July 29, 2014

Paris, Gaza, and the Oldest Hatred

                                                                                             Photo: Reuters / Philippe Wojazer

It seems that attending synagogue in Paris has become more dangerous than running to bomb shelters in Israel. In the past weeks, with Hamas rockets targeting all the cities of Israel, 430 French Jews, mostly young families, arrived to make their home in Israel.  

The world’s third largest Jewish community has in recent years experienced a steady decline of its population due to emigration, mainly to Israel but also to the US and Canada.  The war in Israel will come to an end but dangers for Jews in France, and elsewhere in Europe, will continue unless radical change takes place within Europe, with France the focal point of the greatest threats to Jews. 

It is hard to think of the beautiful city of Paris this way. But the reality is that Jews in Paris have been trapped inside their synagogues while mobs rioted outside throwing Molotov cocktails and chanting  “death to the Jews” and “long live Hamas.”

The pretext of pro-Palestinian protest has been completely shattered as Jewish businesses have been torched and Jewish neighborhoods have become danger zones for their residents.

Even if one holds the position that Israel should not defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks, it should be obvious that shouts of “death to Jews” and the chant, “Jews out of France,” by marchers through Paris back in January (without the Gaza pretext) express raw anti-Semitism. 

Most recently these chants have been accompanied by so much violence that “Paris’s Kristallnacht” is an apt description. According to Paris University professor, Guy Muilliere:

Demonstrators also shouted slogans in favor of a man who had murdered Jewish children: "We are all Mohamed Merah." Merah shot and killed a rabbi and three Jewish children at close range in a schoolyard in Toulouse in 2012; it was the one of the most serious anti-Semitic acts committed in France since the Vichy regime. This was the first time in France that a large crowd proudly identified with a murderer of Jewish children.
…Dozens of windows of Jewish shops and restaurants along the route were broken and covered with yellow labels saying, "boycott Israel". This was the first time that so many Jewish shops and restaurants were attacked during a demonstration in Paris.
In addition, several hundred protesters armed with iron bars, machetes, axes and firebombs, arriving Place de la Bastille, marched to the nearby Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue on rue de la Roquette. They shouted, "Let's slay the Jews," "Hitler was right," and "Allahu Akbar".
It is encouraging that French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls spoke out on Monday, according to the Jerusalem Post, condemning “the use of anti-Zionist rhetoric as a cover up of anti-Semitic opinions,” though the rioters make no such distinction. He delivered the speech on the anniversary of the 1942 Vil d’Hiv Roundup, a two-day period during which French authorities delivered 12,000 Jews to the Nazis. “The dishonor of France,” said Valls “is to have been an accomplice of the occupier, to have sent men, women, children, to death because they were Jews.”

Also on Monday, after an anti-Israel protest in Toulouse, a man threw firebombs at the Jewish Community Center and was arrested. A local Jewish community leader, Nicole Yardeni, commented, “We endure daily insults and get spat on--a general feeling of anxiety because a part of the population has a poisoned mind that makes it their mission to hurt Jews, regardless of Gaza.”

During an attack last week on a kosher restaurant in the Paris neighborhood Le Marais,  “A worker of the restaurant managed to shutter the restaurant’s anti-burglary bars, preventing the crowd from entering and locking dozens of customers inside. The crowd proceeded to hurl various objects at the windows while shouting ‘bunch of dirty Jews, we will kill you’ and ‘death to the Jews.’”

                                                                                                                 Published at Times of Israel

July 22, 2014

Under-Reporting From Gaza

The news is full of reporting from Gaza--far less from Israel. Most news sources, except in the Israeli and Jewish press, have missed significant information. Here is a top ten of under-reported stories:

10.  Israel continues to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza every day. While rockets are being fired into Israeli cities, Israel delivers tons of food, medical supplies, and thousands of gallons of fuel and gas to the people in Gaza.

9. Israel has set up a field hospital for treating injured Gazans and continues to treat Palestinians, including terrorists, in its hospitals.

8. Hamas blew out its own electrical supply leaving 70,000 people without power. Under rocket fire, Israelis repaired the damage.

7. Billions of foreign aid funds intended for creating infrastructure, businesses, industry and houses in Gaza have gone instead to Hamas leaders, to amassing weapons, and to building a network of underground tunnels for weapons storage.

6. There is no occupation of Gaza. No Jews have been allowed to be in Gaza since 2005. Hamas is the elected government of Gaza and the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

5. Many rockets fired toward Israel land instead in Gaza likely causing injuries and deaths to Palestinians.

4. The majority of people who have been killed in Gaza are men, ages 18-38. This is the demographic of combatants, not of civilians.

3. Israel is fighting against Hamas (not the people of Gaza) because they have been firing rockets into Israeli cities for years and had recently escalated these attacks. Israeli ground groups are trying to destroy the network of concrete tunnels Hamas has built for storing missiles and other weapons. These tunnels run under houses, hospitals, and mosques; some go into Israel, itself.

2. Hamas is fighting against the Israeli people with the goal of killing as many people as possible and terrorizing the country. Their stated goals are to eliminate Israel and kill Jews. Really.

1. Israel's goal is to make the rocket-firing stop and to have peace and quiet in Israel and Gaza.

July 15, 2014

When The Neighborhood Bully Fires Back

                                                                                                              photo: Hirek Israelbol                                                                                     

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully
                                               -- Bob Dylan, “The Neighborhood Bully”                 

Much of English language media is returning to an old standby: Israel as the neighborhood bully. Sometimes this perspective is stated outright; more often it simply underlies the way stories are presented.

Hamas is usually referred to as a “militant group,” without indicating that it is also the elected government of Gaza. We get the impression of a renegade gang acting outside any official capacity. Working with Hamas is Islamic Jihad; though the two are aligned against Israel they are also in conflict with each other within the larger context of their shared Islamic extremism.

Yet, rarely is “Islamic extremism” mentioned, the widespread phenomenon that greatly overshadows the size of tiny Israel and negates its image as neighborhood bully.

Sometimes Hamas is referred to as a terrorist organization, often by saying Israel “considers” them so, suggesting this is Israeli propaganda.  But Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by many other countries, by the EU, US, Japan, Canada, Egypt and Jordan. And all of the rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel are aimed at civilians, pretty much the definition of terrorism. 

Even the Palestinian ambassador to the UN freely acknowledges that “every missile” from Gaza coming into Israel is “a crime against humanity.”  There have not been a lot of headlines conveying this message. Also a war crime is the launching of rockets from residential areas and endangering one’s own people.

When targeting Hamas fighters and their weapons, the IDF has many methods of warning civilians to leave. They call cellphones, send texts, and distribute leaflets so that people will get out of the way. They have a system of “knock on the roof” as warning and if they see people still in an area they will abort their mission.  During this week the Israeli government helped over 800 foreign nationals who wanted to leave Gaza to do so. 

But there are casualties. It is impossible to call people casualties without stopping right there to say: we should have no wars, ever. Yet, in the world as it is at the moment, in which Israel’s cities are under rocket fire, its government has the responsibility to protect its citizens.

Mention of that responsibility deflates the bully image, as does attributing Israel’s far fewer casualties to its building of bomb shelters, its requirement since the 1980’s that apartments have safe rooms, and its investment in a technology that dissolves incoming rockets in the air before they can do the damage they are intended to do.

Hamas has been firing rockets into Israeli towns for years. In 2008 and 2012 when the rocket firing escalated, and again now, the IDF fired back.  A lot of news coverage begins with Israeli strikes on Gaza as if the neighborhood bully just decided to flex his muscles for no reason.

Reporting that sirens sounded in particular cities or that the Iron Dome stopped rockets over Tel Aviv without ever suggesting that what is transpiring is the attempted murder of families in their homes helps create a familiar storyline in which Israel, because it is the stronger country, is to blame for there being a war at all. 

Bob Dylan wrote “The Neighborhood Bully” about Israel in 1983.

published at Honest Reporting

July 11, 2014

Israeli Kids Coping With Rockets

This song was written in 2008 by Sachar Bar, a teacher in Sderot, where 90% of kids and teens ages 4-18 showed signs of post traumatic stress due to the rocket fire that Sderot has experienced more than any other city in Israel. 

The video has gone viral in the past few days of rockets landing all over the country. In just three days, Hamas in Gaza has fired more than 300 rockets at Israeli civilians.

The song is called tzeva adom, color (code) red, the warning siren that sounds 15 to 60 seconds (depending on where you are in the country) before a rocket lands. That's the amount of time you have to get to a safe room or bomb shelter. 
  (Damage from rocket that exploded above a "pre-nursery" yesterday in Netivot, Israel)

July 09, 2014

Values, Murders, and Condemnations


Just at the end of the shiva period for her son, Naftali, Rachel Fraenkel offered condolences to the parents of Muhammed Abu Khdeir’s parents and condemned the killing. Every government official from the Prime Minister to local mayors, from politicians on the far right to those on the far left, along with Israel’s chief rabbis and the Israeli news sources have condemned the teen’s murder.

Adding my name to a long list of Jewish and Israeli bloggers’ condemnations felt at least like something tangible to do with the disbelief and shame that the killing evoked across the Jewish world and throughout Israel.

Objections have been leveled against those who point out that in Palestinian towns, people react with celebration, rather than with shame, to the murders of Neftali, Eyal, and Gilad; that unlike Israel’s government, the Hamas government praises kidnappings, advocates for continued such “operations,” and in this case increased their rocket firing at Israeli cities once the three boys were kidnapped. The killers of the Jewish boys are hailed as heroes, while the perpetrators of the murder of the Arab Israeli boy have shamed their whole country and will be shunned as well as jailed.

These differences represent contrasting values but not so for some, like Anshel Pfeffer who writes in Haaretz “We are all to blame...” for Muhammed’s death. And yet, certainly all Palestinians are not to blame for the terrible murders of Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali.

Isn’t acknowledging Israel’s basic humane values especially important when those values are betrayed?