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Letter from Gush Etzion

October 4, 2010 – 10:20 pm76 Comments

An ancient mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) in Gush Etzion

By Ari Silbermann

I awoke the morning of  September 27th to the joyful sounds of bulldozers just outside my window.  The sounds of Jews building in the Land of Israel.  We had waited for months to see what would happen.  Whether Obama would manage to pressure the Israeli government to renege on their pledges to their voting public or whether Bibi would stick to his word and in so doing explain to the Palestinians that they had once again managed to miss an opportunity by squandering 10 months in order to, cynically, gain some kind of leverage in the negotiations.  And this morning (at least for now) our answer had arrived.  The Government of Israel was returning to build in Yehuda and Shomron and was stating to the world, that peace is brokered between two parties willing to accept each other’s narratives and compromise on them.  Regardless of the fashion in much of the ‘enlightened’ world, the Government of the State of Israel has managed to hold onto the Jewish narrative – one which, unflinchingly, acknowledges the Jewish people’s connection to the land which saw much of early Jewish history played out.  They have sent a resounding message to the world that we too have a stake in this land, even if we acknowledge a need to part with it for the sake of the future – we too have rights here and we will only talk without preconditions and only once our narrative is heard.

For some reason, it has become mainstream in many parts of the Left to play down our connection to the land, maybe for fear of being labeled a right winger, maybe for fear of being labeled a supporter of the occupation.  It still puzzles me why the Left cannot harmonize their political wish to relinquish parts of Yehuda and Shomron with  the deep ties they themselves have with this land and therefore the other parts of Israel?  We recently saw a perfect example of this in Haaretz and in an article on Galus when there were those who believed Australian Birthright participants had no business visiting Hebron – whose importance in Jewish tradition cannot be denied.  Even Ben-Gurion wrote after its capture in 1967 that it should be Israel’s second largest city next to Jerusalem.  Why should Jewish students not be allowed to visit one of Judaism’s sacred shrines?

Even though I recognize the possibility that my home will be handed over to the Palestinians in the name of peace, I was happy this morning that we are at least staking a claim, we are at least not relinquishing our birth right for a bowl of lentil soup but are instead standing our ground and waiting until we can negotiate with those who truly wish to make peace, with those who make no preconditions.

True peace will only come here when the Arab people acknowledge our right to a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel.  May it be sooner rather than later!

(Your turn Larry and crew…)

Ari Silbermann is an Australian oleh living in Karmei Tzur, Gush Etzion.

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  • Akiva says:

    and activities like saturday’s torching of the Beit Fajjar mosque are, of course, no impediment to a lasting, true peace.

  • Ari Silbermann says:


    Agreed. But I hope that you don’t paint any distinguishable population with one brush, based on where they live, the hat they wear or the colour of their skin?

  • Joel says:

    … laws about building rights in the West Bank, and in Israel proper paint populations all the time, and tend not to go a long way to “accept each other’s narratives”.

  • Ari says:


    Please write a bit more so I can understand the relevance to what I wrote in my post?

  • Ari says:

    Just a note: When I said I agreed – I meant I agreed with his sentiments and that indeed such actions are an impediment to peace.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I am pretty much worn out from one set of rantings on Galus, so I think I will let others take up this post in more detail.

    The only point I can make is that this is a land for two people; no one has exclusive birthright; and when one set of people are imprisoned in a vice-like grip of oppression it is time for the others to look at why they are so hated.

    There is a need for compromise and particularly, the end to fantasy about an Arab-free as much as a Jew free country.

    I have no issue with Jewish cultural and historic rights, even if I find many of the ancient mythologies shonky. But If that is what people want to believe, that is their right, and the same applies to Islamic beliefs. But I take into account at least 1300 documented years of Arab presence and and migration into the region. I find Jewish attempts to dismiss such historic Arab/Palestinan presence, whether Christian or Muslim as offensive.

    So when it comes to imprisoning, beating up, tear-gassing, and treating an occupied population for the purposes of colonization (and that’s the orginal term used to refer to the Zionist mission earlier in the last century) as second or third class for coming up to half a century, something stinks. When the water and land are stolen, something stinks. It especially stinks because the occupation is an economic drain and a moral drain on the country, and the kids of Israel (those who serve in the army) are drawn into having to be defend the indefensible on a daily basis. It really stinks when people claim that God or the Tanakh or some rebbe justifies such behaviour. It really stinks when they think that they can cock a snoot at the US and expect foreign aid and the unquestioning support of Diaspora Jews.

    And the sheer ugliness of much settlement architecture and its land-raping infrastructure –standing out like the proverbial dogs…flies in the face of all the love of the land (this has been well-noted by architects and was the subject of one book that was censored in Israel because it was too honest about the brutal nature of the architecture).

    Israeli is one of the most highly urbanized societies in the world. There is no reason why it cannot fruitfully and productive reabsorb the settler suburbanites and for settlers who have come from elsewhere and don’t like it, well they mostly have the option of going back to Brooklyn or Melbourne.

    Of course there is an option for the future, though it is one that I don’t think will immediately happen, but intiminations have been made. If you want to remain in the west bank, you can get a resident permit or citizenship of Palestine, pay the right rate of taxes, water rates and all the rest as the rest of the population, and contribute to the reconstruction of that society.

    I’m going to now quote something I often quote– George Antonious was a Palestinian Christian Arab (see the wikipedia entry), who wrote one of the first books on Arab Nationalism. His life was controversial, as a player in elite Arab circles,

    His is most famous for his polemic the Arab Awakening (1938). Looking at it recently, one passage struck me as extraordinarily prescient:

    ‘The Zionists base their claims on the historic connection of Jewry with Palestine, which they represent as entitling the Jews to return to their ancient homeland. The connection is too well-known to need recapitulation, but what does need stressing, in view of the widespread misconceptions that prevail, is that a historic connection is not necessarily synonymous with a title to possession, more particularly when it relates to an inhabited country whose population claims, in addition to an ancient historic connection of their won, the natural rights inherent in actual possession (p. 294-295).

    In the final page of the book, he goes on to point out the terrors that the Jews have been going through under Hitler at that time, but that the Arabs in Palestine cannot be made responsible to carry that burden, particularly in the eviction of Palestinians from their home.

    In a nutshell, I think he has summed up the core issues around the conflict: two claims to possession, with the Palestinian grievance never being really taken seriously, resulting in a situation of seemingly permanent hostility rather than steps to accommodation.

    Any number of more recent joint-plans from Israeli and Palestinian civil society plans for the future recognize a joint future; but they also recognize the complete power imbalance that has to be corrected, and the Jewish right is part of the problem that needs to in fact, give up land in the quest for peace in the same way that so many practical Palestinians are prepared to give up so many of their political claims.

    Please be polite.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I did, however, forget to add that torching of a mosque which Akiva alludes to is covered in Haaretz. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/barak-west-bank-mosque-arsonists-are-terrorists-and-must-be-stopped-1.317161

    The alleged arsonists are from…Gush Etzion.

    If they are caught, I am sure they will be called ‘good Jewish boys’ and not terrorists and this is part of the ideological problem that is represented by the ‘hard’ Zionists and has been so since at least the 1970s when the Jewish undergound started committing acts of retaliatory terror on the west bank with impunity.

    Ari, of course there are preconditions to peace. This means that the settlers and occupier have to stop pretending that they are the victims. The situation is not an equal one.

    ‘Spoiled child syndrome’ but it is what I associate with such reasoning about ‘no preconditions’ in the settler movement. Quoting wikipedia ‘ It includes lack of consideration for other people, recurrent temper tantrums, an inability to handle the delay of gratification, demands for having one’s own way, obstructiveness, and manipulation’ (citing Vidya Bhushan Gupta (1999). “Spoiled Child Syndrome”. Manual of Developmental and Behavioral Problems in Children. Informa Health Care. pp. 198–199).

    Of course, all this will probably be thrust at me, and/or that I am an agent of anti-Zionist revanchism and or Arab Nation sydrome, but that’s a load of bollocks.

    I want an end to violence and equal rights and responsibilities for both communities. Progress can be made in disarming both the Palestinian and Jewish communities from their mutual cycle of violence, but it is a long hall issue that isn’t one progressed by locking on group of people up so that the other has ‘no preconditions’ while enjoying the fruits of a suburban lifestyle in the bantustan.

    There is a very interesting, detailed, and potentially eye-glazing account of the complexities of security & justice eform in the Palestinian territories–which if achieved, will take care of much of current concern about security (but it also needs likewise, Israeli-‘de-violencing’ and de-occupation) ) See the very recent Squaring the Circle: Palestinian Security Reform Under Occupation, International Crisis Group, which can be found on line. The longer that Israel screws Fayyad, the more difficult it will be to develop a ‘normal’ civil society regime. We can also look to the resolution of the conflict in Ireland as another model.

    It is to such careful empirical work that we need to turn, rather than the bible or the koran for ‘answers’.

  • Sol Salbe says:

    At the risk of being a nudnick: Galus Australis has stated a policy of staying away from the Israel/Palestine conflict. GA is meant to concentrate on Australian issues. The only connection I can see is that the writer is an expatriate Australian. But there are probably as many Australian expatriates living in Papua New Guinea as in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Why did the editors move away from their sensible policy?

  • Galus Australis says:

    Hi Sol,

    As editors, we discussed whether to publish Ari’s article based on whether it met the criteria of having a local angle. After some consideration, it was felt that the third last paragraph in particular (that references Larry Stillman’s article previously published on Galus) qualified Ari’s article for publication on this site.

  • Akiva says:

    I agree with Sol. I don’t think that brief mention, lumped together with an article from Haaretz, justifies the publication of this unedifying piece. It will *obviously* lead to strife; and is bound to be deeply offensive, contributing nothing to the already frazzled and shrill (myself guilty as charged) and repetitive discussions which are pretty much the Galus staple.

    We can just keep it together enough to struggle with issues which are more peripheral, and so more bearable. This one is beyond the pale. I await, without much hope, an article as extreme on the opposing side. In the absence of one, I don’t think this should have been posted. Not even sure that an opposing argument should be published either.

  • Foob says:

    This seems to have been written solely with the intent of provoking a fight. The impression that I get from the author is that he believes the degradation of the occupation is Ok because it is a good negotiating tool. So much horror for so little reason. At least Chabad believe that they have Hashem on their side. This article is depressingly cynical.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Good article Ari.
    Those of you who have jumped down Ari’s throat in your comments have failed to recognise the point he is trying to make; instead you just read this as “pro-settler” and “pro-occupation” and bring out the same anti-occupation rhetoric that we have heard so often.

    In this article Ari never once expressed joy over the occupation. The central point he makes is that “we too have a stake in this land, even if we acknowledge a need to part with it for the sake of the future”. This is an important view which rarely gets any airtime.

    What part of this is extremist?? Ari is not sticking his head in the sand. He is acknowledging that a two state solution is likely, even inevitable. Those on the left who advocate a two state solution can only object to Ari’s views if they object to Jews feeling a connection to the land they are prepared to give up.
    These people obviously believe that in order to give up land, you must concede that someone else is more entitled to it than you are. Besides being simplistic, this view totally disregards the pain and sacrifice which are legitimate aspects of the process of giving up land, even if they are not important enough to prevent the process.

    Larry, it is incredibly narrow to predicate the Jewish claim only on religion and ancient history while predicating the Arab claim on actual possession as well as religion and history. The Yishuv which preceded the State did not seize someone else’s land. They purchased it gradually, plot by plot, in legitimate financial transactions. This stands in stark contrast to the mass seizure of indigenous land, without payment or right of return, by the early Australian and American settlers (to give two examples). Why is Jewish ownership over these plots of land less legitimate than your or my ownership of a house in Melbourne?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Err, Shirah I was speaking of the West Bank, not inside the 67 borders, but there are outstanding issues that I won’t enter into on that front as well.

    The legality of the occupation of the west bank and annexation of East Jerusalem is disputed by the vast majority of international lawyers and international authorities.

    Thus, pain and sacrifice by settlers for occupying the West Bank? For destructive fantasies (look at the effects of the occupation). Thus I suggest you consider the situation of Palestinians whose land has been stolen off them often on the most specious of grounds.

    I also realize that the writer has a certain sense of inevitability of two state, but unless he is being completely ironic, joy at the sound of bulldozers does not sound too compromising to me particularly when ‘no preconditions’ appears to men no compromise. I suggest that he has a cynicism about change which he hopes can be delayed as long as possible and all sorts of psychological games played as with the Gaza settlers.

  • Shaun says:

    I don’t see how ending the settlement freeze means that somehow you have this greater connection to the land.

    A settlement freeze as I see it is to ensure that whilst there are negotiations over a Palestinian state, that Israel take no steps to effectively change any facts on the ground, which may prejudice those negotiations. Can we honestly say, that doubling the settler population between 1993 and 2000 was good for Israelis and Palestinians? That it didn’t create any distrust amongst Palestinians?

    It strikes me that Netanyahu’s ending of the settlement freeze has more to do with ensuring he has a workable coalition then any lofty goals associated with having a ‘stake in this land’.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Please excuse the spelling..it is daily saving lag (really).

  • Ari says:

    Until I have some time write a serious reply, I would only like to point out that most of what has been written criticising my article, and hence also the reason why some feel that my article was only of a Israel/Palestininan conflict nature has been a general diatribe against settlers and settlements and has included little about my main point as has Shira aptly pointed out. There have been a couple of comments related to my topic of Jewish narrative, connection and rights to the Land and I will address these soon.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    An article written about Israel by someone living in Israel for Australian readers, which quotes something Ben Gurion said in or around 1967.

    I’ll respond by quoting two Israel based chaps who have lived to see the effects of 43 years of occupation on Israel and on its international standing. Both comments are pertinent to the question of a sense of connection with the land, and love of Israel:

    1.Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston in a ‘self help guide for Zionist lefties’.

    “No one has a monopoly on love for Israel. Your faith in the future of a just Israel alongside an independent Palestine is certainly every bit as valid as that of pro-occupation flacks. Neither does anyone have exclusive rights to the meaning of justice. There is a name for the hard leftist who rejects the right of Jews to have a state of their own – any state in any part of the Holy Land, no matter how democratic and respectful of minority rights – but who accepts the rights of Muslims to have formally Islamic nations: Anti-Semite. ”

    2. A FB friend who often makes a lot of sense to me despite our different political views. His name is Geoff Clein and he originally from Canada, has lived in Jerusalem for twenty years and still (I think) sees himself as a Betarnik but opposes the settlement enterprise. His comments on the eve of the end of the freeze:

    ” ‘In describing the Betar principle of Had Ness…Jabotinsky wrote that “Everything which disturbs the upbuilding of the Jewish state…must, without preconditions, bow to the one banner, to the command of the highest, the supreme ideal: to the Jewish State.’ I call on all Likud members to think about this when they place the cause of settlement expansion above the greater good of the State.”


    “Look at this quote from the father of Zionism from the Basel conference. He clearly believed international legitimacy was the key to building the Jewish state.

    ‘We have an important task before us. We have met here to lay the foundation-stone of the house that will some day shelter the Jewish people. We have to aim at securing legal, international guarantees for our work.’
    — Theodor Herzl, 1897″

    Perhaps less about a connection to the land itself – as in the religious and historical landmarks, dirt and stones and archaeological treasures, which my deeply Jewish great grandparents never got to see or experience – but definitely about a deep connection with and commitment to a home for Jews .

  • ariel says:

    I heard Alan Dershowitz say in Sydney that Israel should agree to extend the building freeze for 90 days IN EXCHANGE FOR the PA freezing incitement in their national media for 90 days. (See palwatch.org)

    Sounds like a fair deal to me…

  • Malki Rose says:

    what does “national” media include? surely the PA wouldn’t be able to control all content of all media outlets? the deal hardly sounds overly optimistic from the outset, no?

  • frosh says:


    This is a reply to your comments made under the articles “How our Universities Harm our Children” and “Letter from Gush Etzion”

    I fail to see how, even from your far leftist position, an article that questions why Jewish attachment to the land is consistently downplayed constitutes an extremist position. Also, the fact that an article is written from the perspective of a yishuvnik (a voice that is collectively marginalised and rarely if ever heard in our mainstream media) does not itself make the article extremist.

    When you say “You surely cannot pretend moderation” I am not sure if you are accusing this publication or me personally, but either way, I think both I and this publication are of far greater moderation than yourself.

    This publication’s record of publishing a diverse range of opinion (much of it not representative of the editors’ views) is well known amongst its readers.

    A quick perusal of your comments reveals that your comment is always coming from an entrenched, whiny, negative, (and now) predictable far leftist position.

    On the contrary, a perusal of my own comments reveals that I regularly take issue and argue with those both to the left and right of me.

    I suggest you read the following article, as it is highly pertinent to your desire to censor opinion that you do not agree with.

  • Mark Baker says:

    Can people who write please reveal their identities. I know it’s not a precondition of blogging but I don’t understand why people would not want to attach their names to their views. Sorry to digress Messrs Editeurs. Mark Baker

  • frosh says:


    That’s an interesting idea from Alan Dershowitz.

    I was disappointed (though not surprised) that they did not have Dershowitz on the ABC’s Q & A last night in their show that featured guests from The Festival of Dangerous Ideas (of which Dershowitz has been a speaker at)

    Unfortunately, the panel was comprised of guests that must have had to have been pre-approved by Akiva ;-)
    Consequently, it made for rather boring television.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Mandi – just because your great grandparents did not physically see or experience the landmarks, dirt & stones of the land does not delegitimise that aspect of the Jewish people’s connection to it. I don’t know your family history but it’s entirely possible, even likely, that your great grandparents, or others of their generation, did feel this connection and would have loved to experience it physically.

    The concept of a home for Jews is critically important, but it is not the only basis for our connection to the land of Israel. (I have put this argument to you elsewhere on this site – if a home for Jews was our chief concern, we could have done equally well with Uganda or the Kimberleys). A attachment to physical landmarks, dirt & stones is an important component of our connection to Israel, and this helps explain the uninterrupted presence of Jews in Israel for the past 2000 years, even at times when the land was certainly not a home for Jews.

    Larry – “no preconditions” does not mean “no compromise”. It is a vital condition for making negotiations legitimate rather than a charade. If Israel must agree to Palestinian demands as a prerequisite for Palestinian leaders even considering coming to the negotiating table, what precisely is the point of the negotiations?

    Now I understand that BOTH sides might agree, as a precondition to talks, not to do anything to change the status quo – without affecting the utility of the negotiations themselves. However if Israel continues to build new homes, on the understanding that they too will be dismantled if it is necessary to give up the area where they are located, or if they are in an area which many rational people would already consider ridiculous to give up even without the new homes (such as Gush Etzion and Maaleh Adumim which are densely populated by Jews and fairly easy to annex contiguously), then this does not actually change the status quo.

  • philip mendes says:

    I actually found this article quite illuminating as it neatly summarizes both the strengths and particularly the limitations of the moderate pro-settlement position.

    My feelings are as follows: there are two narratives which neither Israelis or Palestinians cannot compromise on.

    For Israel, it is an end to violence as a condition of any territorial concessions and negotiation for a two-state solution. This was of course promised by the PLO in the 1993 Oslo Accord, and not delivered. In reality, violence against Israeli civilians particularly within the Green Line borders increased ten fold or more as reflected in the shameful suicide bombings by Hamas under the nose of Arafat’s regime, and later in the less deadly but equally hateful rocket attacks emanating from the Hamas government in Gaza.

    For the Palestinians, it is an end to Israelis taking over more and more of the small territory that they hope to transform into an independent state. An end to settlement building in the West Bank was implied, but not promised in the Oslo Accord. Personally, I believe the Palestinians made a major mistake in not demanding this as a condition, but it was claimed that the Rabin Government would never have agreed to this condition. Regardless, the number of settlers and settlements grew considerably between 1993-2000, and has continued to grow since the Intifada broke out. This continued building of settlements is structural violence against Palestinian aspirations as I have pointed out elsewhere (See my “Jewish West Bank Settlements a bad but reversible mistake”, http://www.eurekastreet.com.au, 10 March 2008).

    In saying this, I am not arguing that the settlements are the root cause of the conflict. Far from it. Hamas opposes all Jews and wishes to obliterate all of Israel from Tel Aviv to Beersheba, and probably a majority of Palestinians share their view. It is also likely that even if peace negotiation are successful, the large settlement blocs will remain part of Israel via land swaps with parts of Green Line Israel as the Palestinian Authority have often acknowledged.

    But if there is to be any chance of peace, then at least all the settlements east of the security barrier will have to go. Again there is no guarantee that this will bring peace, and it is possible to even have a Palestinian state and an intensified war against Israel. But we also know that if Israel continues building settlements that foreclose the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution, then there will definitely be ongoing war and conflict, and most likely Israel will be turned into an international pariah.

    Philip Mendes

  • ariel says:

    Malki Rose,

    “national” media refers to government-owned/run media outlets.
    for example in Australia we’d be talking about ABC and SBS; in Britain, the BBC.

    obviously the PA can’t stop incitement from privately owned outlets, any more than any other government can.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Yes, of course, I understand this. What I am suggesting is that in keeping with such a ‘deal’ Israel could expect the definition of ‘National’ to extend to any media produced within the borders of Palestinian territory, even if the media outlet is not state owned.
    Palestinian Media outlets, who may be partly financed by government would also be able to claim, in the event that something of that nature was produced, that it was produced independently from government. You see what I am saying?

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Shira

    The fact that Jews largely didn’t have a physical connection with Israel for thousands of years most definitely doesn’t delegitimise a Jewish connection with Israel but it provides a different lens on the importance of every bit of Israel to Jewish life. I won’t bore you with my family history but you are correct – for my great grandparents the idea of Zion would have been a central part of their lives, at least through tefila and evidenced through the way they passed the love of that idea to their children and so on.

    But so many Jews since the creation of Israel – some who provided important support to Israel and some who didn’t – chose not to go to to Israel but still have rich, full Jewish lives. In part that’s because of the security afforded to Jews by Israel and the way that Jewish life in Israel has provided models and opportunities which have revitalised Jewish life.

    Its complicated, multi dimensional and full of contradictions, like much of life. It brings to mind that Moshe never entered Israel – a piece of the Jewish story that is sad and wondrous all at once.

    I read an article today by Shmuley Boteach about spending sukkoth in Hevron and found it a little sad. He made a comment along the lines that Hevron is the ultimate place to commemorate Judaism’s contribution to the world. I think in some ways that delegitimises much of Jewish experience and the powerful history of Jewish ideas, rooted in the Tanach and in and around what is now Israel, but developed and cherished in many places for thousands of years.

    Jewish statehood could never, would never have happened anywhere but Eretz Yisrael, but the land itself is still only…land.

    and Frosh – what’s with the personal attacks on bloggers?. If you really want to attack any specific blogger…..

  • Morry says:

    @Philip Mendes

    “there are two narratives which neither Israelis or Palestinians cannot compromise on”.

    Narratives aren’t created for “compromise”, but to be judged, firstly, on how closely they reflect documented historical fact. Our primary interest is whether it is a valid narrative or not. Only then can we begin comparing narratives. There can clearly be no compromise with a narrative that makes claims that are pure fiction, or else you compromise your own integrity.

    We each have our own narrative, and our obligation to ourselves is to test it. On the issue of this conflict, my narrative is simple, and, I believe, tested.

    If history and archeology are not enough, recent genetic tests on Jews worldwide confirm that Jews are indigenous to this area we call Palestine. Arabs all stem from the Arabian Peninsula. Anybody who includes Palestinians as “indigenous” in their narrative is simply wrong. That doesn’t change, of course, that this is their home too. However, seeing the Jews as indigenous, makes this an issue of Jews truly returning home. That word “Jew” seems to really get in the way, so assume, for the sake of argument, that the first settlers put the entire Aboriginal population on boats and sent them to, say, Fiji. Would we be opposed to a contemporary Aboriginal movement seeking to restore Aborigines to their native home, Australia … Aboriginal Zionism, if you will.

    The League of Nations acquired huge swathes of Ottoman owned lands, to dispose of, out of WW1. One of the things they decided to do was to restore indigenous Jews to their native home, “to restore the Jewish homeland”. In 1924, Palestine was divided into Palestine and Transjordan, much as India was divided into India and Pakistan. The only difference was, unlike the Indians and Pakistanis, the total failure of Arabs to accept any Jewish autonomy. Partition hadn’t solved the problem, neither would repartitioning the Jewish 20% in 1947, no more than what is called the “two state solution” is likely to today. It’s largely a cultural thing that goes to the structures and methods operating throughout the Middle East. There can’t be real peace because the area has no real peace.

    The narrative that stems from documented history, in which Jews have been under serious attack since 1920 … even before, facing many massacres and efforts to destroy their community, that continue till today, is a very different one to, say, that of Larry Stillman, who chooses to ignore the attacks on Jews, but outright condemns each and every Jewish response to such attacks. The absolute yearning for peace that has always been an integral part of the Israeli make-up is simply not part of his lexicon. But he is a mere example of a mindset that is very widespread.

    As to the settlements, they occupy all of 1.5% of the West bank, a proportion on Jewish-owned and titled land, none on Palestinian-owned land. For many, their narrative seems to include that indigenous people should be barred from living in certain areas based on their religion, whilst they must be totally welcoming of everybody in their own area. A strange double standard.

    I’m not quite sure how people live with themselves when they suggest that Jews should be removed from their homes on the West Bank, whilst jumping up and down in a frothing fury when any Israeli extremist might suggest that Israel’s problems might be solved by moving all Arabs out of Israel. The two suggestions look like equivalent mirror images to me, and I find both equally contemptible. These are people’s homes. Would you really accept that Sydney be an Aborigine-free zone?

    There will be pain in any solution, there always is … it is those who say that all the pain must be Jewish, to the point where Jews must not defend themselves, with whom I have a major problem.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I am only going to bother with this one.

    “Larry Stillman, who chooses to ignore the attacks on Jews, but outright condemns each and every Jewish response to such attacks.”

    This is an outright lie Morry. For example, I am associated with this report concerning the murder of 4 Israelis.


    “This News Service (as well as the Australian Jewish Democratic Society that has been sponsoring it) has always condemned those who use violence to achieve their aims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are appalled at every death but particularly those of people who did not take part in the hostilities. The Israeli Human rights organisation B’Tselem has documented the death of 100 Palestinians between the end of the war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) and the end of July. These included 16 Palestinian minors and 32 people who did not take part in the hostilities. This news service didn’t issue statements on the occasion of any of those deaths and we do not see a reason to issue one now. All those who are responsible for the death, on both sides, stand condemned not only by us, but by all decent people around the world. We do not believe that those who employ terrorism should be rewarded by either us or anyone else changing their policies and actions.”

    I can’t drag out my folder of letters to the AJN over 15 or more years, but I have constantly condemned military and civilian violence from both communities.

    An apology is due.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    More proof against lies told about me. At least get it right.

    http://galusaustralis.com/2009/09/1779/letters-to-the-editor-2/ (quoting the salient parts)

    You may not like my view that the majority of violence occurs against Palestinians (especially women and children), but

    “… in the rhetoric & polemic of the BDS campaign, there appears to be little concern for Jewish rights, indicating, in the campaign, elements of outright hostility to Jewish presence & cultural and historical rights in the contested land (whether in Israel or the future state of Palestine).

    The need to constantly raise (equivalent suffering) and moral equivalence thus qualifies and diverts any suffering. It leads into reinforcement of the view of Jews as eternal victims and not Jewish institutions (ie the army) as perpetrators of terrible violence. It acts as a block to thinking about the practices of the Israeli government as an occupier for decades new or that the Israeli population (and diaspora communities) has been anesthetized to the effects of occupation and military rule. ….

    Thus, the ‘suffering’ argument is a cop out from being able to say, that in fact (and the facts are on the ground) the suffering is not equivalent: the ration of violence is completely unequal, that one highly armed, professional army (Israel) is dealing with by and large, a popular insurrection, and the majority of victims are Palestinians, not Israeli Jews.

    Thus, it is also a cop out from being able to say that: we believe the occupation is wrong; that the iron fist policy is wrong; and that policy and military decisions since at least 1967 have led down the path of violence and increased the propensity for terror and extremism. “

  • JCCV denounces BDS decision
    17 August 2010

    By resolving to support “selected BDS actions”, the AJDS has placed itself clearly outside the prevailing views of Victoria’s Jewish Community. The JCCV formally distances itself from the statements, and calls on the AJDS to withdraw this resolution.

    The fact that the AJDS has sought to legitimate its views by describing itself as a ‘community-affiliated Jewish organisation’, claiming credibility by associating itself with the JCCV is reproachable. While the AJDS is an affiliate of the JCCV, this is a tribute to the latter’s inclusive nature rather than an acceptance of the AJDS’ views. Indeed this decision to support certain boycotts is totally out of step with the vast majority of Jewish and general opinion, both in Victoria and world-wide’.

    click on link to read the rest


  • Larry Stillman says:

    Please refer to the AJDS response to the JCCV. Full text and attachment at http://ajds.org.au/node/306.

    “Our position relates only to the Occupied Territories. We reiterate that we are opposed to a full BDS position which does not distinguish between the two sides of the Green Line. We agree with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria that a full BDS is likely to be counter-productive, however it is not clear whether the JCCV position is an in principle opposition to all boycotts, as the JCCV and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry have supported boycotts and blockades targeted at Iran and Gaza.

    The strength of a community is reflected in the range of voices that it encompasses. To exclude ours would suggest that the JCCV does not represent the full community but just those who are to the right of centre mainstream. The JCCV has a right to criticise an affiliate when it considers it appropriate. However, the JCCV did not first discuss its concerns with the AJDS and many of its “accusations” are incorrect. “

  • Morry says:

    @Larry Stillman

    All those who are responsible for the death, on both sides, stand condemned not only by us, but by all decent people around the world

    That is exactly my point, Larry. The circumstances under which people may have died, are totally irrelevant to you. You equate the actions of those driving the violence with those defending themselves. As I said, you ignore the defenders, and their right, no, their obligation to defend themselves and their citizens.

    I’m sure that for the purposes of Australian law, you are happy to make such distinctions … the man who defended himself, or the one who caused a death accidently. You possibly even have compassion
    for their horror at having killed another human being. But you clearly have no such consideration for Israelis, and totally ignore that Hamas, and the 9 terrorists groups who make up the PA are wholly committed to Israel’s destruction, and it is their continued attacks that drive this conflict.

    Why I am angry, Larry, is because I lived in Israel at a time before these monsters got their claws into the Palestinians, when there was a wonderful interaction between Palestinians and Israelis, before thousands lay dead on both sides, and when both sides prospered working together.

    The stupidity that followed Oslo allowed the PLO to cynically invite pretty much every terrorist organisation that was into killing Israelis to join the PA, to begin to brainwash the Palestinian children to “martyrdom”, to love that death more thamn life itself. And whose was the loudest voice in our community insisting that Israel must talk the PLO (not an elected body) and no-one else amongst the Palestinians? The AJDS.

    If deaths are an issue for you Larry, then know that your organsation has lobbied hard for the conditions that Israel now faces. Pity the average Palestinian, pity the Israeli, but in this 3 way conflict, it’s time you started condemning, not the defenders, not the victims, but those implaccably driving this conflict, For as long as you don’t force them to face their responsibility, but continue “equating”, they are on to a good thing, not only do they get to attack and kill Israelis, but people like yourself, Larry, will also apportion equal blame to the Israelis.

    There will be no apology forthcoming, Larry. I have never understood this post-modern relativism, and never will, I only understand that it plays into the hands of the growing numbers of those seeking to destroy us.

    Larry, if you think your heart goes out to the Palestinians, then you should take a good look into my heart and those of most Israelis. The difference seems to be that when I say “Palestinians” I know exactly who I’m talking about.

  • frosh says:

    We’ve all sort of gone off topic here. Let’s try bring it back.

    The crux of Ari’s article is: why is Jewish attachment to the land consistently downplayed?

    I think it’s a great question. A lot has to do with our perception (or non-perception) as a Semitic people vs a European people.

    Up until well into the 20th century, a common insult directed toward Jews in Europe was “Go back to Palestine!”

    Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century this insult almost instantly transformed into “Get out of Palestine!”

    Somehow, Jews very rapidly were no longer perceived as a Semitic people, but as a ‘white’ European people.

    Not only is this notion highly debatable for Ashkenazi Jews, but it completely disregards that much of the world’s population of Jews had long been residing Asia (incl. Mid Eastern) and Africa at the start of the 20th century, and had no real European ‘heritage’ whatsoever.

    I’d argue that when non-whiteness was associated with 2nd class citizen, Jews were typically considered non-white. But once whiteness became associated with evil colonoialism (post WWII), Jews became perceived as white. i.e. When it was cool to be white, we weren’t, but once it became uncool, we got bundled in with ‘Whitey.’

    The perception of race who is “white” is a fascinating (albeit highly controversial) topic. Incidentally, there is an interesting book titled How Jews Became White Folks – and What That Says About Race in America that’s worth a read.

  • Morry says:

    For those who aren’t familiar with its history, Gush Etzion was purchased by a man named Holtzman in 1940. The settlements on it, like Ari Silbermann’s home of Karmei Tzur, are therefore built on Jewish owned and titled land. One has to wonder at the sheer chutzpah with which people decide that it’s “illegal” for people like Ari to live and build on land they own. These same people seem very comfortable with Palestinians building, indeed illegally, on hundreds of dunams of JNF owned land in the West Bank.

    If you are to be outraged, be outraged by the suggestion that people should be excluded from living anywhere because of the religion they adher to. We wouldn’t tolerate it here in Australia … but.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Frosh – really interesting perspective on the question. Your answer focuses on the perception of Jews by others, which impacts on how our connection to the land of Israel is viewed.

    Two other answers to this question come to mind, both of which focus on our perception of ourselves and how this redefines our connection to the land.

    1. The concept of “land” and all that it entails, including attachment to it, is nowadays tightly bound up with the concept of “giving up land”. Now that it is accepted among most rational people that some land will need to be given up for any sort of peace deal to eventuate, I think many Jews are reluctant to express an attachment to the land out of the fear that this may be misconstrued as an unwillingness to part with it.

    Beyond this, as I said in my initial comment on this article, I think some Jews actually object to feeling a connection to the land that we are prepared to give up, as this may not sit well with the idea of disengagement. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that if we are prepared to give up land, that must mean that someone else is more entitled to it than we are – ergo, our connection is minimised.
    They don’t consider that connection and disengagement can coexist, albeit painfully – if disengagement is seen as a necessary concession for other reasons (such as improving security, or giving the Palestinians a site where they can realise their national aspirations) rather than as a statement of what we feel we have a claim to.

    Although what I have said refers to land beyond the green line, perhaps the same reasoning can be extended to the pre-1967 borders as well. The converse of the trap I mentioned above is that if someone else unequivocally refuses to give up their claim to land, that calls into question our entitlement to it. It’s no secret that the Palestinian goal is for us to give up every inch of land, right up to Tel Aviv. We are a very introspective, self-reflecting nation…perhaps the Palestinians’ strident and unapologetic claim causes some of us to doubt the legitimacy of our claim to the same area.

    2. Another reason people downplay the Jewish connection to the land may be that in this day and age, people like complex answers. Particularly in tertiary-educated circles there is an almost visceral rejection of anything which sounds simplistic or primitive – as such a thing could not possibly reflect life, which is complex. Jewish connection to the land of Israel is an ancient notion, which to the modern mind may sound simplistic, romantic, even primitive – much as that same modern mind may think of the early chalutzim, who felt a strong attachment to the land, as romantically idealistic, hopelessly naive at best, and just plain wrong at worst. Given all the events since then, the delegitimisation of the Jewish connection to the land by the Palestinians and the international community, and the transformation of Israel’s image from pioneer to brutal occupier, perhaps the modern Jewish mind recoils from the idea of Jewish connection to the land because it just doesn’t seem complex enough.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Morry, there is no need to run the spin about living in Israel. I lived there for 4 years and visit as often as I can afford. And perceptions are everything. I never saw Israels and Palestinians happily living together–I saw a country ruling another group of people frightened out of their wits and desparate to make a living or pretending to be Jews. I saw students kicked out of dorms purely because they were Palestinian, and they had not even opened their mouths. All that ‘happiness’ covered up a powderkeg, which has exploded on numerous occasions–and this is 30+ years since I first saw that something was fundamentally wrong.

    My heart aches every time I hear of an Israeli being killed, but I know that far more innocent Palestinians are killed through state supported violence are are written off as ‘collateral damage’. It is a mutual cycle of violence and it is profoundly imbalanced violence.

    You have also vastly oversimplified the relationship between Palestinians and the PLO and what attracted them to both the political cause and the path of armed resistance, and I have condemned the death cult publicly in any case. And it wasn’t just the ADJS (well before I was in Australia) calling for talks with the PLO, plenty of Israelis and others were, because they knew the longer the delay, the worse the situation would be.

    The policy of refusal to take Palestinians seriously has got nowhere except more deaths.

    So we can differ over this political issue, but to equate my politics with a support for killing Israelis which is what it comes down to is a complete lie and fabrication on your part.

    Shirah raises a host of more interesting issues, but I only summarize an argument. What I’l say is that I am fearful of all nationalisms, Jewish or Palestinian, when they become mixed up with power and violence. I also believe that Shirah is out of touch with more sophisticated Palestinan political thinking which is far from the essentialist sterotype which she describes. People are far more realistic, but part of the problem is that the polarization that lets the extremist have most voice. I also think you are psychologizing what people see as a political issue–one of oppression. It’s got very little to do with ‘being an inward looking poeple’ or words to that effect. I think such characterization of what a community throughout the world thinks are purely speculative, because on the other hand, Jews are also one of the most cosmopolitan and globalized global minority communities.

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    I think it is interesting to take note , of the fact that most of those who responded to my article found it difficult to focus on the subject matter. Now, obviously this issue is a loaded one, but that should not mean that people cannot distinguish between the complexities of the issues involved. I would almost say that the ranting that has gone on here is proof of the fact that I am correct- That we have lost our way when it comes to our own narrative. We have no dream time so to speak.(Note for Akiva: That last statement is not intended to perpetuate colonialist violence against the Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander people and should not be taken to prove that I must be responsible for the atrocious arson attack against the mosque just down the road from here – I just feel like it works as an analogy )
    That being said I will not really respond to some of the regular far-left banter regarding settlements, that they are the sole reason why there is an occupation(as though the Israeli kids who serve in the territories are not guarding future Sderots), that they are all evil nationalists, or that they have never served any purpose in advancing the cause for peace(as though Arafat would have come to the table had he not seen his future state disappearing before his eyes).

    My point is that the situation is complex and things go on that may be problematic for some people, but that should not let us lose sight of our own narrative. To quote a Palestinian in 1938 discussing the fact that Jewish connection does not imply a requirement to control politically is inconsequential to my point. Whether you believe that control comes about due to a UN mandate, a British one, a Divine one, through an act of purchase or through an act of aggression is inconsequential. What is of consequence is why do you feel, as a Jew and as a human being that the Jewish people today should be on that little strip of land. Why did the founders of Zionism reject Uganda? You can quote Herzl, but his position regarding international recognition is of more importance when you understand his historical and political circumstance. I would also posit that Herzl had no problem with Uganda because his issue was solving the Jewish problem of Europe – the Jewish narrative little interested him. Perhaps he was right in one sense, and perhaps if we had Uganda things may have ended differently in Europe(and we would have an issue with Ugandans at this point). However, what I would like to ask here from everyone who has responded is what is your connection to the Land of Israel? What is the narrative that you carry with you hidden under the layers of complexity? Is it possible to have such a narrative with such complexity? You may say, I cannot deal with my connection to the Land as long as I perceive the Land as being characterized by uncontrolled, undirected Jewish violence, but I am asking, if there was none of that perceived violence what is each of our narratives that binds us to the Land?

    My point is that the far-left, and most moderates barely ask themselves that question. They are too caught up in ranting about the injustices committed against Palestinians – the net result being that their children and students have lost their narrative, and accept defacto only the Palestinian narrative. The result being that they try and stop Australian students from learning about their own dream time. Part of my point was that I believe successive Israeli Governments have a better grasp on the Jewish narrative than most others, and for this I am glad.

    Note to Larry: When you speak of ‘shonky myths’ I assume that you are referring to most of the Pentateuch(or if you prefer Larry, Hexateuach) until the end of Judges. But what about the entire period of the Kings(and if you would like, forgetting David and Solomon). Is there no narrative in their that connects you? If not, what is the narrative that binds you to Zionism and the Land of Israel? Is it only the need for a Jewish home?
    (Since it is difficult to judge tone, I want to make clear that I am really interested to know)
    Larry, wouldn’t you like to travel to Mari? But why not to Shchem?

  • frosh says:

    “Od yishama, be’arei Uganda, uvechutzot Kampala…” :-)

    The absurdity (and if I dare say, hilariousness) of the above highlights the centrality of Zion in Jewish culture. Even in a completely apolitical event, such as a wedding, Jerusalem and the land of Israel has never been far from the focus.

  • Akiva says:

    No idea where you get the idea that most of us have forgotten to ask ourselves what our connection to the land is. The fact that you think it betrays your utter lack of understanding of a non-right perspective. We agonise over our feelings and our convictions. I have no doubt that you do also. To assume less would be insulting. It is clear that you cannot understand how one could carefully consider these issues and still hold a different narrative to you. You appear to believe that the natural result from a soul-searching on how we feel and understand our relationship with the Land of Israel is a right-wing ethos. And you wonder why those of other persuasions find you frighteningly narrow, blinded by ideology, unable to empathise.

    I assure you, I accept neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian narrative in their entirety. I am a historian. As such, I can access materials which allow me to form my own opinions. I did not go to a Jewish day school, and so largely educated myself about the different historical ‘narratives’, thank G-d. I do not understand how it is possible for an reasonable and civilised person NOT to understand that – nothwithstanding an ancestral and living connection to the Land – people were displaced and dispossessed and abused in the making of the modern State of Israel. And these terrible events have led to the oppression and near-destruction of a people.

    Support Israel’s continued existence as I do, and always will, it is still impossible for me to deny that fact. And if I can’t deny it, I have to deal with it, factor it in, understand that compromise and some surrender is not only necessary, it is right, just and proper. Not sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not there, blinding myself up in my own personal experience of ‘connection to the Land’.

  • rachsd says:

    Hi Ari,

    When you say that people get ‘caught up’ in the injustice to Palestinians, it seems as though you are minimizing our connection as Jews to other human beings and their sanctity. The settlement project is not just unjust because it involves Jews settling on land that many believe or hope will become part of a Palestinian state, but even more so from a human rights perspective, because allocation of resources in the Territories favors Jews over others to such an extent that Jews building new settlements is systemically linked to administrative house demolitions in some areas and to deallocation of vital resources such as water from Palestinian towns.

    This does not mean that Jews don’t have a connection to Judea and Shomron, but I think it does mean that responding to that connection by building settlements is unethical.

  • Morry says:

    I find the positions put by both Frosh and Shira fascinating, but I find Ari’s very compelling. Up until the mid 70s Israel was widely supported and liked. Suddenly, despite being attacked on Yom Kippur by two of the most powerful Arab armies, the conflict’s definition moved from Arab-Israeli with Israel as underdog, to Palestinian-Israeli with the Palestinians as underdog. I think that this switch in media and academic perceptions (and it would be wonderful to understand how it came about) led to many Jews losing the Jewish narrative. And if we don’t understand or believe in our own narrative, why in the world would anybody else? Perhaps it’s time somebody published a concise Jewish narrative, with appropriate links … though I feel very saddened at the need to even suggest it. Our grandparents knew the narrative, and the fact that so many in our generation have lost it doesn’t bode well for continued Jewish survival.

    I’m not convinced of Shira’s “rejection of the primitive”. As far as I know, most Australians accept Aboriginal ties to land, but couple it with Frosh’s skin colour, and maybe. I tend to hold with the belief that people have historically grown to perceive others as stereotypes. There is something wrong with an Irishman who doesn’t get drunk and start a fight, and there is something very wrong with a Jew who fights back … it’s just not Jewish. The perception, even amongst many in our own community, seems to be that Jews shouldn’t demand, nor make waves …Jews are eternal givers.

  • Ari says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I guess in response to your first assertion I should have been more clear. I am not claiming that there are no other very important Jewish values and other universal values that should be expressed if someone feels that they are being breached by the State of Israel. I am claiming that from some circles we only hear the latter and nothing of the former. You don’t often hear a leftist begin an article on the settlements with describing the Jewish people’s unending relationship with the Land and then begin a discussion of other Jewish values that are also important.(One may also claim that the opposite is true in opposing circles)(Akiva: Perhaps the reason I am not aware of your version of why we should be here is due to the fact that you never really mentioned it in your posts). Caught up not in the sense that it is trivial, rather in the sense that they forgo other issues. As I said, if we are prepared to leave Yehuda and Shomron without the Palestinians recognising our rights to it, or our rights to be here at all as a Jewish state we have not achieved anything in the way of peace.

    In terms of your second point I am not sure that I understand it fully, nor am I sure of a source for what you suggest. If you imply new settlements mamash I have to say that I am unaware of any new settlement being built in a number of years by any Israeli Government.
    If you suggest that every time a settlement expands then the army demolishes a Palestinian house to make room this also is very far from any reality in any settlement I have been to since there are almost no settlements close enough to any Palestinian house.
    If it is that statistically illegal home demolitions increase when there is a settlement being built somewhere I would be interested to see such statistics. Perhaps it could be explained in a number of different ways and may have more to do with manpower issues in the army.
    If you mean that settlements encroach on Palestinian land, which in some areas they do, then I do agree that the owners of the land(as long as they can prove ownership) should be compensated.

    One may argue that settlement building is unethical – what I wrote about was more to do with the need for, even such a person, to also speak stronly regarding the Jewish narrative – I don’t think this is impossible. What’s more, I think it’s necessary for ourselves and for others to know that the most basic Zionist narrative amongst the Far-Left and the Far-Right is pretty standard. That we have a strong connection to this land going back millenia. That we prayed for it and it was here we wished to build our national, cultural home. But that we disagree on political, strategic and perhaps ethical issues.

  • Ari says:

    After reading Frosh’s post I was reminded of an old memory of mine from either a Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanna service at the good old Hamakom. I was praying in front of two brothers well known in the community and one may even say communal leaders. I don’t remember exactly which section but upon reaching a section that dealt with returning to the Temple, or coming to Jerusalem or something like that the one turned to the other in a half joke half serious tone saying, “That’s a bit right wing isn’t it?”.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi this is a mainly a very interesting discussion and I would like to comment again but need time and head space.

    Ari your last comment is a little unedifying. It is in a poor taste to repeat what I have no doubt was a joke between brothers , in a very private place and setting..

  • Morry says:

    I largely found that I agreed with your last response to Rachel, Ari. In regards to the all-important issue of narrative, I know that there can be no peace without agreement on narrative. That requires actually studying and evaluating conflicting narratives and holding them up to the light of what we know to be historically accurate. In the Jewish world, this is especially true for people who didn’t grow up with familiarity with Jewish history and narrative. The bottom line is that only when people are convinced of the truth of a narrative will they actually advocate it.

    What troubles me in these post-modern times are the number of people who are so emotionally committed to a narrative, that they abhor any arguments that may challenge that narrative. It is particularly true of many that I have discussed these issues with, who define themselves as “left”, who will broach no criticsms of the Arab narrative, no matter how irrational (they will sometimes even insist that the Palestinians are descended from the Philistines … a laughable proposition, given that the Philistines were an Aegean boat people, whilst the Palestinians are all Semitic Arabs who stem from the Arabian Peninsula, and who, historically, only adopted the label “Palestinian” in the late 1960s in order to lay claim to land), yet have an entirely warped view of the Jewish narrative, that they refuse to adjust. For those seeking to settle conflicts, that inability to look closely, openly, and rationally at conflicting narratives is probably the greatest hurdle.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    At this point, I could probably spend a full day writing a response to some of the points made here concerning a) Jewish narratives b) Palestinian narratives, but I have been critical of BOTH for the record, but I also have documented on this site in fact, Palestinian statements for recognizing the significance of the Jewish narrative.

    But where I really do differ is ‘historicity’ of the entire Jewish narrative and its transfer into political and religious-nationalist truth claims, given the ‘intervention’ of at least 1300 hundred years of Arab history. And to Air, I really don’t know the ‘truth’ of claims made about Kings, or the Judges–these are powerful pieces of literature for which there is limited historical evidence. But in any case, it doesn’t matter as you well know. These are components of a religious cultural narrative that has helped form who and what we are.

    What has happened is that the 19th century rationalism which was exemplified in the Pittsburgh statement of Reform Judaism, under the influence of Zionism and the holocaust has been largely dropped from the conversation–the ethical/moral component of the religion which was put at the centre has been replaced by blood, belonging and history. Thus, for example, you could no longer be an ‘American Jew’, but you HAVE to be an American Zionist Jew’ to be seen as fulfilled and this line has been pushed more and more in contemporary decades.

    So to argue for a narrative that is ‘true’ and that will ‘convince’ people is very dangerous and falls into all the traps of ‘blood and belonging’ and ethno-nationalism ( also a book by Michael Ignatieff). Somewhere in the works of Richard Rubinstein in a discussion of the akedah, he more or less justifies religious anger and violence as a primal need because Jews have been so violated in the past–and I see a lot of this ‘in your face’ attitude coming through in at least the settler movement, but I am not saying that Ari has this viewpoint, but I see it as a very unfortunate outcome of a ‘muscular Judaism’. Ari asks for my views about homeland. I think the ‘Zionist project’ like many ideological movements in this century has run its course and it is deep crisis. However, I have no issue with ‘the land’ being a cultural and religious locus without it impinging on the rights of others.

    I also find Morry’s arguments about the ‘left’ and its attitude to uncritically accepting the Palestinian narrative also without empirical confirmation, and you in particular, cannot include people like myself in that category. I think it has little to do with your label of post-modern relativism and much more to do with realistic politics.

    BTW I also try to avoid the word indigenous entirely in the Israel/Palestine argument. It is a worthless term because no one knows who came first in blood, cultural, or any other terms (and I am not going for any of the Sholmo Sand rubbish by the way).

    As for Ari’s claims about the largely benign nature of the settlement movement, how Arab property is treated etc, I think a couple of hours with any of the groups that closely monitor the settler movement and human rights would disabuse this proposition (e.g. Betselem)

    Finally, I believe that your conversation would greatly benefit from a face-to-face conversation with Palestinians who feel equally strongly about their narrative. I think to much time is spent looking at one’s own belly button on this issue.

    In any case, I think I need to tune out of this argument, because I am preparing something else for Galus.

  • Mark Baker says:

    hi Ari, You obviously don’t pray with enough kavannah if you overheard those two brother talking about korbanot at Hamakom. I assume you must mean the Leibler brothers.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Are settlements benign? Another argument to think about before becoming too precious about narrative and turf..[though I am not so sure about the war crime equation]


    In deciding to back the boycott of Ariel theatre in the West Bank, Frank Gehry, the Canadian-American architect of Guggenheim fame, joins a growing body of professionals who are making a stand against the illegal settlements. Ariel, a quintessential illegal settlement, is continually expanding to fit the over-generous boundaries staked out over Palestinian land, choking the development of Palestinian villages nearby. Its new state-funded cultural centre, 20 years in the construction, is due to open in November.

    Architecture and planning are instruments of the occupation, and constitute part of a continuing war against a whole people, whether as a minority within Israel’s green line, or in the occupied territories. Since this involves dispossession, discrimination and acquisition of land and homes by force, against the Geneva conventions, it can be classified as participation in war crimes.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Ari – if Mark is right and you were referring to the Leibler brothers, that’s shocking! When I commented, I thought you were talking about the Ritterman brothers!

  • Mandi Katz says:

    this has been a mostly really interesting discussion.

    I am not sure why Frosh made that comment about Uganda – I don’t think anyone in this discussion has suggested that there is no real connection between Jews and the land of Israel – discussion has been about the nature of that connection: how essential, and importantly, which bits of land it necessarily involves.

    The way we identify with Israel – the land, the entity, the culture – is different for everyone. I’m not sure I love any land. I certainly hold Jewish statehood very dear I also simply love Israel – the country. It feels silly to say it because it’s kind of jingosistic and I have spent only a very small proportion of my life there, but I love what the country and therefore inherently the land means even if I can’t truly say and mean that I love the land itself.

    But other factors also influence that identity in a very real way. When I Still lived in South Africa I went to Israel in 1983 as a teenager, for three months on a school program. I was even then conscious of how disadvantaged and other ‘Arabs’ were. I have this perfectly clear memory of watching some Palestinian kids play in the dirt with stones near some building work in East Jerusalem – snotty noses, under dressed, too thin. So completely different to the well nourished, confident Israeli kids (all with cute little backpacks). It was all very familiar to me given where I came from. I remember also going to Jericho on that trip – no dramas or security issues in those pre intifada days . It was so beautiful – I can still see all the palm trees – but it didn’t feel like Israel to me, and again I recall so clearly feeling the ‘otherness’ of Arabs/Palestinians to Israel and knowing even as a teenager that the people in Jericho were second class residents – powerless and disenfranchised – and because of where I came from, understanding what that meant. It was a two tier country.

    On that trip, Arabs were absent from the Israel we were shown – we met and spoke to any number of Israelis – kids, adults, politicians, kibbutzniks, but no Arabs – except those working in the kitchens or with whom we haggled in the shuk.

    So those initial experiences almost thirty years ago affected my sense of connection to the land.Identity forms over time – and for me much as I care about Israel and yes, dream of it, and even cry about it I think that’s as much about what Israel means to me as a Jew – and about the language, and culture and people – as about the land itself. Of course Israel as an idea without a land is nothing. I get that. But it doesn’t have to be every bit of land and its not the land itself which is so valuable – its what it enables.

    So when I express a less emphatic love of all of the land for its own sake , I am not burying my sense of connection under layers of assumed sophistication and complexity, or to serve my political views. Accusing me of that – and I do feel so accused in this discussion – is insulting to the integrity of my identity.

    On another discussion on this site a blogger, Ariel, wrote. “Larry asks “Thus they might ask, in the interests of peace, how much of your narrative are you prepared to give up in the interests of peace?”My answer is “none”. I don’t have to give up my narrative and beliefs in order to facilitate peace and a Palestinian state. I will always yearn for Hebron etc, even if under a Palestinian state I can’t go there….”

    I was quite overwhelmed by the pain of those words. Not for me – I don’t need to go to Hevron – I’d like to but to me the cost of a Jewish presence there is too high and I have lived fine all my life without it. But I felt his pain, the cost to his identity. Does my identity not deserve the same respect? Why do I and others face accusations of dissembling if what we say we feel is different to what other people think we should feel?

    So narratives, Morry, I disagree that narratives are a precondition to peace. Peace is principally about borders and security .

    There are multiple narratives among Zionists – and there are many Israelis who have moved on from Zionism and see this all as silly. Israel is their home – narrative is unnecessary. As to why our children have a different sense of narrative. Because the narrative has changed, as facts emerge and our understanding changes.You and I read Leon Uris’s Exodus. That was one narrative. My kids watch youtube and see an Israeli solder bellydancing around a blindfolded Palestinian woman or soldiers rocking the kasbah in Hevron. Contributes to a very different narrative.

    And what about the specifics of the Ethiopian narrative, the narrative of Jews from Arab countries,the post Soviet Russian Jewish narrative. There is no one narrative.

    And Morry Israel is a huge part of contemporary Jewish identity- in a way the main game for the Jewish world – but the narrative you speak of when you refer to Jewish continuity is less than 150 years old and our traditions are thousands of years old and are deeper, bigger, broader than Israel.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    I’m not sure if Mandi was referring to me, but please let me point out that my 2 answers to the question Frosh posed were purely theoretical. They were just 2 answers that came to my mind in thinking about the possible psychological underpinnings of the fact that Jewish connection to the land is downplayed. I was not referring to anyone in particular and didn’t mean to cause offense to anyone.

    Mandi – re what you say about different narratives. I would not consider the examples you give as being different narratives – to me, the narratives of European Zionists, Ethiopians, Russians, Middle Eastern Jews, modern Israelis etc are all part of one narrative which includes many cultures and progresses along many periods in time. These narratives complete each other, they don’t compete. Having said that, we also need to be careful what we include in our narrative. Aberrations, such as a soldier bellydancing around a blindfolded Palestinian woman, should be recognised as the actions of lone individuals which are not characteristic of our general experience.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Shira, a lot of people would now argue that the sick belly dancer, that woman solider with the blindfolded prisoner a few weeks ago, and lots of other things like that are in fact emblematic of the narrative of 43 years of occupation and cannot be dismissed as an aberration but are the all-too-well-documented underbelly of the privilege of living a life without the ‘other’ or constantly patronizing and colonizing the ‘other’.

    I argue that you just can’t eliminate it from any ‘dreaming’ anymore and claim that it is an aberration than a logical outcome of long-term oppression.

    Some would argue that it has always been the bad side of the dream, a side which most people never knew existed because they were so focussed on securing a new life in a time of crisis. I remember that rug with Herzl on the wall in the Sukkah–that was part of the dream and narrative I grew up with (http://tiny.cc/kx5sl) I have photos of family in Tel Aviv in the 20s–Arabs were far, far from their narrative of a new bourgeois life free of anti-semitism in fledging Tel Aviv. Yet the ‘other’ was just down the road, and the other side of my family were well aware of Turks and Arabs having left there around 1910.

    I must say, as well, I resent having to even justify my position by ‘proving’ my connections and ‘loyalty’. This need to prove love/connection demonstrates to me a deep insecurity and a constant need for reinforcement-perhaps a tacit realization that not all is what it seems.

    So the world (and many liberal and politically progressive Jews) aren’t so accepting of exclusivist nationalisms don’t mix well with democratic principles, and come over more badly when they are mixed with a rejection of democratic principles–which the Israeli right seems to represent increasingly.

    I know the case of indigenous Australians will be raised, as comparable to ‘Jewish rights to a homeland’ but that is different, because as far as we know, they were the exclusive inhabitants of the land, and were deprived of their traditional ownership. Nor is their claim mixed with nationalism of a modern sort. They are a culture whose whole existence is much more bound up with the land than Jews can realistically claim. I know that we can prove that Jews lived here, Jews lived there–I remember being shown in great excitement by a settler some very old Hebrew graffiti on a building on the outskirts of Hebron, and I thought at the time–so? You’ve got the State of Israel, isn’t that enough, given the politics of the situation?

    To claim otherwise is engaging in a sort of backwards (if there is such a thing), reading into a MODERN political truth claims, strong claims of exclusive ownership, title and property when the historical reality of exclusive ownership ended a long long time ago. Thus, neither you or I should have more rights as foreign Jews than a Palestinian born in Palestine should we choose to live in Israel: to buy property where we want, claim all sorts of benefits, and to get far more support for our social and welfare needs. That is unfair and shows, I believe, that the narrative has resulted in some fatal flaws and it needs a fundamental change and for some of us, it is a dead ideology.

    In terms of cultural and religious connection to Israel, for those who want it (and I share it in part), I have no problem, but when it comes to political inequality and oppression I have a big problem. And by the way, I want to pose similarly difficult questions to Palestinians about the nature of a democratic secular consitution: can it avoid the problems that Zionism has got itself into, with trying to legitimise the exclusive rights of one group over another.

    I would rather spend the next 30 years or so (until the Martians take me away) debating and being engaged in a conflict resolution and building a intercommunal partnership for peace with realists on both sides, than having to deal with what at times can become self-serving and self-justifying avoidance of asking very hard questions about the usefulness and legitimacy of one’s basic assumptions, including one’s narratives. And this applies to both communities, but since Israel has the balance of power, that team has a special responsibility.

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    Hi Mandi,

    I only said what I did as a memory which made me smile at the time and again when I thought of it as I read Frosh’s post.

    G’day Mark,

    I always have kavannah except when people are talking behind me :-P.
    (the Korbanot can be long)

    (Mandi, I’m not sure the Leibler’s ever prayed at Hamakom, atleast not regularly – I feel like the singing and overall happiness would have been a bit much for them. I also excluded the name specifically because the post was not so important.)

  • Morry says:

    Mandi, I read your response with interest, but feel that we are often making the same point in different ways. For me, all your narratives are but one narrative. You may have confused me with somebody else, because my narrative doesn’t begin 150 years ago, it does begin thousands of years ago when a new people, a new nation, our ancestors, complete with kings, laws and borders, was born in the area we today call Palestine, and is therefore native to that area. In this world of proofs, the evidence for that is genetic, historical and confirmed archeologically. That I would assume, Mandi, is the beginning of every Jew’s narrative, because it is the start of what makes us uniquely Jewish.

    The rest it seems is perception. Where you see multiple narratives I see one narrative of one people. The experiences of the Sfaradim remain an integral part of my narrative, as it is the story of my people.

    If you’re looking for a true peace, in which people accept your right to be there, will visit your country and co-operate on projects, then it will be because they accept your narrative. If peace to you means the absence of war, then you’re absolutely right, narratives are irrelevant. In the culture that is the Middle East, a powerful Israel well supported around the world is enough.

    As to Zionism, you’re right again, it has been seen as largely unnecessary in Israel since way before you credit it. Truth to tell, it is also largely irrelevant to us in its original form, which is why it has subtly changed over the years into a statement of personal aspiration. Perhaps if Israel wasn’t still under existential threat, Zionism may have completely disappeared. Anti-Zionism, though is a very different thing to not seeing the point of Zionism, because it represents a rejection of the very concept of a Jewish state.

    Lastly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with narratives changing. I’m not sure what you mean by “narrative”, but for me it is little more than your story, largely based on your history. It is entitled to change … mine certainly does in its nuances all the time, as new things come to light.

    Let me try to explain why the land isn’t “just land”, certainly not to me. When I first arrived on the kibbutz and was shown around, there was a spectacular view of the Jezreel valley. Our “guide” pointed out various sights. “There Deborah fought Cicero, and there Jonathan and David played at firing arrows, and that naked hill, Mt Gilboa, was cursed by David when Jonathan and Saul died on it, and despite the JNF’s best efforts, no reforestation program has taken there”. The kibbutz was originally built on a Tel, and after every rain bits of Jewish and Roman history would be washed up, old coins, pottery etc. That soil holds our history, Mandi, our “narrative”. In much the same way as Christian pilgrims flock to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in Jerusalem, when we walk on that soil we tread where our ancestors trod. Walls and mosaic floors were made by them. They looked out at the ocean where I looked out at the ocean, and their remains are buried beneath my feet. For me every inch was a journey of discovery. I think it’s a little more alive than the bag of dirt you buy at the nursery.

    And here we are looking at giving away the cave where our first ancestors lie buried. Hebron, our second holiest city. It’s not just land, but a major part of our history, our narrative, our soul … something that we’ve been out of touch with for so long, that for many it is indeed no more than real estate to be easily bartered away.

  • The problem with the arguments made in this blog is that they have left G-d out of the picture.

    The cost of holdng on to Hebron, for instance, would be nil and peace would b ours if Israel would embrace its true identity if Israel would stop adopting non-Jewish ideologies, or policies, and trying to gain favour from the non-Jewish nations.

    The only way to fight a war morally and to obtain a moral victory is the Jewish way through Torah law. There is no more compassionate and ethical way to approach war than the Torah way. The Halachas of Milchama or Laws pertaining to war are quite complicated yet, specific.

    The policy of inhibiting IDF soldiers from containing situations results in increased widespread bloodshed f both Jews and Arabs. Negotiations, land give-a-ways and other appeasement policies prolongs warfare resulting in more death and destruction.

    Israel is in a constant state of war due to its weakness and its repeated capitulation of the successive Israeli governments. Israel is ion a constant state of war because its leaders and its culture have moved away from the Biblical definition of what the Holy Land is and therefore do not have the courage or the pride to unequivocally state the truth to the world–The land of Israel is ours because G-d gave it to us as it says in the Bible. As billions of people in the world believe in the Bible they will know this to be a true fact.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Shoshanna, you are entitled to your view but I don’t believe many Torah observant Jews would agree with you, let alone the vast majority of Jews.

    Short of a miraculous solution with Mashiach (and probably not even then – have you read about Gog & Magog and the huge toll it is prophesied to take on all of us, Jews and non-Jews alike??) it is incredibly naive to say that “the cost of holdng on to Hebron…would be nil and peace would b[e] ours if Israel would embrace its true identity if Israel would stop adopting non-Jewish ideologies”.

    There will ALWAYS be a cost to holding on to Hebron. The magnitude of the cost depends on the strategies used to maintain our sovereignty there, and whether or not you are able to justify that cost to yourself and live with its consequences is a matter of personal opinion. But whatever strategies or solutions are implemented, it is hugely probable that death, homelessness and disillusionment will ensue. One might be able to accept a number of deaths to achieve a goal, but it would be incredibly callous to feel no regret whatsoever and ignore the fact that any cost was involved. Whether or not one is able to live with it, even one Palestinian death is a cost.

    And I would be extremely careful about applying the laws of milchemet mitzvah today. There is no nevuah and no urim v’tumim nowadays, so you would have to be pretty sanctimonious to wage a so-called milchemet mitzvah today.
    And even if you could make an argument for a milchemet mitzvah, does that absolve you of the responsibility to recognise the human cost? The Tanach doesn’t ignore the cost of the wars it describes – even though the war may be justified, as compassionate human beings we are still required to recognise the cost. The laws of eshet yefat to’ar are a good example of this – in Biblical times, if a Jewish soldier wanted to marry a girl from an enemy nation, who had been taken captive, he first had to allow her a period of time to mourn for her lost relatives and circumstances before approaching her. I’m not saying we should apply this law nowadays. I am saying that, especially given the values and practices of general society in Biblical times when prisoners of war were considered spoils of war, this law preserves the humanity of enemy victims, and in so doing it also preserves our own humanity. It belittles our humanity for us to see even a divinely-sanctioned war as devoid of cost.

    Now I do agree with you that Israel should display a stronger pride and conviction in its own identity and kowtow less to international pressure. But I don’t agree with you that the rationale for this is because the rest of the world doesn’t matter, or will just fall into line as long as we keep the 613 mitzvot. We can’t live in a bubble and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist, or will fall into line if we keep the 613 mitzvot. My reasoning for why we should display a stronger pride in our identity is because we can’t expect others to respect us and our beliefs if we don’t respect them ourselves.

  • So much misplaced compassion for our impacable foe who has nothing but hatred and bloodthristy plans for the destruction of our own people. For an explanation for this see here: see this:

    Neither you or I are knowledgable enough in Torah law to be able to expound on how the Israelis would direct their war strategy if indeed it was dictated by Torah. Rabbonim steeped in halacha would be the ones to advise this. The Lubavitcher Rebbe believed the military men, and not the politicians, should ultimately have the last word on war time decisions.

    A war fought with Torah principles automatically includes compassion, but also excludes the suicidal impulses of the Jewish left.

    And we have indeed have had nevuah in our day. The Lubavitcher Rebbe had nevuah. Look it up yourself, his numerous prophecies are well documented.

  • This is very succinct blog encapsulating the Rebe’s views on the path to peace:
    Have a Gut Shabbos

  • will says:

    @ Larry, Have you read Sand’s book? I am curious because firstly I am yet find someone who has dismissed it entirely who has read it, and secondly, from what I gather so far (of the first 20 pages or so) it is exists within a historiography of nationalism that doesn’t seem to depart very far from your own understanding of nationalism.

    As awkward as the comparison is, I cannot help but link in my mind West Bank settlements and pastoral leases and native title. Sure, white families running cattle stations have a strong attachment and mythologies around land, sure it is owned “legally”, sure kicking “white people” off the land would be a social and economic pain in the arse, but Indigenous land aspirations are not contingent on these factors.

    My forebears were British Jews who bought with them all the arrogance, prejudice, privilege that being “British”/”white” afforded in Australia. Most non-Indigenous people were little different in this respect. They were granted privileges as “whites” that Arab/African Jews, let alone “Chinese”, “Aboriginal” people etc probably would not have been afforded. Jews from Europe brought colonial attitudes whereever they went in the world, just as all other Europeans did – there is nothing remarkable or surprising about this.

  • frosh says:


    Your comment typifies what I was referring to. You frame Jews as a ‘white’ people rather than a Semitic people, and then seem to make a value judgment from there about who is indigenous, and thus who has a right to the land.

    I’m not sure if you limit this perception of being non-Semitic to Ashkenazi Jews or to all Jews. Either way, as I’ve said, this perception is a rather recent one.

    In terms of a right to the land, I feel we should recognise that both people’s have a legitimate narrative.

    As for Shlomo Sand’s revisionist book, genetic research (to say nothing of basic history) contradicts his theories.

    Here’s a starting point for you:

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Shira – I was referring in part to your comments but no offence whatsoever taken. I used the word “accuse” but I meant an intellectual, not personal, way – when we put our feelings and ideas out there on a blog, we have to cop the comments we get – and yours fairly addressed the issues not the person. Its great to have a broad(ish) forum to talk about this stuff . But I have felt that this discussion has been reluctant to accept that when some of us say that if we don’t feel connected to the land in that same deep way, that there is an insistence we must be somehow dissembling – or is there a subtext that if we don’t have that deep feeling, maybe we aren’t real/good Zionists?

    Which is different from the idea raised a couple of times in this discussion that its important to acknowledge the sincerity and depth of idnetification and narratives different to our own (just now nicely stated by Frosh – more so than his “hilarious” comments about Hovevei Uganda)

    Also not sure exactly what Larry meant by “shonky” myths – perhaps not a very helpful way to describe something held dear by someone else if you are trying to have a generative discussion. Aren’t myths shonky by definition? So in a way all stories are a bit “shonky” – but having a story is a critical part of cultural identity.

    Morry – I found your response really interesting and read it a couple of times. I want to think more about whether in the absence of faith, the more educated and therefore analytical you are, the harder it is to hold onto any kind of narrative. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who I think is so insightful on the substance of Jewish identity writes that we are at risk of losing the “script of the Jewish story”, and to him it “comes down to faith… We are not nor can we predicate our survival on remaining an ethnic group, a secular culture or a constellation of fading memories.Each of these can provide an identity but it is one that has a life span of at most three generations…Ethnicity carries no obligation. Culture does not command. Memory in and of itself does not ask us to commit ourselves to what it is that we are perpetuating”

    That’s very challenging to those of us who cherish our Jewishness but struggle with faith, or for whom faith is not even on the agenda….

    Shabbat shalom all.

  • Larry Stillman says:


    I have read most of Sand’s book except for the genetic stuff. I have exchanged thousands of words with other people about the book’s key faults.

    I regard it as extremely sloppy historiography. No serious historian will touch it with a ten foot pole. The only really credible reviews are by Israeli, French and British historians in one Israeli academic journal, online in eg Haaretz, and Les Temps Modernes, by people who have a good knowledge of what he is covering.

    I am quoting from wikipedia here

    “Israel Bartal, dean of the humanities faculty of the Hebrew University, in a commentary published in Haaretz,[9] writes that Sand’s basic thesis and statements about Jewish historiography are “baseless”. Bartal answers to “Sand’s arguments (…) that no historian of the Jewish national movement has ever really believed that the origins of the Jews are ethnically and biologically “pure” [and that] Sand applies marginal positions to the entire body of Jewish historiography and, in doing so, denies the existence of the central positions in Jewish historical scholarship.” Bartal refers to Sand’s overall treatment of Jewish sources as “embarrassing and humiliating.” He adds that “The kind of political intervention Sand is talking about, namely, a deliberate program designed to make Israelis forget the true biological origins of the Jews of Poland and Russia or a directive for the promotion of the story of the Jews’ exile from their homeland is pure fantasy.” Bartel summarizes his critique of Sand’s characterization of Jewish historiography as follows: “as far as I can discern, the book contains not even one idea that has not been presented earlier in their books and articles by what he insists on defining as “authorized historians” suspected of “concealing historical truth,”” and calls the overall work “bizarre and incoherent.”[9]”

    The review by Martin Goodman, cited in the notes to the Wikipedia article is v. good I think see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shlomo_Sand

    Sand considers the reviews a conspiracy of sorts against him. Much as I differ with some of their invective against his anti-Zionism, they are on the mark in identifying his weak historical knowledge and history.

    The people who tend to praise his book seem to think that quoting a bunch of historians second hand, casting aspersions on them and then going for the most extreme interpretation and oversimplification is good history.

    What concerns me most is that he revives various crude historical theories that have been closely associated with anti-Semitism and the worst sort of prejudice and I suppose inability to see that the concept of Jewishness is quite complex. In part, his problem is due to a complete ignorance of the religious/ethnic tradition and a framing of the problem due to a rigid theoretical framework which he takes as true, when a good historian would work the other way around.

    However, this is not to say that I do not share a historical view of Judaism that regards much of the past as mythmaking as part of a national epic, but he takes too many wrong turns down that path.

    Thus , I don’t go for the implications and the tone of his book that there is NO connection between ancient and contemporary Jews.

    He makes no mention, and would be unable to explain for example, the constant yearing for Zion in eg. yehudah Ha levi, a thousand years after exile –that can’t just be explained as a false consciousness.

    I suggest that there is an ancient connection, ‘we’ come from somewhere, blood our blood lines are thin, and it gives ‘us’ no political rights as far as I am concerned because of the 100 or more generations that have passed since the destruction of the second temple. Nor does that of itself mean that we are all part of the one and the same narrative.

    We need to take into account the continuing changes & historical presence of others so while there are cultural and religious needs (on the point of a fetish in some cases), that have in part grown up as a result of the crisis of Jewish life in the 20th century these should not be at anyone else’s expenses.

    Where I think he goes wrong is his absolutism.

    But I am sympathetic in part to his criticism of the contemporary politics of Israel and aspects of his critique of Z. historiography and mythmaking I hope that makes sense but there is such a tone of nastiness I find the book difficult to take seriously on that front. Others have done a better job.

    I could write a lot more about this, but I am very short of time at the moment.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Shoshanna, I will respond to your post so that people reading this section won’t think your claims are typical of all orthodox Jews.

    1. You claim that I have “so much misplaced compassion for our implacable foe who has nothing but hatred and bloodthirsty plans for the destruction of our own people” – Shoshanna, compassion as an emotion is not misplaced, at least in regard to innocent people on the other side of this war. For it to be the only factor informing policy would be misplaced.

    Do you want more examples? How about the law prohibiting bnei yisrael to cut down fruit trees when besieging a city? The rationale given in the Torah for this halacha is that trees are not enemy soldiers, so what could be the point of cutting them down? The message here is that even in a justified war, we must keep the goals in sight and not sanction violence or destruction just because we’re at war; in fact, it is precisely in this setting that we must most guard against it. Some degree of compassion, or at least a sensitivity to it, is always warranted – even for a non-human creation such as a tree. Hashem does not want us to be desensitised to wanton destruction.
    What about Hashem’s strong censure of Yonah for refusing to go to Ninveh and warn the sinners there that they can avoid destruction by doing teshuva? Clearly we have an obligation to feel for others.

    2. I don’t know you so I won’t presuppose whether or not you are “knowledgeable enough in Torah law to be able to expound on” anything at all. I assume you don’t know me, so I would appreciate the same courtesy. Having said that, I am not pretending to be knowledgeable enough for anything, but this is entirely unrelated to my post, as I did not even attempt to give a learned opinion on how a war should be halachically conducted.

    3. Despite not being Lubavitch myself, I was educated at Beth Rivkah and I have immense respect for Chabad and the Rebbe in particular. Without denigrating his massive contribution to modern Jewry, it borders on heretical to claim that we have had nevuah in our day.

  • Shira Weni,
    I am sure you are a very smart girl who did well in school, but the Torah teachings of how to put Israel on a path to peace is over most of our heads, as those psak dinim would need to be made by Torah scholars, by world respected Rabbonim, not by the likes of me or you.

    By misplaced compassion I am obviously referring to the compassion the left wing Jews have for our enemies. Can’t you make the distinction between innocents and our enemies?

    I have not said anything that would make you come to the conclusion that I do not have compassion for innocent victims of war. Are you projecting? Why are you preaching to me about compassion so smugly as if you have a monopoly on it?

    It is well known the Lubav Rebbe made hundreds of predictions that all came true,and that is certainly nevuah.

    Gut Shabbos.

    There is no more compassionate army in the world than the IDF.. What other army drops flyers warning the people to run away because the bombs are about to fall on their towns?

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Shoshanna, I don’t appreciate being patronised.

    When I said “compassion as an emotion is not misplaced, at least in regard to innocent people on the other side of this war”, I made the precise distinction between innocents and enemies which you evidently recognise too.

    I agree with you about the compassion of the IDF, in contrast to Larry’s opinion about reported episodes of soldiers gloating over Palestinians being characteristic rather than aberrations; I am also glad to hear that you share the value of compassion for innocent victims of war. My doubts about this stemmed from your comment that if we only followed the Torah, the cost of retaining Hebron would be nil. I am heartened to hear that this was not your intention.

  • Ari Silbermann says:


    Just a quick note. I was not intending to constantly make you justify your narrative, etc. I do however feel that in left wing circles these things are not talked about so that in the end students in these circles may not be exposed to such things and that to me is problematic.
    Some of the things you write about the problems with excessive nationalism I have also seen in some of the Halachic responsa opposing Zionism and I do think it is something that we need to be wary of.
    (I don’t mention the responsa as a way to justify why it is important as though I wouldn’t accept it if it was not written by a Rabbi)


    Many of your comments are problematic and as Shira said border on heresy and show a lack of appreciation for the meaning of Nevua(prophecy).
    Furthermore, I think that some of your assertions regarding war are misguided and display a lack of understanding of the very complex nature of halacha and Torah thought. I do agree that war is a part and parcel of halacha and tanach but one cannot dismiss the many messages contained in our Prophets and in the Gemarra espousing peace and its virtues.(I would urge you to read R’ Shalom Carmy’s article in 2006 Winter edition of Tradition and also, if your hebrew is good enough I suggest you read the following article in Techumin 23
    לחימה בשטח רווי אוכלוסיה אזרחית- הרב פרופ’ נריה גוטל
    for a study in the halachic considerations when fighting in a built up area.) As someone who lives in Israel I have to say that I would much prefer not to serve in the army, much rather not have to carry a weapon and do guard duty and I think that there is much in our tradition that supports me. In the spirit of that which is found in Berachot 5(This source is not dealing with our topic):
    רבי חייא בר אבא חלש על לגביה ר’ יוחנן א”ל חביבין עליך יסורין א”ל לא הן ולא שכרן א”ל הב לי ידך יהב ליה ידיה ואוקמיה

    I’ll finish with a question. You wrote:
    “The Lubavitcher Rebbe believed the military men, and not the politicians, should ultimately have the last word on war time decisions.”

    What if the military men decide that militarily it is necessary to retreat to pre-1967 boundaries?

  • Shira Wenig says:

    By the way, don’t misunderstand my previous post to mean that we are only required to feel compassion for innocents rather than sworn enemies. I think there is certainly a distinction to be made here, but Judaism also requires a degree of compassion even to our enemies. We say only half Hallel (rather than full hallel) on 7th day Pesach because that is when our Egyptian oppressors drowned in the Red Sea – the reason being that we cannot rejoice fully when ANY of God’s creatures are suffering.

  • will says:


    I am aware of the genetic research, think it fascinating, am sure it would be relevant to some Jews, and look forward to what mine has to say when I can scratch the moolah together. Gd forbid it becomes relevant to anything but historical curio though.

    Apparently I was unclear that I am talking about Askenazi Jews here.

    I am interested in the ways Jews have found to exercise agency in their lives throughout history, and am most interested in how this is done in often the dullest of ways. I want to be able to see Jews in history as agents, even if this means I don’t like all Jews in history. I think it is patronising, infantile and infantalising to cast Jews as victims (“go back”/”get out”/”uncool”), as though Jews (as anyone) are unable to sit in positions of relative power, as much as they are able to sit in positions of relative disempowerment. This is also to say that Europeans have consistently held themselves in higher regard than the rest of the world, and it is no different for European Jews, nor Europeans Jews to other Jews who are not European. I honestly think it bizaar that you would not see Europe in large parts of Israeli society, or see “Jewish identity” as unaffected by years in Euro diaspora.

    My comment was not about indigeneity, but power disparity (and that self determination isn’t always about free hold title). I see “whiteness” as aspirational/social rather than in racialised terms, and I see this manifest itself both through individual identification as collective identification (obviously when people who are not Jewish start deciding the parameters of Jewish identity we run into problems). This is where we get such terms as “more German than the Germans”, though Germans were not always carry “white” social capital in Australian history.

    It’s gracious of you to impart a recognition that both peoples have legitimate narratives, but the “facts on the ground” are that people are still under the delusion that Israel/Palestine is/was a “land without a people” – and if there are Australians here who really don’t see a link between this concept and the violence of “terra nullius”, I’d have to question where you’ve been the last 20 years.

    This feels like I am rambling and probably making even less sense, so it will have to do – too late on a Friday for this.

    Good shabbos.

  • Morry says:

    Shoshana, when you write:
    So much misplaced compassion for our impacable foe who has nothing but hatred and bloodthristy plans for the destruction of our own people you present a single-dimensional caricature of Palestinians, that indicates that you don’t know them very well. They are as multifaceted as Jews. As to compassion, are we not commanded to have compassion even for the Egyptians who died in the Reed Sea? How much more so for people whose lives are in the control of fanatics.

    Serious mistakes have been made. Talking to the PLO, Oslo, and the enablement of every terrorist group to enter the territories and operate freely under the PA unbrella are some of Israel’s mistakes, but I say that with the knowledge of hindsight. Like everyone else, I held out great hopes for that process. The world forcing Israel to recognise an unelected body, the PLO, dedicated to Israel’s destruction, who actually represented nobody but the extremists was another mistake. Today Palestinian children are brainwashed in schools, mosques, and on TV to martyr themselves … and believe me, Shoshana, Palestinian mothers who want this for their children are few and far between.

    There is no doubt that the average Palestinian is a victim, nor that the average Israeli is too. They are not victims of each other, but both are victims of a terrorist leadership that has taken over Palestinian lives, and forced Israelis into a defensive mode to stop those killing Jews and Arab citizens of Israel. If we are looking for a solution, it doesn’t lie in Israeli concessions … the Chamberlain experience should make that strikingly apparent. It lies in either helping the Palestinians break those shackles and find a truly representative leadership, or failing that, in abandoning the Palestinian experiment in favour of a Jordanian option or some other workable option that will break the deadlock. As long as the Palestinians are led by people whose ultimate hope is Israel’s destruction, who will recognise Israel, but not a Jewish Israel because they want that “Jewish” word to die, and when they say “two states” in their hearts know that both will be Palestinian, as long as these are the leaders there will be no peace, no matter what Israel does.

    Strangely, we have been discussing narratives, and in today’s news Tony Blair, too, has something to say about them. “Tony Blair appears to have come to the conclusion that until the west stamps out false narratives from extremists, the west will not succeed on terror”. I think this is doubly true for Israel.

  • Morry says:

    Will, you clearly have not read much about the complexities of the Middle East,and your comparisons to Australia are way out of line, because they reflect nothing of Palestine.

    Firstly, the Jewish people was born in the Levant in the area known as Palestine. Whether you accept the existence of king David or not, that is nevertheless where the Jews became a nation, powerful or not, ruled by kings. It’s not because the Bible says so, but because it has been established both archeologically and genetically. That, by definition, makes Jews indigenous. Palestinians are semitic Arabs who first arrived in the 7th century as conquerors and colonisers, from their native Arabian Peninsula.

    Having identified the indigenous natives in this history, the Jews, we can consider land ownership and other rights. From the time the Roman Empire destroyed Judea and Israel till the fall of the Ottoman Empire, this area know as “Palestine” was always part of one empire or another, never a national home to anybody. The Ottomans owned the bulk of the land (some 80-90%) as state land. The definitve British “Survey of Palestine 1947″ has land ownership for local Arabs (Palestinians today) at 3.9%, and for Jews at 6.9% … precious little on both counts.

    In 1924 the Mandate of Palestine was partitioned into an Arab homeland, “TransJordan”, and a Jewish homeland, “Palestine”. It should have followed the pattern of the division of India into India and Pakistan, except for huge power plays and dogmas amongst the Arabs that forced them to reject the very idea of a Jewish governing presence.

    Let me make my point clear, the vast Ottoman state lands after WW1 belonged to the League of Nations, and were theirs to give away legally, with no inverted commas. These tracts of land were big enough to define nations, and so Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine (the Jewish homeland), anf Egypt were created.

    Will, if you are to question the legitimacy of the land that passed to the Jews (and by that same agreement that land includes both the West Bank and Gaza, in the common vernacular), then you must also question the legitimacy of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq etc, who all acquired their land the same way, carved out of the same Ottoman state lands.

    I don’t really want you to accept what I’m saying, I only hope that it’s enough to make you want to investigate, perhaps go to the primary documents in the UN archives (UNISPAL) that reproduce the agreements and the League of Nations resolutions that governed the Arab and Jewish homelands that it was hoped would emerge. It was undoubtedly hoped that giving the Palestinian Arabs (albeit under a Hashemite king) a massive 80% of Palestine would make them condusive to leaving the Jews in peace on their 20%, west of the Jordan River. How wrong they were.

    Will, it may well be as Frosh suggests, you have a serious problem with a white-skinned person being considered indigenous. Do you have any problems with white-skinned Aborigines? That seems to have become something of a norm of late. Or is it just that you can’t get away from associating Jews with Europe, despite Israel being majority Spharadi, most from Arab and African lands?

  • but Judaism also requires a degree of compassion even to our enemies. We say only half Hallel (rather than full hallel) on 7th day Pesach because that is when our Egyptian oppressors drowned in the Red Sea – the reason being that we cannot rejoice fully when ANY of God’s creatures are suffering.

    I agree with you 100% Shira Wenig

  • Akiva says:

    I would be interested in this discussion continuing in light of the new Israeli oath of loyalty?

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Hi Akiva – whats there to say? The oath of loyalty is an example of narrative being exploited and turned into dangerous – and exclusive – patriotism.

    More interesting news about narrative – this article reports as follows:

    “The Palestinian Authority’s Education Ministry approved the use of a history textbook that offers the central narratives of both Palestinians and the Zionist movement, marking the first time that the accepted Israeli position is being presented to schoolchildren in the West Bank.The textbook… has been banned from use by the Israeli Education Ministry…”


    Yesterday afternoon I attended a discussion facilitated by Jewish Aid Australia on refugees yesterday where someone read the comment ” No humans are more human than any other humans” ?

    Sitting at that forum with those words going through my head I thought about Palestinian refugees (not the subject of the forum), Darfuri refugees who were the discussion of the forum , and also Jewish post war refugees – in a sense all refugees because of someone’s’ narrative, I was struck by how narrative can shift from being about my identity/story to being about what someone else cant be. Viz the loyalty oath…

    Morry – you have has provided a detailed analysis of claims to Israel which ignores the tragic events of the last 43 years and which has to be part of that discussion.

    Israel came into the possession of the territories in a war of defence – always worth stating – but Israel has not annexed that land for all sorts of reasons and Israel’s narrative now includes the tragedy of these circumstances: most of the Palestinians living in the West Bank today have spent all their lives under Israel’s military occupation and without the human rights and protection that citizenship provides and for the last twenty or so years in circumstances of limited freedom of movement and all that entails -difficulty earning a living, lack of dignity – and the well documented issues to do with land allocation and resources allocation.

    Settlement activity is far from the only obstacle to the resolution of this. But for me Jewish narrative now has to include a core a commitment to justice for Palestinians – acknowledging the political difficulties of achieving that. Since Biblical times, Jewishness has not expected anything of us that harmed the rights of other people and I am not buying into any narrative that requires that now – connection to land or not.

  • Michael says:

    Settlements a non-issue, as these – no matter if dotted with 5 star resorts – would be subject to land swap anyway. It’s all a smokescreen.
    Though if Gaza is any indication these would probably be destroyed within a day just like the greenhouses were.

    True peace will come (well, start) when we Jews and Israelis stop undercutting each other and defer to the Torah as documented proof that we pre-date those trying to disown us. Whether you hold up the dead sea scrolls as primary source material from 2000 years ago or whether you hold up any old Tanach – it’s ours.

    The other side of it is social justice. We think that by doing X and doing X perfectly G-d must therefore act out Y. Put on tefillin, the right length socks, G-d will sustain you and your family in the land of Israel etc. This is pure paganism, as David Solomon (www.inonehour.net) points out. G-d isn’t some mathematical equation there for appeasement in physical ways by bringing Him sacrifices. G-d is sentient. Only when we treat each other well, refrain from oppressing the poor despite being in positions to do so, and so on will we deserve to remain in Israel. That’s the deal.
    And G-d tells Eliyahu after stripping him of his ability to prophesy – don’t worry, there are still 4000 people (out of 1 million +) whose knees have not bent to Baal. Meaning woe betide us in the majority who think we’re safe without working towards self-improvement and that of the community at large. Even if you say we will not be exiled again, G-d can easily replace us with those 4000 and be quite satisfied.

    Our hold on the land is dependent on us. On what we say, and how we act. Let’s do things the easy way, please.

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