A reminder: Israel wasn’t kidnapped by the far right. It was handed over, by the vast Jewish middle.

I originally ran this post in The Forward — I hope they will forgive me for reproducing it in full here.

Recently, 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. It’s easier to believe that the bad guys are always bad, that Israeli hi-tech is more important than Israeli soldiers invading people’s homes, and that everything will be…okay. Yeheye beseder! Because Israel is a miracle and we are blessed to be in a generation that doesn’t have to run from Nazis.

Of course, there have always been Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora, who have tried to raise the alarm. In September 1967, the Foreign Ministry’s own legal counsel, Theodor Meron, found that “civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.” Israeli philosopher and moral giant Yeshayahu Leibowitz warned in 1968 that “a state ruling over a hostile population of one million people will necessarily become a [security] state, with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech and thought and democracy.” In 1973, American Jewish leader Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf called on Israel to hold talks with the PLO and pursue a two-state peace. They were ignored, shouted down, or shut out.

The intervening years have seen Jews like Amos Oz, Naomi Chazan, Shulamit Aloni, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Peter Beinart, Sara Benninga, Uri Savir, Avraham Burg, Jeff Halper, Yossi Beilin, and six former chiefs of Israel’s own secret service agency, as well as organizations like Peace Now, Yesh Gvul, Gush Shalom, Women in Black, Breaking the Silence, Ta’ayush, Combatants for Peace, the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum, the New Israel Fund, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and J Street – along with all their supporters and dues payers and fellow travelers – all telling anyone who would listen that Israel was headed for disaster, that only a just and durable peace could save Israel from itself, that an ugly, angry, rejectionist ultra-nationalism was on the rise, and only we could stop it.

But mostly, we chose not to listen.

Rather than use our vaunted Jewish intelligence to question the very idea that any occupation could ever be enlightened; rather than mine the free press that flourishes in our democracies to seek the truth; rather than look the Palestinian people in the eye and see their pain – we have chosen to listen to those who make us feel good about ourselves. We turn the page when Hass or Beinart appear. We close our minds and our social halls to Breaking the Silence and J Street. We march in Israel Day parades and send emails about BDS and sing Hatikva.

And today Israel and the Zionist dream of a democratic, Jewish homeland hang by a thread. We are inches from a one-state “solution” predicated on the permanent, illegal, unjust and immoral subjugation of millions of people, one that will be soaked in blood (who knows better than Jews that the subjugated tend to rise up?), and leave in tatters the Jewish values we claim to hold so dear.

It’s profoundly easy, and deeply comforting, to think that Israeli politicians like Uri Ariel and Ayelet Shaked and American leaders like Sheldon Adelson and Mort Klein are the problem. That they have taken our dreams and roughed them up, and oy, what can we do?

But the simple truth is that these people – just like the settlers who set mosques alight and the soldiers who kick little boys – are doing what we have let them do.

That’s what silence does. That’s what willed and willfully instilled ignorance does. Those who don’t stand up against that which is wrong are partners in the outcome.

The right didn’t have to kidnap anything. The silent middle handed it over, with a nice shiny bow.

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On hope, losing.

The Ten Stages of Losing Hope:

Stage One – You have hope, but wow. Things are bad.

Stage Two – You have hope, but sometimes you’re not sure why.

Stage Three – You refuse to give up hope. Despair is a luxury.

Stage Four – Your heart clings to hope even though your head tells your heart that it’s a fool, and with increasing frequency.

Stage Five – You believe that you have lost all hope, and then something terrible happens, and you lose a little bit more, which means you must have had some hope left to lose.

Stages Six, Seven, and Eight – Repeat Stage Five, each time with a smaller sliver of previously unsuspected residual hope.

Stage Nine – You genuinely have no hope left, but you continue to behave as though you do, because you believe that the performance of hope has value.

Stage Ten – You give up.

As regards Israel/Palestine, I reached Stage Ten in February. For that and other reasons, I’m going back to school next week to get a second Masters Degree, this one in Library and Information Science.

Political Debate in Israel Turns Ugly

I ran the following in Mashable this morning:

Political Debate in Israel Turns Ugly

Israel has long been known as a loud and boisterous democracy.

It is home to a large number of highly opinionated daily newspapers and satirists who could put Jon Stewart to shame. Opinions regarding the Jewish state judged verboten in the American Jewish community have happily been voiced within Israel itself.

Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear that Israel’s comfort with disagreement — or even political differences — is waning.

In mid-June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Palestinian extremists, and almost immediately, crowds of ultra-nationalists began to march through city streets, shouting “Death to Arabs,” and many included the Jewish left in their threats with such chants as “Leftists to the gas chamber!”

There were also several recorded incidents of Jewish mobs attacking Arab-Israelis. And when the kidnap victims were found to have been murdered, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was brutally slain, apparently by three Israelis in retaliation.

Widely shared public horror in the face of the latter event briefly stemmed the tide of fury but, within days, Israel was at war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli Jewish public opinion rallied around the flag and against any who might disagree.

Protests by the political left — whether in support of the Arab-Israeli population or in opposition to the war — were met with threats and outright violence; in mid-July, the Arab-Israeli deputy mayor of Haifa was among those attacked. For their part, police often failed to intervene to stop the threats, or they disrupted anti-war protests and arrested the protesters themselves.

To read the rest, please click through to Mashable.

Do Palestinians have a right to self-defense?

I ran another piece in The Week this morning:

Israel has the right to defend itself. What about the Palestinians?

Early in Israel’s latest round of hostilities with Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement: “No country in the world [would] agree to suffer relentless missile attacks and infiltration attempts.” His words have since been repeated frequently, usually in support (qualified or un-) of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

There is an inarguable truth here: No country would sit idly by under such circumstances. Every state, and every citizen in those states, has a universally recognized right to self-defense.

But what — the question is almost never posed — of the stateless?

The Palestinian people are routinely expected to suffer precisely what Netanyahu describes as insufferable. They’re routinely expected to tolerate relentless attacks and infiltrations, and do nothing.

Let me be very clear: Hamas is not a defensive force. In its resistance to occupation, Hamas has used terrorism and rocket attacks on civilians; both tactics are not only despicable, but they’re also war crimes. When Hamas engages the Israeli military, it could be argued that such engagement is, at least, legitimate (armed force against armed force), but Hamas was not conceived as nor does it constitute a defensive force.

To read the rest, please go to The Week.

And a nice one about the girl, then-6.

Also stumbled upon, also made me happy. The girl in question turned 11 two weeks ago.

*************

Ow! My heart!

circlesI was just snuggling with my daughter in her wee bed, and she had been quiet for a minute or two when she says to me: “How many people draw perfect circles?” (Only she still says “puh-fect suh-cles”).

I say “Oh, not many.”

“Yeah, that’s probably done by machines.”

“You know what honey, you really have to settle down now….”

“Can I just -?”

“One thing,” I say, my cheek against her forehead, my arms around her.

“You know those things that you trace where you make everything just puh-fect?”

“Yeah….”

“Does a machine make those things?”

“Yeah, a machine makes them.”

“I thought so. I knew a puh-son couldn’t make it like that.”

I grin and grin and pull her even closer, kiss her forehead, and say: “You are, just, figuring out the world…!”

And without missing a beat she says: “But I’m only just at the start of it. Because I’m six years old.”

A love letter to my boy, then-11.

I stumbled across the following this morning, and its mood is just so different from anything I’m getting to write lately — and it made me so happy — that I decided to re-up it. The boy in question will turn 15 next week. (And so far, the rough years have yet to appear, with either child. Fingers ever crossed).

******************

And then I got sick.

I woke up this morning really pretty miserable with a cold, so I declared a sick day.

The boy, aged some 6 months, under a different blanket.

The boy, aged some 6 months, under a different blanket.

One of the beautiful things about being self-employed is that you don’t even have to call anyone. You just get under a blanket with a book, et voila! Sick day!

This one turned out to be a particularly nice one, though. It’s Winter Break for the girl and boy, but the girl was at her grandmother’s, the boy home with me. He and I sat on our massive sectional couch (never mock a sectional. NEVER. That thing is like the beating heart of our family. I love it more than I love our house), he under the blue blanket, me under the green, and we read. And occasionally chatted. I ordered him a pizza and me a sandwich; we ate lunch, reading and occasionally chatting. I picked up a little around the house (creating that very necessary I-wasn’t-a-complete-loser-today feeling), he was on his laptop some (yes, my 11 year old has his own laptop. Don’t you judge me!), he got me water when I asked him to, and brought my coffee cup back to the kitchen, and at one point looked at from his book and/or computer, smiled at me and said “This is fun!”

If I’ve ever heard more beautiful words, I don’t know what they might have been.

As the afternoon wore on, he asked to go to a friend’s house but said he wanted to be back in time to watch a movie with me before the husband/dad brought his sister home, so he did and we did. And then I discovered huge holes in the bottoms of his socks, so we ripped them to pieces while they were still on his feet. And he ran giggling to his dad in the kitchen: “Dad! Check out my new leg-warmers!”

I am crazy about my family. We have so much fun together, all four of us together as well as in our various duos and trios, and I can’t believe how lucky I am. Our plans for New Year’s Eve involve the four of us going out together, and I have to admit, I kind of feel like, well, why on earth would I plan a celebration without the kids? What fun would that be?

And yet, these days will pass. I mean, I know — I think I know — that we’ll always have fun together. Sure, there are bound to be a few rough years (starting any minute now, frankly), but I think we enjoy each other so genuinely that that fun will always carry through. If there are rough years, it’ll wait for us on the other side.

But it will be different. There will boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and there will greater distance, more push, more pull. Our time will grow increasingly limited, and it will increasingly involve additional people. Our foursome — our magical, miraculous foursome, the unit that laughs itself silly over dinner, singing songs and telling jokes, the unit that can travel the world and have fun even in the face of travel disaster — our foursome will become something else.

And for a little while today, that knowledge made me sad.

But then I remembered, as my generous, kind-spirited pre-teen brought my cup to the kitchen, that he had once been a different boy, several different boys, all boys I didn’t want to lose. All boys I loved and wanted to hold on to (even during a couple of pretty rough toddler years) and never let go of.

But now he is this boy, and I suddenly realized, as he settled back in: I don’t know what boys, what men my son will become — but they will be awesome. It will be something different, something wonderful in its own way, something that I cannot see now, but which will be delightful, because they will be him.

Same-same, it goes without saying, for the girl.

So I guess we’ll be ok. I suppose the years of our spending New Year’s Eve together may be numbered, but whatever child I lose each time a birthday rolls around, so far, the child I have gained has been a new kind of terrific — each age with its blessings and its curses, each an adventure and a joy. Even the bad times. It’ll be ok.

If only all my sick days could be this good.