Friday, November 17, 2006

Army Has Humane Side Too

Fri Nov 17, 2006 8:49 AM ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Miss Israel has been given permission not to carry her assault rifle during service in the Israeli army because she says it bruises her legs.

Reigning beauty queen Yael Nezri, a private who recently completed basic training, said the bruises were making it difficult for her to model in photo shoots.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Nezri, 18, had been granted an exemption by her commanders during her two-year army stint.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Same Old Thing

On Monday, Qassam rockets fired from Gaza killed Faina Slutzker of the Israeli town of Sderot, and seriously wounded two others. Despite almost daily rocket fire from Gaza into Israel over the last several months this is the first Israeli civilian fatality. To be sure, there have been wounded, and there has been property damage, and life in Sderot has been unbearably tense. But this is the first fatality.

Israeli public opinion is enraged. The mood is, "We can't take it any more! Do something!" Defense Minister Pertez, a resident and former mayor of Sderot, promises to hit the Palestinians hard. The right wing opposition parties call for the army to re-occupy Gaza, and for a change of policy orientation that will "let the army win". The army for its part, seems hesitant to undertake a full scale invasion, citing the heavy military causalities that can be expected in "going alley to alley, house to house" looking for "terrorists". So they propose more targeted assassinations, "precision" air strikes, and tactical raids by ground forces.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose !

Don't they all realize that there is no military solution? Israel’s recent prolonged invasion of the northern Gaza Strip has led to some 400 Palestinian fatalities, of which more than half have been noncombatants, including some 70 children; five Israeli soldiers have also been killed, and now one civilian. (And no one is counting the wounded!) In spite of this cost in human life, in spite of the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, in spite of the blockade that has left Gazans hungry and without medicine – Qassam rockets continue to fall on southern Israel.

"But we left Gaza, why do the bastards continue to shoot?"

From the Palestinian perspective we left only 20% of the occupied territories. We still actively occupy the West Bank, and of course we never did allow freedom of passage in and out of Gaza. From the Palestinian perspective, Israel only gives concessions when pushed. The first Intifada got them Oslo, the second, our withdrawal from Gaza. And from the Palestinian perspective, they are offering both the carrot and the stick - both factions. Hamas is offering a 20 year armistice (Hudna) for withdrawal from all the occupied territories and the release of all prisoners. Fatah is offering full peace, for full withdrawal from the occupied territories, the release of all prisoners, and a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem.

But Israel refuses to entertain any diplomatic moves that might lead to a political settlement.

Of course, it needn't accept the Palestinians terms as offered, but it refuses to even enter into negotiations! The same with the Syrian offer to negotiate peace in return for the Golan. Israel is sure this offer is a trick, it is insincere - so why bother talking. The same with the "Saudi Initiative" - backed by all Arab states - which promises full recognition and peace with Israel if it withdraws from all the territories occupied in 1967, and solves the right of return. We refuse to even discuss it!

And now the same with the initiative proposed today by Spain - based on five components: an immediate cease-fire, formation of a national unity government by the Palestinians that can gain international recognition, an exchange of prisoners - including the Israel Defense Forces soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the war in Lebanon and fighting in Gaza this summer - talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and an international mission in Gaza to monitor a cease-fire. Perhaps this will not work. But Israel refuses to try. It is "unacceptable" according to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The PA, for its part, welcomed the Spanish initiative.

So what does the Israeli government propose instead. How will it achieve peace. Or, more prosaically and immediately, how will it protect its own citizens in Sderot and Ashkelon? By continuing to do more of the same old thing. And that will only bring more of the same old results!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Gays, Jews, Israel

Thanks to Mark Berch, who collects and distributes eclectic Jewish URLs, for most of the material in this posting - more than you probably want to know about Gayness & Homophobia in Israel and the Jewish community.

It seems that, just as in the general population, attitudes towards gays have become a touchstone of the cultural wars in the Jewish community. In Israel, the Tel Aviv liberals are gay friendly, while the Jerusalem based Orthodox are fanatically homophobic. The recently planned Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, had to be downgraded to a rally in an enclosed and isolated soccer stadium, after weeks of Haredi rioting. Police finally said they simply could not protect the parade participants, and organizers gave in to the pressure. Most viewed this as a defeat for gays and a victory for the Orthodox and other anti-gay forces. And that amounts to a defeat for tolerance and human rights in general.

In an ironic twist however, the Israel Foreign Ministry and Tourism Ministry are planning an international advertising campaign that will promote Israel as “Gay Friendly”, in an attempt to improve Israel’s image among leftists and liberals in the West.

At the same time a proposed motion to approve gay marriages is threatening to tear North American Conservative Judaism apart.

Read all about these, and other stories affecting gays and Jews at the links below:

Positive Attitudes to Gays in Israel

Israel’s Foreign Ministry is promoting “Gay Israel” as part of its campaigns to break apart the negative stereotypes many liberal Americans and Europeans have of Israel. Click here.

Guy Benyovits urges Ultra-Orthodox gays to come out of the closet. Click here.

Ivri Lider, Israel’s leading male recording artist and an openly gay Israeli superstar is being brought to American campuses as part of a Pro-Israel PR campaign by “Israel at Heart”. Click here.

Amotz Asa-El sets forth how Israel plays “simultaneously pioneer and laggard on the homosexuality front.” Click here.

A look at the degree of acceptance that Israeli gays have achieved, including gay clubs in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem. Click here.

Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade

Ellen W. Horowitz argues that Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade is a “force-fed tolerance festival … a ruthless assault on traditional Jewish values and the sanctity of Jerusalem…This is about the deliberate and planned trampling of the religious and moral sensitivities of the people of Jerusalem, and of those who hold that physical intimacy and sexual expression should be sacred, holy and private. Click here.

Tom Segev interviews the Jerusalem city councellor who lead the opposition to the Gay Pride Parade. She's into book buring as well. Click here.

Meron Benvenisti argues that the Gay Pride Parade “is unnecessary provocation. … who needs the traffic jams and a city immobilized by demonstrators for and against?” Click here.

But Shahar Illan argues that the possibilities for dangerous strife have been greatly exaggerated. Click here.

Jay Michaelson argues that ...this debate is not really about homosexuality, or the specialness of Jerusalem, or the sensitivities of a religious community. Nor is it even about freedom of expression. Rather, it is about the fate of Israeli democracy, and how its fundamentalist right wing is slowly gaining power. Liberals — by which I mean not political liberals but anyone who believes in democracy, equality and freedom — should stand up and pay attention. So should any friend of Israel. Click here.

Gil Naveh argues that “Jerusalem's 2006 pride parade is a social test for the entire secular community in Israel and no longer represents only Jerusalem's homo-lesbian community.” Click here.

Gays argue that the March is part of “a larger struggle for the democratic rights." Click here.

Opposition to the Parade in the Haredi community is not a unified thing, it takes different forms, it has different rationales, and has varied levels of intensity (“The Gerer Hasidim maintained the traditional practice of not fighting gays in order not to recognize their existence.”) A lot of the problem has to do with what to tell “the children.” Click here.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish pop singer Benny Elbaz joined forces with a Muslim man he normally would consider an enemy, to sing a duet he composed denouncing the GayPride March entitled, “Jerusalem Will Burn!” Click here.

Security concerns force organizers of the parade to turn it into a stadium rally, but some were unhappy with this compromise. Click here and here and here.

And attendees react to the rally itself. Click here.

Around the world

Three same-sex couples share their conversion stories. Click here.

Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus agree that local Jews are not presently prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality. Click here.

Some ketubah artists are now preparing products for Jewish gay and lesbian couples. Click here.

Israeli religious lesbian Avigail Sperber formed Bat Kol, for religious lesbians, to change religious society’s attitude toward gays and lesbians, and also to provide a support group for lesbians in distress: “we provide hospitality for girls with no family to return to for the holidays.” And her mother Hannah, though initially very upset, started a support group for the religious parents (in practice, only mothers would attend) of homosexual/lesbian children. Click here.

A new outfit, “Shalom: Gay and Lesbian Jews of the Desert” serves a booming California population of largely senior citizens. Click here.

A look at the activities of Israeli gay-support organizations, including Jerusalem’s Open House, Aguda, The National Association of GLBT in Israel, and the Hebrew monthly The Pink Times—the only gay magazine in Israel. Click here.
Gays and the Conservative Movement

San Francisco’s Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom unanimously passed a resolution calling for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and sanctification of same-sex unions. Click here.

Kate O’Brien converted to Judaism, became a star JTS student and was the focus of a JTS publicity brochure, but gradually came to the realization that she was a lesbian, and she had to give JTS up. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, says: “What happens is that we put them in this unconscionable situation in which they have to lie to us as rabbinical students. That’s one of the real tragedies of the current policy and one of the reasons I really hope things change as of December. It creates an atmosphere of deception and distrust.” Click here.

Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the Jewish Theological Seminary, expresses concern that the gay issue will be divisive for the Conservative movement. Click here.

Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom (which has a gay executive director) has launched a petition aimed at ending a USCJ hiring practice: even teachers and administrators must adhere to a policy stating they fully follow Conservative Jewish law including the current statement on sexual behavior. Click here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You Just Can't Get Away From It

One of the things I wonder about, without finding an acceptable explanation, is just why the Israel/Palestine conflict gets so much world wide attention. There are objectively worse man-made disasters in the world (Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, global warming ....) There are longer running occupations (China in Tibet.) There are greater threats to global stability (the North Korean atom bomb, the American trade deficit.)

One of the things that upsets me, is how one's position on Israel/Palestine becomes a proxy and litmus test for a whole range of other issues, and how it is used by both left and right to smear opponents.

Some times, I just want to get away from thinking about Israel and Palestine. But it seems to pop up where you least expect it. I receive this email, reproduced below, from my local city counselor who is running for re-election. It seems his right wing opponent is trying to smear him as being anti-Israel. He claims (and I believe him) that he is not. But what this has to do with the Toronto municipal election, I don't know.


* * *

Neighbourhoods where many of my Jewish friends reside have recently received a letter from John Adams that insinuates I support CUPE Ontario’s boycott of Israel. This is outrageously false.

When I go door to door, people complain how dirty politics has become. I am deeply saddened by the actions of my opponent, John Adams, which give truth to this unfortunate view of the political process.

As you may know, before my political career, I studied and taught religious studies at the Universities of Toronto and St. Michael’s College. My Masters thesis was entitled “The Problem of Evil in Light of the Holocaust: Jewish Debates and Christian Implications.”

At an early age, I came to the conclusion that the State of Israel had a right to exist as a Jewish state in peace and security with its neighbours, and that it must exist as a haven and centre for Jewish life around the world. My support for Israel has only deepened over the years.

I have participated on the Holocaust Remembrance Day Committee. I have actively engaged in Interfaith Dialogue programs and activities. As a former professor of Religious Studies, Ethics and Theology; as a City Councillor; and, as a concerned citizen, these issues are very dear to me.

I did not seek the CUPE Ontario endorsement. CUPE Ontario’s decision was its own.

At the time of the CUPE Ontario announcement, I made it known that I thought the resolution on Israel to be one-sided and inappropriate.

It is important to note that the City of Toronto’s own CUPE Local 79 opposes the CUPE Ontario resolution and disassociates itself from it.

I do not run for City Council with a party. Our municipal system is not set up this way. In fact, at the local level, I have a broad range of support from across the political spectrum, including Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett and MPP Michael Bryant.

This is not simply politics for me. I live in this community. I have many Jewish friends and attend simchas at shuls in the community. I am truly aggrieved that this misrepresentation of the truth about my views on Israel by John Adams may cause congregants, guests, and friends to view me in a distorted manner.


Councillor Joe Mihevc

Candidate for Re-election, Ward 21

November 9, 2006.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

U.S. Election Disappointment: Friedman Loses!

Apparently Texas still isn't ready for a Jewish governor.

Kinky Friedman, political rabble rouser, author, and leader of the late country/rock band "The Texas Jewboys", came in fourth in the Texas gubernatorial contest. On the plus side, he did get 12% of the vote (which in Texas is still 552,402 votes!).

Freedman's platform was somewhat eclectic. He promised to end rampant corruption in Texas state politics, as well as providing more money to education and health care. In addition he promised to promote alternate green energy - a controversial position in oil rich Texas - the number one greenhouse gas producer in the U.S.

His campaign slogan: Why the Hell Not? - Vote Kinky!

* * *

In other "Jewish" election news:
  • Jews voted for Democrats in their highest numbers in 14 years, an exit poll showed. Democrats garnered 87 percent of Jewish votes, the CNN exit poll said, and Republicans earned 10 percent. That was opposed to 55 percent of all respondents who voted Democrat and 44 who voted Republican.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is close to national Jewish leaders, is set to become speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi is a close friend of Amy Friedkin, a past AIPAC president and like Pelosi, a resident of the Bay area in northern California.

  • U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who had strong backing among some pro-Israel activists, lost most of the Jewish vote in Pennsylvania. Santorum was one of the biggest beneficiaries of pro-Israel money, getting $2 million in support, more than any other candidate except for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) However, his opponent Bob Casey garnered more than 80 percent of the Jewish vote.

  • For the first time, a Muslim is set to become a U.S. congressman. Keith Ellison, a Democrat, easily defeated Alan Fine, a Jewish Republican, in Minneapolis. Ellison earned endorsements from leading Jews in the district. He is due to visit Israel for the first time in the coming weeks as a guest of the Minnesota Jewish community.

  • Jews increased their numbers by two in the U.S. Senate and at least four in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bernie Sanders, an Independent, who calls himself a Socialist (!!), won Vermont´s Senate seat. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, won Maryland´s seat. The wins would raise Jewish representation in the Senate to 13 (13%). There will be at least 30 Jews in the House in the next Congress (7%). Jews make up less that 2% of the U.S. population.

Monday, November 06, 2006


David Grossman's speech at last week's Rabin memorial in Tel-Aviv sums it all up. I could quibble with the details, but the overall tone and message sums up exactly how so many on the Zionist left, including myself, feel. The harsh but accurate picture of what's wrong, the sence of urgency, of almost despair, but also a pointer to the way out. And who knows? Maybe someone will listen.

Grossman an award winning Israeli author, and noted dove, lost his son Uri in the recent Lebanon war. I quoted his eulogy on my blog in September.

This speech is a must read!

A few quotes:

"It is not easy to take a look at ourselves this year. There was a war, and Israel flexed its massive military muscle, but also exposed Israel's fragility. We discovered that our military might ultimately cannot be the only guarantee of our existence. Primarily, we have found that the crisis Israel is experiencing is far deeper than we had feared, in almost every way."

"... no less dreadful is the sense that for many years, the State of Israel has been squandering, not only the lives of its sons, but also its miracle; that grand and rare opportunity that history bestowed upon it, the opportunity to establish here a state that is efficient, democratic, which abides by Jewish and universal values; a state that would be a national home and haven, but not only a haven, also a place that would offer a new meaning to Jewish existence; a state that holds as an integral and essential part of its Jewish identity and its Jewish ethos, the observance of full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens."

"... When did we lose even the hope that we would eventually be able to live a different, better life? ..."

"...One of the most difficult outcomes of the recent war is the heightened realization that at this time there is no king in Israel, that our leadership is hollow. ..."

"...Look at those who lead us. Not all of them, of course, but many among them. Behold their petrified, suspicious, sweaty conduct. The conduct of advocates and scoundrels. ..."

"...Rabin decided to act, because he discerned very wisely that Israeli society would not be able to sustain itself endlessly in a state of an unresolved conflict. He realized long before many others that life in a climate of violence, occupation, terror, anxiety and hopelessness, extracts a price Israel cannot afford. This is all relevant today, even more so. ... We, the citizens of this conflict, have been born into war and raised in it, ... Maybe this is why we sometimes think that this madness in which we live for over 100 years is the only real thing, the only life for us, and that we do not have the option or even the right to aspire for a different life."

"This could explain also ... Israel's quick descent into the heartless, essentially brutal treatment of its poor and suffering. This indifference to the fate of the hungry, the elderly, the sick and the disabled, all those who are weak, this equanimity of the State of Israel in the face of human trafficking or the appalling employment conditions of our foreign workers, which border on slavery, to the deeply ingrained institutionalized racism against the Arab minority..."

"...I begin to fear that even if peace were to arrive tomorrow, and even if we ever regained some normalcy, we may have lost our chance for full recovery. "

"...The Palestinians have elected Hamas to lead them, Hamas who refuses to negotiate with us, refuses even to recognize us. What can be done in such a position? Keep strangling them more and more, keep mowing down hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are innocent civilians like us? Kill them and get killed for all eternity?"

"Turn to the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert, address them over the heads of Hamas, appeal to their moderates, those who like you and I oppose Hamas and its ways, turn to the Palestinian people, speak to their deep grief and wounds, acknowledge their ongoing suffering. "

"... Our hearts will only open up to one another slightly, and this has a tremendous power, the power of a force majeur. The power of simple human compassion, particularly in this a state of deadlock and dread. Just once, look at them not through the sights of a gun, and not behind a closed roadblock. You will see there a people that is tortured no less than us. An oppressed, occupied people bereft of hope."

"...From where I stand right now, I beseech, I call on all those who listen, the young who came back from the war, who know they are the ones to be called upon to pay the price of the next war, on citizens, Jew and Arab, people on the right and the left, the secular, the religious, stop for a moment, take a look into the abyss. Think of how close we are to losing all that we have created here. Ask yourselves if this is not the time to get a grip, to break free of this paralysis, to finally claim the lives we deserve to live."

Click here to read the full text of the speech.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Iranian's Do it Again

Is there any doubt left that the Iranian government and much of the Iranian establishment is anti-Semitic and proud of it?

Today, just in time for Holocaust education week, they awarded prizes in their Holocaust cartoon competition. "Stam l'hakhis" (just to anger), as they say in Hebrew.

Abdollah Derkaoui, a Moroccan, received $12,000 for his work depicting an Israeli crane piling large cement blocks on Israel's security wall and gradually obscuring Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A picture of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp appears on the wall.

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts' curator, Masoud Shojai, said the contest would be an annual event. "Actually, we will continue until the destruction of Israel," he said.

The display, comprising 204 entries from Iran and abroad, opened in August.

Carlos Latuff from Brazil and A. Chard from France jointly won the second prize of $8,000 and Iran's Shahram Rezai received $5,000 for third place.

See more details at Al Jazeera, Reuters, or see the catoons themselves at the Iran Cartoon Association.