Tag Archives: Zionism

Blame Canada (for Anti-Zionism)

By Adina Rosenthal

Canadian bacon isn’t the only thing that’s unkosher. Earlier this month, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA), released its report concluding that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, especially on university campuses. Since its inception in March 2009, the CPCCA, composed of 22 Parliamentarians from all parties in the House of Commons, has conducted investigations and hearings with the purported purpose “of confronting and combating antisemitism [sic] in Canada today.” Based on its findings, the committee made several recommendations to its government, such as training Canadian police forces on how to better handle anti-Semitic incidents, sponsoring conferences at universities to combat anti-Semitic events and establishing a clear definition for anti-Semitism. According to Former Liberal MP Mario Silva, Chair of the CPCCA Inquiry Panel that published the report, “We are calling on the Government of Canada to take our recommendations under serious consideration to combat the wave of antisemitism we are witnessing in our nation. Canada is founded on a set of shared values and antisemitism is an affront to all we stand for in this country.”

In their report, the CPCCA identified a “new anti-Semitism” prominent in Canadian discourse, that is “increasingly focused on the role of Israel in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.” The report further adds, “Jews are seen as supporters of Israel and are seen by some, who do not distinguish between Israelis and Jews, as a legitimate target in the fight to establish a Palestinian state or to eliminate the State of Israel.” Moreover, “anti-Semitism is being manifested in a manner which has never been dealt with before…Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the ‘Nazi’ and ‘apartheid’ State of Israel, which is claimed to have no right to exist.” In short, anti-Zionist rhetoric has simply becomes a guise for anti-Semitic sentiment.

But not everyone is sold on the CPCCA’s report, with some critics arguing that the committee’s findings are being used to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel.  According to Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, “By referring to Israel as a ‘Jewish collectivity’ in the anti-Semitism definition, it means the state can’t be criticized…But Israel should be allowed to be criticized by the same standards of any state.” Last March, Bloc Québécois members dropped out of the committee, claiming the coalition had a pro-Israel bias. As Michel Guimond, the Bloc Whip, told a Quebec newspaper at that time: “We consider the coalition is tainted, partisan and presents a single side of the coin” in reference to the coalition’s alleged refusal to hear from pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian groups like Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and the Canadian Arab Federation.

In direct response to those who felt ill-represented during the CPCCA’s investigation, Silva argued that such groups “weren’t prepared at all, in fact, to even have any positive contribution, even state the fact that anti-Semitism is a problem…They’d rather just focus on attacking the work we were doing.”

The question of where anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism reaches beyond Canada’s borders. In Iceland, Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson announced he would support the Palestinians’ initiative to petition for state recognition at the United Nations this fall, a measure that would undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The foreign minister made this announcement after a trip to Gaza in which he concurrently called for an end to the Gaza blockade and avoided any contact with Israel. In response to criticism of the Foreign Minster’s slighting of Israel, writer Katharina Hauptmann of the Iceland Review insisted, “The fact that the Icelandic government may have issues with Israel’s treatment of Palestine has nothing at all to do with anti-Semitism.” In regards to Yale closing its initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, a recent Jerusalem Post article pointed out, “Given the widespread acceptability of anti-Zionism, some anti-Semites have insisted that they’re ‘only’ anti-Zionists, and that Israel and the Jews have become the new Nazis, perpetrating a Holocaust of their own.”

Essentially, it seems that whether anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are being melded is not the issue. Both sides agree that they are, and a new definition of anti-Semitism is now commonly accepted. Rather, the point of contention is whether such a conflation is legitimate. If you are anti-Semitic, you are probably anti-Zionist, but does the converse also hold true?  If you are anti-Zionist, are you also anti-Semitic? The answer is “not necessarily”; political discourse isn’t usually so black and white.

The CPCCA report evinces a global increase in anti-Semitism. According to the British Community Security Trust, the United Kingdom had 924 anti-Semitic incidents in 2009, finding that the main reason for this record spike was the “unprecedented number” of such incidents recorded in January and February of 2009, during and after the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The CPCCA report draws parallels with this data for Canada, noting 1,306 anti-Semitic incidents in 2010, up from 1,264 the year before. According to the CPCCA report, “As in other jurisdictions [of Canada], antisemitic incidents…tend to be tied to the situation in the Middle East.” Though the report doesn’t provide concrete numbers of anti-Zionism resulting in anti-Semitic acts, the qualitative evidence, particularly on Canadian campuses, should raise some eyebrows. Math might not provide a definitive answer here.  But if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you be the judge.

Dueling Loyalties?

by Theodore Samets

Among the many back-and-forths between current American, Israeli, and Palestinian leaders is the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel not only as a nation but specifically as a “Jewish state.”

Yesterday on Time’s Global Spin blog, Tony Karon, a Jewish but notoriously anti-Israel commentator, asks: “Is Israel the ‘National Home of the Jewish People?’”

Karon uses a heated debate to try and draw distant conclusions. One can certainly make the argument that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand, supported by President Obama, that Mahmoud Abbas accept Israel as a Jewish state, is unnecessary. Some commentators have gone even farther and attempted to point out flaws in this goal.


Yet this is not what Karon is asking in Time. Instead, he’s challenging the basis for Zionism altogether, and making statements that, were he not Jewish, some might label as anti-Semitic. He claims that Jews who live outside of Israel and support the Netanyahu-Obama request can no longer identify their home country as “home:”



Demanding that Israel be recognized as the “national home” of a Jewish American, Canadian, South African or Argentine becomes problematic for many more liberal and secular Jews. Many Jewish Americans who’ve grown up with the melting-pot values of integration are not entirely comfortable with the idea that their religion assigns them a “national home” elsewhere…


Karon’s claims, which he puts in the context of a response to Akiva Eldar’s column in yesterday’s Haaretz, ask a more fascinating and enduring question than they intend: Are American Zionists, supporters of the “Jewish state” of Israel, inherently guilty of dual loyalty? Karon accepts this premise without question, yet it is a problematic contention on many levels. Accusations of dual loyalty have come up throughout this country’s history, from Charles Lindbergh to Louis Farrakhan, but these claims have not convinced many Americans.


It’s clear that most Americans do not concur with Karon’s claim. American society accepts Jews as equals more than any society in recent history. Accusations of dual loyalty are rare, even for those Jews who sing Hatikvah on occasion or teach their children to do so in Hebrew School. And American support for Israel, as told time and time again in polls over the past several decades, is incredibly high.


Why don’t more Americans accuse Jews of dual loyalty? Maybe it’s because many know the stories of passionate Jewish Americans, Zionists, who put their lives on the line for the United States by serving in the military, from the Civil War hero Leopold Blumenberg to the many men and women serving in the armed forces today. Or they’ve worked alongside Zionist Americans at charity events benefiting local communities. For some reason, most Americans don’t take issue with their fellow citizens marching up Fifth Avenue waving Israeli flags every spring, as is the case every year at New York’s well-known Salute to Israel Parade.


A few years ago, the American-Israeli historian Michael Oren, who now serves as Israel’s ambassador to the United States, wrote a great book in which he examined (among other claims) why this country was so profoundly pro-Israel. Oren argues that the dominance of the Protestant faith in this country gives the United States a continued connection to Israel, and that it has long been in America’s strategic interest to support the Jewish state.


Beyond the “shared values,” “shared histories,” and “shared enemies,” claims, all of which have merit, Israel and the United States share a common purpose. Both are the result of people who left another land concerned for their well being, solely because of the way they wanted to worship. While Israel has remained a state for the Jews of Europe, as well as saving the lives of many Jews from Arab lands, the former Soviet Union, and Ethiopia with the law of return, the United States has a storied – and to be sure, imperfect – history of serving as a refuge for people of many different religions, races, and creeds.


When it comes to the Jews, this purpose overlaps. Many American Jews don’t feel the need to make aliyah because they already live in a country that exists to keep them safe. That doesn’t mean American Jews, and non-Jews for that matter, can’t see the need for a Jewish state. Supporting that idea isn’t anti-American, and it isn’t worthy of Karon’s or Eldar’s accusations of dual loyalty. Instead, supporting the Jewish state is in itself an American value.


On the Cyber Frontiers of the Anti-Israel Movement

by Theodore Samets

The Internet has changed the world.

Less than a decade ago, the late Israel critic Edward Said published an essay in the London Review of Books that asked “Is Israel more secure now?” Those who wanted to respond to Said’s piece had to wait and hope that the LRB would publish their letters to the editor in future issues or sound off in other publications.

At the beginning of this month, Allison Benedikt penned her own anti-Israel essay, “Life After Zionist Summer Camp.” To say that Benedikt touched a nerve within the pro-Israel community doesn’t do her agitating essay justice.

The Said essay serves as a reference point for two reasons: First, Benedikt’s ironic tone, which many have criticized, bears the markings of Said’s work here and elsewhere. Second, the change in reaction times has changed the debate over an article such as this; more than simply speed it up, it’s caused some of the voices who weighed in to say things they quite probably regret.

Benedikt’s essay was published in The Awl, an online magazine, and the response has remained online. It’s not the only anti-Israel piece to be published this year, or even this month, yet it’s been the focus of many bloggers’ hours. Why?

Well, Benedikt brought it upon herself. Whether it’s how she actually feels or not, she wrote the essay in a way that implies she’s never had her own, unique thought on the existence of the state of Israel or Zionism. Where she once blindly followed her parents and camp counselors, now she follows her non-Jewish and seriously anti-Zionist husband.

Benedikt’s responders were angered for good reason. The essay showed a lack of deep thinking, ridiculed those who appreciated or loved Israel, and was written in a “childlike” voice, as Gal Beckerman called it, that is almost painful to read.

As Benedikt and her husband have taken to Twitter to defend themselves against criticism, things have gotten heated. When Jeffrey Goldberg, who first brought Benedikt’s essay to the eyes of many Israel/Jewish bloggers, didn’t print her response (it turned out that his spam filter had caught her tirade), Benedikt’s husband called Goldberg a “dick” via Twitter, and then forced his wife to retweet the statement.

And in response to Yaacov Lozowick, an Israeli writer who posed a few questions about Benedikt’s statement that she had removed the story of the wicked child from her family’s seder, Benedikt answered that she chose to edit her Haggadah because “I am Jewish, you mother fucker.”

In this new world, where responses can be instantaneous and are rarely seen by an editor, the quality of debate has gone in the same direction of the quality of rock music.

Within a few days of the original essay’s publishing, online debate had moved from discussion and concern with the piece itself to Benedikt’s comment about removing the wicked son from the seder.

Her decision is weird, yes, but is it really that terrible? I wouldn’t want my seder examined and excoriated online or anywhere (“He let people leave before the grace after meals!”). While Benedikt opened the subject up by referrring to her edits, it seems like an unnecessary distraction.

It’s also when the debate went from bad to worse. While the conversation should have remained focused on Benedikt’s zombie-like approach to opinions on Israel and her obliviousness to the many intricacies of American Jewry’s connection with Israel, it didn’t. In this, the bloggers who spend much of their time perusing the net for modern Protocols of the Elders of Zion allowed themselves to become sidetracked.

Social media continues to change the world. This is felt acutely in the world of political debate, where a day was once like a week and is now like a year; pro-Israel bloggers can’t ignore the demand for the quick response, but they must remember that there’s no existentialist threat to the Passover seder, and no great need for concern that young Jews don’t care about matzo ball soup.
If they don’t, they’ll lose sight of the bigger picture.

The New “New Jew”

By Lily Hoffman Simon

A new kibbutz movement is sweeping Israel. Most often, it is comprised of irbutzim (city kibbutz), which are collectivist structures based on the original ideas of the agricultural kibbutz. Instead of creating an alternative community on the fringes of everyday Israeli life, however, these communities are placing themselves in the heart of Israeli cities, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Just as the kibbutzim were centred on the idea of creating an ideal society to influence the greater Israeli society, so do irbutzim, which like their predecessors share communal bank accounts and emphasize youth leadership.  This adaptation represents a hopeful future for the kibbutz movement and Israel itself.

The traditional agricultural kibbutzim were based on socialism, egalitarianism, environmentalism, hard work, interpersonal relationships and the liberation of the Jewish people through a Zionist revolution. The overarching goal was to create a ‘new Jew,’ distinct from its marginalized ancestor.  As times changed however, so did the utopian vision of the kibbutzim, which faltered over time. As kibbutz ideology and prominence diminished, their future looked bleak; until now.

In addition to traditional Kibbutz values, The irbutzim are based on the same socialist principles that founded traditional kibbutzim, such as “from each according to his ability; for each according to his need.”  Where these two social organizations differ, however, is in the ways they are committed to their visions of a Zionism and the evolution of the Jewish people. Traditional kibbutzim focused on physical labour and agriculture as a means to physically build the state of Israel, as well as physically transform the Jewish individual, because those were the needs of the time. Today, the irbutzim encourage responsibility over the social aspect of Israel – its people, schools, cultural and environmental practices – as a means to rebuild the state socially. Labouring in the fields has been replaced by labouring in the classroom.

The structures of new kibbutzim vary dramatically. Most follow an emerging pattern of kvustah (group, collective) living. Often, these kvutsot join into a network of other kvusot, which support each other and interact on their social projects. These circles have formed urban kibbutzim, such as Kibbutz Naama in Migdal Emek, or Kibbutz Tamuz in Beit Shemesh.

Kvustot can also exist independently, and are found across the country, usually identifying as the t’nuat bogrim (movement graduates) of various youth movements. It is interesting to note that similar kvutsot were the precursor to kibbutzim themselves. They are overwhelming dedicated to renewing the Jewish, egalitarian, democratic, and progressive spirit in Israel through an organized structure. Most accomplish this work through facilitating informal education for youth in classrooms (even establishing whole schools), establishing youth centres, working in joint Arab-Jewish initiatives, working with recent immigrants, or supporting at-risk or working youth. The list goes on (check out this video for more information).

Others are still based on agricultural ideas, such as Kibbutz Lotan, which has developed sustainable and recycling initiatives, or Nir Moshe, which is an agricultural commune based on permaculture, an agricultural principle based on sustainable emulation of natural ecological relationships. These tend to follow the new Green Kibbutz model, dedicated to ecological socialism. Some new kibbutzim are religious, while others are centred around coexistence projects, such as the Sadaka Jewish-Arab Youth Partnership, based on the Sadak Reut Israeli-Palestinian partnership.

Despite the decline of traditional kibbutzim, there seems to be hope for those seeking a democratic, utopian Israel. These chalutzim (pioneers), are part of a greater movement of Israelis who are renewing the revolutionist and youthful spirit of the kibbutzim, and actively taking responsibility for the Jewish nation, thus reigniting the unique spark of kibbutz ideology and creating a more modern ‘new Jew.’

The Fallen Kibbutz: A Microcosm of Israeli Society

By Lily Hoffman Simon

This year marked the centennial birthday of the Kibbutz. However, the structure of these unique societal experiments has changed so dramatically that, today, their original founders would barely recognize them.  The values of a Jewish and Zionist social revolution, which birthed the kibbutz movement, don’t exist in the modern kibbutz. With all of these shifts, are the kibbutzim still a relevant force for Israeli and Jewish life?

A kibbutz is a collective settlement in Israel, traditionally based on communal life, agriculture, and an emphasis on physical labour.  This ideology emerged in Eastern Europe in the 1900s, when Jewish youth began to question the value in a self-victimized, oppressed, and religiously observant Jewish lifestyle, a lifestyle which dominated the Jewish narrative and experience throughout Europe. These idealists, frustrated by the lack of Jewish autonomy, latched on to the growing Zionist momentum to develop their own ideology—that of labour Zionism, which fused the ideas of a Zionist revolution with socialist principles.

Alongside the development of this unique Zionist perspective through the works of A. D. Gordon and Nachman Syrkin, to name a few, masses of Jews began to immigrate to Palestine to form collective, agricultural kvutsot, the precursor to kibbutzim. These communities dominated the Jewish attraction to Israel up until the end of World War II, and helped build Israel’s physical and social infrastructure. The underlying goal was to create a Jewish state based on the principles of Jewish liberation and autonomy, as well as egalitarianism, a return a nature, and the importance of interpersonal relationships.  Traditional kibbutzim forwent paying wages, instead giving everyone a specific job to maintain the collective kibbutz lifestyle. All money and property was shared.

So where are these utopian communities today?  Facing a booming Israeli population, structural changes in the Israeli economy and growing religious influence in national politics, many kibbutzim started to dramatically shift their focus in the 1980s. They underwent a process of privatization, introducing private wages and private property and contracting manual labour from outside the community. The kibbutzim’s initial economic success and vast influence on Israeli politics–the kibbutz-affiliated Labour party was in power until 1977–also contributed to these structural changes. Increased living standards undermined the simple, naturalistic lifestyle they originally promoted, and technological development encouraged them to hire outside labour to work the fields instead of the members themselves. All of these changes represented not only a changing Israel, but a dramatic ideological shift in the kibbutzim. Today about 70% of kibbutzim run on a privatized model, and the kibbutz movement is little more than another lobby group, with loose affiliation to the dwindling Labour Party.

While acknowledging the legacy of the kibbutzim during their prime, it is important to ask whether these societies accomplished their utopian Zionist goals. Was the new Jew created? Were the Jewish people liberated?  Open up any newspaper about Israel, or the Jewish people, and it becomes clear the answer is no.  Israel today is rampant with problems like racism, environmental issues, and religious political dominance. All of these are in direct contradiction to the original kibbutz values. The same can be found in the greater Jewish community, which still tends to focus on its past persecutions as a dominant defining feature of Jewish identity, especially the Holocaust (check out Netanyahu’s speech at Yad Vashem). Despite years of influence on Jewish life towards egalitarian and emancipated ideals, the fall of the kibbutz today seems instead to reflect the stagnation of Israeli and Jewish life.

Jews for Ahmadinejad, Onion-style

Ahmadinejad tries to make out with Jewish man

Ahmadinejad tries to make out with Jewish man

In an effort to improve his standing among Jews, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried yesterday to make out with a member of the ultra-Orthodox sect Neturei Karta.

Ahmadinejad has been in the dumps among pro-Semites since giving a speech at the UN earlier this week condemned by Barack Obama as anti-Semitic (see below for the full text).

On Wednesday, though, Ahmadinejad met with a group of Neturei Karta rabbis who presented him with a $700 silver trophy and told him they loved him. Continue reading

Israeli Prize for Prickly Conservationist

Do Not Touch.

I confess to making a dumb and painful mistake in Israel last month: trying to harvest a sabra fruit with my bare hand. I somehow failed to notice the tiny, hairlike darts that cover the entire fruit, one of which lingers in my right ring finger.

Conservationist and Ben-Gurion University Professor Alon Tal, who just received an award from the Israeli government for his environmental teaching and activism, is not a sabra; he grew up in North Carolina before emigrating to Israel at 20. But Tal is prickly, all right, bristling with sharp opinions, including hardcore attitudes about Zionism and “The Land” that rile some of his environmental colleagues on the left. He’s also one of the smartest people I’ve spoken with in Israel, which is saying something. And he talks really, really fast, which is why my notes from our interview were useless. Fortunately, I had a voice recorder, so I can share with you his explanations of why some conservationists make bad Zionists; how desert demographics could bury the Jewish state; and the possibility that Israel’s Bedouins might once have become Jews. Continue reading