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American Jews plan relief efforts in wake of Israeli blaze

With Israel in desperate need of aid to fight the fire ravaging its north last week, countries from four continents sent help, including those with whom Israel has been at odds lately, such as Turkey.

Now that the fire is out, the question is what will Israel’s close friends, the American Jewish community, do to aid in the recovery process?

Damage estimates are ranging as high as $75 million, and the American Jewish community has opened fund-raising mailboxes, started as emergency campaigns while the blaze was still burning.

The national branches of the three largest U.S. Jewish religious denominations launched fire assistance funds and asked their rabbis to address the topic in their sermons last Shabbat. Dozens of the country’s largest organizations, including the Jewish federation system, the American Jewish Committee, and B’nai B’rith International, also started funds.

The heaviest lifting in the nonprofit world likely will be done by the Jewish National Fund, which since Israel’s founding has been responsible for the forestation of the country.

With some 12,000 acres scorched and an estimated 5 million trees burned, the JNF has launched a $10 million campaign to be split between reforestation and other causes, such as rebuilding tourism in the area. In less than a week, JNF had raised nearly $2 million in cash and pledges. A number of organizations, such as Hadassah, have pledged to help JNF pay for more trees.

Reforesting the area will be a slow process, according to the JNF’s director of forestry for the northern region, Omri Bonneh. For the first year, JNF says it won’t plant any trees, allowing the land to replenish itself.

It’s not clear how much the American Jewish organizations’ total campaign will be; in some cases it’s not yet clear where the money will go.

The American Jewish Committee pledged $100,000 for reforestation, saying it will plant 10,000 trees to commemorate the 42 people — mostly police cadets from the Israeli Prisons Service — killed in the wildfire.

B’nai B’rith International, which by Tuesday had collected $12,000, will use the money to address unmet needs, according to its vice president of programming, Rhonda Love.

Last week, Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, deployed hundreds of medics, paramedics, emergency vehicles, and volunteers to the scene of the fire. Its American fund-raising arm, the American Friends of the Magen David Adom, had raised about $150,000 online since the fire broke out, according to its director of marketing, Robert Kern.

A number of organizations are focusing on helping Yemin Orde, a youth village for immigrants to Israel that was 40 percent destroyed in the fire.

Hadassah is providing space for 500 families dislocated by the fire by opening several youth villages with which it is associated. The Jewish Agency for Israel has made space in its facilities for Yemin Orde to continue operating.

The two overseas arms of the North American federation system have been on the ground since the fire began. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped out in the evacuation of residents and supplied emergency needs such as food and blankets. Now the JDC is planning to provide programs for the disabled, psycho-social support, and emergency preparedness, according to spokesman Michael Geller.

The Jewish Agency brought hundreds of children from the stricken area to Tel Aviv for respite, and planned to bring 4,000 by the end of Chanukah.

JDC and the Jewish Agency also are working on coordinating youth volunteers. In the long term, the fire could provide the Jewish Agency with an opportunity to test the value of a new strategic plan that places more emphasis on creating volunteer opportunities in Israel.

The agency has proposed a plan to focus volunteer mentors on the Druze town of Tirat HaCarmel, a development town near Haifa that was evacuated during the fire. Agency officials also have talked to the Jewish Federations of North America about creating, through the agency’s MASA program, a project to bring diaspora Jews to help in rehabilitating the animal wildlife in Israel’s north, according to Jewish Agency director general Alan Hoffmann. JFNA will be recommending programs to member federations that will assist both Jewish and Arab communities affected by the fires. This will include immediate relief that will address issues of evacuees and respite activities for children and youth, trauma relief, and professional support to professionals and volunteers. Long-term relief efforts are being assessed.

Jewish Agency officials also said they would like to set up a fund for grants to victims of the fire, much like the fund it has for victims of terror that gives out up to $35,000 to individuals and families affected by terrorism.

How much exactly the JDC and Jewish Agency will be able to do in the long run will be determined largely by how much the federations are able to raise for them. That’s not yet clear, though insiders said the federations would probably allocate approximately $2 million.

Their campaign received an early boost when the JUF-Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago immediately pledged $500,000 of its own money for the JDC and Jewish Agency’s fire relief efforts.

The question is whether money will continue to come in now that the fire has been extinguished.

“It is clear that when the fires stop burning, also the flames of philanthropy tend to die down,” Hoffman said. “But there are clear needs that have been created here. The question is how can world Jewry play a part in restoring this place to where it was before, and that will require resources.”

Use any of the links below to donate to a variety of emergency campaigns established in the wake of Israel’s devastating forest fire.

American Friends of the Magen David Adom, Israeli Red Cross: www.afmda.org

America Jewish Joint Distribution Committee: www.jdc.org

American Friends of Yemin Orde: www.yeminorde.org

B’nai B’rith Israel Emergency Fund: www.bnaibrith.org

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews: www.ifcj.org

Jewish Agency for Israel: www.jafi.org

Jewish Federations of North America: www.jewishfederations.org

Jewish National Fund, Forest Fire Emergency Fund: www.jnf.org

JStreet and the New Israel Fund: www.jstreet.org

Organizations of the Conservative/Masorti movement in North America: www.uscj.org

ORT America: www.ortamerica.org

Orthodox Union emergency fund: www.ou.org

Union for Reform Judaism and ARZA: www.urj.org

Young Israel charity fund: www.youngisrael.org

Zaka, a recovery and identification organization: www.zaka.us

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Reform looks at ways to reinvent the movement

Returning food to its rightful place: Eating disorders in the Jewish community

This piece is excerpted from Rabbi Zlotnick’s chapter in “A Sacred Table” (CCAR Press).

[M]any of us were raised with the philosophy that it is always better to have too much rather than too little food at a special event. Holiday tables are laden with dish upon dish placed before the family, while relatives urge one another to “Eat, eat!” Some people speculate that this phenomenon may be attributed to our history, during much of which we experienced periods of dire deprivation and starvation….

Perhaps the power of Jewish history subconsciously plays itself out every time we gather with food as our centerpiece.

This sets the scene for eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating / compulsive overeating) to become silent yet destructive forces in our families and our community….

Jews, especially but not exclusively Jewish women, are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders. People who are high achieving, well educated, and middle class are more susceptible to eating disorders than other people are. And this is often an accurate description of many of our families in Reform congregations.

Those who work in the field of eating disorders insist that … [e]ating disorders are not about food. They are about emotions and psychological wellbeing…. Hunger and nourishment are no longer connected to the nutritional value of the food on the plate but to meeting emotional needs that are not satisfied in other ways….

Occasions on which families gather for the Jewish holidays can be particularly nerve-racking for people with eating disorders. With every course, family members make comments and suggestions: “Try the kugel”; “Oh, take another piece. You can afford it”; “Sweetie, you’ve had enough dessert.”

…Anorexics often regard Yom Kippur as a day of licit fasting, a day in which everyone else experiences the “high” of self-starvation. For binge eaters, the overabundance of sweets at an Oneg Shabbat can be both tempting and painful. Passover seders, Yom Kippur break-fasts, and Chanukah latke-eating parties can all be extremely anxiety-provoking for those with eating disorders. Yet family members at these events often do not even realize that their loved one is counting calories, pushing food around on the plate, running to the bathroom to vomit, or inspecting each bite that everyone else is taking…. Jewish families have a difficult time accepting that a loved one is self-destructive.…

As a community, we have begun to chip away at the denial that compels us to say “not my loved one” or “not in my synagogue” when we see someone engaged in self-destructive behaviors….

Jewish values can pave the way to a healthy relationship to food and nourishment. Our Sages teach that in each generation since the destruction of the Temple, every table in every Jewish home has become an altar — that is, a center for the sacred in our lives. Judaism emphasizes that food should be enjoyed as one of the gifts of Creation, but it should be enjoyed in moderation…. According to tradition, every meal begins and ends with a b’rachah, a blessing, of gratitude for the food we are about to eat, which enables us to live, to work, and to love. Kashrut can also be a means to attaining a deeper reverence for the way in which we nourish ourselves, leading to an experience of wholeness in the world….

In Judaism, we believe that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image. For people with eating disorders, this belief has been submerged. As a community, we can help return a sense of their own sacredness to people with eating disorders by being sensitive to their needs at family and temple events, by focusing on who people are rather than how they look, and by reaching out to the entire family, not just the individual with the eating disorder. Together we can return food to its rightful place: not as a weapon that our loved ones use to destroy themselves but as a pleasurable part of our Jewish experiences and memories and as a means to nourish the best in ourselves. As Rabbi Akiva taught in Pirkei Avot 3:14, “Human beings are loved because they are made in God’s image.” We can help people with eating disorders discover that they, too, are loved and that they, too, have within themselves a spark of the Divine.

 
 

Call Bibi’s bluff

 

The real danger of delegitimizing Israel on campus

 

Proposed law to probe Israeli rights groups prompts fierce criticism in Israel

JERUSALEM – Knesset legislation calling for an investigation of Israeli human rights groups has sparked a fierce argument over who is doing more to hurt Israel’s reputation: human rights organizations critical of the Israeli government and army, or the politicians who want to investigate them for allegedly going too far.

By a vote of 47-16, the Knesset last week gave preliminary passage to proposed legislation calling for the establishment of a parliamentary panel to investigate the funding and activities of a long list of left-leaning human rights groups.

One of the co-sponsors, Faina Kirshenbaum of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, charges that the groups are working under the guise of human rights advocacy to discredit the Israel Defense Forces’ presence in the west bank, criminalize its soldiers, and encourage draft-dodging — with the overall aim of weakening the IDF and delegitimizing Israel.

News Analysis

“These groups provided material to the Goldstone commission and are behind indictments lodged against Israeli officers and officials around the world,” Kirshenbaum declared during a Knesset debate, referring to the U.N.-endorsed Goldstone report on the Gaza war, which among its findings included allegations of war crimes violations by Israel.

The heavy vote in favor of the legislation reflected widespread concern in Israel at the activities of human rights groups, some of which receive foreign government funds and whose goals may be seen as potentially inimical to the national interest.

Much of the subsequent criticism was directed at the choice of mechanism to deal with the issue: a parliamentary committee in which politicians would be interrogating their political opponents.

After days of criticism for the “undemocratic” nature of the proposed investigatory committee, Lieberman invited cameras into the normally closed party caucus meeting Monday to show he had no intention of backing down.

In his remarks, he suggested that Israel’s delegitimizers rely on the subversive work of Israel’s Haaretz daily newspaper; Yesh Din, a group that monitors the rule of law in the west bank; and Yesh Gvul, an organization that defends Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the west bank. He called the organizations “collaborators in terror.”

“There wasn’t a single meeting abroad where I spoke about delegitimization of Israel and people didn’t say look at what Haaretz wrote or what Yesh Din, Yesh Gvul, or Yesh Batich published,” he said, the last name a derogatory play on words meaning “There is Zero.”

Critics — from both the left and right wings — have accused Lieberman of McCarthyism. They argue that establishing a parliamentary mechanism to hound political opponents is patently undemocratic and brings to mind the witch-hunting days of anti-communist fervor in the United States in the early 1950s.

Israeli law already requires full transparency on funding, most of the named NGOs are fully transparent, and there is a registrar of NGOs where funding information already is in the public domain, critics of the new legislation maintain.

NGO Monitor, an organization often harshly critical of left-leaning Israeli human rights groups, went so far as to publish an Op-Ed criticizing the proposed law as unhelpful and polarizing. (See it at http://www.jstandard.com.)

As for activities such as pointing out transgressions by IDF soldiers, opponents of the proposed law contend that such criticism shows the strength of Israeli democracy rather than casting aspersions on the IDF as a whole or bringing the country into disrepute. On the contrary, setting up a McCarthyist parliamentary committee would do far more damage to Israel’s good name, they argue.

The proposed law, wrote NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, provides “more ammunition for Israel’s most ardent critics to proclaim the ‘death of Israeli democracy,’ further contributing to Israel’s isolation.”

Several of the singled-out groups monitor IDF activities in the west bank. The groups say this is precisely what the role of civil society groups should be: ensuring that the occupation is as humane as possible. If their funding or activities contravene the law in any way, they should be dealt with by the police, not a politically weighted Knesset committee, they insist.

Several Likud leaders, including Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Michael Eitan, and Reuven Rivlin, say they, too, are appalled by Lieberman’s approach.

“It’s a mistake to establish a parliamentary committee in which Knesset members will interrogate their opponents,” Meridor, a deputy prime minister, told Israel’s Channel 2. “It will turn our country into something it never was or ought to be.”

Critical pundits warn of a vicious circle: Threatened by a highly focused international campaign of delegitimization, they see Israel turning on itself, with figures like Lieberman attacking Israeli human rights organizations, thereby laying it open to further delegitimizing attacks.

There is a significant domestic political context to the proposed law. Lieberman’s move to take on the human rights organizations is part of a deliberate campaign aimed at displacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the natural leader of the Israeli right wing. The proposed Knesset legislation came a week after Lieberman publicly repudiated Netanyahu’s policies on reconciliation with Turkey and peace with the Palestinians.

The opposition by senior Likud members to Lieberman’s proposed investigatory committee gave Lieberman another opening to seize the right-wing mantle.

“These backsliders in the national camp, who are ready to sacrifice its interests, are responsible for the fact that the national camp has never ruled Israel even when we won elections,” Lieberman said, referring to Likudniks like Meridor and Begin.

On the Turkish and Palestinian issues, Netanyahu failed to censure Lieberman, prompting commentators to criticize him for weak leadership. But he did not leave the foreign minister’s broadside against the Likud unanswered, arguing that his party is just as determined to fight organizations that act illegally against the state or the IDF, but that there are different ways of going about this.

“The Likud is a democratic and pluralistic party, and not a dictatorship of a single view,” Netanyahu said, sniping at Lieberman’s high-handed leadership of Yisrael Beitenu and insinuating what kind of regime Lieberman might impose if he were to become prime minister.

The big loser in all this will be Israel, say some in the opposition.

Knesset member Yisrael Hasson, who left Yisrael Beiteinu in 2009 to join the centrist Kadima Party led by Tzipi Livni, accuses Lieberman of cynically undermining Israeli foreign policy in a bid to enhance his domestic political standing.

Lieberman is a “foreign policy pyromaniac” with license from an irresponsible prime minister to start fires all over the place, Hasson told JTA.

What makes this particularly dangerous, Hasson says, is that it comes in the context of the campaign to delegitimize Israel: The fires Lieberman starts can turn people who are neutral on Israel into opponents, fueling the campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

With Stuxnet delaying Iran’s bomb, is the urgency gone?

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 21 January 2011

WASHINGTON – In the wake of revelations that a computer virus may have set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Western groups and analysts that track the Islamic Republic are saying, “More of the same, please.”

The benefits of a nonviolent program that inhibits Iranian hegemony by keeping the country’s nuclear weapons program at bay are obvious: Better to stop Iran with cyber warfare — in this case, the Stuxnet computer virus, which reportedly caused Iran’s nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control — than actual warfare.

For those who favor engagement, the cyber attack buys more time to coax the regime in Tehran into compliance. For those who favor the stick, it allows more time to exert pressure on Iran through sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

News Analysis

Almost coincident with last weekend’s revelations — published in Sunday’s New York Times in a piece that detailed the extent of the damage caused by the virus — Meir Dagan, the outgoing head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said that Iran likely would not have a bomb before 2015. Prior to that, Israeli assessments had predicted a weapon as early as this year.

The Stuxnet revelations, if anything, reinforce the need for a tough stance, said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. They underscore how committed Iran is to producing a bomb, he told JTA.

“It’s a reason to push down on the pedal,” said Berman, who crafted the most recent Iran sanctions law in the Congress. “Iran is still enriching uranium. It is absolutely critical we bear down with a comprehensive strategy of which sanctions is a critical part.”

Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the delay was welcome but that the prospect of new complacency in the wake of its announcement makes it more urgent than ever to maintain a posture that includes the threat of a military strike on Iran.

“No individual measure is a silver bullet,” he said. Stuxnet “set back the program but hasn’t stopped it. If you’re going to target a hard-line regime, you’ve got to have a military option on the table.”

Such a concern was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s furious backpedaling in the wake of Dagan’s pronouncement about 2015. The Israeli leader dismissed the prediction as one of several “intelligence estimates.” Dagan, reportedly under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, recast the deadline this week as 2014 and noted carefully that Iran is capable of surprises.

Champions of engagement also welcomed the revelations of the damage Stuxnet apparently caused to Iran’s nuclear program, seeing it as an opportunity.

“The cyber worm may have set back Iran’s nuclear program, but it is unlikely to alter its nuclear ambitions,” said Ori Nir, the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. “In order to introduce real change, the U.S. and its international allies must change the manner in which they deal with Iran and start to comprehensively engage with Tehran.”

Hadar Susskind, the vice president for policy at J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby that advocates for U.S. pressure on Israel in talks with the Palestinians, said the news of the virus demonstrated that there are creative ways of working around military brinksmanship when it comes to Iran.

“Any nonviolent method is good,” Susskind said. “It shows we can create more time using a range of tools.”

No nation or entity has acknowledged being behind the virus, which seemed to be designed to assume control of the nervous system at Iran’s nuclear facilities and to spin the centrifuges out of control, damaging about a fifth of them. The Times, citing anonymous sources, suggested that it was a U.S.-led venture with Israel’s cooperation. Germany and Britain also may have been involved, though perhaps unwittingly.

Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program at the London-based International Institute of International Studies, said it was critical not to regard the virus as a “deus ex machina” that would allow the world to shunt aside considerations of Iran’s ambitions.

“Any solution to the Iranian crisis will require the use of a range of tools, including tougher sanctions, tighter export controls, a containment and deterrence posture, and a readiness to talk,” he said. “Stuxnet obviously provides some breathing space by extending the timeline for Iran to get a bomb. It would be nice if it also gave Iranians a sense of futility that their enrichment efforts are not going to give them a bomb anytime soon.”

That’s not likely to happen, according to Geneive Abdo, the director of the Washington-based National Security Network’s Inside Iran project. Iran’s leadership is susceptible to popular Iranian support for its nuclear program.

Because of public opinion, she said, “They’re very careful that they’re not compromising on this issue.”

If anything, Abdo said, the revelations will prod the regime to become more recalcitrant when it comes to major compromises, like shutting down enrichment entirely. Iran has tended to harden its line when it is weak.

Instead, she said, Western powers might press for compromise on smaller issues like a broader regime of U.N. inspections. Western powers are scheduled to meet this weekend in Istanbul with Iran to discuss its nuclear program.

“The West should use this breathing space to try and convince Iran to agree to more verification,” Abdo said. Citing her sources inside Iran, she said, “The Iranians are more fearful that more damage is on the way, so that’s an incentive to compromise to some degree.”

Indeed, Iran last week invited representatives of major powers to tour its enrichment plant in Natanz to see that Iran is limiting itself to civilian-level nuclear power. The major powers — including the United States, Russia, the European Union, and China — declined, saying that the only inspections they would sanction would be by qualified inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog.

Dagan’s prediction and the Stuxnet leaks may have been timed precisely to pressure Iran to expand such inspections ahead of this weekend’s talks, said Trita Parsi, the director of the National Iranian American Council and the author of a number of books on Iran-Israel relations.

“The Obama administration has changed the metrics,” Parsi said.

“We’re not talking about the LEU count,” he said, referring to Iran’s burgeoning supply of low-enriched uranium, which had worried the West. “We’re talking about the centrifuges that have been destroyed. Shifting the conversation to Stuxnet puts you in a stronger position.”

Domestically, Parsi said, the revelations also may pay off as the White House fends off demands from Congress that it ratchet up pressure on Iran, including through the military option.

Berman’s outlook suggested that was not likely.

“Let me know when Iran certifiably suspends enrichment and allows inspections, throughout all its territory, and then we can have a conversation about sanctions,” he said. “Having that military option on the table is an important part of achieving that goal and affecting their calculations.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Ehud Barak quits Labor

Political betrayal or precursor to something bigger?

image
Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing his intention to quit the Labor Party he heads to form a new faction, called Independence, on Jan. 17. Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash90

JERUSALEM – Was it an act of political self-preservation, a feat of political destruction, or a bid to stabilize Israel’s government ahead of some dramatic move?

And for Israel’s Labor Party, was it another sign of the once-leading party’s demise, or a precursor to a revival and the ideals for which it stands?

What’s certain is that Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision this week to quit Labor, which he had headed until Monday, has sent shock waves throughout the Israeli political establishment.

News Analysis

Ironically, the split of Labor — until this week a part of the Israeli government but now in the opposition — may yet strengthen the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak’s decision to quit Labor and found a new political party along with four other Labor defectors leaves Netanyahu with eight fewer members in his coalition, but the 66 who remain are considered far more stable than the 74 he had pre-defection.

Before Barak’s dramatic announcement, Labor was threatening to withdraw all 13 of its Knesset members unless Netanyahu could show real progress in peacemaking with the Palestinians. That would have left the prime minister with only 61 coalition members, the vast majority right-wingers and the minimum necessary to stay prime minister in the 120-seat Knesset. Such a narrow coalition would have opened up Netanyahu to harsh domestic and international criticism for leading a perceived hard-line government.

Now, in what appears to have been a coordinated move, Netanyahu and Barak have pulled the rug out from under the feet of their opponents. With a more stable coalition, Netanyahu almost certainly has secured a full term in office, until 2013. Barak pre-empted attempts to oust him as Labor leader and force him to leave the Defense Ministry by cutting a deal in which he can stay on as defense minister after leaving Labor.

Many Israelis on the left and right viewed Barak’s move with deep skepticism. The new party he heads, called Atzmaut, which means Independence, has a hazy future other than the assurance of four ministerial berths in Netanyahu’s government and the chairmanship of a Knesset committee.

The leader of Israel’s opposition, Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, called it the “dirtiest and ugliest maneuver” in Israel’s political history. Her own party was a breakaway from Likud in November 2005, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon led an exodus of moderates, including Livni, from the Likud.

The regional implications of the upgraded Netanyahu-Barak partnership could be far reaching.

It would appear that the peace process with the Palestinians is over, as the more dovish members of Netanyahu’s coalition have exited. Even if Netanyahu wanted to cut a deal with the Palestinians, his remaining coalition partners likely would block it.

Barak and Netanyahu, however, put a much different gloss on things. Until now, the Palestinians had been hoping for the Israeli government to fall and be replaced by one more amenable to their demands, representatives of the two men argue, and this has kept the Palestinians away from serious peace talks. Now, with a more stable government, the Palestinians will see this is who they have to deal with for the foreseeable future and may become more serious about returning to the negotiating table.

Furthermore, Netanyahu and Barak confidants have been dropping broad hints that a new Israeli peace initiative is in the offing, suggesting that this is part of a Netanyahu-Barak understanding.

There is another theory for Barak’s move: that Netanyahu is seriously contemplating a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and believes he needs Barak at his side. According to this line of thinking, with the Labor Party threatening to force Barak to leave the government, Netanyahu could have found himself with a new defense minister who was less inclined to attack Iran. The front-runner would have been the Likud’s Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, a super-hawk on the Palestinian issue but very cautious about striking Iran.

It would be understandable, commentators said, if Barak’s decision was part of a bid to revive peace talks with the Palestinians or take action against Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons. But if not, the move is nothing more than a cynical act of political self-preservation.

In the media, Barak’s move was excoriated as a betrayal of those who voted for him and the party that had given him his chance in politics.

Barak’s leadership of Labor had been under severe threat. Would-be successors had called for an early party convention, expected to take place in late February or early March, with two issues on the agenda: deciding whether to stay in the government and setting a date for new leadership primaries. Within the space of a few months, Barak could have found himself out of the Defense Ministry and supplanted as party leader.

Barak says his new party will run in the next elections. But many Israelis are wondering if Barak really intends to make an electoral pact with Netanyahu and run on the Likud ticket.

Where does all this leave the Labor Party?

Many had accused Barak of ruining the party with his high-handed leadership style, lack of people skills, and loss of ideological direction — and now delivering the coup de grace by splitting the party in two. Many Israelis believe that the party, whose leaders founded and built the state, holding uninterrupted power for Israel’s first three decades, has run its course and that a new left-center constellation will rise from the ashes.

But the eight former ministers and Knesset members who have remained in the party insist that it could still be at the heart of a center-left revival.

One of the contenders for the party leadership, Yitzhak Herzog, said Barak’s departure has freed Labor of its biggest obstacle in the way of rehabilitation, and now the party can rebuild and recapture some of its former glory.

“Labor got rid of the hump on its back,” he declared.

Party activists, especially the young guard, say that with Barak gone, people will rejoin in droves.

Labor overcame its first serious hurdle on the way to rehabilitation when four Knesset members led by former party boss Amir Peretz — who had been considering a second split off from Labor — decided to stay. But the four have made it clear that unless there is a modicum of cooperation with them, they will leave at a later date, precipitating another major crisis.

Much will depend on who takes over as Labor’s leader. Early polls showed that Herzog enjoys 20 percent public support, with former party leader Amram Mitzna and Knesset member Shelly Yacimovich each with 18 percent.

But these polls are largely irrelevant. It is not clear who the final contenders for the Labor leadership will be, what new parties will emerge before the next elections, and what the center-left political map will look like.

More important, the results of the next election likely will be decided by how the new Netanyahu-Barak partnership fares. That has only just begun.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Local congressmen stress concern for Israel

WASHINGTON – Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee, said in a statement on Monday that “[t]he United States and our allies are all monitoring the situation on a minute by minute basis and encourage a peaceful and democratic resolution to the current Egyptian unrest. My heart goes out to all of those who have been killed or injured during the mass demonstrations in the Egyptian streets.

“For the past 30 years,” Rothman pointed out, “as the most populous of the Arab states, with the largest standing army in the region, Egypt has played a critically important role in protecting America’s interests in North Africa and the Middle East. This includes Egypt’s cooperation in military, intelligence, and economic matters with our country and its continuing to preserve the peace with America’s most important friend and strategic ally in the region, the Jewish state of Israel. Egypt has also partnered with the U.S., Israel, and our other allies in fighting terrorism.

“In the end,” he said, “we seek an Egypt that remains a strong ally, working with the U.S. in our common fight against terrorism, living at peace with Israel, and creating an increasingly open society to meet the needs of its young and growing population.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) noted, in a statement, that “the demonstrations in Egypt of the past few days clearly indicate that the nation is on the verge of great change. It is my hope that they lead to a peaceful transition towards a democratically elected, transparent, and accountable government that responds to the will of the people. Any new government must continue to uphold Egypt’s commitments to peace and security in the region and with Israel.”

A request for a statement from Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) was not returned by press time.

Jewish Standard Staff

 
 

11 Orthodox converts barred from aliyah

Local rabbi signs letter to interior ministry

This time it’s an Orthodox problem.

The latest round in the never-ending battle over “who is a Jew” pits diaspora Orthodox rabbis, including one from Teaneck, against the Israeli Interior Ministry and the office of the chief rabbi.

At immediate issue is the immigration status of 11 North American Jews who underwent Orthodox conversion and whose petition to make aliyah has been denied in recent weeks by Interior Ministry immigration authorities.

image
Rabbi Seth Farber Larry Yudelson

“It’s just not right that people who live in our communities, who are observant Jews, who have come to share their fate with the Jewish people and the State of Israel by making aliyah, are being denied the right to become citizens under the Law of Return, as other Jews can do,” said Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot of Cong. Netivot Shalom in Teaneck.

Helfgot was one of more than 100 rabbis who signed a letter to the interior ministry expressing concern that “conversions performed under some of our auspices and those of our colleagues are being questioned vis-à-vis aliyah eligibility.” The letter protests a new policy by which Orthodox converts are no longer automatically approved for immigration. Instead, the ministry has begun consulting with the chief rabbinate, which has announced a policy of accepting only conversions performed by certain rabbinical courts.

Had these converts been converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis, they would have been eligible to immigrate under a 1988 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that non-Orthodox converts are to be considered Jewish for the purpose of aliyah.

The letter was organized by Rabbi Seth Farber, head of Itim: The Jewish Life Information Center.

“One of the sad things for me is that one of the 11 converts converted more than 25 years ago and has been living an Orthodox life, and for the first time this person got a slap in the face. He’s basically being told he’s not Jewish as far as the State of Israel is concerned,” Farber told The Jewish Standard last week.

Farber, a Yeshiva University-trained rabbi, formed Itim in 2002 to ease the access to Jewish lifecycle services — such as weddings and funerals — that are under the purview of the Israeli government rabbinate.

Since then, Farber has found himself advocating for people whose Jewishness has been called into question by that body.

“We challenge the rabbinate when we see them either not following the policy as they define it, or see the policy they define as going against normative democratic behavor,” he said.

“I once thought that working quietly with the rabbinate wold solve every problem, that we could be the nice guy,” he added. “I’ve learned that the rabbinate is put into political positions and we’ve become a political counter-pressure against forces from the right,” Farber said.

A lawsuit filed by Itim has been shaking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Itim had demanded that the rabbinate and local marriage registrars register as Jewish people converted by the Israeli army rabbinate. Without such registration, the converts will be unable to legally marry Jews in the State of Israel. The army rabbinate has converted more than 4,000 people, mostly immigrants or children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The army rabbinate is considered by many to be more lenient than the national rabbinical authorities, who demand that converts observe a strict Orthodox lifestyle. This makes it a useful avenue for aliyah advocates, including many religious Zionists, who want large-scale conversion to help integrate the many non-Jewish relatives of Jews who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, but that leniency has led the national rabbinate to refuse to register the converts as Jewish.

This has resulted in political battles between the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which represents immigrants from the FSU, and the haredi Shas party, with the former offering legislation that would require the rabbinate to register military converts.

For the 11 Orthodox converts seeking to make aliyah, the question is less a struggle over who is a valid convert and more a question of who decides who is a kosher Orthodox rabbi: the Israeli chief rabbi or the local community?

This has been a gray area in Israeli law for several years, but the practice until the beginning of this year had been that the interior ministry deferred to the local community.

The Jewish Agency for Israel, which serves as the official bridge between Israel and the diaspora, particularly when it comes to aliyah, is getting involved in the matter at Farber’s behest, and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky is raising the matter with interior ministry officials.

“Let the Jewish Agency emissaries decide who is eligible for aliyah, just as they decide concerning people who are born Jewish,” said Farber. “Halacha says we don’t treat the convert different than anyone who is born Jewish.”

Ultimately, said Farber, this all speaks to a broader issue.

“Certain forces in Israel are trying to export their version of Orthodoxy over the whole world. There are two opposite approaches, one that sees Israel as relevant to the entire Jewish people, and another ideological position that klal Yisrael — Jewish peoplehood — is only for the type of Orthodoxy that the chief rabbinate identifies with,” said Farber.

To reach Larry Yudelson, write to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
 

‘Check-ing’ out the Wall, $50M penthouse, Grandpa’s jackpot

Marcy OsterWorld
Published: 12 August 2011
(tags): israel, marcy oster

Riches, or just Wall paper?

One visitor to the Western Wall tried to seal the deal to assure divine intervention, inserting a $100,000 check made out to the “Holy Western Wall” between the cracks.

The Israel Hayom newspaper reported that the check was found last week by a 22-year-old man who has made a habit of coming late at night to look through the notes left in the Kotel by visitors wanting their prayers answered. A friend of the young man told the newspaper that it wasn’t the first time he had found money between the cracks of the Wall.

The 22-year-old got the idea to check out the notes after a note left by President Obama was discovered and made public in 2008.

Israel Hayom reported that the unidentified man went into hiding out of fear that he would have to return the check, which an attorney has told him is redeemable.

Police reportedly are investigating the incident, though it is also being investigated as a hoax.

Wanna buy a penthouse?

While hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets to protest the high cost of housing, a penthouse on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Street is on the market for $50 million.

It’s the highest price ever charged for a home in Israel, the Berggruen Group, which is selling the two-floor apartment, told Ynet.

The apartment, on the 36th and 37th floors of the Meier on Rothschild Tower, will not be completed for two more years. It includes a 23-foot-high living room, an internal elevator, a Jacuzzi, four parking spots in the underground parking area, four storerooms, and private cells in the wine cellar, according to Ynet.

Other apartments in the building have sold for between $5.6 million and $17.5 million, with one apartment going to Nat Rothschild, the great-grandson of Baron Edmond de Rothschild. The street on which the tower is built is named after the baron.

Grandpa hits the jackpot

A 90-year-old Israeli man will use the $2 million he won in the country’s national lottery to make sure his grandchildren “won’t be living in tents in the streets.”

The man, whose name has not been released, said he would split his late-July winnings equally among his eight grandchildren.

“I have been waiting for my turn to win for 40 years, and now at my age I have finally won. I will divide the winnings among my eight grandchildren,” he told Israel Hayom, saying that he and his wife live on their pensions and do not need anything else.

“Unfortunately, the current reality in the country is that only lottery winners can afford the luxury of buying an apartment and living in dignity,” the man told the newspaper, referring to the cost-of-living protests taking place throughout the country.

He bought his ticket at a Lotto kiosk for $13.

Scanned for eternity

An Israeli medical technology executive has found a way to use his mother’s tombstone to keep her memory alive.

Instead of a pithy quote, Yoav Medan had a QR Code engraved onto his mother’s headstone.

When the code is scanned with a mobile device, it takes the user to a website dedicated to his mother, which will have photos and stories about her.

The code is laser-engraved into the headstone, painted black, and protected by a glass window.

“I was most concerned about 20 or 40 years from now, how will she be remembered,” Medan told Mashable. “[I wanted to put] what’s in our memory into a place that doesn’t forget.”

‘The Thrill’ returns

Former Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Will Bynum returned to the scene of his first basketball triumphs to teach the children here how the game is played.

Bynum, now playing for the Detroit Pistons in the NBA, conducted the camp in Tel Aviv and the lower Galilee in early August for some 200 participants aged 13 to 17.

“I am enthused to come to Israel,” Bynum said before leaving for the Jewish state. “The fans and community showed me so much love when I played there, I just had to come back and give back to all of them.”

Dubbed “Will the Thrill” by Israeli fans, Bynum played for the champion Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the 2006-07 season through the 2007-08 season, and helped take the squad to the Euroleague finals in 2008. That year he signed with the Pistons, for whom he has set team records for most points in a quarter and most assists in a game.

Bynum attributes much of his success to his start in Israel. His camp was co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

Recycling on the rise

Israelis are recycling plastic beverage bottles at an increasing rate thanks, some say, to a new PR campaign.

Some 15.2 million plastic beverage bottles were thrown into neighborhood recycling bins in May, an increase of 26 percent over May 2010.

Along with the public relations drive, the success has been attributed to an increase in the number of recycling bins placed across the country, including for the first time in Arab communities, Ynet reported.

Some 13,000 bottle collection bins are now spread throughout the country, with plans to increase the number to 15,000.

In all, 64.6 million plastic containers were collected in the first half of 2011, compared to 53.6 million collected in the same time period in 2010.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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