A Bittersweet Homecoming for Egypt’s Jews

Interesting both with respect to the personal histories and connections, as well as the politics:

Clutching a decades-old black-and-white photo, Doris Wolanski directed a vehicle through Cairo’s chaotic traffic, her gaze trained on the street corners, in search of rue du Metro.

The photo showed an 8-year-old girl and her mother on a balcony overlooking a wide, deserted boulevard. The girl was Mrs. Wolanski, now 71; the apartment was her Jewish family’s home until they were expelled from Egypt in 1956, during the Suez crisis. Now she was trying to find it again.

The address wasn’t much help — rue du Metro had been renamed — but she hoped that details on the photo might lead her home. Spotting a familiar landmark, she filled with anxious anticipation.

“My stomach is churning, it really is,” she said. “I’m back to that little girl of 8 with my uniform, two pom-poms and a hat. It’s a very strange feeling.”

Mrs. Wolanski’s mission was part of a much larger homecoming for Egypt’s Jewish community, which at its peak numbered 80,000 and is now racing toward extinction.

Last weekend, 180 Jews from Europe, Israel and the United States traveled to the city of Alexandria on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to attend religious ceremonies at a historic synagogue that was rescued from ruin. It was the largest such gathering of Jews in Egypt since they were pressured to leave during the Arab-Israeli wars of the 1950s and 1960s.

Egypt’s government paid for the $4 million synagogue renovation — part of a longstanding drive to rescue the country’s crumbling Jewish heritage which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has stepped up.

Last year, Mr. el-Sisi ordered the renovation of a badly dilapidated Jewish cemetery which is one of the oldest in the world.

And he supported a scholarship project, run with the help of an Israeli scholar, that uncovered a rare, 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible.

But Mr. el-Sisi’s embrace of Egyptian Jews is also awkward and laced with contradictions. The visit of 180 Jews took place under a news media blackout, with no coverage in Egyptian outlets, and amid iron-tight security by Egyptian officials who at times outnumbered their visitors.

Although Mr. el-Sisi paints himself as a moderate, he has done little to counteract anti-Semitism in Egyptian society, where Jews are often conflated with Israel, and where many young Egyptians know little of their country’s Jewish past — and how it ended.

“I’m full of questions,” said Philippe Ismalun, who fled Egypt after his father was arrested during the 1967 Middle East war. “After so many years of Jews being told that Egypt is not their country, not their home, it was puzzling to see the government spend so much money and effort on renovating the synagogue.”

In part, the answer is politics.

Perhaps 16 Egyptian Jews remain in Egypt — six in Cairo and another 10 in Alexandria, mostly in their 70s and 80s, according to community leaders in both cities. The government says it is rescuing their synagogues and cemeteries so Jewish heritage can take its rightful place alongside Egypt’s Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic civilizations.

“It’s a message for Egyptians that we lived in a unique diversity — Jews, Christians, everyone — for millenniums,” Khaled El-Anany, Egypt’s minister for antiquities and tourism, said in an interview.

For Mr. el-Sisi, though, the good works also cement his foreign alliances. In recent years, Egypt has quietly allied with Israel to carry out secret airstrikes against the Islamic State in Sinai. Mr. el-Sisi’s officials were muted in their criticism of President Trump’s contentious plan to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Since Mr. Trump came to power in 2016, Mr. el-Sisi has hosted at least 10 delegations of American Jewish leaders at his presidential palace, apparently viewing them as a vehicle to leverage influence in Washington.

Last February, one of those delegations appealed for his help in saving Cairo’s Jewish cemetery, which had fallen into a woeful state.

Squatters had encroached on the ninth-century cemetery, building houses and stealing its marble tombstones. Sewage pooled in corners, goats roamed between graves and garbage was piled high in places.

Local criminals used the cemetery as a place to deal drugs or burn the rubber coating from stolen electrical cables, said Magda Haroun, the head of Cairo’s half-dozen strong Jewish community.

“It was in a terrible shape,” said Ms. Haroun, 67, whose sister’s grave lies beneath a squatter’s house.

A cleanup started within hours of Mr. el-Sisi’s meeting with the American group, she said. It has been continued by A Drop of Milk — an old Jewish welfare organization now dedicated to rescuing Jewish heritage, and composed mostly of Christian and Muslim volunteers.

“We’ve removed tons and tons of rubbish,” she said. “But there’s much more to be done.”

For many of the Jews who returned to Alexandria last weekend, the Shabbat service at the renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, an imposing neo-Classical structure that officially reopened in January, was an emotional moment.

A cavernous ark holds dozens of Torah scrolls collected from Alexandria’s other synagogues that have been sold to developers. Heavy wooden pews gleam with brass plaques bearing the names of Jewish families since scattered across the world.

Mr. Ismalun, who lives in Switzerland, brought along the kipa he wore as a child for his bar mitzvah in the same synagogue.

“It was very moving,” he said.

Yet many could not fail to notice that the news media had been barred from the event, and that not a single Egyptian government official had come along. Many said they felt isolated, and it raised a broader question about whether Mr. el-Sisi will allow ordinary Egyptians access to the synagogue that his government has so lavishly restored.

“The Egyptian attitude is between ambivalent and schizophrenic,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee, who noted that he also attended the reopening of a Cairo synagogue 10 years ago, under President Hosni Mubarak, which took place in similarly veiled conditions.

“The Egyptians appreciate that people have a positive view of this from abroad,” Rabbi Baker added. “But now that you have this beautiful synagogue, it’s fair to ask what purpose it will serve in the future.”

Egypt’s unresolved relationship with Israel is undoubtedly a factor. Despite a 1979 peace treaty, the two countries have not normalized relations, and public debate about the subject remains taboo in Cairo. In 2016, an Egyptian lawmaker was expelled from Parliament for inviting the Israeli ambassador to his home for dinner.

Copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic tract, are sold openly by street vendors in Cairo. After a spate of anti-Sisi protests in September, documents circulated on social media that purported to prove an old conspiracy theory that Mr. el-Sisi’s mother is secretly Jewish.

At the same time, there are signs of changing attitudes.

Documentaries about the last Egyptian Jews have received a warm reception from young Egyptians eager to know more. And the government authorized an Israeli scholar, Prof. Yoram Meital of Ben Gurion University, to help A Drop of Milk catalog thousands of Jewish scrolls and other relics in Cairo’s shuttered synagogues.

Two years ago, that led them to a goatskin parchment in the back of a closet — a handwritten document, dating from 1028, that covers the third part of the Hebrew Bible and is among the oldest copies of the Bible ever found.

“Many people think the final chapter on the Jewish community of Egypt has been written,” Mr. Meital said in an interview. “I believe the opposite is true — that its heritage has a future that is beginning now.”

Mr. el-Sisi’s outreach has its limits. Jewish leaders want access to a vast register of community records, dating back to 1830 and counting tens of thousands of pages, that catalog births, marriages, deaths and bar mitzvahs.

But Egyptian officials have sequestered the register inside the national archives and, despite a promise from Mr. el-Sisi, refused to provide any access, ostensibly for national security reasons.

“Those records are our heritage. They’re everything about us,” said Reginette Schafer, who left Egypt in 1954 and lives in Washington. “And we can’t get them out.”

For many, the test of Egypt’s commitment to celebrating its Jewish heritage may lie in how the renovated synagogues are used: whether they remain huddled behind armed policemen, as is currently the case, or can be opened to ordinary Egyptians as a monument to a part of their culture that is as old as the pyramids.

“That’s the real challenge,” said Rabbi Baker. “It’s the story you’re telling about this community, and whether you have faith that Egyptians will see it as something positive. That’s my hope.”

Mrs. Wolanski, driving around the Cairo district of Heliopolis with her husband and two sons, beamed with delight when she found her old school, St. Clare’s, where she had once been taught by Catholic nuns.

Later she posed for a photo outside a nearby synagogue where her father prayed, as armed policemen looked on.

But she couldn’t find rue du Metro, or her old apartment. She would save it for next time, she said, “when I come back with my grandchildren.”

Source: A Bittersweet Homecoming for Egypt’s JewsA rare ceremony at an ancient synagogue brought 180 Jews back to Egypt, decades after they were pressured to leave.

Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Of note:

Just two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “I don’t intend to bring a diplomatic plan on the eve of the elections.” He was responding to a reporter who challenged him on saying in 2008 that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, “neck-deep in investigations, has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel” in a quest for political survival. A few days ago, on Jan. 28, Netanyahu did exactly what he said he would not do.

Several hours after “making history” by becoming the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be officially charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu took part in the unveiling ceremony of President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, declaring it a “historic day like May 1948,” when Israel declared independence.

Peace is unlikely to emerge from Trump’s plan, but Netanyahu proved once again that all means justify his end of winning the March 2 elections and remaining in the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. To that end, he mobilized Trump’s help in presenting an alleged peace plan that consists of everything except peace and a Palestinian partner. The East Room ceremony resembled a wedding without the bride, celebrating a deal between Israel and the United States, rather than Israel and the Palestinians.

As expected, the Palestinian leadership rejected the plan. Channel 12 reported that on Jan. 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent Netanyahu a handwritten note informing him, “The Palestinian Authority now sees itself as free to disregard the agreements with Israel, including security cooperation.”

Anyone delving further into the details of the 80-plus-page proposal could not have missed the surprising clause allowing Israel to transfer to a future Palestinian state the populated Arab communities in the so-called Triangle of central Israel: Kufr Qara, Arara, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Umm al-Fahm, Kalansua, Taybeh, Kafr Qasem, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulya.

This is not the first time an Israeli government during the Netanyahu era has tried to trade away its Arab citizens in the Triangle, which borders the West Bank, by moving the border and thereby turning them into nationals of a future Palestinian state. The idea previously arose in 2013 when US Secretary of State John Kerry mediated peace talks between the two sides, with the clear goal of finding a solution to the land swap issue. There also appears to have been a hidden agenda — reducing the number of Israel’s Arab citizens — an estimated 300,000 of who live in the Triangle communities.

“Just as with many earlier initiatives, this one too does not have any hold or acceptance among the Arab Israeli or Palestinian public,” Jamal Mjadlah, a social activist from Baka al-Garbiyeh, told Al-Monitor. “This is an initiative devoid of justice and logic, which will not be accepted and will not be adopted.”

Salah Smara, a high-tech engineer from Tira, asserted to Al-Monitor, “This is an attempt to enhance ideologies espousing population transfer using political tools to get rid of the Arab citizens rather than physically removing people from their homes. The motivations are racial — to preserve demographic superiority.”

The initiative could also have the absurd and tragic impact on many families by tearing them, as in the case of Firas Azam, an attorney born in Taybeh but now living in the coastal Mediterranean city of Haifa. If the land swap goes through, he would remain an Israeli citizen, but his mother and brother’s Israeli citizenship would be revoked.

“‘And we were like strangers in our land.’ This is my headline for this absurd move,” Azam told Al-Monitor. “Our state, where we grew up, went to school, worked, respected its laws and principles, does not want us anymore and is willing to give us up just like that. I would have expected the Jews to understand this better than any other people in the world, but I guess I was wrong.”

Trump and Netanyahu present the idea of exchanging populated lands as targeting communities that “largely self-identify as Palestinians,” according to the plan. A 2019 study by the Israel Democracy Institute found, however, that only 13% of Arab Israeli citizens define themselves as “Palestinians” in terms of their main identity, whereas 65% are “proud to be Israelis.” The study further indicates that 83% of Israeli Arab citizens want to integrate into Israeli society and become full members of it.

The above results do not conform to the premise of the Trump plan, proving yet again that it is nothing more than an attempt by Netanyahu and Israel’s political right to shrink the number of Israel’s Arab citizens, who constitute 21% of the state’s population. That, in turn, would reduce the number of Arab voters, who obviously do not tend to vote for right-wing parties, helping the right perpetuate its rule and prevent the formation of a center-left government.

Shimon Sheves, who served as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under the late Yitzhak Rabin, shared his thoughts on Facebook about the actual difference between the so-called deal of the century and Rabin’s peace plan. Indeed, there are many similarities between the American blueprint and the one charted by Rabin, who was, as we know, assassinated because of the peace he sought to advance. At the time, it was Netanyahu who led numerous protests against Rabin and addressed rallies at which Rabin was dubbed a traitor and the crowd chanted, “With blood and fire, we will expel Rabin.” The difference is that Rabin did not agree to land swaps, as Ben Caspit explained in a Jan. 29 Al-Monitor article. Perhaps that is what the Netanyahu-led right really wants: to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of the state’s Arab citizens.

With an effective and well-targeted campaign by the Arab Joint List, currently the third largest Knesset faction, the initiative could backfire against Netanyahu. Such was the case with the so-called Camera Law, a Likud-led initiative to install cameras at Arab polling stations. The alleged idea was to guard against voter fraud, but in reality was devised to intimidate Arab voters. The move ultimately prompted a significantly high Arab turnout in protest in the September 2019 elections. If the current initiative gains ground, Netanyahu will once again be crowned the main campaigner of the Joint List.

Source: Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Equally revealing:

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Palestinians on Wednesday that Israeli settlements will continue to expand because rising anti-Semitism around the world means more Jews will immigrate to Israel.

Addressing many hot-button global issues in a speech and discussion with foreign diplomats to the United States, Robert O’Brien also said the president hoped to go to Beijing to talk to the Chinese about a three-way nuclear arms control pact with the U.S. and Russia. He said the president still hopes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will resume nuclear talks with the U.S.

O’Brien defended Trump’s Mideast peace plan, which was embraced by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians. O’Brien said the plan is not “perfect,” but urged the Palestinians to negotiate terms of the proposed deal. The deal offers economic benefits that would allow Palestine to become the “Singapore of the Middle East,” he said.

The Palestinians have roundly denounced the proposal, which offers them limited self-rule in scattered chunks of territory with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem while allowing Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank. Protesters have burned U.S. and Israeli flags as well as posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood with Trump at the White House when he rolled out the plan last week.

“This could be the last opportunity for a two-state solution,” O’Brien said at the Meridian International Center. “The Israeli birth rate is strong and is growing because sadly anti-Semitism in Europe and other places around the world is encouraging more Jews to return to Israel. The settlements are going to continue to expand. If this freeze on settlements doesn’t hold. If this peace process doesn’t work, it may be physically impossible to have a two-state solution.”

It was unusual for a high-level administration official to tie anti-Semitism to the settlements. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem — territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war — as illegal and a major obstacle to peace. But O’Brien’s comments are in line with the Trump administration strongly favoring Israel in the longtime conflict.

O’Brien didn’t note that the Palestinian population is growing too in both the Palestinian territories and Israel, according to U.N. statistics. The Palestinian population is growing at roughly 2.4% a year, 33% higher than Israel’s.

Those demographic shifts have led previous peacemakers to warn that Israel risks losing its ability to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy without a two-state solution that gives the Palestinians enough inhabitable and arable land to accommodate their growing numbers.

Trump’s plan would foresee the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but would allow Israel to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

U.S. officials had discouraged Netanyahu from proceeding with plans to immediately annex any new territory and had played down the possibility that the release of the plan would make any such move imminent. But after the rollout, Netanyahu vowed to bring his West Bank annexation plans to a vote at his next Cabinet meeting just days away.

That surprised and frustrated the Americans. In a series of interviews, Trump’s point people on Israel jammed the brakes on annexation, putting greater emphasis on the prospects of Palestinian statehood that Netanyahu was trying to sidestep.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a U.S.-Israeli committee would need to be formed to ensure that any move matches up with the Trump administration’s “conceptual map.” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a chief architect of the plan, said Israel should wait until after the March 2 Israeli elections before annexing territory.

Any quick move to annex land would galvanize Netanyahu’s hard-line base and shift the focus of his reelection campaign away from his legal woes. But annexation also would likely spark an international backlash, and neighboring Jordan, a key player in Middle East peace efforts, has warned against it. It could also foreclose the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution.

Up to a quarter of Russian immigrants to Israel may have left after receiving passports

“Citizens of convenience:”

Thousands of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union may have come only to receive an Israeli passport before moving back abroad.

The Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon reported that a cottage industry of companies promising expedited Israeli citizenship, and the passport that comes with it, have sprung up in Russia since the passage of a law allowing new immigrants to receive the travel document within the first three months of their aliyah.

For many in the post-Soviet world, an Israeli passport is considered as desirable as a European Union passport is to Israelis. Russian fixers have started advertising that they can help prospective “olim” obtain “Israeli citizenship within two days” for a cost of thousands of euros.

Under certain circumstances, the paper reported, the three-month period can be shortened to as little as a day, and some immigrants have even been able to receive their passports without having to leave Ben Gurion International Airport.

Based on data from Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Makor Rishon estimated that approximately 8,500 emigres from the former FSU have come just for the passport before immediately leaving the country. One Jewish Agency official estimated that about 25 percent of the immigrants came for a passport and “left the country immediately after receiving it.”

Approximately 10,500 Russians and 6,400 Ukrainians made aliyah in 2018, which was the first year that the majority of new immigrants were not considered Jewish under halacha, or Jewish religious law.

Source: Up to a quarter of Russian immigrants to Israel may have left after receiving passports

What constitutes fair and unfair criticism of Israel?

An article that tries to articulate, in concrete terms, what is legitimate and what is not legitimate criticism of Israel.

When I was involved in negations over the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, there was a preference for more general wording (“criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”) with some examples, rather than a more comprehensive illustrative list.

Using international human rights as a basis, as Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann argues, is the most sound approach although there will likely be differences of interpretation:

Canada recently voted at the United Nations for the establishment of a Palestinian state. At the same time, Canada reiterated its position that there were too many UN resolutions about Israel. Canada argued that these resolutions unfairly singled out Israel for criticism.

Nevertheless, Israel’s ambassador to the UN claimed that Canada’s vote delegitimized Israel.

This event raises questions of what are legitimate or illegitimate criticisms of the state of Israel. It also raises questions about when or whether such criticism is anti-Semitic.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” It states that evidence of anti-Semitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

However, it also states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Using this definition, Canada’s vote for creation of a Palestinian state does not delegitimize Israel, any more than Canadian criticism of any other state delegitimizes it.

Illegitimate criticism

On the other hand, activists for Palestinian rights who call for the state of Israel to be destroyed, for example, by referring to a free Palestine “from the river to the sea,” engage in illegitimate criticism.

Regardless of the circumstances of its creation, Israel is a sovereign state that enjoys the right to exist. All sovereign states enjoy this right. Like any other state, Israel also has the right to defend itself against attack.

To suggest that Jews have no right to live in Israel is also to engage in illegitimate criticism. All states are permitted to determine who will live within their borders. And suggesting that Jews should not live in Israel means advocating the creation of a huge refugee population based on religio-ethnic criteria.

Some critics call Israel a colonial power. They assume that it is illegitimate for any Jewish “settler” to live in Israel proper. This assumption is based in part on the belief that Jews are not indigenous to the Middle East. But Jews have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years.

Israel was created in 1948. An estimated 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the subsequent Arab-Israeli war.

In later years, about 800,000 Jews left Arab countries. About two-thirds of them settled in Israel, and the other third elsewhere. Many of these Jews had been forcibly expelled.

Many Jews settled in Israel from Europe. It is important to remember the context of European pogroms and Nazi genocide that obliged many of them to flee.

This does not justify Israeli violations of the human rights of either Israeli Arabs or of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It merely provides some context as to why so many Jews have settled in Israel.

Sanctions against Israel are legitimate

Having said this, I agree with the opinion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that it’s legitimate to criticize Israel as one might criticize any other state. Thus the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel is legitimate, as long as it does not simultaneously question the right of Israel to exist as a state. Many Jewish people both within and outside Israel who are concerned about Palestinian rights support this movement.

Similarly, although it is not strictly accurate to call Israel an apartheid state, it is within the realm of acceptable political rhetoric. Legally speaking, apartheid can only occur within a state. So calling Israel an apartheid state suggests that it has legal sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza.

A better way to judge Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank is through universal standards. One such standard is international humanitarian law, especially the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. This convention prohibits transfers of population, either from or into conquered territories. That means Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

The International Court of Justice also adheres to universal standards. It ruled in 2004 that the wall separating Israel from the West Bank is illegal, because part of it is built outside Israel’s territory. This wall frequently separates Palestinians from their land, work opportunities and family members.

International human rights law is another universal standard that protects Palestinians. Israel definitely denies some human rights to people in the West Bank and Gaza. But so do Palestinians’ own political leaders, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Both these political groups deny their subjects civil liberties. They also use torture and arbitrary arrest, prohibited by international human rights law.

Other states punish Palestinians

Other states also undermine Palestinians’ human rights. Like Israel, Egypt periodically blockades Gaza . These blockades deny Palestinians freedom of movement across national boundaries. Both these states have the legal right to control their own borders. But these controls frequently mean that Palestinians cannot buy food, go to hospitals or work in Israel or Egypt.

Arab states also undermine Palestinians’ human rights. Some have given shelter to Palestinian refugees and their descendants for decades, but refuse to grant them citizenship.

These states are not legally obliged to grant citizenship to refugees and their descendants. But the reason that Jewish emigrants and refugees from Arab states do not constitute a political bloc, which Palestinians emigrants and refugees do, lies partly in citizenship laws.

Jewish emigrants and refugees obtained citizenship in Israel and other countries like the United States and Canada. Palestinians emigrants and refugees from Israel, and many of their descendants, remain stateless.

Universal rules and responsibilities

Serious concern for the human rights of Palestinians requires consideration of all the states that violate their rights under international human rights and humanitarian law.

These legal standards are universal. As long as they do not advocate eradication of the state of Israel and/or expulsion of Israeli Jews, states and activists that adhere to these standards are engaged in legitimate criticism.

Activists should respect Israel’s rights as a sovereign state. But Israel should respect Palestinians’ rights under universal human rights and humanitarian law. Israel is the most important of all the states in the Palestinian crisis.

Unfortunately, the government of Israel in 2019 was nationalist and expansionist. There’s little hope as we head into 2020 that Israel will negotiate in good faith with Palestinian leaders. Yet Israel will never be safe from attack until it negotiates a peaceful settlement that gives Palestinians their own state.

Source: What constitutes fair and unfair criticism of Israel?

There is no conflict between the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against Israeli occupation

Valid critique:

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, if you are attacked for the same text by both sides in a political conflict, this is one of the few reliable signs that you are on the right path. In the last decades, I have been attacked by a number of very different political actors (often on account of the same text!) for antisemitism, up to advocating a new Holocaust, and for perfidious Zionist propaganda (see the last issue of the antiemetic Occidental Observer). So I think I’ve earned the right to comment on the recent accusations against the Labour Party regarding its alleged tolerance of antisemitism.

I, of course, indisputably reject antisemitism in all its forms, including the idea that one can sometimes ”understand” it, as in: “considering what Israel is doing on the West Bank, one shouldn’t be surprised if this gives birth to antisemitic reactions”. More precisely, I reject the two symmetrical versions of this last argument: “we should understand occasional Palestinian antisemitism since they suffer a lot” as well as “we should understand aggressive Zionism in view of the Holocaust.” One should, of course, also reject the compromise version: “both sides have a point, so let’s find a middle way…”.

Along the same lines, we should supplement the standard Israeli point that the (permissible) critique of Israeli policy can serve as a cover for the (unacceptable) antisemitism with its no less pertinent reversal: the accusation of antisemitism is often invoked to discredit a totally justified critique of Israeli politics. Where, exactly, does legitimate critique of Israeli policy become antisemitism? More and more, mere sympathy for the Palestinian resistance is condemned as antisemitic. Take the two-state solution: while decades ago it was the standard international position, it is more and more proclaimed a threat to Israel’s existence and thus antisemitic.

Things get really ominous when Zionism itself evokes the traditional antisemitic cliché of roots. Alain Finkielkraut wrote in 2015 in a letter to Le Monde: “The Jews, they have today chosen the path of rooting.” It is easy to discern in this claim an echo of Heidegger who said, in a Der Spiegel interview, that all essential and great things can only emerge from our having a homeland, from being rooted in a tradition. The irony is that we are dealing here with a weird attempt to mobilise antisemitic clichés in order to legitimize Zionism: antisemitism reproaches the Jews for being rootless; Zionism tries to correct this failure by belatedly providing Jews with roots. No wonder many conservative antisemites ferociously support the expansion of the State of Israel.

However, the trouble with Jews today is that they are now trying to get roots in a place which was for thousands of years inhabited by other people. That’s why I find obscene a recent claim by Ayelet Shaked, the former Israeli justice minister: “The Jewish People have the legal and moral right to live in their ancient homeland.” What about the rights of Palestinians?

For me, the only way out of this conundrum is the ethical one: there is ultimately no conflict between the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against what the State of Israel is now doing on the West Bank. The two struggles are part of one and the same struggle for emancipation. Let’s mention a concrete case. Some weeks ago, Zarah Sultana, a Labour candidate, apologised for a Facebook post in which she backed the Palestinian right to “violent resistance”: “I do not support violence and I should not have articulated my anger in the manner I did, for which I apologize.” I fully support her apology, we should not play with violence, but I nonetheless feel obliged to add that what Israel is now doing on West Bank is also a form of violence. No doubts that Israel sincerely wants peace on the West Bank; occupiers by definition want peace in their occupied land, since it means no resistance. So if Jews are in any way threatened in the UK, I unconditionally and unequivocally condemn it and support all legal measures to combat it–but am I permitted to add that Palestinians in the West Bank are much more under threat than Jews in the UK?

Without mentioning Corbyn by name, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis recently wrote in an article for the Times that “a new poison–sanctioned from the top–has taken root in the Labour Party.” He conceded: “It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote,” though went on to add: “When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.” I find this presentation of a political choice as a purely moral one ethically disgusting–it reminds me of how, decades ago, the Catholic Church in Italy did not explicitly order citizens to vote for Christian Democracy, but just said that they should vote for a party which is Christian and democratic.

Today, the charge of antisemitism is more and more addressed at anyone who deviates from the acceptable left-liberal establishment towards a more radical left–can one imagine a more repellent and cynical manipulation of the Holocaust? When protests against the Israel Defense Forces’ activities in the West Bank are denounced as an expression of antisemitism, and (implicitly, at least) put in the same line as Holocaust deniers–that is to say, when the shadow of the Holocaust is permanently evoked in order to neutralise any criticism of Israeli military and political operations–it is not enough to insist on the difference between antisemitism and the critique of particular measures of the State of Israel. One should go a step further and claim that it is the State of Israel that, in this case, is desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims, ruthlessly using them as an instrument to legitimise present political measures.

As Mirvis wrote, the soul of our nation is indeed at stake here–but also, the soul of the Jewish nation. Will Jews follow Finkielkraut and “take roots”, using their sacred history as an ideological excuse, or will they remember that ultimately we are all strangers in a strange land? Will Jews allow Israel to turn into another fundamentalist nation-state, or remain faithful to the legacy that made them a key factor in the rise of modern civil society? (Remember that there is no Enlightenment without the Jews.) For me, to fully support Israeli politics in the West Bank is a betrayal not just of some abstract global ethics, but of the most precious part of Jewish ethical tradition itself.

Source: There is no conflict between the struggle against antisemitism and the struggle against Israeli occupation

Isreal: To push aliyah, the Absorption Ministry is making up fake immigrants

Embarrassing. What were they thinking?

Until Thursday, the Ministry of Absorption and Immigration’s Twitter page was filled with pictures of grinning immigrants talking about how they’ve successfully established a life in Israel, despite the hardships of the move.

The only problem: They are not real. Not only are the photographs stock images, but the purported immigrants and their quotes appeared to be made up.

The Times of Israel could not immediately confirm with the ministry that the names and quotations were invented, but the individuals in question — save for one person who is not an immigrant — could not be found despite intensive searches on social media.

The Absorption Ministry said it could not immediately respond to The Times of Israel’s questions about the matter as its English-language social media is operated by an external firm and it was still waiting for answers from that company. However, the ministry deleted many of the tweets in question after being approached Thursday.

The Absorption Ministry sets aside NIS 500,000 ($141,000) for programs to “encourage immigration and absorption,” according to its publicly available budget. This social media campaigns would likely be paid for from this sum.

A since-deleted Absorption Ministry tweet featuring an apparently invented recent immigrant, posted on October 29, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Since the start of the year, the ministry has published at least 10 photographs on its Facebook and Twitter pages that claim to show immigrants with their names and quotations about their experiences moving to Israel.

These posts are accompanied by the hashtag Aliya Story, using the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel, literally “going up.”

Save for one, each of these was a stock image, apparently downloaded by the ministry.

The one exception to this was a post from April, which featured a photograph taken — with permission — from Instagram.

However, in that case, the ministry appeared to quote the photographer, Lior Golbary, as saying, “I came to fulfill the Jewish dream! Making #Aliyah, serving in the army & living on Lillybloom [Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv] has made me the person I am today. Israel is my home and always will be.”

The only problem is that Golbary never said that, he confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Misrad Haklita@MisradHaklita

“I came to fulfill the dream! 🇮🇱 Making , serving in the army & living on Lillybloom has made me the person I am today. is my home and always will be.” 📷 Lior Golbary ✨🚲💙

View image on Twitter

Golbary, a copywriter, also confirmed that he had not immigrated to Israel, but was born and raised in a town in the center of the country.

Experts in the field of public relations confirmed that the whole-cloth invention of names and quotations is not an accepted practice in the field, especially in today’s media climate of authenticity and transparency.

“If it is the case that this is a genuine ministry account, and the photos and names are fabricated, it is nothing short of horrendous. To use stock images to illustrate classrooms or meetings is one thing, but at a time when Israel’s credibility is constantly attacked on social media, to make people up is nothing short of idiotic,” Jason Pearlman, a former spokesperson for both President Reuven Rivlin and former Diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett, told The Times of Israel.

According to the ministry’s Twitter feed, in January, a Tanya Lipworth from Chicago, USA, gushed: “I grew up in a Jewish home, Jewish school, but could never imagine that I would fulfill the Zionist dream. I realized after spending a year in Israel after studying that making Aliyah could become a reality.”

However, there is no record on the internet of a Tanya Lipworth existing before the ministry’s post, nor is there of a Tyler Chaplinski from Brooklyn, who was quoted by the ministry in August.

Misrad Haklita@MisradHaklita

: 🇮🇱 “I grew up in a Jewish home, Jewish school, but could never imagine that I would fulfill the dream. I realized after spending a year in after studying that making Aliyah could become a reality,” says Tanya Lipworth from Chicago, USA.

View image on Twitter

Most of the other names do appear on Facebook but do not appear to belong to anyone living in Israel.

For instance, a Martine Kaplan — quoted in a post in April — does appear to exist, though she does not live in Israel and does not appear to be from Perth, Australia, as the ministry wrote, but is rather from Sommerville, Massachusetts, in the United States.

Several immigrants — or in Hebrew, olim — took offense to the ministry’s use of apparently invented people for its campaign especially as there are literally “millions of immigrants, including me,” one Twitter user noted.

“For the many of us who have made the difficult step, and built our homes in Israel. For those who are far from family and face daily obstacles to adapt and adjust, this is truly insulting,” said Pearlman, who immigrated to Israel from England.

David Aaronson, an immigrant and chief of staff for former Israeli ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, also joked on Twitter that the ministry would likely be unable to find willing volunteers due to the often difficult and frustrating process of moving to Israel.

“After the bureaucratic nonsense they put us through when we made aliyah, why would any actual olim want to help advertise for them?” he wrote.

Source: To push aliyah, the Absorption Ministry is making up fake immigrants

We must talk about Palestine – without being antisemitic

Worth noting:

It’s hard to write or talk about antisemitism and the Labour party’s handling of it without descending into deep despair, and not just at the mirror the sorry tale is holding up to the whole of our society, which seems to be becoming less tolerant, more racist and less safe for minorities. This is having greater consequences than the Labour leadership can imagine. In particular, it is stifling the ability of commentators and decision-makers to talk sensibly about the real issues in Palestine.

My mother is Palestinian. These issues are deeply personal; we still have family in the West Bank. I am very worried that, at this critical juncture in the history of the region, activists, parliamentarians and journalists feel that they cannot speak out for fear of being branded as antisemitic. My plea is that we must speak more about Palestine, not less, and in this current climate it is something members of both houses of parliament have confided that they are more fearful than ever to do.

Source: We must talk about Palestine – without being antisemitic

The anti-Semitic theology behind the Christian Zionist lobby

Of note:

This week, the largest Israel lobby group in the United States, Christians United for Israel, will hold a two-day “summit” in Washington, D.C., featuring high-profile speakers such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Many of the event’s attendees and featured guests will profess their abiding love and support for Israel and Jewish people.

In reality, right-wing Christian supporters of Israel like CUFI pose a grave danger to the safety and well-being of both Jews and Palestinians, as well as to hopes for a true and lasting peace in the Holy Land. Anyone who actually listens to CUFI’s leader, the Rev. John Hagee, will be horrified at the meeting’s toxic blend of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and sexism.

Hagee and his more than 5 million followers believe that the establishment of Israel in 1948 and its subsequent military occupation and colonization of Palestinian and other Arab lands are the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the necessary precursors to the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of the apocalypse.

Source: The anti-Semitic theology behind the Christian Zionist lobby

Israel should prepare for another mass immigration – report

The large gap in birth rates between non-Orthodox and Orthodox/ultra Orthodox means increasing fundamentalist Jewish populations over time, with a range of implications in Israel and elsewhere:

Israel should prepare for a potential mass wave of immigration to the country amid increased antisemitism, according to the “2019 Annual Assessment of the Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People Today.”

The report, prepared by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and presented by the institute’s leaders to the cabinet on Sunday, warned of the spread of antisemitism around the world. They said that if not enough is done to strengthen the security of Jewish communities, they could experience “significant harm.”

“Some Jews are considering immigration to Israel or elsewhere, while others may give up their Jewish identity,” according to the report. The report warned the government that as antisemitic incidents proliferate, “the Israeli government must prepare appropriately for potential immigration, especially from European countries.”

According to the report, the main barriers that cause prospective olim to reconsider aliyah to Israel have to do with employment, children’s education and housing. As such, JPPI recommended that the employment barrier could be addressed by providing career guidance and degree recognition even before olim have left their home countries as well as through job placement programs.

“The relevant immigrant populations are, for the most part, highly educated and economically strong,” said JPPI in its report. “There can be no doubt that such investment would be profitable and feasible for the Israeli economy.”

In addition, JPPI’s president Avinoam Bar-Yosef called on the government to set up a coordinating body to confront growing antisemitism that could monitor trends, assess threats and risks, and initiate action with governments.

Specifically, this body could “formulate an overall policy; set operational initiatives in motion vis-à-vis governments, Jewish communities, and other relevant parties; coordinate implementation between the various relevant bodies; and monitor effectiveness,” the report said. 

“The entity will launch initiatives in the spheres of education, legislation/law, diplomacy, hasbara [publicity/informational activity], the new media, security in the communities and more.”

The report rehashed earlier data, which demonstrates that antisemitism is rising by every metric. The number of antisemitic incidents has risen around the world, including in the United States, where the FBI reported that Jews are the most targeted religion-based group by hate crimes.

Bar-Yosef likewise highlighted changing demographics in the US, citing growth among the Orthodox communities, where this population among the younger age cohorts is already roughly 30% in some communities.

“We can expect significant implications from the growth of the Orthodox population in the long run,” he said. While the average birth rate among non-Orthodox Jewish women is 1.4 children, the average rate among Modern Orthodox women is more than three children, and is more than five for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women.

For non-Orthodox Jews, JPPI found that intermarriage with non-Jews is the norm today. Among non-ultra-Orthodox Jews in America (aged 25-54), 58% of those married are married to non-Jews and only about half of the offspring of such couples are raised as Jews.

JPPI recommended that in addition to strengthening relations with the Reform and Conservative denominations, Israel should “encourage and support increased involvement of the Orthodox in the leadership of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, American society and politics, in order to preserve Jewish influence in the general public.”

If not, according to the institute, “the new demographic may erode the influence of the Jewish community in America.”

Source: Israel should prepare for another mass immigration – report

Younger Arabs embrace Palestinian identity, redefining Israeli citizenship

Interesting evolution of identity:

Loudspeakers blared nationalist Arabic music across hillsides in northern Israel on Thursday as children ran across a field waving Palestinian flags.

The scene was a rally for members of Israel’s 21% Arab minority. The Israeli term for them is Israeli Arabs, but many now reject that label, identifying instead as “Palestinian with Israeli citizenship,” or simply “Palestinian.”

Each year they hold a gathering to mark the Nakba — or “Catastrophe” — when Palestinians lament the loss of their homeland in the 1948-49 war that surrounded the creation of the modern Jewish state.

The scene was a rally for members of Israel’s 21% Arab minority. The Israeli term for them is Israeli Arabs, but many now reject that label, identifying instead as “Palestinian with Israeli citizenship,” or simply “Palestinian.”

Each year they hold a gathering to mark the Nakba — or “Catastrophe” — when Palestinians lament the loss of their homeland in the 1948-49 war that surrounded the creation of the modern Jewish state.

The event is a celebration of Palestinian identity that, Arab politicians and academics say, reflects a change in thinking over the decades.

On Thursday, busloads arrived at a roped-off field near the Khubbayza, a ruined Palestinian village that lay 20 miles south of Haifa and was destroyed in the fighting between Arab and Jewish forces in 1948.

It and hundreds of others are now marked on paper and digital maps by groups such as “Palestine Remembered.”

The Nakba rally is timed each year to coincide with the day that Israelis in the rest of the country celebrate Independence Day.

On Thursday, Palestinian flags flew in the roped-off field where Israeli authorities gave permission for the gathering. Across a country lane, Israeli banners were draped across the hillside from which Israeli police watched, a drone hovering nearby.

Shouting over the music, Rula Nasr-Mazzawi, 42, a psychologist, said many of the first two generations of Arabs in post-1948 Israel were too scared to discuss matters of identity openly.

“But now we are seeing the younger generation, the third generation, more and more identifying very frankly and very loudly as Palestinians,” she said.

“The term Israeli Arabs is mistaken, it’s not accurate. We are Palestinians by nationality, and we are Israeli citizens.”

Ahmad Tibi, Arab member of Iraeli parliament

In an interview earlier this year, Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament with the Ta’al party said: “The term Israeli Arabs is mistaken, it’s not accurate. We are Palestinians by nationality, and we are Israeli citizens.”

He added: “They are saying Arab Israeli or Israeli Arabs in order to say that we are not Palestinians. We bypassed that. We are part of the Palestinian people, and we are struggling in order to be equal citizens.”

Identity and citizenship

Israel’s population recently passed the 9 million mark, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics. This includes 1.89 million Arab citizens — mostly Muslim, Druze and Christians — living alongside the 6.68 million Jews who make up the 74.2% majority.

Professor As’ad Ghanem, 53, a Haifa University political scientist and co-author of the book “Palestinians in Israel,” drew a distinction with Druze and Bedouin Arabs, many of whom serve in the Israeli military, taken by many as an indicator of integration.

In contrast, most Muslims and Christian Arabs do not serve.

He said Israel’s Arabs had undergone a slow transformation from their initial status as marginalized within both Israel and the Arab world.

A new generation of intellectuals and politicians were “much more strong than those in the 50s and 60s,” and voiced their community’s complaints about discrimination in the job market, and lack of services, he said.

“The majority think that they want to be identified as Palestinian,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said most Israeli Arabs still valued their Israeli citizenship and would oppose attempts to transfer them to Gaza or the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, because “they see all the troubles on the other side.”

A woman shouts as she takes part in the Nakba rally marking the “Catastrophe” when Palestinians lost their homeland in the 1948-49 war, near the abandoned village of Khubbayza, northern Israel, May 9, 2019.

‘Best conditions’

Recently, Arabs were angered after Israel’s parliament last year passed the nation-state law, which declared that only Jews have the right to self-determination in the country.

“Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reasserted that principle just before his victory in the election a month ago, saying on Instagram: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and only it.”

He sought to placate non-Jewish citizens — and critics at home and abroad — by adding “there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel. They have equal rights like all of us and the Likud government has invested more in the Arab sector than any other government.”

Some of the Arab minority disagree with the sentiments expressed at Thursday’s rally, saying Israel protects them from threats in the Middle East.

“I am very proud to be an Israeli Arab,” said Yoseph Haddad, 33, a Greek Catholic speaking in the mixed Jewish and Arab city of Haifa.

“The fact is that if you take a look around all or most of the Arab nations, the Israeli Arabs here in Israel are in the best conditions.”

But Eyad Barghuty, 39, a novelist and former head of the Arab Cultural Association, said there had been an evolution in identity.

His generation had to struggle to find their roots within a country that emphasized the majority’s narrative, he said, while a younger generation took their Palestinian-ness for granted.

“I saw the ruins of Palestinian villages across the Galilee when I was a young man working on building sites, and I had to go to encyclopedias to look these places up. … Now there’s an app.”

Eyad Barghuty, 39, novelist

“I saw the ruins of Palestinian villages across the Galilee when I was a young man working on building sites, and I had to go to encyclopedias to look these places up,” he said. “Now there’s an app.”