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A conversation of sorts, took place tonight between A.B. Yehoshua and Leon Wieseltier, at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Hearing him introduced as “A.B. Yehoshua” grated on my ears a bit. Even when reading his name in English, I always heard it in my head as “Aleph Bet Yehoshua.” I don’t think a Hebrew writer’s name should be anglicized, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of Israel’s most celebrated writers, Yehoshua has authored a good number of novels, including The Lover, a masterpiece I have recently had the pleasure of reading. Yehoshua, however, is perhaps just as famous in Israel as a political figure. He is not a player in the traditional sense, but a pundit of sorts, a champion of the Israeli left.

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Speaking here a few years ago, Yehoshua caused an uproar in the Jewish world by (rightly) accusing diaspora Jews of “changing countries like changing jackets,” and saying it is common sense that “Jewish life in Israel is more total than anywhere outside Israel.” This time, trying to avoid a second controversy, much of the talk focused on literature. Nevertheless, Israeli literature is more than just ink on paper, and a variety of issues pertaining to Israel were addressed.

His father was a Near East scholar, and so Yehoshua said he grew up with Arabs and Arabic, and so the stranger was not all that strange to him. He says, therefore that guilt, over Jewish actions committed to Arabs, does not figure into his politics, and that he holds them responsible as he does his own people. Presuming that Israel’s interest is near and dear to him, I cannot but help ascribe his political views to extreme naivete. His support for the Geneva Initiative, whether or not it is a just solution, assumes the conflict is simply over land. And that instating Arab sovereignty over parts of the land will bring about a peaceful end to the conflict.

The author also put down the Arab reverence of land. He may be right that the Arab citizens of Israel would be better off in seeking industrial, and other, development (uttering what has practically become a magic word – “Hi-Tech”). Nevertheless, by ignoring the importance of land to many, in and of itself, he is just sticking his head in the sand. The Hebrew language, with an abundance of agricultural words, serves a testament to the importance of land in Jewish history. Perhaps if more Jews understood the importance of that small piece of earth, Israel would cease trying to be the political version of a luftmensch.

Still on the topic of Israeli-Arabs, he was right that while they may accept Israel’s existence as fact, they do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There is no easy solution, but that is precisely the problem. A very serious problem, that we will need to face sooner, rather than later.

Another interesting revelation was that Open Heart (The Return From India in Hebrew), written shortly after Oslo, was a break from politics. Politics were deliberately avoided, the misleading quiet of those years granted Yehoshua the liberty to leave that topic out of the story.

Yehoshua expressed some unease when discussing the next generation of Israeli writers, calling them the generation of the Six Day War, who are critical, perhaps overly so, of the state. While criticism and self-examination can be healthy, many of the writers of this generation lack a basic love for the homeland. There is no true struggle with the basics, he said, and their critique is beyond the general criticism. A certain level of patriotism and concern for the safety of the state is missing, alienation taking its place, along with questioning the necessity of Israel.

Michael Oren was in attendance in the audience, and asked about the prominent place of writers in the public discourse in Israel, often sought after by the press to comment on national affairs. Yehoshua was pessimistic regarding the future of the Israel public’s reliance of literary figures, but was also rather arrogant, saying that “they (the public) need our moral judgment.” I am not sure if this is more of a statement about the public or about Israel’s writers, but as mentioned in the talk, the Jewish nation has long turned to writers for leadership. Herzl was a playwright, and Yehoshua quipped that “perhaps, if he would [have been] more successful with his plays maybe we would have no Zionism [today].”

Of course, in light of the outrage directed at him last time he spoke in Washington, Yehoshua is most intriguing when sharing his thoughts on Israel-Diaspora relations. On the one hand, he said that Zionism succeeded “because the Zionists did not ask permission of the Jewish people.” On the other hand, his political bias showed when he reached out to American Jewish criticism of Israel, calling on American Jews to “be a partner in our discussion… [if you do not make aliyah] at least be a partner from the outside.”

On this last point he is wrong. He was wrong when he expressly said to the American Jewish community “you have legitimacy” to speak out. They do not. Every Jew can have this right, but this is not an absolute right – it must be realized. Until such time as diaspora Jews will decide their fortunes are truly with the Jewish people, at home, in Israel – criticism is a privilege they has not yet earned. Fighting for that right is not euphemism, and the experience of wearing an IDF uniform is what grants one the right to be heard.

Unfortunately, he went further, and when responding to a question about what he would ask Obama were they to meet,  Yehoshua said he would ask for American assistance to solve Israel’s conflict with her neighbors. “We cannot do it ourselves today… you (Obama)must help us.”

When it did come to the topic of aliyah, his true political colors showed. He rightly complained that only a few thousand Jews move to Israel from American each year, but he continued, saying that they are only Haredim who move to settlements, in order to exploit Israel’s social security system. He is simply wrong. Haredim do not make up anywhere near the majority of American olim, nor do Haredim generally associate with Yehoshua’s loathed ‘settler movement.’ Yet it was Wieseltier, the product of an Orthodox education himself, who glibly added that only a few thousand Jews make aliyah – “the wrong Jews.”

Still, unlike Wieseltier, Yehoshua is an actual Zionist, and unfortunately that fact alone places him head and shoulders above most Jews. Yet Jewish sovereignty and independence should rely on no outside sources. Furthermore, if American Jews want to have a place at the table, that place is theirs and waiting for them – in Israel.

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Aviv

Spring has returned to the Atlantic seaboard. As usual, it has come too late for my taste. Weekends in April here mean something very different. Outdoor happy hours, beginning on Friday, merging seamlessly into sunny workless days. For yuppies in their mid-20s, an extension of college but without homework, really.

Sunny DC

Weekends at home begin on Thursday nights. I have many memories of spending the first few hours of the weekend riding the bus in a dirty uniform, waking only to realize it is my stop. Then, scrambling to get off the bus, hoping nothing has been left behind, like a backpack… or a gun.

However, Israeli weekends in the warmer months are much more than that. Friday mornings, sitting outside a cafe on Rothschild, watching the world stroll by, one cannot help but feel relaxed. And the afternoons just feel different. It is a rush of preparation, but in some way, is still relaxing. No place is more chaotic, yet perfectly symbolizes a day of rest than the shuk in Jerusalem only a few short hours before Shabbat.

Rothchild

Rothchild Boulevard

Sunny days on the East Coast are uplifting, but seem rather meager compared to the piercing rays of the eastern Mediterranean sun. The sensation of those rays is an enlivening one, albeit one that does not last very long when my feet are shackled in army boots. Yet, here, even on the sunniest of days, a sharp breeze can send shivers down my spine, somehow feeling more cold than refreshing.

The final day of the week, even in Israel’s capital of secular life is still a day of true rest. Where else do people sit on balconies, a warm breeze working its way from the west, eating Jahnun and Cholent at the same table? Nevertheless, I am rather far from that for now, and I don’t quite understand the obsession with shopping, and practically devoting a day to this ritual, on a weekly basis.

My familiarity with Tel Aviv’s Saturday nights is limited, but it is very different in Jerusalem from its western version. Despite, or perhaps because of, the day’s importance, with nightfall Jerusalem is transformed. The streets fill with weekend revelers, drinking as if on vacation.

Sundays are a sore point for most Israelis who hail from the western world. A day’s worth of freedom – lost. The feeling, late on a Saturday night, that the weekend is not yet over, is like winning a small jackpot, week after week.

Sunset From Tel Aviv

Sunset From Tel Aviv

One day soon, spring will again mean sipping an americano while forgetting about troubles everywhere for a few short minutes, but still missing Sundays. Hopefully, though, it will not mean falling asleep on a bus with a rifle between my legs, hoping to wake up in time and not miss my stop.

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It’s no secret that antisemitism around the world is on an upswing. While the entrenched antisemitism in the Muslim world is disturbing, it is no surprise, and appears to be going nowhere. Over the past few decades, however, it was believed by many that antisemitism in the West was on its way out. From the unbridled antisemism of the torturers and murderers of Ilan Halimi, in the country of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” in 2006, on the one hand, to poorly masked antisemitism at anti-Israel demonstrations, on the other, it is clear the Jews are very far from being “accord[ed] everything… as individuals.”

Even though organizations in the UK have been reporting an upswing even in things like mistreatment of Jewish schoolchildren by their classmates, overt acts of antisemitism seem, for the time being, to be out of the mainstream. Nevertheless, as Howard Jacobson writes in The New Republic, “in the spirit of the national conversation about Israel, in the slow seepage of familiar anti-Semitic calumnies into the conversation–there, it seems to me, one can find growing reason for English Jews to be concerned.” The British media has been adding to this concern, serving as a mouthpiece for what columnists who refer to Israeli “bloodlust” and compare Gazans to Jews in Auschwitz.

Yet it is not only on that side of the pond that the media is inching in a worrying direction. Roger Cohen of the overly esteemed New York Times, in a series of columns inexplicably intended to exculpate Iran and ward off an attack against the nascent nuclear theocracy, claims that the very presence of Jews of in Iran undermines the vision of Iran as “an apocalyptic regime.” This sounds like a grander version of the “some of my best friends are Jews” argument, offered in defense of Iran.

Jacobson rightly mentions Caryl Churchill as “accusing Jews of the same addiction to blood-spilling” in her libelous play, Seven Jewish Children. Her surprise at the invocation of blood libels in reference to her play “only demonstrates how unquestioningly integral to English leftist thinking the bloodlust of the Israeli has become.”

With regards to the future, Israel will continue to defend itself. That cannot, and should not, stop. Jews, the world over, will continue to bear some of the brunt of the anger against the Jewish state. And the latest increase in simple Jew-hatred will probably not dissipate anytime soon, ebbing and flowing in a seemingly eternal rhythm.

Modern Zionism came about as a response to the modern dangers, and the everpresent threat to the Jewish people. Over the past few decades, Jewish organizations, at least in the US, have chosen to focus on the danger of assimilation, “killing the Jews with love,” as some have quipped. The age-old dangers, however, are back.

Zionism, however, is more than simply a reaction – it is the independent expression of Jewish independence, by the Jewish people, subject to no one else. The legend, of the father of modern Zionism sparked to action by the French antisemitism exhibited in the Dreyfus trial, may or may not be accurate. In any case, antisemitism did play a big part in bringing about modern Jewish sovereignty.

No one enjoys being unwanted, persecuted, and worse. The popularity of Jews AS JEWS is not going to go up overnight. The obvious first answer, therefore, is Israel. But Jewish flight is not a positive image, and do we really want Jews to simply pick up and flee their current homes? On its face, maybe not. However, if antisemitism did finally help restore national independence last century, then perhaps that is the answer, the appropriate next step. Mass emigration from the Arab world, and the Soviet Union have happened. Is Western Aliyah next? However the question to be asked is not whence, but whither? Will en masse immigration to Israel, in effect, create a large ghetto in the Middle East – or will it be the next step, in what a friend of mine calls Jewish Renaissance?

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Antisemitic plays in the guise of legitimate criticism of Israel are nothing new. In 2005, there was the British polemic about the “activist” Rachel Corrie. The most recent of these artistic expressions of racism, Seven Jewish Children, does not even make an honest attempt to mask its antisemitism.

Antisemitism will probably persist as long as the sun rises in the east, but what I learned from the NY Times today has truly managed to shock me. The JCC in Washington, DC is serving as a mouthpiece to this modern blood libel. This is not the first time the JCC has promoted “progressive causes,” and pretty crudely, too. This past September, Sandra Bernhard warned “Sarah Palin not to come into Manhattan lest she get gang-raped by some of Sandra’s big black brothers.”

This, however, is a new low. This is the JEWISH community center. On their blog, Theater J, run by the Washington DC JCC, Ari Roth, director of this trash, says “[t]he play is this year’s My Name is Rachel Corrie.” Of course it is. But is he really implying that is something positive?

He says the play is “problematic… [for] suggesting that there is a Jewish ownership—not merely an Israeli military’s responsibility—for the recent violence in Gaza.” I don’t even know where to start. Never mind that diaspora Jewish communities do not even come close to taking an active role in the welfare of the Jewish state, thinking that throwing money at “their brothers” is sufficient. Forget that those who Israel targeted were, and still are, trying to effect a genocide upon the Jews. But no, the play is only “controversial.”

Next time your local Jewish Community Center asks you for a donation – ask them if they, too, promote antisemitism.

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The NY Times came out today with yet another backwards analysis of the Middle East and what needs to be done. How has the West and the the Obama administration (and the NY Times is a fairly accurate representative of the administration) not yet learned that more often than not that the blind pursuit of peace at all costs will result not in peace, but endless war?

Former President George W. Bush made a serious mistake by shunning Syria, pushing it further into Iran’s arms. Coaxing Syria away from Tehran would benefit Washington, deepening Iran’s isolation on the nuclear issue and encouraging Syrian cooperation in stabilizing Iraq. It would benefit Israel, giving Syria greater incentives to cut off arms flows to Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it would benefit Syria, by providing the wider diplomatic and economic opening Damascus has been seeking.

Bush made plenty of mistakes. Shunning Syria was not one of them. Not placing enough effective pressure on Iran was. Creating an environment in which Iran is truly an outcast, even to Russia (and North Korea? maybe not), would leave Syria with no patron. Sometimes the sticks work without carrots.

Negotiating with Syria will not “benefit Israel” in any way. It will do nothing but endanger Israel further. Syria has never done anything for Israel. It has nothing to truly offer Israel. It needs to submit. As cliche as it may sound to liberal ears, giving up the Golan will only embolden Israel’s enemies, and Israel has no real incentive to do so.

The Times continues by rewriting history, blaming “widespread civilian suffering in January” on Israel (Operation Cast Lead), and accusing Israel of “damag[ing] Mr. Abbas’s credibility as an effective defender of Palestinian interests.” That one is fine with me. However, since when is it a country’s responsibility to help the credibility of their enemy’s leader?

The rest of the editorial is just as ridiculous, and calls for Hillary Clinton to undertake more stupid ventures in an area of the world that is not under American jurisdiction.

I think that the NY Times editorial board needs to spend some time in Gaza or Iran as ordinary citizens, and then editorialize about how benevolent they think these societies are.

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Those of you who grew up in Israel, might remember a children’s TV show, Yosef HaMespaer, starring a bald, heavyset man who sat on lots of pillows, Alladin style, and told fairytales. I actually don’t remember much of the show itself, but reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Martin Indyk, I felt like I was reading a fairytale.

The show’s opening “credits”:

Indyk outdid himself in this one. Even though not a single question was a tough one, he still managed to show that one’s tenure as an ambassador to the Middle East does not actually necessarily lead to any understanding of the region.

There is much more, here is just a taste. First, speaking about evacuating Jews who live on the other side of the fence:

I don’t believe that force would be necessary if the evacuation is presented to the Israeli public as part of a package that would include the following elements: financial compensation equal to that provided to the Gaza settlers; resettlement in the blocs that would be incorporated into Israel by agreement with the Palestinians; an end to the territorial claims of the Palestinians; security arrangements that ensure that all violence and terrorism against Israelis ceases; international guarantees of freedom of access for Israelis to Jewish holy places in Judea and Samaria; and peace with all the Arab states.

I’m not sure where to begin. The evacuation from Gaza in 2005 had overwhelming public support, and it did not go over very smoothly. Does Indyk truly believe the next one will be easier? The notion that the Arabs will cease to make any demands on Israel defies history. There is simply nothing to support it. There is even less evidence that if Jews do not control the area, ” international guarantees of freedom of access for Israelis to Jewish holy places in Judea and Samaria,” will be worth more than the paper they would be written on.

However, the subject most near and dear to my heart, ” financial compensation equal to that provided to the Gaza settlers.” So Indyk thinks there it will be easy to evict people from their homes if most Israelis support the plan, and if evictess themselves will be kicked to the curb, only to be tossed half a bone about a year later?

When asked which conflict would prove to be more “durable,” the Sunni-Shi’a dispute or the Arab-Israeli conflict, Indyk’s response seemed to rewrite history. Maybe the intra-religious conflict will last longer than the inter-religious conflict, but the “Arab-Israeli conflict has actually progressed toward resolution.” At least not in the way he thinks it has. For most of the conflict’s duration, it indeed has progressed towards being resolved – because the Jews decided winning was a good thing. However, since Israel’s leaders have decided capitulating to your enemy is a good idea, we have had two terrorist organizations sprout up around us (Hezbollah and Hamas), and continue to weaken Israel, daily, with something called the “peace process,” otherwise known as – “How to get the US President a Nobel Peace Prize.”

If it weren’t so damaging, Indyk’s stupid, yes, stupid, analyses would make for some good entertainment.

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How Many?

Barack Obama is now the President of the United States. No news there. I have no interest in discussing any errors that were or were not made in the oath of office yesterday. I don’t think that is very interesting. What I do find interesting is that in the first few lines of his inaugural address, he made a mistake. That mistake is very common, but it is an error, nonetheless. “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.” That is simply incorrect. Obama’s is the forty-fourth presidency, but he is not the forty-fourth man to be President (after having taking “the presidential oath”).

Forty-three men have served as the President of the United States. Grover Cleveland was elected President in 1884, and again, in 1892. This makes him both the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth President. It probably has no bearing on how what kind of president Obama will turn out to be, but it is disconcerting that the President would commit such an error, and only a few minutes into his presidency.

In other counting news, this is my 100th blog post. No, I am not planning on posting a list of 100 things about me. I do, however, hope to write a bit more about my own experiences in Israel (and elsewhere), and not just analyzing/criticizing/etc. Israel-related current affairs.

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