A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 5 days 19 hours ago
Thursday night saw some of the biggest rioting in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in years, which observers likened to the preamble to a Third Intifada, as Operation Protective Edge entered its 18th day.
Protesting the Gaza operation, over 10,000 Palestinians converged on the Qalandiya checkpoint between East Jerusalem and Ramallah on Thursday night, where they clashed with Israel police and soldiers. During the fighting, bullets were fired at Israeli forces and rocks and molotov cocktails were thrown by the rioters. Early on in the clashes, two Palestinian rioters were shot dead by Israeli forces near Qalandiya, sparking fears that Friday could see heavy rioting in Jerusalem and beyond following afternoon prayers.
As the death toll of Operation Protective Edge rises, the deaths of children are firmly in the spotlight—and rightly so. It pains all reasonable people to hear of children dying as the consequence of war. Hamas and its supporters display gruesome pictures of dead and wounded children in order to gain sympathy for their portrait of Israel as the villain intent on killing Palestinians. In response, Israel cites the need to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets at its own children, who are being forced to live in bomb shelters, as well as the need to eliminate the tunnels that Hamas dug into Israel in order to carry out terror attacks against Israelis. One tunnel opening was found underneath an Israeli kindergarten.
But who built those tunnels? The answer is Hamas, of course—using some of the same children who are now trapped under fire in Gaza.
Some friends of mine recently signed up to receive an alert on their iPhones each time an air-raid siren is sounded somewhere in Israel. The phone flashes red with the name of the town targeted by Hamas rockets. These days, their phones sometimes buzz every few minutes.
One may wonder how this does any good. Americans who receive such alerts can’t do anything about them except worry—how can that help?
If you read the Jerusalem Post today, you would’ve learned about foreign correspondents in Gaza being harassed for accurately reporting that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. Over at the New York Times, however, the story has a different focus: it’s about reporters in Israel complaining of intimidation. The piece does not mention the significant complaints voiced by western journalists in Gaza; nor does it acknowledge that intimidation in Israel means being harangued by angry citizens—an unpleasant nuisance swiftly curbed by the police—whereas in Gaza it means being threatened by a murderous terrorist organization, or that those journalists bothered in Jerusalem are then absolutely free—as they are not across the border to the south—to complain about it as loudly as they please.
It’s easy to blame this glaring discrepancy on the reliable “the Times hates Israel trope.” But the tale that emerges from both pieces is more complicated. It is, primarily, about the blogger who wrote the piece, Robert Mackey, and what his continuous employment by the Times says about the paper of record’s pitiful worldview.
New York-based food truck Cupcake Crew doesn’t appear to have sold a cupcake since 2013. But the cupcake company, which boasts of being a finalist on the Food Network reality show Cupcake Wars, is using its sizable social media presence to espouse some surprisingly unsavory opinions.
Emotions are running high. As Operation Protective Edge enters its third week, Israel and Hamas’s relative moral standing has been called into question. On the one side are those who argue that Israel is morally superior for their marksmanly attempts to avoid civilian casualties, while Hamas immorally places weapons stores in kindergartens and hospitals, immorally targets Israeli civilians, and use their own as human shields. Others have argued that Israel is responsible for the immoral collateral damage of more than 700 civilians, many of them children, while the Palestinians are blameless victims of colonial oppression. But what if the moral question is not the only, or even the most important, question?
Israel is surely not to blame for protecting its citizens. But here’s another, uncomfortable truth: Hamas is not entirely to blame for targeting them.
William Rapfogel, the disgraced former head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty who stole millions from the New York-based charity through an elaborate insurance fraud scheme, was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison yesterday, the New York Times reports. Rapfogel, who led the organization for more than 20 years until getting fired in August 2013 during an investigation into financial improprieties, admitted in April to stealing more than $7 million from the charity.
Following the terms of a plea agreement he accepted in April, Mr. Rapfogel paid the remaining balance of $3 million he owed in restitution and was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison by Justice Larry Stephen of State Supreme Court. He had faced a slightly longer sentence of four to 12 years if he could not pay the full amount.
As Operation Protective Edge entered its 17th day, a short-lived aviation ban on Israel put in place on Tuesday night by the Federal Aviation Authority was lifted on Thursday, and European providers are expected to follow suit.
With tens of thousands missing work for reserve duty and the economy taking a hit across the country, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said Thursday afternoon that he would convene the cabinet to vote on financial assistance for civilians adversely affected by the operation. The proposal would help employers and reserve soldiers compensate for their missed work days and would help local authorities construct bomb shelters and boost tourism and social services, particularly in the south.
Historically, Arab states have banded together in support of the Palestinians when fighting with Israel erupted: Any mention of Israel typically drew accusations of IDF gross misconduct and dramatic statements of solidarity with the Palestinian people. This has not been the case in the latest round of fighting. Egypt’s stance specifically has changed remarkably, combining implicit support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza with harsh criticisms of Hamas.
Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukri, went so far as to blame Hamas for Palestinian deaths: “Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians,” as reported by Egyptian state news agency MENA.
A U.S. judge issued an order today to have suspected former Nazi guard Johann Breyer extradited to Germany to face trial, only to learn that the 89-year-old longtime Philadelphia resident died yesterday. NPR reports that the extradition order, which would have needed government approval before going into effect, was issued after U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas R. Rice ruled there was probable caused to believe Breyer “is the same person sought for aiding and abetting murder in Germany.”
Breyer was arrested in June at his Philadelphia home and denied bail earlier this month. His arrest is part of recently renewed German efforts to identify and arrest former Nazi guards who are still alive.
On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice prohibiting U.S. carriers from flying to or from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport after a rocket launched by Hamas from Gaza landed near the Tel Aviv airport. The FAA notice cited “the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza,” as the rocket landed a mile away from the airport.
The FAA’s notice followed a State Department travel warning on Monday. Some have questioned the timing and purpose of both the warning and the subsequent FAA prohibition, which came as Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling to the region to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Kerry discussed the ban over the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the State Department denied that there were any ulterior motives behind the FAA’s notice. “The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday.
When the rocket sirens go off in this warehouse district of Ashkelon, no one stops to take a picture with their cell-phone of the Iron Dome intercepting the rockets, and everyone knows exactly where to run. To be fair though, that’s probably because the 550 inmates have all had their cell-phones confiscated and have heard on average about eight rocket sirens per day during the past few weeks, giving them more than enough chances to practice.
“On the outside they have the choice to run or not when there’s a siren. But here, they have no choice but to take cover,” said junior commissioner Avraham Miron, who runs the facility.
Although I haven’t read most of the titles on the just-announced Man Booker Prize longlist, I’d wager that the most Jewish of the lot is Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, about an atheist dentist who longs for nothing more than to be part of a Jewish community, even while he doesn’t believe in god.
Ferris was on Vox Tablet earlier this year talking about his wry, often hilarious novel. Listen here to get a taste of his droll sense of humor, his curiosity about religious experience, and how he used the story of Amalek as a writing prompt. Then, go out and get the book.
The commander of Golani, the Israel Defense Forces brigade that suffered the heaviest losses thus far while fighting in Gaza, was himself wounded earlier this week. When he arrived in the hospital, his face was bloody. The doctors who examined him determined his condition as moderate, and recommended a battery of tests. The Colonel refused. It’s just a few scratches, he told his attending physicians. Then he got up, checked himself out, and rejoined his men.
The Colonel’s name is Ghassan Alian. He’s a Druze. That fact was hardly reported outside of Israel. It complicates, I suppose, the false dogma that what we’re seeing unfurl in Gaza these days is a vicious tribal conflict between two sides, each growing more zealous and less tolerant. If you still need any proof that this is far from true, look at Colonel Alian. He’s a senior officer in an imperfect army of an imperfect democracy, where racial tensions and class resentments and ugly prejudices exist, as they do in Kentucky and Cologne and London, but where men can rise based on merit and where the common burdens and common responsibilities, as well as the joys and the bounties, are shared by all. It’s not perfect, but, as democracies go, it works just fine. And that, particularly given the murderous climate in which Israel struggles to exist, is something to salute.
“There are many people to blame for [Max] Steinberg’s death,” Slate’s Allison Benedikt writes, about the 24-year-old American who died this week fighting in the Israeli army. “There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame.”
Her thinly argued piece, which one can imagine struck her editor as an ingenious, high-controversy bit of click-bait, goes on to hedge its bets a tad: “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good …” But the gist is that the Bronfman-funded trip that has sent hundreds of thousands of young Jews on a Zionism tourist safari helped nudge a young man to his death.
As Day 15 of Operation Protective Edge came to a close on Tuesday, Israel found itself facing a level of isolation that it had not experienced in decades, as the Federal Aviation Administration placed an aviation ban on U.S. flights to Israel for 24 hours, following a rocket strike in a house hours earlier near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s only international airport. By Wednesday morning several European airlines had also followed suit, including Turkish Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, and easyJet.
Against the backdrop of large anti-Semitic riots in Paris, and the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French Muslim killer, Mehdi Nemmouche, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made a resoundingly firm connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that other world leaders—and many Jews—are afraid to make. As is his style, he went straight to the point: “Anti-semitism, this old European disease,” he said in a speech, has taken “a new form. It spreads on the Internet, in our popular neighborhoods, with a youth that has lost its points of reference, has no conscience of history, and who hides itself behind a fake anti-Zionism.”
The occasion was the 72th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup—the arrest of 13.000 Jews in Paris, by the French police under German authorities during World War II on the 16th and 17th of July, 1942. Valls’ strong, clear words are a breakthrough that separates him from the general complacency on the subject among most European politicians—and separates France from its growing reputation as a beacon of hate.
Sayed Kashua has long represented the hope that some kind of co-existence in Israel can be achieved between historical antagonists. After all, he is an Israeli Arab who has lived in Jerusalem for 25 years and seems to have thrived there. A popular writer, he has a column in Haaretz, worked in television, and has three novels under his belt, all inspired by his experiences.
When he was 14, Kashua won a spot in a Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem and left his family and village behind. In the Guardian on July 19, he describes his initial encounters there with Hebrew literature. “I read Agnon, Meir Shalev, Amos Oz and I started to read about Zionism, about Judaism and the building of the homeland. During these years I also began to understand my own story,” he writes. “I began to write, believing that all I had to do to change things would be to write the other side, to tell the stories that I heard from my grandmother. To write how my grandfather was killed in the battle over Tira in 1948, how my grandmother lost all of our land, how she raised my father while she supported them as a fruit picker paid by the Jews.”
You don’t need to strain too hard to find the biblical imagery in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You don’t even need to see the movie. The poster alone—a mountain clouded with smoke and bathed in heavenly light—is enough to signal that something big is about to be revealed.
In the movie itself, the allusions to Mount Sinai are even more direct. When we first meet our protagonist, electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), he’s just given his kids permission to watch Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, even though it’s almost bedtime. “Roy, that movie’s four hours long,” complains his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr). “I said they could watch five commandments,” he answers.
Israel is often accused of using disproportionate force. Last Thursday, U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg blasted Israel’s operation in response to Hamas rockets raining down on its cities as being “deliberately disproportionate”. Similar claims have been made by other world leaders and can be frequently heard in the corridors and meeting halls of the United Nations in New York.
So what does “disproportionate” mean? The number of dead on each side is often cited as evidence of disproportionality—so far more than 600 Gazans have been killed and 30 Israelis. In war, one side aims to emerge victorious and intuitively their casualties will be fewer. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, has highlighted that this was the case in World War II, when German casualties were 20 times greater than those of the Allies, who turned German cities to piles of rubble despite the fact that Germany never managed to drop a single bomb on the continental U.S.