This Is Zionism?

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It had been at least 20 years since I was in New York for a Salute to Israel Parade. But it was a happy coincidence.

I was scheduled to be in New York on Monday for a meeting of the board of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. I came into the city a day early with my wife and 20 year old daughter to enjoy the parade. My daughter marched with a delegation from the University of Maryland Hillel. My wife and I enjoyed being part of the crowd, hearing the Israeli music and watching the floats and delegations of students from synagogues and schools from all around the area.

After the parade we heard that there was going to be an Israel-themed concert in
Central Park so we decided to attend. It was a shock to the system.

I was not troubled by the fact that the crowd was predominantly Orthodox. I was raised in an Orthodox day school and I do a lot of work with Orthodox institutions under the auspices of PANIM, the organization that I run in Washington D.C. committed to training young Jews for a lifetime of leadership, service and activism.

Then one speaker launched into a tirade about how every American president since Jimmy Carter had betrayed Israel by courting the favor of Arab nations. Applause. Another speaker announced that Hillary Clinton cared more about Palestinian national aspirations than about Israel’s survival. Applause. Candidate for Congress, Elizabeth Berney, slammed Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), chairman of the House Sub-committee on the Middle East for his characterization of Israeli settlement activity in the territories as part of a “destructive dynamic” in the region. More applause.

Then a band launched into a rousing rendition of Am Yisrael Chai. I spent more than 25 years as an activist for Soviet Jewry. This was our theme song signaling solidarity both with the history of our people and with all those oppressed Jews in the world whose cause we championed. A group of young men in their 20’s with kippot and tziztzit were right in front of me dancing in a frenzy. But they alternated the verse that meant “the people of Israel lives” with “all the Arabs must die.” It rhymed with the Hebrew. Given the way all joined in, it was clear that this was not the first time it was sung.

I leaned over to a young man who was next to me, also wearing a kippah and tzitzit. I nodded at the dancers and asked: “Does this song bother you?” He looked at me with a suspicious look and replied: “This is Zionism.”

There were a dozen or so sponsors of the rally including the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for a Safe Israel and the National Council of Young Israel. Rally sponsors cannot control every statement of every speaker and they certainly can not control the actions of those in the audience. Yet the messages from the stage were all in ideological alignment and the MC was generously doling out yasher koachs after each presentation.

The joy of the earlier part of the day changed to outrage and then to deep sadness. I have devoted my entire life to Zionism, Israel and the Jewish people. I ran a Zionist think tank for academics in both Philadelphia and Washington D.C. I brought public officials to Israel as the executive director of the JCRC of Washington D.C. I led Solidarity Missions to Israel during Intifadah II under the auspices of UJC. All three of my children spent a gap year in Israel with Young Judaea Year Course. My organization trains thousands of young people to be proud of their Jewish identity and to be effective advocates for Israel in the public square.

But the Zionism that compels me includes the proposition that a Jewish state will honor the rights of all of its citizens and be true to the prophetic ideals of peace and justice that are elaborated on in the Torah. It does not include anti-Arab sentiments that Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wants to enshrine in Israeli law. It does not include a political stance that is destined to put the government of Israel on a collision course with an Obama Administration that seems committed to bringing about a just settlement to the Middle East conflict that has made Arabs and Jews enemies for more than a century. And it certainly does not include a fervor that turns a Jewish solidarity song into an anthem of prejudice and hate.

Jewish leaders are quick to demand that Muslim clergy condemn the extremism that has hijacked Islam into a religion of terrorism and death. We need to make the same demands of the rabbis of institutions whose students make a chillul hashem (a desecration of God’s name) by singing “all the Arabs must die”.

Finally, Jews who love Israel and who want peace need to ask themselves how we can reclaim the public discourse about the future of the Jewish state. Islam is not the only religion that is in danger of being hijacked.

Ref: Jewish week

Rabbi Sid Schwarz is the founder and president of PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values and the author of Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World (Jewish Lights).

VIDEO: Gambling with Conflict: How settlers control Israeli policy

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Our aggressive democracy

…Racist legislation is a disease, wherever it comes from. But in this case, the identity of the party that initiates the bills is important. The mass immigration from the former Soviet Union put two of the largest communities in Israel on a collision course – the Arabs and the new immigrants. The ethos of the Law of Return collides with the ethos of the right of return, and the absorption of a million new immigrants in employment and housing has been carried out largely at the Arabs’ expense. The shift in demographic balance created by this aliyah sidelined the Arab community even further. Instead of using this change to expand democracy, Israel, through Yisrael Beiteinu, is using it to create an aggressive democracy.

Ref: haaretz

Chabad rabbi: Jews should kill Arab men, women and children during war

Like the best Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, Manis Friedman has won the hearts of many unaffiliated Jews with his charismatic talks about love and God; it was Friedman who helped lead Bob Dylan into a relationship with Chabad.

But Friedman, who today travels the country as a Chabad speaker, showed a less warm and cuddly side when he was asked how he thinks Jews should treat their Arab neighbors.

“The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle),” Friedman wrote in response to the question posed by Moment Magazine for its “Ask the Rabbis” feature.

Friedman argued that if Israel followed this wisdom, there would be “no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.”

“I don’t believe in Western morality,” he wrote. “Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.”

Friedman’s use of phrasing that might seem more familiar coming from an Islamic extremist has generated a swift backlash. The editor of Moment, Nadine Epstein, said that since the piece was printed in the current issue they “have received many letters and e-mails in response to Rabbi Friedman’s comments – and almost none of them have been positive.”

Friedman quickly went into damage control. He released a statement to the Forward, through a Chabad spokesman, saying that his answer in Moment was “misleading” and that he does believe that “any neighbor of the Jewish people should be treated, as the Torah commands us, with respect and compassion.”

But Friedman’s words have generated a debate about whether there is a darker side to the cheery face that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement shows to the world in its friendly outreach to unaffiliated Jews. Mordecai Specktor, editor of the Jewish community newspaper in Friedman’s hometown, St. Paul. Minnesota, said: “The public face of Lubavitch is educational programs and promoting Yiddishkeit. But I do often hear this hard line that Friedman expresses here.”

“He sets things out in pretty stark terms, but I think this is what Lubavitchers believe, more or less,” said Specktor, who is also the publisher of the American Jewish World.

“They are not about loving the Arabs or a two-state solution or any of that stuff. They are fundamentalists. They are our fundamentalists.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a regular critic of Arab extremists, said that in the Jewish community, “We are not immune to having these views. There are people in our community who have these bigoted, racist views.”

But, Foxman warned, Friedman’s views are not reflective of the Chabad rabbis he knows. “I am not shocked that there would be a rabbi who would have these views,” Foxman said, “but I am shocked that Moment would give up all editorial discretion and good sense to publish this as representative of Chabad.”

A few days after anger about the comment surfaced, Chabad headquarters released a statement saying that, “we vehemently disagree with any sentiment suggesting that Judaism allows for the wanton destruction of civilian life, even when at war.”

The statement added: “In keeping with Jewish law, it is the unequivocal position of Chabad-Lubavitch that all human life is G-d given, precious, and must be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.”

In Moment, Friedman’s comment is listed as the Chabad response to the question “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?” after a number of answers from rabbis representing other Jewish streams, most of which state a conciliatory attitude toward Arabs.

Epstein said that Friedman was “brave” for stating his views so clearly.

“The American Jewish community doesn’t have the chance to hear opinions like this,” Epstein said, “not because they are rare, but because we don’t often ask Chabad and other similar groups what they think.”

The Chabad movement is generally known for its hawkish policies toward the Palestinians; the Chabad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, rejected peace accords with the Palestinians. Rabbi Moshe Feller, the top Chabad rabbi in Minnesota, said that the rebbe taught that it is not a mitzvah to kill, but that Jews do have an obligation to act in self-defense.

“Jews as a whole, they try to save the lives of others,” Feller told the Forward, “but if it’s to save our lives, then we have to do what we have to do. It’s a last resort.”

Friedman is not a fringe rabbi within the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He was the English translator for the Chabad Rebbe, and at the rebbe’s urging, he founded Beis Chana, a network of camps and schools for Jewish women. Friedman is also a popular speaker and writer on issues of love and relationships. His first book, “Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?” was promoted with a quote from Bob Dylan, who Friedman brought to meet the rebbe.

On his blog and Facebook page, Friedman’s emphasis is on his sympathetic, caring side. It was this reputation that made the comment in Moment so surprising to Steve Hunegs, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council: Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“Rabbi Friedman is a best-selling author who addresses some of the most sensitive issues of the time,” Hunegs said. “I intend to call him and talk to him about this.”

But Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger and critic of Chabad who lives a few blocks from Friedman in Minnesota, says that the comment in Moment is not an aberration from his experiences with Friedman and many other Chabad rabbis.

“What he’s saying is the standard normal view of a Chabadnik,” Rosenberg said. “They just don’t say it in public.”

For his part, Friedman was quick to modify the statement that he wrote in Moment. He told the Forward that the line about killing women and children should have been in quotes; he said it is a line from the Torah, though he declined to specify from which part. Friedman also said that he was not advocating for Israel to actually kill women and children. Instead, he said, he believed that Israel should publicly say that it is willing to do these things in order to scare Palestinians and prevent war.

“If we took this policy, no one would be killed – because there would be no war,” Friedman said. “The same is true of the United States.”

Friedman did acknowledge, however, that in self-defense, the behavior he talked about would be permissible.

“If your children are threatened, you do whatever it takes – and you don’t have to apologize,” he said.

Friedman argued that he is different from Arab terrorists who have used similar language about killing Jewish civilians.

“When they say it, it’s genocide, not self-defense,” Friedman said. “With them, it’s a religious belief – they need to rid the area of us. We’re not saying that.”

Feller, the Chabad leader in Minnesota, said that the way Friedman had chosen to express himself was “radical.”

“I love him,” Feller said. “I brought him out here – he’s magnificent. He’s brought thousands back to Torah mitzvah. But he shoots from the hip sometimes.”

Ref: Haaretz