Zionism is Nationalism, Not Judaism

Gwen Macsai, Andy White and Rabbi Brant Rosen at Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, IL, August 10. (photo: Liz Rose)

How Rabbi Rosen, and the author, shifted from insider to outsider.

By Liz Rose / Mondoweiss
August 17, 2017


I remember sitting in [Rabbi Rosen’s] office at [Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue], feeling nauseous, scared that what I was learning about — indeed, that Israel is in fact Palestine and was taken from Palestinians — would cause me to question everything else about my life. So much of my identity had been formed around my love for Israel. I couldn’t talk to my family about this. I worried that students from the school where I taught Hebrew, and their parents, were in the building and could somehow hear our conversation, even though the door to his office was closed.


This summer, I’ve been going through crates of old albums in my parent’s basement. Some of the records have triggered more memories than others. A few remind me of college, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. I remember making out with a guy in my dorm room, in 1988, to the song, “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).” I also found Joan Armatrading’s Show Some Emotion, which I also remember playing after the Meat Loaf guy dumped me. Others, like Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, remind me of the summers I spent at Habonim Dror, the Zionist summer camp modeled after a kibbutz that I attended in the 1980’s. Often we’d listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” or “America,” or “The Boxer,” while cleaning bathrooms or making breakfast or building a bonfire.

I had forgotten about an obscure record that I found next to my Simon and Garfunkel albums, The Parvarim sing Simon and Garfunkel in Hebrew. The Parvarim were an Israeli duo, Yossi Hurie and Nisim Menachem. They started their career in the 1950’s, primarily singing Ladino ballads and Shabbat songs, but were most famous for their Simon and Garfunkel covers from the 1970’s. The music sounds remarkably like Simon and Garfunkel, only in Hebrew. The album was helpful to me when I was studying Hebrew, and, later, when I taught Hebrew at a public high school. I played the album the other day, and was startled by the memories it stirred in me of when I was a Zionist — mostly feelings of loss — particularly when I played “Sounds of Silence,” and “America.”

Later that evening, August 10, I attended Rabbi Brant Rosen’s book launch for the second edition of his 2012 book, Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity, released this year. Rosen used to be a Zionist, too, and we’ve often talked about the process we’ve both gone through to undo the Zionist upbringing we both had. Rosen, who was the Rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue (JRC) in Evanston, Illinois, from 1998–2014, was one of the first Jews I approached when I began to question what I had learned and believed growing up about Zionism and Israel.

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Senate Bill 720 Makes It A Crime To Support Human Rights

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From left, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). (photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images)

Senators must stop hiding behind hollow support of a “two-state solution” that this bill would make impossible.

By James Zogby / Huffington Post
August 12, 2017


In order to build support for their effort, advocates for Israel have tried to portray BDS in the harshest of terms. They have made Israel the victim and while portraying advocates of BDS as “virulently anti-Semitic” aggressors. All of this has been done to obfuscate the reality that BDS is nothing more than a “strategic Palestinian-led form of nonviolent resistance to the occupation and denial of human rights.”


It is fascinating to watch some U.S. senators tripping over themselves as they attempt to defend their support for or opposition to proposed legislation that would make it a federal crime to support the international campaign to Boycott, Divest, or Sanction (BDS) Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands. What ties these officials up in knots are their efforts to square the circle of their “love of Israel,” their opposition to BDS, their support for a “two-state solution,” and their commitment to free speech.

The bill in question, S720, was introduced on March 23, 2017 by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). S720 opposes calls by the United Nations to boycott or “blacklist” companies that support Israeli activities in the territories occupied in the 1967 war. The bill further prohibits any US person from supporting this UN call to boycott and establishes stiff fines and/or imprisonment for Americans who violate this prohibition.

There are a number of problems with the legislation. In the first place, supporters of S720 grossly mischaracterize the intent of the UN approach as “anti-Israel.” In fact, as S720, itself, acknowledges, the UN Human Rights Council specifically targets only businesses that engage in activities in “territories occupied [by Israel] since 1967.” The UN target is not Israel, but Israeli actions that serve to consolidate its hold over the occupied territories.

Then there is the concern that by making illegal either the act of boycotting Israel, or advocating for such a boycott, S720 is criminalizing free speech and stifling legitimate peaceful protest.

Finally, the legislation continues to build on earlier Congressional legislation using slight of hand language in an attempt to erase the distinction in U.S. law between Israel and illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territories. While earlier legislation accomplished this by referring to “Israel and areas under Israel’s control,” S720 notes that its boycott prohibition applies to “commercial relations…with citizens or residents of Israel, entities organized under the laws of Israel, or the Government of Israel.”

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Two College Kids Debate BDS

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Sami Rahamim is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Ravil Ashirov is a junior at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Sami is against BDS, while Ravil is a supporter. Here are there thoughts.

By Ravil Ashirov and Sami Rahamim
August 7, 2017


BDS is a set of tactics, not an ideology or a vision of a particular political resolution. These tactics are meant to force the negotiation of meaningful resolutions by putting a cost on the occupation. The ultimate details of such resolutions can only be decided by the relevant Israeli and Palestinian actors. It would be foolish and paternalistic for international activists to assert specific resolutions.


SR: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply complex. Yet, one basic truth holds: Israelis aren’t going anywhere, Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, and it is in both of their best interests to come together and work to arrive at a solution that peacefully ends the conflict.

For decades, the framework of this solution has involved the creation of an independent Palestinian state beside a secure Israel. This is the dream of a majority of Israelis and many of Israel’s supporters around the globe, myself included.

One of several disturbing facets of the BDS movement is that it deceptively simplifies this conflict to exclusively assign the Palestinians the role of perpetual victims and Israel as oppressors. While this may fit a convenient narrative for pro-Palestinian activists, it distorts reality to the detriment of both Israelis and Palestinians.

I understand that we both care deeply about this conflict, but there must be a more productive way forward. When will we move in that direction?

RA: BDS is a set of tactics which seeks to put a cost on Israel for maintaining the occupation, an occupation it has been able to maintain relatively cost free, in order to compel it to recognize Palestinian sovereignty and human rights.

For BDS to have legitimacy, it must uphold two burdens. The first burden is prudence; BDS has to show gains in the achievement of Palestinian human rights or the potential to make gains. The second burden is that BDS must be able to refute the moral criticisms against it by the opposition, or otherwise point out their irrelevancy. These are burdens which can be upheld.

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Palestinian Fighting for His East Jerusalem Home

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An Israeli flag hangs from a Jewish home in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. (photo: Olivier Fitoussi)

Jawad Siyam is competing for his home against the well-financed settler group Elad.

By Nir Hasson / Haaretz
August 4, 2017


“These are not equal forces competing in the bidding. On one side is a simple Palestinian family of limited means, while on the other is a strong settler group with an annual budget of tens of millions of shekels assisted by unknown but wealthy foreign groups focusing on land acquisition, for which money poses almost no limits.”


Settlers and Palestinians are bidding for a property in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan that could decide the whole area’s character, local people say. The contestants: the settler group Elad and the man considered the Palestinian leader in Silwan, Jawad Siyam.

An invitation for bids was published by the Finance Ministry’s Custodian of Absentee Property and the Israel Land Authority, offering for sale a one-quarter stake in a building of four apartments. The invitation expires in less than three weeks. Siyam says the custodian is doing everything possible to help the settlers take over his home.

“Since 1994 we have been in the courts facing the settlers,” Siyam says. “If we lose now we’ll have only one quarter of the building and it will be much easier for them to evict us. But I won’t leave; they’ll have to kill me first.”

Both Elad and the finance minister say they are doing everything according to the law.

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Mennonite Church Approves Divestment

The Mennonite Church USA approves “withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation” of Palestine.

July 6, 2017


“This resolution is a long overdue response to the Palestinian Christian call to the global church. Today we stand in solidarity with their courageous and nonviolent efforts for justice and equality.”
— Joy Lapp, Professor of Religion at Iowa Wesleyan University


The Mennonite Church USA overwhelmingly approved the resolution “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine” today at its biennial convention in Orlando, Florida. The resolution garnered approximately 98% of the votes of the 548 delegates.

The resolution declares the denomination’s opposition to Israel’s 50-year-old military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories and commits to “withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.” The resolution also urges church members to avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and longstanding official US policy, and to advocate for an end to U.S. military aid and arms sales in the Middle East.

The Mennonite Church USA joins with the following churches in taking economic action in support of Palestinian Human Rights.

  • Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • United Methodist Church
  • United Church of Christ
  • Quakers
  • Unitarian Universalists
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The resolution focuses on ways Mennonites have been involved in harms against both Palestinians and Jews, and names concrete steps to address those harms. It addresses the ongoing reality of anti-Semitism around the world, and the extent to which Mennonites in the U.S. are complicit in Jewish suffering historically, currently, and theologically. Church members are encouraged to build relationships with Palestinian-American, Muslim and Jewish communities in the United States.

[Read the full resolution here . . . ]

Israel’s Irrational Rationality

Israeli policemen removing a protester during the eviction of Jewish settlers from the illegal settlement of Amona in the occupied West Bank, February 2017
Israeli policemen removing a protester during the eviction of Jewish settlers from the illegal settlement of Amona in the occupied West Bank, February 2017. (photo: Corinna Kern / NurPhoto / Getty Images)

By David Shulman / The New York Review of Books
June 22, 2017


No amount of coddling and reassuring, no increased bribes in the form of more money or military aid, will have any effect on Israeli policy for the simple reason that Israel considers any sacrifice that would be necessary for peace far worse than maintaining the current situation . . . . The assumption that Israel genuinely wants a peace agreement is simply wrong; the costs of such an agreement are tangible, immediate, and perhaps overwhelming, involving the loss of territory, an end to colonization, and potential political collapse, whereas the costs of maintaining the status quo are for many Israelis, if at times unpleasant, eminently bearable.


This June, Israel is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War. Some Israelis, including most members of the present government, are celebrating the country’s swift victory over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria as the beginning of the permanent annexation of the entire Palestinian West Bank; others, like me, mourn it as the start of a seemingly inexorable process of moral corruption and decline, the result of the continuing occupation of the West Bank, along with Israel’s now indirect but still-crippling control of Gaza. As it happens, my own life in Israel coincides exactly with the occupation. I arrived from the US in 1967, not as an ideological Zionist but as a young student who had fallen madly in love with the Hebrew language. Sometimes I think it is my passion for the language that has kept me here for five decades, although I would now want to add the strong feeling that it is my fate and my good fortune to be able to fight the good fight.

The country I came to live in fifty years ago was utterly unlike the one I live in today. It was no utopia, but its society was broadly moderate and humane, a mildly Mediterranean version of a modern European social democracy. Despite what some would say, it was not a colonial settlers’ society. There was widespread fear and even hatred of Arabs, including Arab citizens of Israel, but it was nothing like the rampant racism one now hears every day on the radio or TV. Shame, sincere or not, had not yet disappeared from public life.

In those early years, most Israelis regarded the occupied territories — which included the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — not as providing an opportunity for enlarging the boundaries of the state through colonization but as bargaining chips in an eventual and hoped-for peace settlement with the Arabs. There were as yet no Israeli settlements in the territories and hence no fanatical, messianic settlers; the Israeli army could still claim, with some justice, to be an army of defense, not a police force sent to ensure that the project of seizing Palestinian land take place without too much resistance from the local population.

Continue reading “Israel’s Irrational Rationality”

Jerusalem Police: Jewish Peace Activists Are Human “Garbage”

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Protesters at the Flag March on Jerusalem Day, May 24, 2017. (photo: Olivier Fitoussi)

When the police officer wrenched back my arm I couldn’t tell if it was breaking. Now I am more sure than ever of the need for more direct action for equality between Jews and Palestinians.

By Ori Weisberg / Haaretz
May 31, 2017


“At the fall of your enemy, do not rejoice; at his stumbling, do not gladden your heart” (Prov. 24:17)


No day of the year demonstrates the division of Jerusalem like Jerusalem Day, which was marked last week. Most Israelis see it as marking the city’s “liberation” and “unification,” but Palestinians, who make up a third of the population, and a minority of Israelis, see it as the beginning of its occupation.

The Jerusalem municipality annually authorizes a march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, shutting it down for the protection of its residents. These Jerusalemites are forced to sacrifice a half day’s revenue, which many of them sorely need, while marchers punctuate their songs with chants like “Death to Arabs!”, “Mohammed was a pig!”, “Burn the villages!”, and “Burn the mosques!” Residents are locked into or out of their homes for the duration while marchers bang on the metal shutters of their closed storefronts, often causing damage that they must repair at their own cost. Even if such a march proceeds peacefully, it would be still be experienced by Palestinians as a form of violence.

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The Dovekeeper and the Children’s Intifada

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Ahmed Manasra being escorted into a courtroom in Jerusalem, in October, 2015. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty)

How a thirteen-year-old boy in Jerusalem became a Rorschach blot for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By Geraldine Brooks / The New Yorker
May 27, 2017


“Our children don’t have normal childhoods. From the minute they open their eyes they wake into a reality of checkpoints, soldiers, settlers insulting their mom. They see the news from Gaza, children like them, bombed and homeless. They hear about a boy their age, burned alive by Israelis. They are sad and afraid. It’s not a healthy environment.”


Their plans were quite precise: they wouldn’t attack women, or the elderly, or children like themselves. Their targets, they agreed, would be men in their late teens and early twenties — young men of military age. All this was settled between them before they left the house. Hassan Manasra, fifteen, took a carving knife from his mother’s kitchen, but his cousin Ahmed, thirteen, couldn’t find the long, daggerlike knife he’d intended to use for his weapon. It took him a while, but finally he located it, concealed in a cupboard, where his father had hidden it for safekeeping.

The Manasras live in a compound of multifamily homes occupying almost an entire block in the Jerusalem hillside neighborhood of Beit Hanina. In the shared courtyard, half a dozen bicycles of various sizes are propped against a tree or lie in the dirt by the tall entry gate. Ten brothers and their families share the compound, and the children move fluidly through each other’s apartments, which are furnished rather formally: prints of alpine landscapes, velvet-covered sofas, lacy tablecloths. They’re the homes of a modestly prosperous clan whose breadwinners owned a grocery store, or work in trades or in transportation. Until October 12, 2015, Hassan and Ahmed followed the same schedule as all the school-age cousins in the household: go to class, come home, eat, change clothes, and then go play in an area that their uncles had cleared for them on the unused land beneath the highway overpass that separates Beit Hanina from the adjacent neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. Sometimes the cousins played soccer, but Hassan and Ahmed particularly enjoyed training for parkour; the concrete pylons and grassy embankments under the highway were ideal for practicing vaults and tumbles.

The highway divides two East Jerusalem neighborhoods — the House of Hanina and the Peak of Ze’ev — that face each other across a shallow valley. Both are long-settled places. Beit Hanina was home to a few farming families as early as Canaanite times; in Pisgat Ze’ev, excavations have uncovered ritual baths from the Second Temple period. Both neighborhoods have seen tremendous population growth since 1967, when Israel captured this territory from Jordan in the Six-Day War. Now the busy highway is all that marks the division between the Palestinian neighborhood and the Jewish one. Pisgat Ze’ev is the last stop on the Jerusalem tramline, Beit Hanina the second-to-last. Residents of the two neighborhoods live cheek by jowl, yet they inhabit two different worlds.

Continue reading “The Dovekeeper and the Children’s Intifada”

The Ultimate Deal: One State or Two?

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(photo: The Economist)

Israel’s dangerous drift to chauvinism may make a solution ever harder to find.

Special Report: Six Days of War, 50 Years of Occupation / The Economist
May 20, 2017


Israel cannot at the same time have all of the “Land of Israel,” a predominantly Jewish state and full democracy. Most Israelis (and many Palestinians) cannot conceive of a one-state model with equal rights for all Arabs and Jews. In reality, a one-state model means that some or all of the Palestinians would be disenfranchised. So, in the end, two states still looks like the least bad option to most Israelis and Palestinians.


IN A COUNTRY of larger-than-life leaders—founding fathers, warriors and peacemakers  — it is easy to forget how long Binyamin Netanyahu has been around for. Having served as prime minister for 11 years—three years in the 1990s and eight years in his current stint — he is Israel’s second-longest holder of that office after David Ben-Gurion. He is on first-name terms with the world’s leaders. But what has he achieved?

On the big questions of war and peace, not much. He has won no big battles and secured no big peace agreements. Instead he has managed the conflict and avoided big disasters, which is no small feat. He has waged two wars against Hamas in Gaza, fending off calls for a full reinvasion. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority co-operates on security. Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia militia, is too busy in Syria to risk a second front with Israel, and its paymaster, Iran, is some years away from being able to make a nuclear bomb.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Deal: One State or Two?”

A Sorry State: The Half-Life on an Occupied Palestine

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(photo: The Economist)

There is no end in sight to the occupation.

Special Report: Six Days of War, 50 Years of Occupation / The Economist
May 20, 2017


Arij, a student, picks her way past the fetid rubbish by the wall as she returns to East Jerusalem from Birzeit University, a commute of two-and-a-half hours each way. She does not speak Hebrew, so could not go to an Israeli university. “I don’t know any Jews. I am not ready to make friends with them,” she says. Most Israelis are not interested either. The Arabic that they are usually taught is a pidgin designed for places like Kalandia, with phrases in the imperative: “Jib al-hawiya” (give me your ID).


ISRAEL, THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY and Hamas may be bitter rivals, but they all agree on one thing: the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel, for the lucky few allowed to use it, is a prime opportunity to recruit spies. At the Israeli terminal a poster showing a handshake offers the “Chance of Your Lifetime” to Palestinians willing to provide information on militants. Beyond a buffer zone, at the PA and Hamas posts, murals warn Palestinians against betraying the homeland.

Erez marks one of the world’s strangest frontiers, separating the lush fields of Israeli kibbutzim from the free-fire zones, rubble and chaos of Gaza — a territory that is neither a state, nor an autonomous domain of the PA, nor even a fully occupied territory after Israel pulled out in 2005. Instead it is a large detention camp, guarded from without by Israeli forces (and by Egyptian troops), and from within by Hamas, the strongest of the armed gangs, which pushed out the PA in 2007. The PA’s border post provides a convenient buffer between Israel and Hamas.

The façade of the Israeli terminal masks a surreal automated facility. No Israeli is in sight as Palestinians emerging from Gaza make their way through remote-controlled gates and scanners. Commands are barked through distorted tannoys, or made with obscure hand signals from behind the blast-proof window of a control room high above.

Continue reading “A Sorry State: The Half-Life on an Occupied Palestine”