Thursday, February 28, 2013

Secrets From Israel’s Archives

How did Menachem Begin’s Cabinet handle the truth about the Sabra and Shatila massacre? Here are the transcripts.

A year and a half ago, I took over as Israel’s state archivist—and thus came to administer hundreds of millions of documents that tell the story of the Jewish state’s history and the actions of its governments. Our primary goal has been to digitize and bring to light as many of these documents as possible. Putting entire warehouses of documents online will take years. But in the meantime, we’ve begun to upload specific documents of great interest so as to enliven Israel’s public discourse and strengthen its democracy.

What follows is one such example: the transcripts of the top-secret Cabinet deliberations of February 1983, in which Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Cabinet grappled with the truth about the massacre at Sabra and Shatila—and the tragic death of a left-wing protester at the hands of another Jewish Israeli outside the prime minister’s office during the deliberations. Now that the government-mandated 30-year cooling period has passed, we are able to share this fascinating, troubling, historical document with the public and know, at last, what the ministers said. (The full 250-page trove can be found here, and we’ll be posting translated segments of the documents here over the next few days.)


First, a bit of historical background. In June 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, determined to end a campaign of terrorist attacks carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was, for all intents and purposes, controlling the south of that country. The PLO decision to recognize Israel’s existence still lay five years in the future, and the initial stages of the campaign enjoyed widespread support by Israelis. Yet as the hostilities drew out over the summer and the battles moved from the hills north of Galilee to the outskirts of Beirut, the national consensus weakened. As IDF troops poised to attack positions in the heart of West Beirut, it shattered: The goal of forcing the PLO away from the border had already been achieved, and many Israelis feared that Israel was overreaching.

Continue reading. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How Many American Jews Are There?

Anyone wishing to understand the shifting realities of American Jewish life has reason to celebrate this month. After a four-year hiatus, the American Jewish Year Book is back in print.
This is no small thing. Begun in 1899, the annual volume was for 108 years the essential source of facts and figures on Jewish community life. Each year, it served up population data, major events of the past year, groundbreaking social analysis and a nifty catalog of all those bewildering Jewish organizations and institutions. Each year’s volume is a snapshot in time. Browse through several in a row, and you’ll see a flow of history that no one-volume narrative can capture.
Unfortunately, it was discontinued by the publisher, the American Jewish Committee, during the 2008 economic crash. It left a vacuum the Internet can’t fill. The yearbook was a reality check. It didn’t bridge the community’s divisions, but it got us arguing from the same set of facts.
The new edition, edited by a pair of social scientists and published by a European scientific press, should thus be a red-letter day for Jewish knowledge. And it is, mostly. The catalog of organizations is better than ever, with new lists of Jewish websites, summer camps and more. There’s also a lengthy, eye-opening study of Jewish secularism.
But the publication is also a cautionary moment. It spotlights new schisms in our basic perceptions of Jewish reality. There’s no longer a single set of facts. The new book reflects that.
Most jarring is the section on Jewish population. It’s the heart of the book, fully one-fourth of its 600 pages, and it offers two main conclusions. The first is that the best scientific estimate of America’s Jewish population is 6.722 million, although that’s probably wrong, mostly because of double-counting college students and snowbirds.
The real number is probably between 6.0 million and 6.4 million. (So 6.722 million is scientific but wrong? Go figure.) The second is that American Jews actually number 5.4 million, and anyone who thinks the total is above 6 million doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Read more

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Whose Opinion Matters? A Look at the New York Times

Does the New York Times Publish All the Opinions that are Fit to Print?
Are major media giving undue preference to anti-Israel opinions? Is there an obligation to publish pieces representing both sides of controversial issues?
HonestReporting typically focuses on how Israel is covered in the news sections of the mainstream media, but opinion pages also greatly influence perceptions of Israel.
This is the first in a series of HonestReporting reports that will examine which opinions various news organizations decide are worthy of publishing. We start with the New York Times, where we found that the overwhelming number of editorials, columns and op-eds represent perspectives that object to Israel or Israeli policies. Any reader exposed to these views, almost exclusively, over the course of twelve months will undoubtedly form a perspective skewed with a bias against Israel. 
The Role of Opinion in Journalism
Publishing opinions — whether their own or from outside experts — allows the media to expose the public to different ways of looking at and understanding current events. As long as it is clear to the reader that this is opinion rather than fact, editorials, columns and op-eds have an important role to fill in news reporting.

With that in mind, we reviewed a whole year’s worth of opinion pieces from the New York Times. We analyzed almost 100 editorials, columns and op-eds. Any opinion piece where Israel or the diplomatic process was the subject was studied. While one can argue the impact of a single article critical of Israel, there is no question that a year’s worth of material from a variety of different sources will make an impact.
Our conclusion? The New York Times publishes anti-Israel opinions far more than those supporting Israel or critical of the Palestinian Authority.

Continue reading.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Six Degrees of Sally Oren

Scholars of Middle East politics and students of the San Francisco–centered psychedelic-rock movement of the 1960s have for years asked the same vexing question: Just how many degrees of separation exist between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia?

The answer, it turns out, is one. The person who connects Benjamin Netanyahu directly to Jerry Garcia—and Shimon Peres to Jim Morrison, and, for that matter, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Janis Joplin—is Sally Oren, the wife of Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Oren, who today is in her early 60s, plays the role of diplomat’s spouse with distinction and grace. She hosts embassy functions and speaks at Jewish communal gatherings; she wears elegant gowns and attends White House parties. Forty-five years ago, however, she played Frisbee with the Grateful Dead and served as Jefferson Airplane’s muse.
I have known Oren for years, but only recently did I learn about her strange and enchanting past. At a dinner that included senators and Supreme Court justices, her daughter, Lia, told me—apropos of what, exactly, I cannot recall—“Jefferson Airplane wrote a song about my mother.”

I trusted Lia, but something like this demanded confirmation. “Did Jefferson Airplane write a song about you?,” I asked Oren. Somewhat abashed, she answered, “Two songs, actually.”
I eventually persuaded her to tell me the full story. We met one morning at the embassy residence in Washington, D.C. The tale begins in earnest at the Fillmore, the legendary music hall in San Francisco operated by the equally legendary concert promoter Bill Graham. Oren—then Sally Edelstein—was one of four daughters of a father who owned a clothing store called Outside In, in the Mission District, and a mother who inclined toward bohemianism. The family was musically omnivorous. When Oren was 13, a family friend introduced the Edelsteins to Joan Baez and brought them to a concert in which Baez had invited her sometime boyfriend Bob Dylan to play. Oren found him “grating."

The great innovators of psychedelic music—Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, the Dead—were more to her liking. By the time she was 15, she and her sisters were spending several nights a week at the Fillmore. When San Francisco authorities tried to ban teenagers from the hall, the Edelsteins testified before the city’s Board of Supervisors that it was a perfectly fine place for their daughters to be. “My parents were permissive, I guess,” Oren told me. As time went on, Graham, a Holocaust survivor, became a sort of surrogate father to Oren and her sisters.

Continue reading.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Becoming a Visionary Congregation

How do synagogues make change? How do they move from merely maintaining members to engaging them deeply?

Beth El Temple used to run a great Mitzvah Day. There were lots of people, lots of activity and lots of satisfied participants. The only problem was that Mitzvah Day didn’t lead to much during the rest of the year – just the same few people running the same few social-action projects.
“We started to realize that great things were happening when great individuals were making them happen, but other than that, people weren’t finding ways to be involved,” explained Ilana Garber, associate rabbi at Beth El Temple, a large Conservative congregation in West Hartford, Connecticut. What’s more, among Beth El leaders, there was a sense of dissatisfaction, a feeling that the congregation lacked a “sense of pride or holiness.” So a few years ago, the senior rabbi, Jim Rosen, along with Garber and their lay leaders, did some soul searching about what, as a synagogue, they wanted Beth El to be. They realized that the congregation was known as an intellectual place, not a bad thing in itself, but they wanted it to be known for more than intellect. They wanted it to become a “visionary caring community.”
Garber described this evolution last fall to a group of synagogue leaders from around the Northeast District of United Synagogue who had gathered in West Hartford for Sacred Strategies, a series of conferences taking place across North America run by United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The moment Beth El’s leaders identified a problem and envisioned a new direction, they embarked on a pivotal journey, explained Rabbi Charles Savenor, director of Kehilla Enrichment at United Synagogue. It’s a journey that can take a synagogue from the realm of the merely functional – where the focus is on administration and discrete programs – into the realm of the visionary, where a congregation is infused with a sacred purpose. “Visionary congregations seek to engage, inspire and ultimately transform their members, not just maintain them,” Savenor says.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kerry will wait on Israel visit to accompany Obama

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- John Kerry will tour the Middle East during his first foreign tour as U.S. secretary of state, but will visit Israel two weeks later with President Obama.

Kerry's itinerary, announced Tuesday for his Feb. 24-March 6 trip, includes Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In Italy, he will meet members of the Syrian opposition in the country's civil war.
The former Massachusetts senator said during his confirmation hearings that advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon were priorities.
His spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said a visit was not appropriate now while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forming his new government. Instead, she said, Kerry will accompany Obama during his trip to Israel next month.
"Given the fact that the government coalition negotiations in Israel are still under way, the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah," she said.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Deconstructing Herod

JERUSALEM — King Herod killed many people in his time, among them wives, sons and, according to the New Testament, all the male newborns of Bethlehem. He had more victims beyond the grave: In 2010, the archaeologist Ehud Netzer died from a fall at Herodium, Herod’s magnificent desert palace, after spending his life studying the king and searching for his tomb.
Now a new exhibition at the Israel Museum celebrates both the king and the archaeologist, implausibly turning Herod into the most celebrated historical Jewish figure of the moment.

International interest in the exhibition has predictably focused on the boring issue of whether Herodium, which is in the West Bank, belongs to Israel or to the Palestinians. A much more interesting question is how Herod went from being a villain to a hero in the Israeli imagination.
From the year 37 B.C. until his demise 33 years later, Herod the Great ruled over Judea as a Roman proxy. He was a builder of many great sites, among them the magnificent Masada and Caesarea. “Whoever has not seen Herod’s building, has not seen a beautiful building in his life,” the Talmud says of the renovated Second Temple in Jerusalem. But he didn’t look the part of a Jewish hero.
For one thing, his Jewishness was questionable: He was of Idumaean origin, and while his great-grandfather had converted to Judaism, his mother was a Nabatean. In the eyes of the pious Jews, Herod wanted no better than to Hellenize Judea. The Talmud, by way of belittling his status, calls him “a slave of the house of the Hasmoneans” (the ruling dynasty that preceded his) andstruggles with the fact that he renovated the Jews’ temple.
Yet now Israel seems to be embracing Herod’s uncertain legacy. Not only is he the subject of an exhibition “unprecedented in grandeur and expense,” according to one review, Israel is also planning to rebuild his 83-foot tomb. Some archaeologists have slammed that idea as a “joke.” But it is already being funded by the government – for an anticipated cost of $540,000 — as one of more than 300 projects in the Netanyahu government’s Landmarks plan, an effort to make historical sites throughout Israel more accessible to visitors. Once built, Herod’s tomb will even be visible from Jerusalem, more than 11 kilometers away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Moses Replaces Hitler in Japanese Comics

After Israeli ambassador protests comic books featuring Nazi leader's 'Mein Kampf,' Tokyo publisher agrees to give Bible stories their own editions

Japanese HitlerIsraeli Ambassador to Japan Nissim Ben-Shitrit visited a book store at a Tokyo Metro station recently, and he was shocked to discover a manga comic book with a drawing of Adolf Hitler on its cover.

An inquiry revealed that the book, which had been distributed in many book stands in Japan, was a Japanese translation of the Nazi leader's autobiography, "Mein Kampf."

Following the inquiry, the ambassador scheduled a meeting with the comic book's publisher, which was also attended by two of the book's illustrators.

Ben-Shitrit expressed his discontent with the publication and explained why it was so problematic. The publisher apologized, saying he did not think the book would offend anyone's feelings.
The publisher told the ambassador that the "Mein Kampf" comic book had sold tens of thousands of copies and was already sold out. As he could not repair what was done, Ben-Shitrit tried to come up with an idea to tilt the balance.

Bible MangaAfter contemplating several solutions, the publisher accepted the ambassador's offer to issue a manga version of the Bible stories.

During the meeting, the parties agreed to publish three different books." Hitler's illustrators "fixed" their mistake by drawing the Bible heroes.

The Bible stories comic books are now offered for sale in Japan's book stores both in Japanese and in English. "When I saw the drawing of Hitler with swastikas and Japanese captions, I was shocked," says Ben-Shitrit. "It's unthinkable that an enlightened person would read Hitler's book. Luckily, the book has exhausted itself and is no longer on the shelves.

"Now I'm hoping that young people in Japan will be exposed to the heroes of the Bible. I don't think that they maliciously intended to publish something anti-Semitic. It’s a small company that publishes manga books, and they thought their readers would be interested in it."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Iran & Israel - A Love Story?

There's a great TED Talk making it's way around the Internet and Facebook.

When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with a bold message: "Iranians ... we [heart] you." 

Watch this amazing video and you too will be inspired.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Megillat Esther App

With Purim just a week away, check out one of the coolest Purim apps ever!

JOFA has created an interactive app that women and men can use to learn the cantillations for reading Megillat Esther. The app can be downloaded to your smart phone or tablet or can be used on the web with Chrome or Safari browsers. 
The user can practice by following along with themegillah text, while they listen to the layner. An easy to use navigation system allows the user to replay desired sections, both with and without the cantillation marks appearing on the screen.
The app also includes instructions on how to organize a megillah reading, a halakhic discussion of the sources for women's reading of the megillah, a dvar Torah about the Book of Esther and more.

Use JOFA's Megillat Esther on the web
NOTE: The web application will only work using Chrome or Safari 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

French rescuers group snubs Holocaust commemoration

(JTA) -- A French Protestant organization that saved Jews during the Holocaust declined to attend a commemoration because one of its organizers was a pro-Israel Jewish group.

The Marseille branch of CIMADE turned down an invitation to the region’s main memorial ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims because CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, organized the event  with the municipality.
The values that led CIMADE to save Jews make the group “equally committed to oppose the colonial, discriminatory and bellicose policy of Israel with regards to the Palestinians,” CIMADE regional deputies Francoise Rocheteau and Jean-Pierre Cavalie wrote in a letter to the local CRIF branch on Dec. 21. It also said CIMADE was determined to fight “apartheid.”
The letter, which was published online Monday by a group that promotes a boycott of Israel, was a reply to an invitation extended by CRIF to CIMADE to attend the 70th commemoration on Jan. 20 of the deportation and subsequent murder of thousands of local Jews.
Marseille had a Jewish population of 39,000 in 1939, according to Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. Only 10,000 remained after the Holocaust.
CIMADE, which was established in 1939, organized “vital relief and later resistance” in connection with the murders, according to Yad Vashem, and helped smuggle Jews to safety. Yad Vashem named Madeleine Barot, who headed CIMADE during the Holocaust, a Righteous Among the Nations in 1988. She died seven years later.
“We understand our positions may appear unacceptable, making us unwelcome at your commemoration,” the CIMADE representatives wrote. “We cannot keep silent on our convictions but do not wish to cause a scandal.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

This is Israel: Resilience

Critically wounded by Hezbollah terrorists, Asael Lubotzky dramatically transforms from victim to healer.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jewish cemetery desecrated in Tunisia

For the second time in a month, vandals desecrated Jewish graves in Tunisia.
On Feb. 4, unidentified individuals smashed and overturned ten gravestones in Kef in Western Tunisia, according to the Tunisia News Network.
An earlier incident in the coastal Tunisian town of Sousse left more than 68 Jewish graves ransacked and looted on Jan. 23, according to the Tunisian Shems FM radio station.
The last Jew left Kef in 1984, according to, a French new site. It quoted Yves Kamhi, a Jewish lawyer, as saying some human skeletons were found outside their graves.
Some 1,700 Jews live in Tunisia, according to the European Jewish Congress. They numbered 100,000 in 1948.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Financial Times reporter apologizes for hinting Israel bribed Bulgaria

February 6, 2013

(JTA) -- A correspondent for the Financial Times apologized for suggesting that Israel may have bribed Bulgaria to frame Hezbollah.

“Sincere apologies and regret for ill-conceived tweet yesterday about Israel and Bulgaria,” Borzou Daragahi, the London-based newspaper's Middle East and North Africa correspondent, wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

The previous day Daragahi had tweeted, “I don't doubt Hezbollah/Iran could be behind Bulgaria bombing, but also think Israel could pay Sofia to say anything.” He included a URL of a Reuters article quoting Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov as blaming two Hezbollah operatives for the July 18 bus bombing in Burgas in which six people were killed, including five Israeli tourists.

“We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” Tsvetanov said.

Daragahi’s apology came after a harsh statement concerning his comment by HonestReporting, an Israel-based media watchdog group.

“It is disgraceful for someone who calls himself a journalist to deal in second-rate conspiracy mongering,” HonestReporting CEO Joe Hyams said in a statement published on the organization’s website.
Founded in 1888, the Financial Times has a combined print and online average daily readership of 2.1 million worldwide, according to its website.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Kerry talks to Netanyahu, Abbas

John Kerry, freshly installed as secretary of state, spoke with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Also over the weekend, two top State Department officials dealing with Iran's alleged nuclear threat said they would be stopping in Israel during overseas visits and Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, was visiting Washington.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland spoke about Kerry's conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The secretary underscored his personal commitment and that of President Obama to support Israel's security and to pursue a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," Nuland said, according to a Reuters report.
Kerry, who plans to visit the region next month, also spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The State Department in a statement laid out the agenda for the two State Department officials -- Rose Gottemoeller, the acting undersecretary for arms control, and Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary for nonproliferation.
Countryman will "meet with Israeli counterparts to discuss nonproliferation and international security issues of mutual concern," and Gottemoeller will "consult with senior civilian and military officials on pressing regional security issues and expanding our enduring strategic partnership" and deliver remarks at a conference on nuclear nonproliferation, the statement said.
The Obama administration has indicated that it is seeking to engage with Iran in direct talks aimed at ending Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. Iran says its nuclear activity is strictly peaceful.
The Israel Defense Forces in announcing the five-day visit by Gantz said it was "official ... as the guest of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey."
In its statement, the IDF said the two generals would "discuss current security challenges, the regional security status in the Middle East and military cooperation."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Iran’s security head: Israel will ‘regret’ striking Syrian targets

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Israel will "regret" striking targets in Syria, Iran's national security council head said during a visit to Damascus.
"(T)he Zionist entity will regret its aggression against Syria," Saeed Jalili, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Monday morning.
"Syria is at the forefront of the Muslim world's confrontation with the Zionist entity," Jalili also reportedly said. 
His comments came a day after Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Munich Security Conference implied that Israel was responsible for a strike last week on a Syrian military facility and also reportedly a convoy of advanced missiles being delivered to Hezbollah.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it was responsible for the strikes on Syrian territory.
Iran and Syria previously had threatened to retaliate against Israel. 
Jalili also threatened to respond to the attack in international organizations, in Iran's role as head of the Non-Aligned Movement. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Israeli Technical Innovations Video. Enjoy!

Tal Ben-Shahar, best selling author, lecturer and teacher of the most popular course at Harvard University, narrates this wonderful video  and tells the story of the Israeli people whose resilience has propelled Israel to the forefront of world innovation and progress.*