| Friday, 25 November 2011 15:30|
I’ll start off my column this time with two anecdotes. The first one is true – indeed, I have heard it from several friends, each of whom experienced a different variant. The second is a rumor – possibly real and possibly apocryphal, but in any case reflecting sad reality.
Story #1: While spending a summer teaching in China, an Israeli friend of mine was asked by a local Chinese colleague how many Israelis live in the State of Israel. “About 7 million,” replied my friend.
“No, no,” answered the Chinese in somewhat broken English. “Not in your city – how many in the entire country?”
When my friend explained that indeed his answer referred to Israel as a whole, his professorial colleague was stupefied. “But how can that be? Everywhere I go in the world, there are thousands of Israelis!”
| Friday, 11 November 2011 00:00|
Rest easy, this essay is not about abortion. It’s about a far wider issue: the value of life in Israel.
Ask any Americans visiting Israel for the first time what their impression is, and invariably one of the responses is, “I’m surprised by how safe it feels!”
Push them into thinking about what’s behind the “surprise,” and two inevitable responses are offered. The first one relates to the way most American (actually, all overseas) media cover Israel: bombings, terrorism, etc. Other than a very few “Jewish-city” papers such as The New York Times (and of course, overtly Jewish papers like the one you are reading) that attempt to widen the horizon regarding more “normal” aspects of Israeli society, the reigning editorial philosophy regarding Israeli is, “If it ‘ain’t’ bad, it ‘ain’t’ news.” The second response to the surprise voiced by new visitors to Israel sounds like this: “With all those soldiers strolling around with their guns, I would have thought that the atmosphere would be far more tense.”
| Friday, 28 October 2011 13:30|
You can read this headline as “Black and Blue – and White” or “Black – and Blue and White.” Therein lies a story with a positive beginning and not-so-happy middle.
As is well known, in the 1980s and 1990s Israel spent much money and energy to bring tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to its shores. For anyone accusing Israel of being a racist state (remember the infamous U.N. declaration of Zionism = Racism?) here was proof positive that Israel was no such thing. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find any nation on Earth where the government made a concerted effort to help “blacks” immigrate into their country. Nor has Israel rested on those laurels; in the past two months, it has successfully completed its longstanding project of bringing the Ethiopian Falashmura to the Promised Land. These are former Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity (some voluntarily, others not) but continued to maintain a connection to their past Jewishness. In short: We are witness here to 30 years of turning “Black – (into) Blue and White.”
| Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00|
This issue of The Jewish Voice & Herald includes a “Readers’ Favorites,” which reminds us that our democratic values and processes are deeply embedded in our society. Thus, it’s an appropriate time to ask the perennial question, “Is it good for the Jews?” In this instance, the question pertains to the various Arab democratic uprisings throughout the Middle East. Instead of “Jews,” I will substitute “Israelis.”
The answer to this important question is clear: “It depends.” First, it depends on who will ultimately emerge victorious: true democratic forces, even if populist and not altogether responsible at first, or anti-democratic forces of a different nature, as occurred with the Iranian Revolution. Second, it depends on the time frame. Are we referring to the limited short run (a couple of years) or the medium-to-long term?
Regarding the first aspect, there are obvious countervailing forces at hand. On the positive side, a good portion of the Arab world has internalized global democratic values. Moreover, for the common Arab citizen, the Arab-Israeli conflict – and some intra-Arab ones as well – has taken a back seat to more pressing concerns such as employment, housing, etc. On the other hand, the temporary fluid state of affairs lends itself more to groups that have firm and stable organizations. The prime examples of those in the Middle East are the Islamic parties, and most of them are quite fundamentalist in nature. In addition, while some specific dictatorial leaders have been ousted (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt and Libya), this does not guarantee that the underlying, authoritarian power structure will be eliminated. Egypt might be a good example of this, with its army still calling most of the shots, precisely because its leaders know how to “bend” to certain democratic demands without giving up the reign of power. Nevertheless, once the democratic snowball starts rolling down the hill, it is very hard to stop it or even avoid an increase in its strength.
| Friday, 30 September 2011 00:00|
As we start the Jewish New Year with religious tradition on our minds (and/or in our souls), here’s an unusual religious issue from Israel to consider.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – Israel’s army – has always sought to be a “people’s army,” a cross-section of Israeli society. To a certain extent this is still true, although the level of draft deferments (for medical reasons and, to a lesser extent, conscientious objections) has been steadily rising. The real problem with this picture is that it was never really true in the first place -- and in a starkly different way, it is not true now either.
The important question is not so much who serves in the IDF, but rather “Who are the combat fighters and who are the officers?”
For the first few decades after 1948 the answer was clear: the preponderance of officers, as well as elite air force pilots, were members of the kibbutzim, or collective settlements, and moshavim, communal settlements. There were three main reasons for this: political connections, Zionist motivation, and (in the case of the pilots) techno-mechanical experience and skills.
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