Thursday, March 20, 2014

“Why Isn’t Aelia Capitolina On Your Map?”


In May 1948, a minority of Palestinian residents, mostly recent settlers from Europe, declared an independent state against the wishes of the majority. This was the latest in a series of inter-communal disturbances that had followed the passage of the UN Partition Plan, and one which precipitated an expected intervention of Arab armies from neighboring states. At the end of the war, Palestine was partitioned by the new State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Egypt. Most of the inhabitants of Palestine, Palestinian Arabs,  had been forced out of areas they had lived in, directly or indirectly. Some, much fewer, Jews suffered the same fate. Over the next few years, five hundred Palestinian villages were destroyed; Palestinian place names were changed, many of the native Palestinian, including Palestinians living in the state who should have been considered citizens according to the Declaration of Independence, were not allowed to return to their homes. In many cases. Jewish refugees were resettled in those homes.  In a space of a few years, Palestine was literally and figuratively wiped off the map.

In light of the above, I am disturbed that Jewish students at Barnard are disturbed by seeing a map of Palestine calling for Justice in Palestine that doesn’t have the State of Israel on the map. If they are disturbed by the thought that the State of Israel is not on the map, why aren’t they disturbed at the actual destruction of Palestine that occurred in 1948? Do they think that Palestine ceased to exist after the British Mandate expired?  That Palestinians have no homeland? That they came from Brigadoon or Atlantis?

“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. Tell that to the Zionists who to this day claim the Land of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.  Just as the Land of Israel exists, Palestine still exists, and will always exist as along as Palestinian Arabs remember it and wish its continued existence.  I simply cannot fathom how any Zionist cannot understand this. Imagine the Romans saying to the Jews of their time, “Wishing to return to Jerusalem is personally offensive to us. Why isn’t Aelia Capitolina on your map? You lost. Get over it.” Would that carry any weight with Jews then or during the ages? Would it carry any weight with Zionists today?”

At Barnard the Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner stating, “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” (see above) and the administration took it down.

I don’t want to get into the free speech vs. private institution issue.  If I did, I would say that I am pretty much a free speech absolutist, especially when it comes to college campuses.

I want to talk about the sign itself. I understand why pro-Israel students are disturbed by the sign,  but from a moral standpoint, they should get over it.  To this day, I am viscerally disturbed by some aspects of Christianity, and going into churches is not easy for me. That’s because as an orthodox Jew, I get  that there is a fundamental incommensurability between the two religions,such that if I am right, they are wrong, and vice-versa.  But while I do not agree with the belief that Jesus was the messiah, I can’t imagine protesting a banner that expresses this Christian belief. I would oppose, of course,  a banner that says, “All Jews/Christians are going to hell” or “Throw the Zionists/Palestinians into the sea”.

So while it is understandable that some Jewish students have a visceral response to the banner, I would hope that they would have the sensitivity to understand, even if they don’t agree, that Palestine is eternal for the Palestinians, just as the Land of Israel is eternal for the Jews. 

As for the J Street students who think that such banners are “unhelpful” for a two-state solution, I ask, “Why so?” After all, even if the Palestinians accept a small, truncated state in Palestine, it will never replace Palestine for them, no more than that state will have any effect whatever on Eretz Yisrael for me.

What I am saying is not rocket science. I live in what will forever be Occupied Palestine for Palestinians, and Eretz Yisrael for Jews.  I will not support any ideology that wants to bring chaos and suffering to people who are justifiably in their land. I will try to seek for solutions that will maximize justice.

To my fellow Jews I say right now – Palestine never went away and is not going away. Palestine remembered is Palestine forever. Please read my post here about how Jews should relate to Palestine.

After all, the primary victims of the Zionist movement have been the Palestinians – so if sensitivity is required, then sensitivity for the weaker and more aggrieved party is in order, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I (Still) Love Living in Israel

Yesterday I wrote that living in Israel for Jews (especially Jews who have a steady income) is like flying business class, or like being in an airport club, that “membership has its privileges”. That may have left the reader with the impression that this is the only reason I like being here. That’s not the case.

I cannot deny that despite all my misgivings about the state of Israel, its past, present, and immediate future, I like being here. In fact, I really like being here. Here’s why:

I like Israelis, and I don’t mean just Israeli Jews. There is something about Israel that makes this place feel like a small town. I would say shtetl but that’s too Jewish. There is a national character, an Israeliness that, like every Israeli, I both criticize and celebrate. When traveling abroad I always run into Israelis, everywhere. There is a freshness, a newness to this place that reflects some sort of innate optimism. Maybe some of that is Jewish, but it’s not just that. How can the Palestinians not be optimistic – they have survived their ongoing Nakbah, and their community, and the world’s recognition of its aspirations, is growing. 

Second, I have lived here for so long that it has become home to me.  Not so much as a Jew – as a Jew home is where my community and shul are – but as somebody who became an Israeli citizen many years ago. It’s because Israel is home to me that I view Israelis as family, and I like family. Families get into arguments, but family is family. And when my family screws up, it pains me, but it’s also my responsibility.

Third, it’s hard to  be a Jew here, real hard, and that’s part of what makes life interesting, especially for somebody like me, who is a very Jewish Jew.   Pace A. B. Yehoshua, I can’t think of any place in the world where it is harder to be a Jew than in Israel. Here’s an example: When I was growing up, I used to listen to the Christian fundamentalists on Sunday religion shows. As a privileged suburban Jewish liberal I used to think that Judaism was more rational, more liberal a religion that Christianity. I suffered from the same moral chauvinism that many tribalists feel about their own tribe.  It’s only when I came to Israel and learned that whatever craziness gentiles had, Jews also had it in spades, and that whatever bigotry the Southern (and Northern) whites had in the past, some Jews also had it. Only in Israel did I realize that my feelings of moral superiority were misplaced. I learned that  Judaism was a lot more than the lofty sentiments of “Pentateuch” with Rabbi Hertz’s commentary (or any book written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks),  and that my people continued to commit sins in the name of “Jewish survival” or “Judaism”  just as folks from other religions did it (and that includes the religion of nationalism and secularism.)  I suppose I could have learned the same thing growing up in some neighborhoods in New York, but only in Israel did I meet those folks for the first time.

Of course, that doesn’t sound like a reason to love Israel, no more than you love a persistent pain. Perhaps it’s better to say that I am grateful for the difficulties of being a Jew here because of its impact on my moral smugness.

There’s a final reason why I love Israel. I still have faith that it can become a decent, even inspiring society, and I say that because of my faith in humanity and my familiarity with Israelis.  I can envision a truly liberal democracy, a state of all its citizens, where all Israelis learn about and celebrate the two major national cultures and the many religious cultures here.  I can envision an Israel that grows ups, that admits its responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah, that invites Palestinians to build with Israeli Jews a just society, that tries to make amends, an Israel that bears a special responsibility for the welfare and the flourishing of the Palestinian people.  As I have said before, the Palestinians were the collateral damage, not the intended damage,  of the Zionist enterprise, and so Israelis, primarily Israeli Jews,  have a collective and historical relationship towards the Palestinians and their national aspirations. Hakarat ha-het – recognizing the sin of responsibility for the ongoing Nakbah– is the first step in the process of repentance.  A just society can be  built here, and that should be the primary task of Jews in the twenty-first century, especially those Jews for whom Israel is a special place. It may take decades and generations, but I believe it can come.

So, yes, that is a dream, and  I realize that for some of my coreligionists it is a nightmare, that they would rather continue living according to the blessing of  Esau – “by the sword” -- for the sake of political power, privilege, dominion, “Jewish pride.” It will always be easier for tribalists to live like Simeon and Levi than like Jacob.  

But I still have faith that things can be different and that ultimately, whatever political arrangement, which means little to me, these two peoples can flourish together.  They are certainly not going away.

Anyway, that’s my dream, and I haven’t given up on it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on Purim.

1. Binationalism in the eyes of Israelis. Ask most Israel supporters what they they think of binationalism, and they will say, “Look at Lebanon; that hasn’t worked out very well, has it?” But that depends on whom you ask, right? After all, a Christian in Lebanon is better off than a Palestinian on the West Bank. So what the Zionists really mean is, “We will have less security in a binational state because we won’t have total control over the Palestinians who live under our authority.”

2. Binationalism in the eyes of Palestinians. Ask most Palestinians what they think of binationalism, and they will say, “We want our own state.” What they really mean is that they are sick of Jews determining their lives, and that they have no desire to share power with Jews, especially since they will probably get the short end of the stick in a binational state. The irony is that both Israeli Jews and Palestinians think that their national identity will be compromised in a binational state. These peoples have so much in common….

3. The Israeli binationalist nightmare scenario. If there were one state, argue Israel supporters, the Palestinians would obtain a majority, start persecuting the Jewish minority, which would only grow after many Israelis leave the country. And then the nightmare would really begin. I have heard some intelligent, liberal Jews give this argument. Which just goes how deep racism is among those intelligent, liberal Jews.  The group that has most to fear from binationalism are the Palestinians. After all, only one country was wiped off the map, and it wasn’t the State of Israel, was it? Who would have power in a binational state? Israeli Jews, even if there were fewer of them. Look how well they did against the Palestinians when they were outnumbered.

4. Haman in Jerusalem.  I went to a reading of the Book of Esther by Israeli Litvaks. What that means is that qua Litvaks they were concerned with Jewish law; qua Israelis they raised a huge ruckus every time Haman’s name was mentioned. The reader would say Haman’s name, and the kids would explode for around 30 seconds of noise. Then, in order to ensure that everybody had heard Haman’s name (according to Jewish law, everybody should hear every word of the megillah), the reader repeated Haman’s name, this time without the noise.  So Haman’s name was mentioned twice as many times as written in order to fulfill the non-mitzvah of blotting out his name. This is the logical conclusion of a moronic custom.

5. Membership has its privileges. Jews enjoy going to Israel. Even tourists feel that this a kind of home for them. If Israel were a plane, then Jews would be in  Business Class; Israeli Palestinians would be  in Economy, and Palestinians in the Occupied Territory would be  in the luggage hold. That’s one of the reasons why Jews don’t want Israel to change. Who wants to  be thrown out of Business Class?

6. Moral delusion. Ami Gluska has an opinion piece in Haaretz showing that Ben Gurion was willing to have an Arab president. Over the opposition of the religious Zionists, he argued that “A constitution that would prevent an Arab from being president is inconceivable. Rabbi Berlin has quoted so many verses against me for nothing. Any citizen can be elected president of the state, and if a majority is found to elect an Arab president, there will be no discrimination in the Jewish state. I suppose that it will also not be called Jewish State.” Gluska points out that when Ben-Gurion wrote this, he had accepted a state that had around 40% Arabs, and, together with the communists, there was a real possibility that there could be an Arab president.

What Gluska doesn’t mention is that Ben-Gurion’s acceptance of partition was merely tactical; that he fully expected a transfer of Arabs outside of the Jewish state; that at the first opportunity he acquiesced and even favored expulsion; that he placed the Arabs who remained under military government and infiltrated their society with secret service. So while theoretically it was possible that there could be an Arab president, he knew that there never would be one, nor did he actually want one. What he wanted was a state that could be an imagined democracy, a state that could be built on theoretical democratic principles without ceding any real privileges to non-Jews. Thus Arabs would have the vote so they could vote for Mapai candidates, in exchange for which the mukhtars would be properly rewarded, and they could express their opinions in the Knesset provided they had no real political power.

I don’t think this was a cynical ploy on the part of Ben-Gurion. I think it was part of a schizophrenic personality, one that insisted on liberal values on principle while violating those principles in practice. One sees this time after time in his actions as Zionist leader and then prime minister: he talked the democratic talk, but he walked the nationalist walk. In that sense, he was the quintessential Mapainik – talking about equality for the Arabs while ensuring that they stay behind.

This moral delusion – delusion, more than duplicity – is deep in the Israeli psyche and expressed beautifully in the phrase “Jewish and democratic”.

7. Israel as the Nation State of the Jews. I call myself a Zionist but many people claim that I am not, because I oppose Israel as an ethnic exclusivist state. Zionists, they say, affirm Israel as the nation state of the Jews. So by requiring Palestinians to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jews, Israel is saying that the Palestinians must become Zionists – or at least profess Zionism – for them to have their own state. That’s like Christians requiring Jews to believe in Jesus in order for Jews to have their self-determination. Or better, that’s like the rapist requiring his victim to accept the legitimacy of the rape.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Partial Correction on the Atarot Post

Subscribers: Please check out my blog here because this post will be virtually incomprehensible if you can’t see the maps.

I criticized the NY Times for changing an article in response to misinformation given then by the rightwing pro-Israel media watchdog group CAMERA. Here’s what I said;

After CAMERA weighed in, this was the version that was on the [NY Times] web[site]

Israel opened an industrial zone in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot, which had been Jewish before 1948, shortly after recapturing it along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war.

One sentence, three mistakes:

  • There was no East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot before 1948.
  • There was no Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called  Atarot before 1948.
  • The Atarot industrial zone does not even overlap  geographically with the tiny Jewish settlement  of Atarot that fell to the Jordanians in the 1948 war.


All the above is correct. But I went on to say that the Jewish settlement of Atarot was not even in the expanded municipal boundaries. I said that on the basis of this map from the Civil Administration, provided me by Dror Etkes.




The purple is the area bounded by the city line. Since the blue and white area on the upper left was Jewish land prior to 1948, and that area was tagged in the map “Atarot,” Dror and I assumed that this was the spot of the settlement of Atarot. It may actually been its lands. But it appears that the actual settlement was slightly south, or  south east of the present-day air-strip (considerably expanded in 1972 from the British air strip built on lands obtained from Atarot.)

This was pointed out to me by  Professor Brendan McKay – the well-known Australian debunker of the Bible Codes hoax (among other things).  He was kind enough to send me a British map from 1944.



and a modern map:




and to write, “on this evidence the buildings of Atarot were at the place which has the elevation mark “757” just below the centre of the runway in the modern map.”

This is somewhat confirmed by the following passage from Meron Benveniste that Etkes sent me: “See the runway that appears in all the maps -- slightly to its south east, you will find the settlement [of Atarot]. Part of it was destroyed by the British in order to build the airstrip, and part was destroy in 1948 after its evacuation.”

Still, prima facie we have a case of dueling maps: the British map of 1944 and the Civil Administration map provided to Etkes. The area tagged Atarot in that map may have been a mistake, or a partial reference to Atarot’s lands  there. 

To conclude: so far the evidence appears to be in favor of Atarot being south east of the center of the modern runway and not to its west. (Remember the modern runway is not identical with the British airstrip.)

I would like to thank Brendan McKay and Dror Etkes for spending their time on this. Etkes actually drove to Atarot today to check out the terrain but couldn’t find anything.

For the moment, I’ll go with the British map. But as I said, this really had nothing to do with the errors made by the New York Times, prompted by CAMERA.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why the NY Times Atarot Snafu Matters

Some readers wondered why I devoted a whole post to showing that the NY Times “corrected” a story about Atarot  by repeating a rightwing media’s group’s errors. I mean, so what if the Industrial Zone of Atarot is not in the same geographical area as the pre-1948 Jewish settlement of Atarot?  So what if the NY Times got it wrong? They spelled the name right, so why be obsessed?

Dear Reader, may I suggest that the story is emblematic of how Israel creates facts on the ground, and how the mainstream media just adopts the Israeli narrative.

Israel assumes that because there was a Jewish presence in a certain area prior to 1948, that gives Israel a prima facie right to “resettle,” and even to assert sovereignty over that area.  For some that settlement can date from Biblical times; for others, it may be a modern settlement.  But the principle is the same, and that’s what motivated, for example, CAMERA to make the claim that the Atarot Industrial Zone was part of the pre-1948 Jewish village Atarot.

Even if that were true, the obvious response would be, “so what”? For every Jewish village that surrendered to the Jordanian army in 1948, there are tens, if not hundreds of Palestinian villages that surrendered. If there is a claim to return in one case, then there is a claim to return to another.  Ditto for sovereignty.

But it’s not true, and the reason is that it’s not true is the Israeli propensity of vastly enlarging the territory that it claims that it settled prior to 1948.

Ask most Israelis whether it was right to settle in the Etzion Bloc, or whether the Etzion Bloc should be part of a Palestinian state, and you will hear the same argument: “Jews lived there before 1948.” But the Etzion Bloc has tripled three times in size since then. Including area that was never part of the Etzion Bloc, Israel is quite literally moving the borders in an effort to claim legitimacy. And this happens again and again and again.

The biggest case is Jerusalem.  I am going to shock some of my readers with what I am about to say – but I am willing to support a solution in which Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of the State of Israel, wholly under Jewish sovereignty. Yes, you head me --  the “rock of our existence,” the geographic locale towards which Jews prayed for centuries, should be the undivided capital of the State of Israel! There should be one minor proviso. “Jerusalem” should be  limited (generously) to the Old City and perhaps part of Silwan, because THAT was the Jerusalem that  was the “rock of our existence.” In exchange for having  the Haram al-Sharif remain under Israeli sovereignty, though clearly with religious administration given to the Waqf, the rest of present-day Jerusalem will be the capital of a Palestinian state.  Jews can live in West Jerusalem under Palestinian sovereignty.  The fact is that Jews have no historical claims to neighborhoods outside the wall of the Old City until the end of the nineteenth century – and nobody ever prayed towards Yemin Moshe!

But, of course, that’s not the way it works in the Israeli mind-set. If Jerusalem’s municipal border were expanded to include Bet Shemesh to the West, Israel would argue that that too was Jerusalem. This was the trap that CAMERA caused the NY Times to fall into.  Israel declares lands that were never part of Jerusalem  to be Jerusalem in an effort to take them off the negotiating table. And in many case, the mainstream media buys it.

You think I’m exaggerating? Here’s how Jodi Rudoren describes Ramot Shlomo:

The Israeli government announced Wednesday that it had given final approval for 1,500 new apartments in a particularly contentious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and moved forward on plans for a controversial park and tourism center here, prompting Palestinian accusations that it is not taking the Washington-brokered peace talks seriously.

On the one hand she calls Ramot Shlomo a “settlement” and not a “neighborhood”.  But when she says that it is in East Jerusalem, she places Ramot Shlomo on the same level as Jewish settlement in pre-67 East Jerusalem, like the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.  But Ramot Shlomo is NOT in East Jerusalem, or rather, the area was not East Jerusalem until Israel expanded its borders to include it.  So by not noting that its being part of Jerusalem is itself disputed, the Times already makes it into a dispute as to whether Jews have a claim to this area of “East Jerusalem.”

Ditto for Gilo and Har Homah and for all other neighborhoods in expanded Jerusalem.

The NY Times response will be, “We describe matters as they now stand; we don’t have to add a note saying that the territory was only considered  Jerusalem after 1967.”  But there should be a distinction made between was was Jerusalem and what became Jerusalem by Israel’s expansion ,largely in order to maintain a demographic balance of 80% Jews to 20% Arabs, and to provide for Jewish growth.  (There were  further economic reasons, but that’s another story.)

All it takes for the NY Times is to add the phrase “Israeli expanded” before “Jerusalem,” and that will be accurate enough.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Submitted Testimony in Opposition to the Maryland Legislature Anti-Boycott Bill

Tomorrow and Thursday there will be committee hearings on the proposed Maryland legislation forbidding the use of state money for institutional membership in, and travel to conferences sponsored by, academic associations that have passed boycott resolutions against Israel.

The presidents of the state universities have written a strong letter against the legislation. That will probably kill it, especially since the letter condemns the boycott itself.  But I was also asked to submit testimony, and so here it is.

 Testimony in Opposition to SB 647 and HB 998

Public Higher Education — Use of Funds — Prohibition

TO: Hon. June Carter Conway, Chair, and members of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

Hon. Chair Norman Conway and members of the House Appropriations Committee

FROM: Charles H. Manekin, Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies and Professor of Philosophy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

DATE: March 5, 2014

I oppose SB 647/HB 998 because I believe it constitutes an infringement of academic freedom. But I also oppose SB 647/HB 998 because calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against those who violate fundamental human rights is a long enshrined American practice, and this bill, while not formally outlawing such calls, is clearly intended to curtail them. That is the expressed intention of the initiators who are reacting to boycott resolutions passed against Israeli academic institutions.

This bill is important to me not only as the director of a center that has extensive ties with Israeli academic institutions but as a native of Baltimore, an alumnus of the Gilman School, and the Baltimore Hebrew College, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, whose four children are also veterans, and whose children and grandchildren live in Israel. It may seem surprising to members of the committee that I, who do not engage in any boycotts of Israel within its democratic borders, not only endorse the right to call for such boycotts but express solidarity with the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement of Palestinian civil society

And yet it is not surprising. My father was an early supporter of the civil rights movement, which included the Montgomery Bus boycott. In high school I marched with my classmates from the Baltimore Hebrew College in support of Soviet Jews whose human rights were being violated. I supported the 1974 Jackson-Vanick amendment that restricted trade with the Soviet Union, just as I supported the divestment movement against the treatment of blacks under South African apartheid.

Whenever there is a boycott to promote human rights, critics of the boycott question the motives of the boycotters. The Soviet Union argued that the boycotters were hardline anti-Soviets who sought the destruction of the USSR. The South African government accused the divestment movement of hypocrisy, claiming that there were worse human rights violators. Some Israel advocates claim that the global BDS movement seeks to destroy the Jewish state and accuse their detractors of anti-Semitism.

The global BDS movement calls upon the State of Israel to recognize and protect the human rights of the Palestinians in accordance with international resolutions and human rights standards. Reasonable people may disagree over whether boycotts, divestments, and sanctions of Israel are effective tactics, or whether academic associations should become involved in the fight for human rights, or even whether the case of Israel warrants these tactics. These are questions not to be decided in state legislatures but to be debated and discussed in the public sphere.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How the Rightwing CAMERA got the NY Times to Invent A Jewish Neighborhood of Jerusalem

Phil Weiss reported last week about how the rightwing media “watchdog” CAMERA got the New York Times to change its reporting on the Soda Stream factory at the Atarot Industrial Zone. After CAMERA weighed in, this was the version that was on the web.

Israel opened an industrial zone in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot, which had been Jewish before 1948, shortly after recapturing it along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war.

One sentence, three mistakes:

  • There was no East Jerusalem neighborhood of Atarot before 1948.
  • There was no Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem called  Atarot before 1948.
  • The Atarot industrial zone does not even overlap  geographically with the tiny Jewish settlement  of Atarot that fell to the Jordanians in the 1948 war.

After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 it expanded the municipal boundaries to include territory that had never been part of Jerusalem, expanding northward to claim the Qalandia airstrip that Jordan had used, but being careful not to include more Arabs necessary within its borders. The abandoned Atarot settlement was not included within the expanded municipal borders of Jerusalem (see picture below.)

The Atarot settlement that was captured by the Jordanians in 1948 consisted of around a dozen settlers on approximately 132 acres. According to the  Atarot Industrial Zone website, the zone  is today built on 1500 acres, with over 180 factories and 4500 employees – every single one of them is on Palestinian land.

CAMERA took credit for the The New York Times’ correction.

CAMERA had informed The Times that the neighborhood, Atarot, was a Jewish owned farming village before 1948, when Jordan occupied the area and destroyed the village’s homes. Atarot is in sovereign Israeli territory as part of the country’s unified capital, although Palestinians claim it as their own….

I am not sure whether CAMERA knowingly duped the NY Times, or whether it is simply woefully ignorant about the facts on the ground. The purple on the map below is the territory annexed by the Israelis in 1967. Pre-1948 Atarot is to the left, in Area C – not yet annexed by the Israelis, although maybe that’s just a matter of time….