Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Response to the Israeli Anti-Immigrant Riot

Copied from CNN.com

A night that put Israel to shame
By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 6:54 AM EDT, Tue May 29, 2012

African immigrants drive a car whose windows were shattered by Israeli protesters in Tel Aviv on May 23.

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television."

(CNN) -- One of the unintended consequences of the Arab revolutions has become evident in Israel, where a surge in the number of refugees from Africa has created new tensions in a country with no shortage of practical and ethical dilemmas.

In the face of the new challenge, a number of Israeli politicians have sunk to the occasion, exploiting raw emotions and fueling a display of violence that should shame Israelis.

To be sure, Israel is not the first nation whose handling of illegal immigration deserves criticism. But the anti-immigrant riot that took place in a Tel Aviv neighborhood on May 23 should rise as a rallying cry for Israelis who believe their country should shine as a "light unto the nations."

Since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the border between the two countries, has become a mostly lawless land where Bedouin gangs freely traffic in, among other things, human beings.

Migrants who come mostly from Sudan and Eritrea have chosen Israel as their destination because it is one of the most prosperous states in the region and because it offers some protection for refugees. Despite the protests of right-wing politicians and of some sectors of the population, Israel has so far refrained from forcing the vast majority of refugees to return to their native countries.

Many countries keep asylum-seekers in prison-like camps under indefinite detention. Israel is building a detention facility where refugees would remain while their cases are processed. But until now, they have been receiving visas that allow them to live anywhere in the country. Still, they live in limbo without a right to work legally.

Unlike other countries that have returned refugees to their nation of origin or pushed them back to the state from which they crossed the border, Israel, a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, has done neither. But the situation is becoming untenable and pressure for deportations is growing.

Government figures say about 60,000 African migrants now reside in Israel, double the figure from 2010, with between 2,000 and 3,000 more arriving each month. The numbers are enormous for a country the size of Israel. It is roughly equal tothe number of illegal immigrants found, for example, in Australia, a country 350 times the size and triple the population of Israel.

Israel is hardly the first place to experience anti-immigrant riots. And anti-immigrant sentiment there is part of a wave sweeping the globe.

As in most places where illegal immigration has suddenly increased, much resentment has come from the poor who see the unfamiliar new arrivals settling in their midst, view the newcomers as a threat to their livelihoods and are highly sensitive to reports of criminal activity.

Eritrean and Sudanese refugees have been arrested in a number of rape and stabbing of cases in Tel Aviv, but there is no evidence that the crime rate among them is higher than in the rest of the population. That, however, has not stopped Interior Minister Eli Yishai from tarring migrants as criminals and suggesting that most should be summarily deported.

The country's leaders should seek to calm tensions and find a humane solution to a growing human problem. But responsible, statesman-like behavior is apparently too much to ask.

When the residents of the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikva held a protest last week, one member of parliament, Miri Regev, referred to Sudanese "infiltrators" as "a cancer," stoking the inexcusable outbreak of violence. (She later apologized for using the term "cancer".) Another member of parliament, Danny Danon, turned up the rhetoric, shouting "Expulsion now!" and calling the migrants "a plague."

While some Israelis expressed sympathy for the protesters, many lashed out against the shocking display of intolerance in Tel Aviv, of all places, a city known for its open-mindedness.

Although no one was seriously injured and the police intervened, arresting 17 people, the language and the behavior would be unacceptable anywhere, but in Israel more than anywhere.

Reuven Rivlin, speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament,characterized the event as reminiscent of the early days of World War II, saying the words "remind me of the hate speech aimed against the Jewish people." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared "there is no place for the statements and actions which we saw last night."

The day after the riot, Israelis held a vigil against racism in front of the prime minister's residence. But the reaction on the political scene was not uniformly conciliatory, with new calls for deportations and more irresponsible and inflammatory language from some political leaders.

Israel faces a serious moral and practical dilemma. And although the problem has unique aspects because it is occurring in Israel, it is a quandary familiar to every country that has faced a large inflow of refugees and migrant workers.

In Israel's case, the prospect that the stream of refugees could grow into a flood raises the added specter that it could transform the Jewish character of the state. Despite Netanyahu's claim, that is not an imminent danger. But the question also tugs, urgently, at another aspect of the country's identity.

Israel, after all, was founded as the nation-state of the Jewish people; a people that saw millions of its numbers murdered whileother countries closed their doors during World War II and at other times in history.

Israel has not dealt with its refugees more harshly than most countries, despite the exaggerated claims about the events in Tel Aviv. But that is not a good enough standard. Israelis need to deal fairly and humanely with the refugees. Israelis are building a barrier at the Sinai border, which should cut down on the smugglers' cruel traffic in human beings. Israel should formalize and legalize the status of a portion of the migrants and work with international agencies to find homes in third countries for others.

In the meantime, it's a good time for Israelis of all stripes to look at their own history and send a strong message to politicians who seem to have forgotten not only the country's claim to high ethical standards, but an admonition from an ancient text, from Exodus, recently cited by a hospital manager writing about the serious medical needs of African migrants.

"Do not oppress the stranger among us. You know how it feels to be strangers, for you, too, were strangers in Egypt."

Israeli Society's Approach to Refugees

Claims of Justice? This article takes the initiative of reviewing a difficult week in the Israeli social system. How do ethics and moral behavior play a role when Israeli society diagnoses a problem with refugees? Our tradition teaches us to "Remember we were slaves in Egypt" and that is the source of inspiration to establish a just system, but sometimes reality shows a different outcome. I hope you find answers in this meaningful reflection by Dr. Donniel Hartman...
Rabbi Analia
Israeli Society Needs a New Approach to Refugees

29.05.2012, by Donniel Hartman


Israel is founded on two counter and often contrary Jewish narratives. One speaks about the continuity of Jewish values and the other the Jewish value of continuity. The first is highly attuned to the moral ideals expressed in the biblical injunction to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and our duty to leverage our past suffering to create a society committed to the highest level of sensitivity to others, in particular, fellow sufferers. As a people who majored in statelessness and oppression, the Jewishness of Israel obligates us to be a society which feels a deep sense of kinship with and subsequent responsibility toward those who find themselves in a similar predicament. Under this narrative the notion of limiting access to African refugees or limiting our responsibility to them is morally inconceivable and esthetically reprehensible, being a sin to the consequences of our collective memories.

The second narrative looks at our history, suffering, and precarious existence over the centuries, embraces the value of life and survival, and sees Jewish sovereignty and a commitment to its viability the necessary response. Jewish sovereignty is where the survival of the Jewish people is a value and a priority both for the individual and for the society as a whole. A policy toward African refugees which does not support or enhance this value is perceived as contrary to the raison d’etre of the State and a sin to Jewish memory.

These two narratives have created a split within Israeli society at its extremes and paradoxically have served as a foundation for an untenable policy at its center. At the political poles, individuals have aligned themselves with one of the narratives, one advocating for a limitless refugee policy, and the other seeing every refugee as an existential threat to the Jewishness of Israel. Most Israelis, however, feel compelled by both narratives and recognize that the Jewishness of Israel is dependent on an amalgamation of the two. The tragedy and failure of Israel in its policies toward refugees, however, is founded on the nature of the way these two narratives have been joined.

In modern Israel we have combined the two narratives sequentially. Instead of attempting to integrate the two, each is dominant in its own distinct arena. The first narrative, that is, the continuity of values, is dominant when it comes to accepting African refugees into the State. The fact that no significant resources had been allocated to closing off our southern border prior to the increase in the security threat from the Sinai desert was an indication of a basic unpopularity of denying access to individuals escaping persecution. The second narrative, however, has dominated Israeli consciousness and policy when it comes to the treatment of these individuals once they have become refugees within our borders. Once here mainstream Israeli society is generally unconcerned for them or their needs and has ceased to see them, with the exception of when one of them commits a crime. This sequential manifestation breeds self-righteousness immune from self-criticism, as the myth of loyalty to the purity of each narrative is maintained in its distinct circumstances.

In reality we are still separating the two, instead of integrating them. The value of continuity obligates us at the entry point to Israel and the continuity of Jewish values must obligate us also after they have arrived at our doors. No society can maintain its identity without control over its membership policies. The size of Israel’s population relative to the enormity of oppression facing countless individuals in Africa obligates Israel to engage in a serious assessment of the share of the responsibility it can bear in responding to this humanitarian crisis. As a Jewish state committed to the continuity of values and as a co-signee of the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the value of Jewish continuity cannot be allowed to cause us either to shirk our responsibility or to be deaf to the needs of others. As a strong and successful country with a clear and sustainable Jewish majority we have the ability to assimilate thousands of individuals a year without weakening our national identity. Given the size of Israel and the value of Jewish national continuity, however, this number is not unlimited. We need to determine a realistic policy which recognizes both our responsibility as Jews and our responsibility to the Jewish people. Once this policy is in place, the doors to Israel must not be limited to the treacherous terrain of the Sinai desert but must be open to those in need through our embassies throughout the world.

More significantly the number of refugees must be determined by our economic and social ability to provide our new citizens with a good life commensurate with our values as Jews and the economic opportunities and social safety net provided by the State of Israel. As a society committed to the continuity of Jewish values we cannot allow any discrimination to take root within our society. Nor can we allow the claim that a moral and generous treatment of refugees will just encourage others to come. By amalgamating fully both of the above narratives the highest level of moral decency will not be perceived as undermining our national identity but as its greatest source of strength.

With Zionism the Jewish people have entered into the arena of political sovereignty with all of its gifts, challenges, and opportunities. We need to defend our borders and defend our national identity. We must also make sure, however, that we do not create a state whose border policies are Jewish but where life within those borders is not conducted with the highest standards of Jewish moral principle. As Jews we have matured sufficiently in our treatment of our border policy but we have yet to do so when it comes to our internal policy. We have created our Jewish state precisely for such an opportunity. It is time for us to embrace it and move our society to greater heights.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Israeli gives up on Everest summit to help Turkish climber

Israeli gives up on Everest summit to help Turkish climber

Nadav Ben Yehuda, 24, was 300 meters from peak; would have been youngest Israeli to complete ascent

Mount Everest (photo credit: AP/Binod Joshi)

An Israeli mountaineer abandoned his dream to reach the summit of Mount Everest just 300 meters from the peak in order to save an injured Turkish climber. Twenty-four-year-old Nadav Ben Yehuda would have become the youngest Israeli to summit the world’s highest mountain, but he aborted his ascent to assist the stranded climber, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday.

Nadav Ben Yehuda (via Facebook)

The two climbers were then evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu. Ben Yehuda was said to be suffering from frostbite in the course of the rescue, and there were fears that he might lose one or more of his fingers. The condition of the Turkish climber was not immediately known. Ben Yehuda told Israel Radio that he assisted two other climbers in the course of his attempted ascent — a Briton and a Georgian.

Four climbers lost their lives on Everest at the weekend, and Ben Yehuda said his route was “strewn with bodies.” Two months ago, preparing for his climb, Ben Yehuda won a stair-climbing competition at a Ramat Aviv skyscraper, ascending the 78-story Moshe Aviv Tower 13 times — a record-breaking feat that involved going up almost 20,000 stairs.

Doron Erel (via Facebook)

In 1992, Doron Erel became the first Israeli to conquer Everest. A former member of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal unit, he was in his early 30s at the time.

Israeli-Turkish relations have been under heavy strain in recent years, with Ankara repeatedly criticizing Israel for its handling of the Palestinian conflict and specifically its blockade of Gaza. Two years ago, ties worsened still following the death of eight Turkish nationals and one American of Turkish origin in the naval commando raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which participated in a flotilla aimed at breaking the blockade. Turkey has since been demanding an official apology from the Israeli leadership. This past weekend saw a “traffic jam” of climbers scrambling to conquer Mount Everest, Nepal officials said, and they anticipated another rush up the world’s tallest peak will begin this weekend.

About 200 climbers are expected to attempt to scale the summit of the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain between Friday and Sunday, Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said. Some have been at a staging camp for days, waiting for a window of good weather during this worse-than-usual climbing season.
A similar crowd of 208 climbers headed to the summit last week, and four died Saturday in one of the deadliest days ever on the mountain.

Ha Wenyi of China, Eberhard Schaaf of Germany, Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah and South Korean Song Won-bin died Saturday on their way down from the summit. They are believed to have suffered exhaustion and altitude sickness, Shrestha said Tuesday. The latest deaths have raised concerns about overcrowding above the highest camp on the mountain. The area is nicknamed the “death zone” because of the steep icy slope, treacherous conditions and low oxygen level.

“There was a traffic jam on the mountain on Saturday. Climbers were still heading to the summit as late as 2:30 p.m., which is quite dangerous,” Shrestha said. Climbers normally are advised not to try for the summit after 11 a.m. Shrestha said climbers “had a longer wait for their chance to go up the trail and spent too much time at higher altitude. Many of them are believed to be carrying a limited amount of oxygen, not anticipating the extra time spent.”

With a similarly large number of climbers expected to head up the same trail under similar conditions this weekend, Nepalese authorities acknowledged safety concerns but said they can’t turn any of them away.
“The climbers have received the permits to climb within specific dates. We cannot say who gets to get to the summit on which dates because of the unpredictable weather. When weather clears up they all want to benefit,” said Nepal’s Tourism Ministry spokesman Bal Krishna Ghimire. But he added that it is up to the climbers and their teams to access the conditions and safety. “We have officials at the base camp but beyond that it is mostly up to the climbers,” Ghimire said.

Ghimire said that eventually, the government plans to set up a seasonal office at the base camp manned by doctors, weather experts and security personnel. Ghimire said they also have plans to give each climber a tracking device. More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to do it in 1953. Some 225 climbers have died attempting it. The deadliest day was May 10, 1996, when eight people were killed. The main reason was said to be that climbers who started their ascent late in the day were caught in a snowstorm in the afternoon and lost their way.

The climbing season normally runs from late March to the first week in June, but this year the season’s first clear conditions were on Friday and Saturday. That window closed by Saturday afternoon with a windstorm at higher altitudes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shavuot and the Meaning of the Covenant

Shavuot and the Meaning of the Covenant

In honor of the festival of Shavuot, I propose looking at two of our tradition’s most important narratives - the binding of Isaac, and Abraham’s argument with God regarding the fate of the inhabitants of Sedom - as a way of penetrating the meaning of our covenant with God. These narratives constitute for me the two paradigmatic approaches to Jewish consciousness and character, and illuminate the true meaning of our covenantal relationship with the divine. As much as we commemorate the giving of the Torah itself on Shavuot, it is this covenantal bond that we celebrate and strive to understand.

In the biblical story of the binding of Isaac, known in the Hebrew parlance as the Akeida, Isaac is not ultimately sacrificed by his father in the most literal sense. Yet the theological implications of a God who would issue such an order to his most loyal servant - and that Abraham would, in turn, seemingly eagerly obey - present us with one of the most morally and psychologically confounding episodes in the entire Bible. The Abraham of this story is a passive figure, quietly acquiescing to God’s demands, in full acceptance of his role as a finite human, incapable of questioning or deciphering God’s omniscience.

The Abraham of the Sedom narrative faces an entirely different set of circumstances. Upon considering the destruction of the city of Sedom, God asks Himself, “Can I hide from Abraham that which I am about to do?” (Genesis 18: 17) This is the rhetorical question of a God who has conceived of Abraham as a full partner, and to whom He considers Himself accountable. When God informs Abraham of his plan to destroy the city, Abraham responds, “What if there are 50 righteous people in the city?” He continues to challenge God, as the number of theoretically righteous dwindles, finally, to 10. In Abraham’s final challenge to God, “Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?” Abraham reveals himself not only as a man of faith, but as an empowered man of faith, for whom insistence on his own moral intuition is as vital as his belief in a monotheistic God.

The accounts of Sedom and the Akeida represent two very different religious anthropologies: how we relate to God is going to be determined by these two stories. Which story is constitutive of Judaism: the narrative of sacrificial self-surrender or the narrative of assertive moral challenge? These stories represent two distinct views of religion; two distinct views of living according to Halacha; two distinct views of what it means to stand before God in prayer.

The Abraham of the Akeida doesn’t utter a single syllable of protest against a God who commands him to murder his beloved son. Yet, when confronted with God’s plan for Sedom, Abraham articulates a highly developed argument. He tells God, “Far be it for You to do such a thing. To bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty so the innocent and guilty fare alike.” The text then continues:

“And the Lord answered, ‘If I find within the city of Sedom 50 innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.’ Abraham spoke up saying, ‘Here I ventured to speak to my Lord, who am I but dust and ashes, what if the 50 innocent should lack five, would you destroy the city for the five? And He answered, ‘I will not destroy it if I find 45 there, and he spoke to him again and said, ‘What if 40 should be found there?’ and he said, ‘I will not do it for the sake of the 40,’ and he said, ‘Let not my Lord be angry if I go on. What if 30 should be found there?”

This is a shocking, some might say arrogant, display of temerity on Abraham’s part. Yet in the midst of his protest, Abraham remains humble; he acknowledges he’s just dust and ashes. He seems to approach God with the attitude of someone saying, “I agree with you, God, that I’m nothing, but I can’t help but speak. God, please forgive me for being so bold…”

And he doesn’t stop. That’s the most important thing about his prayer. Perhaps God wants him to stop, and the God of the Bible certainly could have made him stop, but God allows Abraham to continue. In Abraham’s argument - and in God’s acceptance of the validity of his argument - I imagine God is saying to Abraham, “I love you for challenging me. I want to hear you challenge me more. Don’t give in too quickly.”

On what basis did Abraham bring his moral challenge to God? We see from the text that God willingly invites him to continue. God understands that in questioning his justice, Abraham is offering a prayer. And God, in some way, loves this prayer. He loves man questioning His justice. The God in the story of Sedom is a God who feels responsible to Abraham.

“Can I hide from Abraham that which I am about to do?” is one of the most powerful verses in the Torah. In posing this rhetorical question, God, as the creator of the world, gives up unilateral authority over history. In asking this question, God Himself articulates the essential model of covenantal morality: God can no longer act unilaterally. This is the covenant. And this, for me, is the paradigm for how to approach our understanding of a Jewish God.

It’s important to remember that Abraham did not succeed in saving the city of Sedom. His argument with God - however theologically important - in the end, failed. God eventually destroys the city of Sedom; that’s His final answer. What is valuable about this account, then, is Abraham’s process. God ultimately destroys Sedom because he doesn’t find enough righteous people there. That doesn’t interest me as much as the fact that Abraham felt he had the legitimacy to ask Him not to do it. And God had to respond to his demands.

There are essentially two ways to view our relationship with God: one approach says I’m nothing; only in my relationship to God am I something. In the other approach, an individual’s relationship to God makes him or her feel enhanced, enriched, empowered. Covenantal spirituality moves us toward self-expansion. It endows us with the ability to trust our own moral intuition, our own moral sensibility, our whole spiritual hunger.

One problem in the Jewish world today is that we no longer consider this kind of language Jewish; we’ve abdicated the language of personal moral agency to secular humanists. Yet giving strength to that inner moral voice is in itself not only very deeply religious, it is also deeply rooted in the tradition. It’s not just a liberal perspective; it is fundamental to the God relationship that we not abandon our own moral integrity.

The Akeida is not constitutive of Judaism. It is a moment in a religious life, but it is just that: a moment. It is not the organizing framework for how to live. For me, the Akeida is the moment when we come to the edge of the intelligible, when we meet suffering or tragedy, or any experience that we cannot make sense of with our rational minds. There are moments when the life of faith requires submission or silence. Sometimes even the empowered man meets a situation in which he’s overwhelmed. Sometimes even Abraham is at a loss for an adequate response to the divine will. The Akeida means we acknowledge - and allow a place for - resignation as a moment in the spiritual life.

My view of the Akeida as a moment of religious experience - rather than the apex of religious experience - is predicated first and foremost on my understanding of revelation. The very concept of revelation indicates that God wants us, in some way, to understand the world. If we were incapable of understanding, why would God bother commanding us? Intelligibility is the sine qua non of any relationship. The very notion of revelation is that wecan understand.

The Akeida represents the moments of darkness in the human experience, the moments when we stand before the divine in silence or resignation. But the defining metaphor for us must remain the image of Abraham standing before God - not in submission - but in empowerment. The Abraham that we look to must be the Abraham who is unafraid to argue with God: to demand that He act with justice, to beseech Him towards compassion. The measure of a human being - the very genuinesness of a human being - is his or her capacity for compassion. This is the Abraham of the covenant.

The covenant has been the central motivating principle that has characterized my whole theology. The covenant is often understood as God’s promise to watch over Israel and Israel’s promise to be obedient to God’s law; that’s the final chapter in Leviticus. I propose using covenant in a different way. From Abraham we learn that it is the very essence of the covenant to empower us, to allow us to trust our own moral convictions - and to trust our ability to act. The covenant tells us to stand on our own two feet and not to wait patiently for God to save us. In this sense, the covenant is the opposite of divine grace.

The covenant is about the liberation of human beings in all their power: morally - but also intellectually and creatively. For me, the true meaning and purpose of the covenant is that human beings, by entering into the reality and presence of God, access the ability to discover themselves and their abilities. The covenant is a relational concept which implies the divine empowerment of human beings to take responsibility for all facets of life. The covenant means we follow the Talmudic precedent Lo b’shamaim hi, that the Torah is not in heaven. Man is called to take responsibility for the direction of history and not wait for a supernatural God to rescue him.

That is the great achievement of the Zionist revolution. In contrast to the ultra-Orthodox, who see the State of Israel as an affront to God’s sovereignty, I claim that Zionism has brought about an enrichment of the covenant. Zionism extended the covenantal tradition of empowerment and marked the rejection of passivity as the hallmark of religious life.

The covenant is not only about the empowerment of human beings; it is about the withdrawal of God’s control. God’s shift from exerting His singular will to the covenantal model is an important change in the way God relates to the universe. One can understand this shift as a manifestation of divine love. God initiates Creation, Revelation, and the movement of history; He then calls upon human beings to complete the task.

In my book, A Heart of Many Rooms, I write about the three stages of the covenant. The first stage of the covenant centers on human privilege; the second stage introduces the notion of human responsibility; the third stage is about taking an active role in the unfolding of history. The God of Creation steps back and says man must now take responsibility for life - and that the sacredness of human life must be the guiding principle. Creation establishes the intrinsic dignity of every single human being. The covenant that emerges from the Creation narrative means we are called to enhance and enrich human life by creating social frameworks in which human dignity is expressed. The covenant that emerges from Revelation means God presents us with the normative founding moment for building an ordered moral world, and then withdraws; God steps back so that we can step forward.

The third stage of the covenant is where God appears to abandon human history. But God has not abandoned us; He has empowered us, by opening history to human evaluation, judgment, and control. In the covenant, history becomes subject to human scrutiny, rationality, and moral power. The unfolding of history is not a chronicle of divine manipulation as described in the Exodus narrative. God’s covenantal consciousness has transformed history from a divine drama to a story of human potential.

This Shavuot, as we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai, we should pause to consider the covenantal relationship that Sinai represents. Understanding our relationship with the divine begins with understanding our covenant with Him: a covenant that presents us with a world that is waiting to be shaped by human initiative and action.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A different history of displacement and loss

A different history of displacement and loss
There is more than one way to look at the commemoration of 1948′s Palestinian defeat and dispersion

The Baghdadis, a Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, around 1940. In Aleppo, and in other cities and towns across north Africa and the Middle East, some 850,000 Jews were pushed out of their homes beginning in the mid-20th century. (Courtesy of Asher Ron)

On May 15, many in the Arab world and elsewhere mark the Nakba, or the “Catastrophe,” mourning the displacement of the Palestinian Arabs during the 1948 war with Israel. This year, as always, the commemoration will obscure the collapse at the same time of a different Arab society that few remember.
I have spent a great deal of time in the past four years interviewing people born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. Some of these people, most of whom are now in their eighties, are descended from families with roots in Aleppo going back more than two millennia, to Roman times. None of them lives there now.

On November 30, 1947, a day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for Arabs and one for Jews, Aleppo erupted. Mobs stalked Jewish neighborhoods, looting houses and burning synagogues; one man I interviewed remembered fleeing his home, a barefoot nine-year-old, moments before it was set on fire. Abetted by the government, the rioters burned 50 Jewish shops, five schools, 18 synagogues and an unknown number of homes. The next day the Jewish community’s wealthiest families fled, and in the following months the rest began sneaking out in small groups, most of them headed to the new state of Israel. They forfeited their property, and faced imprisonment or torture if they were caught. Some disappeared en route. But the risk seemed worthwhile: in Damascus, the capital, rioters killed 13 Jews, including eight children, in August 1948, and there were similar events in other Arab cities.

At the time of the UN vote, there were about 10,000 Jews in Aleppo. By the mid-1950s there were 2,000, living in fear of the security forces and the mob. By the early 1990s no more than a handful remained, and today there are none. Similar scripts played out across the Islamic world. Some 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes.If we are to fully understand the Israel-Arab conflict, the memory of these people and their exodus must be acknowledged — not as a political weapon, a negotiating tactic or as part of a competition about who suffered more, but simply as history without which it is impossible to understand Israel and the way the Arab world sees it.

Everyone knows the Palestinian refugees are part of the equation of Mideast peace, and anyone who is interested can visit a Palestinian refugee camp and hear true and wrenching stories of expulsion and loss. Among the Jews expelled by Arabs, on the other hand, one can find few who think of themselves as refugees or define themselves by their dispossession. Most are citizens of Israel.Of the 20 families in my fairly average Jerusalem apartment building, half are in Israel because of the Arab expulsion of Jews, and that is representative of Israel as a whole. According to the Israeli demographer Sergio dellaPergola of Hebrew University, though intermarriage over two or three generations has muddled the statistics, roughly half of the 6 million Jews in Israel today came from the Muslim world or are descended from people who did. Many Arabs, and many Israelis, consider Israel a Western enclave in the Middle East. But these numbers do not support that view.

These Jews have shaped Israel and are a key force in the country’s political life. They also make Israel very different from the American Jewish community, which is overwhelmingly rooted in Europe. They are a pillar of Israel’s right wing, particularly of the Likud party. They maintain a wary view of Israel’s neighbors — a view that has been strengthened by the actions of the Palestinians but that is rooted in their own historical experience and in what might be considered an instinctive understanding of the region’s unkind realities.

The legacy of their exodus in the countries they left behind is harder to detect, but it, too, is significant.

In many Arab towns and cities there is an area where Jews used to live. In some cities, like Cairo, this area is still called harat al-yahud, the Jewish Quarter. Reporting there several years ago I found people who could show me the location of a certain abandoned synagogue, which they knew by name. A man who once showed me around Fez, Morocco, knew exactly where the old Jewish neighborhood, the mellah, had been, though there was not a single Jew there and had not been for many years. There are remnants like this in Aleppo, Tripoli, Baghdad and elsewhere. The people who live in or around the Jews’ old homes still know who used to own them and how they left; this extinct Jewish world might have been forgotten elsewhere, but millions in the Arab world see evidence of it every day.

As I have reported this nearly invisible story, it has occured to me that we often hate most the things or people that remind us of something we dislike about ourselves, and that here lies one of the hidden dynamics of the Israel-Arab conflict. It is one papered over by the simple narrative of Nakba Day, which posits that a foreign implant displaced a native community in 1948 and that the Palestinian Arabs are paying the price for the European Holocaust. This narrative, chiefly designed to appeal to Western guilt, also conveniently erases the uncomfortable truth that half of Israel’s Jews are there not because of the Nazis but because of the Arabs themselves.

Israel is not as foreign to the Middle East as many of its neighbors like to pretend, and more than one native community was displaced in 1948. If many in the Arab world insist, as they do each Nakba Day, that Israel is a Western invader that must be repelled, it is a claim that belongs to the realm not only of politics but of psychology — one that helps repress their own knowledge that the country they try to portray as alien is also the vengeful ghost of the neighbors they wronged.

Neighborhood to get Secular Yeshiva amid tension

Neighborhood to get Secular Yeshiva amid tension
Jerusalem Post by MELANIE LIDMAN
Jerusalem community with tense secular/haredi relations, pre-army program as part of mayor's vision to "strengthen" area.

The Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood in Jerusalem will be the future site of a secular yeshiva and pre-army program, the Jerusalem municipality announced on Sunday in the latest step of the neighborhood saga that has pitted ultra-Orthodox residents against secular and national-religious residents.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced that the Warburg compound in the neighborhood will not be dedicated to haredi educational institutions, as had been decided by the previous mayor, Uri Lupoliansky, who is haredi.

Am Shalem looking outside haredi world for support
Yishai: IDF does not want haredim in its ranksThe Jerusalem Secular Yeshiva, which provides 15 students with a four-month intensive learning and onsite living program, will move to Kiryat Hayovel from the neighborhood of Ein Kerem, where it has been based for the past year. The program is aimed at bringing people post-army to Jerusalem and to help them create a connection with the city that encourages them to stay in the capital. The yeshiva is a branch of the Bina Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, which was founded ten years ago.

Kiryat Hayovel, located in the southwest of Jerusalem, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Jerusalem and tension has risen as ultra-Orthodox have began to flock to the cheaper rents.
In recent years, activist organizations such as Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) have created communes and purchasing groups of young families who buy apartments together to counter the growing haredi influence in the area. The municipality has defined the neighborhood as a “priority area” to receive extra spending in both physical improvements – including construction of sidewalks and repaving roads – as well as community programs such as after-school initiatives.

Barkat said on Sunday that he was “investing a lot of energy into making Kiryat Hayovel a vibrant and attractive neighborhood for young families,” and that the secular yeshiva and pre-army seminary are part of that vision. “Jerusalem is the spiritual center of all citizens, and we’re trying to make sure it will also be the spiritual center for secular people,” said Ariel Levinson, the head of curriculum and the administrative committee of the secular yeshiva.

Levinson was quick to point out that the secular yeshiva’s new location is not meant to be antagonistic to Kiryat Hayovel’s haredi population, and that the institution also attracts haredi participants at some programs.City councilor Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism) – who has been a vocal supporter of increasing the number of institutions in the haredi community, especially in Kiryat Hayovel – refused to comment on the matter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Yair Lapid at the Rabbinical Assembly Convention

Israel's rising star in the political scene, Yair Lapid, visited
Atlanta for the Rabbinical Assembly Convention.
You can watch his speech in this video.
Yes, it is long, but it is also wonderful!
Rabbi Mario

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let the Sunshine In

...while Israel is facing new transitions in its political arena and coalitions between Likud and Kadimah parties are sprouting as a new opportunities for the country, Israel's technological advancements and inventions do not stop to amaze us. Enjoy this article...another reason to be proud!

Rabbis Analia

Copied from Israel21c

Seven solar technologies from Israel that could change our planet

 By Karin Kloosterman

They’re on investors’ hit lists and the green tech media is keen to monitor their progress. Environmentalists and key policy makers from the United States urge them on. Israeli solar technology innovators are channelling and shaping the sun’s energy and breaking America’s dependence on oil.

With organizations like the Cleantech Forum, an international business development firm that’s listing Israel in a league of its own, world rankings show that Israel is no small player in solar energy innovation.A recent survey released by the Guardian newspaper in the UK and the Cleantech Forum chose five Israeli-based and two Israeli-developed companies among a global listing of 100. That’s a significant number, considering that Israel is about the size of a small American state.

Over the years ISRAEL21c has brought you many reports about home-grown Israeli solar energy technologies that are making our world a better place. We’d like to present you with a summary of seven of our favorites:

BrightSource Energy

BrightSource Energy (formerly Luz) is building solar power plants for utility and industrial companies around the globe. Combining decades of experience in designing, building and operating some of the world’s largest solar power plants, BrightSource is contracted to generate 2.6 gigawatts of power using its solar thermal technology. BrightSource and Southern California Edison signed the world’s largest solar energy deal in February this year. Founded by Arnold J. Goldman, the company’s mission is to minimize its impact on the environment and to help customers reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. With more than $160 million in financing, key investors and clients include Google, PG&E, Chevron, Morgan Stanley and Vantage Point Venture Partners.

ZenithSolar Zenith Solar develops solar energy power plants based on the technology of Prof. David Faimon of Ben Gurion University in the Negev. The core technology is a large optical dish upon which multiple flat mirrors are mounted. The company says that the system will harvest more than 70 percent of incoming solar energy (compared to industry averages of 10% to 40%). ZenithSolar already has a solar farm on Kibbutz Yavne that is supplying energy and hot water to 250 families. Investors include private business people from the US and Israel.


Aora (formerly EDIG) has based its technology on the shape of a flower. Alarmingly beautiful, the company focuses heliostats into the “petals” of its massive solar collector, which was revealed recently at the pilot plant in Israel’s Negev Desert. The world’s first solar thermal gas-turbine power station is based on the research of Prof. Jacob Karni, director of the Center for Energy Research at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, and has been funded by EZKlein.

Tigo Energy Tigo Energy aims to take a stab at squeezing more power from existing power plants. The company has developed a box that renders these plants more efficient. Tigo Energy’s technology includes a real-time, always on monitoring system that it has devised so that power plant operators can receive constant updates on the performance of individual photovoltaic panels. Investors include Matrix Partners, OVP Venture Partners, and the IDB Group. Sales of the Maximizer technology are expected to begin within the next few months.

Solel Solar

Solel is one of Israel’s most talked about solar energy companies, up there with BrightSource and ZenithSolar. Building solar thermal power plants in Spain and the US, Solel has invested 14 years’ worth of R&D to improve the annual electrical output of solar fields. German electronics giant Siemens has just purchased Solel for $418 million. It is currently building plants in Spain, and a 553-megawatt project, the Mojave Solar Park 1, in California’s Mojave Desert. Major investors and clients include PG&E, Ecofin and private Belgian investors.


Distributed Solar Power holds promise for industrial rooftops. Based on the technology of Prof. Avi Kribus from Tel Aviv University, the DiSP solar collectors are small, but pack a lot of punch. According to their estimates, they will be able to collect up to 75% of the sun’s power and convert it to electricity. The technology is novel because it combines both a micro-sized solar concentrator and a heat transfer system, meaning that the sunlight can be used to heat water thermally, while also providing electricity to turn on your air con. In 2006, ISRAEL21c featured DiSP as the first in a series of articles about alternative energy solutions from Israel.


Based on the research of Prof. Emanuel Peled at Tel Aviv University, Enstorage develops low-cost energy storage systems for solar and wind powered plants. While the way the sun shines throughout the day is variable, Enstorage’s technology helps generate an even flow transmission back to the grid. Current investors include Siemens, Wellington Partners, Canaan Partners and Greylock Partners.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Robotic Brain Being Developed in Israel

Robotic Brain Being Developed in Israel

A computer chip that mimics the cerebellum’s coordination of body movements isn’t science fiction. It’s working in a lab at Tel Aviv University.

Prof. Matti Mintz in his Tel Aviv University lab.

ABC News nicknamed it “RoboRat” – a rodent with a hybrid composition of a biological brain and a synthetic device. This cutting-edge experiment at Tel Aviv University involved wiring a computer chip with a manmade segment of cerebellum alongside the skull of a rodent with a disabled cerebellum. The device, remarkably, allowed the rat to return to normal activity.

Could the same kind of artificial intelligence lead to an unprecedented level of functioning for brain-damaged people who have lost the ability to move their limbs or perform other normal activities? Prof. Matti Mintz of TAU’s Department of Psychology hopes that will one day be possible.Knowing that the cerebellum is responsible for coordinating and timing all the body’s movements, Mintz and his team wanted to see if the synthetic cerebellum – a computer chip wired to the brain – could receive and interpret sensory information from the brainstem, analyze it like a biological cerebellum does, and transmit the information back to motor centers in the brainstem.

To test this robotic interface between body and brain, the researchers taught a lab rat to blink whenever it heard a particular sound. After disabling its cerebellum, they noted that the rat couldn’t perform this conditioned response. But once the robotic chip was hooked up to its brain, RoboRat was once again able to blink on cue, as conditioned.

Making up for lost neurons

As Mintz recently explained to other rejuvenation biotechnologists at Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) conference in Cambridge, England, the chip mimics a range of natural neuronal activity and connects to the inputs and outputs of the damaged brain circuit. Current biotechnologies such as prosthetic limbs only allow one-way communication with the brain.

The technologies used in Mintz’s experiments were developed through the collaborative efforts of other Tel Aviv University scientists and European partners. The cerebellum chip was built by Paolo del Giudice in Rome based on Mintz’s lab analysis of brainstem signals feeding into a natural cerebellum and the output it generated in response. This information was used to fashion a synthetic version on a chip implanted outside the skull and wired to the brain via electrodes developed by Yosi Shacham from TAU. “It’s a proof of the concept that we can record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network and then return it to the brain,” said Mintz.

“Currently, rehabilitation is based largely on behavioral manipulations directed at activation of brain ‘self-repair’ processes,” he told his colleagues. “Future advances are expected to include biological manipulations such as genetic manipulation and stem cell-based therapy that promote neuronal recovery. Another feasible strategy is replacement of defined neuronal microcircuits by synthetic analogs.”

And that’s what RoboRat is all about.

Although much additional research is still to be done, it’s possible that the Israeli synthetic cerebellum could lead to electronic implants that replace damaged tissue in the human brain. This would be a significant advance for people whose brain has been damaged by a stroke, for example.Robert Prueckl of Austria’s Guger Technologies is working with TAU researchers to model larger areas of the cerebellum that can learn a sequence of movements.Mintz said it’s even possible that someday a cerebellum chip could be added to a normally functioning brain to speed up learning or enhance memory in the elderly.

The research was funded by Israel-based Converging Technologies by ISF and Complexity Science; and the European Union’s FP7 Program.

Centrifuges, Palestinians, army service and cottage cheese — an election primer

Centrifuges, Palestinians, army service and cottage cheese — an election primer

As Netanyahu prepares to call early elections, a look at the key factors that will determine the result
By RAPHAEL AHREN May 1, 2012, 4:48 pm 1

The 18th Knesset is heading for an untimely end. While the political leadership is still debating exactly when elections for a new parliament and government will take place, many of the key issues that will dominate the campaign season are already evident:
New leaders, new parties

According to recent polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is cruising to reelection. His Likud party is expected to win 30 or 31 Knesset mandates, up from 27 three years ago and way ahead of second-place Labor, which the polls predict may gain about four or five seats to 17-18. Much has changed in the political landscape since 2009 — parties splintering, leaders ousted, new parties created — but despite Labor’s resurgence under new chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich and the creation of a new populist party by former TV personality Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc can reasonably expect to stay in power. Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas alone could get about 55 seats; add to that the seats of the United Torah Judaism and Jewish Home parties, and Netanyahu has a comfortable majority.

Yair Lapid (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But Lapid — whose new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party is expected to win up to a dozen seats — is not the only wild card. Ousted Shas member Haim Amsellem hopes to enter the Knesset with his newly founded Am Shalem (A Complete Nation) party, and ex-minister (and ex-con) Aryeh Deri is still considering whether to field his own faction. That could cost Shas important mandates, which might force Netanyahu to look for another coalition partner — perhaps the far-right National Union. And that, in turn, could push him even further to the right and toward a collision course with the US.

There is also always the possibility that a small niche party will surprise the political establishment, as Rafi Eitan’s Pensioners Party did in 2006 when it garnered seven seats. In 2009, the Green Movement-Meimad, headed by Rabbi Michael Melchior, almost made it to the Knesset. The rival Green Party, which ran separately, had split the environmentalist vote, but if the two camps, which recently merged, run a joint list and manage to recruit a compelling leader, there’s a small chance it could prove the surprise of the summer.

The fate of Defense Minister Ehud Barak is unclear, as all polls predict certain death (that is, zero Knesset mandates) for his Atzmaut (Independence) party. And if Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman gets indicted for corruption charges in the next few weeks,as is expected, that could shake up the entire political system and help Netanyahu to an even more comfortable majority. Tzipi Livni, the former head of the opposition, is out the door for all intents and purposes.

Having said all of which, the Israeli political landscape is notoriously volatile, and the polls have often been proven wrong. Netanyahu has indicated he wants early elections, and the surveys all show he’ll win, but all kinds of unexpected factors can play havoc with results between now and polling day. He’ll know if his timing was right only when the exit polls are broadcast at the end of election day. And even those sophisticated surveys have been known to go a little bit awry.

Netanyahu and Barak, the leading public figures favoring a preemptive strike on the regime in Tehran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, are increasingly isolated in their belligerent position. The West believes the sanctions imposed on the Iranians will eventually force them to abandon their nuclear ambitions, and even in Israel more and more senior officials seem to oppose an Israeli strike.

Netanyahu is steadfast in his conviction that the Islamic Republic’s fundamentalist leaders would nuke Israel even if it meant their own destruction. Barak, too, keeps on warning about Iran. Yet most others who have something to say in Israel disagree.

President Shimon Peres and head of the opposition Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) warn against a rush to attack and IDF chief Benny Gantz recently said the Iranian leadership “is composed of very rational people” who haven’t yet decided to build nuclear weapons. The former heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet are openly opposed to a strike, which analysts agree could not fully destroy the Iranian program but could set the entire Middle East ablaze.

Different directions. Barak, Gantz, Peres and Netanyahu (from left) during a graduation ceremony for pilots at the Hatzerim air force base near Beersheba last June. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/Flash90)

Barak is likely to be a casualty of the elections. He bolted his own Labor party to stay in the coalition, but his new faction has gained no real resonance. Theoretically, Netanyahu could keep him on as defense minister even if he’s not in the Knesset, but he would be hard-pressed to explain such a move to loyal senior Likud MKs who’ve been keen on the defense portfolio for years. Yet if Netanyahu wants to attack Iran, he would want to do so with Barak by his side.

The moment of truth on Iran is neither weeks nor years away, Netanyahu maintains, leading to speculation that this summer — when the skies are clear — could be his preferred time for an attack. The US administration repeats that Israel must make its own decisions on issues that it considers existential, but is also adamantly against any military intervention in Iran before the US elections in November. Would Netanyahu dare initiate an attack, which might spark a regional war, during an election campaign at home, and defying the wishes of Israel’s key ally?
The Palestinians

On April 17, a Palestinian delegation came to Jerusalem to hand Netanyahu a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. After receiving the letter, a bitter litany outlining Abbas’s conditions for a resumption of peace talks, Netanyahu announced that he would respond within two weeks. Two weeks have passed and the Palestinians are still waiting.

Israel’s response to the letter will determine the Palestinian Authority’s next steps, which could include applying to the United Nations General Assembly for membership, senior Fatah official Jamal Muheisin said earlier this week.

While it sometimes seems that Israelis have grown apathetic to the Palestinian question, there are many for whom the peace process is the most important factor when they head to the polling stations, especially since more and more officials on both sides of the fence are talking about the possibility of a one-state solution. If Netanyahu fails to convince the public that he’s genuinely interested in making peace, he could lose precious votes to Kadima, Labor, or Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid.

Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, a staunch believer in Zionist Revisionism who argued that Arabs had no right to a state in the heart of the Land of Israel, passed away Monday at 102. Most pundits reject the notion that Netanyahu, following his father’s death, will now free himself from Benzion’s heavy ideological burden and seek to take swifter steps toward reconciliation with Israel’s difficult neighbors.
The outposts

The prime minister says he is in favor of the two-state solution, yet at the same time he is looking for ways to legalize unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. He pledges to honor the decisions of the Supreme Court but when the judges issue demolition orders he seeks ways to circumvent them and save the outposts. The cases of Migron and Ulpana are still undecided — and if Netanyahu’s objections are overturned might spark ugly scenes of forceful evictions — while three settlement neighborhoods, Bruchin, Sansana and Rehelim, were retroactively legalized earlier this month.

The deadline for the evacuation of Migron is August 1. By that date, the settlers need to have been relocated to the nearby Givat Hayekev. The Ulpana neighborhood, in Beit El, was supposed to have been demolished by this Tuesday, but the state found a way to put off that decision by another few weeks.

The Americans and the Europeans, as well as the Palestinians of course, are up in arms about this issue, which makes it the perfect weapon for Netanyahu’s opponents who want to portray him as a settler-serving land-grabbing colonialist. The fight for right-wing votes will go through Migron, Beit El and several other contested settlements. Netanyahu may try to present himself as somewhat settler-friendly at home, as he vies for nationalist votes, while on the international stage he will need to work hard to maintain credibility for his ostensible commitment to a Palestinian state.
The Tal Law

Since the Supreme Court overturned the Tal Law, which enabled ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to defer military service, the government has declared it would replace it with a more just law that would have everybody share the burden. But Netanyahu has not tabled any concrete proposals, out of fear that his Haredi coalition partners would bolt. This week, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Liberman threatened to let the government crash if it doesn’t support a law his faction will try to push through the Knesset come May 9.

The recently overturned Tal Law differentiated between the ultra-Orthodox and other Israelis regarding IDF enlistment. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

While Netanyahu could never advocate for a mandatory draft for the ultra-Orthodox in the middle of a Knesset session for fear his coalition might collapse, he might dare to do so ahead of new elections. Since such a move has wide public support, he could conceivably allow himself to vex the Haredim and advance bold new legislation that would actually help distribute the national burden more equally.
The social justice movement

During the summer of 2011, nearly half a million Israeli took to the streets to protest the high cost of living. The government tried to respond to the angry calls of “Bibi, go home” by establishing the Trajtenberg committee, which initiated reforms intended to make life financially easier for the middle class. While most of those who started the so-called tent protests consider the government’s efforts a case of too little, too late, it is not clear that the social justice movement can stage a comeback this summer.

Lapid and Yachimovich consider themselves the champions of the middle class but Shaul Mofaz, the former defense minister, also realized early that it might pay politicallyto jump on the social justice bandwagon. In his victory speech after winning the Kadima chairmanship, he made a concerted effort to portray himself as concerned about the middle class’s plight, even calling for a “new social order.” The polls to date suggest that few potential voters were won over.

When Israel elects a new leadership later this year, it will make a difference if the headline issues are the peace process and spinning centrifuges in Iran, or the equal sharing of the military burden and the price of cottage cheese. Netanyahu may well be heading for victory in either case, but the question of his victory margin — and hence his subsequent room for maneuver — is wide open.

And, of course, remember again, in Israeli politics, nothing is over until the votes are counted.