Tag Archives: Haaretz

An Illness Within.

My latest in Haaretz. A look at the importance of language and metaphors in the recent anti-immigrant rhetoric in Israel. Sometimes (if I may paraphrase Nietzsche), one needs to opine with a hammer.

On the day that the first, and highly publicized “repatriation” of South Sudanese migrants begins, we need to look again at the rhetoric employed by Israeli politicians and broadcasters towards those seeking refuge and a better life in Israel.

The incitements that lead to the anti-immigrant riot of March 23 by Israeli politicians Miri Regev, Danny Danon, and Michael Ben-Ari have rightly shocked people of good conscience. Many have asked how, after all, can politicians representing the state of Israel call people living in its midst a “cancer in our body” and a “national plague”? However, a poll taken shortly after the incident (by the Israel Democracy Institute) has shown that 53 percent of Israelis identify with those statements and 33 percent of Jews (along with 23 percent of Arabs) supported the acts of violence against African immigrants.

More recently, media personality and Army Radio talk-show host Avri Gilad said the migrants who enter Israel are a threat by virtue of being Muslims; which according to him is “the most terrible disease raging around the world.” He further explained that even though many of them are moderate, they carry a “virus” that can “explode” at any moment.

To understand the seriousness of Regev, Danon and Gilad’s statements we only have to mine history for the way in which Jews and others have been on the wrong end of similar pronouncements. Almost every genocide in recorded history has been preceded by the instrumental use of language to dehumanize and demonize a particular population – not least the Holocaust, but also Rwanda and Cambodia at the time of the Khmer Rouge. In other words, language – particularly the use of metaphors – matters. Continue reading

The New Zionist Realism: Should Israel Care About What the Goyim Think?

My Latest From Haaretz.

The New Zionist Realism: Should Israel Care About What the Goyim Think?

“First, let me tell you one thing: It’s not important what the world says about Israel. It’s not important what they say about us anywhere else. The only thing that’s important is that we can live here on the land of our ancestors. And if we don’t show the Arabs that they have to pay a high price for killing Jews, we won’t continue living.”

These words, spoken to a young Ariel Sharon by David Ben-Gurion, exemplify the realist strand that dominated and still dominates the thinking and discourse of many Israelis. However, these days, in the wake of the Goldstone report and international efforts to delegitimize Israel, it has become increasingly apparent that in order to “live here on the land of our ancestors” Israel must also pay heed to the opinion of the international community.

Netanyahu articulated Israel’s new realism in a December speech to the Knesset where he outlined the major challenges that Israel faces today: “The nuclear threat, the missile threat and what I call the Goldstone threat.” Regarding the latter, the prime minister said, “Goldstone has become code for a much broader phenomenon: the attempt to negate the legitimacy of our right to self-defense.” Continue reading

My Exclusive Interview With Labor MK Yuli Tamir: A Portrait of Study and Deeds.

*Haaretz published a shortened version of my interview with Labor MK Yuli Tamir. Below is the full interview.

Yuli Tamir: A Portrait of Study and Deeds.

One of my favorite debates in the Talmud revolves around the question: “Which is greater—study or deeds?”

Rabbi Tarfon answered, ‘Deeds!’ Rabbi Akiva answered, ‘Study!’ The sages responded, ‘Study is greater since studying leads to deeds.’

The principle that intellect should not be divorced from practice would not be lost on Labor MK Yuli Tamir – Israel’s former Minister of Education (2006-2009) who began her professional career as a professor of political philosophy (protégée of Isaiah Berlin) and peace activist (one of the founders of Peace Now).

Dr. Tamir’s entry into politics took place in 1995, shortly after Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination. Feeling the urgency of the historic moment, Dr. Tamir joined the Labor party with the hopes of effecting change from within the political establishment.

In 1999, Dr. Tamir was appointed by Ehud Barak as Minister of Immigrant Absorption, and in 2003 and 2006 was elected to the Knesset serving as Minister of Education as well as acting Minister of Science, Culture and Sport. Today, as a consequence of what she sees as misguided leadership, Dr. Tamir sits in opposition within the Labor party.

Dr. Tamir was recently invited by J Street to speak at the organization’s first national conference in Washington DC. After the conference, we sat down to discuss her work as a scholar, her vocation as a peace activist and her career as a politician.

Q: Dr. Tamir, lets start with your family history in Israel. Where did they come from? What were they like? Did any family member have a particular strong influence on the trajectory of your career?

Tamir: Well, I come from a very Israeli family; both my parents and grandparents were born in Israel. So we are one of the few families that has no actual roots elsewhere. In one of my early conversations with Palestinian leaders, they complained about the fact that the Palestinian People bear the price of Anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution in Europe and that Jews should go back to where they came from and fight for their acceptance there. And I said, “that’s nonsense, but anyhow I have no place to return to, you are stuck with me, so let’s talk.”

My mother’s family is a very political family. They are part of the Israeli “Mayflower”, founders of the labor movement. My grandparents were cousins of Moshe Sharet, the second Prime Minister of Israel, who he had a long and very turbulent relationship with the Labor party. But if there was one message coming from their generation to my generation, it was never get involved in politics and especially to never get involved in the politics of the Labor party. I broke the family rule, and got my share of Labor politics. It is the kind of thing one is tempted to do when one thinks that a place that is your only home is in a process of self-destruction.

Q: Growing up, how was Judaism expressed in your home? How would you characterize your own Jewish identity?

Tamir: I grew up in a very secular home, ideologically secular. The Jewish holidays were celebrated in a very Zionist and secular way, and there was absolutely no room for any religious belief. It was only when I spent some time in the US that I was introduced to a more pluralistic version of Judaism and was very attracted to it. I still regard myself as a secular person, but I have a strong Jewish-secular identity as my Judaism determines much of what I do and how I do it. Of course my Judaism is pluralist and humanistic.
Continue reading

A Toast For Peace: Violence and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

My latest from Haaretz.

A couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his intention to pass a bill that would ban alcohol from kiosks and gas stations as well as limit its sales and advertisement. The purpose of the bill is to reduce the seemingly rising level of violence and road accidents inside Israel.

The subject of violence and alcohol has been recently seared into the consciousness of Israelis when a group of inebriated teenagers attacked a family of three at a Tel-Aviv beach, brutally murdering the father.

That killing was just one of many harrowing accounts of high-profile crimes reported in Israel this summer – including a mother starving her child, a father killing his toddler, a dismembered woman found in a burning garbage bin, another dismembered woman found in a river, and a shooting at a gay youth center.

Reflecting on this phenomenon, Haaretz columnist and former politician Yossi Sarid aptly wrote that violence in Israel is undergoing privatization

“The state no longer has a monopoly over the use of force. We meet violence everywhere: in the army, schools, hospitals, publicly, privately, driving and parking.”

While there may be a relationship between violence and alcohol consumption, in a society like Israel, where heavy drinking is not the norm, Netanyahu’s new law is akin to putting a band-aid over a tumor.

If the Prime Minister is really interested in meaningfully reducing violence in Israeli society, which he surely is, he should focus all his energies on ending the conflict with the Palestinians.

To read more, click here. As always, if the spirit moves you, please leave a comment and/or repost elsewhere.

The Privatization Of Israeli Violence

Powerful article by Yossi Sarid in Haaretz on violence in Israeli society.

Key Quote:

Sometimes one has the impression that violence in this county is also undergoing privatization. The state no longer has a monopoly over the use of force. We meet violence everywhere: in the army, schools, hospitals, publicly, privately, driving and parking. And when the state is deprived of its singular status as enforcer, it also becomes a victim; it loses the faith of its citizens and remains a hollow frame. What a country.

To read more, click here.

Latest From Haaretz: My Schizophrenic take on the right of Israelis to Vote From Abroad.‏

My latest from Haaretz.

Before writing an op-ed, my brain holds a vociferous debate with itself. One side argues passionately against the other and in the end, a vote is taken. Whichever position takes the majority vote becomes the topic of my column. But sometimes there is a stalemate. When this happens, the article will (usually) be left unwritten.

This is what happened when I sat down to write an op-ed about a law recently proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman which would allow Israelis living abroad to cast their ballot in future elections.

As an Israeli living in New York, I thought, “Great for me, finally I’ll be able to participate in Israeli elections.” But then a nagging thought entered my mind: “Do I, or any other Israeli expatriate, deserve to vote from afar?”

That question inspired the following row in my brain:

Left Brain: Yes, you do deserve it. Suffrage is an inalienable right inherited by virtue citizenship, not residence, and guaranteed under Israel’s Basic Laws. To condition civil rights on residence is to violate the principle of democratic rights and open the door for further compromises. It is for this reason that many democratic countries allow absentee ballots. If it is good enough for venerable democracies like the United States and France, then it is good enough for Israel.

Right Brain: No, you don’t deserve it. So what if many democratic countries allow ex-pats to cast absentee ballots? Israel is different. It is different in that so many of its citizens live abroad; it is different in that many more could be granted citizenship via the Law of Return; and it is different in that Israeli politics actually matter. All combined, the law could create a gallut (Diaspora) swing-vote whereby Israelis abroad play a crucial role in constructing domestic policy. In a country like Israel, it is unfair to let people who don’t partake in the challenge of living here to decide the fate of those who do.

To read the rest of the debate, click here.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find Out What It Means To Me

Here is my latest from Haaretz:

During this recent campaign trail, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have channeled the spirit of Aretha Franklin.

“I think that it is a matter of self-pride,” says Netanyahu. “A people that respects itself doesn’t divide its capital. A people that respects itself does not run away from terrorism. A people that respects itself believes in its right to its land.,

The logic of Netanyahu’s position is crystal clear, as is his not-so-tacit message to voters: Since Livni or Barak (along with the international community) believe that dividing Jerusalem and returning land is a necessary condition for peace with the Palestinians and with Syria, they do not respect themselves or the Israeli people.

Of course one can easily flip Netanyahu’s logic and say that a people that respects itself does not value land over life. One can also point out that Netanyahu’s positions are a broken mirror image of a radical and intransigent Palestinian constituency that refuses to compromise with Israel on land and recognition. It will leave no one incredulous if the words quoted above (with slight modifications) came from the mouth of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and not Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the telling problem in Netanyahu’s logic is the overarching value he places on self-pride. Is respect for one’s self the only game in town? What about respect for the rights of others? What about respect for Judaism’s ethical heritage?

To read the rest, click here. As always, if the spirit moves you, please leave a comment.

Protecting My Name From Libelous Journalism

Today, to my dismay, I found myself slandered (libeled really) by a blogger/journalist named Ami Isseroff. Mr. Isseroff runs a number of sites dealing with Israel, Zionism and Palestine. In his introduction to my recent interview with Joel Schalit, Mr. Isseroff wrote “Roi Ben Yehuda lives in Spain. He last concocted a fable about anti-Semitism in Spain, which cannot be verified by people living there.”

When I read those lines I was incredulous. My eyes did a double take. Did he really write this? Claiming that a journalist concocted a fable in a major newspaper is a serious charge. In fact it is the worst charge you can throw at journalist: It is like accusing a priest of spending a little too much time with the alter boys :) I wondered what evidence Mr. Isseroff was basing his claim that I fabricated the whole thing? Who were these people who could not verify my story? And since when can the absence of evidence be sufficient warrant to make a positive claim?

The article that Mr. Isseroff was alluding to was my Haaretz piece entitled Epiphany in A Spanish Neo-Nazi Bookstore. In the piece, I tell of my surprising (and eventually ennobling) experience of encountering signs of Anti Semitism in Barcelona. These included Swastikas (both pro-and anti) which are readily used as part of the city’s culture of political graffiti and a lively experience in a Neo-Nazi bookstore. (Here are recent pictures I took of some Swastikas carvings in Barcelona [I have plenty more]. The latter was in IKEA’s parking garage. I think they are going to need a bigger sign to cover that one up) :)

Not wanting to let Mr. Isseroff statement slide, I contacted Haaretz who straight-away asked Mr. Isseroff to respond to his outlandish and libelous claim. Within a short time, Mr. Isseroff altered his introduction to read:

Roi Ben Yehuda is an Israeli, or ex-Israeli, who lives in Spain and writes frequently for Ha’aretz. He previously (see ‘Epiphany in a Spanish neo-Nazi bookstore,’ Haaretz June 15, 2008) alleged that a Neo-Nazi Book shop is selling anti-Semitic materials in Barcelona, a claim made by no-one else to my knowledge, and an assertion that cannot be verified by a friend living there. She notes that the sale of such materials is forbidden by Spanish law. Roi’s story about Nazi bookstores in Spain is therefore dubious, to say the least.

Hmm. Lets look at the logic: Mr. Isseroff never heard of this store. This, for some reason, makes him suspicious. But ever the careful journalist, he decides to call a friend who lives in Barcelona who claimed she could not verify its existence (he later explained to me that his friend does not live in Barcelona but near Barcelona). She further claims that such a store would be impossible because “the sale of such materials is forbidden by Spanish law”. Aha! Mr. Isseroff comes to the conclusion, “Roi’s story about Nazi bookstores in Spain is therefore dubious, to say the least.” Wow Mr. Isseroff, that is some great investigatory journalism. You seemed to have uncovered the Jewish Jayson Blair. Bravo!

But there is just one problem. The store is alive & well. Your “friend” can easily verify the claim by going over and visiting the store. She can also read about the store in (Spanish) Wiki. It is located at la calle Séneca número 12 in Barcelona.

But isn’t the existence of such a store against the law? After all, Mr. Isseroff’s friend said so. Nope. It is true that in 1996 Spain had reformed its legal code in order to criminalize Holocaust denial, but when they actually tried to implement the new law (by arresting and trying Pedro Varela the owner of the neo-Nazi bookstore), the Constitutional Court ruled that Pedro Varela has the constitutional freedom to publish material that deny or justify the Holocaust. You can read about it (in Spanish) here.

But you want to see the store and its Nazi material with your eyes, right? Well here you go. Enjoy.

Ok. Enough with the Spanish. You want something in English. Well, how about something from David Duke (the infamous anti-Semite and Holocaust revisionist). After all, as you should know, he is a good friend of the owner of the “alleged” store (here they are together holding some Jew-friendly literature).

Here he is writing about his friend being arrested in Spain (remember, his conviction was deemed unconstitutional and overturned). Here is a video of the two of them together (If you wait a little the video will turn to english.) At the end of the video Duke talks about all his support in Madrid and Barcelona.

So Mr. Isseroff, you can no longer claim ignorance nor can you rely on your friend’s ignorance. This store exists, it sells vile materials, it has support, and it is legal. I hope that next time you act with more sagacity and prudence before you make baseless and ignorant allegations against someone. You had the courage to throw at me the worst charge a journalist can face, lets see if you also have the courage to admit when you are wrong.

My Haaretz Interview With Joel Schalit

Over at Haaretz I interviewed author Joel Schalit on the politics of being an Israeli in the Diaspora. While we covered many subjects, here is my favorite response from Joel:

Me: Do you consider yourself a ‘yored’? Or has the term become simply anachronistic?

Joel: No, I don’t. It’s intellectually and politically indefensible as an idea, especially if you take Zionism seriously, and understand how profoundly effective it has been as a form of political education. How can you ‘step down’, so to speak, if you carry Israel with you everywhere you go? How can one feel guilty about being apart from something that is inescapable?

This is Zionism’s inherent paradox: Israel is a state of mind as much as it is an undeniable physical reality. If we are not reminded of it allegorically, through worship, we are confronted by it nearly every day, in the form of tragedy, on the news. As that dreadful Eagles song, “Hotel California”, goes, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

To read more of my interview, and please do, click here. Also keep your eyes out for my new Jewcy column (beginning September) which will explore the subject of Israelis living in the United States.

Iranian.com Re-publishes Our Iran/Israel Piece

Iranian.com has re-published my article with Dr. Trita Parsi. The comments on the page are also worth a read.