A response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Call for Reparations” from within Judaism.

In the Hebrew tradition prophets cry out in the wilderness in part because their audience tends to be uninterested in the message. If the people were ready, after all, they wouldn’t need a prophet. “The prophet faces a coalition of callousness and established authority, and undertakes to stop a mighty stream with mere words,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote. “The purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness, to change the inner man as well as to revolutionize history.”

Last week, The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates published “The Case for Reparations,” a remarkable piece that in many ways calls to mind Rabbi Heschel’s portrayal of prophetic literature: Facing a coalition of callousness and established authority, Coates offers “mere words,” with the intent of revolutionizing history. How might an American Jew respond?

To keep reading, please go to The Forward.

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On Jerusalem Day, a reminder: Israel’s capital is neither eternal, undivided nor holy.

Jerusalem Day, we’re told, celebrates the reunification of Israel’s eternal capital, symbolizing “the continued historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.” It’s a moment to remember that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu once said, “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart.”

So we’re told, and so the vast majority of Jews in Israel and abroad believe. Jerusalem is our heart, our soul – a small, holy spot on the map around which everything else revolves. So we’re told.

Except that it’s a lie. “Jerusalem” – as currently constituted, featured on maps, and represented by Israel’s government – is not eternal. It is not undivided. And it is certainly not holy.

The geographic location to which Jewish hearts have turned for millennia is small, corresponding roughly to today’s Old City; the holy part – the area on which the Israelites were commanded to establish a resting place for the Divine Presence – is more modest still, consisting of the Temple Mount. When we stand before the Western Wall, or orient ourselves toward it in worship, we’re weaving our prayers and longings with those of all Jews, reaching across miles and years and touching the core of that which holds us in community.

Zionism stems from that faith experience, but is not identical to it. Zionism is a modern idea, a nationalist movement which, like all nationalist movements, centers on a shared language, culture, and land. That’s why Uganda was nixed as an alternative – because the Jewish people’s shared land is anchored by our holy city.

Yet it simply cannot be argued (not honestly, at least) that the 21st century municipality that carries the name “Jerusalem” is that same place.

To read the rest of this, please go to Haaretz.

#YesAllWomen – Women’s bodies as a delivery mechanism for statements about men’s power.

I ran a slightly different version of this post in March; in light of the weekend’s events, and the subsequent #YesAllWomen responses, I’ve decided to re-up it.

*******

I wrote the above headline as a tweet recently, just after reading about the recent stabbing death of a teenage Palestinian girl by her brother, “for allegedly shaming her family.”

Ever since writing those 72 characters, though, I can’t stop thinking about them. Because that’s it, that’s the whole story: Women’s bodies are used as a delivery mechanism for statements about men’s power. Everywhere. All the time. Witness Friday’s shootings near UC Santa Barbara.

Honor killings are a particularly obvious example (the kind of example that allows Westerners to feel that we’re off the hook on these issues) because a family’s honor is defined by how chaste the men are able to keep their women. If the women stray (or are perceived to have strayed) from a very narrow definition of proper behavior, in certain cultures and circumstances the men are not only free to kill the women, they’re expected to.

But as we were reminded this weekend, women’s bodies are not just the delivery mechanism for statements about men’s power in Foreign Places that are Far Away. They’re used for making such statements all around the globe, every day, all day.

Rape. Sexual assault. Workplace harassment. Street harassment. Domestic violence. Outright murder. In each case, the attacker or harasser is making clear that his victim (and whoever else might be listening) knows who’s got power over whom. The victim’s body is a tool toward these ends.

Likewise the fight to legally prevent women from having access to the reproductive health care of our choice. When male politicians and cultural leaders declare that pregnant women are “hosts”, or that women who want access to birth control as part of their healthcare are uncontrolled sluts and/or prostitutes, or ask if women want access to abortions, why can’t men have access to rape? – they’re declaring their right to deny women physical autonomy.

When women don’t earn as much as men for the same work, and are only sporadically allowed access to the same work; when women cannot afford to better the physical conditions of their lives without the aid of a better-paid husband; when it continues to be culturally suspect if a man is supported by a woman, and culturally rewarded if a man earns enough money to “allow” his wife to not work — women’s physical productivity is a tool with which men assert or declare their power in the workplace, in society, and at home.

Polygamy; male “scoring” vs. female “sluttiness”; women as cooks but not as chefs; women as accessories but not as leads; women told to be pleasant to men who are rude; women told they’re not Real Geeks; pre-teens who can’t walk to school without hearing grown men talk about their bodies; girls and women told to shape and re-shape their bodies by an entertainment business dominated by men — all are direct examples or outgrowths of the same principle, a principle that frequently overlaps with others: Brown men may not be seen as having as much power as white men, nor poor men as much power as the rich, the cultural elite need to be protected from the unwashed, all of it in an endless cycle of social drama and jockeying for position. As is often true for oppressed populations, some women support this status quo, serving to perpetuate the very system that hurts them and their sisters — but their involvement doesn’t change the basic fact.

And that basic fact is this: At the end of the day, I cannot be sure that my body is mine. My daughter cannot be sure that her body is hers. Our bodies are free game to whatever man needs to tell the world that he is powerful. Our human right to physical autonomy is not a given.

Women’s bodies are delivery mechanisms for statements about men’s power. Everywhere. Every day. And as a recent study shows – it really is all women.

All damn day long.

5 Dudes Who Claim To Be America’s Rabbi.

Judaism — it’s a big religion; America — it’s an even bigger place.

But one man — one brave, self-sacrificing man — has taken upon himself the weight and burden of serving both constituencies, of being just the Jew that this country needs, of being: America’s Rabbi.

I’m sorry, did I say “one man”? I meant “five men.”

There are five American men (and yes of course they’re men) currently laying claim to the title of “America’s Rabbi.” Five, can you believe it? Why, that’s as many books as we have in the Torah! We’re going to have to add a chapter to our Holy Scriptures, or at the very least create a field guide, to sort them all out.

So allow me to present to you:

A Field Guide to “Rabbis, America’s”

1. Shmuley Boteach.

As news outlets reminded us earlier this week, America’s Rabbi is Rabbi Shmuley, he of the piercing blue eyes and bendy social values — hip enough to talk about sex, but not so hip as to think he shouldn’t tell women what we really want. Hip enough to want to play within America’s political arena, but not so hip as to think maybe he shouldn’t hitch his wagon to someone as manifestly crooked as Chris Christie. Hip enough to think he’s the Jew America needs (and if you doubt his bona fides, check out his About Shmuley page. You can even see his beeper!) but not so hip as to worry about the fact that an Orthodox rabbi doesn’t actually represent America’s actual Jews especially well. Now, Shumley Boteach sure is a whiz at public relations (he wants to “help educate and evolve with the masses,” as long as he gets the credit), but even though the front page of his website declares his singular status, Boteach is not, in fact, America’s only America’s Rabbi.

2. Also America’s Rabbi? Daniel Lapin.

According to his website, Lapin (“known world-wide as America’s Rabbi”) has an uncanny ability “to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner” and in so doing, bring “countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.” Need to “reprogram the software of your soul”? Seeking a “system of regular spiritual injections?” Lapin’s got books! But note particularly the rabbi’s contributions to America’s search for a padded bank account. One video answers the perennial question “How can America’s Rabbi help me create wealth when I work full time?” At Lapin’s other website, called I’m-not-kidding-this-is-really-the-name Ancient Hebrew Wisdom, one finds the answer to this head-scratcher: “Why Would This 8th Generation Rabbi Defy Convention, Revealing Ancient Jewish Money Principles?”

To learn more about the men who would be America’s Rabbi, click here!

 

 

In defense of “not all.”

The words “not all” are having something of a moment. Not necessarily the kind of moment they might want to have, but it sure is a moment.

All across the internet – on Twitter (of course), but also well-known and less-known blogs, among cartoonists and meme producers, at Jezebel and Vox and even at Time magazine – activists of all stripes are decrying and/or mocking the whininess of people who announce (often quite loudly) that Not All men/white people/straight folks/what-have-you are “like that” – whatever the “that” might be. Racist assholes. Misogynist jerkwads. Homophobic douche-nozzles. And the like.

And I see the point, I genuinely do. Oppression and bigotry are daily, often deadly struggles, and the idea that we need to watch out for the delicate emotional states of people who (consciously or unknowingly) benefit from the fruits of oppression and bigotry can be flat-out ridiculous, not to mention adding insult to literal injury.

But look. I’ve been a social justice activist my whole life, around issues that tend to make people very angry, in particular gender violence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trust me when I say that I have more than a little experience with people saying truly horrible things, and expecting me to explain away the horrible things that other people say or do. I’ve been mansplained, Jewsplained, Arabsplained, Gentilesplained, OppressionOlympicssplained, and then mansplained again for good measure, ad nauseum. And yet I am forever producing some version of “not all.” Even if through gritted teeth.

To read the rest of this, please go to xoJane.

Israel’s far right didn’t need to “kidnap” Zionism. The vast middle gave it away.

This weekend, renowned Holocaust scholar Shaul Friedlander gave sharp expression to a feeling shared broadly by many Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora. “Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right,” Friedlander said in an interview with Haaretz. And all around the world, these Jews shook their heads, and sighed. Yes, they thought, it has been.

I have enormous respect for Prof. Friedlander, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Zionism wasn’t kidnapped, or even merely “taken,” by the far right. It was handed over, with barely a peep, by the vast middle.

Our Ze’ev Jabotinskys, Geula Cohens, and Meir Kahanes have always had a central role in Jewish nationalist thought, but the 21st century has seen their like rise to new prominence. Centrists, hard-core peaceniks, and leftists have watched grimly as Israel has drifted ever rightward since the second intifada. Every step toward peace seemed doomed from the outset, and Israel’s leadership took care to tell us that there just wasn’t anyone to talk to. More and more settlements were built, but again, Israel’s leadership always kindly clarified that these don’t stand in the way of peace, and really, what’s another road, another red roof?

Wars, incursions, bombings – all are sad, indeed, particularly when innocent Israelis are hurt or killed, but human rights abuses by the military? The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and anyone who says different is probably an anti-Semite. Or, if the source is a Jew, a self-hater. Or, if the source is an Israeli combat soldier, a self-hater and an embarrassment to the nation. Demagogues climbed to the top of Israel’s political ladder, gained government ministries, passed anti-democratic laws, and structured budgets to make Israel’s occupation permanent – and the vast middle has watched, and sighed. And written checks, and sent their kids on Birthright, and floated in the Dead Sea.

Because it’s easier. It’s easier to believe that ethnic anxiety is the only true form of Judaism. It’s easier to believe that boys who look like your boys must be nice boys.

To read the rest of this post, please click through to The Forward.

In the hope that it will bring an actual lovely sunny day to Greater Chicagoland, I give you Zachary Levi, Bert, & obvious irony.

Note: Who knew Zachary Levi was such a good singer? Well, probably a lot of people, but I sure didn’t. It seems there’s nothing he can’t do. /swoons a little

Note #2: I would just like to say that if Bert were to liven up his decor, it might mitigate the obvious misery of his indoor experience, at least little. You know, for the occasional rainy day. I have some posters he could use.

Quick thoughts on HuffPo & Arianna Huffington, because of a tweet.

Yesterday Arianna Huffington tweeted a ridiculously cloying aphorism. Being in a bad mood, I responded thusly:

Because, you see, Arianna Huffington built a media empire on the unpaid labor of a huge percentage of her content producers, and you know what? Wealthy, influential “Progressives” who build any part of their wealth on unpaid labor make me very, very angry. Because it’s wrong.

(Full-disclosure: My work has appeared on The Huffington Post, and I knew ahead of time that I would not be compensated. I agreed to those terms because the content was old and my reach is small, and I am beaten down enough to just be glad that it would get a broader audience).

My tweet got a bunch of RTs (for whatever that’s worth) and one person (only one) replied to tell me that I should Google HuffPo’s business practices going back nine years — that HuffPo employs paid journalists, and bloggers post “without expectation of being paid.” All of which is true. And yet. Aside from the fact that the dividing line between “journalist” and “blogger” isn’t actually a line (I’m a journalist who writes for blogs. What does that make me?), here’s how that whole “bloggers post without expectation of being paid” thing happened:

The world of print media was in the throes of a long, drawn-out wasting illness when it collapsed spectacularly in the spring and summer of 2008. This wrecked futures and ruined lives. People who had made their livings and used their hard-won skills to build careers slowly and carefully watched all of it crumble and fall, through no fault of their own.

People like Arianna Huffington (and there are a lot of them) recognized a depressed market, and, savvy business people that they are, understood that they could profit from the chaos. In Huffington’s case, she understood that she could profit financially and extend her cultural and political influence by exploiting the labor of people who had literally lost their means to make a living. Get lots and lots of hungry writers to agree to give you their skills, experience, and time in exchange for “exposure,” and your news outlet (and the full time journalists who you do pay) will have the constant churn of content required to keep it relevant and competitive in a market that demands constant churn.

This situation is now industry-wide, and I hate it no matter where I see it, because it is wrong.

It is wrong. It is wrong. Let me repeat myself: IT IS WRONG. It is wrong to make a profit off of someone else’s unpaid labor. IT. IS. WRONG.

But, as I say, the entire industry looks like this now, so it’s very hard to combat. Everyone publishing anything is doing so with on a very slim budget, and if you want to be able to compete, there’s only so far you can go in trying to stand up for what’s right. So of course there’s a sliding scale: Is your site largely an advocacy site and your writers are doing their work as a contribution to the cause and even the people making salaries aren’t getting rich? Well, ok. Is your site a small for-profit site, and you at least make a good-faith effort to pay folks a little something out of respect for their time and effort? Well, ok. (And I should note that I hold no anger, grudge, resentment, or even judgement toward the people actually employed by these organizations — they are not the problem).

But HuffPo (and the many other sites and online presences of dead-tree publications with similar business models, the names of which I won’t try to list now) fits in neither of those categories. HuffPo, with Arianna Huffington at its head, became a large, money-making venture with genuine sway over American culture, its uber-wealthy founder a player in national politics. So, a) it’s wrong; b) it’s a very bad look for an influential Democrat; and c) what this ultimately means is that HuffPo and its ilk are the Walmarts of publishing.

We lefties sure like to take Walmart to task for keeping wages down across the entire economy by virtue of it being the single largest employer in the country and paying its hungry-for-any-job employees terribly. What Walmart does literally affects mid-to-low-paying jobs everywhere, because it sets the bottom-line standards against which every other employer has to compete.

Which is precisely what HuffPo, et al, do when they continue the “bloggers who don’t expect to be paid” model. They perpetuate and deepen a terrible, unethical industry standard that writers (and photographers and artists and so on) should not simply expect to be paid for their work — that on the contrary, merely having one’s work used for someone else’s profit should be seen as recompense enough.

So yeah. If you’re a creative, ask yourself: Are you living your dream or are you living somebody else’s dream? Because unless you’re one of the relative few who’ve managed to get a decently paid full-time gig out of this (and confidential to my young writer friends: If you have a full time, professional job and still have to live with roommates — you’re not paid enough), then you’re living Arianna Huffington’s dream.

UPDATE: Please note Brian Spears’s comment below re: Huffington’s celebrity buddies, because that is absolutely part of the problem.

*correction: Thanks to my girl Minna’s eagle eye, I’ve corrected the spelling of Huffington’s first name throughout (this is what happens when you can’t afford a copy editor, amirite?)

** Please also note: It occurs to me that in my white-hot fury, I forgot to note that The Huffington Post was bought by AOL for an obscene amount of money a couple-three years ago. Which doesn’t change the basic point — AH made literally millions and millions of dollars off of that sale — but she’s not the one CURRENTLY exploiting unpaid labor. Just her name is.

Did U.S. State Department ignorance kill the peace process?

From Thursday’s Haaretz:

There’s been a great deal of noise surrounding Nahum Barnea’s interview in Yediot Aharonot with unnamed U.S. officials closely involved with John Kerry’s peace efforts. “There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure,” the diplomats said, “but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements.” Cue the sturm und drang.

Of course, sturm und drang-inducing interviews aren’t given on the fly (anonymous or not). America doesn’t publicly criticize an ally unless the very public-ness is, itself, a message. It’s safe to assume that the officials in question didn’t say anything they didn’t mean to say – not even the bits that were shockingly ignorant.

And I quote: “We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.… We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale.”

I’m sorry – what? You “didn’t realize” settlement construction was being used to sabotage talks? You didn’t know that settlement building “is also about expropriating land on a large scale”?

There is simply no excuse – none, nothing – for this kind of ignorance among American officials. To tell one of Israel’s leading journalists that they didn’t see any of this coming, that they only realized the enormity of the truth “after talks blew up,” is to admit to an obliviousness that borders on criminal.

To keep reading, please click here.

Why the iNakba App is a brilliant idea.

From Tuesday’s Foward:

What would be a reasonable response to this week’s release of the interactive iNakba app, designed to help users “locate the Palestinian localities destroyed in the Nakba since 1948 and to learn about them”?

Given the depth of ignorance surrounding the topic, you could greet iNakba as an essential corrective; given the ongoing pain within the Palestinian community, you could consider how it might serve as a conduit for healing. You could even – reasonably – raise questions about the limits inherent to crowdsourcing as a tool in the study of history.

Or you could scoff. That’s the route that Tablet writer Liel Leibovitz chose:

It’s easy to dismiss the app as a gimmick — the name itself begs it. It’s easier still to argue, correctly, that reducing any cataclysmic event to dots on a map is trivializing, and that an app, for all of its cool factor, is hardly the most suitable canvas on which to paint a historical picture that is infinitely complex.

Having dismissed the mapping of all-but-lost Palestinian history as a gimmick, Leibovitz then takes off on a flight of fancy, philosophizing about “what land means” and how iNakba is

all about roots and branches, however virtual. It is not interested in sweeping themes and movements of armies and causes and consequences; its focus are the homes and the yards and the smell of the grass of individual places long gone.

I would firstly submit that only someone who hasn’t had their own home taken can regard its mapping as a gimmick; furthermore, only someone whose side has already won has the psychic luxury of waxing philosophical about land as “first and foremost, an idea” in the minds of the pioneers.

To finish reading “Why the iNakba App is a brilliant idea,” please click here.