Thursday, July 31, 2014

The UN School Bombing Post You Have Been Waiting For

Yesterday, Israel hit a school that was being used to shelter refugees. The UN says that Israel was provided with GPS coordinates of the school on 17 separate occasions. Israel said they were responding to fire from near the school. At least 15 people, mostly children and women, died when the school was hit by five shells.

Crazy people on both sides are saying crazy things.

Pro Hamas people say the school was attacked on purpose, which makes no sense as Israel has nothing to gain from killing sleeping children. Also if Israel wanted to kill sleeping children, why aren't several hundred killed every night? On the other hand, IDF cheerleaders say that school was actually a terrorist base or a depot and the sleeping children were being used as shields. But this contradicts Israel's own account of the incident.

It seems clear that this was an accident, and a terribly damaging accident to boot. Will the people who committed this error be disciplined? Will someone be held accountable? If only for the sake of Hasbarah Israel should, at some later date, announce that the guilty parties received an appropriate punishment. [And if the investigation concludes a minor punishment = appropriate punishment Israel should make that clear, too.]

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All the way to Gaza

A guest post by Y. Bloch
And the Avvim who dwelt in villages all the way to Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead. (Deut. 2:23)
This verse is a striking one in the middle of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Devarim. Moses is giving a recap of the conquest of the East Bank, explaining why the Israelites avoided conflict with some nations and engaged others: the former were cousins to the Jews, part of the Abrahamic covenant, and so protected by God; the latter were Amorites, one of the seven nations whose lands Israel was to inherit.
However, this verse interrupts the flow. The previous ones discuss the rightful inheritances of the descendants of Esau and Lot, Abraham's grandson and nephew respectively; in the next one, Moses relates God's words to him, "Behold I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land." The discussion is exclusively about the nations residing on the East Bank of the Jordan; why does the Torah suddenly throw in this random detail about the inhabitants of the the Mediterranean coast of the Promised Land--literally on the other side of the country?
The fact is that this phrase, "all the way to Gaza ('ad 'Azza)" is quite a momentous one. The previous time it appears, in the beginning of the Torah, it defines the furthest extreme of Canaanite expansion (Gen. 10:18-19):

And afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as you come to Gerar, all the way to Gaza.
So, we have the Canaanites moving south, along the coast, from Sidon (still a major port city in Lebanon). But our verse speaks of two other peoples: the Avvim and the Caphtorim.
We don't know the who of the Avvim, but we know the whence: they came from the east. That much is clear from their appearances in chapters 17-19 of II Kings, where their city is one of the early conquests of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in modern-day Iraq or Iran. Their migration westward is indicated by the fact that a city in the land given to the tribe of Benjamin, stretching from Jericho to Jerusalem, is called "The Avvim" (Josh. 18:23).
So we have Semites coming westward "all the way to Gaza," Phoenicians coming southward "all the way to Gaza"--but that is not who's in possession in Moses' time. It's now the Caphtorim. Where do they come from? Once again, we turn to the global genealogy of Gen. 10, where the Torah clearly states that the Caphtorim are of Egyptian origin. That would be yet another invading force, this time from the southwest, through the Sinai (or possibly just sailing up the coast).
Gaza is the nexus, the fulcrum, the crucible of empires--not only in Canaanite times, but for the Israelites as well.
So Joshua struck all the country of the hills, and of the South, and of the lowland, and of the slopes, and all their kings... And Joshua struck them from Kadesh Barnea all the way to Gaza... And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel. (Josh. 10:40-42)
Joshua first sets out from Kadesh Barnea as one of the Scouts, only completing his mission and making it "all the way to Gaza" 45 years later.
Similarly, the verse says of Solomon (I Kings 4:24; 5:4 in Tanakh):
For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the river, from Tiphsah all the way to Gaza, over all the kings on this side of the river: and he had peace on all sides round about him.
Indeed, the effusive praise for King Hezekiah, the Davidic heir whose righteousness made him a candidate for Messiah (according to the Talmud) concludes (II Kings 18:8): "He struck the Philistines all the way to Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city."
Gaza has been the farthest extent of at least four ancient empires, and its symbolism has not been diminished over four millennia. The fates of nations are decided in Gaza, and the decisions Israelis, Palestinians and the world must make now are fateful ones. We must call on the bravery of Joshua, the wisdom of Solomon and the piety of Hezekiah to find a solution that brings justice, peace and truth all the way to Gaza.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Explain Moderate Arabs to me

If extremists and terrorists like Hamas et al stopped fighting a few excellent things (from the point of view of the moderate Arabs) would happen:

(1) Far fewer civilians would die;
(2) It would become much easier for moderate Arabs to make their moral arguments and to articulate their grievances
(3) It would become much easier for moderate Arabs to shine a light on the flaws of the occupation
(4) It would create room for an Arab Ghandi or an Arab MLK to emerge

Meanwhile, if the Jews stopped fighting nothing excellent would happen, as all the Jews would be murdered, and Hamas et al would impose a theocracy with rules that would make it far more difficult for moderate Arabs to enjoy the sort of lives they are currently enjoying.

So moderate Arabs, how can you support the extremists? If you Moderate Arabs want the occupation to end, why are you supporting attacks on civilians by Hamas? That won't end the occupation. Their attacks will only cause Israel to clamp down harder. If you want the occupation to end why aren't you denouncing Hamas's genocidal threats? That kind of rehtoric end the occupation either. It will only make Israel trust the Arabs less.

All Hamas is doing is causing more of your people to die, and giving your worst extremists undeserved power and undeserved influence. They and their missiles are doing nothing to end the occupation.

If you want to end the occupation you should be developing your own Gandhi or your own Martin Luther King, as civil disobedience is what's been shown to work, while killing civilians and spouting on about genocide doesn't.

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In defense of the IDF

From time to time I feel the need to pull back the curtain and reveal to my well-mannered detractors that I am really not a Pro-Hamas, terrorist sympathizing, useful idiot, Muslim running dog. This is one of those times.

I am a member of a top secret, Facebook invisible group where pre-vetted people get to have civil, but no-holds, barred arguments about Israel. The group is full of nice people who disagree fundamentally about Israel, but in good faith mostly, and usually for non-insane reasons

Today, one of the members posted a bit of a rambling diatribe about the civilian death rate in Gaza. This was definitely not the sort of good-faith, non-insane thing you usually see posted there, and the poster went a little overboard in the choice of adjectives she used to describe the IDF.

Here's my [excerpted] response:

You know what's sick [NAME]? Here. I'm going to tell you. Hamas purposefully stores weapons and soldiers in schools and mosques. Do you know why? Because Hamas depends on on the "evil sadistic IDF killing machine" to avoid those targets. Hamas knows that Israel wishes to minimize the civilian death toll. . This is why Hamas chooses to put weapons in schools and mosques. Its a specific, strategic, cynical choice that is based fully on Hamas's recognition of the fact that the IDF generally tries to avoid such targets (when they aren't being used to house missiles.)

Now, let's flip this around. Suppose Israel played the same trick. Suppose Israel used women and children to protect IDF soldiers and weapons. Do you think for a second that would deter Hamas? Of course it wouldn't. Hamas's stated aim is to kill as many as women and children as possible. If Israel used women and children as shields Hamas would not be deterred. Hamas would say "Thank you for making things easier for me."

This is not an unimportant difference.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I am sorry to announce that I have taken the highly unusual step...

Sam Harris Shows How Hasbarah Should be Done

Here's a wonderful example of how to promote Israel in a way that is honest, sensible, non racist, non jingoistic and non obnoxious. Hasbarah bloggers should take note.

Why I don't criticize Israel, by Sam Harris >

Read the essay before the discussion below please.

Epic thread

I promise not to make a regular practice of this, but occasionally a conversation thread on Facebook rises to the level of a masterpiece and must be preserved for the ages. This one starts simply enough, asking Muslims to describe how their home country's treat Jews, but over several hundred comments it crosses into Hajj practices, kotel customs and more, while always remaining perfectly civil and constructive.

I wanted to embed it here, but can't because it was originally posted in a moderated group. You can see it via this link, I think

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Crucifying Haman

I was recently astounded to learn that the idea that Haman was crucified appears in our tradition, notably in the Slichot said on the Fast of Esther and in Josephus. This is pretty cool, I think, because its a clear example of Judaism retrofitting a trope from a later strata of history back on to an older story.

Its not cool, however, because Christians (surprise) used this to justify moments of persecutions and hatred, claiming that the so-called fact that Haman was crucified "proves" that the Jews wanted Jesus crucified, too

IN THE PICTURE: Michealangelo's "Punishment of Haman" showing a crucifiction

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Red Jews

You probably know the Jews are allegedly big-nosed, but did you know that according to official anti-Semitic lore Jews also have red hair? Italian and Spanish art depict Jews as red-haired, and both Shakespeare and Dickens gave red hair to their Jewish characters. In medieval paintings, Judas Iscariot, the first evil Jew, often has crimson hair and beard.

All of which makes me a little annoyed that a great show like South Park opted to give Kyle Broflovski a red Jewfro. I don't take it personally. I just think its a little cheap and a little easy. (I'll also note that Family Guy, a far inferior show, also gave its local Jew red hair.)

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Slate's stupid Taglit Article

Posting this simply to protest that profoundly stupid Slate article that said Taglit/Birthright was to blame for the death of an idf soldier. 
The story below appeared on Gawker and it  is so pro-Israel, and so unabashedly propagandist I think I am now entitled to say that Israel is not the very  most perfect place on earth at least one more time without getting yelled at by the unforgiving, uber-patriotic hordes. 

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another series of senseless deaths leaves me shaken up

These men were real people, who existed in the world, and mattered to their friends and families in ways that were vibrant, significant and genuine. They are being mourned with real tears. Just saying.

Acheinu kol beit yisrael,
han'nutunim b'tzara uvashivyah,
haomdim bein bayam uvein bayabasha.

Hamakom Y'racheim Aleihem
v'yotziem mitzra lirvacha
um'afaila l'orah umishiabud lig'ulah,
hashta ba'agala uvizman kariv.

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Obama does everything right, gets no love from Pruz

Here's Pruz killing the president both coming and going:

"By the way, is anything more repugnant that Obama’s repeated assertion that “Israel has the right of self-defense,” as if that is not obvious, as if it is a major concession on his part designed to win him plaudits from liberal Jews, and…as if he has to keep saying it in order to talk himself into it?"

Did you catch that? He find it REPUGNANT that the president is repeatedly saying the exact words everyone wants him to say. He'd rather Obama did not say this because it's "obvious" and would prefer Obama didn't "talk himself into it"

Of course, the real truth is Pruz hates the president for wholly irrational reasons and would still hate the president even if he moved to Israel and became a Rabbi. When you hate that much, facts cease to matter.

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A short post to debunk the latest RW false claim

Because some of you are sure that this is a big biased anti Israel move orchestrated by Obama to squeeze the Jewish state, let me assure you that the FAA is also banning flights to Ukraine

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Silencing Tactics

A silencing tactic is an attempt to shut down a critic without addressing the actual argument the critic is using. In other words, its a fancy way of saying SHUT UP

For those of you who wish to have actual conversations, here's a brief primer on some of the silencing techniques people will use to attempt to end those conversations:

(1) Suggesting you're being frivolous
RW example: Why are you talking about dead Palestinian civilians when there are so many more dead Syrian civilians
LW Example: (help?)
From FB:  Suggesting Palestinians are at all responsible for the occupation is blaming the victim

(2) Questioning your motives:
RW Example: You just hate Israel
LW Example: You just hate Arabs

(3) "Othering" You
RW Example: You 're a self hater. You're pro Hamas
LW example: What can you expect from a conservative lunatic?

(4) Assuming you just don't understand, or you would agree with them.

(5) Privileging their position/appealing to authority.
RW Example: I live in Israel! I served in the IDF I know what I'm talking about
LW Example: (help?)

(6) Telling you that the upset you're causing is more important than the problem you're pointing out.
RW Example: Stop being divisive during a war!
LW Example: (Help?)
From FB: Your blaming of the victim is offensive.

(7) Gaslighting
RW Example: You're being too sensitive
LW Example: You've been brainwashed by religion

PS: FAR TOO OFTEN angry right wingers attempt to shut down all conversation and silence anyone they perceive as an opponent by screaming about equivalency. This is what they sound like:

A: 2 and 15 are both integers.
B: How dare you equate 2 and 15, they're clearly not equal! 2 is even and 15 is odd. Moreover, 2 is prime and 15 is not. Also, 15 is much greater than 2!
A: I didn't say 2 = 15, I just said that they both belong to the set of integers.


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Let's talk about Israel

Brilliant idea, poor execution, but makes a point I think far too many right wingers are still fundamentally unable to grasp.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Jews and Arabs don't trust each other

I'm in a list making mood.... Here are a few. Please feel free to add and subtract. 


- Years of missile attacks on civilians
- Years of suicide attacks on civilians
- Years of terrorist incursions and terrorist attacks on civilians
- Years of genocidal rhetoric and incitement
- Popular support for Hamas, including the Gaza election and the unitygovernment
- The sight of Arabs celebrating moments of Jewish misfortune
- The documented examples of Palestinians staging deaths for the media
- Yasser Arafat


- The "Arab mentality" (as if they all shared a brain)
- The fear that the very real examples of genocidal rhetoric and the very real examples of Arabs celebrating moments of Jewish misfortune mean that this is how all Arabs think and feel.
- The idea that all Palestinian civilian deaths are staged.



- Saabra and Shatila
- Netanyahu's bragging about how he personally torpedoed Oslo, his general recalcitrance and foot dragging, and the fact that he nonetheless enjoys widespread electoral support
- The history of the occupation which includes: Collective punishment, raids, detentions, attacks on civilians, separate judicial systems, inequitable distributions of resources, and land grabs
- Rhetoric from Israelis that has included calls for genocide, calls for expulsion, calls for perpetual occupation, and so on
- The deaths of civilians during bombing raids, incursions into villages and so on
- The attempt by some Israelis to deligitimize Palestenian suffering
- The attempt by some Israelis to suggest that none of the dead civilians were really civilians or that all of the deaths were staged.


- The fear that Israeli rhetoric about genocide, expulsion, and perpetual occupation reflects widespread popular Israeli options.
- The fear that Israel will never permit a Palestinian state even if the Palestinians were to surrender unconditionally
- The observation that Israel continues to expand beyond the 48 lines which wrongly suggests to some Arabs that the Jews would rather acquire land than pursue peace.
- The fear that Israel actually wants to kill civilians.
- Exaggerated accounts of IDF mistreatment of civilians (as opposed to the real, more limited examples of the same which I have listed as a legitimate reason)

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What are you doing for the war?

What are you doing for the war?

This isn't a question about the personal extras like davening or learning or charity that you may have taken on but about your communities, and what they have officially orgamized. And it isn't a question couched in rebuke or criticism but a real attempt to understand, document and collect the various activities diaspora communities have undertaken to help the war effort. I'll even go first.

In my community, the rabbis have used the war to encourage us to learn more and to pray with extra fervor. They have also used the war to encourage our women to wear longer skirts and sleeves. We've been promised that this will "help". Additionally, there have been collections for that fund that plans to give every soldier a pair of tzitizis.

We have not been saying tehillin. We have not been asked to do anything special to help civilians or to demonstrate support. Many of us have not canceled or changed plans to vacation in Israel this summer.

In the next post, I'll perhaps attempt to work out "what this means" or "what this says about us" but for now I just want to compare and contrast and document the various types of diaspora community responses. So please jump in and ask your friends: what are you doing for the war?

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Kerry's failed peace process

The current TNR has a phenomenal account of how and why John Kerry's peace process failed. Its a great read, rather long, full of detail, and impeccably sourced. Memorable quote: 
After the meeting, the Palestinian negotiator saw Susan Rice—Abbas’s favorite member of the Obama administration—in the hall. “Susan,” he said, “I see we’ve yet to succeed in making it clear to you that we Palestinians aren’t stupid.” Rice couldn’t believe it. “You Palestinians,” she told him, “can never see the f** big picture.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

To my RW friends

What follows is addressed to my friends on the right who are reasonable, intelligent and capable of disagreeing with someone in good faith. If this does not describe you please skip the post.

Dear Friends, and I do consider you my friends:

Here's what may be the best way to describe our disagreement:

I agree with you that there are red lines, and I agree that when those red lines are crossed a nation must respond with deadly force, even if innocent civilians will, predictably, be killed. Such red lines definitely exist. War is sometimes necessary and civilians will die during a war. That's inevitable

I believe we simply disagree about what those red lines are.

I think that fair, and good and reasonable people can legitimately disagree about something like that and I think such disagreements are healthy as they cause us to re-evaluate positions, consider other perspectives and to make sure that we have really got it right.

I believe that things get ugly when people who are not fair, or good or reasonable accuse one side of being bloodthirsty or war mongering while other people accuse the second side of being self-haters or appeasers or enemy-lovers.

At this moment, I do not want to argue about what those red lines are or should be. As I  said on Facebook, I am observing a temporary moratorium on arguing about Israel. At this moment, my thoughts are with the troops and I am praying for a successful mission, carried out with no errors and as few casualties as possible.

Thank you

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Derek Jeter, yawn, yawn

Can we shut up about Derek Jeter please. Please? Ok, fine: he's a first ballot HOF because of his 3K+ hits, but there are 27 other members of the 3000 hit club and grown men don't drool over, say, Robin Yount do they?

And Robin Yount was a better shortstop!

No one would talk about "The Play" IF GIAMBI HAD SLID!
In fact, for most of his career, Derek Jeter wasn't even the best shortstop on his own team! As a hitter he never won the league's Silver Slugger award as the league's best hitting shortstop. As a fielder, he had the range of a 97-year old lady and according to two historical play-by-play-based systems, Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average and Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone, Jeter cost his team more in the field than any other player in history! If you're going to claim the guy is a legend, shouldn't he at least be the best player at his own position?

So basically the arguments for Jeter's immortality come down to two things: His supposed ability as a clutch hitter, and a bunch of cliches about what a hulking, manly winner he was. Let's debunk them both in turn.

Clutch hitting is a not a repeatable skill. Its just random luck. Also, Jeter had a lower batting average in the post-season, lower OPS and a higher strike-out percentage. He batted under .250 in seven post season series. And his most famous "clutch hit" would have been an out had the umps called interference on the kid. So much for raising his game when it counts.

Was he winner? Well, sure, he won 5 rings, but Yogi has 10. Meanwhile, Scott Brosius had more World Series appearances than Ted Williams. Are you going to argue that Scott Brosius was more valuable than Ted Williams?

So now what we're left with is pure man-crush material. He looked good in a uniform. He carried himself well. Blah blah blah. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it has nothing to do with baseball.

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I find Nazi values detestable, but I can understand how, given enough misinformation, enough false belief about reality, one could come to believe that they are the only salvation. Of course they have to be fought, by war if need be, but I do not regard the Nazis, as some people do, as literally pathological or insane, only as wickedly wrong, totally misguided about the facts, for example in believing that some beings are subhuman, or that race is central, or that Nordic races alone are truly creative, and so forth. I see how, with enough false education, enough widespread illusion and error, men can, while remaining men, believe this and commit the most unspeakable crimes. -- Isaiah Berlin
I feel the exact same way about Hamas and other Muslim extremists. The Exact. Same. Way. However, I can see how with enough misinformation, false education, repeated injustice, murdered children, and so on, Jews - like any other human being -  might be led to commit unspeakable crimes themselves.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Schizophrenic 17 Tamuz symbolism

I was toying with the idea of attending a joint 17 Tamuz/Ramadan iftar this year, when my wife made an excellent point.

"How is that in keeping with the spirit of 17 Tamuz?", she asked. "Its a day that we use to mourn the loss of Jerusalem and you want to share it with people who want to make us lose it again?"

She conceded that the Muslims who are likely to attend an interfaith iftar are not the same people who want to throw the Jews out of Jerusalem, but I still take her point: The symbolism is schizophrenic. 

I fast on 17 Tamuz to show that I'm sad that the Jews lost sovereignty over Jerusalem. I'd attend a joint iftar to show that I don't think all Muslims are extremist lunatics and that a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Israel is possible.

These are both true and good, worthy things to demonstrate, but I concede that it may not be possible to demonstrate them simultaneously. As the great Isaiah Berlin taught us values can be equally valid, yet mutually incompatible.

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Some of the Right Wing myths we are happy to explode for you this morning

Here are some of the Right Wing myths we are happy to explode for you this morning:

1) THE TIMES HATES ISRAEL which is why arabs and Muslims have been carping non stop about its coverage of the war. See here. The public editor reports that neither Jews nor Muslims like the headlines, photos or slant of the coverage.

2) OBAMA IS A MUSLIM LOVER which is why the actual Muslims organized to boycott his iftar dinner. I think we can all agree that as a Seekret Moooslim the Bamster is a miserable failure

3) OBAMA WANTS ISRAEL TO RESTRAIN ITSELF Well the obvious problem with this claim is Obama never said that but the real proof is this: At the iftar dinner he told the self hating Muslims who showed up that Israel has a right to defend itself.

"No country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens," Obama said. "And so we've been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas."

Yup, your favorite Muslim sympathizer told a group of Muslims who had come to his house to celebrate Islam that Israel is right and Hamas is wrong.  What more do you want?

And nowthe Muslims are bashing the president to smithereens on social media in a way right wing Jewish liars will probably find familiar.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

What does an acrimonious presidential press statement really look like?

With all this loose and unfortunate talk about how mean Obama has been to Israel in his official statements, I thought it might be instructive to examine some of his predecessor's official statements. I believe they provide far better examples of acrimony and disapproval.

On February 14, 2001 a Palestinian drove a bus into crowd of people injuring 25 Israelis. Here's Bush calling for Israeli restraint

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 14, 2001
Remarks by the President Upon Departure 
The South Lawn
8:55 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I strongly condemn the terrible act of violence in Israel this morning. I have called Prime Minister Barak to express my condolences to the families of the people killed and to all the Israeli people.
As I told the Prime Minister, the tragic cycle of violent action and reaction between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly the escalation this week, needs to stop. I'm urging all parties to do their utmost to end the violence.

We will continue to work with all parties to try to restore calm to the region.
Thank you.

On October 8, 2002 Israel sent tanks and gunships into Gaza killing 13. According to the New York Times "the army said the mission was part of a new strategy of putting pressure on Hamas, which has frequently launched crude rockets from the Gaza Strip." Here's the no-sympaty for Israel official Bush Statement

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 8, 2002
Statement by the Press Secretary 
The President is deeply concerned by reports of Israeli military actions in Gaza that have resulted in the deaths and wounding of many Palestinian civilians. While the Administration supports Israel's right to self defense, it is critical that Israeli forces make every effort to avoid harm to civilians in exercising that right. The President urges Israel to minimize the risk to civilian populations in areas in which Israeli Defense Forces are operating.

Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said: ''We're deeply troubled by the reports of Israeli actions in Gaza over the weekend that resulted in deaths and wounding of many Palestinian civilians. While the precise details still remain uncertain, Israeli operations were undertaken in crowded civilian areas and involved firing on a medical facility.'

On June 9, 2003 Israeli gunships attacked a Hamas official and other militants who were launching Quassam missles into Israel. Here is how the Bush White House reacted:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 10, 2003
President Bush Troubled with Israeli Helicopter Gunship Attacks 
Remarks by the President and Ugandan President Museveni in Photo Opportunity
The Oval Office
3:20 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: It's my honor to welcome President Museveni back to the White House. Mr. President, you have shown extraordinary leadership on a lot of issues, but the one issue that's really captured the imagination and the hearts of the American people is your extraordinary leadership on HIV/AIDS in your country. You've shown the world what is possible, and I want to congratulate you for that leadership.
I also want to thank you for your steadfast support on the war against terror. And I'm glad you're here.
Before we begin our discussions I do want to say something on the Middle East. I am troubled by the recent Israeli helicopter gunship attacks. I regret the loss of innocent life. I'm concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don't believe the attacks help the Israeli security. I've been in touch with all parties in the region. I am determined to keep the process on the road to peace. And I believe with responsible leadership by all parties, we can bring peace to the region. And I emphasize, all parties must behave responsibly to achieve that objective

and his Press Secretary reiterated this the next day

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first, let me say that the President is deeply troubled as a result of the attack by Israeli helicopter gunships that claimed at least two lives and wounded more than 20 people. The President regrets deeply the loss of life and the innocent -- the injuries to innocent Palestinians. The President is concerned that this strike will undermine efforts by the Palestinian Authority and others to bring an end to terrorist attacks, and the President thinks that this action does not contribute to Israel's security.
To express this strong sentiment, the President has directed members of his administration to carry that message to the Israelis and to the Palestinians. As a result, a rather full-court press has been made, conversations have been had and phone calls were made by National Security Advisor Rice, Assistant Secretary of State Burns, the counselor in Jerusalem Feltman, Ambassador Kurtzer, as well as Mr. Abrams here at the National Security Council. A wide-ranging series of phone calls have gone out to senior Palestinian and Israeli officials.

On May 18, 2004 the IDF launches Operation Rainbow  with a stated aim of striking the terror infrastructure of Rafah, destroying smuggling tunnels, and stopping a shipment of SA-7 missiles and improved anti-tank weapons.

Here's the official Bush Statement the next day
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 19, 2004
Statement by the Press Secretary 
We deeply regret the loss of life of innocent Palestinian civilians today in Gaza.
While we believe that Israel has the right to act to defend itself and its citizens, we do not see that its operations in Gaza in the last few days serve the purposes of peace and security. They have worsened the humanitarian situation and resulted in confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians, and have not, we believe, enhanced Israel's security.
We note that the Government of Israel has expressed its "deep regret" for what it called a "tragic event." These events in fact serve as a grim reminder of the wisdom of Israel disengaging from Gaza, and having its security presence replaced by reformed Palestinian security forces that will -- and must -- themselves act to stop smuggling and halt terrorism. The roadmap calls upon the Palestinian Authority to "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere" and to begin "sustained, targeted, and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and organizations."
We have urged the Israeli Government to exercise maximum restraint now. All parties should find a reason to calm the situation.
We intend to consult immediately with the relevant parties, which include Israel, the Palestinians, and the Government of Egypt, about effective ways to move forward against the smuggling of arms into Gaza and terrorist activities there, so as to create the best possible conditions on the ground leading toward the disengagement that we continue to favor.
# # #

During Operation "Autumn Cloud" in 2006 Israel hit a row of Palestinian houses killing 20 and wounding 40.

Here's the official Bush statement:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 8, 2006
United States Deeply Saddened by Injuries and Loss of Life in Gaza 
The United States is deeply saddened by the injuries and loss of life in Gaza today. We send our condolences to the families of all those affected. We have seen the Israeli Government's apology and understand an investigation has begun. We hope it will be completed quickly and that appropriate steps will be taken to avoid a repetition of this tragic incident. We call on all parties to act with care and restraint so as to avoid any harm to innocent civilians.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Human understanding

Four Palestinian toddlers were killed this week.

Instead of focusing on the question of whether or not the deaths were accidental (some certainly were) and instead of asking ourselves who bears ultimate responsibility for their deaths, let's just remember the spasm of grief that enveloped lsrael last week following the discovery of the dead teenagers. Remember how much that hurt? Is it possible the Palestinians are experiencing similar despair over the death of these four toddlers, and the 11 other children killed last week and the 3 children killed during the search for the boys and the 1500 children killed dating back to 2001?

I'm ready to stipulate that each and every one of those deaths was "legitimate." All 1500. The circumstances of those deaths isn't the point. And I assure you I am not trying to portray the IDF as monsters or child killers or to suggest they didn't do every thing they could to avoid killing those 1500 kids. That's not what this is about. I'm just asking you to remember what it feels like when a kid dies. Remember what it made you think. What it made you say. Think what you would do if there was no IDF to keep your fingernails clean and three of our kids were kidnapped and murdered every few weeks. You'd go a little crazy right? That's all I'm saying. You'd go a little crazy. I know I would...

PS This isn't an argument against the war. You can be for the war and still feel grief or understand the grief of others when children die. Also, I am not trying to provide justifications for Hamas atrocities. I am only trying to provide a route to human understanding.

#1 I think this post is encouraging us to keep our hearts open to all of our emotions. Yes, this war is necessary. But the deaths of innocent children is sad as well. We don't have to choose one emotion over another. There is no blame to he placed on the IDF.. They are heroes and doing their best to protect our beloved Israel. This post is a wake up call to be mindful of being aware of the suffering that all human beings share and not automatically deny those feelings in order to "feel right". Thank you for this post. I have been very sad and agitated these past weeks over the sadness and grief and pain I am feeling by the situation in Israel which I love so much. This reminded me to fully experience every emotion involved in times of war without shutting them down

#2 "The Israeli government needs to use all means necessary to prevent rockets from raining down on our country including waging war on enemies who try to bring about our destruction; but that doesn't mean we can't mourn the loss caused by those actions. Those positions cannot be and should not be mutually exclusive. We should all cry when we hear of God's creations being destroyed.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Great moments in audacity

"Wow", might be an understatement here.

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Where do terrorist murderers come from?

According to the Haredi authorities quoted today in the J-Post the recipe for creating a terrorist murderer is something like this.

(1) Take young people who have been brought up with traditional religious values, values that unfortunately often include the idea that "we" are better, more human, more real, more vibrant, and more beloved by God than other people.

(2) Disconnect them from the religious mainstream, so they end up bored and on the margins of society.

(3) Ensure that they don't have educations or jobs skills so that their sense of hopelessness is profound. You want them to feel trapped, and that their lives have reached an impossible dead end.

(4) Toss in some mental illness, and innate aggressive tendencies. If the IQ is lower than normal that helps, too.

(5) The terrorist act of violence must then be triggered by some kind of trauma, like an act of serious injustice, the untimely death of a loved one, or a mood of national mourning or despair.

This, roughly, is how the sages quoted in the paper say our six OTD Haredi terrorists were created, and you know what - I think the reasoning is sound. And I think its likely that Palestinian terrorists are created according to a similar formula.

L:ET ME STATE THE OBVIOUS: Yes, Israeli society is denouncing the murder in ways that Palestinian society does not denounce murder. Yes, mainstream Palestenin authorities call for murders in a way that has no cognate on the Israeli side. But imagine there was no IDF, and imagine that three Israeli kids were kidnapped and murdered every few weeks....

This just in: Murder isn't allowed as per Jewish law

I think the fact that the Haerdi authorities are busy letting everyone know that, hey now, you're not allowed to kill people, is the most perfect indictment of their educational system one could ever devise.

Saving Lives


The fellow on the right, who looks like a Ger Chasid, and one other Chasid carries a woman to safety during an air raid siren. 

(Update: this photo may be from a while ago.)

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We are the people.. rambling and unconnected thoughts on Jewish culture

...rambling and unconnected thoughts on Jewish culture

We are the people who don't mind disorder and disarray in our synagogues.  Many of our shuls are cramped and poorly lit, with books, flyers and pamphlets littering the tables. We make no effort to beautify our places of public worship. No one minds if someone comes in and on his own authority rearranges the chairs. No effort is made to coordinate the design of the shelves with the design of the tables. The architecture of these places is at best boring, but more often thoughtless and at times sadistic. No attention is paid to how sound carries or how lighting can add atmosphere. Women and their place in these buildings are often afterthoughts. We claim to long for the re-establishment of what our books call the most beautiful building of its time and place; but for now we wait in squalor. 

We are the people who swear that prayer succeeds, but our behavior belies this claim..  Day after day we receive messages from clerics who beg us to rattle the heavens with our chants and shouts.  But actual services are taken less than seriously. You're not only permitted, but sometimes encouraged, to pick up something to read (sorry, I mean learn) during  less important parts of the service. No one objects if someone sits in the back during with a cup of coffee. At a set point, during Shabbath prayers, all the men rush out to get their hats. At another set point, a minority of the men go out for a drink. When the gabbai personally beseeches God to heal our sick, we catch up on current events and nearly drown out his supplications.  When its our turn to pray, the words are chanted, rather than said. No one tries to understand the magic formulas; the prayers aren't read the way one ordinarily tries to read something important and they aren't said the way one would recite a real supplication made to a real person; even the very best, most serious daveners only attempt to say the words fervently, preferably with brows furrowed and bodies swaying. 

We are the people who claim to worship tradition and the old way of doing things. More often this means privileging one particular moment and one particular style or approach, over all the other moments, styles and approaches. Thus, some authorities are un-repentantly declared "not from our mesorah" when their ideas are found to conflict with the things "everybody knows" We make a fetish out of new things like upshurin and kabbalas shabbas while very old things like B'hab are neglected and forgotten. We think shabbas is about cholent, without seeming to realize its only a mess of peasant ingredients prepared rustically. The Talmud is full of examples of how the Sages were different in their behaviors and beliefs but the fantasy persists that men like the shockingly creative Rabbi Akiva and the profoundly humane Hillel were culturally heredim such as the type you might expect to find this afternoon in Beni Brak.  We read of Jews who were still conducting business at the very second that Friday turned into Shabbos, of other Jews who were too drunk to keep the Rosh Chodesh signal fires burning, of Rabbis who forgot or misquoted or amended Tannaic material and still we tell ourselves they were all frumer than we are, when the very idea of "frumness" hadn't infected them at all. 

In which I give myself a reminder.

Found on the social networks:
Political advice and punditry, to the right or to the left, won't *really* practically help Israel. But there is an emotional weight to such opining. Standing on the sidelines on foreign soil, while the murderous enemy attacks? If you are lending credence to Israel's enemies and undermining Israel's positions (e.g. "they also have a narrative"), then this can be read as callousness and a lack of concern for your brethren. If you are supporting the Israeli position, even if you are being "jingoistic", you are expressing caring and support for your fellow Jew. So you are entitled to your opinions, but don't be a callous jerk.
OK, sure, some people see it this way. But thinkers, as opposed to feelers, understand that what we say on blogs and Facebook has no cosmic value or meaning, and that a good point is a good point irrespective of who it facially seems to support. However, I count some "feelers" among my friends so I shall endeavor to bear in mind what he says here.

(Yes, of course  this is the same old thing: Jingoism and chauvinism means you love Israel, while those advocating for peaceful and mutually beneficial solutions are self-hating scum. However, Josh does remind me that some who are in the grips of this delusion might otherwise be decent people, friends even, and if they're going through a rough time they are owed the simple courtesy of not being agitated, no matter how unreasonable their agitation may be.)
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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Double standards

Ever notice how the people who say "if you don't live in Israel we don't want to hear your comments" are still happy to take your money, your prayers, your votes, your government's overwhelming support, and (almost always) they'll make an exception for right wing, jingoistic comments, too.

To be clear, I don't mind giving Israel money. I mind Israelis who tell me to stop commenting.

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White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on situation in Israel

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on situation in Israel:

We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.

And like clockwork, the people who never let facts impair their judgement and always respond to demonstrations of Obama's support for Israel with the words "about time" or "its just lip service" are once again saying "about time" or "its just lip service."

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If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel."

If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence
If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel."

I think there is some truth to this. But as famous as this maxim may be, it has two serious shortcomings.

First, it rests on two premises that have not been proven. 1) That Arabs are only interested in violence and 2) That Israelis are only interested in defense. 

The full truth is some Arabs want peace, and some Israelis want war. I'll agree that MORE Arabs want war and MORE Israelis want peace, but why are you certain the peace loving Israelis would prevail over the war-mongering Israelis if the the Arabs were to put down their weapons? Perhaps the war-loving Israelis would find a way to continue the conflict, say, by discrediting Arab peace efforts or by goading Arabs into attacking. Its not impossible.

Second, there are some Israelis who want to take as much land from the Palestinians as possible. Don't even try to deny it. If the Arabs were to put down their weapons we wouldn't have a shooting war, that's true, but if the Israeli RW and religious parties persisted in their policies of land usurpations "peace" would continue to be elusive.

It comes down to this. I agree that if the Arabs stopped bombing etc, the IDF would stop their operations. No question about it. But would Israel stop usurping their land, and treating them like second class citizens and depriving them of rights and protections? Because absent that you may not have a war, but you don't have peace either.

Now I said the maxim has some truth to it so as tedious as this is, I wish to reiterate the obvious before I conclude: Most Israelis are non violent in nature. Almost all Israelis denounce terrorism and acts of violence against civilians in all forms. This is a crucial, glaringly obvious difference between Israelis and Arabs.
While Israelis may not be willing to withdraw from Arab lands, they aren't murderers. They aren't going to slaughter babies (unless a Hamas terrorist or missile launcher is nearby) and they aren't going to kidnap and shoot teenagers on purpose (unless the teenagers throw rocks at soldiers or otherwise clashes with Israeli authorities or happens to be in the proximity of others who are clashing) and they aren't going to pay pensions or give honors to people who kill civilians (unless the civilians were killed by IDF soldiers who were attempting to fulfill a mission) and they aren't going to trade for the release of people who kill civilians (unless those people are IDF soldiers).

The parentheticals are not my sly attempt to create equivalencies, by the way. In my opinion, slaughtering a baby while its sleeping in its crib is morally different (morally worse!) from killing a baby who happens to be in the proximity of a terrorist target. But from the perspective of the kid's mother its all the same...

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The Orthodox Jewish wedding is a disaster. What can be done?

The Orthodox Jewish wedding is a disaster. Its boring, predictable and designed so that only young people with energy can really enjoy themselves. The food is always the same. The music is always the same. The guests always behave the same way. Nothing about an Orthodox Jewish wedding stands out and nothing is memorable.

I'm horrified at the idea of having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a party no one will enjoy or wish to attend. Is there anything we can do to fix this?

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