The Coast-to-Coast March of the Living group, as well as a few Israeli youth, in Israel. (photo from Talya Katzen)
This past spring, I took part in the March of the Living 2015 program – a two-week trip to Poland and Israel, where people from 45 different countries are brought together to learn about the Holocaust and the current state of Judaism in Israel.
The trip was the most emotional and heartbreaking two weeks of my life. I never could have anticipated the kind of life-changing journey I was about to embark on.
The week in Poland was extremely draining, and I came to many realizations. I felt so strongly about things I simply cannot put into words. Our pre-trip informational sessions came nowhere near to preparing me for what I was going to witness. How can anything prepare you for walking through a gas chamber where, just 70 years ago, thousands of innocent lives were erased each day? Pictures may speak louder than words, but physically being there is like a blood-curdling scream right in your face.
Each day’s event was a new brick dropped on my shoulders and, as the bricks piled up, I came to appreciate more and more the wonderful life I have been blessed with. The weather in Poland was cold and windy, spitting rain into our eyes as we walked through extermination camps, cemeteries and ghettos in our warm down coats and hats. Our complaints about the cold were no match to the below-zero temperatures that those starving prisoners in the thousands of concentration camps across Europe had to face day in and day out.
The tour of Majdanek concentration camp was truly an experience that will be with me for the rest of my life. The defining moment of the journey was visiting the monument that holds the ashes of the victims of the camp. A recording of the prisoners, just liberated from Bergen-Belsen, singing “Hatikvah” began to play as we all stood hand-in-hand. My mind was blank and completely full at the same time. The mutual sorrow all we marchers felt was overpowering. A connection to one another that I doubt will ever be broken.
This feeling of grief was flipped on its back upon our arrival in the beautiful state of Israel, a country that is now home to Jews who have survived some of the worst events in history – and prospered. I was fortunate to be there during the festival that celebrates Israeli Independence Day. Israelis gather together to celebrate community and overcoming many hardships. Having just experienced the height of grief in Poland, I could not have been more grateful for Israel, and the promise it holds for the Jewish people. Of course, our celebrations of freedom were constantly overshadowed by the memory of those who perished in Europe, who never had the chance to visit our homeland. It made me realize how absolutely crucial it is for young Jewish people of the world to experience this journey so that we may never forget.
March of the Living taught me that I have family all over the world who are just as passionate about keeping Judaism alive as I am, and that it is completely up to us to carry the torch from generation to generation, to keep the flame of the Jewish people burning forever. I am a third-generation survivor and it is my duty to be a witness, to live out the lives of those who never had the chance to see their 10th or 18th or 85th birthday simply because of who they were. Hitler and the Nazis may have been successful in murdering millions of people who didn’t fit their blueprint of the ideal race, but they failed miserably in taking away our Jewish identity. I am a person, I am a witness, I am a Jew, and no one can take that away from me.
Talya Katzenoriginally wrote this article as a Lord Byng Secondary school assignment. Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver offsets the cost of March of the Living by $2,000 for each local participant. The funds for this are generated through the Federation annual campaign, and are distributed to participants through the Israel and Overseas Connections fund. Jewish Federation also provides support through staff resources, program leader training and participant education.
Organizers estimate 180,000 people marched in the Tel Aviv Pride parade, June 12. (photo by Robin Perelle)
Alberto Lukacs-Böhm dabs a handful of birds onto the sunny sea-to-sky poster he’s painting for Tel Aviv Pride.
To live openly as a gay man in today’s Tel Aviv is to be free, he says. “It’s like to drink a fresh, clean water. That’s freedom.”
The 65-year-old is one of seven seniors gathered around a table at the Tel Aviv gay centre on June 11. The members of Golden Rainbow (Keshet Zahav) are chatting and painting as they finalize their plans to march together in the city’s 17th annual Pride parade the next day.
For Lukacs-Böhm, the path to freedom was somewhat complicated. Though he knew he was gay from a very young age, he married a woman in Hungary to avoid upsetting his mother, a circus illusionist who cried when he told her he’d kissed a boy at age 13.
He returned to Israel in 1988, the same year the country decriminalized homosexual sex. It was time, he says, “to take back my life in my hand.”
“From very young, everybody knows I’m a gay,” he explains, “[but] it was always complicated to be gay.”
“Is it still complicated to be gay?” I ask.
“Nooo,” he says, his face lighting up in an ear-to-ear smile.
“To speak about homosexuality or lesbian or transgender – it’s absolutely normal in Israel,” he says.
* * *
It’s day two of a five-day press trip to Israel, sponsored and entirely funded by the Israeli tourism ministry to show off Tel Aviv Pride to 43 journalists from around the world.
Day one began with an exuberant tour of gay Tel Aviv, led by Shai Doitsh, chair from 2012 to 2015 of the Aguda, Israel’s national LGBT task force. For the last decade, Doitsh has also been working with the tourism ministry and the municipality of Tel Aviv to market the city as a gay destination, a project he initiated in 2005, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Doitsh paints a rosy picture of Tel Aviv as one of the most accepting cities in the world, a year-round gay haven, where as much as 25 to 35 percent of the population may be gay, he claims.
Tel Aviv is a gay hub, both in Israel and throughout the region, he says, pausing repeatedly on Rothschild Boulevard and its surrounding streets to point out gay-friendly venues and the abundance of rainbow flags flying throughout the city for Pride.
He lists the many rights and benefits enjoyed by gay Tel Avivim, such as protection from workplace discrimination (introduced throughout Israel in 1992); the right to serve equally in the military (considered deeply important in a culture that requires military duty and prioritizes serving one’s country); the right to adopt your same-sex partner’s children (though surrogacy and marriage remain off-limits under the purview of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who frown on gay families); and Tel Aviv’s gay centre and Pride parade, both supported and funded by the municipality.
The gay community has a strong presence in Tel Aviv and in the city’s secular politics, Doitsh says.
“Our movement and our fight for equality is definitely the most successful in Israel” among the country’s minority groups, he says.
* * *
Doitsh may have a vested interest in trumpeting Tel Aviv’s gay appeal, but every gay, lesbian and transgender Israeli I’ve interviewed in the last few weeks has echoed his assessment. The city genuinely welcomes and supports its LGBT community, they say, or at least those members who more closely match mainstream norms.
It’s also a bubble that bears little resemblance to the rest of Israel, they all agree.
“Being in Tel Aviv is a bit like being in New York and pretending you see the entire United States,” says Moshe Zvi who, with his partner Eyal Alon, has joined the crowd gathering in Meir Park for the city’s Pride parade June 12.
“It’s a state within a state,” Alon says.
“I call it a bubble of sanity,” Zvi says.
Organizers tell us that 180,000 people are expected to gather in Meir Park to march in this year’s parade, making it the largest Pride in the Middle East and Asia.
As the marchers begin to file out towards Bograshov Street, Alon and Zvi tell me about some of the tensions that simmer beneath Israel’s seemingly gay-friendly surface.
Though Tel Aviv is a more liberal, secular city, Israel’s relatively small ultra-Orthodox Jewish community wields a disproportionate amount of political power in the national legislature due to the nature of Israel’s coalition politics, which rely on small-party support to pass most initiatives.
The ultra-Orthodox hold “almost a monopoly on power concerning marriage, cemeteries, conversion,” David Goldstein says.
Goldstein, 73, moved to Tel Aviv five years ago from San Francisco, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Now a member of the Golden Rainbow group, he says he feels much safer here than in the United States. But Tel Aviv is a bubble, he readily agrees.
It’s a secular city founded by Jewish businessmen who wanted a city of their own, he explains. Jerusalem, in contrast, is a holy city. Tel Aviv is anything but, he says, though it’s holy to the gay community and others who encourage diversity and a cosmopolitan lifestyle – anathema to the ultra-Orthodox community’s strictly religious worldview.
“They’re a very closed community,” Zvi says.
Being gay is “illogical in their way of thinking,” Goldstein says. “They would say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re this way.’”
Though he doesn’t consider the ultra-Orthodox mean-spirited in their anti-gay views – it’s “not the hatred that I find among [the] American right-wing,” he says – their steadfast repudiation of gay families makes life outside Tel Aviv less hospitable.
In one of Israel’s few headline-grabbing anti-gay hate crimes, an ultra-Orthodox man notoriously stabbed three people in the Jerusalem Pride parade in 2005, as protesters, mostly religious Jews, lined the route. Jerusalem Pride persists, I’m told, but it’s both more political and more tense than Tel Aviv’s cheerful take on the event.
It is getting easier to come out in other parts of Israel, Alon says. But it’s still easiest in Tel Aviv, where the ultra-Orthodox community is smaller, wields less power and seems more resigned to surrender the secular city to its wicked ways.
* * *
Then there are the more obvious, if less willingly broached, tensions.
Of course, Tel Aviv is a bubble, says Tal Jarus-Hakak who, with her partner Avital, was a lesbian feminist in Israel long before their nine-year legal battle successfully set a precedent allowing gays and lesbians to adopt their partners’ children.
Tel Aviv may be a cheerful, colorful, tolerant city with beautiful beaches, clubs, an increasingly well-established gay community with more and more families and businesses, and “an amazing, vibrant” gay culture, they say, but 60 kilometres away there is war, violence and poverty in many areas of Israel.
I’m sitting with the Jarus-Hakaks on the deck of their Vancouver home a few days after my return from Israel, a country they left in 2006 because, despite all their attempts to change its policies through protest and democratic means, they found the pace of change too slow and life there too traumatic, especially raising three sons.
Staying inside the bubble of Tel Aviv is “a survival mode,” Tal says. But it can get uncomfortable, too.
“Is that why you moved here?” I ask.
It’s hard to live outside the bubble – with consciousness – but it’s hard to stay inside the bubble, too, she says. Many people would call us traitors for saying this, she adds, but we’re not speaking against Israel. We’re speaking for Israel, to try to do things differently, she says.
Hadar Namir says she doesn’t want to go back to Israel either. One of Israel’s pioneering lesbian activists, Namir has been on vacation in Vancouver since April.
“I’m not wishing to go back,” she says. “I’m not comfortable with the human rights situation in Israel. That, for example, Arab-Israeli citizens are remote from being equal – and this is authorized by the government for years.”
Namir, who spent 15 years working with Israel’s Association for Civil Rights, draws me a map of the country. She places Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast, adds Haifa further north and Jerusalem about 45 minutes east, inland. Then she adds the occupied territories.
The map, unlike anything I saw during our ministry-sponsored tours of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, fills with fences and checkpoints, until it’s a messy, convoluted ink-blot puzzle. She tells me stories of families divided, cut off from each other and their land or forced to take long detours to tend their olive trees, if they can tend them at all. She says there are different legal systems in the occupied territories: one for Jewish people accused of committing a crime and a different system for Arab people. She talks about inadequate government support for Arab cities, and difficulty accessing health care.
“Some gay men say, ‘let not interfere our fight for LGBT rights with other fights.’ Not me. I don’t believe it,” she says.
“I don’t want to simplify things,” she hastens to add. “It’s much more complicated” than good Israelis and Hamas terrorists. “And I do understand the desire for a Jewish state,” she says.
But different people have different narratives, she says: Independence Day for some is considered a disaster for others.
* * *
One commonly repeated narrative in Israel and around the world is that Arab communities kill gay people, further distinguishing Israel as a gay oasis.
Most of the Israelis I met in Tel Aviv hesitated when I asked them if gay Palestinians would be marching in the Pride parade.
There must be some gay Palestinians here, Zvi and Alon say, after a brief pause.
“I don’t think it’s easy being a gay Arab anywhere,” Zvi offers. “As in everything, I think life in Israel is easier than life in Palestine.”
Alon mentions a gay Palestinian party in Tel Aviv, and some gay-known coffee shops in Ramallah. But they’re discreet, he says.
Karl Walter, one of our tour guides, says there likely are Arabs participating in the parade, but quietly. They wouldn’t be able to go home, he tells me, “because the Arabs would kill them.”
Arabs “crush” gays in Gaza and in Ramallah, he asserts.
The reality, says Samira Saraya, is more complicated.
Saraya lives in Tel Aviv as an openly gay Palestinian woman. She is also an actress, an activist and a nurse who, in 2003, co-founded Aswat, a group for gay Palestinian women. She also attended the first monthly gay Palestinian parties in Tel Aviv.
“It’s complicated to live in Tel Aviv and be an Arab as well,” she tells me by phone, a week after my return from Israel. “Living in a kind of militaristic society…. On the other hand, I really love the people around me. But the moment we get into politics, it’s complicated.”
I ask her if Tel Aviv’s gay-friendly embrace extends to gay Palestinians.
“If you are willing to bargain your identity, if you are willing to be more Israeli, less Palestinian,” she says. “It depends.”
I ask if she has faced discrimination within the gay community.
“Of course,” she replies. She recalls one experience doing outreach to high school students with a mostly Jewish LGBT organization and hearing a fellow presenter say he wouldn’t date an Arab.
In the gay community, she says, “they don’t see that there is a connection between being oppressed for your sexual identity and your ethnic identity.”
As for the common refrain that Arabs kill gays, she says it’s too easy to paint Israel as democratic and gay-friendly against a backdrop of Arab homophobia. She says she enters the occupied territories as an openly gay Palestinian and no one has ever hurt her.
“I go as a lesbian to Ramallah, as well, and to Nazareth, and do not face homophobia or somebody cursing me because I’m a dyke.”
Palestinian society is “chauvinist and homophobic,” she says, but there are Palestinian people in the occupied territories living their lives as openly gay and nobody is killing them. Some of her friends are even out to their families, she adds.
Though Saraya says many Palestinians who live in Israel go to Tel Aviv Pride, it’s almost impossible for gay people from the occupied territories to get permission to attend. “Less and less people are permitted to come to Israel,” she says. “There are checkpoints and restrictions and protocols.”
* * *
I ask Namir what she thinks of the Israeli tourism ministry flying me and 42 other journalists from around the world to Tel Aviv for Pride.
Tel Aviv is a genuinely gay-friendly city, she says, and the municipality really does support the parade, the community centre and even a shelter for LGBT youth. “I do believe the credit is there,” she says. “I’m totally respectful that the minute that we decided to go out of the closet in 1993, they were opening the doors to us.” But it’s still “pinkwashing,” she says.
Tal Jarus-Hakak agrees. The ministry brought you over to show “the nice part of Israel, how tolerant we are,” she tells me.
It’s “part of their propaganda to show Israel as a gem in this area” – the only democratic country in this area, she says.
But Israel is the only democratic country in that area, Avital interjects.
“But even if that’s the case, it does not take off of Israel the responsibility for what it’s doing in the occupied territories,” Tal replies.
“There’s nothing wrong about the parade in Tel Aviv and nothing wrong about people coming to the parade,” Saraya says. “What’s wrong is trying to use the parade to cover the other violations that Israel do every day. This is pinkwashing.”
Zvi isn’t so sure. He doesn’t think showing off Pride necessarily detracts from the Palestinian situation. “I think mindfulness is in order,” he says, “but I’m glad people are coming to Tel Aviv. God knows Israel could use some good publicity. Should Tel Aviv not get this kind of feedback? I want tourists to come here.”
Walter, our guide, vehemently rejects any suggestion of pinkwashing.
“The thing to understand is that the gay parade and all that we’ve accomplished is for us,” he says, “not for tourism. It’s not for show. It’s not a PR stunt. It’s the most visible expression of freedom in the world – the only free gay community in the Middle East. People tend to forget that. We don’t.”
Gay rights in Israel have nothing to do with the Palestinian situation, he says. “If anyone uses the term pinkwashing, you immediately know that he’s a racist and a homophobe. He doesn’t have the decency to say that my foes – they did something good.”
Tourism ministries in other countries also show off their best traits to visitors, Goldstein points out.
He, too, finds the pinkwashing criticism unfair.
“I think the critics of Israel – they’re really against Israel to begin with,” he says. “People who have an axe to grind and [are] trying to besmirch Israel any way they can. So, any good points, they say they’re doing it to fool the people. I think it’s a bit antisemitic to say that.”
* * *
Back in the seniors’ room at the Tel Aviv gay centre, Lukacs-Böhm cheerfully cleans up his paints and prepares for another day in his gay paradise.
“For me, [to] be free is to drink cold, clean water when I want and how I want,” he says, with a smile.
Robin Perelleis the managing editor in Vancouver of Daily Xtra, Canada’s gay and lesbian news source. This story first ran on dailyxtra.com on July 2.
On the one hand, good news. On the other, bad. The Jewish People Policy Institute delivered its annual assessment to the Israeli cabinet a few weeks ago and it’s a mixed bag.
The annual assessment purports to be the sole “annual stocktaking of the Jewish world,” taking into account the state of affairs in Israel and the Diaspora. The Jewish People Policy Institute, which was created by the Jewish Agency, has been producing this report for 11 years now. It was presented to the cabinet by Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Dennis Ross, another high-level American diplomat, who served as the presidential envoy for the Middle East.
Nearly absent in the report, oddly, is any deep introspection on the crucial U.S.-Israel relationship. Among the least specific recommendations is a call for a comprehensive governmental discussion on the “complex fabric of the U.S.-Israel relationship.” It almost appears that the topic, so electric at times in the past year, is too much for the report to embrace.
The report does include, however, a specific appendix on dealing with the potential aliya of 120,000 French Jews. Yet it is nearly silent on European antisemitism, except in the context of its potential for increasing migration to Israel. Antisemitism on American college campuses receives exponentially more attention than antisemitism in Europe. It is almost as though the authors have given up on the sinking ship of European Jewry and are instead devoting their resources to bailing water from the boat of American campus activism.
The strength of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has clearly, and rightly, raised alarms at the highest levels. The authors say that Israel and its allies must take an offensive, not just a defensive, approach to the movement – and it states bluntly what plenty of Israel’s overseas allies and enemies have been suggesting for years. While unmasking BDS for what it is – “a movement that rejects a two-state outcome and coexistence” – Israel must also show its commitment to coexistence, Ross bluntly told the cabinet, by “aligning its settlement policy with its support for a two-state outcome. Meaning it needs to stop building outside the blocs.”
The report’s litany of troubles on the geopolitical front is long – Iran on the threshold of nuclear power, worsening security conditions on Israel’s northern and southern borders, the erosion of Israel’s international standing – but the authors see positive developments as well.
Israel is not facing a military threat from a conventional state army. Hezbollah is busy in Syria. Egypt is acting to stop arms smuggling into Gaza. Israeli relations with moderate Sunni Muslim countries are improving as they share common cause in opposition to Iran and jihadism.
As close as the report comes to unequivocal good news is in the demographic realm. Depending on the arithmetic used, the Jewish population in the world is approaching the level it was at before the Holocaust. There are 14.2 million people who identify as Jewish, in addition to one million people in the Diaspora who identify as partially Jewish and about 350,000 immigrants to Israel who are not halachically Jewish but qualify under the Law of Return. That brings the number of Jews close to the 16.5 million who were alive in 1939.
Eizenstat said, “This is a great affirmation of the Jewish people’s commitment to life and continuity but also requires new policy responses and outreach for those who have only marginal connections to Judaism and Israel.”
There are some interesting developments in the Diaspora – meaning, in this case, the United States. For the first time ever, a majority of offspring of mixed marriages in the United States are self-identifying as Jewish. The authors urge Jewish leaders and institutions to encourage the involvement of these individuals in the community.
There is also a huge swath of Americans who define themselves as “Jews of no religion” or “partially Jewish” and the report urges the development of Jewish social networks to engage these people, as well.
The face of American Jewry is changing in other ways. The “historical middle,” Jews who have strong connections to Israel and their Jewish identity but are integrated into secular society, is declining, while Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities in the United States are growing rapidly. It also notes that young American Jews are “becoming more, not less, pro-Israel and that growth is happening almost entirely within the politically conservative Orthodox community.”
Canadian Jewish life is experiencing many of the same forces reshaping that of the United States, no doubt. All tolled, in a world in uproar, life remains overwhelmingly comfortable for Canadians, Jewish and not – something we should never take for granted, as forces of animosity and vilification exist here, too, and Israel faces real threats. But there are other issues facing the Jewish community – internal ones. The JPPI data hint at an increasingly polarized Diaspora community, religiously and politically, but don’t offer any analysis. A job beyond its scope, perhaps, but an issue about which we should all be thinking.
Family, Israel remain at centre of Dvora Waysman’s ethical will. (photo by Ashernet, taken on Jerusalem Day 2015)
Very often wills – including ethical wills – are updated as circumstances change. I wrote my ethical will in the early 1970s, when I was still dewy-eyed about aliya and Israel was somehow more innocent, despite the wars she had endured and her ongoing fight for survival.
It was a less materialistic society back then. If you had one car per family, you were well-off; TVs, videos and microwave ovens were a rarity. In fact, not everyone had a telephone and, thank heavens, the ghastly, intrusive cellphone had not been invented.
Our four children (two sons and two daughters) were still kids. They now have all done their army service, graduated university, married and given us 18 wonderful Sabra grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, all still living in Israel.
While Israeli society has changed over the past four decades, many of the things I loved have endured. I still find it a great privilege to live in the beautiful city of Jerusalem – it still inspires my poems and my dreams. I still feel part of a family – even though it’s often a squabbling, divisive one. I’ve never considered leaving – to do so would be for me an amputation.
So, with these modifications, I present again my ethical will as it was first published by the World Zionist Press Service, who distributed thousands of copies and reprinted it in two anthologies, Ethical Wills and So That Your Values Live On, both edited by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer. I have not changed it, because I can still become misty-eyed at my love affair with Israel. Perhaps today, like a marriage, the passion has somewhat abated, familiarity may have reduced the miraculous to the humdrum but, nevertheless, I am still in love!
My ethical will
As I write this, I am sitting on my Jerusalem balcony, looking through a tracery of pine trees at the view along Rehov Ruppin. I can see the Knesset, the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book – that architectural marvel that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I am at an age where I should write a will, but the disposition of my material possessions would take just a few lines. They do not amount to much. Had we stayed in Australia, where you – my four children – were born, they would be much more. I hope you won’t blame me for this.
For now, you are Israelis, and I have different things to leave you. I hope you will understand that they are more valuable than money in the bank, stocks and bonds, and plots of land, for no one can ever take them away from you.
I am leaving you the fragrance of a Jerusalem morning – unforgettable perfume of thyme, sage and rosemary that wafts down from the Judean hills. The heartbreaking sunsets that give way to Jerusalem at night – splashes of gold on black velvet darkness. The feel of Jerusalem stone, ancient and mellow, in the buildings that surround you. The piquant taste of hummus, tehina, falafel – foods we never knew about before we came here to live.
I am leaving you an extended family – the whole house of Israel. They are your people. They will celebrate with you in joy, grieve with you in sorrow. You will argue with them, criticize them and sometimes reject them (that’s the way it is with families). But, underneath, you will be proud of them and love them. More important, when you need them, they will be there!
I am leaving you the faith of your forefathers. Here, no one will ever laugh at your beliefs, call you “Jew” as an insult. You, my sons, can wear kippot and tzitzit if you so wish; you, my daughters, can modestly cover your hair after marriage if that is what you decide. No one will ridicule you. You can be as religious or as secular as you wish, knowing it is based on your own convictions, and not because of what [non-Jews] might say. You have your heritage – written with the blood of your people through countless generations. Guard it well and cherish it – it is priceless!
I am leaving you pride. Hold your head high. This is your country, your birthright. Try to do your share to enhance its image. It may call for sacrifice, but it will be worth it. Your children, their children, and all who come after, will thank you for it.
I am leaving you memories. Some are sad – the early struggles to adapt to a new culture, a new language. But, remember, too, the triumphs – the feeling of achievement when you were accepted, when “they” became “us.” That is worth more than silver trophies and gold medals. You did it alone – you “made” it.
And so, my children, I have only one last bequest. I leave you my love and my blessing. I hope you will never again need to say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” You are already here – how rich you are!
A new report suggests potentially alarming trends in support for Israel among Americans.
Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant produced a poll, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, of the country’s “opinion elites” – highly educated, very active political operatives – and found sharply divergent views between advocates for each party.
“Israel can no longer claim to have bipartisan support of America,” Luntz asserted.
Among the Democrats Luntz polled, 76% of those responding said that Israel has “too much influence” on U.S. foreign policy. Among Republicans, the number who affirmed that position was 20%.
Asked if Israel is a racist country, 40% of Democrats said it is, while 13% of Republicans agreed.
As to whether Israel wants peace with its neighbors, 88% of Republicans contended that it does, while just 48% of Democrats said so.
Questioned whether they would be more likely to vote for a politician who supports Israel and its right to defend itself, 76% of Republicans said yes, but only 18% of Democrats concurred. Seven percent of Republicans said this would make them less likely to support the candidate, while 32% of Democrats said so.
Asked whether a politician who criticizes Israeli occupation and “mistreatment of Palestinians” would get their vote, 45% of Democrats said yes, while six percent of Republicans agreed.
One-third of Democrats and 22% of Republicans said that they were upset that “Israel gets billions and billions of dollars in funding from the U.S. government that should be going to the American people”
On the choice of whether the United States should support Israel or the Palestinians, 90% of Republicans said Israel and two percent said Palestinians. Among Democrats, 51% said Israel and 18% said Palestinians. Asked to self-identify, 88% of Republicans and 46% of Democrats called themselves “pro-Israeli,” while 27% of Democrats and four percent of Republicans said they were “pro-Palestinian.”
Half of Democrats and 18% of Republicans said that “Jewish people are too hypersensitive and too often labeled legitimate criticisms of Israel as an antisemitic attack.”
The numbers look bad at first glance. But first glance is about all Luntz has given us. As other commentators have noted, the entirety of the poll’s methodology and results have not been made public, and the term “elites” suggests the interviewees may have been more “activist” than the average voters – read: “more liberal” in the case of Dems and “more conservative” in the case of Republicans.
As well, we would like to point out that asking someone if they support Palestinians or Israelis is a “false choice,” almost akin to asking which of their children they support. Such simplistic dichotomies are yet another example of the weakness of polling.
However, regardless of the specifics of the poll and its merits, Luntz had some common sense suggestions about pro-Israel messaging to which Americans, especially Democrats, respond well: messages of encouraging more communication and cooperation, and more diplomacy and discussion, not less, for example. The boycott, divestment and sanction movement, for instance, is opposed to these things and that is an Achilles’ heel for them.
Emphasizing the equality of women and freedom of religion, he found, were effective at increasing sympathy for Israel, while less successful were messages emphasizing the need for Jewish sovereignty after the Holocaust, claims to the Holy Land and depicting Israel as a “startup nation,” said Luntz.
Though the extent of the “crisis” may not be as severe as Luntz implies – Democratic nominee-apparent Hillary Clinton is striking an unambiguously pro-Israel tone in her campaign, for example – no one doubts that there are frictions in the Israel-U.S. relationship that are stronger on the Democratic side.
Certainly the petulant relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not made things better.
There is also the fact of 15 years and counting of concerted anti-Israel mobilization on the left, especially on American university campuses, and in the burgeoning online media world.
Some of the unfriendliness may reflect simple political differences between a Democratic administration in the United States and a Likud government in Israel.
Despite the right-wing government in Israel, though, it remains ideologically consistent for people on the left and centre-left to remain committed to Israel because of its inherent liberal values. That is a message that needs to be more emphatically expressed by Israel activists on this side of the ocean. It won’t solve every problem, but it will be a start.
Canada, in this as in other things, differs. In Canada, the trajectory may well be the opposite, with the federal government’s pro-Israel position dragging the opposition parties and some of the public closer to Israel.
In both Canada and the United States, pro-Israel activists should be careful to tend all sides of our gardens. We need to ensure that people of all political persuasions understand that the existence, security and thriving of Israel is not a partisan matter, but one that, in addition to all the other reasons, makes the world a better place.
Left to right are Stephen Gaerber (Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver board chair), Mayor Ilan Orr of Yesod Hamaaleh, Mayor Rabbi Nissim Malka of Kiryat Shmona, Mayor Giora Saltz of Galil Elyon, Vancouver Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer, Mayor Binyamin Ben-Muvchar of Mevoot Hahermon and Ezra Shanken (Federation CEO). (photo by Rhonda Dent courtesy of JFGV)
One of the goals of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver is to strengthen the community’s partnership region in Israel, Etzbah HaGalil (the Galilee Panhandle). The efforts of Federation are combined with five other Jewish communities across Canada (Atlantic Canada, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton). Known as the Partnership2Gether (P2G) Coast-to-Coast initiative, this is the framework on which relationships between the people of Etzbah HaGalil and these communities of Canada are built and strengthened. The relationships foster a love of Israel and a long-term commitment to Jewish peoplehood, promoting the growth and health of each community involved.
The P2G Coast-to-Coast’s partnership is governed by a joint steering committee comprised of representatives from five Israeli and six Canadian partner cities, and Federation recently hosted the committee’s biannual meetings from June 15-17. Representatives from the local community included Stephen Gaerber, national chair of the Coast-to-Coast partnership; Karen James, chair of the Israel and overseas committee and P2G; and Pam Wolfman, chair of the local Gesher Chai (Living Bridge) committee. The meetings were an opportunity for representatives from Israel and across Canada to review funded projects together and explore potential investments in Etzbah HaGalil’s ongoing progress in three key areas: youth and education, the Gesher Chai program (which includes people-to-people exchanges between the two countries) and capacity building (social programming and regional development).
Etzbah HaGalil is geographically, economically and politically isolated. Residents often miss out on the social, educational and employment opportunities available to those living in central Israel. Through P2G, Federation strategically invests funds to reverse the north’s overall vulnerability by laying foundations for community resilience, emergency preparedness and economic growth.
One of the many projects in which Federation is investing is a new initiative called Green Farms, which develops and supports organic farming in the region. Through a partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the University of British Columbia Farm, two professors mentor and work closely with Israeli farmers; they have been to Israel and will be going again. During the recent P2G meetings, committee members visited UBC Farm to see their environmentally responsible farming project. Committee members were surprised to discover such a beneficial program in our own backyard. “I was impressed by the extent of the farm, the diversity of plants grown, and how they are mentoring some Israeli farmers,” shared James. The goal of the program is to build a healthier, more sustainable food system in northern Israel. Program like this are a key focus of the partnership and of Federation’s investment.
The story is told that the idea of building a modern city in Beersheva came from David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. He appointed a committee of experts to examine the idea. The committee reported back that it could not be done. When Ben-Gurion was asked how he wanted to respond to the report, he replied, “Appoint a new committee.”
Accomplished Israeli historian Anita Shapira recounts the apocryphal anecdote in David Ben-Gurion, Father of Modern Israel (Yale University Press). Shapira, whose book Israel: A History won the National Jewish Book Award in 2012, presents Ben-Gurion as the person who did more than anyone else to establish the state. He inspired a nation of idealists and wartorn refugees to achieve the impossible. But does your overcrowded bookshelf need another Ben-Gurion biography? I can think of three strong reasons to recommend Shapira’s book.
Although not the definitive biography, Shapira offers a fresh perspective on Ben-Gurion’s life based on newly available files of the Israel Defence Forces and extensive work in the archives at kibbutz Sde Boker, where Ben-Gurion lived. She sets out his considerable accomplishments through colorful anecdotes and well-crafted prose.
As well, despite the passage of years, Ben-Gurion remains a central figure in contemporary debates, a touchstone for politicians from all parties. He is invariably quoted during heated arguments over Israel’s relations with Germany, its borders with its neighbors and its treatment of the Palestinians. He is often cited for his work in forging a partnership with the religious communities in the 1930s. Shapira offers solid scholarship for those who wish to reflect on his work.
And, for those with big ambitions, the new biography offers a vivid portrayal of how he scaled the heights of domestic and international politics. His biography may not be a roadmap to glory but aspiring leaders could pick up a few tips.
Shapira writes in detail about the years after the state was declared in 1948, and especially about Ben-Gurion’s role leading up to the Sinai campaign. However, the most engrossing part of this book is about his unlikely development as a leader. With a knack for telling stories, Shapira effectively tracks how the unexceptional youngster, not particularly well liked by his peers, developed pragmatic organizational skills, sharp elbows and incisive political instincts that propelled him into the forefront of the Zionist movement.
Ben-Gurion, born in 1886, grew up in Plonsk, a backwater shtetl three hours outside of Warsaw. Shapira found nothing in his birthplace, his lineage or his education that hinted at his future role in history. She sees no notable qualities in his personality that foreshadowed his destiny.
His mother died in childbirth when Ben-Gurion was 11. He quit school after his bar mitzvah, although he had a lifelong love of learning.
By 14 years old, he had embraced the Zionism of his father, who had been swept up in Theodor Herzl’s dream of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. However, Ben-Gurion was not in a rush to make aliya. At 18, he moved to Warsaw with the intention of becoming an engineer. The engineering schools rejected his applications.
Here is where destiny steps in. He happened to be in the city at a crucial moment in history. He was swept up in the heady events of the days before the Russian Revolution.
He joined Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion), a party that combined his newfound enthusiasm for Marxist socialism with Zionism.
Although his grasp of Marxism was considered shallow, he rose to a leadership position, recognized as a strong debater and speaker.
He finally immigrated to Palestine in 1906, but his early years in Palestine were not particularly auspicious. He often said one thing and did another.
He firmly believed that Jews would reclaim Palestine only by working the land. He said the land would belong to the Jews only when the majority of its workers and guards were Jewish.
He worked in the fields at Petach Tikva and then in the Galilee but he was frequently sick and, when he was healthy enough to work, he was miserable, Shapira writes. Throughout the following decades, he described himself as an agricultural worker while, in reality, he was doing other work in and outside of Palestine.
He had a strained relationship with his father and, according to Shapira, a distant relationship with his wife, who was the mother of his three children. He was excluded from clandestine groups and collectives in Palestine that were forming in those years.
Also, he misunderstood political realities. He was convinced that the Turks would remain in control of Palestine, never anticipating the British Mandate.
Ben-Gurion’s rise to prominence began slowly after the First World War. He expanded the Histadrut, the national federation of trade unions, into one of the most powerful institutions in the country. Elected leader of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency in 1935, he became the recognized leader of the Jewish community in Palestine. By the mid-1940s, he was exactly the type of leader that was required for the state of Israel to be born. Shapira shows that, from these ambiguous beginnings, a giant of history was formed.
The book has little to say about the lasting significance of some of his initiatives. She writes about his authorization of the forced expulsion of some Arabs, his reluctance to define Israel’s borders and, despite his secular lifestyle, his partnership with the religious community, but does not mention the social and political tensions arising from these initiatives. Shapira does not hold him accountable for creating conditions that led, although unintentionally, to many of the difficulties now confronting the country.
Regardless, Ben-Gurion’s accomplishments overshadow everything else. He transformed armed militias that were focused on fighting the British into a military force that could stand up to the armies of neighboring Arab countries. He ensured that tanks, artillery and aircraft were available to defend the land and its people. He hammered together a provisional government from the fiercely competing factions among the Jewish people in Palestine.
In sharp contrast to prominent Zionists of his era, Ben-Gurion advocated for a Zionism of practical achievements and put little faith in diplomacy and international proclamations. He demanded that Hebrew names be given to every aspect of government-related activity. He ensured that the religious community became partners in this ambitious nation-building project. He also had a hand in shaping the cultural, religious and intellectual character of the new country right from the start.
Shapira says that Ben-Gurion liked to argue that history was made by the masses, not individuals. She shows that, beyond a doubt, his role was decisive.
Robert Matas, a Vancouver-based writer, is a former journalist with the Globe and Mail. This review was originally published on the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library website and is reprinted here with permission. To reserve this book or any other, call 604-257-5181 or email [email protected]. To view the catalogue, visit jccgv.com and click on Isaac Waldman library.
U.S. radio host Dr. Joy Browne discusses the post-traumatic physical and psychological challenges of terrorism at OneFamily. (photo from OneFamily)
American syndicated radio host and clinical psychologist Dr. Joy Browne had a meeting with victims of terrorism at the headquarters of OneFamily during her first-ever visit to Israel earlier this month.
Hosted by Chantal Belzberg, chief executive officer of OneFamily, Browne met with former residents of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who were dealing with physical and emotional wounds in the aftermath of terror attacks across Israel over the past few years. She interviewed Cheryl Mandel, Kay Wilson, Steve Bloomberg and Rebecca Fuhrman, as well as some of OneFamily’s psychologists and therapists for a future segment on her program.
“After experiencing the aftermath of 9/11, we all share a common echo and I am impressed with the resilience of the people here who have worked or who are working to transcend fear and are getting on with their lives,” said Browne.
Mandel, a native of Toronto, who made aliyah nearly 25 years ago, lost a son, Daniel, who was killed during an Israel Defence Forces anti-terrorism mission in Nablus (Shechem) in 2003. Mandel, in tears, told Browne, “Our entire family, including myself, lives life to the fullest and I am an optimistic person by nature, but one never is prepared for the shock that comes with the death of a son, whom I never thought twice about sending to the army.”
Browne’s trip to Israel was sponsored by the Office of the Prime Minister and America’s Voices in Israel.
Left to right: Josh Cooper, Frank Sirlin, John Baird, Avi Dickstein and Ilan Pilo. (photo from Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region)
On June 7, the Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, hosted the 2015 Negev Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in honor of Canada’s former minister of foreign affairs, John Baird.
In his speech, Baird summed up Israel and Canada’s friendship, saying, “Canada doesn’t stand behind Israel, but rather, walks shoulder to shoulder with Israel.”
Ilan Pilo, JNF Jerusalem emissary and executive director of JNF-PR, said, “Mr. Baird is a man of integrity and a true friend to Israel. JNF was grateful to honor him for his leadership on the world stage, for years of devoted service to the citizens of Canada, his dedication to the Jews of Canada and to the state of Israel. Thanks to John Baird’s outstanding leadership, Canada has become Israel’s most unwavering ally.”
Among the 350 guests at the dinner were Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton, representing the province, representatives of major Jewish institutions, as well as many community rabbis. Also in attendance were Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada; Josh Cooper, chief executive officer of JNF of Canada; and Avi Dickstein, executive director of the research and development division of KKL-JNF. All three dignitaries spoke of the uniquely warm relationship between Canada and Israel.
Proceeds from the dinner will support the creation of the Sderot Memorial Park in Israel, which will be named after Baird. This multi-functional urban park will host sports, leisure and recreation activities, as well as community events, and will provide children and their families with playground and fitness facilities. The new park will lift the morale of the residents of the city, which has been the ongoing target of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since 2001, as well as provide a venue for community activities and contribute to improving the quality of life for residents.
חברת התעופה הלאומית של קנדה אייר קנדה מציינת בימים אלה עשרים שנות פעילות עניפה בישראל. לאור זאת החברה הקנדית קיימה אירוע חגיגי בנמל תל אביב בהשתתפות כמה מאות אורחים. בין האורחים: מנהלת אייר קנדה בישראל, רות בן צור ובכירים של החברה שהגיעו במיוחד מקנדה.
אייר קנדה שבסיסה במונטריאול מפעילה קו יומי בין הערים טורונטו ותל אביב, שנחשב לעמוס במיוחד (ואילו חברת אל על מפעילה שתי טיסות בשבוע בין תל אביב לטורונטו). לאחרונה מופעל בקו זה מטוס הבואינג החדיש 787-9 (הדרימליינר). לישראלים שנוחתים בטורונטו יש אפשרות לבצע טיסות המשך עם אייר קנדה ליעדים נוספים בקנדה, ליותר מחמישים יעדים בארצות הברית וכן למרכז ודרום אמריקה.
קנדה וישראל חתמו בראשית השנה על הסכם תעופה חדש שיביא לגידול במספר הטיסות בין שתי המדינות, במסגרת לידידות המתפתחת ביניהן בשנים האחרונות. בהתאם להסכם אייר קנדה ואל על יוכלו להגדיל את מספר הטיסות (של נוסעים ומטען) לשתיים עשרה בשבוע, ולאפשר לחברות הבנות שלהן גם כן לטוס בין המדינות. ההסכם כולל אף הגברת שיתוף פעולה בנושאי אבטחה.
רשות שדות התעופה של ישראל מציינת כי אשתקד טסו כ-148 אלף נוסעים בין קנדה לישראל. מדובר על גידול של כחמישה אחוזים לעומת שנה קודם לכן.
ועוד חדשות מקבוצת אייר קנדה: חברת הבת לטיסות לאו קוסט רוג’ החלה להפעיל טיסות ישירות, בקו מונטריאול ונציה. מדובר בהפעלת שתי טיסות בשבוע (באמצעות מטוסי בואינג 767) בין שתי הערים, עד אמצע חודש אוקטובר. הטיסות ממונטריאול יוצאות בימים חמישי ושבת בערב (9.30), ונותחות למחרת לפני הצהריים (11.40) בוונציה. ואילו הטיסות מוונציה יוצאות בימים שישי וראשון אחר הצהריים (1.25), ונוחתות במונטריאול גם כן אחר הצהריים (4.25).
צרות של עשירים שזכו בלוטו: זוכה ב-50 מיליון לא רוצה ששמו יתפרסם וזוג שזכה ב-1.6 מיליון לא מפסיק לריב
סוף סוף נמצא הזוכה מבריטיש קולומביה בהגרלת ה-50 מיליון דולר, שהתקיימה לפני שנה. הזוכה המאושר המתין שנה שלמה לאסוף את זכייתו, ועתה לאחר שהגיע למשרדי בריטיש קולומביה לוטו קורפוריישן, הוא דורש ששמו לא יתפרסם. בקורפוריישן מציינים כי בהתאם לתנאי המשחקים שמם של הזוכים יפורסם ברבים, והנושא עבר להתדיינות משפטית.
זוג מהעיר ספרוס גרוב שבאלבטרה הסתבך בצרה איומה. הם זכו בכ-1.6 מיליון דולר בהגרלת הלוטו, ומאז לא מפסיקים לריב. הזוג הסכים להתארח בתוכנית “ד”ר פיל” של הפסיכולוג ד”ר פיל מק’גרו.
אדווין ורקארק זכה עם חברים בעבודה ב-50 מיליון דולר, כשחלקו של כל אחד מהעובדים עומד על כ-1.6 מיליון דולר. מאז החיים שלו ושל אשתו ג’ודי הפכו לסיוט גדול.
ג’ודי טוענת שמאז הזכייה בעלה הפך לאדם כועס וחשאי, והוא שומר מרחק ממנה. אדווין טוען מצידו שהכסף שלו והוא יחליט מה לעשות בו, בו בזמן שהיא רוצה להיות שופתה מלאה בהחלטות. ג’ודי ביקשה שירכשו בית ובעלה העביר לה חצי מיליון דולר לשם כך, אך הפסיק לשלם את החשבונות השוטפים והכל נופל עליה.
אדווין טוען מצידו שאשתו ממשיכה לשמור על מסגרת הנישואים רק בגלל הזכייה בכסף. הוא התחיל לשתות לאחרונה כדי להימנע מהנידנודים של ג’ודי, שיש לה לדבריו “אובססיה לכסף עם סימנים של דולר בעיניים”. הוא העביר לג’ודי חצי מיליון דולר לרכישת הבית, אך הכסף נעלם והיא לא מסוגלת להסביר לאן. אדווין מדגיש שהוא זכה בכסף ויש לו את הזכות הבלעדית להחליט מה לעשות בו.