Tuesday, December 31, 2013



Dr. Michal Oren

“I am the gate for whom your holy city is named: Zion”
(Yitzchak Navon, The Six Days and the Seven Gates)

The coupling of the words Zion and Zionism reflects the aspiration to connect the bond between the Jewish People, past and present, and the Land of Israel (poetically referred to as ‘Zion’) to its modern national future as promised by the Zionist idea. This connection was already fixed during the development of nationalist thought in the days of Hibat Zion (‘Love of Zion’), in literary and publicist writings, but gained strength with the rise of the Zionist idea, which transformed the yearning to grace the earth of the Holy Land (Zion) into the establishment of a modern, sovereign national state (Zionism).

The coupling of the cities Jaffa – and later, Tel Aviv – with Jerusalem can be regarded as a metonym for the duo Zion and Zionism. Jaffa became more and more modernized and the center of the rejuvenated national experience; Tel Aviv in turn assumed the role of national and Zionist center; both cities contrasted with the Holy City and center of tradition, Zion (Jerusalem).

The site and term ‘Zion Gate’ reflects this tension in an interesting way. The physical gate in the wall surrounding Jerusalem refers to the nearby Mount Zion1. However, because ‘Zion’ refers not only to Jerusalem but to the entire Land of Israel, the "gate" could also be referred to as the entrance to the Holy Land, i.e., Jaffa, and later Tel Aviv ports. This hidden connotation of the term ‘Zion Gate’ hints at the rivalry between the two cities, Jerusalem and Jaffa (later Tel Aviv), which signify respectively Judaism (Zion) and Zionism.

Land of Zion and Jerusalem
The name ‘Zion’ first appears in the Bible in connection with a Jebusite fort: “David took the stronghold of Zion; the same is the city of David” (Samuel II, 5:7). But Zion, in Jewish consciousness, became equated with Jerusalem and its holiness, especially the Temple mountain: “...on Mount Zion the abode of Your Glory and Jerusalem the city of Your Holiness” (from the blessing recited after eating). The mountain is not the Jebusite fort but the Temple place, the hub of the world, as stated in the Book of Jubilees: “Mount Zion is the umbilicus of the earth.” Moreover, Zion, as it represents Jerusalem and the holy place, is a metonym for the Land of Israel and the people of Israel. So did Menachem Ussishkin declare in his speech to the Zionist Congress in 1913, stressing the importance of situating the Zionist intellectual stronghold – the Hebrew University - in Jerusalem:

“2,500 years ago, our national Temple of God that sat upon Mount Moriah was destroyed. We come now full of faith and hope to build a new national shrine, the seat of wisdom and science, upon Mount Zion […].”

From the place of sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the name Zion was conveyed to the shrine of wisdom on ‘Mount Zion,’ although actually located on Mount Scopus.

Zion and Zionism
Another “Hall of Wisdom”, named Sha’ar Zion (Zion Gate), was established in Jaffa in 1886 to host a national library (Bet Akad Sefarim). It was founded by brothers Elazar and Shimon Rokach through the Ezrat Yisrael Association, which also established the Neve Zedek neighborhood. In 1891, the Library received aid from the Odessa Committee (Hovevei Zion - Lovers of Zion), from the Sha’ar Zion Bureau of B’nai Brith (whose first president was Shimon Rokach), and from B’nei Moshe. The Library was the national home of books, for the People of the Book, and housed the literature of Hibat Zion. Ze’ev Tiomkin, Chair of the Odessa Committee, spoke at the Library’s dedication, expressing his hope that the place would serve as food for the soul for “our colonist, laborer brothers.” Its entrance, ‘Zion Gate,’ was the doorway to the national treasures, but it was the Jerusalem library, founded shortly afterwards, that came to be known as the National Home of Books. The Jaffa library moved from house to house in Jaffa and Tel Aviv before it finally came to its permanent home, Sha’ar Zion - Bet Ariella, today the largest municipal library in the country.

In 1890, Ezrat Yisrael founded a hospital called Sha’ar Zion, located on the coast north of Jaffa (known today as the Charles Clore Park). This hospital represented one of the bitterest conflicts in Jaffa’s Jewish community in the late 19th century, between the old and the new Yishuv. It operated until the expulsion of Jews from Jaffa in 1917 and in 1948 the building was destroyed.

Zion Gate: A Gateway to Redemption
Jaffa was known as ‘Zion Gate’ because of its port, which served as a gateway for aliya to the Land and in particular to Jerusalem. As Jaffa began to develop in the mid-19th century, even though its population was clearly Arab, it became the second most important city for the Jews, especially those with an economic bent. Jerusalem became superfluous for some of the new immigrants, who made first Jaffa and later Tel Aviv their home and place of business. Others, motivated by ideology (Zionist or socialist), made their way to agricultural settlements. Many olim did not even visit Jerusalem, or did so only after many years. Ingrained in their consciousness was the diaspora perspective on Jerusalem – “Next year in Jerusalem” – while the need for the tangible Jerusalem was uncertain.

S.Y. Agnon wrote the following about the new arrival at the Jaffa docks of Isaac Kumer, the hero of Tmol Shilshom (“Only Yesterday”):

“Isaac Kumer stood there on the soil of the Land of Israel he had all his life yearned to see. Beneath his feet are the rocks of the Land of Israel and above his head blazes the sun of the Land of Israel and the houses of Jaffa rise up from the sea […] An hour or two ago, he was drinking the air of other lands, and now he is drinking the air of the Land of Israel.”

And to his wife Esther he wrote:

“As I said, I wish to return to Jerusalem…even though life is harder there… In Tel Aviv I could find a comfortable place to live. But my heart is so drawn to Jerusalem. But to tell the truth, in Jerusalem I cry a lot and I often go to the holy places, and in no other place do I feel that beautiful, holy, pure feeling that uplifts my heart…” (December 10, 1924)

Moshe Leib Lilienblum expressed more strongly the estrangement between the two cities:

“We have no need of Jerusalem and nothing will be lacking if it remains forever in alien hands.”

Port of Oranges
Jaffa’s ‘Zion Gate’ was privileged to be the point of export of a symbol of Zionism – the orange. Although it was the British who attached the ‘Jaffa’ label to oranges from all over the Land, whether produced by Jews or Arabs, the term was appropriated by the Zionist movement and used also for oranges exported from the newer Tel Aviv port (and later the port of Ashdod). The Tel Aviv port was built in 1936, at the start of the Arab strike which was followed by three years of violence. It replaced the Jaffa port as the main point of entry to the Zionist Land of Israel, creating a total separation between the Jewish and Arab markets.

Zion Gate Moved to Tel Aviv
In 1938 a passenger terminal was dedicated at the Tel Aviv port, called, inevitably, ‘Zion Gate'! At the dedication ceremony, then mayor of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Rokach said:

“For many years, Jaffa was called ‘Jaffa – Zion Gate’ by the pioneers and settlers of the Land. From this day hence, Tel Aviv shall be called ‘Tel Aviv – Zion Gate,’ through which redemption shall pass.”

And the Head of the Jewish Agency's political department, Moshe Shertok (later Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett), declared:

“…Today we witness the realization of the dream of Tel Aviv’s founders, who established an emblem for their city: a gateway for aliya and a lighthouse for the diaspora.”

Tel Aviv’s pride in the first Hebrew port - a Zionist symbol of what was perceived to be the Zionist city - found expression in a placard calling for goods to be imported only through the Tel Aviv port:
Jew! This is the symbol of the Tel Aviv port.
Goods bearing this stamp were unloaded in the Tel Aviv port.
Jew! Buy only goods bearing this stamp.
Preserve our important asset – the first Hebrew port.

The role of gateway to redemption was thus transferred from the Zion Gate of Jerusalem, to the Zion Gate of Jaffa port, and finally to the Zion gate of the Tel Aviv port, taking on new meaning as “a lighthouse for the diaspora”. Thus did Tel Aviv brand itself as the quintessential Zionist city. The street leading towards the port was named ‘Zion Gate’ and as time passed, Tel Aviv tried to challenge Jerusalem’s ownership of symbols, chief among them the resting place of Herzl. The rationale for placing Herzl’s grave on the Tel Aviv coast was that the pantheon to be established at his grave would serve as the lighthouse pointing the way to the Land of Israel and its gateway, similar to the Statue of Liberty in New York. The preliminary founders of Tel Aviv, before it became a city, took pains to note: “Just as New York symbolizes the main gateway to America, we must improve our city so that in the fullness of time it will become the New York of Israel". New York is not only the gateway to the "promised land", but a longed-for ideal, as described by Motl Ben Peysi the cantor’s son, invented by Sholem Aleichem:

“The lights shone and the heart was joyful. So did the Jews surely feel at the splitting of the sea. Greetings, Columbus! Bless you, Land of Freedom! You, the precious land of happiness!”

Tel Aviv, though not New York, aspired to become the Zion Gate and heart of the Land of Zion, and to assume the aura of redemption inspired by the original Zion Gate in Jerusalem. In the past, Jaffa’s importance lay in its being a port of entry into the Land on the way to Jerusalem, the site of the redemption to come. With the rise of nationalism and modernity, Jaffa became important in its own right. The city embodied the shift from Zion (Holy Land, tradition, the past) to Zionism (nationalism, modernity and secularism). A place in the heart was reserved for Jerusalem, which gave Zionism its chief symbol (Zion), but in doing so conceded the symbol of the Zion Gate to Jaffa, and later, Tel Aviv.


[1] Also called David’s Gate, named for David’s grave nearby and also called Jews’ Gate in times when it served the nearby Jewish quarter. For generations, Jews held the key to the gate, and from this gate they exited as refugees in 1948 after the aborted attempt by the Palmach to reach them by capturing the post at the Gate (May 17-18, 1948). The fable by Yitzchak Navon, which describes the gates competing to merit the entrance of the soldiers in the Six Day War, squelches the charge by Zion Gate: “[…] Wasn’t it I alone who, in the War of Independence, opened to admit the young men of Israel to Your holy city?”

English translation by Penina Goldshmidt.

Dr. Michal Oren is a senior lecturer in Land of Israel Studies at the Schechter Institute and an expert in the modern history of Israel’s first “Hebrew” city: Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Seeing skin in a Syrian refugee camp

Seeing skin in a Syrian refugee camp

Debra Kamin

This was before the snow fell, before the record-smashing winter storm covered our entire region in ice and reminded us, from Jerusalem to Ramallah to the tents of a Syrian refugee camp, that there are forces in the universe still more powerful than the searing blaze of human conflict.

All day long in Mafraq, an impoverished corner of Jordan that has been swarmed by Syrian refugees, women kept pulling me aside and unzipping their abayas. They spotted me amid the male aid workers, grabbed my hand and pulled me to a corner to reveal the scars on their necks, their stomachs, their hips.

I’d crossed the Jordanian border from Israel earlier that morning, on assignment for this publication to report about Israeli aid to Syrian refugees. I was ready to see hunger and homelessness. I hadn’t expected, however, to be shown so much skin.

One Syrian woman named Asma revealed a gash along her belly that I thought was a scar from a caesarian section. “Baby?” I asked her, hooking my arms into an imaginary cradle to compensate for my lack of Arabic.

“No, not baby,” she said. Then her fingers waved desperately and she lifted her arms above her head. “Boom!” she said. She pulled out a cheap cell phone and showed me a grainy video of her dying husband writhing on a Syrian street. She couldn’t have been more clear.

Syrian refugees in Mafraq. (photo credit: Debra Kamin)

At a tiny desert refugee camp of Syrians who had fled the crowding and disease of the larger tent cities of Zaatari and Mreijeb Al Fhoud, a teenaged girl named Firdous dragged me to semi-privacy behind a van and carefully unwrapped her hijab. On her breastbone, she showed me a smattering of thick purple bruises. They looked like berries, the kind that bleed into pancakes and turn the batter blue, but they were burst blood vessels. I told her in English that I would help her find a doctor, knowing that she couldn’t understand me, which gave me an excuse to lie.

Our translator had been detained on the Israeli side of the border, held back from crossing with us thanks to an unpaid cell phone bill, which in these parts is enough to put a freeze on your passport. The Israeli aid workers who had brought me were pressed for time and walking a tenuous line in their coordination with Jordanian groups on the ground. I was an untrained witness to a chaotic dump of dried lentils and laundry detergent, with no medical skills and only a smattering of Arabic vocabulary. All I could do for these women was be a witness to their wounds.

A Syrian mother and child in Mafraq. (photo credit: Debra Kamin)

Hours later, when I was back across the border in my clean, light-filled Tel Aviv apartment, eating takeout Chinese on the sofa and watching “Homeland” with my husband, I began to think about those women’s bodies. My assignment that day had been to write about the food parcels the refugees were receiving from Israel, and I had gathered enough information to do so. But the nakedness had been so unbridled, and worst of all, it had been so very easy to leave behind.

It’s simple in Israel to get into a car, cross a border, and in a matter of minutes find yourself in an alternate universe. For Americans, such culture shock usually takes a jet plane. Here, where the conflicts are compact and the borders more pockmarked, the world’s headlines are always just a short drive away.

Syrian refugees in Mafraq. (photo credit: Debra Kamin)

And I had a ride right to them. I was picked up in Israel at 6 a.m. by a carload of aid workers, and by 9 a.m. we were at the Beit Shean border crossing, our passports being scrutinized by a surly Jordanian customs officer. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet when Asma unzipped her robe and pulled up the shirt beneath to show me her belly. By dinnertime, Firdous and her family were probably still huddled in their tent in an unmapped swath of Jordanian desert, gnashing out that afternoon’s sandstorm while I was back home in Tel Aviv slurping wonton soup.

In early October, while U.S. President Barack Obama wavered over whether or not to exact revenge on Syrian President Bashar Assad for dropping chemical weapons on his own people, Tel Aviv braced itself. We are close enough, we know, to be the first line of attack. We are a western enclave in a region turning more and more eastern; the sacrificial lamb in a den of spring-stoked wolves. I love Tel Aviv because it is like a nation unto itself; a city of beaches and bohemians and non-kosher bistros that is my sanctuary from the Israeli headaches that beckon the moment you reach its outskirts.

An elderly refugee in Mafraq. (photo credit: Debra Kamin)

So it made sense that I would touch the broken nerves of the Syrian conflict in neighboring Jordan and make it home to my Tel Aviv oasis in a handful of hours. That is the irony of life here; to live in Tel Aviv, one must stoke a willful ignorance of the ugliness of the Middle East. But our sanctuary is imaginary. After I had showered away the day’s grime and joined my husband on the sofa that night, I spied the unopened cardboard boxes containing our gas masks stacked in the corner.

We will never have to open them, he had assured when he brought them home after hours in line at the distribution center. And we can always run to the shelter.

Better safe than sorry, I said in return, because there is strange comfort in adages.

Two young Syrian refugees in Mafraq. (photo credit: Debra Kamin)

Coming home from Jordan, however, those silent cardboard boxes seemed to mock me. Tel Aviv remained secure, our gas masks mere props in someone else’s war. And I was left with the unsettling realization that I went to that refugee camp to take home a story, but brought nothing to give.

Syrian refugees in Mafraq. (photo credit: Debra Kamin)

Maybe it was because of the shame that I lay in bed that night, straining my ears for the air raid siren. It’s easy to say I was simply on edge after a long day, but I think a small part of me was hoping to hear it. Its wail would rise up in the night, shattering the silence like a gash across skin.

But the night remained still, and I, wishing for absolution, curled into my clean sheets and waited for sleep.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Boycotting the boycotters?

Boycotting the boycotters?

By Donniel Hartman

Does an organization have a right to tax-exempt status from the country it advocates boycotting? This is the question facing Israel’s Knesset, which is being asked to pass government-sponsored legislation taxing foreign donations to any organization which calls on others to boycott or sanction either Israel or Israeli institutions. A parallel challenge faces many Jewish organizations in North America with regard to whether to allow within their institutions a platform for individuals and organizations which do the same or for one-statists who do not support the right of Israel to be an independent Jewish state..

As is so often the case, complex issues give birth to immediate, opposing knee-jerk responses, which instead of furthering discussion and understanding actually close it down. Each side portrays the matter as a pivotal value issue which is self-evident despite the fact that the debate proves that it is anything but.

On the one side stand the advocates who conflate free speech with tax-exempt status and/or the right to speak from any platform. Free speech must be given precisely to those who aggravate us the most, they say, and it is only a society and community which fosters unlimited dissent that will be able to contain its diversity and give birth to the ever-new thinking necessary for its growth.

Those arguments fail to convince the proponents of such limits, for they too see themselves as advocates of free speech. For them, the issue is not freedom of speech but whether a society or an organization has to support – as distinct from allowing – speech which actively calls for its harm. It is not dissenting opinions that they seek to curtail, but the support of those dissenting opinions when they advocate for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) or the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state.

Conversely, the supporters of such legislation and those calling for the boycotting of the boycotters, defend their positions with the value of self-defense. A country and a people’s first responsibility is to enable and support its own existence. Looking after one’s own self-interest is neither immoral nor amoral but a foundational moral responsibility. Love your neighbor as yourself. What is hateful unto you do not do unto others. Love of self and the protection of one’s own needs and interests have moral priority. As Chief Justice Aharon Barak famously argued, a citizen’s inalienable rights exist only within the context of a society and cannot be defended when the exercise of those rights threatens the very society within which they are born.

This argument too falls on deaf ears, for the advocates of the unencumbered speech view such speech as essential to Israel and the Jewish people’s survival and well-being. They too support the moral obligation of self-preservation. But unlike Chief Justice Barak’s argument, which permits the torture of terrorists in the case of a “ticking bomb,” BDS speech, not to speak of the one-statists, they argue, poses no such immediate and severe a danger. Israel is strong, and the goal of the one-statists and some within the BDS community is not to destroy Israel but to redefine it or create the economic and political pressure necessary to help steer it back to its proper course and true self.

The debate is thus set up as between free speech and security, between allowing for dissent and the undermining of our people’s right to exist. It is a debate which has nowhere to go, for ostensibly both sides can share the same values, and instead of debating their application they portray the other as disloyal to a self-evident value, which the other side does not feel they are even debating. In Hebrew we call this, du siach shel chirshim, a dialogue of the hearing-impaired. We are having ever-increasing types of such dialogue, and more than any legislation or policy under debate, this poses a real threat to Israeli and Jewish collective life. Leaving aside the boundaries and limits of the right to dissent, and to voice one’s dissent, a community that has lost the art of how to dissent, how to disagree and to talk with each other, is a community under severe distress.

BDS is repulsive to me and alien to my Jewish consciousness. My love and loyalty to my people and my country obligate me to fight my country wherever I believe it to be flawed. I fight it, however, through speech and advocacy, and at the ballot box. The coercive and punitive dimensions of BDS I find both arrogant and inappropriate to a debate amongst brothers and sisters. The right of Israel to be a Jewish state is also self-evident to me, and I am always amazed at the duplicity of the one-statists for whom the only nation-state which is morally flawed and illegitimate is the Jewish state. I see nothing inherently wrong or morally flawed when a country, while allowing such positions to be advocated, does not feel that it needs to privilege them. Nor do I feel that Jewish institutions which are inherently pluralistic sin to their mission when they want to set boundaries to that pluralism, when the debate about Israel’s future moves to whether it should have a future.

That said, I believe that boycotting the boycotters or one-staters, whether in Israel or particularly on college campuses, is a serious strategic error. Starting with Israel, while the Middle East remains an extremely dangerous place, and our survival never ensured, we are nevertheless a powerful country. Power is not merely a gift which enables one to withstand the attacks of outsiders, it is a gift which enables one to take chances for the sake of one’s values and ideas. Powerlessness is a reality and at times a crutch which both inhibits and allows one to lower one’s expectations from oneself, hiding behind the proverbial, “in the future we will be able to….”

Israel’s success has enabled us to touch this future and obligates us to spend its dividends. The unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, coupled with the sense of insulating power, has not served Israel’s democratic values well. The reality of occupation and the ability of Israel’s military to sustain it at an acceptable cost to Israelis, coupled with the Israeli perception that the Palestinians and their leadership have yet to make the strategic decision toward peace and coexistence, has begun to callous many Israelis’ democratic sensibilities. Whether it leads to a de facto devaluing of peace, to calls for the annexing of Judea and Samaria despite demographic consequences, to the perpetuating of inequalities toward Israeli Arabs, the fact is that Israel’s future is far more secure than its democracy.

It is time for us to give priority not merely to the defense of our borders and our economy but to our values as a Jewish-democratic state. Our challenge now is less with the limits of free speech than with those who want to limit it. While every society allows for emergency measures which can suspend for a time democratic principles and rights, right now we need emergency measures which will suspend legitimate legislation for the sake of ensuring our democratic principles and rights.

In North America, Jewish institutions face a different struggle. It is perfectly legitimate for institutions with a particular ideology to foster that ideology and not offer a platform to those positions in which it sees no value, not to speak of harm. That said, it is important to recognize that those institutions which are attempting to reach the more marginally or non-affiliated face today a particular and daunting challenge. This challenge is neither to “protect” our impressionable youth from harmful ideas, nor to equip them with the tools to defend Israel. Those who believe so are on a boat that left the port over a decade ago. The front line is whether our youth will care at all, be it about Israel or Judaism. When we attempt to generate criteria for loyalty or litmus tests for Israel supporters, we cause the unaffiliated or not strongly affiliated to question the grounds for their loyalty. When we silence certain voices within our institutions, they question the very value of these institutions.

We live in an open marketplace of ideas, and uninhibited access to these ideas. The fantasy of limiting debate and conversation is precisely that, a fantasy and an ineffective and short-sighted policy. In a world where individuals choose their identities and affiliations, when Judaism and Israel project fear and weakness, we become unattractive. When that fear inspires an image of closed-mindedness, we become repellent. Israel will find a place on the radar screen of our next generation when it is a place which can be debated and engaged with without restriction. The case for Israel can be made without projecting that it needs the protection of censorship. Good fences make good neighbors. Good fences and boundaries are necessary to protect an identity. When that identity is as yet unformed, boundaries of conversation will keep more people out than keep them from leaving.

We have worked hard as a people, whether in Israel or in North America, to achieve the success and prosperity that we have attained. It behooves us to move beyond preserving our past successes and instead to use them as a catalyst to move further. To reinforce where necessary values that are being weakened and to reach out to those that we are in danger of losing. While we need not be so open-minded as to allow for our dissolution, we also need to recognize that we are not so weak that we cannot take chances for our ideals. We have reached the moment that our security need not force us to tolerate mediocrity but rather is a force that enables us to be confident and reach higher.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Boycotting Israeli universities: A victory for bigotry

Boycotting Israeli universities: A victory for bigotry

Singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is not only a blatant example of double standards; it is an act of complicity with the enduring prejudice against Jews.
By Alan M. Dershowitz

Illustration of the Alfred Dreyfus affair by Henri Meyer (detail), printed January 5, 1895. Photo via Wikipedia.

The American Studies Association has just issued its first ever call for an academic boycott. No, it wasn’t against China, which imprisons dissenting academics. It wasn’t against Iran which executes dissenting academics. It wasn’t against Russia whose universities fire dissenting academics. It wasn’t against Cuba whose universities have no dissenting academics. It wasn’t against Saudi Arabia, whose academic institutions refuse to hire women, gay or Christian academics. Nor was it against the Palestinian Authority, whose colleges refuse to allow open discourse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No, it was against only academic institutions in the Jewish State of Israel, whose universities have affirmative action programs for Palestinian students and who boast a higher level of academic freedom than almost any country in the world.

When the association was considering this boycott I issued a challenge to its members, many of whom are historians. I asked them to name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those Israel faces that has had a better record of human rights, a higher degree of compliance with the rule of law, a more demanding judiciary, more concern for the lives of enemy civilians, or more freedom to criticize the government, than the State of Israel.

Not a single member of the association came up with a name of a single country. That is because there are none. Israel is not perfect, but neither is any other country, and Israel is far better than most. If an academic group chooses to engage in the unacademic exercise of boycotting the academic institutions of another country, it should do it in order of the seriousness of the human rights violations and of the inability of those within the country to seek redress against those violations.

By these standards, Israeli academic institutions should be among the last to be boycotted.

I myself disagree with Israel’s settlement policy and have long urged an end to the occupation. But Israel offered to end the occupation twice in the last 13 years. They did so in 2000-2001 when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state on approximately 95% of the occupied territories. Then it did so again in 2008 when former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered an even more generous deal. The Palestinians accepted neither offer and certainly share the blame for the continuing occupation. Efforts are apparently underway once again to try to end the occupation, as peace talks continue. The Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas himself opposes academic boycotts of Israeli institutions.

China occupies Tibet, Russia occupies Chechnya and several other countries occupy Kurdish lands. In those cases no offers have been made to end the occupation. Yet no boycotts have been directed against the academic institutions of those occupying countries.

When the President of the American Studies Association, Curtis Marez, an associate professor of ethnic studies at The University of California, was advised that many nations, including all of Israel’s neighbors, behave far worse than Israel, he responded, “One has to start somewhere.” This boycott, however, has not only started with Israel. It will end with Israel. Marez’s absurd comment reminds me of the bigoted response made by Harvard’s notorious anti-Semitic president A. Laurence Lowell, when he imposed anti-Jewish quotas near the beginning of the twentieth century. When asked why he singled out Jews for quotas, he replied, “Jews cheat.” When the great Judge Learned Hand reminded him that Christians cheat too, Lowell responded, “You’re changing the subject. We are talking about Jews now.”

You would think that historians and others who belong to the American Studies Association would understand that in light of the history of discrimination against Jews, you can’t just pick the Jewish State and Jewish universities as the place to “start” and stop.

The American Studies Association claims that it is not boycotting individual Israeli professors, but only the universities at which they teach. That is a nonsensical word game, since no self-respecting Israeli professor would associate with an organization that singled out Israeli colleges and universities for a boycott. Indeed, no self-respecting American professor should in any way support the bigoted actions of this association.

Several years ago, when a similar boycott was being considered, a group of American academics circulated a counter-petition drafted by Nobel Prize Physicist Steven Weinberg and I that read as follows:

"We are academics, scholars, researchers and professionals of differing religious and political perspectives. We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded. "

More than 10,000 academics signed this petition including many Nobel Prize winners, presidents of universities and leading scholars from around the world.

Shame on those members of the American Studies Association for singling out the Jew among nations. Shame on them for applying a double standard to Jewish universities. Israeli academic institutions are strong enough to survive this exercise in bigotry. The real question is will this association survive its complicity with the oldest and most enduring prejudice?

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, is a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author, most recently, of The Trials of Zion. His autobiography, “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law,” was published in October 2013.

Netanyahu: Reform Jews deserve Israel's 'audacious hospitality' at Western Wall

Netanyahu: Reform Jews deserve Israel's 'audacious hospitality' at Western Wall

Prime minister addresses Reform Biennial via satellite from Jerusalem, tells participants: Iran may talk the talk, but it walks the walk of death every day.
By Allison Kaplan Sommer

The Union for Reform Judaism biennial in San Diego, December 11, 2013 Photo by Union for Reform Judaism

Netanyahu speaks via satellite speaks to URJ Biennial 2013 Photo by Union of Reform Judaism

SAN DIEGO - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rolled out a welcome mat for Reform Jews at the Western Wall on Sunday, in a speech delivered to the final plenary of the movement’s Biennial meeting in San Diego.

"While the Wall may be in Israel," he told the gathering in a satellite address from Jerusalem, “it belongs to all of you, it belongs to you and to all the Jewish people, and I am committed to making sure that all Jews feel at home in our holiest site.”

Netanyahu thanked Union of Reform Judaism President Rick Jacobs for his efforts to help negotiate a compromise in the heated battle around the Women of the Wall: “No compromise is ever perfect,” Netanyahu said. ”But I am convinced that because of the work we are doing together we will ensure that the Kotel will be a place of unity, not division, unity, where all Jews feel at home."

The Western Wall, he said “is about what Israel has always stood for and what it has always stand for, that Israel is and must continue to be the homeland of the entire Jewish people. That's the place where all Jews, including Reform Jews, experience nothing less than ‘audacious hospitality’."

The audience chuckled at the use of the final catchphrase, which has been used frequently by Jacobs throughout the Biennial in relation to actively welcoming new members into Reform congregations.

Jacobs, meanwhile, thanked Netanyahu on Sunday for the “support that your government has given the Reform movement and our partners to change the way that Jews of all streams can pray and celebrate at the Kotel."

"To us it is a symbol of the day when those from the non-Orthodox streams will stand equal with the Orthodox rabbinate and community in the eyes of the state," added Jacobs. "It is a symbol of your efforts and ours to resist the attempts of those who would turn back the equality advances of women in Israel, before all those assembled here I want to acknowledge your personal role in achieving at the Kotel something that, when fulfilled will be a historic transformation.”

Jacobs emphasized the connection of Reform Jews to Israel and offered Netanyahu support despite the fact that “we know we have had respectful disagreements on some issues regarding the peace process on settlement expansion and the need to do even more for immigrants in Israel.”

Netanyahu, who sent the crowd “greetings from a snow-covered Jerusalem” spent the majority of his speech hammering home strong messages on Iran and the negotiations with the Palestinians in remarks similar to those delivered another Diaspora audience last month at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations, he warned of the consequences of easing the sanctions on Iran without ensuring that they dismantle their nuclear capability.

Iran’s goal, he said, was to be “in a position at any time to be able to lurch forward in a matter of months and take the capabilities it develops to create nuclear missiles to put on top of warheads to be launched against Israel, against Europe or against the United States. That is something we all must stop.”

"I agree with President [Barack] Obama that our preference is to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully it would be the best thing," Netanyahu said.

But he coupled that with a warning “not to have any illusions” about what he believed to be the nature of the Iranian regime “even when they put up some charming front“ noting that since President [Hassan] Rohani took office in August, Iran reportedly has executed 300 people” and “is engaged in terrorism in 25 countries over five continents” and “directly participates in the murder of Syrian civilians.”

“There is a tendency to treat Iran like it is just another country, it’s become part and parcel of the community of nations," he said. "No it hasn’t. It smiles, it gives Power Point presentations in English, it talks the talk, but it walks the walk of death every day, every day,” Netanyahu said.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu said he was working in close coordination with Secretary of State John Kerry - hinting that the collaboration might be a little too close for his taste sometimes.

In a reference to their conversations in the speech Netanyahu said: “Secretary Kerry - John - whom I talk to - I was going to say every day, but I’ll amend that to every few hours… it's incredible, he goes on and on….” The throwaway remark triggered a major roar of laughter in the audience.

Netanyahu said achieving peace was Israel’s strategic goal and that he was “ready for a historic peace agreement” with the Palestinians “based on the idea of two states for two peoples” for which he was willing “to make difficult decisions” as long as it meant the Palestinians “would have no more claims against the one and only Jewish state.”

He told the North American audience that “it’s not about the settlements.” When rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel, he said “they aren’t fighting to liberate the West Bank, they are fighting to liberate Jaffa and Be'er Dheva.”

For real peace to happen, he said, “We have to get them [the Palestinians] to accept the Jewish state.” Palestinian leaders have to be willing to give what he has come to refer to as a “Bir Zeit speech” paralleling Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan declaration. The Palestinians must “confront their people," Netanyahu said, and tell them “it’s going to be over. We will live side by side in two nation states and we’re not going to try to dissolve the state of Israel or flood it with refugees. It’s over. It’s over.”

Until that happens he said, he was not willing to support a state in which they would ‘continue attacking Israel from improved boundaries.”

Netanyahu's speech from Jerusalem was the result of such last-minute negotiation that the event was not even printed in the event's formal program.

First, it was unclear whether or not the address - the first by a sitting Israeli prime minister to the gathering of the largest American Jewish organized body - would take place in person or via satellite.

For months, he had been billed as a speaker at the Biennial Event and the movement made much of the fact that it would be the first time that a sitting Israeli prime minister has spoken to the URJ Biennial. He then informed the movement that he would not travel to San Diego for the event.

Then it seemed uncertain whether Netanyahu would merely deliver a speech, or, as billed, field questions from Rabbi Jacobs, who has openly challenged the policies of the Israeli government on issues of religion and state, and was likely to try to pin down the prime minister on touchy question such as the restructuring of the Western Wall area.

The Prime Minister's Office said after announcing that Netanyahu would not be traveling to San Diego: "The Prime Minister accepted the invitation to address the delegates to the URJ biennial either in person or via satellite. At no stage was a commitment made to attend in person. The URJ leadership was informed in November that the PM would not be in the USA at the time of the conference and would therefore deliver his remarks via a satellite link."

Turnout at the final plenary session of the five-day event was relatively sparse, with less than a third in attendance than at previous plenary sessions. This was not because of any aversion to Netanyahu, however, but because many attendees wanted an early start to the airport to catch flights to the East Coast in the throes of winter weather.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Israel, Jordan, Palestinians to finally build Red-Dead pipeline

Israel, Jordan, Palestinians to finally build Red-Dead pipeline

Project aims to provide the region with millions of cubic meters of drinking water,                                       while replenishing the ailing salt lake

The Jordanian bank of the Dead Sea (photo credit: CC BY jemasmith, Flickr)

Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority were set on Monday to ink an agreement to build a long-anticipated pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, part of an initiative that would produce millions of cubic meters of drinking water for the parched region and slake the critically dwindling Dead Sea.

Representatives of the three parties to the agreement – Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom, Jordanian Minister of Water and Irrigation Hazem Nasser, and Palestinian Authority Minister for Water Shaddad Attili – were scheduled to gather at the World Bank in Washington for an official signing ceremony.

“We’re talking about a historic process that realizes a dream of many years,” Shalom told Yedioth Ahronoth, which broke the story. “We have here strategic cooperation of national significance between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.”

The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal, known informally as the Red-Dead project, is expected to cost $250-$400 million, to be raised from donor countries and philanthropic sources as well as a cash injection from the World Bank, the report said. Within a year, international tenders will be published for the construction of the pipeline in Jordanian territory along the Arava valley.

The surface of the Dead Sea lies some 427 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level, and water would naturally flow to it from the Red Sea. The project will be completed in four to five years, the report said.

Map data ©2013 Basarsoft, Google, Mapa GISrael, ORION-ME

According to the report, around 200 million cubic meters of sea water are to be pumped from the Red Sea, at the very southern tip of Israel, per year. A desalination plant in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, across the gulf from the Israeli resort town of Eilat, will produce drinking water. Israel is to receive around 30-50 million cubic meters, for the benefit of the port city of Eilat and communities in the the arid Arava region, while Jordan will use 30 million cubic meters for its own southern areas.

One hundred million cubic meters of the highly saline byproduct of the process will be piped north to the Dead Sea to replenish the lake, whose level has dipped precariously in recent decades. Environmentalists have warned that pumping the water into the Dead Sea will endanger the environment.

In addition, Israel will pump from the Sea of Galilee 50 million cubic meters of fresh water for Jordan’s northern regions and 30 million cubic meters for the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.

The idea of a conduit between the two bodies of water was first put forward by the British during the 19th century. In the 1990s, after Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement, the idea of laying a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea began to gain momentum.

Can an Unlikely Middle East Pact Give Life to the Dead Sea?

Can an Unlikely Middle East Pact Give Life to the Dead Sea?

A World Bank-sponsored deal between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority aims to save the Dead Sea. But it achieves a lot less than its backers are advertising.

Why not let gravity solve both problems? The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, and only 120 miles from the Red Sea. Digging a canal from the Red to the Dead would renew the latter and the hydro-electric force of the water moving downhill could power a de-salination plant that changes seawater to drinking water for Jordan. It sounded perfect, until the
 World Bank did the math in a 2011 study and concluded that gravity also worked against the project: The desalinated water would have to be pumped out of the lowest point on earth 1,000 meters to where Jordanians live, an undertaking that would require construction of two coal-fired power plants. There was also the question of what Red Sea water would do to the Dead Sea—possibly spawning algae blooms and floating gypsum.In the constellation of the world’s proposed engineering mega-projects, the Red-to-Dead Sea Canal has been a reliable source of speculative wonder for decades. The Dead Sea is evaporating, as the amount of fresh water reaching it from the Jordan River has slowed to a trickle in recent decades. Also water-starved is the desert nation on its eastern shore, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, already one of the driest places on earth even before hundreds of thousands of thirsty refugees poured in from Iraq and Syria.
So what, exactly, was ceremoniously signed at World Bank headquarters in Washington today? The agreement come to by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories was hailed in the Israeli press as “Return of the Red-Dead Canal.” But it’s not quite that. The plan calls for building a desalination plant not at the Dead Sea but on the Red Sea, near the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The scale is much smaller — not the 2 billion cubic meters moving from one sea to the other each year that was envisioned by the mega-project, but one tenth as much. Of that, some 80 million cubic meters of fresh water would be produced by desalination, most of which would go to southern Israel. The balance would go to southern Jordan, while its elevated northern section would receive 50 million cubic meters from Lake Galilee in Israel (gravity again). The Palestinian West Bank would gain access to another 30 million cubic meters.
But it’s not yet clear what would make its way by newly built pipeline to the Dead Sea, 120 miles miles downhill. Press reports said the plan calls for the 100 million annual cubic feet of Red Sea water that isn’t desalinated to be channeled through a pipeline to the Dead Sea, in what amounts to a pilot program for the mega-project. It might also get the brine left over from desalination. But the brine might also go back into the Red Sea. A leading environmental group says all that will depend on the results of environmental studies.
“Water exchange programs are great, but leave the Dead Sea out of it,” says Mira Edelstein, spokeswoman for EcoPeace/ Friends of the Earth Middle East, an advocacy group that warns against tampering with the Dead Sea’s delicate ecosystem. “The Dead Sea knows only fresh water—sweet water, as we call it.” Adding brine, or even sea water, risks not only the aesthetics of the famous sea but also the chemistry that produced its assorted therapeutic qualities, Edelstein says. “And that’s what we’re worried about with these plans, too,” she tells TIME.
But even if it all goes forward, it’s far short of the massive canal that so alarmed environmentalists. “It seems to me it’s a desalination for Amman project,” says Yaakov Garb, who teaches environmental studies at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva. But that doesn’t really seize the imagination, he says — nor does it do much to attract funding for the project’s $400 million price tag.  ”Often major projects need to mean many things to many people in order to go forward,” Garb says. “If you’re looking to get assistance from the international community, it’s better to have a Save-the-Dead-Sea framing, or a ‘regional peace’ framing.”  The participation of the Palestinians helps build the latter frame, he notes, even though the Palestinian Authority minister who signed the agreement has complained that Israel continues to deny the occupied territories’ full rights regarding the Dead Sea, and advocacy groups in the West Bank lambasted the pact. As for Jordan, Garb notes that Israel is inclined to do what it can to stabilize the ruling monarchy there, and with it its existing 1994 peace treaty.
So it was that Silvan Shalom, the Israeli minister for regional cooperation who took credit for the pact, was on Army Radio early Monday. “We succeeded in formulating a plan that received the blessing of the prime minister on our side, the blessing of Mahmoud Abbas on their [the Palestinian] side and of course the blessing of the Jordanian king,” he said. “And after all these things were agreed we go today to the signing ceremony which is nothing short of historic.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Israeli in a Mosque

An Israeli in a Mosque

By Yossi Klein Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, 
a member of the Institute's iEngage Project

For the first time in my career of lecture tours in the U.S., I spoke in a mosque.

It happened on this past Sunday at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, headed by Dr. Mahmoud Abdel Based. Shortly before 1 PM prayers, I addressed a group of about 50 worshippers. I had been asked to speak about a journey I took, as a religious Israeli Jew, into Islam and Christianity in the late 1990s, the subject of a book I published shortly afterward, called At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden. The event was initiated and sponsored by my friends at the Pacifica Institute, an interfaith organization sponsored by the Turkish Muslim Gulen movement.

The Islamic Center is known in Los Angeles for its interfaith outreach. Jews are welcome guests there. Still, my hosts understood that my appearance would be different. This time an Israeli would be speaking. And the implicit subject was the Middle East conflict.

My purpose in coming to the mosque was to two-fold. First, to help nurture a religious language for peacemaking. Left entirely in the hands of secular elites on both sides, the peace process will continue to lack the religious legitimacy crucial in the Middle East. This was a lesson I learned from my late teacher and friend, Rabbi Menachem Froman, Israel’s leading reconciliation activist with Islam.

My second purpose for speaking in the mosque was to encourage the Muslim-Jewish dialogue to take the next step beyond establishing the commonalities of our faith traditions and confront the hard questions of legitimacy. Not to convince each other of our political positions but to open hearts and begin the process of listening to each other’s narratives.

And so, after speaking about what I’d learned of the spiritual power and beauty of Islam in my journey into mosques in the Holy Land, I turned to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

For both sides, I said, this is a conflict, about intangibles – existential fears, the right to define oneself as a people.

The Jewish return home, I explained, was the result of a convergence of two factors: existential need and spiritual longing for the land of Israel. So far, I said, Muslims have heard only the story of Jewish existential need. We Jews have not done a very good job in telling the other story of our spiritual longings. How there is no Judaism without the Jewish attachment to its ancient homeland.

But in returning home, I continued, we found another people with a parallel claim to the land. The Jews didn’t return home in order to deny another people its sense of home. We had no intention of causing the dispossession of the Palestinians, but that is what resulted. We need to confront the the human tragedy of the Palestinians, a people shattered into fragments – scattered in a worldwide Diaspora beyond the Middle East, in refugee camps in Arab countries, under occupation in the territories, with the final group possessing an uneasy Israeli citizenship.

What I need from my Muslim brothers and sisters, I continued, is recognition of my indigenousness in the land, that the Jews are not one more wave of colonialist invader but a native people returning home.

Many American Jews, I noted, had in recent years expressed increasing sensitivity to the Palestinian narrative. Were American Muslims ready to undergo a similar process of expanding their understanding of the conflict and begin to grapple with the question of Israel’s legitimacy?

The audience questions and comments – not only Jewish audiences, it turns out, confuse comments for questions – were respectful and heartfelt. A Palestinian woman asked me why Jews, Muslims and Christians couldn’t live together – implicitly challenging the notion of a Jewish state. I told her that I live in a neighborhood in Jerusalem where Muslims, Christians and Jews are neighbors, but that as a Jew I need there to be one part, however small, of this planet where the Jews are the majority and the sovereign space is measured in Jewish time – not at the expense of Palestinian self-determination but parallel to it.

My friend, David Suissa, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Journaland present at the talk, noted to general appreciation that, just as we are pleased as parents when our children get along with each other, God too must be pleased by what we are doing here today.

My book about my journey into the faiths of my neighbors was published in 2001, at the height of the second intifada. For years afterward I engaged in Muslim-Jewish dialogue only intermittently. It was, quite simply, too painful, Like most Israelis I was convinced that, because Israel had said yes to a Palestinian state and the Palestinian national movement had launched four years of suicide bombings, the moral onus had shifted and now Palestinian leaders needed to convince Israelis like me who supported a two-state solution in principle that we would get real peace and even more important, legitimacy, in return. I still believe that today.

But now I am ready to immerse again in the dialogue effort. That’s because, in the last few years, I have found Muslim partners, both in the U.S, and among Palestinian citizens of Israel, keen on engaging Jews in the hard work of creating place for each other’s narratives within our own communities. My friend, Imam Abdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke, has been tirelessly seeking within his own community partners for serious dialogue with Israelis and American Jews. Abdullah has challenged me to do no less on my side.

Especially now, with the Middle East imploding, Jews need to navigate between threat and possibility. Being vigilant against danger doesn’t preclude an openness toward those willing to engage us in the process of reconciliation. As I was reminded in the Islamic Center of Southern California, we must not allow wariness to cause us to miss openings for dialogue

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Israeli-Greek relationships

Israeli-Greek Relationships

By Dr. Evripidis Stylianidis

Israelis and Greeks have a common destiny. Two nations that have throughout history exerted an influence far beyond the boundaries of their respective states. Two sibling civilizations, each of which has played a unique role in the international arena. Two resourceful peoples who have earned global admiration and have excelled, particularly as individuals, in every part of the world they have lived in. Two states that underwent renewal in different historical moments, both of them within fragile, unstable regions. Greece and Israel share many parallels which provide numerous opportunities to learn from each other and underscore the value of a comprehensive strategic relationship between them.

Israel was hit by an economic crisis many years before Greece was. Israel transformed the difficulties it faced into opportunities. It did this while challenged by war, facing asymmetrical threats and enduring extraordinary solitude in a region characterized by instability and religious radicalism. Israel secured its own future by investing where it was needed: in modern defense systems, water resources, healthcare, energy efficiency and the agricultural sector. Solitude and hardship shaped the identity of Israeli citizens, molding them into fighters who have demonstrated boldness, insight and ultimately creativity. Israelis succeeded because they relied on themselves, loved their country, galvanized their supporters in communities worldwide and drew inspiration from the strength of their national culture.

The Greek people have also had their share of hardships in the last few generations -- whether due to Turkey or to fascism during World War II -- and they have paid a high price in human life and in material resources. As it faces its greatest crisis in its post-war history, Greece would do well to emulate Israel’s success. No one in Europe seems to recognize the burden that the birthplace of democracy is shouldering. Ninety percent of illegal immigrants in the European Union arrive through Greece. The lenders who have provided financial support for Greece in its time of crisis require reimbursement. In the last few years, the Greek people have been subjected to immense financial constraints, after having lost 40 percent of their income. Neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism, embodied by Golden Dawn, have attempted to poison Greek society and fracture the system of values embodied in its culture.

Greek democracy and its judicial system have confronted these phenomena head on. The Greek government is making a gigantic effort to advance its reform and privatization program. Greece is a gifted country that still retains the power to rapidly reconstitute itself and forge solid alliances, despite the economic pressures and the aggressive threat posed by Turkey’s arrogant stance as a regional power.

Greece should be the ideal transnational partner for Israel, not least because of Greece’s membership in NATO and the European Union, and its proximity to Israel. Bilateral trade is already growing. In the energy sector the creation of an Israel-Cyprus-Greece alliance is unfolding, altering the status quo in the region. The transformation of this collaboration into a bilateral strategic relationship has even more robust prospects thanks to the deep shared historical and cultural roots of our countries.

In Greece, the flourishing Jewish communities of Athens and Thessaloniki have always acted as channels of friendship between the two peoples. As governor of the Holy Sepulcher Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem plays a unifying role for all Christian doctrines and a conciliatory role for other religions as well, in complete cooperation with the State of Israel. Each side has the potential to act as a bridge and a portal to new markets for the other, as well as a vehicle for international collaboration through our global diasporas.

Less than a century ago the exchange of knowledge between the pioneering Jew, Albert Einstein, and the distinguished Greek mathematician Constantine Carathéodory changed the face of modern science. Today’s partnership between the two states and two nations is the renewal of a historical bond. To paraphrase the Greek Nobel Literature Prize winner Odysseas Elytis: "There will come a moment in time that our civilizations will astonish with the power of their timeliness.”

Dr. Evripidis Stylianidis, an expert in constitutional law, is a New Democracy member of the Greek Parliament and served recently as Greece’s Interior Minister.