Sephardic Heritage Update

A collection of current Essays, Articles, Events and Information Impacting our community and our culture A Publication of the Center for Sephardic Heritage “Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time. Education is improving the lives of others and leaving your community and world better than you found it.” -Marian Wright Edelman Contents 4 May 2011
We first broached the ideas of David Biale’s new book in a short interview with him conducted by The Jerusalem Post’s Shmuel Rosner in SHU 467. In that interview we were introduced to the basic ideas that are more carefully discussed in the academic review of the book by Steven Frankel presented below. The review makes it quite clear how contemporary scholars of Jewish culture understand the Jewish past. The profound clash between Maimonidean traditionalism and Spinoza’s secularism is often papered over by redrawing the historical categories through which we understand the subject. The Ashkenazi tradition is deeply conflicted over the matter of Maimonides and this new attempt to transform Maimonides into a conceptual unity with Spinoza is one that emerges out of the Enlightenment/Haskala ideal that redraws Maimonidean thinking to reflect the rebellion against the Talmudic tradition that was a central part of the more general Maskilic rejection of the normative Jewish tradition. Biale’s attempt to bring Maimonides and Spinoza together is not altogether novel, even if it is patently absurd. Years ago I heard a lecture by Alfred Ivry where he asserted that Maimonides was at heart a philosopher who rejected the Law and only presented a normative Jewish viewpoint as a philosophical ploy to protect his esoteric ideas which were antithetical to that normative tradition. For those familiar with the work of Leo Strauss, such a view is quite familiar as an extreme affirmation of Strauss’ basic position in his widely-read book Persecution and the Art of Writing. Maimonides, according to Strauss, harbored heretical thoughts that had to be carefully hidden from public view. In this sense, Ivry, and now Biale in his discussion of Jewish secularism, forces Maimonides to be an Ashkenazi Maskil in light of the image of Maimonides formulated in the Orthodox Ashkenazi rabbinical tradition which is clearly that of an apostate. It allows Maimonides to function in an Ashkenazi Jewish world that had rejected his philosophical insights and legal methodology.

Maimonides and Spinoza in Contemporary Jewish Thinking: The Case of David Biale By: David Shasha Book Review: Spinoza’s Children: The History of Jewish Secularism By: Steven Frankel Of Conversos and the Loss of Sephardic Identity By: David Ramirez On Writing as a Jew By: Cynthia Ozick Are the Israeli Settlers Human? By: Bret Stephens The New Power of a Latino-Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles By: Jonah Lowenfeld A Latino-Israeli Alliance? Really! By: David Ramirez Moshe Sakal: Lost in Translation By: Maya Sela Israel’s Falafel Food Fight By: Sousan Hammad Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis By: David A. Nichols

Maimonides and Spinoza in Contemporary Jewish Thinking: The Case of David Biale


The Maimonidean Controversy permeates Ashkenazi rabbinical tradition in its forceful rejection of philosophical and scientific thought. In my writings on the subject I have referred to contemporary Judaic scholars dealing with mysticism who have reaffirmed the anti-Maimonidean bias inherent in the Ashkenazi rabbinical tradition. Ignored in this discussion has been the pioneering work of Jose Faur who has understood Maimonides from the perspective of what he has called “Religious Humanism.” This formulation is critical in extricating Maimonides from the shackles of Eurocentric categories and Ashkenazi rabbinical thinking. So long as Maimonides is framed within a Eurocentric philosophical context, the problems inherent in the Religion/Secular binarism will continue to fester. According to Faur’s teaching Religious Humanism is a fusion of Halakhic Judaism with the sciences of man and nature. Maimonides himself makes this clear in the first volume of his Mishneh Torah, the Book of Knowledge, Sefer ha-Madda’. In that volume Maimonides provides an ethical-scientific introduction to the science of the Law that fuses Aristotelian concepts with Talmudic politico-ethical values. The book is structured along the lines of the commandments, but integrates the commandments into a larger framework enabled by the advances of GrecoRoman civilization as translated by Arab thinkers in an Islamic context. For Maimonides “religion” cannot be separated from the study of nature and the study of humanity. Science and philosophy are not deemed a separate aspect of religious epistemology, but are integrally connected to Torah. The two systems are joined together and cannot be separated. Of course, as would be expected, the Judeo-Arab synthesis embodied in Religious Humanism was firmly rejected by the Ashkenazi rabbis. As pursuers of “heresy,” like their Christian counterparts in France and Germany, the Ashkenazi rabbis hunted for Gentile sources in Maimonides’ writings and carefully picked them out, determining what in Maimonides was “kosher” and what was “traif.” As Faur reasonably points out, Maimonides was simply following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors, most prominently the extraordinary polymath Se’adya Ga’on, former head of one of the Talmudic academies in Babylonia. Religious Humanism was articulated by the most eminent and respected rabbinical authorities, not by some marginal figures. In addition, Faur’s discussion closely examines the chain of tradition in Ashkenazi circles where dogmatic pronouncements were made about the Talmud, but where there was no formal relationship between the Babylonian

academies and the study halls of Europe, as was the case in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East. Where did the Ashkenazi rabbis get their authority as Talmudists, and by what right did they castigate Maimonides whose own tradition, from Lucena, Cordoba and Fez, was directly connected to those same Babylonian academies? Faur looks at the subject in a way that is most logical but is off the beaten path today. He forcefully asserts that it was Maimonides who was the true Talmudic scion as he had received the tradition from its most authoritative expositors. The converse is thus true: It was the Ashkenazim who were “re-inventing” the Talmudic tradition by their selfimposed “fidelity” to a supposed “literal” understanding of the tradition. It is amazing that Ashkenazi rabbis such as Rashi saw themselves fit to formally emend the actual text of the Talmud, seeing that they had no formal juridical authority to do so. The heresy-mongering of prominent Ashkenazi rabbis like Abraham ben David (RABAD) and their Sephardic disciples like Nahmanides and Solomon ben Adret was grounded in a romantic idealization of a perceived Talmudic past that was literally cut off from the organic sources of that historical transmission. It is a fantasy that remains at the core of the Maimonidean Controversy and explains its great significance in Jewish history. Spinoza emerges out of a profound malaise within European thinking. His rejection of the old Scholastic system is a rejection not only of the scientific and philosophical weltanschauung inherent in medieval Aristotelianism, but a rejection of the values inherent in the fusion that was Religious Humanism. Henceforth, Secular Humanism would become totally divorced from the religious parochialism of the Monotheistic traditions. The famous excommunication of Spinoza in Amsterdam is a contentious flashpoint in the ongoing struggle over his legacy. The decree was signed by Saul Morteira, Menasseh ben Israel and Isaac Aboab, men trained in the Maimonidean tradition of Religious Humanism. It was directed at the threat Spinoza presented to the Jewish community in its subservient relationship to the Dutch Protestant authorities. Spinoza’s revolt was not simply aimed at the Jewish tradition, but was part of a larger attempt to undermine the very basis of religious belief in the European Christian world. As Dutch Jews lived at the mercy of the Protestant authorities, Spinoza represented a clear and present danger to the community and needed to be publicly severed from it for the protection of the Jewish people. All this is relevant to any discussion of Jewish “secularism” – a non-sequitor and truly paradoxical formulation. Secular Humanism would never allow it to be spoken in good faith.


As the father of Secular Humanism, Spinoza divorced “Humanism” from “Religion” in a way that would have been understood by the Anti-Maimonideans. Far from affirming “religion” in an Orthodox vein, Spinoza completely abandoned the Scholastic tradition and promoted the idea of a fully independent and authoritative understanding of rationality that broke from all the accepted norms then operative, thus inaugurating a binary opposition between religion and science. To tie Spinoza to Maimonides in any positive way is thus quite absurd. Spinoza was setting an authoritarian view of knowledge, an absolutist epistemology, against a pluralistic system that sought to balance the parochial needs of Monotheism and the Law with the dictates of science and philosophy. By lopping off the head of revealed religion Spinoza was rejecting in absolute terms the synthesis of Sephardic Religious Humanism that he had been taught by Morteira in the Amsterdam Yeshiva and affirming an independent form of knowledge that transcended the parochial and the possibility of multiple truths. Following the lead of Plato, Spinoza affirmed a unitary and monolingual epistemological reality that would eliminate difference and promote its own ortho-doxy – a single correct way of knowing truth. The development of “secularism” is thus a profound break with the Jewish tradition, leaving us – affirming the Ashkenazi rabbinic view – with a binary division between Judaism and general civilization. Secular Humanism is complete in itself. It is the master narrative that serves to fix an absolute meaning on all natural and human phenomena. It explains everything and allows no other system, religion included, to infringe on its absolute authority. This critical point about secularism has been addressed by the great thinker Karl Popper in his epic work The Open Society and its Enemies. There we see the profound dilemma of absolutist thinking and its role in the emergence of totalitarianism. The dangerous linkage of philosophical truth and the mighty power of the state led to the all-out wars that have encompassed Western societies since the late 19th century and which led to the tragic outbreak of disparate movements like Commmunism, Imperialism, and Fascism which emerged from Enlightenment secular thinking. Ironically, these movements became new religions; a religious thinking bereft of the pluralism that had once existed in older times. It is interesting that by recasting Maimonides for their own purposes – something that Spinoza himself never did – the post-Enlightenment Ashkenazi Jewish thinkers, like Biale and those Orthodox authorities who reject Gentile wisdom, serve to affirm their own belief and not that of Maimonides.

It is a battle over differing Ashkenazi viewpoints using Maimonides as a battering ram. At the very same time that the Jewish Enlightenment emerges in Europe during the 19th century, the tradition of Sephardic Religious Humanism continues in the work of rabbis like Elijah Benamozegh, Israel Moses Hazzan, and Sabato Morais; figures once well-known to Judaic scholars, but now left on the side of the road, unloved and unknown. Anglophone Jewish writers like Moses Angel and Grace Aguilar showed just how central this tradition of Religious Humanism continued to be in Sephardic circles. These brilliant scholars and writers filtered the Maimonidean tradition through the evolution of Western thought, sometimes making use of the categories developed by the great Italian thinker Giambattista Vico, whose work affirmed many of the central tenets of Religious Humanism. Vico too has been largely absent from much of this discussion and his work, like that of Maimonides, is often distorted to reflect the “secular” perspective. The work of David Biale is thus based on some extremely faulty assumptions and mischaracterizations that speak to an Ashkenazi mindset which refuses to accept the Sephardic basis of Jewish enlightenment along the authentic terms of Maimonidean tradition. This forced acculturation and transformation of Religious Humanism seeks to turn Maimonides into something he never was for the purposes of affirming an understanding of the Jewish tradition that comports with the highly-charged controversies inherent to a dysfunctional Ashkenazi culture that continues to struggle over religious observance and philosophical knowledge. When we speak of “Jewish secularism” we must be cognizant of the rhetorical and epistemological shifts that have taken place over the course of Jewish history and the way that it has been understood and taught by contemporary Judaic scholars. The figure of Maimonides has been transformed into some variation of Spinoza as violating the spirit and letter of the Talmudic-Halakhic tradition. On the other hand, an “Orthodox” Maimonides has been presented by many religious Jews who conveniently ignore the contempt that their progenitors had for the Great Eagle. In both cases, we are left with a rejection of the basic principles and values of Religious Humanism which has tragically ceased to be a functioning category in contemporary Judaism. David Shasha

Book Review: Spinoza's Children: The History of Jewish Secularism 3

By: Steven Frankel David Biale. Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought. Princeton Princeton University Press, 2011. Throughout his long and distinguished career as a scholar of Jewish thought, David Biale's essays and books have consistently enriched our understanding of the major development in Jewish life and thought, on topics as diverse as power, culture, and eros. In his most recent book, Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought, Biale argues that secularism should not be seen as a radical break from religious tradition, but rather the continuation of certain themes in Jewish thought. Moreover, the book offers a comprehensive survey of the various strands of modern Jewish secularism to show the diverse range of secular Jewish views of God, Torah, and Israel. Many scholars of secularism, including Karl Lowith and Marcel Gauchet, have argued that secularism emerges dialectically from religious tradition. Others, including Biale's teacher Amos Funkenstein, have shown how "secular theology" in Jewish thought emerges specifically out of the context of early modern philosophy. Biale combines these views and offers in addition that modern Jewish secularism (including the denial of a transcendent God) is grounded in the very tradition that it rejects. Such a thesis is controversial, not to say shocking. But the strength of Biale's work is that he carefully describes and catalogs this process in the thought of more than a dozen of the most important Jewish secular thinkers. In selecting this group, Biale avoided intellectuals who "happened to be Jewish or who came from Jewish origins" (p. xii). Rather, he includes only those thinkers whose sustained and explicit intellectual work made a significant contribution to secular Jewish culture and identity. By this standard, it is difficult to quarrel with Biale's choices. There are not many contemporary Jewish scholars who could offer such succinct and at the same time penetrating analysis of such a variety of secular Jewish thinkers, writers, and artists. Biale admits that Jewish secularism is not easy to define, particularly because Judaism does not insist on adherence to dogma. To tease out the meaning of secularism, therefore, he allows it to emerge "phenomenologically from the sources," that is, from the thought of important secular Jewish thinkers (p. 10). As a framework for these case studies, Biale uses Mordechai Kaplan's assertion in Judaism as a Civilization (1934) regarding "the well-known trilogy, God, Israel, and Torah" (p. 12). Jewish secularism describes the process in which each of these categories is transformed to exclude reference to the divine (p. 177). He explains, for example, how Freud secularizes the notion of chosenness, explaining it in terms of an intellectual and emotional identity which is receptive to modern science and psychology (pp. 41,77). He shows how Moses

Mendelssohn establishes a "Jewish identity devoid of politics" in order to present Jews as ideal citizens in the modern liberal state. Later, Biale explains how Zionism emerged in part as a response whereby Jewish identity is understood in terms of political power as opposed to religious belief. The book concludes with an insightful report on the current state of the American Jewish community. The main thread that connects the various parts of Biale's argument is the thought of the seventeenth-century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza consciously rebelled against the rabbinical authorities of his community in Amsterdam, and was subsequently excommunicated. In Spinoza, Biale finds "the first secular Jew" and he describes the subsequent secular Jewish thinkers as the "Spinoza's children" (pp. 10, 15, 57, 177). On historical grounds alone, Biale makes a convincing case by showing that nearly every subsequent secular Jewish thinker, whatever their particular position, cites Spinoza with reverence. What is the legacy that Spinoza bequeathed, and which subsequent thinkers found so irresistible? It is, Biale suggests, "a certain mentality, a willingness to stake out an independence from scripture, even in the thick of a traditional culture" (p. 8). This intellectual and spiritual rebelliousness is supported even in the very scriptural and rabbinic texts of the tradition. But Biale pushes his case further. Borrowing from Freud, who argued that Judaism emerges when the sons or Israelites collectively revolt against their father, Moses, Biale argues that Jewish secularism emerges when modern Jews like Spinoza revolt against their "uncles"--in this case, Maimonides. So Spinoza plays the central role in the "secular versions of collective Jewish memory" (p. 11) and secularism not only destroys the tradition of Judaism as a religion, but creates an alternative version of Judaism. We cannot, in truth, blame Maimonides for ushering in the downfall of the tradition. The rabbis themselves were less interested in theology than in law. The result was that Judaism was ill-prepared to confront philosophical challenges since it had "no prescribed theology" (pp. 18, 39). Maimonides simply tried to remedy this problem by offering a profession of faith consistent with reason and Jewish practice. The problem, according to Biale, is that "Maimonides' God was utterly transcendent, so removed from the world as to have nothing in common with it" (p. 19). This was certainly not consistent with the God of the Bible, and "cleared the way for an autonomous realm of nature" (p. 20). Spinoza--whom Biale refers to as "Maimonides' stepson"—did not so much have to attack Maimonides, as to build on the foundations that he had already laid (p. 29). In working out the logic of Maimonides' account, Spinoza thought he was breaking radically from the Jewish tradition. In hindsight, we can see what Spinoza did not, namely that his "arguments are squarely in the Maimonidean tradition" (p. 25).


Biale's account of Spinoza suggests that despite his "radical philosophy," Spinoza was unable to escape history and could not himself see clearly the debt he owed to Maimonides (and other Jewish thinkers, especially Ibn Ezra). More generally, this explains why secularism is closely related to the religious tradition, even though it resists seeing itself in such terms. This provocative account is thoroughly historicist, and raises a host of important questions about the relation between philosophy and history. One way to approach such questions is to ask how Spinoza himself viewed Maimonides, and more broadly, how Spinoza viewed his critique of the Bible. To his credit, Biale does not shy away from such difficult questions, and in his chapter on the secularization of scripture, offers an account of Spinoza's project. Biale argues that "the Bible teaches the exact opposite of [Spinoza's] philosophy" and that therefore it "no longer had any relevance" to modern life (pp. 72-73). "Spinoza's goal was to create a state safe for philosophers" (p. 70). Such radical claims seem consistent with what Jonathan Israel has described as "the radical enlightenment," but are they consistent with Spinoza's account? Biale hedges his bets: even though, according to Spinoza, the Bible does not teach a true metaphysics, it does teach "eternal moral truths" that can be "pressed into the service of a liberal republic" (p. 74). In Biale's account, Spinoza seems to think that true and eternal moral teachings are consistent with or can be derived from false metaphysical claims. Nor is Spinoza very clear about the ultimate status of the Bible in modern society. If the goal is freedom for philosophers, why should we tolerate any metaphysical superstitions? Biale's argument is that such ambiguities are precisely why secularism developed into so many varied and interesting currents. As historical claims, he may well be correct. But some readers will not be satisfied that Biale has done full justice to Spinoza's account, or that he has identified problems that Spinoza somehow did not see. Part of the problem is that Biale does not read Spinoza on his own terms, but rather from the point of view of subsequent secular Jewish thinkers, who borrow from Spinoza sporadically and for particularly ends. David Biale's Not in the Heavens is a useful and fascinating account of the development of modern, secular alternatives. In demonstrating the variety and depth of modern secular thought, Biale has no doubt advanced our appreciation of this formidable tradition. As an introduction to modern Jewish thought in general, and Jewish secularism in particular, his book is likely to be required reading for the foreseeable future. From H-Judaic, March 8, 2011

In talking to a friend of mine about how the new generation of Sephardim are becoming less and less aware about Sephardic identity, and the systemic problems that has caused it, I could not help but compare it to the situation lived by Conversos during the 15th and 16th centuries. Conversos were Sephardic Jews who for one reason or another saw themselves wearing a Christian mask overnight. History books have tirelessly discussed what the Catholic Church did to Sephardim; what is not really discussed are the terrible social and psychological implications this created throughout the communities of New Christians springing all over Spain before and after 1492. Assimilation to an unbending hierarchical society has many ugly heads that end-up eating each other up indiscriminately and mercilessly. Long before the forced conversions of 1391, the monastic orders made the clever decision to gain converts from among the Jews, who in turn would be used to speak to their former coreligionists with more familiarity than they ever could; a policy which they continued well after the Expulsion. Christian Trojan horses were thus deployed in the Jewish community. Apostate Jews became mouthpieces for Church doctrine and sought to weaken the Jewish community from within. After conversions became commonplace, the situation became a lot worse. Conversos were divided between those who clung to their old tradition, and those who made every possible effort to fit in with their new brethren in Christ, even though they hated them with a passion for still being “racially” Jewish. Often these struggles tore asunder the family unit. Converso children were frequently taken away form their parents’ tutelage to be instructed in Christian doctrine, sometimes against their will. During the first decades of the Spanish Inquisition, these children and other faithfullyChristian Conversos would turn in their family members whom they suspected of practicing Judaism in secret; a capital offense according to Church law. Those who chose loyalty to Judaism became the losers and were publicly punished at the stake or by displays of shame called Autos-da-Fe. Once the unconverted Jews were expelled from the Peninsula, it created yet another vacuum for Conversos trying to cling to Toráh. They could no longer have direct access to their ancient tradition, and their memory of it became smoke and mirrors as time passed. For those Conversos who were able to effectively climb the Christian ladder of social and economic success it became critical to erase any indication of their Jewish past. American Director Adrian Rudomin illustrated this socioreligious process in his 2006 film “The Day of Wrath,” starring Christopher Lambert. The movie is a mystery set in

Of Conversos and the Loss of Sephardic Identity
By: David Ramirez


mid-16th c. Spain, in a town experiencing many unexplained murders. As the plot unravels to its conclusion, it turns out the town was one where everyone was a Converso passing as very rancid Old Christians (“pure blooded” Visigoths with no Muslim or Jewish taint). They were able to completely dissimulate their Jewish past before Christian eyes. The Converso elite, like a rich mafia, made every possible effort to avoid the prying eyes of the Inquisition and Gentile envy, and did not even stop from preemptively murdering their own spouses if they thought they would blow their cover. “The Day of Wrath” is a cautionary tale of an incestuous internecine warfare for the sake of position and money. The only way out of this madness was to flee the Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms for places where the Sephardic exiles had established Jewish communities. It was the Conversos passing as Old Christians, or desperately trying to prove their loyalty to the Church, who would become the cruelest Inquisitors and persecutors of crypto-Jews; condemning their unorthodox Converso brethren and their families to death, exile or perpetual shame. Defending this repression and immorality became a badge of honor, all in the name of “Holy Mother Church.” The Sephardim, in a contemporary context, have gone through similar processes of voluntary and involuntary assimilation, where the old tradition is jettisoned in favor of new societal norms of conformity, only means to climb up the ladder and be noticed. It all began in the late 19th c., with the “conversion” of Sephardim to the Ashkenazi Zionist “Church,” which has replaced the Jewish tradition with a new kind of secularized European-style nationalism with a little Jewish pepper for added flavor. These were the first Trojan horses invading Sephardic communities everywhere, dislodging and weakening the ties with its organic past. The 20th century saw two major changes that are equivalent to the Jews leaving Spain. One was the decimation of Western Sephardic communities under the hands of Nazi Germany. The second was the Zionistinduced expulsion of Arab Jews from their host countries. These two combined devastated the centers of rabbinical learning and created a Jewish vacuum. In Europe, these Jewish centers were destroyed. The Arab Jewish rabbis who made it to Israel were never allowed to exert their influence because of the Ashkenazi establishment. Like Converso children, generations of Sephardic children were at the mercy of a very different Jewish tradition. As if history was repeating itself, the new generations of Sephardim saw themselves in the service of the new – often militant – positions. Those who clung to the old traditions saw themselves ever more alienated. The

difference was that unlike Conversos clinging to whatever Judaism they had left, these Sephardim could not flee to any available oasis as there are at present no centers of Sephardic Judaism in the world as there were in the early Modern period. The results are patently clear everywhere. There are those Sephardim in positions of leadership who serve as mouthpieces for Ashkenazim. If it were not for their surname or skin color, you would not have guessed they are Sephardim because their discourse is just a carbon copy; they are the Conversos passing as Old Christians. These are the Sephardic politicians and communal leaders who march to the Ashkenazi beat. Then there are those Sephardim who remain only superficially so, by clinging to certain cultural customs but knowing hardly anything of their intellectual heritage; they are the Conversos who cling to few Jewish customs yet feel comfortable living in the Christian environment, and would do nothing to risk their comfortable niche in the Jewish community. These are Sephardim who promote things like film, music or cultural festivals or performances, where only the superficial colorful past matters, serving as museum porcelain doll pieces for Jewish entertainment. There are those Sephardim who might learn of their heritage already as adults, but their knowledge of it is limited to books. These Sephardim remain nostalgic for a lost past, while imitating and pandering to Ashkenazim in order to get ahead. These are the Conversos who never had the guts to flee, yet had attained a level of comfort working and living in the Christian environment. Most of the few, if not all, Sephardim strolling in the Halls of Academia are full of these mock-ups. At last, we have the very few Sephardim who know and love their heritage, try to promote it despite the lurking consequences, yet suffer from the social backlash engendered by their fellow Sephardim comfortable in their Ashkenazi skin. These are the Conversos who tried to promote Judaism, yet were turned in by their own children, family members and friends to face the Auto-da-Fe. They are the Sephardim who lost everything and got nowhere during the process. Of all these four categories of assimilated Sephardim, historically the first one – the militant mouthpieces – have been the most damaging to the cohesion and continuity of our culture and community. For the sake of illustration, let me present a very real life scenario that happened in a forum of Facebook just recently. A nice young – and what I thought sensibly intelligent – man from the Brooklyn Syrian community and I were discussing a Ynet article written by Akiva Novick on a controversial Zionist spying operation happening during the 1950s. The article details the lives of ten Iraqi Jewish men who were trained as Shin Bet agents, in order to infiltrate


Palestinian villages pretending to be non-Jewish Arabs, and report back any intelligence they deemed important. Once they infiltrated the Palestinian Arab community, in order to keep cover “Senior Shin Bet personnel thought that the men should get married for the operation to succeed, but agreed to leave the decision up to the agents. Most of them did marry young Arab women.” The article did discuss the terrible consequences these women and their children had to endure; no mention of the same for their Arab-Jewish husbands and their families back in Israel. For Western readers, such a spying operation would seem standard and unobjectionable – and even could be considered patriotic. To a religious Jew, however, this represents a halakhic infraction that cannot be easily dismissed. On the authority of the Toráh it is forbidden to have sexual relations with a non-Jew by a way of marriage, one punishable through a court-appointed flogging (M”T Issuré Bi‘áh 12:1). The prohibition is so serious that its transgression under coercion is one of only three for which a Jew should give up his life to his adversary before transgressing, the other two being idolatry and murder (cf. Maimonides’ Iggeret haShemad), and if one were caught in an uncoerced willful sexual act by then ten valid Jewish witnesses, one of them is allowed to kill the transgressor on the spot. After an ironic comment on my part due to the slightest concern for Toráh by these so-called Zionists, the young man hastily responded: “They [the Iraqi spies] are not coerced in the slightest. They are patriots happy to make painful sacrifices for the [J]ewish [people]” (my brackets). Let me point out, this a statement from someone who grew up with the privileged Yeshiva education of the Brooklyn Syrian community. Not quite an ignoramus per se. Somehow this young man grew up learning that the State trumps the Toráh, where things like “law” and “morality” are relative to its service, above the lives of individuals and God’s covenantal will: A modern-day Molech receiving the blood of our children. Rabbi José Faur, an erudite rabbinic author which both of us greatly admire, has explained a type of Jewish apostasy called minut in the following manner: “What makes the minim particularly odious is their methodology of deception. They are perfidious; they use Scripture not to teach but to mislead the naïve. They beguile the gullible, exposing a single aspect of their doctrines in order to block their prey’s judgment, thus driving him/her to do things that he/she will lament for the rest of his/her life. Their manifest reliance on the Tora and their use of Jewish terms and sources are gimmicks intended to take the dull-witted. In spite of their pretentious religiosity, they are cynics who believe in no religion.” (Horizontal Society, vol. II; pp. 119,120).

Is this a damning indictment to the type of Jewish learning that this young man received in the well-to-do and resourceful Brooklyn Syrian community? In a hierarchical society that prevents a plurality of voices, such that of Christian Spain or Modern Zionism, disenfranchised groups make their life decisions based on a closed environment. Naturally, social acceptance to their dominant rulers is an important priority; everyone follows the dominant view to which there is no possible way out. As we see in the case of the ancient Israelites who lament being led out of Egypt, exile is a scary thought from the comforting bounty of melons, cucumbers and fish. It shows how much respect we owe to those who choose exile, with courage and determination, to reaffirm their values on their way to the Horizontal Society, the real Promised Land. The Exodus from Tyranny, though a frightening prospect, remains at all times an ever-present possibility.

On Writing as a Jew
By: Cynthia Ozick This address by the American-Jewish writer Cynthia Ozick gathers together a number of important themes: First, we have the tortured lament of the Diaspora Jew who is not really sure whether to write in the ancestral language, Hebrew, or to continue to be in Exile. There is the de rigueur reference to Kafka and his own tortured soul as there is the idea that Diaspora Jewish literature is an ephemeral phenomenon that will one day fade. In Agnon’s remark to Bellow we see a Zionist arrogance that ignores the fact that Israeli writing continues to be far more obscure to the majority of world Jewry who remain outside the orbit of Israeli Hebrew. In addition, Israeli Hebrew – as we have seen – is not classical Hebrew at all, but is itself a Westernoriented language whose syntax and lexical usage is completely caught up in a Eurocentric linguistics. Second, there is in the speech the constant and pervasive specter of Arab-Muslim terror. This existential paranoia has now become a fixture of American Jewish identity as it has been for Israeli Jews. Even when discussing literature and the ways of the mind, the Arab terrorist is never far away. There is an obsession with the Arab Other that acts as a prophylactic separating the two peoples who are seen in absolute opposition to one another. The third point here is the Ashkenazi-centrism that dominates the way Ms. Ozick marks Jewish identity. Judaism is rooted in Eastern Europe and Germany and not the Middle East. This point cuts to the very heart of contemporary Jewish identity and reflects a significant paradox within the Zionist mentality. On the one hand, Zionism is based on a territorialism that requires Jews to live in the Middle East. But on the other hand the culture that Zionism represents works against both the spirit and


the letter of the region it lives in. All Zionist “translation” must double back on Ashkenazi civilization; its folkways, its cadences, its memory, its weltanschauung. Ms. Ozick’s understanding of what it means to be a Jew, and what it means to be a Jewish writer, is thus suffused with a Zionism whose cultural contours are removed from the very neighborhood in which Israel lives. There has been no historic reconciliation for Israel with the culture and heritage of the Middle East. The Middle East remains for Zionists like Ms. Ozick an outpost of European culture. Arabs are presented as a haunting specter of danger and violence while a decontextualized and deterritorialized Hebrew civilization is marked as exclusively Yiddish. A strange Zionism indeed! The irony in this is that the much-ballyhooed Zionist “return to history” is not really – at least in this reading – an integration of Jews into the world, but a continuing alienation of a people that has no real place in this world. Israel is presented not as a normalization of the Jewish people, but as an extension of a social dysfunction where Jews remain alone and persecuted. This in spite of the fact that Israel remains a dominant military force in the region and in spite of the immense power of American Jews in the culture; a factor that is proven by the celebrity status of Ms. Ozick as a novelist. So in the end there is no hope for the Jews. They go from Israel to the Diaspora and back again. They fret over what language they should be writing and speaking in. It never seems to occur to them – as it did to Sephardic Jews for many centuries – that it is altogether possible to be comfortable in a number of different languages and to live as proud Jews with or without a land of our own. In the Middle East – the specter of which haunts Jews like Ms. Ozick who remain trapped inside their ghetto – Jews lived productively for many centuries and zealously protected their communal autonomy. Very few Middle Eastern Jews felt the pains of marginality that Ms. Ozick feels. They expressed themselves without fear and without rancor even though they were a minority in a Muslim society. Their literature remains as robust and insightful today as it did when it was first written. It is a tragedy that this culture has been forcibly erased from the current Jewish civilization; its remnants barely appreciable under the weight of a smug Ashkenazi elitism – that very same elitism represented by Ms. Ozick and her peers. Thus the difference between Sephardic Judaism – the one that has been thrown under the bus – and that of the Ashkenazim is a profound one that cuts to the very heart of Jewish self-perception and how Jews live in the world.

DS Thank you for this unexpected and beautiful honor. Thank you, distinguished eminences of the Jewish Book Council! Thank you, Carolyn Hessel! And from the bottom of my soul, thank you, Francine Klagsbrun, for your friendship and its million extravagant kindnesses, of which your words just now are the most electrifyingly generous. Nevertheless I hope, in the face of so much to be grateful for, that you will not be disconcerted if I dare to rename this moving and inspiriting award, if only for this one occasion. The reason is this: “Lifetime Achievement” doesn’t quite fit the case. Call it, instead, the “Lifetime Starting-Out” award — since a writer, no matter how long she has worn her white hairs, is always starting out, is always beginning again, is always in doubt of how to begin, and is always in need of shoring-up. So it is with your magnanimous encouragement tonight that I offer a handful of reflections on what it is to write as a Jew in America. You will see that these are starting-out thoughts. I started out with them long, long ago, and I am still at the beginning of trying to figure out what they might portend. Lionel Trilling, one of the most influential literary critics of the century we have so recently left behind, and the first Jew to have been officially appointed professor of English at Columbia University, is remembered in particular for two Jewishly oriented statements, one more shocking than the other. “Being a Jew,” he wrote, “is like walking in the wind or swimming; you are touched at all points and conscious everywhere.” Now what is notable about this comment, uttered by a man of grandly capacious intellect, is that it is all sensation, even physical sensation: it suggests a kind of watchful trembling. There is nothing in it of Jewish civilization or culture or history or heritage or even bookishness. But the second statement, by contrast, is nothing but literary in intention; and its intention is wrapped in fear. “I know of no writer in English,” Trilling insisted, “who has added a micromillimeter to his stature by ‘realizing his Jewishness,’ although I know of some who have curtailed their stature by trying to heighten their Jewish consciousness.” The phrase “realizing his Jewishness,” by the way, appears in quotes, to let us know it is meant to be spoken in derision. This deeply vulnerable remark — we might even call it cowardly — is not especially surprising from a man who had to fight to be admitted to a university English department at a time when Jews were told they would not “fit in.” But set against this self-suppression a declaration by a Jewish writer who was Trilling’s contemporary, and who, unlike Trilling, was fearless, and whose stature, precisely because of this fearlessness, is assured and lasting. Saul Bellow, speaking of his early immersion in American literary classics, proclaimed “no barriers to the freest and fullest American choices. . . . It was admiration, it was love that drew us to the dazzling company of the great masters, all of them belonging to the Protestant Majority — some of them explicitly anti-Semitic. But one could not submit to control by such prejudices. My own view,” he went on, “was


that in religion the Christians had lived with us, had lived in the Bible of the Jews, but when the Jews wished to live in Western history with them, they were refused. As if that history was not, by now, also ours.” Trilling meekly accepted that the Jewish mind and its gifts were outside history’s mainstream. But Bellow refused to be refused, and in announcing that the legacy of Western history was also the Jewish legacy, he aspired to the acme of literary power, and himself joined that dazzling company of the great masters. By now, of course, English departments everywhere have a full roster of Jewish professors, and there are numerous Jewish presidents of distinguished universities. As for Jewish writers, their freedom of self-expression can no longer be disputed anywhere. Wherever literature flourishes, Jewish books proliferate, and the younger writers in their ambitious and energetic battalions startle us with unexpected societal perspectives or fresh interpretations of inherited themes. In Israel: the ancient landscape and the ancient language, each made new. In America: a fourth, or even a fifth, native-born generation for whom the mythos of immigration is a remote and faint echo; and at the same time an influx of brilliant young immigrants catapulted from Soviet suffocation into the American language. And into the free streaming of Jewish wit, Jewish memory, Jewish laughter and Jewish hurts. Of both America and Israel, it can be said that Kafka, or rather the tormented Kafkan sensibility, is finally overcome. Kafka’s forlorn perception of a Jew writing in German — of himself writing in German — was that of a helplessly struggling beast without a secure hold on the language that is his singular birthright. He described such Jews as having their hind legs “still stuck in parental Judaism while their forelegs found no purchase on new ground.” He called this quandary — or quagmire — “the impossibility of writing German,” even as he recognized the more painful “impossibility of not writing” at all. Every born writer in every language will feel the impossibility of not writing, but who can imagine a native Israeli writer contemplating the impossibility of writing Hebrew, or a Jewish writer in America despairing of the possibility of writing English? The parental Judaism, as Kafka terms it, finds easy purchase in both environments. Kafka’s dilemma in the linguistically threatening confusions of Prague, where he lived through anti-Semitic street rioting, is hardly ours. American Jewish writers are, incontrovertibly, the confident and sovereign owners of the American language. But what of Hebrew, the indispensable classical and contemporary carrier of the parental Judaism? Only recall that legendary debate, in Jerusalem in the 1950s, between two renowned Jewish Nobel laureates, Saul Bellow and Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Agnon asked Bellow whether his novels had been published in Hebrew. Not yet, Bellow replied. Too bad, Agnon said, because the work of Jewish writers in Diaspora languages is bound to be ephemeral; it will never last. Bellow countered with the example of

Heinrich Heine, whose poetry had entered German folk memory to such an extent that even Hitler’s most zealous book burners could not suppress it. Of course, by offering Heine, Bellow was implicitly defending his own status as a Jew writing in the American language. “Heine?” retorted Agnon, meaning to needle his visitor. “Oh, but we have him beautifully translated into Hebrew. He is safe.” Yet neither Bellow nor Agnon appeared to notice the still deeper irony of this impassioned conversation. Bellow’s Hebrew was imperfect. Agnon’s English was imperfect. So there they were, the champion of the American language and the champion of the Hebrew language, each championing his cause in . . . Yiddish! Yiddish too, it should not be forgotten, is an indispensable carrier of the Jewish literary mind. Owners of the American language though we are, there is sometimes a certain veil of separation. It is rarely felt, but I remember a time, not so long ago, when I felt it with a kind of anguish. It came during several hours of joy, it came simultaneously with that joy: a contradiction of emotions. I had found myself in the company of three renowned writers, as celebrated by their readers as they were sublime in their prose. We four sat together at a little tea table, and I was swept away: the wit flew, the literary gossip danced along, the ideas intensified, the braininess was thrillingly rampant, all without cynicism or sarcasm or spite, good talk flowing freely in waves of sympathy and friendship. Ingrained in these superior minds, I saw, was a noble genuineness and a heartfelt honesty. And at the end of that intoxicating evening, when it was all over and I was back home again, I fell instantly into an abyss of shame and despair, a sadness so unstoppable as to be close to grieving. It was the year before the Twin Towers atrocities; America was still cocooned in its innocence of terrorism. But as we sat there, all of us charmed by the talk, the second intifada, so-called, was at that very moment decimating the cities of Israel — day after day buses were being blown up, cafés, groceries, baby carriages, torn bodies strewn bloodily in the streets, murderousness heaped on murderousness. Yet for my companions at that exhilarating little table it was all remote. They were untouched. It was not that they would have been incapable of being touched if it had come into their thoughts — but it did not live in their thoughts, it was not an element of their lives. Whereas for me it was the sorrowing center of every breath. It goes without saying that as a writer I was in possession of the whole of my companions’ world: culturally speaking, there was nothing that they possessed that I did not equally possess. In a literary sense we had everything in common. But my grief was absent from their ken. A membrane of separation hung between us, and left me orphaned and alone. And this membrane, this frequently opaque veil, is part of what it is to be a Jewish writer in America. It may not, it will not, define our common subject matter; but it defines our subjectivity: the historic frailty of Jewish lives,


the perilous contingency of the ordinary. And it can lead to a sort of credo of choosing. Trilling or Bellow? Vulnerability or fearlessness? Cowardice or courage? To own the American language is a glory in itself; but even more significant is the power to pierce the veil. At that jubilant little table I was abysmally at fault. It was I who had orphaned myself. I did not speak of what I felt, of what I dreaded, I did not tell my sorrowing. I let it lie sequestered and apart, like a secret. Perhaps I was reluctant, in so harmonious an atmosphere, to introduce the depravity of terror — though in a very few months it would introduce itself, horribly, in New York, not far from our little table. Participating wholly in American writerliness, I failed to reciprocate: I did not summon American writerliness into my Jewish subjectivity. That night, I chose Trilling’s way over Bellow’s, and I have regretted it ever since. Every language carries history in its sinews and bones. If you look hard at the inmost structure of the word “beauty,” you will see the Norman Conquest. It may be the same with writers. The inmost structure of a Jewish writer will carry the history of a long, long procession of Jewish ideas and experiences — and this will hold whether the writer wishes to abandon or cultivate those ideas and experiences. In either case, they must be grappled with. Here Trilling’s images of wind and water turn out to be apt. Realizing one’s Jewish consciousness, as he put it while putting it down, is finally not to curtail; instead, it unfurls a sail. And when the sail is in place, the voyage can begin. Please know the depth of my gratitude for this signal recognition. Since I am just starting out, I hope I may some day be worthy of it. Text of a Speech Delivered at the National Jewish Book Council, March 9, 2011

voices of Zionist and pro-Palestinian advocates who are mobilized to speak out at a moment’s notice on behalf of their cause. Israel has its HASBARAH and the Arabs have their automatons who are at the ready to defend any and every action against the wicked Zionists. The situation is often tragic and comical at the same time. Pro-Palestinian advocates chronicle the abuses of Israel which they feel are not given enough space in the mainstream media. So too do Zionist partisans, such as Mr. Stephens, decry Arab violence and, as we continually see, blame Arabs for Israeli actions. How do we break this vicious circle? The only way to do so is to speak out in support of the truth; truth that is being abused by those who traffick in moral relativism and PILPUL. One cannot read this article outside the context of Mr. Stephens other articles which promote the very policies that perpetuate the continued persecution of the Palestinians. In this article he applauds the noxious Benjamin Netanyahu – himself a master of the PILPUL method – and promotes the building of the very Jewish Settlements on the West Bank which serve to perpetuate the violence. In this case Mr. Stephens conveniently ignores the violence perpetrated by Jews – that violence, he would argue, is negligible because it is defensive while Palestinian Arab violence is nihilistic. That is the PILPUL – violence is not violence if Jews do it, only if Arabs do it. One of the main problems with PILPUL is that is locks us into a circular reasoning that can only affirm what we already believe to be true. PILPUL does not permit contrarian reasoning or self-critical thinking. It starts out with a fixed belief and marshals all the evidence to “prove” the “truth” of that belief. Until we eliminate the PILPUL on both sides and the strident self-righteous attitude that permeates the partisan mentality, we are fated to perpetuate the useless battle that allows human beings of all religions and nationalities to be killed and persecuted by others. DS A few years ago, British poet and Oxford don Tom Paulin offered a view on what should be done to certain Jewish settlers. "[They] should be shot dead," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "I think they are Nazis, racists. I feel nothing but hatred for them." As for Israel itself, it was, he said, "an historical obscenity." Last Friday, apparently one or more members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's "moderate" Fatah party, broke into the West Bank home of Udi and Ruth Fogel. The Jewish couple were stabbed to death along with their 11-

Are Israeli Settlers Human?
By: Bret Stephens The Right-Wing Jewish columnist provides us with an important reminder of how caustic and bitter the discourse on Israel has become. If you change the adjectives in the article, replacing Jewish with Palestinian and Palestinian with Jewish, the piece could have been written by anyone on the Left. In other words, the two opposing discourses have become exactly the same as one another; the only thing differentiating them is which “side” they take. Each side thinks that only it has morality and ethics and that the other does not care about humanity. Each side wraps itself in righteous indignation over the endemic violence that has permeated this conflict for many years. Each side makes use of PILPUL to justify the violence. Whenever there is a violent action against Israelis or Palestinians we are certain to hear the many strident


year-old son Yoav, their 4-year-old son Elad and their 3month-old daughter Hadas. Photographs taken after the murders and posted online show a literal bloodbath. Is Mr. Paulin satisfied now? Unquestionably pleased are residents of the Palestinian town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, who "hit the streets Saturday to celebrate the terror attack" and "handed out candy and sweets," according to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. The paper quoted one Rafah resident saying the massacre was "a natural response to the harm settlers inflict on the Palestinian residents in the West Bank." Just what kind of society thinks it's "natural" to slit the throats of children in their beds? The answer: The same society that has named summer camps, soccer tournaments and a public square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian woman who in March 1978 killed an American photographer and hijacked a pair of Israeli buses, leading to the slaughter of 37 Israeli civilians, 13 children among them. I have a feeling that years from now Palestinians will look back and wonder: How did we allow ourselves to become that ? If and when that happens—though not until that happens—Palestinians and Israelis will at long last be able to live alongside each other in genuine peace and security. But I also wonder whether a similar question will ever occur to the Palestinian movement's legion of fellow travelers in the West. To wit, how did they become so infatuated with a cause that they were willing to ignore its crimes—or, if not quite ignore them, treat them as no more than a function of the supposedly infinitely greater crime of Israeli occupation? That's an important question because it forms part of the same pattern in which significant segments of Western opinion cheered Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe and even Pol Pot. The cheering lasted just as long as was required to see the cause through to some iconic moment of triumph, and then it was on to the next struggle. It was left to others to pick up the pieces or take to the boats or die choking in their own blood. Whether similar tragedies would unfold for Palestinians in the wake of their own "liberation" remains to be seen, though the portents—the experience of the postcolonial world generally and of the Gaza Strip specifically—aren't good. Even worse is that Palestinians have grown accustomed to the waiver the rest of the world has consistently granted them over the years no matter what they do. Palestinians ought to have expectations of themselves if they mean to build a viable state. But their chances of doing so are considerably diminished if the world expects nothing of them and forgives them everything. It is precisely in this sense that the frenzied international condemnation of Israeli settlements and settlers does the

most harm. Having been accorded the part of George Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein—perpetual target of the proverbial two minutes of hate—they have drained whatever capacity there was to hold Palestinian actions to moral account, to say nothing of our ability to understand the nature of a conflict that is more than simply territorial. The demonization of the settlers has made the world not only coarse but blind. I write these words as one who has long entertained doubts about the wisdom and viability of much of the settlement enterprise, though I've never considered it the core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—a point well borne out by the example of Gaza following Israel's withdrawal. Now I find myself cheering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for announcing, in the wake of the Fogel family massacre, the construction of hundreds of additional homes in the settlements. Israel's consistent mistake since the peace process began nearly 18 years ago was to suppose that conspicuous displays of reasonableness and moderation would beget likewise on the other side. The reality has been closer to the opposite. For 60 years, no nation has been held to such stringent moral account, or such ceaseless international hectoring, as Israel. And no people has been held to so slight an account as the Palestinians. Redressing that imbalance is the essential first step in finding a solution to the conflict. The grotesque murders of the Fogels and their little children demands nothing less. From The Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2011

The New Power of a Latino-Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles
By: Jonah Lowenfeld On a Shabbat afternoon in February, state Sen. Alex Padilla spoke on a panel at Young Israel of Century City (YICC), the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in PicoRobertson. The event was co-organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Padilla knew what message he was expected to deliver. The panel’s trilingual title — “Israel at lo levad! Israel ¡No estas solo! Israel, you are not alone!” — made that clear. Padilla, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley in California’s state Senate, talked mostly about his two trips to Israel. He first traveled there in 2003 when he was president of the Los Angeles City Council on a trip sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. His went again on an AIPAC trip for Latino leaders in December 2009. When it came time for questions, a white-haired man in a gray suit raised his hand. “How can we make sure that Latino youth don’t get incorrect information about Israel?” the man asked. A second man wanted to know why Israel


isn’t more widely recognized — in all communities — as a democratic society that upholds liberal values. Responses to these questions came from all over the room, not just from those on the podium. Even YICC Rabbi Elazar Muskin, from his seat in the front row, mentioned a program aimed at improving Israel education among the city’s Latino youth. Among the 100 or so people in the sanctuary — most of them men, most of them in suits — Karra Greenberg stood out, and not only for her shoulder-length blond hair and her stylish yet modest green patterned dress. Unlike those who wanted to hear Padilla express his unequivocal support for Israel, Greenberg, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UCLA, asked what motivates the panelist’s friends and family. Her question was simple: What can the Jewish community do to build an alliance with Latinos? As the Latino population and its political influence have grown, the number of Jewish groups across the country working to build and strengthen Latino-Jewish ties has increased as well. The New York office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) held a meeting last week for Latino and Jewish leaders, and AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute is planning a national Latino-Jewish leadership summit for 2012. In addition, in San Antonio, Texas, former mayor Henry Cisneros and local Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg are organizing a strategic dialogue between about 80 Latino and Jewish leaders later this month. Since last December, leaders from some of Los Angeles’ most influential Jewish organizations have been meeting, coming together on two separate occasions with their Latino community counterparts. The exact outcome of this organizing effort is still to be seen, but it could lay the groundwork for an unprecedented level of Latino-Jewish cooperation. In Los Angeles, Latino-Jewish relationships are not new. The communities’ leaders often point to the election of Ed Roybal, Los Angeles’ first Latino city councilman, supported in large part by Jewish and Latino voters in 1949, as the first great victory of the Latino-Jewish alliance. Some even credit the intercommunity connections with staving off a wider explosion of tensions in 1998, after the state Senate primary between Richard Katz and Richard Alarcon got particularly nasty. Even so, the number of efforts by Jewish organizations in Los Angeles to “reach out,” to “build bridges” or to otherwise connect with Latinos has soared in recent years. There are projects that create curricula about Israel for teachers in the city’s Catholic schools, whose students are predominantly Latino. There are Spanish-language courses about Judaism for Latino Pentecostal pastors. For years, film producer and civil rights activist Moctesuma Esparza

has worked with Jews on various projects, including his effort to increase and improve the representations of Latinos in film and TV. Bilingual pro-Israel programs regularly take place in Latino-dominated Evangelical churches, and dozens of Latino leaders from the L.A. area have taken part in leadership delegations to Israel. In just the past two years, Los Angeles’ most prominent Jewish groups have led the effort: In October 2010, the AJC’s six-year-old Latino and Latin American Institute presented the third annual Gesher Award to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Gesher is Hebrew for bridge; the award honors Latino leaders who work to build bridges between the Jewish and Latino communities. The Latino-Jewish roundtable, an initiative of the local office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), was founded in 1992. The roundtable has held 13 separate events in the past two years, including a 2009 seder focusing on immigrant experiences and a celebration of Sukkot and other autumnal festivals in 2010. Most recently, in January 2011, 25 members of the roundtable participated in a daylong trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2009, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Consulate General of Israel cosponsored Fiesta Shalom, a celebration of the 61st anniversary of Israeli independence in the formerly very Jewish — and now overwhelmingly Latino — neighborhood of Boyle Heights. High-level representatives from each of these groups — ADL, AJC, Federation, AIPAC and the Israeli Consulate — have been involved in the latest round of meetings between the Jewish and Latino leaders. No agenda for these meetings has been made public, or perhaps even agreed upon internally. There have been talks about the 2013 Los Angeles mayoral election and about this year’s redistricting process, but the primary focus of the meetings has been to plan a citywide LatinoJewish leadership summit in Los Angeles this fall. “It’s going to be a convening of leaders and organizations,” said David Ayón, senior fellow at The Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. Ayón, who has been the most active Latino advocate for the Latino-Jewish summit, hopes that it will encourage leaders from both communities to “[get] to know each other’s agendas and for the purposes of discussing what we want from the next mayor of Los Angeles.” Those on the Jewish side of the table were, without exception, reluctant to speak about these discussions on the record. “We want to have meetings of substance, meetings where we can talk about the issues openly and honestly. We all


agreed that the best way to do that was to have these meetings held in private in one another’s confidence,” said AJC Los Angeles Regional Director Seth Brysk. Brysk is working with ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind to set the course for future meetings. Susskind emphasized just how undefined the agenda is. “It’s been a really ad hoc, really organic thing that’s been developing,” Susskind said. “It is so inchoate right now.” Perhaps most unclear is the degree to which these conversations are about Israel. ADL, AJC and Federation have multifaceted missions that include both Israel advocacy and Jewish intercommunity relations in Los Angeles. The Israeli Consulate and AIPAC, on the other hand, are much more specifically focused on maintaining one international relationship — the one between the United States and Israel. “AIPAC is a 501(c)(4) corporation,” said Steven F. Windmueller, a professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who served as executive director of the Community Relations Committee of Federation from 1985 to 1995. He was referring to AIPAC’s status as a tax-exempt nonprofit that can actively lobby government. “They’re not in the traditional community relations business,” he said. Windmueller has written extensively about Latino-Jewish relations in Los Angeles but was neither aware of nor involved in the current talks. “If they [AIPAC] and the Israeli Consulate are seated at these meetings, then Israel must be the agenda,” Windmueller said. The Latino leaders, many of whom have traveled on leadership delegations to Israel sponsored by one or more of the five Jewish organizations involved, disagreed. Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and a veteran of Latino-Jewish dialogue, hoped that the agenda for these talks would center on the prospects for a city on the West Coast rather than on the future of a certain country in the Middle East. “What can Latino and Jewish leaders in Los Angeles agree on in terms of the future of our city?” Vargas asked. “And what can we do together to improve life in Los Angeles?” Catherine Schneider, Federation’s senior vice president for community engagement, has also been involved in these meetings. Federation, Schneider, said, has “a strong commitment to the Jewish community and the Jewish future, a strong commitment to the State of Israel, and a strong commitment to the City of Los Angeles.” No single issue trumped the others, Schneider said, but neither could any one issue be left out of the conversation.

“If the story runs, ‘Jewish Community Engages Latino Community Just on Support for Israel,’ ” Schneider said, imagining a possible headline. “It’s not true, and it could be damaging.” This organizing effort was inspired by a speech that Ayón gave at the AJC’s Gesher Award ceremony last October, which in turn brought about a lunch between Ayón and Israeli Deputy Consul General Gil Artzyeli. But the specific events that brought these meetings about are less important than the context in which they are taking place. The results of the 2010 census are still being released — California’s results came out this week — but every organization with a political agenda has long been aware of the growth of the country’s Latino population and the political ascendancy that trend portends. “There are 25 Latino members of U.S. House of Representatives,” AIPAC Press Secretary Jennifer Cannata said, “and if you look ahead five, 10, 20 years into the future, you can expect that those numbers are going to expand.” “For the Jews, it’s very clear,” Dina Siegel Vann, director of AJC’s Latino and Latin America Institute, said. “We’ve always known that we’re not about numbers. We’ve always been about relationships and coalition-building to advance our agenda.” In 2009, according to the Census Bureau, there were 48.4 million Latinos in the United States, representing 15.9 percent of the total population. By comparison, Leonard Saxe of the Steinhardt Social Research Institute recently estimated that there are 6.5 million Jews in America today — about 2 percent of the U.S. population. In the city of Los Angeles, which was 48.5 percent Latino in 2010, Jews make up just 6 percent of the population. But because Jews regularly cast between 16 and 18 percent of the votes, politicians pay attention. Villaraigosa, whose second (and final) term as mayor of Los Angeles will end in 2013, has made a point of connecting with Jews. The city’s first Latino mayor since 1872, Villaraigosa is comfortable wearing yarmulkes and seamlessly weaves words like “mitzvah” into his speeches. Although the Jewish vote went narrowly against Villaraigosa in his unsuccessful 2001 bid for mayor, he carried the city’s Jews in his successful 2005 campaign. He had strong Latino support in both of those elections, and any candidate interested in Villaraigosa’s job will have to consider the political influence of these two communities. And it is the upcoming mayoral race, in part, that inspired Ayón to push for the current Latino-Jewish leadership meetings. The perception among Latino leaders, Ayón said, was that Jewish leaders had a personal relationship


with Villaraigosa but that the connection didn’t extend to the Latino community more broadly. Ayón is hoping that these meetings might broaden and deepen the relationships between the leaderships of these two communities — beyond Villaraigosa. “While he’s still mayor,” Ayón said, “we can take advantage of the fact that he’s the crowning achievement of the Latino-Jewish coalition that goes back to Ed Roybal.” Villaraigosa’s model for pulling together support from Jewish and Latino voters, Ayón said, was the highly successful black-Jewish alliance that swept Tom Bradley into the mayor’s office in 1973. Political scientist Raphael J. Sonenshein, who has written extensively about the politics of the Bradley era in Los Angeles, pointed out that building coalitions is slow work, but that the potential political payoff can be lasting. “The Bradley coalition was built in 10 or 15 years and lasted for 20,” Sonenshein said. “Now, with term limits, who’s got the time? But organizations, not candidates, do have the time.” A second major political shift could present a hurdle to Latino-Jewish cooperation. This year, a new Citizens Redistricting Commission will redraw the lines that divide the state into districts for state Senate, state Assembly and (thanks to the passage by voters of Proposition 20 in 2010) Congress. The new districts will be drawn according to data from the 2010 census, and the process could dramatically alter the political landscape. In 2001, the last time these lines were redrawn, it was done by Michael Berman, a Democratic consultant and brother of Rep. Howard Berman, who is Jewish. The lines generally protected incumbents, were accepted by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature and approved by then-Gov. Gray Davis. Shortly thereafter, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed suit in federal court, claiming that a few districts had been drawn in a way that, they alleged, illegally diluted the impact of Latino votes. The districts included those represented — then and now — by Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). A federal panel of judges ultimately dismissed the lawsuit. There is no telling how California’s newly named Redistricting Commission will affect Jewish or Latino elected officials, but the topic did come up in at least one of the recent meetings between Latino and Jewish leaders. (Nancy Ramirez, who heads MALDEF’s Western regional office, and Vargas, a former vice president at MALDEF, are both central to this organizing effort.)

Building interethnic relationships requires conversations like these — conversations that take place at the leadership level and involve balancing different priorities. It’s a challenging process. But even as these bilateral conversations are ongoing, many other separate projects are being undertaken by a variety of Jewish organizations. The projects are aimed at a much broader segment of the Latino population. They are also, by and large, far more specifically focused on increasing Latino support for Israel. The Israel Project, which disseminates pro-Israel information to journalists around the world, launched a Spanish Media Program last October in an effort to improve the overall image of Israel in the Spanishlanguage media. Even the Israeli diplomatic corps in the United States is working to get its message out to the U.S. Latino community through the media. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren did his first extended Spanish-language television interview on Univision in January. (The ambassador spoke English, but host Jorge Ramos gamely said he hoped the next interview would be en español.) Other organizations are working to spread pro-Israel messages through faith-based channels. Federation’s Holy Land Democracy Project takes local teachers, most of them from Los Angeles’ predominantly Latino Catholic schools, to Israel over the summer to allow them to experience Israel. It then presents them with a curriculum for Israel education to use in their classrooms. Israel also is part of AJC’s course about Judaism for Latino Pentecostal pastors, La Esencia del Judaísmo. Since it was launched in 2007, more than 250 Los Angeles pastors have taken the course. And the small, Los Angeles-based Israel Christian Nexus (ICN) works to galvanize support for Israel in Southern California’s Evangelical communities, many of which are largely Latino. Last December, Pastor Daniel de Leon, who leads a community of more than 6,000 at Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, spoke in Spanish at an ICN-sponsored event in Anaheim, where more than 1,000 Christians had gathered to hear from Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Despite these and other efforts, Israel isn’t high on most Latinos’ agendas. De Leon regularly leads his parishioners in prayers for Israel, but, he said, they are far more concerned with job opportunity, immigration policy and educational advancement. “When you’re trying to survive,” de Leon said, foreign policy “is not uppermost in your mind.” In January, The Israel Project published data intended to show that “in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,


Hispanics support Israel by a better than five-to-one margin.” But a close look at the data supports almost the exact opposite conclusion. Of the Latinos polled about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 44 percent said that the United States should support Israel. That may vastly outnumber the 6 percent who said the United States should support the Palestinians — but a full 50 percent of those polled expressed neither opinion. Many Latino leaders echoed this assessment of Latino public opinion on Israel. Ayón, the political scientist, said that this shouldn’t come as a surprise. “Foreign policy is a foreign subject for most people,” Ayón said. “Even if they have some familiarity with it, they’re not involved with it. It tends to be managed by elites.” Elites like Peter Villegas, an executive with a large, multinational corporation, who is on the boards of MALDEF and the Alliance for a Better Community, an established leadership group of Los Angeles Latino leaders. Villegas is a member of AIPAC’s national council. He has been to four AIPAC Policy Conferences in Washington, D.C., and has traveled to Israel twice on AIPAC missions for Latino leaders. But he knows that members of his community don’t really pay that much attention to foreign policy, let alone events in Israel and the Middle East. “I’ve always been interested in world affairs. I’ve always watched activities and events internationally with interest, and this relationship [with AIPAC] has helped provide me with knowledge,” Villegas said. “With others in my community, the U.S.-Israel relationship is not high on the agenda of the Latino community.” Villegas appeared on the panel with Padilla at YICC in February. As he does every time he speaks to a Jewish audience, he sent this simple, clear message to the proIsrael Jewish community: “That you have a friend. That you’re not in this alone,” Villegas said. “That my community is concerned.” Jewish community leaders could be said to be walking a similar course when they speak out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Countless times in recent years, Jewish groups have made statements about the need for legislation reforming the U.S. immigration system — despite the fact that American Jews don’t put the item very high on their own political agendas. AJC speaks out strongly and frequently in favor of immigration reform, and its Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion does occasionally touch on immigration issues. In 2007, in response to a question asking American Jews to identify “the most important problem facing the United States today,” more were concerned about the Iraq war (16 percent), the economy and jobs (22 percent), terrorism and national security (15 percent), and health care (19 percent) than were worried about immigration (8 percent).

In 2008, the AJC survey asked what respondents would like to hear the candidates for president speak about. Far more American Jews wanted the presidential hopefuls to talk about the economy (54 percent) than wanted to hear about immigration (2 percent). The Jewish groups that support comprehensive immigration reform typically say that their positions are based on a combination of lessons from American Jewish history, Jewish values and a vision of America as a country of immigrants, but it’s clear that they do this to help solidify Latino-Jewish alliances as well. “It’s the fundamental rule of coalitional politics,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. The RAC was one of at least six national Jewish organizations that urged the lame-duck Congress in late 2010 to pass the DREAM Act, which would have offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents before they turned 16. “If you want to have a friend,” Saperstein said, “you’ve got to be a friend.” In his answer to Karra Greenberg’s question at YICC, the first thing Padilla said — before he spoke about the need for Jews to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level — was that the issues that matter to Latinos are the same ones that matter to other Angelenos. Latinos, Padilla said, want quality public education, safe streets, good job opportunities — just like Jews do. “There’s not a special set of issues,” he said. Neither the Latino nor the Jewish community is monolithic, but it seems easier for these communities’ leaders to support one another’s unique political priorities than it is for them to identify the priorities that their communities share. Many Latino leaders have traveled to Israel and talked positively about the experience; many Jewish groups have made statements in support of comprehensive immigration reform — still, finding a shared set of goals is proving challenging. “I don’t think there are competing interests,” NALEO’s Vargas said. As far as the Latino-Jewish leadership meetings, Vargas said, “I think that one of the things that we are struggling for is identifying what our mutual interests are.” And that’s not the only challenge to building a LatinoJewish coalition; establishing the criteria to demonstrate success is also difficult. “It’s hard to actually assess the success of these efforts,” said David Lehrer, who founded the Latino-Jewish Roundtable when he was ADL regional director. “The only way to do it is to poll people, which is expensive and time consuming. So you just have to assume that more connections are better than fewer connections.”


And that’s essentially the message Padilla conveyed at YICC last month — except that he was talking about all Latino-Jewish connections, not just at the leadership level. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Padilla said, he hadn’t experienced the “Eastside-Westside” divide between Jews and Latinos that he sees in the city. Padilla emphasized the power of informal connections to foster mutual understanding. He recounted an experience from his childhood in a San Fernando Valley public school. He offered a friend half of his sandwich, but the friend, who was Jewish, said he could not accept. That’s how Padilla learned about keeping kosher. Then again, Padilla added, “The first seder I got invited to was when I got into office.” His meaning was clear: Padilla may have learned about what Jews don’t eat in public school, but it wasn’t until he was elected to city council that someone invited him over to find out what Jews do eat. From The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, March 9, 2011

The vast majority of Mexicans, and their descendants, living in the U.S. happen to be people who came to the U.S. for jobs, whatever jobs, coming from the Mexican countryside, with little education and as a result not very politically sophisticated – and thus extremely gullible. Their main concerns are their jobs, their families, and sending back their hard-earned dollars to Mexico for those who keep their family ties to the old country: The third source of Mexican income after oil and tourism, being part of a $1.6 trillion (2010 estimate) GDP, making it the 13th richest nation in the world. As a group, they are not very upwardly mobile, and overall they remain very simple people who just want to be left alone, work from dawn to dusk, and enjoy a carne asada and cold beer with their families on the weekend. They get bounced around between the Right and Left, but almost always get the short end of the stick. For example, in 2000 George W. Bush got their vote on the promise of immigration reform, one which never came and that still remains elusive. Particularly since the 1990s when their numbers dramatically increased, they have become a very attractive group in economic terms, and U.S. industries of almost every rank have caught on the trend to sell them products packaged for their tastes and language. On average, the Hispanic consumer spends more than their Anglo counterpart. “In 2007 Hispanic spending power stood at $860 billion a year according to that same study. In 2011, Hispanic spending power is estimated at $1.2 trillion a year according to the U.S. Census. By 2010, Hispanic spending power is expected to represent 11% of the total spending power of the US population according to HispanTelligence.1” There is, I think, an added appeal for pro-Israeli American Jews, besides gullibility and economic strength: Religion. Generally speaking, Mexicans tend to be very conservative when it comes to religion. Though still being mostly Catholic, Mexicans living in the U.S. are converting to Protestantism in record numbers. Practically anywhere you go in the U.S., you will see almost every Church offering services in Spanish or having a “Latino” chapter or branch. This too means big business for Evangelicals, whose Hispanic chapter has become a multi-million dollar cottage industry of its own. The 2003 HCAPL study, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts from 2000 to 2003, undertook the most comprehensive religious census of Latinas and Latinos ever. The study found that 70.2 percent of all Latinas and Latinos were Roman Catholic. Of the remaining 29.8 percent (10.6 million) non-Catholics, 77 percent were Protestant or other Christian. Of those Protestant Latinas and Latinos, 88 percent (6.2 million) identified themselves

A Latino-Israeli Alliance? Really!
By: David Ramírez After reading an interesting article written by Jonah Lowenfeld, “The New Power of a Latino-Jewish coalition in Los Angeles,” I have a number of comments to make as a Jew born in Mexico who has lived in the U.S. for many years. First of all, the umbrella term “Latino” is used to describe Hispanic society living in the U.S. which is quite pluralistic in ethnic, economic, and political terms. Every group has had different experiences of accommodation to Anglo culture through history, and responds differently to different stimuli. The term has been packaged the same way as the “African-American” label for political and marketing uses, but being that the “Latino” community is extremely diverse, the term will mean different things according to the group and region, and thus can never be approached the same way. Otherwise, whatever opinion we would form of it would have some sorely misses. In Lowenfeld’s article the community of “Latinos” targeted by the pro-Israeli American Jews actually means “Mexican” or “Chicano.” It is a mix of first generation Mexican-born immigrants and people of Mexican descent who have been living in the U.S. for several generations since before the United States was a country. This is what comprises the population of “Latinos” in California, as well as the entire Southwest. However, it is the set of Mexican-born immigrants, or descendants thereof, who are in the majority of this subset of “Latinos.” Who are they, and why are pro-Israeli American Jews after their political support – and perhaps their money?


as Evangelical or “born-again” and 64 percent (4.5 million) as Pentecostal or Charismatic. Only 14.8 percent (1.6 million) of Protestants belonged to mainline Protestant denominations.2 The “born-again” crowd is hard at work to earn new souls, and the type of Protestantism they are being converted to happens to be very philo-Israeli. In 2009, Tony Castro reported: “[T]he American Jewish Committee, the global organization that in recent years has been promoting ties to Hispanic evangelicals and for whom the growing presence and increasing political influence of Latino evangelicals is a treasure trove for securing the future of Israel.[…] As the fastest growing group among an already important political bloc, Latino evangelicals could become a key ally to Israel's cause in Washington, where America's Middle East policy is always a priority for American Jewish organizations.3” The SHU has printed many articles on the Zionist-Christian alliance trend that has been developing in the last few years, and how Zionists organization have been cynically appealing for money and political support for the State of Israel, despite knowing full-well the dire anti-Semitic underpinnings of “Christ’s second coming.” Soon or later, this will blow-up on our Jewish faces. In this sense, Lowenfeld’s report is not very novel. But it adds to the interesting, yet worrying, trend being manipulated by pro-Israeli groups. Keep tuned in.

in Paris and she would just look at me, roll her eyes and say, 'I don't know what you're saying.'" In his new book "Yolanda" (published by Keter in Hebrew ), which is autobiographical in a sort of misleading way, Sakal depicts the protagonist's Egyptian-born grandmother, who immigrated to Israel in 1948, but preserves Cairo within her; a Zionist, she speaks basic Hebrew, reads only in French, and never leaves Israel's borders. "By going to Paris, perhaps I experienced the life she should have lived," Sakal observes. "Instead of learning a new language and immigrating to Palestine, she could have traveled to France. For Zionist reasons, she came to Israel a few months before the state was declared. She settled in Tel Aviv and announced to all her brothers and sisters that she would remain here, and if they wanted to see her, they should come." "Yolanda" is 35-year-old Sakal's fourth book, preceded by a volume of short stories, "Scenario" and the novels "The Island" and "A Mother's Case." He completed his bachelor's degree in Hebrew literature and translation in Paris, and upon his return earned a master's degree in philosophy at Tel Aviv University. He now works as director of the Israeli Center for Libraries' literary division and heads its translation unit; he also writes reviews and articles for Haaretz. Sakal says that since "Yolanda" was released, he is often asked which elements are authentic and which are not. As is their wont, readers want to know the so-called "truth," to shatter illusions he created when he wrote the book. As he says: "I wrote in a purposefully misleading genre, highly intimate, but every time a reader thinks he's getting close to the truth, it eludes him. Everything in it is real, but also fiction." Until now, Sakal says he didn't dare write about his family. "Only now I understand, for example, why the protagonist in my preceding book was an adopted child. Not only because of my own preoccupation with genetics and fertility, but because I felt that our story was not part of this country. In this book I simply legitimize it, and give it a place within the Israeli identity. I was always raised in the awareness that we were Sephardi, that there is no shame in this, that it is also a matter of pride, but also something that is not significant. Once I was asked if I suffered from discrimination because of my ethnicity, and I said yes, because one day a driver at my army base called me 'dirty Ashkenazi,'" Sakal laughs. "Did I show her [my grandmother] to you in a bathing suit?" he asks, showing me a photograph taken on a beach in Tel Aviv. "She was a beauty, a strong woman, a woman who never left the borders of this country, but knew much more about the world than many Israelis who travel abroad." Sakal had relationships with two grandmothers - the Cairene one and, on the other side, one from Damascus. He is troubled by the way Israeli culture robbed immigrants

Moshe Sakal: Lost in Translation
By: Maya Sela Moshe Sakal lived for six years in France, where he learned to speak fluent French with a Parisian accent, but when he talked to his Egyptian-born, French-speaking grandmother back home in Israel - she would give him a haughty look. "She spoke like Dalida," he said, referring to the popular multilingual Egyptian singer. "For her, an Egyptian accent was the real thing, authentic and beautiful, while my Parisian accent was a sort of jargon, a contemptible dialect. Not only did she look down on it, she also corrected me, and at some stage stopped understanding: I would be speaking the fluent French of someone who lived for years
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of their identity, which is the reason, he contends, that he does not know Arabic today. He learned French at high school. "At 13 I started to study at Alliance Francaise. At home my family didn't speak French or Arabic to me, something that is impossible to grasp. Just think, I could know how to read Arabic today. What saved me was attending Alliance. I had wonderful teachers in French who not only gave me a great desire to learn the language, but also its culture and literature. It had an exceptional effect on the person I would become and strengthened my connection to my grandmother. I would visit her at home and we would sit in her kitchen and read French literature together for hours." Sakal says that his Egyptian grandmother's entire family eventually followed her to Israel - except for her oldest brother. "He was a Mossad agent," he explains, "upon whom I based the character of Uncle Edmond. He was a man of the world who lived in London and Paris, and was never forgiven for this. I seem to have followed in his footsteps and not hers. I have gone and done what she should have done, but didn't." Why do you think this is what she should have done? Why does it seem more logical to have traveled to France and not Israel? Sakal: "When you are a French speaker and come from a bourgeois Jewish family in Cairo, which was a cosmopolitan city, it is more logical. My grandmother lived on Pasha Suleiman Square in Cairo; I visited there after her death. It looks like a street in a bourgeois neighborhood of Paris. She was very proud that she did not speak Arabic, which caused friction with the Syrian side of her family. That side was highly involved in Arabic culture. I'd be happy to visit Damascus, but it doesn't look like that will happen soon." There are actually two Yolandas in Sakal's novel. One is the Cairene grandmother who spends her days in bed - a sort of exile inside an exile inside an exile - and the second is a mysterious beauty about whom the narrator's grandfather is writing. Sakal dwells on exile, mother tongues and other language, about the silence of years and what is permitted to be spoken. Plus, there is more than a little humor in the way he presents the large Cairene family. Sakal adds that the Sephardi identity he embodies is complex. "They sat in Cairo and learned about freedom, equality and brotherhood, but what freedom, equality and brotherhood? What they had was King Farouk." He says his family also experienced exile in Israel: "In essence [my grandmother] clung to Egypt, and when she was in Egypt she clung to France. And at the same time she boycotted Egypt and would not agree to let me go there. I did not disobey her." Only a year ago, after her death, did Sakal dare to travel there.

"Cairo is an electrifying city," he explains. "My soul is linked to it, although I did not find the cosmopolitan place my grandmother told me about. Things have changed." 'There is an alternative' Two weeks after Sakal arrived in Paris, he met editor and translator Dory Manor; they have been together ever since. "I had a lot of plans for France, but falling in love was not one of them - and with an Israeli yet." His Zionist grandmother did not like the fact that he was not living in Israel. "From her point of view it was a failure. They immigrated for Zionist reasons, they left behind all they had - but if I left for France, I was essentially telling my grandmother that she had failed and that something here hadn't worked out." We have deeply disappointed our ancestors. It seems we're carrying a lot on our shoulders but we refuse to bear it. "It's their fault. If they had raised us without shame and without rejecting the places they came from, there wouldn't be this desire and need to know these things. That's aside from the fact that something has gone wrong here. We understand where we live. I read the headlines today about the things that [the new national security adviser] Yaakov Amidror said ['A soldier who refuses to charge should be shot in the head.'] People in our generation need to come to a decision, or they'll become addicted to paranoia, racism, xenophobia and this madness that the whole world is against us and Israel is our home. There is an alternative." The alternative according to Sakal will emerge out of a place of strength here, "and out of our disgust and concern for the place where we live. There are two groups here. There are the separatists, the nationalists, Yisrael Beitenu [the right-wing party] and all its metastases - and the group of people who, out of modesty first of all, but also out of openness, conduct a dialogue with other cultures in the world, with the places from which they came. I would call this 'the world is our home.' This doesn't make me less Israeli. I'm not ready to accept a situation in which we are dragged against our will, that we're hostages to this separatism." Sakal says that when his Syrian grandmother told him stories about Damascus, he was ashamed: "I spent years in Europe and I am very familiar with Ashkenazi Jewish culture. I have a degree in Jewish studies, which was mostly Ashkenazi Judaism. I have worked with Holocaust survivors, but I don't know anything about the place my family comes from. I sat facing her and felt terrible. And there was no reason, there's no Holocaust story here, there is nothing to repress. On the other hand, she gets angry with me [when I speak of this.] 'Ya ibni,' she says, 'What do you need this for?'" Asked if he returned to Israel because he missed life here, Sakal says: "I left France because, among other things,


you have to strip yourself completely of all Israeli identity to be accepted there," he explains, but stresses that he did not encounter anti-Semitism. "The only time people spoke to me rudely was when I was promoted at work and a colleague of mine, a French Jew, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said that I was a dirty foreigner who was taking bread out of their mouths." His work for the Israeli Center for Libraries and its translation division reflects his worldview, and the reasons he returned to Israel. "Paradoxically, these days, when the spirit of isolation and cultural paranoia prevails - in which separatism and extreme nationalism close in on us from all sides - the translation division is a protective barrier against all of that. It is a bridge to world cultures, and represents the desire for a cultural life and creativity that stems from a dialogue in space and time." Sakal says in summary that we must decide "whether we long for a separatist culture, a kind of monolingual, monocultural autarchy which exists within a sterile, isolated and closed circle, which will necessarily lead to xenophobic art, crazed by persecution. Or whether we seek to have a proud culture that preserves its uniqueness, but also knows to look directly at what goes on around it and is not afraid to look up at the lofty peaks of the cultures of the world." From Haaretz, March 14, 2011

provoked by the initial question of whether Israel appropriated falafel, and almost all segue into a debate on the questions of Palestine and Zionism. "We wanted to try to show the falafel taste in London. There are Israeli restaurants in London that claim they are the originator of falafel. The whole idea of the project led to complications because we had to explain why Israel wants to claim such a belonging to the land," Sansour said. Sansour and Ashery's project attracted an international audience, and the discussions were set up so that anyone could join them. They also issued an open call for people to send footage of their falafel experience. "A lot of the people didn't understand what all the problems were about, but the more we talked about it the more questions they asked, and the more clear it [be]came to us how to clarify it in a better way," Sansour said. Although the duo predominately visited Arab-run falafel restaurants, they also encountered Israeli-run eateries. In a visit to a restaurant operated by Iraqi Jews, Sansour and Ashery talk about about their discomfort upon hearing militant Israeli music being played in the restaurant. "This genre of music came from the era of Israeli military bands, and whilst they might sound 'innocent' to everyday Israeli listeners, they are steeped in military and Zionist overtones, and are part of the brain-washing machine that the Israeli national project is. If we had any doubts earlier as to how politicised falafel was, this experience put an end to them," writes Ashery on the Falafel Road blog. In 2009, Sansour and Ashery, who at 19 left Israel for the UK, published a graphic novel about two superheroes - a Palestinian and an Israeli - who work together to save Palestine. The Novel of Nonel and Vovel was the precursor for working together on Falafel Road. Both maintained a blog of their travels and recordings during the project, which then culminated into an exhibition at Istanbul's DEPO cultural centre in January. "It was never about establishing falafel's origins. This project is very much about a foreign culture coming in and colonising the culture of the Arabs," Sansour said. The project has elicited some criticism from Palestinians, including Sansour’s family, who have joined in the murmur of accusations of "normalisation". For many Palestinians, collaborating with Israelis, however progressive their politics, is considered normalisation because it implies equity and a neutral narrative between occupied Palestinians and Israelis. Despite the wide support for the political and academic boycott, there exists a great deal of discomfort and confusion about the tactics and intentions of antinormalisation work. While the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, PACBI, calls for a

Israel’s Falafel Food Fight
By: Sousan Hammad It is the 1960s and a systematic effort to create a collective 'Israeli' identity is at its peak. Falafel is nationalised into Israeli culture and used as a symbol of 'Israeliness' as part of its nation-building campaign. Popular songs claiming falafel as an exclusive Israeli provenance, like And We Have Falafel, are composed, while falafel restaurants reconstructed in Arab street-vendor fashion - are mapped across the state. Fifty-one years later, Israel's branding of falafel persists, both locally and internationally, from popular postcards labelling falafel "Israel's national snack" to McDonald's recently 'Israelised' menu that includes a kosher McFalafel sandwich. In the short film Soup over Bethlehem, Palestinian artist and filmmaker Larissa Sansour chronicled the relationship between food and politics to tell the Palestinian narrative. Now, in Falafel Road, a project that stemmed from an art residency with the London-based Live Arts Development Agency, Sansour, in collaboration with Israeli artist Oreet Ashery, visits London eateries, recording what they call "the falafel experience". Composed of a series of short videos using a FlipCam, Falafel Road is a sequence of conversations


comprehensive economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and its institutions, it does not call for boycotting individuals. More precisely, it does not call for the boycott of Israeli individuals whose artistic and cultural work challenges the polices of the state of Israel. For Ashery and Sansour, who have been collaborating since 2007, the question of the boycott comes up often, both on their blog and in conversation. It is perhaps inevitable that these questions arise, given the increasing influence of the boycott movement which targets artists it deems to be collaborators. On the Falafel Road blog Ashery writes: "It became apparent that we can easily fall into the trap of ‘a dialogue’, of what is it like for both sides, something we were always keen to avoid, as it is not an equal situation in reality. Finding a mode of a conversation that usefully represents our position, that of a resistance to the occupation, rather than a 'dialogue based on two perspectives' is the task at hand." In 2006, Elia Suleiman, the acclaimed director of The Time That Remains, suspended his signature from PACBI's petition for the cultural boycott of Israel. The petition, which has over 120 signatures, ranging from filmmaker Ken Loach to novelist Arundhati Roy, calls on intellectuals both inside and outside of Palestine to "appeal to the Israeli people to give up their silence, to abandon their apathy, and to face up to their responsibility". While Suleiman supports the academic and institutional boycott of Israel, he was quoted in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir stating his disagreement with how certain notable Israeli filmmakers were being ostracised for simply having an Israeli passport, despite producing work that is critical of the Zionist state. Sansour admitted that she felt Falafel Road would be easier for a Western audience to accept, without being dismissed as propaganda, if she had an Israeli working on the project. "People tend to think that such a project tends to re-enforce normalisation, when, in fact, it is anything but. There is a misunderstanding of the boycott, and it is a problem for Palestinians because it becomes like a witch-hunt almost. We made a great effort in our book published in 2009 to show the opposite and even mock the concept, and we make it clear that we abide [by] the cultural boycott," Sansour said. On February 15, the Israeli knesset approved an initial reading of a bill that would fine Israeli citizens who boycott Israeli institutions or individuals. Under the proposed law, any group or individual can sue boycotters for damages of up to 30,000 shekels ($8,500) without having to prove that damage was caused.

This latest move by the Israeli government is just one of many policies the knesset has put in motion to counter what they fear is a campaign to "delegitimise" Israel. And while the bill primarily targets citizens inside the state, it also calls for foreign nationals who encourage anti-Israel boycotts to be denied entry into Israel. Just as Palestinians inside Israel are targeted by the state for their activism, the Israeli left is ostracised by both its government and anti-normalisation activists. It is a pertinent question that must be asked: By virtue of having a creative partnership with an Israeli artist, is one guilty of violating the boycott of Israel by Palestinians? From Al Jazeera, March 14, 2011

Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis
By: David A. Nichols The Middle East will undoubtedly continue to be unstable. Its legacy of colonialist exploitation, badly drawn borders, decades of power struggles, the scramble for oil and, since 1948, the Arab-Israeli conflict has ensured a rocky future. For every American president, the question is not whether but when and where the next Middle East crisis will erupt. As President Obama considers his options in the region, which president should he look to as a model for effective leadership in the Middle East? Ronald Reagan is the favorite of pundits these days, but Reagan's actions in the Middle East bordered on disastrous. Following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Reagan landed a token military force that set the stage for the deaths of 241 U.S. Marines in a terrorist attack on their U.S. barracks at the Beirut airport. He climaxed a confusing policy toward Libya with a two-day bombing campaign in 1986 that left Moammar Kadafi in power stronger than ever. Reagan betrayed his own policy of not bargaining with terrorists when his administration sold antitank and antiaircraft missiles to Iran to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and then used the proceeds to secretly arm the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. A better president to emulate is Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like every president since World War II, Ike confronted the unexpected in the Middle East, but he was ready, having hammered out his principles and priorities in advance. Eisenhower captured his approach in a maxim: "Plans are worthless — but planning is everything." His planning process examined multiple contingencies and meticulously defined policy goals so that he, as president, could "do the normal thing when everybody else is going nuts." In 1956, Eisenhower confronted the most dangerous international crisis of his presidency. The trigger was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal that July. Two-thirds of the oil for Western Europe transited the canal. To the British and


French, its seizure was calamitous. As they prepared for war, Eisenhower refused to permit his historical allies or Israel to dictate American policy. Instead, he defended Egypt's right to nationalize the canal and pushed for a peaceful solution. On election day, Nov. 6, 1956, Eisenhower faced a perfect Middle East storm. Nine days earlier, without consulting Ike, Israel had attacked Egypt, and British and French forces had followed suit days later. The previous day the Soviet Union, fresh from the bloody repression of a revolt in Hungary, had threatened to intervene in the conflict. In response, Eisenhower sternly warned the Soviets against such action and placed American forces on alert. Throughout the crisis, Eisenhower courageously denied desperately needed cash and petroleum to the allies, saying they could "boil in their own oil" until they agreed to a cease-fire and withdrawal from Egypt. Remarkably, on election day, he won reelection by a landslide and secured an end to the fighting. After the Suez crisis, Eisenhower persuaded Congress to pass a program of economic and military aid to Middle East nations. In the Eisenhower Doctrine, the president committed the United States to replacing Britain as the guarantor of stability and security in the Middle East. That obligation remains the cornerstone of American policy. Ike abhorred token, fragmented military operations like Reagan's, contending that any military intervention should employ overwhelming force. Lebanon provides a useful comparison. Unlike Reagan's botched operation in 1982, Ike implemented his doctrine by landing 14,000 troops in Lebanon in 1958 in a virtually bloodless show of force. Above all, Eisenhower embraced the tides of history. He pressed America's allies to bury the corpse of colonialism in the Middle East. Today, we need the equivalent — a rigorously defined, clear-headed commitment to democratic movements that avoids the ad-hocracy of Reagan and his successors. As Ike said, and as is inscribed on the wall of the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, Kan.: "The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn't just happen." David A. Nichols is an authority on the Eisenhower presidency and the author of the just-released book "Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis — Suez and the Brink of War." From The Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2011

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