and poignant that this delegation comprised human-rights protagonists and activists. Leading the delegation of five Knesset members was Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of Israel’s parliament. As a former “prisoner of conscience” he says that “I had the privilege of meeting Mandela as a minister in 1996, and we shared experiences from prison and the fight for our rights”.
Edelstein was [imprisoned] in the former Soviet Union, for the crime of teaching Hebrew. He describes his prison experience as follows: “I was sent to a labour camp in Burtiya near the Mongolian border. We were assigned to hard labour and I was injured. I was transferred from one prison camp hospital to another, first in Burtiya and then in Novosibirsk, where I underwent surgery. After the operation, I was due to be transferred back to Burtiya, but my wife was alerted and declared that she would go on hunger strike until she died, if I were returned there. So I remained in the Novosibirsk camp until my release in May 1985.”
Edelstein was accompanied by Knesset member Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid party), the first Ethiopian-born woman to be elected into Israel’s parliament. She was rescued at the age of three by “Operation Moses”, a covert Israeli organised aerial rescue of Ethiopia’s lost tribe of Jews.  . . .
Nitzan Horowitz, of the Meretz party, recently unsuccessfully contested to be mayor of Tel Aviv, … the first openly gay mayoral [candidate] of any city in the Middle East. Horowitz, a former television journalist who as a lawmaker has largely championed social issues and advocated for African migrants who have flocked to Tel Aviv.

. . . Gila Gamliel, a representative of the Likud party, is an Eastern or Mizrachi Jew. Her father’s family, the Gamliels, are a big family of Yemenite Jews in Gila’s birthplace Gedera. Her mother is a Libyan Jew, originating from Tripoli.

Hilik Bar from the Labour party, wants to cut defence spending and increase spending on welfare. He is dedicated to reducing the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Israel by increasing spending on poor neighbourhoods.
Dov Lipman is an Orthodox Rabbi in the secular Yesh Atid political party  . . .
The South African press in the meantime completely overlooked the absence of leaders from two of the Brics nations, an alliance of which South Africa is a member and with which it has very close relations. China announced that it would send a vice-president, Li Yuanchao, and not President Xi Jinping, while Russia failed to send either President Vladimir Putin or its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.
. . .

Young Zionist Calls for Progressive Change [ssba]

This is Arieh Lebowitz, currently in Jerusalem for meetings of the Vaad Hapoel (the Zionist General Council) of the World Zionist Organization, which meets in between the quadrennial convenings of the World Zionist Congress.  I am part of the World Union of Meretz (WUM) faction, and will also participate in meetings of the Jewish Agency for Israel. 

I was impressed with a speech by a Swiss member of the WUM faction, Kevin O. Sachs, a 24 year-old university student in Zurich, and have his permission to publish it here: 

I speak today as a member of the unified faction [the WUM in alliance with Artzenu (the Zionist movement of Reform Judaism) and the World Labor Zionist Movement], the World Union of Meretz, Hashomer Hatzair and as a young progressive Zionist.   
Kevin O. Sachs

Growing up in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement in Switzerland, my Zionist identity was shaped by the belief that every people deserves the right to self-determination, and that the State of Israel is that expression of the Jewish people’s inalienable right to self-determination.  This vision entails a self-critical balance between a society guided by Jewish values on one side and a pluralistic, democratic and secular state that ensures justice for all on the other.   

Zionism has, from its very beginnings, always tried to establish a state that is democratic, which abides by Jewish and universal values; a state as a  national  home and haven; but not only a haven, a place that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence too; a state that holds the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens as an integral and essential part of its  Jewish identity and ethos.

But look at what befell the young, bold, passionate country.  How, as if it had undergone a quickened aging process, Israel — and Zionism with it — lurched from infancy and youth to a perpetual state of apathy and indifference when it comes to changing the status quo.

Some call upon us to retire Zionism all together because its primary goal of statehood for the Jewish people has been achieved and in the years after that, the term has been stained by the misdeeds of Israeli governments so that today it is a dirty word on college campuses and in newspaper columns.  I think it is our duty to respond to those voices in figuring out what the next chapter in Zionist history should be. 

Zionism for me entails a certain element of Chalutziut [pioneering], and actualization.  Younger generations represent the opportunity to continuously renew the Zionist ideal and adapt it to today’s realities — the Zionist ideal being a Jewish democratic state in Israel that will stand the test of time.  The only way we can secure this ideal is by pushing, as a movement and as a community, for an end of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and a comprehensive peace agreement with the  Palestinians.  Without that, our collective dream of a Jewish-democratic state will be compromised.

Now, the strange bedfellows of the extreme right and the extreme left try to tell us that the status quo or even a bi-national state is a viable option for the future.  But to be a legitimate Jewish democracy Israel has to maintain a Jewish majority as intended by Theodor Herzl, “a state of the Jews.”  It has to remain the Jewish nation-state, the expression of Jewish self-determination and, at the same time, it has to remain a democracy where all  players can participate in the political process and play the game  by the same rules.

Trust me, our success is important to me, to my party and to my generation, because the future of all of us depends on our ability to act.  Just yesterday we marked the 18th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  He took the road of peace with the Palestinians, not because he possessed great affection for them or their leaders.   Even then, as some of you might recall, common belief was that we had no partners and   we had nothing to discuss with them.  Rabin decided to act because he discerned, very wisely, that Israeli society would not be able to sustain itself endlessly in a state of an    unresolved conflict.  He realized long before many others that life in a climate of violence, occupation, terror, anxiety and hopelessness, extracts a price Israel cannot afford.  This is all relevant today, even more so.   

It was young people on that 4th of November 1995 who took to the streets to support    negotiations with the Palestinians.  Disagreements today between right and left are not   that significant.   The vast majority of young Jews I encounter understand this already, and know what the outline for the resolution of the conflict could look like.  Many of the young people I’m talking about think of themselves as Zionists, many of them were even growing up in one of the major Zionist youth movements, which in my opinion offer one of the most active expressions of Zionism today.   

But we are about to lose some of them because we seem to have passed judgment and   given out grades in recent decades on who can be a Zionist and who can’t.  The image was created that Zionism was some kind of binary system.  Either you are with us or    against us.  Today my reality and the reality of thousands of others [is that] being social progressives and Zionists at the same time is considered an oxymoron.  However,    Zionism, in its original form, served as a spectrum or umbrella to all kind of streams,    thoughts and philosophies.  There was secular Zionism, religious Zionism, Labor    Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, and liberal Zionism to name just a few.  It seems to me that one side of this spectrum has occupied the term, Zionism, exclusively for their own narrative.   

It is the right wing’s current belief that Zionism should mean an unconditional love for   the State of Israel, its policies and its leaders.  They refuse to understand that our criticism of the policies and leaderships of the State of Israel comes from a place of profound love for our  homeland, alongside the desire to repair the world and naturally, Israel, with Tikkun Olam.   

Let us join forces once again — left and right, liberal and conservative, young and   
old — to restore the Zionist ideal, to end the needless suffering of so many we hold so dear by pushing our leaders to enter  real negotiations with the Palestinians.  Let’s not keep exhausting ourselves with the internal bickering that has gone on for over 45 years.  Let’s not accept that the political leadership of Israel continues to reflect the position of the radicals and not that held by the majority of the public.  Let’s keep the Zionist dream alive.   Let’s take brave and bold steps towards a better,  more just future so we can pride ourselves once again with the fact that Israel is a light among nations.

Chazak ve’Ematz [Be Strong and Courageous]
Toda Rabba

Naomi Chazan’s upbeat commentary [ssba]

I saw this by Naomi Chazan and thought you’d want to as well.  She looks forward to the new year with surprising optimism, in “Yes we can,” published a few days ago at the Times of Israel website. It begins as follows:

This past year – so confusing, discombobulating and, in many respects, disheartening also provides the seeds of hope for the one that has just commenced. Despite the regional insecurity and economic uncertainty that has engendered a prevailing sense that the future bears more of the same, there has emerged a new, concerned and involved Israeli who is beginning to reshape the country and demand a part in molding its destiny. Beneath the all-too familiar veneer of formal politics, an array of individuals and groups, far from indifferent or apathetic, holds promise for real change. They are the harbingers of what may yet make 5774 the year of the citizen.

The gradual reengagement of many Israelis in the public arena began two summers ago, when the social justice uprising galvanized large portions of the population into a collective demand for a vision that would provide a horizon for themselves and successive generations. Despite the paucity of short-term tangible gains, the social movement did make a major contribution to altering the discourse in the country (with political aspirants quickly adopting the language of change and innovation and many citizens honing their critical facilities in response). It also signaled a significant shift in attitude. No longer content to sit passively by while steps detrimental to their well being were adopted, people started to take note of everything, from the price of vegetables and electricity to the content of education, and from reduced pensions and discrimination in the workplace to debates over Iran, Syria and the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. During the past year, fueled by the new media and by the rapid expansion of social networks, this revived interest has begun to assume concrete form.  . . .

Prof. Chazan, a former Meretz MK and deputy speaker of the Knesset, goes on to discuss advancements for public accountability, women and other under-represented groups, such as Ethiopian immigrants and Palestinian Israelis.   Click here for entire article

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