Yes, Sometimes It Is Anti-Semitism

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

Ken Livingstone, formerly mayor of London, presently a member in very bad standing of the British Labour Party, can be thanked for this much: He has provided a painful moment of clarity in the debate over whether anti-Zionism is, at least sometimes, anti-Semitism.

The answer is yes. For instance, when one says that when Hitler came to power “in 1932 [sic], he was supporting Zionism,” as Livingston recently did, or when one says that not hating all Jews, just Jews in Israel, is not an anti-Semite, as he subsequently did.

This bears explanation. But first comes some context, and dispensing with certain reflexive objections. So let’s start here: Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suspended MP Naz Shah, a rising political star, from the party under heavy pressure from party colleagues after a series of her Facebook posts reached the public eye. In one, Shah suggested transferring Israel—by which she presumably meant the Jewish majority, not the Arab minority—to the United States. In another, she implied similarity between Israel and Nazi Germany. The list quickly grew.

Read moreYes, Sometimes It Is Anti-Semitism

On Lupine Hill — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Pepe Fainberg
illustration by Pepe Fainberg

Was it the sound of sage leaves parting that first alerted Hanoch? Or a disturbance in the penumbra reflected off a daisy? Whatever it was, his reaction was automatic, a swift movement followed only half a second later by a slower thought and Sitvanit’s scream. He drew his pistol and fired a single shot in the direction of the glint of scales. The snake, now visible, contorted and rolled and stained the ground red. Astounded that he had actually hit the animal and reading its dappled brown markings, he shoved Sitvanit away with his arm, took careful aim at the head, and fired another shot. The now headless snake shivered and writhed and fell still.

He took a step toward the dead animal, taking care not to step on the deep purple lupines that blossomed thickly by the path. Sitvanit stood frozen a few paces behind.

“Viper,” he announced. He looked around. The only others on the hill at this sunset hour were on the next peak over, across the shallow saddle from where he and Sitvanit stood, two pre-teen girls in long skirts and sleeves, accompanied by a mother and grandmother with white scarves over their heads. They were staring and he heard a faint murmur of voices, but a minute later they began descending the path down to the parking area, no doubt in a hurry to get out before dark.

He ran his left hand over the barrel of his pistol and found pleasure in its warmth.

Read moreOn Lupine Hill — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

The 100-Story Man in “The Forward”

by Naomi Zeveloff This February, Haim Watzman reaches an unplanned milestone: The Israeli-American writer will publish his 100th short story in The Jerusalem Report — in English. When Watzman moved to Israel in the 1970s, he planned to write exclusively in Hebrew. It was part of the “Zionist ideology,” he said, and was an opportunity … Read more The 100-Story Man in “The Forward”

Terrorists Want You to Be Very Afraid. So Don’t Be.

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect

The original meaning of words is washed away by overuse. So a reminder: Terrorism is intended to make you feel terror, to make fear flood your mind and keep you from thinking straight. That’s true whether it takes place in Paris, San Bernardino, or Jerusalem.

The first step in defeating terrorism, therefore, is to chill out.

Take a long slow breath. Then we can talk calmly about things to do next.Keep Calm and Carry On

Read moreTerrorists Want You to Be Very Afraid. So Don’t Be.

If Your Senator Is Considering Voting No on the Iran Deal, Ask Her to Read This

Gershom Gorenberg

And this, too, at The American Prospect:

In the least plausible alternative version of my life, I would have stayed in the San Fernando Valley rather than leaving Los Angeles over 40 years ago and moving not long afterward to Jerusalem. In that scenario, I’d be represented in Congress by Democrat Brad Sherman—and I might be less infuriated by his recent announcement that he’ll vote against the Iran deal, because if I were an Angeleno rather than an Israeli, his decision wouldn’t pose a threat to me, my neighbors and my country.

At this distance of years and miles, I don’t normally pay much attention to an L.A. congressman, but a random tweet alerted me to Sherman’s statement. New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s declaration that he’ll vote against the accord made more headlines, and is even more upsetting, given the relatively greater weight of each vote in the Senate. In both cases, their statements barely mention Israel, but their explanations track Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talking points for foiling the deal in Congress. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that Schumer and Sherman have devoted much of their study of the issue to their constituents and have concluded that voters who support the Vienna accord are a captive audience for a Democratic incumbent, while passionate opponents are swing voters and perhaps swing donors.

I imagine that Sherman, Schumer, and other Democrats who intend to vote against the agreement might respond that Netanyahu is, after all, Israel’s elected leader and therefore the accredited spokesman for its security concerns. But there would be a logical absurdity in that argument.

Read moreIf Your Senator Is Considering Voting No on the Iran Deal, Ask Her to Read This

Israel as a Republican State of Mind

Gershom Gorenberg

And this is now up at The American Prospect:

Mike Huckabee met reporters Wednesday at the Waldorf-Astoria on a campaign stop. This particular Waldorf-Astoria was in downtown West Jerusalem. Huckabee wanted to talk about Iran. The folks with microphones and cameras mostly wanted him to talk about his previous campaign event. That was a fundraiser at the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank—or as Huckabee insistently called the area, “Judea and Samaria,” which he said was part of Israel.

The journalists’ interrogation grew fiercer, and the ex-governor of Arkansas said time was up. As he made his escape, a foreign correspondent sitting strategically near the door asked: “Do you also think Gaza is part of Israel?” and another said, “Would you be the first president to abandon the two-state solution?”

“I’m not sure,” Huckabee replied to one question or the other. It was the most reality-linked response of a hallucinatory session. He was, in fact, clueless.

Jerusalem and Shilo, let us note, are certainly not part of the United States. But why should that bother a Republican presidential candidate? The GOP and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have, together, steadily blurred the border between Israel and America as separate polities.

Read moreIsrael as a Republican State of Mind

Six Days Shall You Tap Screens…

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column (with some inspiration from Marx and Levinas) is up at Hadassah Magazine:

I was not just stir-crazy but screen-crazy. I was working on two computer screens—my laptop’s and the big one on my desk—and had my Kindle on my left and a document open on my tablet on my right, which made four screens, except when one of my kids texted me, when the phone made five.

Illustration by Christiane Grauert.

I got on my bike. It was late afternoon, with a light Jerusalem breeze blowing. I rode along the promenade that overlooks the Old City, up to where it narrows into a path between tall evergreens, and found a stone bench where I could see the golden Dome of the Rock between the branches. I often come to the same spot on Shabbat, on walks with my wife.

Relief. I inhaled the scent of the woods and thanked God for green.

Then I pulled my phone off my belt. The motion felt like an involuntary twitch of my hand. Anyone watching might have thought that I was checking a news site, but I knew that the screen came first; the choice of what to tap came after. I realized what I had done, looked at the rectangle of glass and plastic and stuck it back on the belt clip.

I thought, “This does not happen to me when I come here on Shabbat.”

I don’t use screens on Shabbat.


It has been such a short time since screens were bulky boxes that we only used at our desks. Then they got smaller and lighter. It is so convenient to be able to take a laptop anywhere—look at me! I can answer my boss while sitting on the porch—especially when the laptop shrank into a tablet and a phone.

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Entering the Land and Going Out into the World

Haim Watzman

008601-000014This dvar Torah is an English version of one that appears in this week’s issue of “Shabbat Shalom,” the weekly Torah portion sheet published by Oz VeShalom/Netivot Shalom. The Hebrew version can be found here . Its dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher Sanford “Whitey” Watzman, who left us one year ago in the month of Av.

The modern religious public grapples with any number of challenges that our forefathers were spared, and which Jews living in more closed communities seldom encounter. One of the most frequent of these is how to recite Birkat HaMazon, the grace after meals, when one leaves the religious community and goes out into the world. It can be a problem to find the appropriate moment to say this rather lengthy blessing without raising eyebrows or causing impatience among your companions. It’s a common dilemma when one eats with fellow-Jews who do not observe the mitzvah, and when one eats with people of other religions, such as those whose custom is to thank the Lord prior to the meal but not afterward. It is also a problem when one eats with people who do not believe there is anyone to give thanks to. In such situations, I can only agree with the king of Kuzar who asks his Jewish interlocutor if his faith’s system of blessings is not more trouble than they are worth. Is the mitzvah trying to tell us to simply avoid such multicultural encounters? Is that the best way to observe it?

It is polite to say thank you, but if that is all Birkat HaMazonis about, why does it have to be so long? Why isn’t it enough to express gratitude in one’s heart? Furthermore, set blessings, like set prayers, easily become reflexive rote recitations. On a day-to-day basis, even if one wants to keep it fully, Birkat HaMazonis not an easy task—that is, it is so simple both to say its words and mean what it means. Blessings, like prayers, are meant to be “the Temple service of the heart,” and as such are supposed to demand thought and introspection. But when your head is full of other thoughts it easily becomes mechanical.

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Next Summer’s War — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

The Jerusalem winter that kept coming back had finally come to an end, or perhaps it was just taking another break. Whatever the case, the clouds had gone from dark and low to scattered and high, the wind had slowed from gale force to tickle, and the temperature had risen from ski gear to light jacket. It was the first Shabbat in weeks that you could go out without an umbrella. Ori and Dudi had gone to play with friends, so Ronen and Gali grabbed the opportunity.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
“Let’s go to the Tayelet,” Ronen suggested.

“It’s too cold,” Gali objected. She was half-reclining on their couch, being kicked from inside.

“But it’s warm today!”

“It’s still cold.”

“We haven’t been there for months.”

“No one goes there anymore. It’s like a ghost town. It gives me the creeps.”

“Well, then,” Ronen asked, “where should we go?”

“You know I hate making decisions.” She took Ronen’s extended hand and allowed herself to be pulled up slowly, so that she could keep her balance. “Why can’t you make up your mind?”

Since they had been married for nearly eight years, nothing in the previous exchange really meant anything.

Read moreNext Summer’s War — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

In 1968, Israel’s Own Lawyer Told It That Razing Suspects’ Homes Is Illegal

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at Haaretz:

It was March 1968. Yaakov Herzog, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, received a memo marked “Top Secret” from the Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, Theodor Meron. As the government’s authority on international law, Meron was responding to questions put to him about the legality of demolishing the homes of terror suspects in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and of deporting residents on security grounds.

His answer: Both measures violated the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in war. The government’s justifications of the measures – that they were permitted under British emergency regulations still in force, or that the West Bank wasn’t occupied territory – might have value for hasbara, public diplomacy, but were legally unconvincing.

The legal adviser’s stance in 1968 is important today precisely because it is unexceptional. It’s the view of nearly all scholars of international law, including prominent Israeli experts.

Read moreIn 1968, Israel’s Own Lawyer Told It That Razing Suspects’ Homes Is Illegal

Does the Court do Justice, or Legitimize Injustice?

On the Migron ruling and ‘The Law in These Parts’

Gershom Gorenberg

My new article is up at The American Prospect:

This time, it seems, justice has won: The West Bank settlement outpost of Migron must be demolished. So ruled the Israeli Supreme Court this week.

Migron is the best known of the outposts, small settlements set up across the West Bank since the ’90s with the help of Israeli government agencies—but without the government approval required under Israeli law since official approval would drawn too much publicity. The outpost stands entirely on privately owned Palestinian property. The landowners, with the help of Israel’s Peace Now movement, went to court in 2006. In this week’s decision, the court rejected a government proposal to put off evacuating the settlers for three years until new homes could be built for them elsewhere. The ruling blasts the proposal as “egregiously unreasonable” in light of the “grievous and ongoing harm to the rule of law.”

Prima facie, the court upheld the rights of Palestinians over the government’s fear of enforcing the law against settlers. The Israeli judiciary reined in the executive; the system worked.

Or did it? Certainly court approval of the government’s proposal would have been much worse. Yet perhaps the ruling should be seen as part of a wider picture in which the Israeli courts have permitted greater injustices in the occupied territories. Perhaps an occasional Supreme Court ruling against government actions legitimizes the occupation before the Israeli public by making it seem subject to judicial oversight. Perhaps the word “justice” is hollow in the context of “occupation.” Those are questions that one can’t help asking after seeing the superbly disturbing new Israeli documentary, The Law In These Parts, an indictment of the legal system Israel created in the West Bank.

Read moreDoes the Court do Justice, or Legitimize Injustice?