Posts Tagged Jewish identity
Just saw this post on Galus, showing the number of female speakers in Melbourne shuls over Shavuot (in most cases, the number was “0″).
I may have a bit too much time on my hands this week, and I did a little survey after I received an email of all the Tikkun Leil Shavuot events happening in Orthodox shules [eds: The Tikkun Leil Shavuot is an evening of Torah learning that is held on the first night of Shavuot].
Each shule is hosting between 3-11 speakers on the night. Below is a list of how many women are speaking at each shule.
St Kilda Shule: 0
South Caulfield: 0
Chabad Malvern: 0
Elsternwick Shule: 0
CBH – Katanga: 0
Chabad Glen Eira: 0
Kew Hebrew Congregation: 0
Chabad on Carlisle: 0
Blake Street: 1
Bnei Akiva: 1
Caulfield Shule: 1
Beit Aharon: 2
Regular readers may know that I have been looking at a lot of material on discrimination recently — mostly to do with racial discrimination, but there is an obvious overlap with gender.
A couple of very important points to note are firstly that discrimination is generally not a conscious decision and secondly that it is generally hard to see in individual cases, but reveals itself when you start looking at the broader picture.
This is a case in point. No doubt, each shul would have a very reasonable explanation for who they invited, but taken as a whole, it is obvious that Melbourne’s shuls are not interested in hearing from women. I would venture a guess that the picture would not look too different in Sydney (or indeed in most Orthodox communities).
This is once again a sign that Orthodox Judaism is a sect by and for men. As I have often maintained, manifest discrimination during the religious service filters into all other aspects of life on some level. This is off-putting even for people like me who are not women.
Yet the rabbis of these shuls are sitting there, staring at thousands of empty seats and wonder what could possibly be keeping their congregation away…
Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.
Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).
This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality. He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:
Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”
Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »
There is a huge debate going on at the moment in the blogosphere about the term “Israel Firster”, which it turns out was made popular by neo-Nazis and spread through the antisemite network before making it into mainstream discourse. From what I gather, the whole debate started when Ben Smith wrote in Politico about the controversy in the Democrat party surrounding the Centre for American Progress (CAP). CAP is a think tank with close ties to Obama and a marked antipathy towards Israel (emphasis added):
The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs.
… Another recent column on the CAP website, one of several to prompt behind-the-scenes outrage from the powerful pro-Israel group AIPAC, featured Eric Alterman accusing AIPAC of campaigning for war in Iran, which Alterman described as its “big prize.”
Over at Media Matters, Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer turned apostate, labels American Israel hawks “Israel-firsters” and recently blasted Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, for pushing a sanctions on Iranian civilian aviation that would be “the most ugly expression yet of this country’s almost bizarre obsession with punishing Iran, its people along with its government.”
The debate that I have been following closely began when Salon writer Glenn Greenwald tried to elicit from Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg a confession that he (Goldberg) swore to put Israel first when he joined the Israeli Defence Forces. Goldberg’s response was an understandable “I don’t think I did that but so what if I did? It was 25 years ago”. Unperturbed, Greenwald still attacked Goldberg for his alleged victimisation of the poor guy, who keeps being “silenced” by people who don’t like his opinions.
Jeffrey Goldberg, who plants himself in the middle of every one of these orgies of anti-Semitism accusations, trotted out every trite accusatory line from the tired neocon playbook to attack me explicitly as an Israel-hater and, he strongly implied, as an anti-Semite (none of these accusations are accompanied by a single word I’ve said or even a link to anything I’ve written).
… As I said, these attacks are as boring and clichéd as they are predictable: every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel and opposes these neocon smear campaigns is automatically subjected to them. Israel-hater. Anti-Semite. Self-hating Jew. Etc. etc. I’m boring myself even summarizing it.
That Greenwald even wrote this is very revealing of his character. Goldberg is not widely liked amongst the more right-leaning of Israel’s supporters. For instance, here’s him writing to the Israeli PM, advocating for a withdrawal from the West Bank and calling Avigdor Lieberman an “international embarrassment”, hardly the orthodox pro-Israel line:
… Yes, risking your coalition means you would have to induce Tsipi Livni’s opposition Kadima party into the government, but now seems as good a moment as any. At the very least, you’ll gain a foreign minister who isn’t an international embarrassment. And you might convince at least a few settlers — those outside the security fence, especially — that it would be best for them to move back to Israel and reinvigorate Zionism.
It is hard to see how Goldberg could possibly wage a “smear campaign” against “every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel” when he himself deviates from said orthodoxy and is not generally one to self-deprecate.
The irony of Greenwald automatically labelling people “neocons” for not agreeing with his anti-Zionist orthodoxy while at the same time claiming that anyone who disagrees with the pro-Israel orthodoxy is automatically labelled “antisemitic” is apparently lost on Greenwald, but not on Spencer Ackerman.
If what Rosenberg and the others on the left want is a debate—by which I understand them to mean a debate about the wisdom of a war with Iran, and about the proper role of the U.S.-Israel relationship—great. The left, I think, will win that debate on the merits, because it recognizes that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish democracy living in peace beside a free Palestine, an assertive United States has to pressure a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran.
But that debate will be shut down and sidetracked by using a term that Charles Lindbergh or Pat Buchanan would be comfortable using. I can’t co-sign that. The attempt to kosherize “Israel Firster” is an ugly rationalization.
As Goldberg notes, the truly concerning point about the “Israel First” moniker is explained by Adam Kirsch in Tablet. Kirsch points out that the discourse surrounding supporters of Israel has changed over the past few years, largely thanks to the much-criticised The Israel Lobby by Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. While Walt and Mearsheimer did not create the idea of a “pro-Israel Lobby” controlling US foreign policy, they definitely introduced it into the popular lexicon, giving a new way for antisemites and their sympathisers to speak of the age-old Jewish conspiracy in a slightly less transparent way than pointing at the ZOG (Zionist-Occupied Government).
But if The Israel Lobby has not changed American politics, it has had an insidious effect on the way people talk and think about Israel, and about the whole question of Jewish power. The first time I had this suspicion was when reading, of all things, a biography of H.G. Wells. In H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, published in the U.K. in 2010, Michael Sherborne describes how Wells’ contempt for Nazism went along with a dislike for Judaism and Zionism, which he voiced in deliberately offensive terms even as Nazi persecution of Jews reached its peak. “To take on simultaneously the Nazis … and the Jewish lobby may have been foolhardy,” Sherborne writes apropos of Wells in 1938.
There’s no way to prove that Sherborne’s “Jewish lobby” is the intellectual descendant of Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Israel lobby,” but the inference seems like a strong one. Wells, the term suggests, was not attacking Jews, a group that in the Europe of the 1930s was conspicuous for its absolute powerlessness in the face of the evolving Nazi genocide. Instead, he was bravely standing up to a powerful “lobby,” an organization designed to punish critics of the Jews, and whose influence was on a par somehow with that of the Nazis.
What is disturbing in the Sherborne example is the way Walt and Mearsheimer’s conception of Jewish power is projected into a historical moment when it could not have been less accurate. In France during the Dreyfus Affair, it was common for anti-Semites and anti-Dreyfusards to speak of a Jewish syndicate that secretly ruled the country. Now, in the 21st century, it has once again become possible to speak of a Jewish “lobby” that it would be foolish to cross. One of the central premises of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is that it takes unusual courage to oppose the Jews, since they use their power to ruthlessly suppress dissent in both the political world and the media. Walt and Mearsheimer place themselves on the side of the angels when they attack the Israel lobby’s “objectionable tactics, such as attempting to silence or smear anyone who challenges the lobby’s role or criticizes Israel’s actions.”
The problem with Walt and Mearsheimer is not that they are prima facie antisemitic, it’s that their theories come so close to antisemitism that genuine antisemites can use the cover of The Israel Lobby to mask their opinions. They provided a new platform for ancient conspiracies about Jews manipulating world affairs. For example, George Orwell once cited a common trope in British society in the 1940s that WWII was a “Jewish war” and Britain was only fighting it because of the Jewish Brits. This bears striking parallels to the Walt and Mearsheimer trope that the so-called “Israel Lobby” was responsible for America invading Iraq – something that was never an Israeli policy and is of questionable benefit to Israel in the first place. It also provides a way to begin questioning American Jewish loyalties to their country of residence.
For example, many of these accusatory articles accuse Haim Saban of being an “Israel Firster”, where he is painted as an American Jew who unwaveringly supports Israel and openly announces that Israel is his number one issue (for example, see Andrew Sullivan here), ignoring the fact that Saban is staunchly pro-Democrat and that he was raised in Israel and only emigrated to the US in his 20s.
There is undoubtedly a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism and it is important to bear this in mind. One of the easiest ways to tell whether something is genuinely antisemitic is to replace the word “Israel” or “Zionist” with the word “Jew” and see if it brings to mind any ugly stereotypes. That the “Israel Lobby” is increasingly becoming the “Jewish Lobby” should come as little surprise; it may be only a matter of time until “Jew First” becomes an acceptable epithet.
I know I’ve been doing a lot of these recently, but not a day goes by that I don’t read another article that makes me bang my head against the wall and just concede that we failed the whole “Israel” experiment because of ineptitude. Today, there were three:
1. Incentivising settlements
The government is planning to give new incentives to help grow 70 settlements over the Green Line. Sure, it is part of a broader plan to resolve housing issues and yes, it has not yet been given final approval and could still be revoked, but this is still a horrible policy. It is completely the opposite of what the government should be doing (i.e. introducing disincentives for moving to settlements). It is an unnecessary provocation and achieves no positive result at all aside from pandering to a minority of voters who do reliably vote for parties in the government. (Emphasis added).
Around 70 West Bank settlements were on the list of communities eligible for housing and development grants that the cabinet approved on Sunday.
… It was difficult to change the list for political reasons, the official said. “But it is clear that we are aware of the sensitivities when discussing communities over the Green Line,” the official added … Still, in its notice to the press, the Prime Minister’s Office did not mention limitations to the housing incentives, which include money for development costs of up to NIS 150,000 for agricultural communities and NIS 107,000 for cities. Supplementary housing loans of NIS 100,000 are also available.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, “The decision is designed to encourage positive migration to the communities and to assist in finding solutions to ease the housing situation. The decision will also contribute to economically strengthening these communities.”
2. Fighting a cultural war between ministries
As Jeremy Ruden has identified, the Interior Ministry and the Housing Ministry are controlled by the ultra-orthodox Shas party and are giving benefits to the Haredi community. The Communication ministry is controlled by secular Likkud and is making life more difficult for Haredim. The result? A horribly run country.
The first was the controversial proposal put forth by Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias from the Orthodox Shas party. The government has authorized the construction of about 5,000 housing units across the country which will be made available at a discount of NIS 200,000 for those who meet certain criteria.
… The benefit is awarded based on a point system which assigns weight to various qualifications. While IDF service is a factor, the number of years a person has been married is more decisive. For example, a 33-year-old religious person who never served in the army and does not work but has been married for 10 years would get considerably more points than a secular person of the same age who served, holds a job but has only been married for four years.
… But there is a flip-side to that coin. The Communication Ministry, under Moshe Kahlon from the Likud, is pushing for a directive which would have a negative impact on Internet Service Providers (ISP) which target or are owned by members of the religious community.
The Communication Ministry is proposing that in order for a company to be granted a license to be an ISP, it must provide manned technical support 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with the exception of Yom Kippur. ISPs serving the Orthodox communities are calling foul, and rightfully so. These companies argue that if they are forced to comply with such a regulation, they will lose their Shabbat-observant customers.
3. Our national identity is: the Holocaust
Merav Michaeli this time, on a recent poll which found that there is more or less a consensus amongst Israelis that remembering the Holocaust is important, whereas they disagree on things like belonging to the Jewish People, remembering Shabbat and living in Israel. In other words, the Shoah stands head and shoulders above Zionism, religion and culture as the thing that keeps the nation together. This is not to say that remembering the Shoah is unimportant, but it is very negative for it to form the basis of the identity of the entire nation.
I don’t agree with all of Michaeli’s pseudo-psychological analysis of Israeli identity, but she makes some very good points (emphasis added):
The survivors themselves have never been treated right. Just yesterday it was reported, once again, that half of Israel’s Holocaust survivors are dependent on welfare stipends and that the government has once again reduced its support of them.
At the same time, the “Hitlers” are always there: Just a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said for the nth time that there is no shortage of those who want to exterminate us completely. In other words, there is no lack of reasons to continue to reinforce the fear of the Holocaust – which, according to his father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, has never ended.
So it is that we don’t have any rivals, adversaries or even enemies. Only Hitlers. This is how the Holocaust is taught in school, this how it is that Israeli students are taken to visit death camps – and how it came to be that, as Haaretz reported on Friday, just 2 percent of Israeli youth feel committed to democratic principles after studying the Holocaust and 2.5 percent identify with the suffering of other persecuted nations, but 12 percent feel committed to “significant” service in the Israel Defense Forces.
It’s hard to use any soft or diplomatic language to describe the continuing gender apartheid issue in Israel, so won’t even bother. This is a vile perversion of Judaism, it’s possibly the most disgusting and shameful thing that I have seen done in the name of my people and the fact that it seems to be continuing, and even spreading, causes me a huge amount of despair.
A couple of things happened this week to make me feel like this. One was another attack in Beit Shemesh, this time a woman who was apparently “immodestly dressed” was chased, har her tires slashed and her car windows smashed in, was covered in bleach, had a rock thrown at her head and was possibly about to be set on fire before the police and her combat-soldier brother showed up. But even this didn’t affect me quite as much as the other story…
A crowd of ultra-Orthodox men jumped on 27-year-old Natali Mashiah’s car in the Haredi Ramat Beit Shemet Bet neighborhood, she said. Members of the crowd smashed her car windows and punctured her four tires before spilling bleach on the inside of her car, said the Beit Shemesh resident, adding that she believed the men were going to set her on fire. As she fled the car, she said she was hit on the head by a rock thrown from very close range.
Pretty terrible, right? So what was worse? Well, remember the Fogels? That family of settlers who were massacred in their homes by the young gentlemen who figured that stabbing a baby in its crib is a guaranteed ticket to heaven?
See, mainstream Modern Orthodox yeshiva Machon Meir, in a weekly parasha bulletin called B’Ahava Uv’Emunah (In Love and Faith) distributed widely to Modern Orthodox (not Haredi/ultra-orthodox!) synagogues across Israel, had a memorial event for the Fogel family and because of their policy of not showing women in photos, they blurred-out the Fogel mother in the advertisement.
And that’s not even the worst part! After receiving a lot of criticism for the photo, here was Machon Meir’s apology (emphasis mine):
The bulletin ‘In love and faith’ is a biblical bulletin that is distributed and read in synagogues. For this reason, the bulletin’s policy is to refrain from publishing pictures of women. The publishing of the advertisement in this way was an error and did not mean to cause any harm. The Institute apologized to the family and the apology was accepted by the family with complete understanding.
So they are not apologising for blurring her and not apologising for the policy of not publishing pictures of women in a publication because it is circulated in synagogues, the apology is for having run the advertisement at all. I am normally quite good at writing down my thoughts, but I actually do not have any words to express my disgust with this.
Allison Kaplan Sommer has provided some responses from various rabbis in her Forward blog. Thankfully, most expressed disapproval, although there was one prominent rabbi who said that blurring her was “respecting her” and the publication had been looking after her “honour”. One of them made this point, which I particularly agree with:
What in the world is mainstream Orthodox Judaism coming to when the face of a woman (a murder victim, for G-d’s sake!) is blurred out so as to not stir the base urges of religious men who might find her visage too erotic to withstand?! And how ironic is it that the name of the flyer is B’Ahava U’B'emunah’ (In Love and in Belief), when by all indications, those who pubish it seem to lack both?!
A Halachic refutation of the whole gender apartheid movement has been given by Rabbi Dov Linzer in the New York Times.
What is behind these deeply disturbing events? We are told that they arise from a religious concern about modesty, that women must be covered and sequestered so that men do not have improper sexual thoughts. It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies.
This is not a problem unique to Judaism. But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.
Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.
As he points out, the whole premise that women need to cover up so that men don’t get too excited is equivalent to the rapist’s defence that “she was asking for it”. It is a man’s job to control whatever urges he may have, it is definitely not a woman’s job to keep herself away from men so as to avoid any possibility of causing them to have “unpure thoughts”. Yet that exact attitude permeates Orthodox Judaism and seems to be growing stronger.
More on this later, but I want to say that I am typing this at 11:20pm on a Friday night (i.e. well and truly into Shabbat) and I went out last week and decided not to ask for no bacon on my burger. These are small things, but I would not have done them a month ago. I’m totally disgusted at the religious establishment right now and that’s driven me personally away from religion for the moment. To my knowledge, none of the orthodox establishment in Australia spoke out against either of those stories; there was one article in the AJN this week that even mentioned the issue and it condemned the violence but defended segregated buses. For shame.