The Left and its “anti-Zionism-not-antisemitism problem”

Antisemitism time-travels so well

Before I start I want to make clear, in case the sarcasm in my headline doesn’t come through clearly, that I consider anti-Zionism to be indeed antisemitism.

Following yesterday’s post on Labour’s woes with its anti-Zionist-not-antisemitic members, today too, two more Labour city councillors were suspended because of antisemitic Facebook posts, uncovered by the indefatigable Guido Fawkes and his blog Order Order:

Ilyas Aziz, a lawmaker in Nottingham in north-central England, was suspended hours after the Guido Fawkes website posted screenshots of his Facebook posts, including the one in July 2014 during the Israel-Hamas war calling for the relocation of Israeli Jews.

Other of Aziz’s posts shown on Guido Fawkes included one comparing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews and another perpetuating the blood libel myth that reads “Stop drinking Gaza’s blood.” Another post shows an Israeli flag with the words “God didn’t give you the land – the UK did … Illegally” superimposed on it.

Later on Monday, the former mayor of Blackburn in Lancashire, Salim Mulla, was suspended less than an hour after his anti-Israel posts were outed, also by Guido Fawkes.

Mulla, whose Twitter profile said he was born in India, charged in an August 2015 Facebook post that Israel is behind ISIS. A month earlier he posted a conspiracy theory video blaming Israel for the Sandy Hook elementary school murders in Connecticut, adding his own comment that “He is talking facts.” A June 2015 post s”Zionist Jews are a disgrace to humanity.”

Mulla told Guido Fawkes that “I don’t agree with Zionism at all. I have very, very many Jewish friends.”

Ah yes, the old get-out-of-jail-free card of “Some of my best friends are Jewish”.

Regarding the current scandal about antisemitism in the Labour Party, now playing out in the British media, Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday asks a very pertinent question: Everyone howls at Ken Livingstone but they wouldn’t dare tackle Muslims about their antisemitism:

I am, as it happens, a keen Zionist, a confirmed supporter of Israel’s continued existence as an avowedly Jewish state. Anti-Semitism – or Judophobia as I call it – gives me the creeps. So does the extraordinarily selective criticism of Israel, which does many bad things, by people who never seem to notice the equally bad crimes of any other country. I ask them: ‘Why is this?’ They can never answer.

And as it happens I had on Wednesday evening taken Mr Livingstone to task (at a London public meeting) for the Left’s feebleness in face of Muslim Judophobia.

This is a sad fact. On visits to the Muslim world, from Egypt to Iran, Iraq and Jordan, via the Israeli-occupied West Bank, I have repeatedly met foul and bigoted opinions about Jews which people in this country would be ashamed to speak out loud.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of Muslims who do not harbour such views. But there are those who do, and British political parties which seek the support of Muslims have often been coy about challenging this. As for all these people who have suddenly got so exercised about Judophobia, and wildly worked up about Ken Livingstone’s batty views on Zionism (standard issue on the far Left for decades), I have some questions for them.

Are you prepared to put the same energy into challenging and denouncing Judophobia among the Palestinians you support abroad, and the British Muslims whose votes you seek here?

Excellent question Mr. Hitchens. I hope you publish any relevant answers you receive.

Jeremy Corbyn and some undesirable fellow-travellers at a “pro-Palestinian” anti-Israel demonstration

The hard question now arises, what on earth has happened to pleasant, kind, tolerant Britain? Where did this flood of antisemitism spring from? And what has possessed the Left, which used to stand for equal rights, tolerance, anti-racism and anti-bigotry?

Many people have tried to answer these questions and I bring here some food for thought to help us figure out the answer, or if indeed there is an answer.

Anschel Feffer in Haaretz asks why Britain’s Labour Party has suddenly become synonymous with antisemitism and frames the answer against a class-war background:

Perhaps the best way to understand how Labour found itself in this sorry state is to begin with the premise that when senior party members are capable of spouting vile anti-Jewish theories and at the same time insisting they are in no way anti-Semites, they are not lying, at least in the sense that they believe what they’re saying to be true. This is not just the classic “some of my best friends are Jews” self-deception (and the radical left always had and still has its Jews to prove that point), but part of a deeper logical multiple-car pileup which now forms the basis of the attitude towards both Israel and Jews in general on a growing margin of the ideological left.

The unspoken argument begins with the belief that Jews are no longer an endangered minority group and have involved instead in to a powerful “white” elite. It doesn’t matter that this sounds dangerously like classic anti-Semitism. As far as those whose world-views are informed by a Marxist class-warfare perspective think, Jews went over to the dark side when they were no longer persecuted and joined the middle and upper-classes in their societies.

Leading from this argument is the next one, which places Israel and Zionism on the wrong side of colonialism, and therefore relics of shameful racist Western history which has no moral justification.

And because the very existence of Israel and the entire Zionist ideal of establishing a Jewish state is considered inherently imperialistic and immoral, then when those who believe in these arguments say “being anti-Israel doesn’t mean you’re anti-Semitic”, what they actually mean is that “being anti-Israel can never be anti-Semitic.”

Read it all. Feffer makes some excellent points which certainly make sense in the current context.

Kevin Williamson in the National Review makes a similar point to Anschel Feffer but asserts that it is not just the British Left, but the Left worldwide, in which antisemitism is consistent with their worldview:

Before the end of World War II, there was no Pakistan, and to the extent that there was an “India,” it was a geographical rather than a political term, much like “Palestine.” There was no independent Ireland until the 1920s and no Republic of Ireland until 1948. There was no People’s Republic of China until 1949. There was no Zimbabwe until 1980, no Czech Republic until 1993, and no modern Democratic Republic of the Congo until 1997. Israel is an ancient state compared with geopolitical newcomers such as the 30-odd countries created since 1990.

Yet it is the Jewish state, and the Jewish state alone, that is permanently marked for extermination. No one is throwing a fit about Timor-Leste or Serbia.

The Jews can be whatever their enemies need them to be. For Henry Ford and more than a few on the modern left, the Jews are the international bankers secretly pulling the strings of the global economy.
For those who learned at the feet of that old fraud Edward Said, the Jews are the colonialists, the European modernists inflicting capitalism and technology upon the noble savages of their imaginations. The Israeli Jews commit the double crime of insisting upon being Jews and refusing to be sacrificial victims. They were okay, in the Left’s estimate, for about five minutes, back when Israel’s future was assumed to be one of low-impact kibbutz socialism. History went in a different direction, and today Israel has one of the world’s most sophisticated economies.

For the Jew-hater, this is maddening: Throw the Jews out of Spain, and they thrive abroad. Send them to the poorest slums in New York, and those slums stop being slums. Keep them out of the Ivy League and watch NYU become a world-class institution inspired by men such as Jonas Salk, son of largely uneducated Polish immigrants. Put the Jewish state in a desert wasteland and watch it bloom, first with produce and then with technology. […]

The economy under Palestinian management? Olives and handicrafts, and a GDP per capita that barely exceeds that of Sudan.

The Arab–Israeli conflict is a bitter and ugly one. My own view of it is that the Palestinian Arabs have some legitimate grievances, and that I stopped caring about them when they started blowing up children in pizza shops. You can thank the courageous heroes of the Battle of Sbarro for that. Israel isn’t my country, but it is my country’s ally, and it is impossible for a liberty-loving American to fail to admire what the Jewish state has done. And that, of course, is why the Left wants to see the Jewish state exterminated.

Jerusalem Post columnist Seth Frantzman, at his own blog, resignedly comments that Jew-hatred is simply endemic everywhere:

But why is there such surprise. Europe bred hatred for two thousand years. Anti-Jewish laws, pogroms, expulsions, massacres, were an integral part of European culture. Most European countries and people collaborated with the Nazi Holocaust. The Nazis were not the exception, but a natural progression of European history.

In some ways the hatred of Israel and Zionism in Europe is a way for Europeans to transfer ingrained anti-semitsm into a new more acceptable kind of hate. There is no country in the world subjected to the kind of zealous hatred as Israel is in these European circles. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has sent 11 million people into refugee life, and slaughtered hundreds of thousands, but no European politician suggests dismantling Syria and “transferring” Syria to America, as one European politician suggested be done with Israel. […] Only with the Jewish people is the people’s existence considered an acceptable discussion in these European circles.

Why did so many Europeans hate Jews? What did the Jews do to them? Very few Europeans truly seek this answer today.

Here Frantzman answers with a very similar view to Williamson in the NRO quoted above:

They hate Zionism. But why did Zionism come into being? Because France persecuted Dreyfus which led Theodor Herzl to see that assimilation would not work. […]

At the precise point when many Europeans abandoned Christianity, which had been their excuse for hating Jews who were accused of “killing Christ”, Europeans now decided Jews were a separate “alien” and “parasitical” race. Secularism informed them of race theory and social Darwinism and Jews were at the bottom of that ladder. Anti-semitism, the hatred of Jews as being semitic and thus non-white, non-European, became the new reason to hate Jews. In each generation in Europe the reason for hating Jews took on a new logic. Grandfather hated them for being non-Christian. Dad hated them for “racially scientific reasons”, for being semites. And the current generation hates them for being nationalist and having a state.

European nationalism and extremism led directly to Zionism, for which Jews were then blamed by Europeans for being nationalist.

In each case, whatever Jews did as a reaction, they were then blamed for having done it. Communism was labelled a “Jewish” movement, and the reason to hate Soviet Russia, “because it is Jewish.” Jews became capitalists and were then hated as “harming the workers.” Today many people, including academics, will post online stories about the “Rothschilds control the world” or “no war for the Rothschilds.” Whatever is the ‘other’, becomes Jewish in the European imagination. If they are left wing, then the Jews are right wing, if they are right wing then they blame Jews for being cosmopolitan. Jews are said to be ethnocentric and anti-Arab, and at the same time said to support multi-culturalism and immigration to Europe.

Frantzman concludes with a harsh damning indictment of Europe and the West, with which I sadly agree:

It’s extraordinary that such a small group of people in the world, who only make up some 12 million or so out of 7 billion, are always the object of this European obsession. It isn’t enough they put 6 million in gas chambers. Nothing satisfies the anger and visceral obsessive, pathological hatred in these European minds but the disappearance of the Jewish people. In Norway, France, the UK, so many politicians, academics and others obsess over Jews. They don’t obsess over Sikhs or Albanians, they aren’t concerned with Burma or Zimbabwe, only with Jews and Israel.

Posted in Antisemitism, International relations, Lawfare and Delegitimization | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Britain’s Labour Party melts down over its antisemitism problem

For anyone who has not been overcome with matzos in the last few days, it has been almost impossible to avoid the nearly 24/7 news coverage by the British press of further expressions of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Each news bulletin seems to bring fresh revelations, and it has been hard to keep up.

British MP Naz Shah who resigned over antisemitic Facebook posts

The latest scandals, a continuation of many previous antisemitic outrages connected to the Labour Party since the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership, began with the Labour Party aide to the Shadow Chancellor Naz Shah and some old Facebook posts of hers where she expressed several antisemitic sentiments, including suggesting that all Israeli Jews be forcefully transported to the US.  When these were uncovered, Shah apologized. In truth, her apology sounded genuine and truly remorseful though of course it is hard to tell what is really in her heart. But according to some sources, elements in the Labour party “edited” her apology so that what was eventually published removed all reference to Jews and Israel – which made the whole effort an exercise in futility, not to mention double-talk. Nevertheless Shah resigned her position and she was also suspended from the Labour Party.

But this was just the beginning.

All this was further exacerbated by former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, he of the infamous Livingstone Formula, who forms one half of what I consider to be the Dastardly Duo™ (the other half being George (Israel-free) Galloway) when he outrageously – and insanely – jumped to the defense of Naz Shah by claiming that Hitler was a Zionist!

It was the second time in two days that Labour has had to take action over complaints of antisemitism. The Bradford West MP Naz Shah was suspended over Facebook posts from 2014, including one suggesting Israelis be deported to the US.

In defending Shah, Livingstone intensified the row by claiming Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews” and claimed there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as antisemitic”.

The former London mayor then went on the BBC’s Daily Politics to express his concern about a blurring of antisemitism with criticism of Israel, and defend his comments about Hitler as “historical fact”.

His comments provoked such anger within the party that John Mann, an MP and campaigner against antisemitism, accosted Livingstone in a stairwell at the BBC. Their encounter was filmed as Mann branded Livingstone a Nazi apologist, told him he had “lost it” and that he needed help over the “factually wrong, racist remarks”. Within the hour, Livingstone had been suspended.

Watch John Mann in his Sky News interview and feel the rage and disgust emanating from him:

We can take further comfort from Mann’s direct confrontation with Livingstone as they entered the BBC studios:

UPDATE: When challenged on his antisemitism, Livingstone denied that he was an antisemite, using a very strange – and VERY low threshold – to describe what he thinks antisemitism is, in an interview on Daily Politics (h/t Brian Goldfarb in the comments):

Livingstone’s exact words are “a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate the Jews in Golders Green… or in Stoke Newington — it’s a physical loathing.’”

For Red Ken, nothing more or less than that counts as antisemitism, The man is a lunatic.

Watch the incredible interview here:

Engage Online (h/t Brian Goldfarb) has the story of how the Livingstone Formulation failed to save Livingstone:

He is famous for the Livingstone Formulation: the insistence that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism dishonestly in order to silence criticism of Israel; that they don’t even believe it themselves.  Talk of antisemitism on the left is a conspiracy to mobilize Jewish victim power against the Palestinians.

There is no kind of hostility to Israel which Livingstone would recognize as antisemitic. Not even if somebody called for the forcible ‘transport’ of every Israeli Jew to Nebraska, as Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West did; Livingstone would say it was criticism of the Israel.  Of course, he would not have the same leniency with Jews who call for the transport of Palestinians out of the West Bank; that he would rightly characterise as racist.

Today Livingstone said that Hitler supported Zionism.  Most people know that Zionism was a response to antisemitism; most people know that Hitler wasn’t in the business of responding to antisemitism but was himself the greatest antisemite of all time.  Livingstone smears Jews, at least those who refuse to identify as anti-Zionist, by saying that they are like Nazis.  He encourages people on the left and in the student movement to relate to Jews as though they were Nazis; unless they disavow Israel.  Antisemitism?  No, just criticism.

Ken Livingstone and a significant minority of people in the UK still do not see that there is a problem of antisemitism.

They see a right wing Zionist witch-hunt against good people who oppose austerity, imperialism, the Israeli occupation and Islamophobia. They are enraged by the injustice of the antisemitism smear. They are entrenched in their position that the influence of Israel, and the Jews who support it, is toxic. They are worried how this influence seems to seep into the dominant ideology of the ruling class and the mainstream media. Their blood boils more and more intensely about Israel, its human rights abuses, its vulgarity, and the racism that is to be found there; their anger is mixed with shame at this European Colonial outpost, created under British rule. They see Islamophobia, imported from Israel and America, as the poison of the post national Europe hope. They feel that everybody has learnt the lessons of the Holocaust except for the Zionists, who, having rejected Christian forgiveness and love, find themselves stuck more and more in the Nazi era.

In spite of the fact that these people oppose Nazis and skinheads with all their hearts, and in spite of the fact that they stand in the tradition of Cable Street, these people are antisemites. But they think they are opponents of antisemitism.

So what now for Livingstone? Well, he was suspended by Corbyn – belatedly, after so many instances of outright antisemitism:

And what will the Labour leadership do?  Jeremy Corbyn shares many of the same core values as Livingstone regarding Israel and the Jews who are held to support it.  Corbyn also supports Hamas and Hezbollah; Corbyn has also fronted for Press TV; Corbyn has also jumped to the defence of antisemites.

But at the moment, Corbyn isn’t jumping to the defence of Livingstone.

Adding to Labour’s woes, Corbyn ally, MP Diane Abbot dismissed the charges of antisemitism, calling them “a smear” against the party.

She then accused Andrew Marr of smearing ordinary Labour Party members for simply raising the possibility that the LP might have a problem with antisemitism. When he countered that if there was no problem, why was an inquiry being set up to deal with the issue, she answered that the problem was simply one of ‘process’. She then, by way of further deflection, insisted that antisemitism was a problem everywhere.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, also had plenty to say about the antisemitism scandal:

Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to London, called for Corbyn to distance himself from Hamas, which he described as an antisemitic organisation. “The left has a wonderful, proud history of fighting antisemitism, but we have seen some language over the last two or three weeks which is very concerning,” Regev said.

“They have the right to criticise the Israeli government, Israeli citizens do it every day,” he said. “It is about demonising the Jewish state. It is not about criticising this or that Israeli policy it is about the demonising and vilification of my country and its very right to exist.

This whole antisemitism row could very well affect Labour’s chances in the upcoming election for Mayor of London as well as in other local elections. Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, had a good chance of winning until the ordure hit the fan:

At the start of what turned out to be, in the words of shadow chancellor John McDonnell, “a dreadful week”, Khan had been quietly confident, the clear favourite to succeed Boris Johnson in the mayoral race, which concludes on Thursday. One poll put him 11 points ahead of his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith.

Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan

Voters go the polls in elections not just in London, but across England, Wales and Scotland. Labour is expected to struggle in English councils and to take a drubbing in Scotland and Wales. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hopes he will be able to hail a Khan triumph in London as great news to offset the less good tidings expected.

The wind was in Khan’s sails and he seemed set fair. He had fought energetically on issues such as housing and transport, and felt, with good reason, that he had outsmarted Goldsmith by depicting the Conservative campaign as racially divisive and unpleasantly negative. On matters of race and faith, Labour’s team thought they had won the argument and seized the moral high ground.

This weekend, however, Goldsmith and the Conservatives in London have renewed hope, while Khan, Corbyn and the entire Labour party have reason to worry. In an interview with the Observer, a defiant Khan insisted there was no way he would be “knocked off course” by the antisemitism arguments raging within Labour. But he accepted that the events of the past week – first the suspension of the Labour MP for Bradford, Naz Shah, over antisemitic posts on Facebook, followed by Livingstone’s extraordinary defence of her in which he linked Hitler to Zionism – had not exactly helped.

“I accept that the comments that Ken Livingstone has made makes it more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour party is a place for them, and so I will carry on doing what I have always been doing, which is to speak for everyone,” Khan said.

The repercussions for Labour have spread far and wide, as former donors, particularly Jewish donors, are running a mile from the party. Even Israel’s Labour Party (now renamed the Zionist Union) leader, Isaac Herzog, reprimanded Corbyn:

The repercussions are spreading abroad. In a devastating intervention, Isaac Herzog, leader of the Israeli Labour party, has written to Corbyn saying he is “appalled and outraged” by the recent examples of antisemitism by senior Labour officials in the United Kingdom. He invited Corbyn to bring a Labour delegation to visit Israel’s national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, “to witness that the last time the Jews were forcibly ‘transported’ it was not to Israel but to their deaths”.

Within the Labour Party itself reactions were furious, some expressing anger at Corbyn for his slow reaction to Livingstone’s racism, and others livid at John Mann for making the internal row so public.

This whole scandal has played out in the British press to an extent that has taken me by surprise.  Outrage has been expressed across the board in the British press, which is not always so sympathetic to accusations of antisemitism:

The headlines, articles and editorials in Friday’s newspapers were unusually united in their condemnation of a politician whose clumsy attempts to quell allegations of antisemitism within Labour have had the opposite effect.

As the Guardian said: “With singular crassness, instead of clearing the air yesterday, Mr Livingstone encouraged the accusation.”

Rather than helping his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, he has sunk him into what the Daily Mirror called “a toxic swamp”.

“Bizarrely”, said the Independent’s political editor, Andrew Grice, Livingstone “leapt to the defence” of the suspended MP Naz Shah – for suggesting that Jews be transported to America – “when she was no longer defending herself.”

The Times viewed Livingstone’s “grotesque analogies” and “demagoguery” as symptomatic of Corbyn’s “calamitous leadership”.

For the Daily Telegraph, Livingstone’s “idiotic remarks” were a “gross inaccuracy” but “indicative of a philosophy that has been validated by Mr Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party.”

That view was echoed by the Daily Mail, which scorned Livingstone’s “absurd claim that Hitler was a Zionist” and thought Corbyn had failed to understand that it was “monstrously and deliberately offensive.”

Ditto the Daily Express: “There is a poisonous bigotry within Labour and its leader is not taking the action necessary to get rid of it.”

And the Sun, dancing delightedly on Labour’s political grave with an editorial headlined “Red and buried”, viewed Corbyn’s reaction to Livingstone’s “repugnant Hitler outburst” as pitiful.

This unity across the national newspaper board is very unusual indeed. Corbyn and his main media aide, Seumas Milne, should heed the message it sends.

As to why the British Left, in fact any Leftist party anywhere in the world, is so infected by antisemitism, or its alter-ego anti-Zionism, stay tuned for my next post.

Posted in Antisemitism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Chag Same’ach – Shvi’i shel Pesach, the 7th day of Passover

The seventh day of Pesach, “Shvi’i shel Pesach”, begins tonight, running straight on into Shabbat tomorrow night, giving us an “8-day Pesach” along with our fellow Jews in the Diaspora (who celebrate an extra day of the festival).

Shvi’i shel Pesach is the day the Children of Israel finally crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai Desert after fleeing Egypt, witnessing the miraculous Splitting of the Sea.

Here is a very interesting, thought-provoking insight by Britain’s Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis into the events at the Splitting of the Sea, and when it is time to act, not to pray:

The Emeritus Chief Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Australia, Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple also has some very interesting ideas to share with us about Pesach, and the 7th day in particular:

The 7th day of Pesach is marked by the Song of the Red Sea, the “shirat ha-yam”. This is Pesach at its most poetic and dramatic. A people recalls its liberation and sings to God.

Few poets could put into words the soaring emotions of the moment. Few could match what Hertz has called “probably the oldest song of national triumph still extant”.

This is not the only song which Israel sang in the course of Biblical history (Mechilta, Shirata). They sang in Egypt on the night they departed. They sang when a well of water sprang up in the wilderness. Moses sang a song of joy and comfort before he died.

Joshua sang when he won a great victory. Deborah and Barak sang when they vanquished Sisera. David sang when he was delivered from his enemies. Solomon sang when the Temple was dedicated. King Yehoshaphat sang as he went into battle.

There were many songs, but only one Shirah.

The rabbis state (Meg. 31a) that it is read on the 7th day of Pesach, but they do not fully explain why. Rashi fills us in (Commentary on Ex. 14:5).

He says that when the Israelites went on the three-days’ journey which Pharaoh had allowed, royal officials went with them. On the 4th day the officials returned and told Pharaoh that the Israelites were not coming back. On the 5th and 6th days the king’s forces pursued the Israelites.

On the night of the 7th day the Egyptians drowned in the sea and the following morning the Israelites sang the Song of Praise,

“and this was the 7th day of Pesach; that is why we read the Song on the 7th day”.

The Shirah is also found in the daily Shacharit service. The Zohar says,

“Whoever reads the Shirah daily with devotion will have the merit to read it in ‘Olam HaBa’ (the World to Come)”.

Machzor Vitry regards the daily reading as “a good custom”.

This indicates that there is more than historical association behind the importance of the song. Indeed the sages saw the splitting of the Red Sea as evidence for God: at the Red Sea a handmaid is said to have felt more spirituality than even the prophets did.

The Tanya (Sha’ar HaYichud, ch. 2) comments on how apparently illogical it was for the waters of the sea to stand upright. This occurred only because of God’s decree.

If this was a miracle,

“how much more so is it in the creation of being out of nothing which transcends nature and is far more miraculous than the splitting of the Red Sea, that with the withdrawal of the power of the Creator from the thing created, God forbid, it would revert to naught and complete non-existence. Rather, the Activating Force of the Creator must *continuously* be in the thing created to give it life and existence.”

Some more Pesach food for thought (to replace the almost inedible Matza) appears in a beautiful article by Rabbi David Wolpe in Time Magazine (of all places!): “Judaism is a 3000 year old love affair with a Land:

On Passover, Jews all over the world change one sentence in their daily prayers; instead of praying for rain, we begin to pray for dew. For in Israel the time for the grain harvest has begun, and if the winds blow and the rains fall, the grain cannot be harvested and will will rot in the field. Dew on the other hand, will moisten the grain without damaging it. That simple change in the prayer marks a profound truth about Judaism that touches on modern politics as well.

Twenty-five years ago I was returning from a two-day trip to New York. I ran into my teacher, the late Rabbi Henry Fisher. We began talking, and he asked me if I had changed my watch to accommodate New York time. “No,” I said, “I kept it on Los Angeles time.” “Why?” he asked? “Because,” I answered, “I would soon be home.”

Rabbi Fisher then told me that that is why Jews all over the world prayed for rain or dew when it was needed in Israel, no matter where they lived. The assumption of Jewish history is they would soon be back in Jerusalem. They kept their clocks to the time at home.

It has also been a tradition for many centuries in Judaism to leave a corner of one’s house unpainted, to remind us that this is a temporary dwelling. We are here only until we are gathered back to Israel.

Such practices remind us that politics should not obscure a deep truth about Judaism—it is a 3,000-year-old love affair with a land. Nobel Prize winning writer Shai Agnon expressed this idea with his usual wit. Elie Wiesel writes: “Shai Agnon had a marvelous word in Stockholm when he received the Nobel Prize. He said, ‘Majesty, like all Jews I was born in Jerusalem, but then the Romans came and moved my cradle to Buczacz.’” Agnon recalls the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago as scattering all Jews from their birthplace, the place to which he returned in his lifetime to become a storyteller for his people and the world.

Read the rest. It really is very inspiring, and so relevant in these days of the attempt by our enemies to destroy and deny the connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.

And lastly, to bring a smile to your faces before Chag, here are a couple of cartoons that tickled my funny bone:

Red Sea Selfie – If the Splitting of the Red Sea had occurred today

Chag Same’ach everyone and Shabbat Shalom! I won’t be online until Saturday night or Sunday at the very earliest.

Posted in Israel news, Judaism | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Guest Post: If It’s darkest just before the dawn, why is it so light out there?

This is another guest post by Brian Goldfarb, who casts his characteristically optimistic  worldview on recent events and shows us that things are really not as bad as we are being led to believe by the media. This is certainly welcome news for Pesach!

Please excuse the apparent facetiousness of the title, but as regular readers of this site will know, my inclination is to look for the positives. Anne writes of good news on Fridays, just before Shabbat (the Sabbath) – which is not to say that she doesn’t find good news at other times of the week, just that she does it with a purpose that day.

On the other hand, I’m always looking for the upside, on the basis that there is so much bad news around that I don’t need to repeat it; further, if all we ever read was the bad news about Israel, the region and our enemies out there, why wait for them to come to or for us, let’s just slit our throats now and save them the trouble.

No way! So what follows is a selection of articles that I’ve come across over the last few months that provide us with a more balanced and positive view of the place we come here to celebrate. And if you’re really unlucky, I may plunder some of the others for another article in the near future (Anne’s patience permitting) – [always! -Anne].

Which is another way of saying that the outlook is far less bleak, even positive, than a casual reading of mainstream sources would suggest.

On that basis, let me start with a relatively recent article, from The Times of Israel: The next conflict with Hamas will take place on Israel’s terms. As the title suggests (and a casual reading of the article will show), the IDF is determined not only that it will not be caught by surprise the next time Hamas starts to flex its military muscles, but that it will fight on its terms and not just reactively and defensively.

Hamas fighters at the funeral of a terrorist killed in a tunnel collapse

This is in no way undermined by the news that the IDF have discovered and destroyed a Hamas tunnel extending some way into Israel.

Further, regular readers will recall, I hope, an item in an earlier article of mine (a little after Protective Edge ended) which noted that after each round with Hamas or Hezbollah, the IDF held a critical review of what had happened, a sort of military SWOT analysis (for those unfamiliar with management speak, this stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Given that junior officers were expected to offer reasoned critiques of what had happened, the whole was designed to ensure that the IDF did it better next time – and there would, sadly, be a next time. Given that Israeli casualties, both civilian and military, have declined over the past decade or so, this would appear to be a logical, sophisticated and rational approach to the military problems that Israel faces.

On this topic, we have just seen the latest Helen Mirren film (and Alan Rickman’s last): “Eye in the Sky” – featuring the use of military drones. If you get the chance, do see it. And tell me what you think the IDF would have done given the moral dilemma presented at the heart of the film.

Still in this area (and I’ll be staying here for a bit) is this, also from the Times of Israel: Israel’s defense capabilities should worry Iranians, says IAI head:  The argument, by the Israeli intelligence services (and, for once, the term military intelligence is not an oxymoron, at least as far as Israel is concerned), is that Israel’s anti-nuclear defence is good enough to worry the Iranians, should they be inclined to actually try and make good their threats against Israel.

Israel’s Arrow 3 missile

What is being said is that, thanks to Iron Dome and the Arrow 3, Israel has an excellent chance of knocking Iranian ICBMs out of the sky before they get anywhere near Israel. And if they happen to explode over Iran…If one adds the grim reality of Israel’s retaliatory capacity (as I noted in possibly the same article referred to in the paragraph above), Iran should keep its bluster about destroying Israel as just that: bluster.

If you will permit me a lengthy extract from that article (written by Tamar Pileggi):

Iran has good reason to be concerned by Israel’s defense capabilities, a senior engineer at the Israel Aerospace Industries, a government-owned company that manufactures military and civilian aircraft and products, said on Saturday.“We are developing some of the the most advanced systems designed to give the fullest most and hermetic protection possible in the face of this kind of threat,” said Inbal Kreiss, speaking at a cultural event in the southern city of Beersheba.

“The Iranians should of course be worried by Israel’s defense capabilities,” she said. “We are the leader in this type of technology.”

“We are working to develop these defense systems in order to protect ourselves,” Kreiss added. “We’re constantly trying to stay ahead of the newest technologies.”

Asked by the event’s moderator what she thought about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeatedly expressed concerns over a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, Kreiss said lightly that the Israeli leader can sleep easy.

It’s amazing what the Start-Up Nation can do when it really sets it’s mind to the task!

I can’t leave this topic without drawing the following to your attention: Dozens of Hezbollah militants accidentally killed in chemical attack: This notes that a large number of Hezbollah were accidentally killed in a chemical attack by Assad forces. Given that they are supposed to be on the same side, this really does give a whole new meaning to the phrase “friendly fire”. As the author notes:

Diplomatic source says that a lack of coordination between Bashar Assad’s troops and supporting forces could lead to future instability.

As I have said before, much as we deplore the loss of life, still, it couldn’t happen to nicer terrorists. Added to this is a report that a third of Hezbollah’s fighters are said to have been killed or injured in Syria:

The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah has seen between 1,300 and 1,500 of its fighters killed in battles in the Syrian civil war, which means that together with the wounded it has lost as much as a third of its fighting force, according to Israeli estimates.

A Hezbollah funeral in Syria

Some 5,000 of the organization’s members have been injured in fighting alongside regime troops against rebel groups, including the Islamic State.

What isn’t clear is whether this is a relatively small addition to the figures that I wrote about something like 18 months ago (that is, maybe a further 500 or so deaths) or in addition to those losses. If it is addition, then Hezbollah really is in no condition to engineer a confrontation with Israel and the IDF, no matter how many rockets it has, because it would be unable to resist an invasion of the areas it controls in Southern Lebanon.

Turning to more recent events, the US Presidential Primary contest is coming to a climax. There were 6 Primaries on Tuesday 26th April which have gone a long way to determining just who the two main contestants will be in November. Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are close to wrapping up their respective party’s nominations (unless the Republican Party grandees manage to engineer a floor-fight at the Convention that Trump loses). Personally, I can only be relieved that Sanders appears to be unable to gain the Democratic nomination (and I say that as a member of the “sane” Left) and not only because his position on Israel is dubious, to say the least. And the Donald is coming across as an authoritarian, to be polite, or a neo-Fascist, if one doesn’t want to be polite.

But why should any of us prefer Clinton to anyone else? After all, she is little more liked or trusted than Trump, although there are enough Republicans who will vote for her over Trump. Well, from the point of view of readers here, she has a lot to commend her as far as the Middle East is concerned. Just recently she went on the record as found here: Clinton vows to improve US-Israel relationship if elected as follows:

On her first day in office as president, Hillary Clinton would reach out to the Israeli prime minister and invite him to the White House in an effort to strengthen US-Israel ties, she said Sunday afternoon.

Hilary Clinton

Speaking before the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, the former secretary of state offered up tough talk on Iran and emphasized her support for the peace process…

US and Israeli leaders, the Democratic front-runner said, “must remind our peoples how much they have in common and keep our relationship always above partisan politics.”

Calling Israel an “ally and true friend… now and forever,” Clinton vowed to “take the already strong relationship to the next level.

“It is in our national interest to have an Israel that remains a bastion of stability and a core ally in a region in chaos,” she said.

There’s more in the same vein here: Clinton: Educate youth about US-Israel bond, where she says, among much else, including deploring the decline in support for and understanding of Israel among younger Americans:

Clinton, as she has elsewhere, sought to distinguish herself from the policies of President Barack Obama, whom she served as secretary of state in his first term. The one-time senator from New York said she would not retreat from attempting to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, as Obama has since the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2014.

I just want to add, for the moment, that for all the noise and fury of the BDS movement in the US, no matter how many resolutions are passed by student bodies, not one College administration has sold off any investments in targeted companies, nor have any food co-ops failed to continue to sell Israeli products, where they have previously stocked them (see, on this last point, Divest This), and an increasing number of State legislatures are passing laws banning companies that boycott Israel and Israeli products from doing business with the State Government.

I did say that it was light out there, didn’t I?

Anne adds:

Brian, thank you for some welcome good news in the middle of Pesach. In fact we welcome such news at any time!

I would take issue with you about Hilary Clinton though. I don’t trust her bona fides on Israel. Certainly she is better than Bernie Sanders. ANYONE is better than Sanders! But Clinton is remembered for her 45 minute tirade against Binyamin Netanyahu about building permits for Jerusalem, not to mention her very questionable (to put it mildly) relationship with Israel-hating advisers. On the other hand, she does have experience as a Washington politician and knows how the system works – and more importantly she understands how deep is the support for Israel in Congress, something she will have to take into account in any of her dealings.

As for the Republicans, I am at a loss to explain the Trump phenomenon. All I can say is he makes me terribly uneasy. If it were up to me I would vote for Ted Cruz. But we Israelis – and the British too – have no say in their electoral process. We will just have to learn to live with the consequences.

Posted in Boycotts and BDS, Defence and Military, International relations, Iran, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Chag Kasher Vesame’ach – Happy Pesach!

Chag Same’ach! The Seder plate, Matza, wine and the Hagaddah

This blog is going on semi-vacation over the next week during the Pesach (Passover) festival until after the chag (it finishes on the night of  29th April but then runs straight into Shabbat on the 30th). If you would like to learn more about Pesach, have a look at Aish’s website or Chabad.

We’re heading out to our son and daughter-in-law (and their 6 (!) daughters) for the Seder, together with our younger daughter and son-in-law plus our younger son – so it’s definitely not going to be a quiet Seder night this year!  With the weather looking fabulously sunny and summery for the entire week we hope to go on day trips to Jerusalem and other sites around Israel during the intermediate Chol Hamo’ed days.  And then the 2 day finale to Pesach will be spent at our older daughter and her family. That does not look like it will be any quieter than the first day!😀

I would like to wish all my readers, along with all of Klal Yisrael, a chag kasher vesameach – a happy and Kosher Passover. May we all merit to celebrate in rebuilt Jerusalem “speedily in our days” as we say in the Seder.

As I have done in previous years, with the latest news being no better than in past years, I’m going to repost this beautiful rendering of the famous song from the Seder, which tells us about G-d’s promise to always protect Israel and save us from our enemies who rise up against us in every generation.

Here are the words in Hebrew:

והיא שעמדה לאבותינו ולנו

שלא אחד בלבד עמד עלינו לכלותנו
אלא שבכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותנו

והקדוש ברוך הוא מצילנו מידם

And in English:

And this (G-d’s promise) is what stood by our forefathers and us,
for not only one person stood against us to destroy us;
but in every generation they stand against us to destroy us,
and the Holy One Blessed be He saves us from their hand.

For something more upbeat, and yet with the same timeless message, here is another Seder favourite, Chad Gadya – One Little Kid. It reads like a children’s nursery rhyme, and may very well have been included in the seder in order to keep the children’s attention. And yet it also retells the history of the Jews in metaphor. Each time a tyrant arose, another one arrived and beat the first villain. And always the Jews are at their mercy until Hashem Himself comes to the rescue.

You can read the lyrics – Aramaic original, plus Hebrew and English translations, here.

There are so many versions of this song, and the following is not one that I was familiar with, but I really enjoyed this rendering. I love the way the cantor belts out the song with seemingly no effort!

Before I sign off, here are a couple of Jewish in-jokes to give you a chuckle:

May we all have a very happy, joyous, safe and secure Pesach, and may we merit to celebrate next year in Jerusalem in the rebuilt Bet Hamikdash (Temple), Amen.

Wishing Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher ve’Sameach everyone!

!חג פסח כשר ושמח

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Good News Thursday – pre-Pesach edition

Since tomorrow is erev Pesach, I won’t be posting my usual Good News Friday installment. Instead I decided to give you a pre-Pesach boost today with a slightly earlier Good News post.

My first item is a delightful article by Adele Raemer in the Times of Israel (h/t Brian Goldfarb). Besides being an unofficial spokesman for Israeli residents of the Gaza border area, Adele is also a medical clown. “It’s all about the nose” tells us of some of her experiences in Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon:

Yesterday, however, with school out for the Passover vacation, I had spent the morning working from home. There was no need to get dressed in the hospital, so, instead, I made the 45-minute drive to Ashkelon already kitted up and decked out in my clown attire: the striped underwear-cum-hat, rosy-sparkly cheeks and recycled shiny nightgown from our second-hand store, my uniform since starting medical clowning, five years ago. The drive was eventless. Nobody really looks at who’s driving the car they pass. However, upon my arrival at the hospital parking lot, I donned the humongous clown shoes and finally, the pièce de résistance: the red nose…and presto! Magic!

The woman in the wheelchair with the plastic tube sticking out of her nose waves me over to wish me a Happy Passover.

…The Ethiopian cleaning woman with the huge gaps between her teeth who rarely smiles, usually, sees me and laughs. She gives me a big hug, kisses me on both cheeks and asks where I’d been (being really busy lately, I’d not gotten there for a while).

A mature Arab woman, apparently accompanying her daughter and baby granddaughter, with whom I have no language in common, waddles after me, asking me in mime to blow soap bubble balloons at her. The language of smiles and silliness transverses communication barriers.

This is such a beautiful feel-good story, I challenge you not to be grinning soppily by the end. Kol hakavod Adele, you are one of the best that Israel has to offer! Long may you continue clowning and making the sick feel better – one of the most important mitzvot that we have.

My next item is from Israel’s fascinating archelogical past: A recent discovery shows that Judea was a leading glass producer during the Roman Empire:

The oldest glass kilns ever discovered in Israel were unearthed at the foot of Mount Carmel near Haifa – exposing an ancient, global glass-production center which serviced the entire Roman Empire.

The extraordinary archaeological discovery was revealed during an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation prior to the construction of a road being built at the initiative of the Netivei Israel Company. During the excavation, carried out as part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project between Ha-‘Emekim Junction and Yagur Junction, remains of the oldest kilns in Israel were discovered, where commercial quantities of raw glass were produced.

Fragments of glass found at the site

These kilns are roughly 1,600 years old (dating to the Late Roman period), and indicate that the Land of Israel was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient world.

The excavation of the kilns has caused great excitement in recent weeks among glass researchers throughout the world, some of whom have come especially to Israel in order to see this discovery first hand.

Professor Ian Freestone of the University College London, who specializes in identifying the chemical composition of glass, described the find as “a sensational discovery.”

“It is of great significance for understanding the entire system of the glass trade in antiquity,” Freestone said. “This is evidence that Israel constituted a production center on an international scale; hence its glassware was widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.”

It was a sharp-eyed building inspector who spotted this unusual discovery:

This enormously important site was discovered by chance last summer by archaeologist Abdel Al-Salam Sa‘id, an inspector with the Israel Antiquities Authority. While overseeing infrastructure work being conducted on the new railway line from Haifa to the east, Sa’id suddenly observed chunks of glass, a floor and an ash layer inside a trench. He immediately halted construction work at the site and began preparations for an archaeological excavation, the important results of which are now evident.

According to Sa‘id, “We exposed fragments of floors, pieces of vitrified bricks from the walls and ceiling of the kilns, and clean raw glass chips. We were absolutely overwhelmed with excitement when we understood the great significance of the find.”

According to a price edict circulated by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century CE, there were two kinds of glass: the first was known as Judean glass (from the Land of Israel) and the second was Alexandrian glass (from Alexandria, Egypt). Judean glass was a light green color and less expensive than Egyptian glass. The question was: Where were the centers that manufactured this Judean glass that was a branded product known throughout the Roman Empire, and whose price was engraved on stone tablets so as to ensure fair trade?

The current discovery completes the missing link in the research and indicates the location where the famous Judean glass was produced.

Who needs oil when you can produce such beautiful things from the simple sand at the seashore? Kol hakavod to Abdel al-Salam Sa’id on his perceptiveness, and to all the archeologists involved in digging up these priceless artifacts.  Watch the video here:

And now, back in the present day, could we be any prouder of our little country? Israel has once again sent aid workers and relief supplies to Japan and Ecuador, both of whom suffered devastating earthquakes in the last few days:

Israeli volunteers have joined the rescue efforts in Japan and Ecuador following devastating earthquakes that have resulted in hundreds of deaths and widespread damage throughout both countries.

The Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID says that its delegation in southern Japan is helping to distribute much-needed supplies in the affected communities.

IsrAid volunteers distribute food to Japanese earthquake survivors

Around 180,000 people are in temporary shelters after two powerful earthquakes rocked Japan on Thursday and Friday, causing huge damage to roads, bridges, and tunnels. The tremors also caused dangerous landslides. Japanese media reports say more than 62,000 homes remain without electricity and 300,000 homes have no water.

IsraAID’s Japan team is the only foreign organization still on the ground after arriving in March 2011 to provide assistance in the wake of that year’s devastating tsunami. That meant that its volunteers and workers were ready and able to arrive on Sunday in the worst-affected areas to offer emergency assistance.

Meanwhile, IsraAID says that it is “aiming to send a team to assist with emergency efforts in Ecuador.” According to reports, the Israeli team will offer medical treatment, psycho-social outreach and child resources in Ecuadorian affected regions.

The Jerusalem Post adds:

Meanwhile, an IsraAID team was expected to leave Sunday night to assist with emergency efforts in Ecuador after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ravaged the Andean country, killing at least 272 people.

The Israeli team in Ecuador was prepared to offer medical treatment, psycho-social outreach and child resources.

Kol hakavod once again to IsrAid and all its volunteers and organizers for coming to the rescue to countries so far away, and furthermore, for being first on the scene and the most advanced and organized. It’s good to be able to to repay our friends with kindness, and even better that they can bring such a Kiddush Hashem. May we always be able to be the givers and not have to receive.

I wish comfort and a speedy recovery to the bereaved and injured in both quakes.

And for a final piece, leading us into Pesach, here is a lovely heart-warming story about a surprise organized by President Rivlin’s wife for some lone soldiers in the IDF:

Nehama Rivlin, the wife of President Reuven Rivlin, held a special meeting Wednesday in honor of Passover with five female lone soldiers, in which she recognized their sacrifices in making Aliyah and enlisting in the IDF to defend Israel even as their parents remain abroad.

But Rivlin had a special surprise planned for the five soldiers, as she caught them totally off guard by bringing in their parents who had arrived from abroad to celebrate Passover with them without their knowing.

Nechama Rivlin and the lone soldiers whose parents arrived on a surprise visit

Those taking part in the meeting were Levana Biton who made Aliyah from France and serves in the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps; Chaya Winterfall who immigrated from Canada to serve as a combat medic; Elisheva Rubinstein from Holland who serves as a course commander; Tal Duber of Florida who serves as a combat soldier in the Arayot Hayarden battalion; and Yael Tzubra of Sweden who serves training combat soldiers at Michve Alon.

“This is an opportunity to say a great thank you to all the female and male IDF soldiers for all of your self-sacrifice,” said Rivliln. “I thought of a way to do something for you, and we arranged a little surprise for you all in honor of the holiday.”

Lone soldiers get a Pesach surprise from Mrs. Rivlin

Suddenly a door opened and the soldiers’ parents came in to their great surprise and delight, after such a long time spent apart. They rushed to embrace their father or mother, or in some cases both parents who managed to make the surprise trip.

What a beautiful idea and what a fantastic surprise for those soldiers! Kol hakavod to Mrs. Rivlin on her initiative, and of course, a huge salute of appreciation for those brave and dedicated soldiers who gave up their comfortable life and left their friends and family to serve their country in the IDF.

I hope this Good News installment has put you in the right mood for the upcoming Pesach festival.:-)

Posted in Culture, Arts & Sports, Defence and Military, History, International relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment