Thirteen Years into the Abbas Presidency, Corruption and Autocracy Dominate the West Bank
On this day in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In his inaugural address, Abbas hailed the “peaceful transfer of authority” and pledged to “start the process of reform…so as to establish the foundations of the Palestinian state to which we aspire.” After a decade of Yasser Arafat’s iron-handed PA rule – with his later years characterized by an armed Palestinian uprising – Abbas seemed a breath of fresh air. Now, however, as he enters the fourteenth year of his four-year presidential term, it is clear that Abbas has reneged on many of his pledges and exacerbated the crisis of corruption and autocracy within the Palestinian Authority.
When Abbas was named the first-ever prime minister of the PA in 2003, it was because Arafat was under intense external pressure to dilute power and broaden the Palestinian political scene. A critic of Arafat, Abbas surrounded himself with like-minded reformists, such as the Western-educated economist Salam Fayyad. It was this contrasting approach to Arafat that endeared him to the Palestinian political elite, and to the West.
After Arafat died in November 2004 and Abbas ascended to the presidency in January 2005, Abbas elevated Fayyad’s institution-building platform to a top national priority. Yet, Abbas also brought with him his own distinct style of nepotism. When Fayyad’s reform agenda ran too close to home – particularly when he challenged Abbas’ bid for statehood the United Nations – he was unceremoniously forced out.
Admittedly, Abbas’ one earnest experiment in political reform was a failure. He pledged to hold legislative elections in his inaugural address in 2005, yet those elections saw Palestinians vote for his rivals in Hamas. Those elections fueled a civil war in 2007 in which Abbas lost the Gaza Strip, a seismic shock that has dictated his presidency since.
Sometimes I find the landscape a little overwhelming. What I do notice when discussing antisemitism within the community, is that each person stands in his own political corner, and focuses on the antisemites that swarm amidst his own personal ‘political enemy’. Activism against antisemitism is often ‘contained’ by political bias. This means that against Nazis on the far-right, there is a clear consensus, but when it comes to discussing the importance or level of Jew hate within other elements of the spectrum, that consensus breaks down.
It is a dangerous situation. The current problem is not an issue with the rise of the far right. Nor is it an issue with the rise of the far left. It is a combination of factors. These also include social media bubbles, colonial guilt, the import of antisemitism within immigrant communities, and an anti-Muslim backlash. It is only when all the factors are mixed, do we begin to visualise the ‘antisemitic union’ that threatens us. If we are not looking at the ‘bigger picture’, then most of the solutions we find, or strategies we devise, will fail us.
History shows us that the truly dangerous times are not one dimensional. It isn’t about one man who takes control and leads his people into an antisemitic fury. To treat antisemitism as if it is just about keeping the next ‘Hitler’ at bay and then trying to identify that ‘Hitler’ is a grave error. Firstly, the next Hitler is unlikely to look anything like the last. More importantly, if all the pieces are aligned, the resulting antisemitic tsunami brings the leader with it.
These are just a few events from this week:
Frustrated by Palestinian intransigence, the Trump administration has reportedly frozen $125 million of the American contribution to the internationally funded welfare agency for Palestinian “refugees,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
Mr. Trump had expressed his irritation with the agency, known by the acronym UNRWA, in a characteristic tweet, noting that the U.S. provides “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year” and gets “no appreciation or respect” from Palestinians. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., echoed the sentiment, saying the U.S. would use funding as leverage “until the Palestinians are agreeing to come back to the negotiation table.”
This approach is unprecedented. The U.S. is UNRWA ‘s largest single donor, contributing more than $360 million of the agency’s annual $1.25 billion budget. Historically, U.S. support to UNRWA has been untouchable despite the agency’s role keeping Palestinians in social stasis, providing health, education and welfare services while undermining resettlement efforts and fomenting rejectionism—thereby perpetuating the Palestinians’ “refugee” status for decades.
The Trump administration is not the only factor militating for change. The titanic crisis created by the Syrian civil war, which has produced millions of actual refugees (along with half a million civilian deaths), puts the Palestinian issue in a new and dramatically diminished light. UNRWA ‘s own mismanagement—such as reports that the agency has dramatically overcounted the Palestinians it serves in Lebanon—also makes the status quo more difficult to sustain.
The U.S. supported UNRWA for decades largely because it did not wish the Palestinian issue to threaten other policy imperatives. During the Cold War, that meant containing communism and maintaining the flow of oil from Arab states. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy has revolved around containing the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to prevent regional conflagration and preventing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, especially Iran.
A potential hot potato known as the “UNRWA file” has been on a back burner in Washington for months, unreported. UNRWA – the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees – is being investigated by the U.S. government. The reasons for the investigation are suspicions backed by a wealth of documentation about the growing overlap between the organization and the existence and goals of the PLO, to the point of accepting content of violence, terrorism and incitement.
The U.S. government announcement that it intends to reduce funding to UNRWA in light of the “Palestinian Authority’s retreat from the peace process” – which the Palestinians have called a line in the sand in terms of its relations with the U.S. administration – is linked to this investigation no less than to the “peace process.”
Here are the full details: In January 2017, immediately after U.S. President Donald Trump entered the White House, a team from the U.S. Attorney General’s office launched a probe, on behalf of Congress, into whether the textbooks used in UNRWA schools in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip included anti-Semitic content and encouraged terrorism. The team is also investigating whether and to what extent UNRWA is linked to terrorist entities, particularly in Gaza.
The team’s report is expected to come out in February or March. The investigation is being handled by professionals, not politicians. Head of the Government Accountability Office Eugene Louis Dodaro, an appointee of previous U.S. President Barack Obama, is the one who decided to launch the investigation in response to a request by Republican Sen. James Risch.
The investigation Risch set in motion is the result of significant information submitted to him by the Center for Near East Policy Research, which is chaired by David Bedein. Bedein and his staff supplied Rich with dozens of research papers, recordings, videos, photographs and in particular Palestinian textbooks, all of which he handed on to the government investigators. They amassed additional material and started to get the picture. UNRWA was asked to respond. As of now, nothing has been leaked. However, the material from the Center for Policy Study in the Middle East and Israel are available to everyone.
UNRWA now claims to care for “five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in the Middle East, including the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.” The word “descendants” makes a world of difference. Had UNRWA’s goals included facilitating the absorption of the “refugees,” by now there would be only a few thousands left who needed help – not millions more. But UNRWA’s mandate to resettle the Palestinian refugees was rescinded in 1965.
The real hurdle is the Palestinian insistence on the “right to return,” a dream to flood Israel with the millions who claim refugee status. There is no reciprocal recognition of the right of Jews to live in places such as Hebron, Jerusalem’s Old City or the Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood, or Gush Etzion – places where Jewish residents were displaced or slaughtered in the 1948 War of Independence and returned after the Arab countries failed to destroy Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
Far from being pro-Palestinian, UNRWA has exploited the concept of refugees to manufacture and perpetuate the problem that is its raison d’etre. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness this week gave interviews implying that if it weren’t for the agency’s schools, Palestinian children in Gaza would all be learning in Hamas-affiliated facilities. But many studies report that the children are being taught anti-Israel texts. As recently as two months ago, terror attack tunnels were discovered under UNRWA schools in Gaza, the target being Jewish communities in the Negev. The UN has condemned the stockpiling of weapons and construction of terror tunnels under its buildings, but it is on literally shaky ground.
It’s time for UNRWA to be gradually disbanded. Its areas of responsibility – such as education and healthcare – could be transferred initially to the UNHCR and later to the hands of the Palestinians themselves. And if after 70 years UNRWA really needs to distribute food to those under its auspices, it has clearly failed at even its most basic task of providing meaningful relief.
The Palestinian refugees need to recognize some home truths. UNRWA has done nothing to build a sustainable, peaceful Palestinian state. On the contrary, for generations it has had an unsettling impact. No one can afford to have UNRWA perpetuating the refugee problem: not the Palestinians, not Israel, not the American and other foreign taxpayers – and above all not the millions of genuine refugees.
Increasingly, the Farhud – the murderous pogrom which claimed the lives of 179 Jews in 1941 – is being recognised as a major trigger for the mass exodus of the Jews of Iraq. Writing in Haaretz Dor Saar-man generally does a good analysis of the anti-Jewish currents leading up to the pogrom but it is marred by inaccuracies. It is not true that Jews did not suffer prior antisemitism. In 1889, an anti-Jewish riot swept Baghdad. An anti-Jewish ruler, Daoud Pasha, incited anti-Jewish pogroms in the 19th century. (With thanks Yoram, Lily)
The attack on the city’s flourishing, peaceful Jewish community is usually referred to as the trigger for the Iraqi aliyah to Israel. But seldom is the question asked: How could such a pogrom have occurred in the first place in Iraq – a place where Jews had lived in peace for centuries, a country that did not seem to suffer anti-Semitic norms?
An examination of the historical background reveals the Farhud’s causes: the opposing interests of the Iraqi government and the British Empire, Nazi Germany’s influence, internal Arab movements, and a struggle between groups of Iraqi intellectuals. The unfortunate Jews were caught in the middle.
Historian Nissim Kazzaz has researched Iraqi Jewry and managed to put the Farhud in its historical context. Until the 1920s there was no significant evidence of anti-Semitism in Iraq. (Not true, see intro above – ed) Old restrictions from the Ottoman era were abolished during the 20th century and the establishment of the British Mandate after World War I soon changed the Jews’ situation for the better.
Yet World War I had other outcomes as well. The Iraqi elite were introduced to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a forged text that was partly translated from the original Russian into Arabic. New movements were rising in that period in Iraq, some of which argued that as long as the Jews did not hold national inspirations, they were part of the Iraqi nation without obstacles.
But other movements, such as Al Istiklal, had a different opinion. Perceiving the Iraqi nationality as Arabic and Muslim, they would not include religious minorities such as the Jews. Formally, after Iraq received independence from Britain in 1932, the Jews were considered Iraqi citizens, but some voices always argued against their integration.
Just over a century ago this week, Turkish and Kurdish forces invaded land that the Assyrian people had inhabited since antiquity and began exterminating them. The slaughter that ensued lasted from 1915-1923, leaving 300,000 Assyrians dead and innumerable women abducted.
Joseph Yacoub’s Year of the Sword: the Assyrian Christian Genocide, published in French in 2014 and translated into English in 2016, is the most accessible historical account of the events that composed the genocide, as well as a comprehensive case for those events as genocide. Yacoub, emeritus professor of political science at the Catholic University of Lyon, provides a distillation of sources in the languages used by both the perpetrators of and witnesses to the genocide. Year of the Sword is necessary for the breadth and depth of scholarship that informs that distillation, as well as the careful marshaling of it into analysis.
The Assyrian genocide formed one distinct yet indivisible chapter of a program of eradication that also encompassed the coeval Armenian and Greek genocides. The purpose was to put an end to the presence of all three Christian peoples in the territory that became the Republic of Turkey. The politics of the genocide were not the outgrowth of a robust nationalist ideology or tradition. (Turkish nationalism has always struggled to reconcile the need for an atavistic sense of racial origins, usually placed somewhere within Central Asia, and the need to subjugate and cohere territories in Asia Minor.) The Republic of Turkey was instead founded upon the application of violent jihad to the territorial boundaries of the emerging Turkish state. The Islamization of Turkey was inseparable from the establishment of its national sovereignty.
Yacoub discusses political developments in the decades prior to the genocide: the draconian centralization of power in the flailing Ottoman caliphate under Sultan Hamid II (1876-1909), and the nationalism of the Young Turks who supplanted him and ushered in an era of genocide. This background is not treated as an inductive source of understanding, but rather a context. Yacoub’s major focus is on detailing the act of killing.
According to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, 2017 marked a sea change in the campaign against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
One of the central achievements was the decision by a number of countries to halt funding to BDS organizations after the Strategic Affairs Ministry exposed their anti-Semitism and ties to terrorist organizations like Hamas.
FIFA, the world soccer body, rejected a motion to exclude Israel from international competition. And in the U.S., where 24 states have passed anti-BDS legislation, the state of New Jersey suspended its financial ties with Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest bank, due to its boycott of Israeli companies.
The ministry also noted success in the cultural sphere. Although New Zealand pop singer Lorde’s decision to cancel a planned appearance in Tel Aviv following pressure from boycott activists was widely reported in the media, a number of artists, including Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and rock groups Radiohead and Guns N’ Roses, rejected calls for a boycott and played in Tel Aviv as scheduled.
According to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, as a result of these successes, the BDS movement has been playing defense and focusing more on the protection of “the right to boycott” rather than the boycott of Israel itself.
South Carolina’s governor urged his state’s Senate on Wednesday to pass legislation designed to counter campus antisemitism in time for signing on International Holocaust Remembrance Day later this month.
The bill — H. 3643 — would help “our state and its college campuses provide a welcoming environment for those from all walks of life,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement.
The measure seeks to ensure that South Carolina’s public colleges and universities will take the State Department’s definition of antisemitism into consideration when investigating allegations of discrimination against Jewish students.
The definition encompasses traditional anti-Jewish tropes — such as conspiracies about Jewish control of societal institutions — as well as efforts to “demonize,” “delegitimize,” and apply a “double standard” to Israel. It also acknowledges that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
The announcement was applauded by some advocates of Jewish students on campus.
Alyza Lewin, director of policy and chief operating officer at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB), framed the bill as “a significant step” in deterring antisemitic activity in universities, amid a rise in anti-Jewish hostility “on both far ends of the political spectrum.”
LDB emphasized in a statement that the measure “is careful to protect First Amendment rights of all students on campus, and will not curb or restrict free speech or academic freedom.” The State Department’s definition of antisemitism is “substantially similar” to that used by the 31 member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the 50 countries included in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, excluding Russia, the legal group noted.
You can’t make this stuff up – unless you are part of a BDS organization. Bonus points if you are head of a BDS organization, like Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of anti-Israel organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
Vilkomerson said: “If you think about the state that Israel is in right now, what is or looks like right now: an extremely right wing and extremely militaristic and extremely defensive frame and increasingly isolated from the world and responsible for human rights violations every day. It’s not on a good trajectory. So my perspective with BDS is we can actually save this wrong, we can save the people of Israel by creating a place that’s safe and it offers dignity and freedom.”
If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you – although it was made in Israel so I guess you won’t be interested?
Nope, the ultimate goal of BDS is the destruction of Israel – to replace Israel with a palestinian state. Every time you hear BDS-holes chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, that is what they are saying.
When is a BDS fail spun as a BDS success? All too often.
The New Orleans City Council has just rejected a one sided and biased divestment resolution condemning Israel in favor of a wide reaching statement for human rights. That doesn’t stop the BDS holes from claiming victory.
The actual text of the resolution makes no mention of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict at all, and makes it quite clear that New Orleans rejects discrimination by national origin
The original petition by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, to be delivered to the New Orleans City Council looked quite different. The truth optional petition was signed by only 305 people and proclaimed the usual laundry list of scurrilous claims against Israel:
The head of Washington, D.C.’s teachers’ union sent an email condemning “Israeli occupation” and asked her 5,000 members to lodge complaints against the police department for partnering with the Anti-Defamation League to train in Israel.
On Dec. 14, Elizabeth Davis circulated an email to thousands of D.C. public school teachers and employees with the subject line “STOP the Deadly Exchange,” a reference to a campaign launched by anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace to link Israel to police violence in the United States. Davis urged members to contact the police department and urge them to sever ties with Israel.
“The Washington Teachers’ Union is asking its active and retired members to call and to send a message to Chief of Police Peter Newsham at (202) 727-4218 or firstname.lastname@example.org to demand that this police exchange and all trainings with Israel, be cancelled,” the email said.
Davis further went on to condemn Israel and members of its self-defense forces.
“The trainers on this trip include Israeli military and intelligence officials who enforce a military occupation. Israeli occupation is no model for DC,” she said. “DC citizens, our children, and their families deserve better.”
Thanks to a series of tweets by UN Watch, The New York Times issued a correction on Monday to an article that appeared to minimize and mock the countries who refused to support a resolution criticizing America for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“On Wednesday, the United States Mission to the United Nations held a cocktail reception for the nine countries that voted against the resolution in the General Assembly’’ The New York Times originally wrote, making sure to cite the names, apart from the U.S. and Israel, of “Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.”
The clear message: the U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley held a reception for seven ridiculous little countries, and only those would support the U.S. and Israel.
Yet it turns out, as UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer quickly tweeted to the reporter, that the reception was in fact held for 64 countries—not nine—and that these included a diverse and cross-regional group of better-known countries, including Canada, Australia, Czech Republic, Poland, Argentina, Mexico and Kenya.
While the correction was made that the reception was for 64 and not nine, as described below, the NYT’s corrected version doubled down in mentioning only the tiny countries listed in its original piece. They would not mention Argentina, Australia, Canada, or any of the others invited to the reception.
The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during December 2017 shows that throughout the month a total of 249 incidents took place: 178 in Judea & Samaria, fifty-six in Jerusalem and fifteen in the Gaza Strip/Sinai sector.
In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 216 attacks with petrol bombs, twelve attacks using explosive devices, four shooting attacks and two stabbing attacks. Also recorded were twelve separate incidents of missile fire from the Gaza Strip (with a total of 19 projectiles launched) and three petrol bomb attacks in the same sector.
The BBC News website reported on missile attacks launched from the Gaza Strip on December 8th and December 13th but the additional attacks throughout the month did not receive specific coverage.
As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2017 frequently included contributions or information sourced from NGOs.
BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:
“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
However, in the vast majority of cases audiences were not informed of the political agenda of the organisations and their representatives promoted in BBC content and on some occasions the connection of an interviewee to a particular NGO was not revealed at all.
For example, an interviewee who was featured on BBC World Service radio at least three times between September 3rd and December 7th (including here and here) was introduced as “a mother of two” from Gaza but audiences were not informed that she works for Oxfam.
Similarly the founder of Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem was introduced to BBC audiences in February as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” and in June as “an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem”.
France’s most famed publishing house bowed to pressure Thursday and suspended plans to reissue a collection of violently anti-Semitic pamphlets by novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine.
Gallimard sparked an outcry last week when it revealed it intended to publish a 1,000-page compendium of the controversial writer’s essays from the late 1930s.
The French lawyer and Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld threatened legal action to stop them, saying that Celine had “influenced a whole generation of collaborationists who sent French Jews to their deaths.”
But on Thursday Gallimard told AFP that it was shelving plans to reprint the texts in full.
“I am suspending the project, having judged that conditions were not right for ensuring a proper job in terms of methodology and history,” Antoine Gallimard said.
The publisher had earlier insisted that the pamphlets, which have been out of print since 1945, would be put “in their context as writings of great violence and marked by the anti-Semitic hatred of the author.”
Now that it has made it into the Bundestag, Germany’s strongest right-wing populist political party is insisting on claiming its place on the board of the foundation for the national Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
The initiator of the foundation and memorial itself, Lea Rosh, has rejected the idea out of hand, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported. But the president of the parliament, Wolfgang Schäuble, has not yet commented on the bid.
The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party entered the Bundestag last September with 94 seats, after coming in third place with 12.6 percent of the vote in the German federal elections. The party’s popularity is based largely on its anti-refugee policy.
It is now invoking the law passed in 2000 that established the Holocaust memorial foundation, which stipulates that each party in the parliament is entitled to proportional representation on the board of trustees. The AfD would be entitled to one seat.
The national Holocaust memorial in Berlin was dedicated in May 2005. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs called “stelae,” arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field, resembling a cemetery.
According to its website, the foundation’s aim is to ensure “that all victims of National Socialism are remembered and honored appropriately.” Its tasks include developing special exhibitions, organizing lectures and seminars, and creating accompanying publications.
Edinburgh-based law graduate Sophie Stephenson will not face criminal charges over her support for proscribed terrorist organisation Hizballah, which seeks the annihilation of Jews worldwide.
On 1st July 2017, Ms Stephenson tweeted a photograph of herself wearing a Hizballah t-shirt, explaining: “Went out to dinner with my family tonight wearing a Hizballah t-shirt.” As her tweet began to go viral, a proud Ms Stephenson also added that when her sister had asked what the Hizballah emblem was, Ms Stephenson replied: “A terrorist group”.
As other Twitter users angrily responded, Ms Stephenson was pleased to confirm: “I have a flag too” as well as clarifying that this occurred in the UK.
Ms Stephenson has previously claimed that “Hamas are more the victims of an extremely well-funded propaganda campaign rather than terrorists”, and reportedly tweeted that “Everyone in Ukraine is either a Moscow agent, a homosexual, or a Jew.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism reported Ms Stephenson to the police, alleging that she had committed an offence under section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which applies in Scotland and states that: “A person in a public place commits an offence if he wears an item of clothing, or wears, carries or displays an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation. A constable in Scotland may arrest a person without a warrant if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is guilty of an offence under this section. A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.”
Israeli flags are being set on fire by brainwashed masses; Jewish schoolchildren are coming under attack at schools; national television networks are broadcasting anti-Israel propaganda during Christmas season; the foreign minister publicly accuses Israel of being an “apartheid state” – all these things are not happening in a hostile Middle Eastern country. No. They happened in Germany, which purports to maintain warm relations with Israel.
In the most recent parliamentary election, a problematic right-wing party became the third largest in the Bundestag, but it was this problematic party that was actually the only one in Germany to support U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. At the U.N., Germany voted against this recognition, while at home, three months after the election, there is still no new government. A renewed “grand coalition” bringing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives together with the social democrats, if established, may prove unstable.
Josef Schuster, a physician specializing in internal medicine, is facing this tense interim period as the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. He may have been born in Israel, but he is a descendant of one of Germany’s oldest Jewish families – a rarity among the uprooted and immigrant Jews who gathered in Germany after World War II.
Entrepreneur and former porn star Jenna Jameson responded to a tweet by Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer regarding the desecration of the Thessaloniki Holocaust memorial Wednesday, tweeting: “These people are scourge of the earth.”
Mayer’s tweet read “Appalling: Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki, Greece desecrated with Free Palestine” graffiti. 94% of the city’s 50,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis, virtually wiping out the Jewish community; today only about 1,000 Jews remain.”
Jameson, a Jewish convert who is married to Israeli Lior Bitton, has long been very vocal about her support for Jews and Israel. She identifies as a Zionist.
Almost eight decades after being outlawed by the Nazis, Germany’s branch of the international Bnei Akiva movement is back — with some slight changes.
Founded as a religious Zionist movement to promote Jewish immigration to Israel, this particular branch of the organization has shifted its sights to instead suit the needs of the growing local community and the peculiarities of German Jewish life.
The group was officially granted non-profit status by German authorities last summer, enabling the branch to collect tax-deductible donations and enter into contracts with renewed independence.
The original iteration of the youth movement was formed in the beginning of the 20th century with a dual commitment towards religious studies and agricultural labor in the land of Israel, famously summed up in the group’s slogan, “Torah v’avodah,” or “Torah and work.”
Promoting the emigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel was a central part of its worldview. Today’s Bnei Akiva in Germany, however, takes a necessary different approach.
Now focusing on educational work within Germany’s Jewish congregations, Bnei Akiva educators cater to the needs and wishes of their respective communities. To wit: consolidating Jewish life in Germany.
Every January, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Rather than celebrating a broader Civil Rights Movement Day, we prefer to tell the story of a singular hero who represented and led the struggle for justice and equality, giving his life for it long before his work was done. And King—in spite of his well-documented personal flaws—gave us exactly the story we need. This story speaks not only to the reverend’s fellow Christians, but to Jews as well.
In calling for black people to be included in American society, King grounded his demands in the nation’s most sacred texts: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible. King’s approach thus set him in dialogue with the other received American traditions, Christian and Jewish alike, that accompany these texts. In 1963, King led the historic March on Washington and delivered the rousing “I Have a Dream” speech by which we best remember him. He famously referred to the nation’s founding documents and the Emancipation Proclamation and also quoted this bit from Isaiah 40:
I have a dream that one day “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
These powerful words link the goal of racial equality with the greater promise of harmony and divinity. They aroused King’s massive audience to action in 1963, the Protestants in attendance hearing a charismatic preacher revive their Social Gospel and the Catholics hearing him echo their liberation theology. The Jews who heard the speech—both those who physically attended the event and those who have studied and cherished his words in the five decades since—likely found the southern preacher’s style less familiar to their religious experiences. But many have undoubtedly been reminded of the haftarah.
The “Nahamu nahamu ami” haftarah reading, from which the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av draws its title, also excerpts from Isaiah 40. As the first of the seven “haftarot of consolation” read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah, Nahamu presents a prophetic vision calling upon the nation of Judah to provide solace to the suffering city of Jerusalem. God announces, after extracting a price for Jerusalem’s sins and allowing the city’s recovery, his imminent arrival to raise the valleys, lower the hills, smooth the rough places, and straighten the crooked places—a full and final restoration of justice.
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