Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon [ssba]

Meet Israel’s Bernie Sanders: MK Ilan Gilon

The original article was written by Nir Yahav and published in Walla Magazine on December 22, 2016. We thank Dana Mills for translating and Peter Eisenstadt for editing.

In early December, to the surprise of Israel’s right-wing government, the Knesset passed MK Ilan Gilon’s bill on a preliminary reading making disability benefits at least equal to the minimum wage. In effect the bill would more than double the monthly allowance paid to the disabled to equal the minimum wage. Currently disability benefit is 2,341 shekels ($616), while the minimum wage is 5,000 shekels ($1,315). Read More »

No, Palestinians don’t need to empathize with the Zionist narrative [ssba]

No, Palestinians don’t need to empathize with the Zionist narrative

In the Israeli-Palestinian domain, the current demand for empathy above all else is obscuring what should be a more urgent discourse — that of rights.

By Peter Eisenstadt and Mira Sucharov

Originally published in +972 on August 8, 2016

If American Jewish historians Hasia Diner and Marjorie Feld’s Haaretz article last week disavowing Zionism was intended to provoke, it has succeeded. Diner called her earlier Zionism a “naïve delusion,” while Feld wrote of her painful rejection of Zionist “propaganda.” In response, Jonathan Sarna, another American Jewish historian, accused the authors of exchanging one “naïve delusion” for another. Rabbi and talmudist Ysoscher Katz called the authors “weak-kneed.” Los Angeles-based Rabbi David Wolpe dared the authors to experience the chilly reception his congregants would likely accord them. Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted that the piece prompted him to consider stopping reading Haaretz altogether.

While we do not share their emotional detachment from Israel, we think that Diner and Feld’s anguished essay is important in urging us to consider how fealty to Zionism may hinder creative thinking about Israel’s future. If one ideal of Zionism was to create a Jewish state, another was to “normalize” the condition of the Jewish people. Zionism has succeeded in the first task, and not the second. Israelis are challenged both by the ongoing state of enmity from many corners as well as by having become almost permanent occupiers of another people. Neither of these conditions approach normalcy.

Still, there was one particularly thoughtful and nuanced response to Diner and Feld. Writing in Haaretz, Noah Efron faults the authors for a lack of empathy towards Israel. For Efron, empathy matters because a “solution will arrive when both sides realize that the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the other side, like their own, have value, beauty and legitimacy.”

For scholars, empathy is an important tool; it’s the stock-in-trade of our own disciplines — history and politics. But just as we recognize empathy as a professional and public good, in the Israeli-Palestinian domain we fear that the current demand for empathy above all else is obscuring what should be a more urgent discourse — that of rights.

Over four million Palestinians under Israeli rule are denied citizenship, with order maintained through the brutal military occupation in the West Bank, and an inhumane blockade (run in tandem with Egypt and abetted by Hamas’s intransigence) around Gaza. An additional million-and-a-half Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from the democratic deficits inherent in Israel’s ethnic democracy. And millions of additional Palestinians, living abroad, await word on whether there will be return or even compensation for the Nakba. While engaging in dialogue on competing historical narratives may be intellectually and emotionally enriching, today there is something much more basic at stake: international law and human rights.

The end of Jim Crow in the American South was brought about not by whites and blacks coming to acknowledge the “hopes, dreams and aspirations” of the other, but by unremitting pressure on white supremacy. Whether whites and blacks understand each other better now than half a century ago is doubtful, and the change wrought by the civil rights movement hardly ended all of America’s racial problems. Still, there has been progress. If, over the next half century, Israelis and Palestinians find a way to co-exist, it will probably resemble the progress in American race relations: slow and halting, but undergirded by certain fundamental political and legal changes basic to democracy.

So where does this leave Zionism? Even in its most progressive and empathic form, Zionism has meant a commitment to an increasingly elusive “two-state solution,” the kind that is supposed to take into account the needs and identities of both sides. But as the occupation nears the half century mark, we are increasingly concerned that the progressive Zionist commitment to the two-state solution as being the “only” one — due to a perceived need to protect Israel’s Jewish identity — is, if inadvertently, helping to shore up an unjust status quo.

In a future peaceful scenario, it is unlikely that Palestinians will be able to call up much empathy for Zionist ideals. It is, however, nearly certain that Israelis will have to recognize that the Palestinians deserve the same basic rights that they themselves enjoy.

If Diner and Feld’s essay has struck a nerve, it is probably because it articulated sentiments that many who call themselves progressive Zionists have to some extent shared, but were reluctant to articulate. Both the anger and the sympathy it has generated indicates the importance of probing Zionism’s current relevance. That Zionism helped to create the current impasse with the Palestinians is undeniable. Whether it can be of any assistance in resolving it is far less clear.

Peter Eisenstadt is an independent historian living in Clemson, South Carolina. He has written extensively on New York City and New York State, and African American and Jewish history. 

Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations. She writes regularly for Haaretz, The Jewish Daily Forwardand the Canadian Jewish News.


The Train Left the Station—by Jonathan Adereth [ssba]

The Train Left the Station—by Jonathan Adereth

On the eve of Israel’s last election, we strongly believed that in order to ensure the future of the state as Jewish and democratic we must change the regime.

We had known that a new coalition with Netanyahu at the helm would not be able to achieve a separation from the Palestinians and a two-states agreement.

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MakePeaceThe Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, which has been held on the eve of Memorial Day for the last eleven consecutive years, comes to remind us that war is not an act of fate but one of human choice.

This ceremony is the largest annual event held by the Combatants for Peace movement. On this particularly difficult day we call upon both sides to acknowledge the pain and the aspirations of those living on the other side of the fence and for each of us to strive to prevent the next war. Perhaps during next year’s Memorial Day, additional losses will not have to reckoned with. At the ceremony, Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families speak about their personal pain.

The ceremony was held, during the few first times in the Tmuna Theater. It was initiated by Buma Inbar whose son Yotam fell in Lebanon in 1995. Since the initial event in 2006, the number of participants has increased every year. Last year about 2,500 people attended the event which was held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds. Over the years the ceremony has been attended by intellectuals and artists including Yoni Rechter, Prof. Yehuda (Judd) Ne’eman, recipient of the Israel Prize, Alon Oleartchik, Achinoam Nini, Noam Rotem, Mira Awad, Prof. Eva Illouz and others.

Year after year the event attracts increasing media attention in spite of the fact that we have had to deal with protests and attempts by right-wing politicians to disrupt the occasion.

This Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony demonstrates the reality of empathy and mutual respect among peoples.

The ceremony demonstrates, however briefly, the possibility of peace, not based on disregard for or indifference to the pain, but rather with a direct reference to the loss and bereavement on both sides.

As we do every year, on the evening Memorial Day, Combatants for Peace Movement in coalition with Parents Circle – Families Forum, will conduct the 11th Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony. The event will be held on May 10th 2016 at Shlomo Group Arena, Tel Aviv (Drive In Arena, near the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.) at 9:00pm.

On this evening we all gather – Israelis and Palestinians – to remember the victims of violence on both sides, and to remind everyone that war is not an act of fate. The recent period in our region is a period of violence, tension and suffering for both people, and many additional families have already been added to the cycle of bereavement and pain.

Despite the statements that “forever we will live by the sword” and the growing gap between our leaders, we believe that this period too is not an act of fate, but of an ongoing vicious cycle of violence for which human beings alone are responsible and are the victims of. We will gather together on the evening of Memorial Day, not stand apart, because we know it is in our power as human beings to end this terrible cycle and avoid future victims.

“From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring”
Yehuda Amichai


The Spectrum: There is no one Judaism, no one Zionism—by Adam E. Chanes [ssba]

The Spectrum: There is no one Judaism, no one Zionism—by Adam E. Chanes

Unshackle NU and Northwestern Divest inappropriately provided wholesale definitions of Jewish and Zionist identities in their letter to North by Northwestern last quarter. By asserting that Judaism is “a religious identity” and that Zionism is merely a “political identity,” the two campaigns inexcusably lay a claim on the identities of others. They cannot accept that Judaism is not always “religious.” They do not appreciate that a Zionist identity is, for many like myself, an entirely religious experience deeply rooted in Torah thought and practice, a way I serve God. And they don’t allow a Zionist like me to fight Israeli racism and express solidarity against institutional anti-blackness.

When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, my Israelite ancestors, who suddenly faced an exiled, landless existence, began a two-millenia enterprise of self-examination, resulting in definitive heterogeneity. We continue to define Judaism in deliberately disparate ways.

Likewise, the dominant Zionist ideologies were always political — Labor, Revisionist, and others. Other important manifestations, however, by no means necessitated the creation of a political state. Are these voices to be automatically excluded because Zionism is a dirty word that represents only oppression — not a false representation — but nothing else?

The letter points selectively towards Jewish Voice for Peace and Neturei Karta as Jewish groups that oppose conflating Zionism and Judaism. Unshackle NU and NU Divest insinuate that these groups and “countless others” have exclusive license to define Judaism and Zionism for the rest of the Jewish people. The deep Jewish tradition of “mahloket,” creative disagreement in Torah study, insists that no one Jewish group can legitimately define either “identity” for everyone else. The two campaigns denounce the State of Israel’s engagement in that very act of “defining for everyone else.” But they themselves do just that by designating only two Jewish organizations to learn from.

My beliefs also defy categorical statements about either identity. My experience of Judaism is Torah-infused, “religious,” but certainly not just that: I’ve been attending secular Yiddish theater since early childhood and have participated in Jewish sports leagues. Many secular American Jews, and “hiloni” (secular) Israelis too, take umbrage at those calling their Jewish identities “religious,” yet they feel very Jewish. It is no coincidence that the debate over how and whether to define the state’s “Jewish character” is the reason Israel has no constitution.

The Zionism I identify with most is a religious identity.

My religious practice, minute-to-minute, is predicated on an active orientation toward a land of eternal sanctity, “Eretz Yisrael.” My religiosity is Zionist. Every time I finish eating grain-based foods — a simple Clif Bar — I say an ancient liturgical passage that thanks God for agricultural sustenance and the precious land of our ancestors. This blessing, which was not written by Theodor Herzl or Ariel Sharon, continues by asking God for mercy upon the land and the ancient Temple, and that God should bring Jews up to the land — but not without compassion.

The intersection between food, geography and sanctity shows that the Jewish yearning for an ancestral homeland — Zionism — is a part of every bite, embedded in the ritual minutiae. And it’s not just a yearning. To serve God fully, there are agricultural commandments I feel obligated to fulfill — they require living in Israel.

The ancient Hebrew texts, particularly blessings of justice and ingathering exiles, require me to direct as much intention to ending anti-Black oppression and the Israeli military occupation as to a return to the land of Israel. When saying “May our eyes behold Your (God’s) return to Zion in mercy” in all three daily prayer services, another Jewish obligation, my intention is a thirst for the land, but one that must reflect God’s merciful side. I pray to realize the “natural morality” Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook — the spiritual father of Religious Zionism — dwelled upon.

My teacher, the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, was a controversial and seemingly contradictory peace activist (he was a settler leader who opposed military occupation). He denounced the common, perverse Religious Zionist approach to the land of Israel, a racist approach that turns deep desire into ideology that conquers rather than integrates. The land does not belong to us, Froman said — we belong to the land, and the land belongs to God. Of course, it would be unjust to claim the nonexistence of legal land-ownership or to wield divine “ownership” as an excuse to settle anywhere, as Religious Zionist settlers have done. Such claims ignore decades of illegal Israeli theft of Palestinian land and acts of ethnic cleansing in 1948.

Rabbi Froman teaches that to live in God’s land, Jews must act with utmost sensitivity and love toward the Other, the human being, the infinite “image of God” in our midst, for they too — Palestinian tears, family, culture, humanity — belong to God’s land. We cannot reverse history. But secular and religious Jews and Zionists must look at history and recognize that there was a Palestinian Nakba, a catastrophic reality that did not end in 1948 and that the Jewish “aliyah” (ascent) to Palestine should not have happened at the cost of displacing 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes.

One of God’s many names in Judaism is “Shalom,” which means “peace.” To put an end to the desecration of God’s name, Israelis and Palestinians must learn to love one another today. But that can only happen in parallel with Jewish Israeli efforts — yes, even religiously-inspired efforts — to end the racism, the suffering, the occupation, the erasure of land and history.

From within Jewish secularism and religiosity can come Zionism, and from within Zionism a love of peace and a hatred of oppression can exist. Just as Judaism constantly develops, Zionism can and must take a courageous step outside of its own blemished history.
Adam Chanes is a Northwestern University freshman.

This essay was first published on The Spectrum, a weekly forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email


Ireland and the Jewish Question [ssba]

Ireland and the Jewish Question


Happy Easter Monday! Today, Easter Monday is exactly 100 years since the Easter Monday rebellion in Dublin in 1916,  when a small group of Irish nationalists took over the General Post Office building  and several other sites in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish republic.  The rebellion only lasted six days before it was brutally suppressed by the British, with heavy loss of life.  But the rebellion was the spark of a bloody war that after much bloodshed, in 1922, led to Irish independence.

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You Can’t Defeat Death, but you Can Defeat Demagogues: Thoughts About Donald Trump [ssba]

You Can’t Defeat Death, but you Can Defeat Demagogues: Thoughts About Donald Trump

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross is best known for her five stages of grief on dealing with a fatal illness. The first reaction, the first stage of grief, is denial. You can’t believe this is happening.  It is only temporary.  It is not as bad as it seems.   Then comes anger. It is not going away. It is getting stronger; you are getting weaker. It’s spreading.  The next stage is bargaining.  There is a way to stop this. It can be controlled. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to interact with it, to limit its ambitions.   And then there is despair. It’s not going to work. You’re going to lose, and you’re going to lose everything.  Finally, there is acceptance.   As long as it’s going to happen, you might as well get behind it, if you can, if it lets you.  You know it’s going to feel much better than the alternative, which is trying to struggle against it,  and be painfully destroyed.  Or admit defeat, and remove yourself, as far away as possible, to a place of safety.

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Review of ‘1929: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict’ [ssba]

Review of ‘1929: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict’

“1929: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” by Hillel Cohen (translated by Haim Watzman); Brandeis University Press, Waltham, Mass., 2015, 288 pp.    

On September 2, 1929, several weeks after the deadly riots in Palestine, the newspaper Ha’aretz called for the British to impose collective punishment on the town of Deir Yassin, as the British had imposed on several other Arab towns in preceding weeks. I had not realized that many who participated in the Irgun raid on Deir Yassin in 1948 saw it as payback for what had occurred some twenty years earlier.

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If I am Not for Myself, etc. (Thoughts on AHA Vote) [ssba]

If I am Not for Myself, etc.  (Thoughts on AHA Vote)

Over the weekend, I attended the American Historical Association (AHA) annual convention in Atlanta.  Historians, as a rule, are not a particularly raucous bunch, and the 3,500 or so historians generally went about their business quietly, delivering papers, buying books, trying to cadge free food at various receptions, and the like. But there was one exciting moment.

At the business meeting, there was a vote on a resolution introduced by an organization called Historians Against the War (HAW) condemning Israeli interference with higher education and academic freedom on the West Bank and Gaza, and calling on the AHA to “monitor” Israel’s behavior.  This resolution was tailored to garner as much support as possible, and unlike earlier resolutions introduced by HAW, it did not explicitly call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  Still, it was an attempt to get the AHA on record against Israel’s educational policies, and perhaps use it as a toehold from which to launch stronger BDS resolutions. Read More »

‘Ichabod’ Schumer [ssba]

‘Ichabod’ Schumer

For the last week or so, since New York Senator Chuck Schumer decided to abandon his party, his president, his principles (or at least what should have been his principles) and announced his decision to vote against the Iran agreement, I have been thinking about the poem “Ichabod” (1850) by the 19th century American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). Nowadays Whittier is clinging to a tenuous place in the literary canon by his fingernails, but at his best he was quite a memorable poet, and one of his best poems is “Ichabod.”

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