Saturday, May 29, 2010

Godspeed to these ships on the water!

The wind lashed the sea, and the sea lashed the ship;
You steered through the tempest's commotion.
We drink to you, Captain, and lift the glass high;
We'll meet again on this ocean.

No Lloyds would insure your small, secret craft
Nor the perilous course it wages;
But though in the Atlas no record be kept,
We'll chart it in history's pages.

This frail, hidden fleet, grey and silent, will be
The subject of song and story;
And many a captain who hears of the tale
Will envy you, Captain, your glory.

A toast to the darkness that swooped on the ship,
And crouched on the long lights that sought her;
Oh, Captain, Godspeed to the small wooden boats,
Godspeed to these ships on the water!

A toast to the lads that took up the fight
And made it their people's Trafalgar;
They turn each frail ship to a mailed man-of-war;
The ship is of steel - it will conquer!

Years to come - you'll be sipping a glass of mulled wine,
Or quaffing a draught that is stronger;
Then you'll smile, draw your pipe, and shake your grey head,
And think of the days you were younger.

You'll remember past deeds, and say to your friends:
"I've seen much, but Santa Maria,
I'll never forget the night of the chase
When we sped on towards Naharia."

Then you'll hear an answering message from us:
"The gates of the land are flung wide:
This was done by the lads who clambered aboard
In that storm, that terror, that tide"

Then you'll chuckle and whisper: "So nothing availed;
Nor radar, not giant lights beaming;
Not even the cruisers..." You'll finish your glass
And fall again to your dreaming.

That's how it will be; so comrades plunge bold
To the heart of the tempest's commotion
Oh, Captain, Godspeed to the small wooden boats
Godspeed to these ships on the ocean.

This poem was written by Nathan Alterman 65 years ago, in honor of an Italian sea captain named Ansaldo.

In December 1945, Ansaldo undertook an illegal and dangerous voyage to the shores of this country, pitting a small, rickety, unarmed boat against the might of the British Navy. Ansaldo undertook this enterprise out of a feeling of deep sympathy and solidarity with a small people which had known a great deal of suffering and oppression. He had gone to help this people break open the locked gates of the sea, to achieve “their right to be a small independent people at the shore of the great Mediterranean sea” (Ansaldo quoted by CJC).

As these lines are written, today - Saturday, May 29, 2010 - the heirs of Ansaldo are sailing the very same sea, en route to the shores of Gaza.

Original text as published in the Canadian Jewish Chronicle - Aug 23, 1946

Update about the boats en route today

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Holy Warrior

Rabbi Avihai Ronsky is a man of many deeds. He is a foundering and leading member of the settlement of Itamar at the heart of the West Bank, from which armed men frequently depart on unfriendly night visits to nearby Palestinian villages.

Rabbi Ronsky founded and headed a high-level yeshiva in the settlement of Ithamar and had numerous students, but in recent years he did not have much time to devote to it. The State of Israel has taken him into the ranks of its armed forces at the rank of Brigadier General and placed him at the head of the Military Rabbinate.

In this position, Rabbi Ronsky took a new approach. No more would he focus on keeping military kitchens kosher, the main task which his predecessors at the job set themselves. Rabbi Ronsky made it his business to circulate among the soldiers, accompany them to training by day and sleep among them at night. He made enormous efforts to educate them and inoculate moral values in their hearts and minds and explain to them that military service is an important and sublime act, from the nationalist as well as the religious point of view. That serving in the army was indeed virtually a sacred act, designed to keep the land Jewish since our ancestors lived here and God has given His solemn promise.

In particular Rabbi Ronsky distinguished himself eighteen months ago, having very sincere and serious conversations with the soldiers breaking into the Gaza Strip and giving them spiritual and theological guidance on the conduct of Holy War: "We who are dealing with sacred matters should know that there is a time for war as there is a time for peace. In time of war, cursed be he who does not fight with all his heart and soul, who does not bloody his sword, he who spares an enemy when an enemy should not be spared!" Judging by the findings later gathered by Judge Goldstone, quite a few soldiers did heed the teachings of Rabbi Ronsky.

There were at the time some leftists protesting at the teachings which the honorable Rabbi instilled in the soldiers, accusing him of exceeding his authority and some of them even daring to demand his dismissal. But thank God, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi gave the Rabbi his full backing, the storm passed and Rabbi Ronsky continued his dedicated holy work for the full four years of his term. These days he's about to retire from the military and return to his students at the high-level yeshiva in the flourishing settlement of Ithamar.

Rabbi Ronsky granted a farewell interview to Ma'ariv newspaper, noting with satisfaction his successful educational and sacred work inside the army, but did not conceal the dark spots which he also encountered. For example, while he had considerable success in letting lives of Palestiniansbe disregarded, there remains a lot of work to be done in connection with the excessive preoccupation with preserving the soldiers' own lives which has infested the army in recent years. "One injured soldier and the offensive is halted. The communication networks are only concerned with the wounded rather than with the mission. This is not the way to perform your assigned task. Somebody got hurt? The medical teams will later pick him up. If he dies, he dies. For soldiers, the mission must come first."

It also disturbs Rabbi Ronsky that kibbutzniks are no longer eager to take command positions in the IDF. "This is a sweeping phenomenon in the kibbutzim. They say things like 'I am doing my duty. I am ready to get into a combat unit, an elite unit even, but not follow it up with an officer training course." This is not right, if the army thinks you are fit to be an officer it is your duty to accept. But among them officer's training has become really unacceptable. It comes halfway to being considered a sucker. I spoke this week with a soldier from a kibbutz in the north and asked him how many of his school class became officers. He told me 'one'. I asked him how come. He said, 'Nowadays the kibbutz is privatized, the discourse is purely economic.

The situation in Tel Aviv is even worse from Rabbi Ronsky's point of view. Schools do not instill a militant Zionism in their pupils, they do not learn to love their country nor to know that it belongs only to Jews. The Herzliya Gymnasium even explicitly refused to let army officers enter the school so they could instill some military spirit in the students. No wonder that Tel Avivians tend to shirk combat service, or shirk military service altogehter.

So who does go to the army, and to combat units, and enters enthusiastically into the officers' training course and starts climbing up the ladder of command? Of course, the religious nationalists and the settlers, those who share Rabbi Ronsky's political and religious outlook. "Look at the Paratroopers Brigade. The four deputy battalion commanders, who will be battalion commanders next, are all of them religious. Yeshiva graduates. Same with the Golani Brigade. By next month, the brigade commander, his deuty and the four battalion commanders will be religious. In the Shaldag commandos, two-thirds of the squad leaders are religious." Rabbi Ronsky certainly does not like all this. "That is social imbalance. The army is supposed to be a mirror of Israeli society. I see the overwhelming presence of the religious in the command structure as a very sad thing."

Very sad indeed. Why are we, the mainstream Israeli public at large, doing it? Why do we leave the religious nationalists and settlers alone in the turret, in the loneliness of military command? Why do we not join them and share the burden with them? Why are we not really enthusiastic about the idea of dedicating our lives – and sacrificing them – in combat command positions, fighting the Holy War and bloodying our swords and not sparing the enemy and defending day and night the Jewish people's rule over the Greater Israel which God promised to our ancestors?

Why, indeed?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vanunu returns to prison

Today is the second day of Mordechai Vanunu's renewed detention.

Twenty-four years after he was kidnapped in Italy and placed, handcuffed and drugged, in the belly of a ship which made its way secretly to the coast of Israel, he is back behind bars.

Six years after having served, to the very last day, the draconian 18-year sentence imposed on him by the court, most of them in total isolation, he is back behind bars..

Exactly on the week when the opinion was voiced, more widely than ever before, that Israel should end its policy of "Nuclear Ambiguity" and explicitly admit to possessing the kind of weapons that the entire world knows to be in Israel's possession, he is back behind bars.

Exactly on the day of the disclosure about the kind of weapons which were offered to Apartheid South Africa by the man who was then Foreign Minister of Israel, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize and who is now President of Israel, he is back behind bars. Vanunu, not the president...

Yes, Mordechai Vanunu was put back behind bars, this time "only" for three months.

He was not imprisoned because he had revealed more secrets. He has no more secrets to reveal.

He was imprisoned because the government of Israel insists that he continue to live in a country which he despises, which he heartily wishes to leave and never to come back. A country where many citizens hate him because their communications media told them that he is a spy and a traitor.

He was imprisoned because he has much more in common with peace-seeking citizens of other countries than with most of Israel's citizens, but the State of Israel has forbidden him to speak to foreigners.

He was imprisoned because in the view of the State of Israel, when Morderchai Vanunu forms love relations with a woman who happened to be Norwegian and takes a hotel room together with her, this is a crime that merits and requires the immediate intervention of the police.

He was imprisoned because the system graciously offered him a chance to perform community service instead of going to jail - but only on condition that he perform this service within a community whose members had repeatedly heard on their media that Mordechai Vanunu is a despicable spy and traitor, and who never got a chance to hear otherwise.

He went to prison, with hardly anyone at his side. Only his attorney Michael Sfard and the dedicated activist Gideon Spiro.

A moment before the prison gates closed, Mordechai Vanunu recited a poem which he had written recently. A very angry poem.

We all deserve Mordechai Vanunu's anger.

A honor guard

The flotilla is already on its way to the shores of Gaza. Hundreds of activists from Ireland and the United States and Turkey and Greece and Sweden, also some Israeli citizens. Nine ships laden with medical supplies and school supplies and construction materials.

This morning Yedioth Ahronoth announced the special honor which the State of Israel decided to grant to the sailing activists: the Commander-in-Chief of our navy, Admiral Eliezer (Cheney) Marom, will give them his full and undivided attention. The admiral personally – he personally, not an underling nor a deputy – will be in command of "Operation Sea Winds". That is the code name given to the operation of blocking the aid boats at sea, and dragging off, and capturing each and every one of the activists and binding them and transferring them to the new residence prepared for them at the new detention facility established on the coast of Ashdod.

As noted by the paper, it is difficult and complicated operation for the Navy of the State of Israel, which is a relatively small force which gets only a minute piece of the defense budget pie. Undoubtedly a difficult and complicated operation, but the tough guys of the Naval Commandos are waiting for the command to embark on their Zodiac boats. The chiefs of the armed forces are apprehensive that "the activists on the boats might try to confront the commandos who take them over, record the riots which may ensue and cause embarrassment to Israel".

That's really not very nice. Is this the way for peace activists to behave?

...and a bit of selective memory

There was a time – not so long ago, either – when it was nearly impossible to mention in Israel that the Armenian people, too, have undergone a terrible genocide. When Armenian citizens of Israel and residents of East Jerusalem wanted to hold a silent vigil in front of the Turkish Embassy, it was completely banned by the police. And when a leftist Education Minister named Yossi Sarid tried to introduce the subject of the subject of Armenian Genocide into the school curriculum of Israeli pupils, this irresponsible initiative was soon cut off.

All this was, of course, in another aeon, the time when Turkey was a strategic ally of Israel. But today? When these bastard Turks dare to sail to the shores of Gaza? The time has come for every patriotic and self-respecting Israeli to shout it from the rooftops and tell the world what happened to the Armenians.

A matter of branding

A few years ago, our Foreign Minister officials asked the advice of public relations experts and reached an unequivocal conclusion: Israel has a problem of branding. The international public is exposed to Israel solely in contexts of terrorism and war. It is almost never exposed to Israel's social success [sic], its advanced technology and its historical uniqueness. This damages Israel's ability to win its appropriate share of tourism, trade and investment" it was stated in a special website opened for the purpose by the Foreign Ministry.

Ever since then, the ministry's hasbara specialists have devoted considerable resources to the effort of re-branding Israel, to conclusively show the entire world that Israel is indeed a nice and friendly place, a prosperous oasis of culture and scientific development in the heart of Middle East. All new items about bombings here and there in Lebanon and Gaza, of settler grabbing lands and houses in East Jerusalem or torching of olive groves and mosques at various points on the West Bank are nothing but minor, unimportant details (when they are not just bare-faced lies and distortions spread by nasty anti-Semites).

However, Amir Gissin – then in charge of the ministry's hasbara department – made clear that the key to success was the internalizing of the re-branding process by Israel's own citizens. All Israelis, and most particularly those coming in direct or indirect contact with the outside world - had to know the essentials of the re-branding concept and be able to represent them.

After the passage of several years, it can be said that the effort was indeed crowned with complete success. Israelis had indeed internalized the need for everyone to do their bit and contribute to the effort of re-branding their country and improving its international image. For example, the representative of the Government of Israel at the Allenby Bridge border crossing last week. He received with great courtesy the reknowned American linguist and peace, Professor Noam Chomsky. After asking him a few friendly questions over a nice cup of tea, the official graciously stamped the professor's passport with an artistic, graphically-pleasing "Entry Denied" stamp.

But the top record in the re-branding campaign undoubtedly belongs to the anonymous bureaucrat, highly dedicated to the service of the State of Israel, who came up with the idea of placing a traffic light on the only road connecting the Palestinian village of Sheikh Saad with the outer world, to add a large sign clearly reading "traffic allowed only when light is green''- and then leave only and invariably the red traffic light on, for months and years without end.

This is indeed a stroke of genius, illustrating perfectly what the re-branding campaign is all about. It demonstrates to a skeptical world how technologically capable and innovative Israel truly is, and at one and the same time is also shows that among humble Israeli public servants a worthy successor to the late George Orwell is already emerging.

The Foreign Ministry is open to more creative suggestions on how to further promote the worldwide re-branding of the State of Israel. You too, dear reader, can certainly send them your suggestions and comments at:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jerusalem Logic

"Israel instituted freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem, and freedom of access to the holy sites of everybody. Jerusalem began to breathe freely, spread its wings over all her inhabitants, Jews and Arabs alike," declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one of the speeches devoted to the holyday known as "Jerusalem Day.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the press in Tokyo: "United Jerusalem is a city open to everyone - Jews, Christians and Muslims."

And, President Shimon Peres was truly poetic: "There is in Jerusalem no censorship on prayers nor a roadblock on the prayers' way up, whether they are uttered by the hazan (cantor) in the synagogue, or the priest at the church or the muezzin of the mosque."

Quite interesting. Three very experienced politicians, who have long held key positions in Israeli public life. It could have been assumed that they would know thoroughly the facts of life. But evidently, there are many things which President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister alike have never heard of.

For example, they seem completely unaware of the closure and siege and fences and walls and checkpoints which prevent Muslim and Christian residents of the Occupied Territories from reaching their holy places in Jerusalem, except if they have received a special permit from the State of Israel (which rarely happens). Nor have they heard about the times when police shut the gates of the mosques in Jerusalem and allows entry only to those over fifty who are holders of a blue identity card. Also not about the police charging those who dared to pray in the street in front of the closed mosques and sprinkle them with tear gas.

It seems that the Prayers Censorship Office was set up by some unknown officers at their own initiative.

A non-united city
Reuven Rivlin is certainly not a member of the Left. But he is known as a honest person. In Israeli politics, that is far from little.

"We are living in the post-Jerusalem period. "Jerusalem Day" has become a sectorial holiday, the preserve of religious nationalists. One cannot but wonder whether the limited circle of those who dance on this day is evidence of a painful fall in the 'share value' of Jerusalem, among the general public and in society at large. We have wronged Jerusalem with our dreamy Diaspora-style love. An addiction to clichés has replaced any serious dealing with its present, with the poverty and discrimination which prevail within this city.

We speak again and again of "a United City" whose parts had been "Put Together". These checks which we spread are not covered. Even after 43 years, this city is not united and its parts have not been put together. How can Jerusalem be an inspiration to anyone, while suffering from severe discrimination between the Jewish sector in the Arab sector?

Today it has become clear: The continued maintenance Jewish sovereignty in the whole of Jerusalem cannot be taken for granted. We have already come to the ominous moment when the world tells us that Jerusalem is a stolen property in our hands".

So spoke Knesset Speaker Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin, in the formal Knesset session marking "Jerusalem Day".

Police Minister Aharonovitch had his own way of celebrating "Jerusalem Day" – by making a solemn promise to the Arab residents of East Jerusalem that the bulldozers are about to wake from a six months' hybernation and come back to destroy Palestinian homes here, there and everywhere.

What was said on the Knesset podium quickly reverberated around the world and reached Washington. The U.S. government was quick to sound a stern warning against provocations in Jerusalem, which might derail the indirect talks with the Palestinians, just launched with so many efforts.

Aharonovich and his friends will probably have to keep the bulldozers in store, and be denied the satisfaction of seeing houses demolished wholesale. At least the respectable minister got a consolation prize – setting the police at peace protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, who were dispersed by force and dragged one by one to the police car - to spend the weekend in custody.

The Saga of the Expert Witness (2)

Who said to whom the following, and when:

"In the Turkish period there was no official record kept of the Negev lands. Determination of land ownership relied on traditions recorded in Deftars (Books of Record), notebooks which were kept by the Mukhtars and the Sheikhs. Any juridical action in the land was recorded in the Deftars which the Bedouins treated with respect and trust."

About what took place last Thursday in the court session of the Bedouin Land Case you can read here:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The non-festive holiday

"Jerusalem Day" was never a real holiday, never a day when ordinary people felt like celebrating. What's the point on going out into the streets to celebrate the anniversary of "The Unification of Jerusalem" when no such unification ever happened and no one feels that they are living in a united city? When a Jerusalemite can clearly see just crossing Route No. 1 brings you into another country entirely, a Palestinian territory which is definitely not Israel? "Jerusalem Day" was always a holiday of the settlers, who got another welcome opportunity to walk waving flags through Palestinian neighborhoods and demonstrate their force and mastery. Also a holiday of the state media, with paid up reporters speaking with sticky sweetness of "Our Capital's Day of Celebration".

This year, the façade is crumbling, and the government of Israel arrives at "Jerusalem Day" with confusion and disarray. How to assure the Americans that there will be no further settlement construction in East Jerusalem, and at the same time assure the extreme right that there will be plenty of it? Netanyahu was once nicknamed "The Magician", but even a magician can run out of rabbits to pull out of his hat.

This year, "Jerusalem Day" comes when public attention focuses on East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood, where Palestinians are expelled from their homes to make place for settlers. This week, eight Israeli activists were put on trial on the serious charge of daring to cry out in protest. Activists will return to be Sheikh Jarrah on "Jerusalem Day "- and not in order to celebrate.

As a public service I add here the text of the call which I got this morning:

What united city are you you're talking about?
There is no holiness in occupation
Jerusalem is not united!
36% of the city's residents live under a regime of oppression and discrimination.
Protest picket at Sheikh Jarrah on "Jerusalem Day"
Wed., May 12 at 4.00 pm
Contact: 052-5596500 or 054-6543955

The Saga of the Expert Witness

It is common for somebody, asked to give an expert opinion to a court of law, to thoroughly check the facts before writing down the opinion. With regard to Bedouin lands in the Negev, the rules are a bit different, as you can read here:

Bringing up old memories

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was very happy to hear the news: Judge Goldstone had been unmasked. Yes, The Goldstone, he of the Goldstone Report which disclosed so many unpleasant things about the doings of Israel's soldiers in the Gaza Strip. It turns out that Goldstone had been a judge in South Africa at the time of the Apartheid regime. The Foreign Minister was quick to order the full article, exposing Goldstone's past, translated and disseminated it to Israeli embassies throughout the world - at last some ammunition to a creaking hasbara machine.

A judge adhering to the laws of the Apartheid regime in South Africa - that's certainly not a bright point in Goldstone's career. South African Apartheid was a racist regime which openly and blatantly discriminated between Blacks and Whites on the basis of their skin color, and which cruelly oppressed any who dared protest. A regime whose deeds aroused a furious protest throughout the world.

Throughout the world? Well, not quite. There was one exception. One country which did not share in the worldwide protests against the blatant racism. A country which on the contrary maintained cordial good relations with Apartheid South Africa - cooperation in the international diplomatic arena, and also military cooperation, from the supply of equipment for the forcible dispersal of demonstrations to the joint construction of nuclear bombs. As is happens, that country - the partner and a friend of Apartheid South Africa - was called the State of Israel. True, Lieberman was not at that time in a position of influence, but veterans of the Foreign Ministry can certainly provide him with the full details.

Judge Richard Goldstone has changed very much since the days when he rendered judgement under the draconian laws of Apartheid. There is no doubt that nowadays he would not have signed any such verdict. Did the State of Israel change since the time of being the best friend of South Africa's Apartheid? And if so, in what direction did Israel change?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A trampled democracy

"Netanyahu is trying to prevent party members from expressing their opinions and choosing their leadership in free, democratic elections. This is a trampling on the basics of democracy. Our basic rights are being denied!" cried out Moshe Feiglin. The Prime Minister had called upon the Likud party members to delay holding elections to the party institutions in order to prevent (as he said with so many words) an increase in the power of Moshe Feiglin who openly states his aim of taking over the party.

"I and my fellows will win in the end, we will take over the Likud and I will be Prime Minister", said Feiglin in an extensive interview to the weekend supplement of Yedioth Ahronoth. "We will win because we represent what most Likud members really want - a government which says loud and clear that this country is ours and ours only. I definitely want to deprive Arabs of civil rights, unless they prove their loyalty to the state, and give them financial encouragement to emigrate from here. Any area from which Israel is attacked should be conquered and its whole population expelled. We are in the Middle East, there is no place here for the Western softness. In this region you should prove that you are strong and that you are the boss, otherwise you will be trampled."

At least for the time being, Netanyahu proved to be the boss and he trampled upon Feiglin. There were commentators - especially in America – who expressed the hope that now, free of pressure inside his party, Netanyahu would find it easier to make the concessions necessary for the success of indirect negotiations. It would be nice, but these commentators probably don't read Makor Rishon.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's Foreign Minister, was candid as usual when speaking to the readership of the right-wing Makor Rishon paper: "I do not think there is anything to be expected from negotiations. Even if lasting 16 years they will produce no agreement. But my travels around the globe have shown me that the world is very interested in seeing peace talks start, even if only for the sake of appearance. A willingness to talk and talk is something we can give. Why not?"

Olmert's word

The opponents of peace had found a new compelling argument: Olmert's Generous Offers, which replaced Barak's Generous Offers. Ben Dror Yemini, once a stalwart of the Israeli left who had crossed over to the ranks of the extreme right, summed it up in his Ma'ariv column last week. In his time as Prime Minister of Israel, Olmert had proposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to give up no less than 97% of the West Bank – and Abbas rejected this generous offer. The conclusion is clear - the Palestinians do not want peace, we have no partner, the Palestinians are to blame for the continuing occupation and have brought upon themselves all the oppression and suffering they go through. Anyone who dares to say otherwise is an anti-Semite or just a traitor.

But what did Olmert truly offer? Which part of the territory was he really ready to give up? Were there some sort of conditional clauses and specified conditions added in fine print, which had the effect of nullifying what was supposedly offered? (There had been more than one such instance, in earlier cases of Israeli diplomacy towards the Palestinians). According to what was published, Ehud Olmert briefly showed Mahmoud Abbas a document and immediately snatched it back, unwilling to let the Palestinians lay their hands on it and examine it in depth. But there had been generous offers. Certainly there were. Just take Ehud Olmert's word for it.

Ehud Olmert's word? Currently, the standing of Ehud Olmert's word has taken something of a dive. At the court in Jerusalem judicial proceedings have started in several indictments against him, and the State Prosecution definitely does not take Ehud Olmert's word that he is completely innocent. And now, as every newspaper reader knows in this country, the police are energetically looking for evidence and witnesses to implicate Olmert in a much graver affair yet, which had been dubbed "the worst corruption scandal in the country's history."

When needed in order to pummel the Palestinians, Ehud Olmert's word is still good.

A glimpse into history

This week marked the 150's birthday of the man known in Israel as Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, (though he usually referred to himself as "Theodor"). The grate visionary, the man in the famous picture on the famous balcony in Basel, who made the famous saying "If you will it, it is no dream." The man who predicted the establishment of a State of the Jews, which was duly established fifty years later, though he was wrong in some essential details. For example, in assuming that the Arab population would not manifest any opposition to the realization of the Zionist goals, and that therefore the State of the Jews would not be obliged to establish or maintain an army. Or that in the Jewish state, workers would be able to make a decent living when working no more than seven hours per day.

"Herzl witnessed the Dreyfus Affair in France. He realized that nobody wants us, anywhere in the world, and that we need to establish a state in Eretz Yisrael". So said in a radio review a high school student who, with her fellow pupils, is engaged on preparing an educational project on Herzl.

The story is well known: In the great French Revolution, France was the first country in Europe (and the world in general) to grant equal rights to its Jewish citizens. Over the following century, Jews in other countries (such as Austria) hoped and aspired to get for themselves a similar equality of rights. Theodor Herzl, a young Jewish Viennese journalist, arrived in Paris just as the French Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus had been convicted of espionage and treason, and in the streets of the capital of France anti-Semitic gangs rampaged and chanted "Death to the Jews." Herzl concluded that if such things could happen in the homeland of the French Revolution, then Jews had no chance of being ever accepted as equal citizens anywhere. Herzl returned to Vienna and immersed himself entirely in building up the Zionist movement and promoting his vision of the State of The Jews.

Still, something is missing in this narrative: the Jews who lived at the time in France itself. Few if any of them took the conclusion that the answer to anti-Semitic incitement and mobs on their streets was to escape from France and establish a Jewish state in a remote province of the Ottoman Empire. Rather, French Jews remained in their country and went on to wage a counter-offensive, in strong alliance with French non-Jews who opposed anti-Semitism - democrats and liberals and radicals and socialists and ordinary decent people. And after a titanic struggle which tore up the French society for years they won, Dreyfus was released and exonerated, and the anti-Semites suffered a severe blow.

What, if Herzl would have stayed in France a few more years...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The original sin

In recent days the Israeli media - and the Supreme Court judges – gave considerable attention to the blatant discrimination against Sephardi girls at the Ultra-Orthodox school in Immanuel. Banner headlines and strongly worded editorials, condemned this nasty manifestation of racism – as it fully deserved. .

Almost no one bothered to mention the fact that Immanuel is a settlement in an Occupied Territory, established on Palestinian land stolen from its owners by shady tricks, at the time when Ariel Sharon served as Minister of Settlement Expansion, pardon: Minister of Housing.

In the Immanuel schools Arab pupils are not discriminated against. There are simply no Arab pupils. Palestinians are not allowed to live in Immanuel, not even the Palestinians on whose land Immanuel was built.