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If Not Now, When?

nymag.com

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” So said the 1st century Jewish sage ‘Hillel the Elder’, or ‘Hillel the Wiser’ (as I prefer to call him), whom most—if not all—of you I’m sure are familiar with. Same goes with the above aphorism, his most well-known saying. It serves also, by name and by idea, the ‘IfNotNow’ movement, “founded in July 2014 to protest American Jewish institutional support for Israel’s actions during the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict (according to Wikipedia). Their first action was to recite the Jewish prayer of mourning, the Mourner’s Kaddish, for all Palestinian and Israeli victims of the war outside the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”

But before I move on to the reason I’m writing about it now, a confession: In the summer of 2002 I led a group of Jewish students from UC Davis and Sacramento State on a ‘Birthright’ trip to Israel. That experience was especially dear to me, visiting the old country with young people who have never visited the ‘land of milk and honey’ before. And while we stopped almost daily at various places, to sit in a circle and discuss the significance of our visit in those places—including historical facts and political implications, not shying away from some hard questions—we did not visit the occupied territories, other than the Golan Heights.

Admittingly, times in 2002 were very different. The trip—an act of not insignificant courage on the part of the students and their parents—began short of two weeks after the vicious terrorist attack in the Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium where 21 Israelis, 16 of them teenagers, were murdered. Jerusalem was terrorized by random, if frequent terrorist attacks on buses and in street cafes. Security during the trip was a prime concern, and the possibility of visiting the West Bank was not even remotely on the agenda. The decision to stop in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood (if I remember correctly), and allow the students to stroll around, visit shops and cafes for an hour or two, was a major headache. Visiting Hebron, Ramallah, or even some close by settlements was impossible.

Now, you may ask, why am I bringing it up? Here’s why: I first learned of the ‘IfNotNow’ movement when it was associated—even blamed for—in the Israeli media for a trickle of Jewish students who, while visiting Israel as part of the ‘Birthright’ trip, decided that they wanted to see for themselves—how audacious of them, really?—the occupied territories of the West Bank, and learn firsthand what life there is all about for the Palestinian population, what the occupation does to them, the Israeli Army rule and role, the checkpoints (see the picture above) effect on everyday life. In short, they wanted to know, and sort out the truth for themselves, not eat without questions what was spoon-fed to them by the trip’s organizers and counselors.

A storm irrupted, of course. The rebellious students were ostracized by the trip’s tour guides, and those in charge did not allow then to continue with the scheduled trip, and I believe they had to pay their way back home to America by themselves. Still, the movement grew, as more and more conscientious young people continued to demand to know the truth: What really the Jewish state is doing, inflicting such pain on the Palestinian People? And to what end? It was also, immediately associated with the IfNotNow movement as the catalyst to this new phenomenon. Blaming that movement for starting this mini-rebellious in the first place.

Now whether this is true I don’t know, and “frankly, I don’t give a damn.” The crux of the matter, and with it the battle for the hearts and minds of young Jews, is what matters most. Which brings me to a story in Haaretz that I recently shared on Facebook, where a young woman demonstrating on behalf of ‘IfNotNow’ wore a shirt imprinted with this slogan: “The Jewish people future demands Palestinian freedom.” How refreshing, how appropriate: Hitting the occupation’s nail right on its head. This is something I believed in for a long time, and referred to not once on this blog. I therefore applaud all these young Jewish students and not students, urging them to keep demonstrating all around the country with this slogan carried upfront (again, see above picture).

However, it is important to point out that the Palestinian people deserves justice—historically and currently—no matter what, and not only because by granting them this justice the future of the Jewish people will also be secured. More so: The Zionist dream and endeavor of establishing Israel as the secured home for the Jewish people, cannot be fully achieved without granting similar rights to the Palestinian people. This simple equation, which I’ve tried to explain many times to American Jews since immigrating—with considerable resistance and abuse from their side—still exists today at the core of this historic conflict.

What Hillel, the most famous of Jewish sages knew so well more than 2000 years ago was that one, you—as a person and as a people—have to STRIVE to achieve justice for yourself. But that second, if this justice is JUST for yourself—again, as a person and as a people—then what is the justification for it, really? And third that the TASK of achieving this justice—for you and for the other—cannot wait. It must be work for now. Without delay!

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Big Lie

ynetnews,com

The last Israeli election and its aftermath, combined, has produced a big lie. Unfortunately, that big lie—in which the Israeli media, from left to right, and the international media as well, have participated willingly—is continuing to obscure the truth and outcome of that election. And in so doing, despite the results pointing clearly at a different direction, making it harder on the public at large to digest and understand the outcome, and on the forces of peace and democracy to unite and bring forth the desired change.

Here’s why and how, starting in the beginning. Before the election, the prevailing expectation was for Netanyahu to prevail, no matter the actual results, and form the new government. The politicians, journalists and other observers, based their assumption on two main reasons, or factors: One, the demographic factor, the shift in the Israeli population’s makeup that has been taking place for quite sometimes now. That shift to the right, they were correct to assume, would determine, to a significant degree, the result of the election.

The Sephardic/Mizrachi large segment of the Israeli public is still (almost) uniformly stands behind Netanyahu. No matter that he, and his party, are (mostly) Ashkenazim, and hardly represent Israeli Sephardim; no matter that the Likud party, traditionally, has been shying away from socio-economic issues, which are of significant importance to that population; and no matter that even on security issues—the city of Sderot, hard hit by rockets coming from the Gaza Strip, long demanding of Netanyahu to do much more to secure their peaceful existence—still voted for him in large numbers.

Add to that the large immigration of Russian Jews (and non-Jews) from the 1990s onward. This segment of the population is also solidly on the right, and values power, or the perception of it, above all else. However, they dislike another segment of the population, which contributes so prominently to the shift rightward in Israel. And that is the religious/orthodox segment of the Israeli population. Which is about 10% of the population and growing mighty fast, due to a large birth-per-mother rate. While they are solidly on the right, they are also very pragmatic: Whoever gives them more money to study the Torah, avoid the mandatory army service and the need to work for a living, get their support regularly.

So this trend is true, much in existence, and even growing. But what the politicians, journalists and pundits (to this day) got wrong, once the election results were certified, was the true meaning of that result. First, they declared Netanyahu a winner. He was reelected, with a big margin, etc.—even though he has failed to win the election. He, the leader of a party that is in power, give or take a few years, since 1977; he, the Prime Minister of the last ten years; he, the all-powerful politician, all-adroit manipulator, the ‘Magician; he, who met with Putin three days before the elections; he, Trumps favorite son, who gave him the embassy in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as presents—was able to master only 35 Knesset seats in the election.

The exact number of Knesset seats that Benny Gantz, a general who was never a politician, running for office for the first time, was able—after creating a new party, no less—to master. It was a tie, at best; it was a loss, for Netanyahu, at worse. It was a loss obscures by the inevitable win of the center-right block, which consists of various, not at all the same parties. It was a loss that nobody wanted to see. And then it came crushing down. And it came crushing down because of that one big lie—the proof is in the pudding, as the Americans like to say—and because of the inability, and unwillingness, to face the truth. See straight what Israel is facing.

And what Israel is facing is a deep chasm. A war of the Jews. A war on democracy itself. A war on the character of the Jewish state. A war between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A war between the rule of law and anarchy. A war between the secular, liberal, democratic Israel—which envisioned, created, and built the country—and the fervent religious, extremist segment, who want God, King, and Bible to rule.

That’s why Netanyahu has failed to build a governing coalition. That’s why in the last minute, indeed just before midnight, he avoided doing the right thing, as required by law and tradition—informing the president that he was unable to build a government—and has dissolved the newly elected Knesset. This has prevented the true winner of the election, Benny Gantz and his Blue-and-White party from getting a shot at building the new government. Which, though it seemed unlikely, they had at least an outside chance of accomplishing.

In the upcoming September election Netanyahu’s chances of success are even less certain. His looming indictment proceeding on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, are looming larger now. And the fractions in his own party, his natural coalition partners, and the Israeli society at large grow bigger by the day. So fasten your seatbelts, to paraphrase the immortal words of Betty Davis, as it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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