Is Everyone Really Against Us?

Last month, Rabbi Richard Block wrote in Tablet about why he was unsubscribing to The New York Times:

The straw that broke my subscription’s back came on Aug. 19, when Hamas violated yet another truce, sending a fusillade of rockets into Israel. The Wall Street Journal’s headline read, “Gaza Rocket Strikes End Cease Fire.” A U.S. State Department spokesperson condemned the renewed rocket fire, holding Hamas responsible for causing the ceasefire to break down. The Times headline: “Rockets From Gaza and Israeli Response Break Cease-Fire.” Seriously? A newspaper that cannot distinguish between starting a fight and defending oneself is intellectually deficient, morally obtuse, and profoundly unworthy of its readers.

I know the Times won’t miss me. The feeling is mutual.

If you read Block’s post, then you owe it to yourself to read Chemi Shalev’s response in Ha’aretz:

It all makes for the depressingly insular, self-righteous, with-us-or-against-us mentality that is delineating Israel and many of [its] followers abroad as an island unto themselves. In this cloister, the only benchmark for judging the worth of anyone — countries and institutions, newspapers and opera companies, artists and authors — is whether they accept or reject the Israel-good, Arab-bad narrative. By this standard, the bible itself, with its constant harping on Israel’s bad ways and the Lord’s displeasure would probably be blasted from Brooklyn to Beit Shemesh today for its negative portrayal of Jews.

By parting ways with the New York Times and “not missing” the great intellectual wealth that it offers, day in and day out, Block would have Jews return, mutatis mutandis, to the kind of stifling ghetto that drove his theological forefathers, two centuries ago, to set up the Reform movement in the first place.

Is Obama “Enraged” at Israel?

Last week in The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens started an entire column by referring to an interview in which Martin Indyk said that President Obama was “enraged” about the way Israel treated Secretary of State John Kerry.

Stephens then pretended that Obama himself had used the word “enraged” and compared that to the President’s statements on other world issues.

What exactly prompted Indyk to characterize the President as “enraged”? Stephens would not tell you, but I will: Indyk said that an unnamed Israeli official “described Kerry as launching ‘a strategic terror attack.’ That was just outrageous and it enraged the president.”

This was Indyk speaking, not the President, but most reasonable people would be enraged at such a statement. Stephens claimed that President Obama was “enraged” at Israel, but it is clear from Indyk’s comments that the President was enraged (in Indyk’s view) at the statement, not at Israel, and not even at Israel’s overall treatment of Kerry — a big difference that Stephens ignores.

Indyk also said in the same interview that Obama has “been absolutely clear that whatever the differences he may have with the Israeli prime minister, he’s not going to touch the security relationship. And he’s been very strongly supportive of Israel’s security requirements, notwithstanding the real tension in the personal relationship.” Stephens forgot to mention that part.

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Book Chat: Meir Shalev’s Family Memoir

By Hannah Lee

Childhood memories strongly color our image of a place.  My husband, Eyal, fondly remembers petting the cats under his Saba Israel’s house in Tel Aviv.  Meir Shalev’s family memoir, My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir tells us about his birth and childhood into a pioneering family in Nahalal, a moshav in the Jezreel Valley, in northern Israel.  Founded in 1921, it was the first moshav ovdim, a workers’ cooperative settlement.  When Shalev’s larger-than-life, cantankerous Grandma Tonia was interviewed for national television and asked what is the difference between a moshav and a kibbutz, she unhesitatingly replied, “We went to a moshav because we wanted freedom and privacy.  A lot of people left the kibbutzim and went to moshavim.  Nobody left the moshav for a kibbutz.”

More after the jump.
Originally titled in Hebrew, Ha’Davar Haya Kakha (“This is How It Was”), Shalev’s memoir is a fascinating collection of stories his family tells about each other, complete with the appropriate accents and accentuations.  Foremost in the stories is his Grandma Tonia, who left the Ukraine at age 18 to become the wife of her widowed brother-in-law, Aharon Ben-Barak, and mother to his two young sons.  The family’s stories are a personal window into Palestine’s re-settlement by Jews and Israel’s early years of statehood.   Nahalal in 1923 boasted of “huts and cowsheds, and people received a little sugar and oil on credit from what was known as ‘the warehouse.’  In summer there was nowhere to hide from the blazing sun and in winter there was mud up to the knees.”

Grandpa Aharon had the soul of a writer and poet, but Grandma Tonia proved her strength and resilience in taming the land and wrangling from it a farm.  The most vivid stories are told of her fight with the pervasive mud, dust, dung, and dirt.  With a trusty rag always on duty on her left shoulder, she bullied her family and the very air around her into compliance.  The American vacuum cleaner (pronounced svieeperrr with a Russian rrr) of the book’s title is the unsolicited gift from her “double-traitor”– a non-Zionist and a non-Socialist–  brother-in-law, Yeshayahu, who’d made his fortune in Los Angeles, the land of capitalism, individualism, hedonism, and frivolity.  A land where the image of a woman, “her lips bright with red lipstick, a red polka-dot dress snug on her hips, an ample bosom, meaty buttocks” was used as advertisement. The final indictment of the American character was that “Her nails were painted with red nail polish.  It was clear to one and all: she has her hands manicured!”  No self-respecting Israeli pioneer–  and founding member of a nation– would be so frivolous.   As for her new svieeperr,  Grandma Tonia was appalled to learn that it collected dust, so it was rendered dirty, and required cleaning of its all its internal parts.  Complying with her request, her brother Yitzhak dissembled the machine, but a breeze blew the small collection of dirt all over her house.  Thus, her baleful decision was to quarantine the traitorous appliance in a forbidden, locked bathroom, never to be used again.

Painted nails become another leit-motif in Shalev’s memoir, when he shows up to Nahalal for the inauguration of the old arms cache used by the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization operated in Palestine during the British Mandate, with his toe nails painted a shiny red.  His young nieces had polished his nails while he was asleep, it was too hot for any footwear other than sandals, and he had no time to remove the coloration.  His nieces challenged him, “You’re afraid!  You’re afraid of what they’ll say about you in the village.”  They were right.  “Anyone familiar with members of the old-time collective agricultural movement, anyone who has been upbraided by them, knows that in small villages eyes take everything in and comments are made with regularity and rumors take off and land like cranes in a sown field.  All the more so in places where pedigree is famed and illustrious, like Nahalal’s.”  Shalev gave his speech, is slapped on the back, and crushed by bold handshakes, but he does not escape scrutiny.  “Not noticed?  It’s all anyone’s been talking about.  But take consolation in the fact that no one was surprised… What do you want from the guy?  He got it from Tonia.  She was crazy in just the same way.  That’s the way it is in their family.”  However, Grandma Tonia was not crazy, not frivolous, not prone to painting her nails.  She was “distinctive.  She was what we call ‘a character.’  She was not an easy person, and that’s putting it mildly.”

Shalev’s father , Yitzhak, was already a noted poet, writer, and teacher, but his reputation was sealed in the moshav as one who could plant only ten cucumbers in two hours, from his initial days courting his wife, Batya.  A Jerusalemite, his politics were to the right of that of the moshavniks, but the people of Nahalal accepted him as a poet and a teacher of Bible, who taught his son Meir a real love for Tanach.  Batya, in turn, proudly instructed their son, to declare of himself, “I am the son of farmers from Nahalal!”  

During summer visits to his family’s farm, the teen Meir learned to pull his weight on the farm:  milking (by hand and by machine); the feeding of newborn calves; cleaning the cowshed; harvesting and gathering; milking semen from male turkeys and inseminating the females… and “also the skill that turns any old farmer’s son into a person of merit– driving a wagon with a plowshare in reverse, and more than that, backing up a wagon that has a plowshaft.”

My mother-in-law, Dr. Aviva Barzel, a retired professor of Hebrew literature, remarks that Shalev’s memoir was written with a sense of humor and a wink of the eye, detailing the family’s idiosyncrasies with a lot of love.  Drawing upon both his literary and pioneering heritages, Shalev has written a worthy homage to the land of his fathers — mothers and Grandmas! —  and it’s a fitting read for the 64th celebration of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

Shalev: If Obama Treated Israel Like Reagan Did, He’d Be Impeached

— by David Streeter

Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev forcefully pushed back at Republicans attacking President Barack Obama’s strong record of support for Israel by shining a light on the many flaws found in the heavily blemished Israel record of President Ronald Reagan-a hero to nearly all modern Republicans. Shalev contrasted Obama’s unprecedentedly high levels of security assistance to Israel and his record of consistently supporting the Jewish state at the United Nations with Reagan’s lack of support for Israel in UN bodies and his decision to arm Saudi Arabia with “game-changing sophisticated weaponry.” Shalev also noted Reagan’s multiple open and serious conflicts with Israeli leaders along with his insensitivity towards the Holocaust.

Shalev summed up in his headline, “If Obama Treated Israel Like Reagan Did, He’d Be Impeached.”
Click here to learn why.  

UN Condemnation of Israel is Modern Anti-Semitism

Israel’s outgoing Ambassador to the United Nations Prof. Gabriella Shalev received an enthusiastic sending off in New York from of a friendly crowd, as she delivered the 5th Annual Gershon Jacobson Memorial Lecture, hosted by the GJCF and the Algemeiner Journal.

This historic lecture, entitled Representing Israel at the UN: Challenge or Opportunity?” took place on Tuesday August 24th at the Park East Synagogue. The Ambassador took the opportunity to share the various hardships facing Israel at the UN, and also shared details of positive growth and development.

Shalev harshly criticized the UN saying:

“Sadly, there are countless human tragedies and immeasurable human suffering around the globe. Yet the United Nations reserves the overwhelming majority of its condemnation only for Israel. This can only be interpreted as the “politically correct” modern anti-Semitism. “

More after the jump.

“We cannot stop the witch-hunt against Israel that regularly takes place at the United Nations today.”

She insisted that despite the challenges, Israel must not walk away from the UN, quoting President Woodrow Wilson who said:

“I would rather lose in a cause that will someday win, than win in a cause that will someday lose.”

Shalev also spoke of the dangers of rhetoric saying:

“Some may simply dismiss all of this — all these meetings, resolutions and letters (at the UN) — as purposeless diplomacy, or as mere rhetoric.”

But, she said;

“We must also acknowledge the danger of words. The horrific genocide of the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers — it began with the inciting words of Nazi leaders.”

The Ambassador also acknowledged the positive power of words, stating:

“Words, indeed, may have a powerful force. Think, for instance, of the words of the United States’ Constitution or Israel’s declaration of independence; or the words of great leaders such as Washington, Lincoln, Herzl or Ben Gurion”

She also expressed gratitude for America support and the support of the American Jewish community:

“This hypocrisy, this double standard, this double talk, which is unleashed inside the United Nations, is checked only by one country, Israel’s best and closest ally: the United States of America.”

On the upcoming peace talks she said:

“The pursuit of peace will inevitably be a complicated and uncertain venture; but with the security of Israel we will never gamble. A request that Israel recognize a Palestinian state, as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, must be met with an acknowledgement that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”


This annual lecture is one of many programs of the Gershon Jacobson Jewish Continuity Foundation (GJCF), established in 2005 after the death of Gershon Jacobson, the long-time editor and publisher of the largest Yiddish-English weekly, The Algemeiner Journal, Jacobson, one of the most respected and influential Jewish journalists of our time was described by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as “a warrior for truth.” Gershon served as a courageous, independent advocate for the most important issues facing the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

The GJCF, which bears Jacobson’s name, is dedicated to perpetuate his pioneering spirit by serving as a valiant media voice addressing the most compelling issues of our time, with vision, integrity and moral clarity, fighting for Jews and Israel in the media. The GJCF is directed by Simon Jacobson and Dovid Efune, and is overseen by a highly prestigious tribute committee. The GJCF is now responsible for publishing the weekly Algemeiner. For a comprehensive description of the GJCF’s activities, please visit the organization’s website.

Picture captions:
1. Ambassador Shalev delivers the 5th annual Gershon Jacobson Memorial Lecture. (Photo credit: David Karp)

2. GJCF and Algemeiner director Dovid Efune thanks Ambassador Shalev. (Photo credit: David Karp)