Compared to Europe, where antisemitism and attacks on Jews are sharply on the rise, and 40 percent or more of populations view Israel as a country committing genocide, America shines. Polls find levels of antisemitism to be much lower, and the latest Gallup poll in February found sympathy for Israel tying a previous all-time high of 64% (with only 12% supporting the Palestinians).
That is not to say, though, the problem does not exist. The FBI’s recently released Hate Crime Statistics report for 2012 found Jews by far the number 1 target of hate crimes in the country; 62.4 percent of reported anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews (compared to 11.6 percent against Muslims).
This was, of course, before the rise of the “knockout game” that victimizes Jews and others. The Anti-Defamation League also criticized the FBI’s report as “seriously flawed” because one-fourth of the country’s law-enforcement agencies did not turn in their numbers.
The ADL’s own recently released poll finds that 12 percent of Americans “harbor deeply entrenched anti-Semitic attitudes,” down from 15 percent in 2011 and 29 percent in 1964. The ADL found antisemitism to be most prevalent among African Americans and Hispanics, and noted:
• Hispanics born outside of the U.S. are significantly more likely than Hispanics born in the U.S. to hold anti-Semitic views.
• Anti-Semitic propensities within the African-American population continue to be higher than the general population, but are in decline.
• The steady growth of the U.S. Hispanic population—now at 15 percent of the adult population—means that Hispanics, combined with African Americans (12 percent), now comprise 27 percent of the American population, a number that is sure to grow in the coming years. This population increase of the most anti-Semitic cohorts also means that it will be an ongoing challenge to reduce overall anti-Semitic propensities.
Those who remain intent on spreading antisemitism in America most often make claims of excessive Jewish (and Israeli) power that are rooted in classic antisemitism. Some are fringe characters, cranks, who nevertheless reach considerable audiences; others are more mainstream figures. This series will consider both types, eventually focusing more on the latter category since their social prominence and acceptability make them the more significant hate purveyors.
Israel is the sinister, unclean, rabid dog of the region…. The Zionist regime is doomed to oblivion…. [The] leaders of the Zionist regime… look like beasts and…cannot be called human.
Those words were spoken on November 20 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, to a huge gathering of militiamen. They didn’t stop the P5+1 countries—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany—from signing a nuclear deal with Khamenei’s representatives three days later in Geneva.
Undoubtedly, such words from Iranian leaders are hardly something new. (You can find lengthy backlogs here and here.) The destruction of Israel is an official, explicit goal of the Iranian regime, and has been since it rose to power in 1979.
The then-leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, portrayed Israel in his book Velayat-e faqih (also known as Islamic Government) as a mortal threat to Islam, the latest incarnation of a Jewish campaign against Islam dating back to the time of Muhammad. “This regime occupying Jerusalem,” he proclaimed, “must vanish from the page of time.”
The Iranian regime’s Jew-hatred has deep roots in Shiite Islam, which regards Jews as ritually unclean. In Iranian (Persian) history Jews were at various times forced to wear badges (centuries before the Nazis instituted that practice), expelled from cities, forced to convert to Islam, and so on. In the mid-19th century, the historian and traveler J. J. Benjamin wrote about Persian Jews:
…they are obliged to live in a separate part of town…; for they are considered as unclean creatures…. Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans, they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt…. For the same reason, they are prohibited to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans…. Sometimes the Persians intrude into the dwellings of the Jews and take possession of whatever please them. Should the owner make the least opposition in defense of his property, he incurs the danger of atoning for it with his life…. (quoted in Bernard Lewis’s The Jews of Islam)
For the current regime in Tehran, Israel is the unclean “Jew” of the Middle East, and the only fitting treatment is to excise it. A little over a year ago Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and the Muslim world’s gravest problem.
This is, of course, of concern to Israel, if not to heads of the world’s leading democracies.
Chanukah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, starts this year on Wednesday evening, the only time it has ever just about coincided with Thanksgiving.
Chanukah, which celebrates the triumph of the few over the many, of light over darkness, goes back over two millennia to a time when Judea was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire. In 198 BCE the Seleucid King Antiochus III ousted the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy V from Judea. Antiochus III was a tolerant ruler who wanted the Jews to practice their religion as they saw fit.
His son and successor Antiochus IV, however, was a different story. In 168 BCE, under his reign, the Second Temple in Jerusalem—the focal point of Jewish worship—was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BCE, Antiochus IV had an altar to Zeus built in the Temple, banned circumcision, and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the Temple’s altar.
It was what one might call a cultural genocide. Not an attempt at the wholesale destruction of the people themselves, but of their values, beliefs, and identity. According to Jewish tradition, it may have succeeded—without the revolt.
The revolt against Antiochus IV began that same year, 167 BCE, in the Judean foothills and was led by Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah. The next year Mattathias died and his place was taken by Judah—Judah the Maccabee (“Hammer”). By 165 BCE the revolt had succeeded; the Maccabees and their followers had ousted the monarchy, liberated the Temple, and rededicated it to their God.
It was during this process that, according to the Talmud, the miracle of Chanukah occurred. The Maccabees discovered that almost all the ritual olive oil in the Temple had been contaminated; they found only one container with enough pure oil to keep the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum) lit for one day. But when they used it, it burned for eight days—enough to prepare more of the kosher oil. Jews have been lighting a menorah—or chanukiah as it’s now called in Israel—on Chanukah ever since.
Oh Allah. Take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people…do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.
So said Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in a sermon on Al-Jazeera TV in January 2009. As the Anti-Defamation League notes in a helpful overview of Qaradawi’s life and dubious achievements, he has a “long record of inciting violence against Jews and Israel”—and, one should add, against others as well.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi was born in Egypt in 1926 and joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a student in 1942. He graduated from Al-Azhar University in 1953. From 1949 to 1961 he was arrested several times for his activities in the Brotherhood, and in 1961 he moved to Qatar where he lives to this day.
By now Qaradawi is one of the most influential theologians of the Sunni Muslim world. His weekly sermon on Al-Jazeera, “Sharia and Life,” has a worldwide audience of about 60 million. In 1999 he founded the website IslamOnline, which, as the ADL describes it, “contains articles and religious rulings which support violence against non-Muslims, as well as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American content.” And Qaradawi’s more than 40 books have been translated into many languages and disseminated throughout the world.
Qaradawi also has a vast institutional empire. Despite having been banned from the U.S. since 1999, he is chairman—in absentia—of the Michigan-based Islamic American University; founder and president of the Qatar-based International Association of Muslim Scholars; chairman and president of the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research; and president of the Saudi-based Union of Good, a “charity” organization that funnels money to Hamas and has been on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations since 2008.
That Qaradawi, a relentless rabble-rouser and inciter to mass murder, has amassed so much honor, prestige, and influence is not, to put it mildly, encouraging.
The Palestinian Authority was created by the Israeli Labor Party in 1994. The Labor Party believed that, with the breakup of the Soviet Union and America’s ringing defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War, radicalism had essentially become a losing proposition and the Palestinians knew they had no choice but to work out peaceful coexistence with Israel.
Since then the idea of Israeli-Palestinian peace has been an obsessive theme of international politics. For a time it also sharply divided Israel into two camps of believers and nonbelievers; today, after two decades of terrorism and rocket fire, all polls show that the nonbelievers are by far the dominant camp.
For those who bother to inform themselves about the Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza—their education, culture, politics, religion—the ongoing insistence of U.S. and European establishments that Israeli-Palestinian peace is the order of the day, with Israel as the party that stymies it, is surreal almost beyond belief.
Palestinian schools, media, and mosques entirely negate Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, and systematically deny any Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. They also honor and glorify Palestinian terrorists in every possible way, from stipends and ceremonies for living ones to the naming of streets, public squares, sporting events, and children’s camps after deceased terrorists. Glorification is especially lavished on those who killed large numbers of Israelis in mass attacks.
For about six years, what used to be the unitary Palestinian Authority has been divided into what are essentially two entities—the remaining Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. The latter is an Islamist statelet openly sworn to Israel’s destruction; the U.S. and even the European Union officially outlaw Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The Palestinian Authority, however, with its relatively secular Fatah leadership, continues to be regarded as a force for peace. The problem with that view is that it is an inversion of the truth.
Back in 2002 the journalist Douglas Davis, in an article originally published in the UK’s The Spectator, explained why he had stopped accepting interview requests for BBC TV. It was because “September 11 changed all that”:
Even as the Twin Towers came crashing down, the BBC was rushing in the first of a stream of studio analysts to solemnly intone, one after another, that it was racist to assume that Arabs or even Muslims were responsible. More likely, they chorused, it was the Mossad because such an event “played into Israeli hands.”
Blaming the Mossad for the attack belongs, of course, to the outermost fringe of the loony. But the BBC’s “profound anti-Israel bias,” Davis wrote—which “reaches into virtually every British living room”—had “become ingrained in the BBC’s corporate culture.” To the point that, “wittingly or not, the BBC has become the principal agent for re-infecting British society with the virus of anti-Semitism.”
Over a decade later, has the situation changed? Not much. A year ago Adam Levick, indefatigable proprietor of the Cif Watch site, which monitors “antisemitism and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy in The Guardian,” launched BBC Watch. The BBC’s “coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Levick noted, “is often extremely misleading and egregiously biased.”
While the BBC may not be as virulent and obsessive an attacker of Israel and Jews as The Guardian, it has even greater reach. As Levick points out, “97% of the UK population—and roughly 225 million more people worldwide—watch and listen to BBC broadcasts every week….” And the BBC’s main web portal (bbc.co.uk) gets an Alexa ranking as about the 50th most trafficked site in the world.
Denying the sanctity of Jewish life, subjecting Israel to unique, discriminatory treatment, and providing a steady platform for an outright antisemite are some of the BBC’s recent exploits.
Britain’s far-left newspaper/website the Guardian with its media group (which also includes the Observer) has been called “more hostile to Israel” than any “mainstream media outfit in the Western world.” That description was offered by The Commentator, the site run by Robin Shepherd, author of A State Beyond the Pale.
British media expert Tom Gross, noting that the Guardian has “acknowledged (or at least partly acknowledged) that [it] ha[s] a problem with anti-Semitism,” cites
the paper’s long track record of being at or near the forefront of efforts to demonize the Jewish state: its decades’ long policy of greatly exaggerating any wrongdoing by Israel while ignoring, downplaying or even romanticizing attacks on her.
That has included headlines such as “‘Netanyahu turns to Nazi language’ (July 10, 2009) or ‘Israel simply has no right to exist’ (Jan. 3, 2001),” as well as the term “‘proto-fascist’ (Feb. 12, 2009) to describe the Israeli cabinet….”
In its report on “Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2011,” the Community Security Trust (CST), which advises the UK Jewish community on security and antisemitism, devoted a whole section to the Guardian. “In 2011,” CST noted, “the Guardian faced more accusations of antisemitism than any other mainstream UK newspaper.”
The CiF Watch site does an excellent daily job of “monitoring and combating antisemitism, and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, at the Guardian and its blog, ‘Comment is Free.’”
The Guardian, with about 50 million unique visitors per month and about twelve times that many page views per month, has immense reach. It is one of the significant reasons that so many people in the West view Israel as an evil country. Claiming Israel should not exist, praising its terrorist attackers, and defaming its people and ethos are some of the Guardian’s contributions over the years.
I think now is the time to tally up how many people of Jewish ancestry there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk for Hungary.
Those words were spoken in the Hungarian parliament on November 27, 2012, by Márton Gyöngyösi, an MP of the neo-Nazi Jobbik Party.
As The Economist noted at the time:
Lists have a terrible resonance for Hungary’s Jews. When the Nazis invaded in March 1944 they used the lists of members of the Jewish community to organise one of the swiftest and most efficient episodes of the Holocaust. With the ready assistance of Hungarian officials and the Gendarmerie 430,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz in a few weeks, most to their deaths. On some days the gas chambers and crematoria processed more than 1,000 people an hour.
Yet the government of the ruling conservative Fidesz Party only gave what The Economist called a “lacklustre response.” True, Gyöngyösi’s words sparked a protest demonstration in front of parliament on December 2 with speeches from politicians across the spectrum. Yet it took Fidesz prime minister Viktor Orbán until December 3 to finally say in parliament that Gyöngyösi’s statement was “unworthy of Hungary”—hardly a stinging condemnation.
And the reason for such gingerness is that Jobbik—now Hungary’s third largest party, having won 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections—is too popular. Politicians, particularly on the conservative side of the spectrum, compete for its votes and don’t want to denounce it too sharply.
As for Gyöngyösi, he gave a partial retraction, saying that “only” those Jews with dual Hungarian-Israeli citizenship should be put on his list of security threats and that he “apologise[d] to my Jewish compatriots for my equivocal statement.”
Yet last May Gyöngyösi was back in form, saying Hungary had become “subjugated to Zionism…a target of colonisation while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras.”
The 35-year-old Gyöngyösi is “a far cry from the stereotype of the ultra-right skinhead or boot-boy. He is well-dressed, articulate, speaks fluent English and is the son of a diplomat….”
Check out the previous installments in this ongoing series:
#10: David Irving
#9: Roger Waters
The good news is that since September 28 the Greek government has been cracking down on Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi movement that won almost 7 percent of the popular vote in spring 2012 and, ending up with 18 parliamentary seats, became Greece’s third strongest party.
On September 17, an antifascist rapper named Pavlos Fissas (aka Killah P.) was stabbed to death in Athens, allegedly by a Golden Dawn activist. Earlier attacks, including at least one fatal one on an immigrant, were also ascribed to Golden Dawn.
On September 28, Greek police arrested Golden Dawn’s leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, and other top party members on charges of running a criminal organization. Michaloliakos and two other deputies are now in jail awaiting trial. Meanwhile the Greek parliament has voted to strip six more Golden Dawn MPs of their immunity.
While the Greek constitution doesn’t allow political parties to be banned, the parliament also appears set to cut Golden Dawn’s state funding.
So much for the good news.
The bad news is that, first, Golden Dawn remains popular. It was scoring as high as 14 percent in opinion polls before the rapper’s stabbing, and since then has gone back down to about 7 percent. Whether or not that’s just a temporary dip is not yet known.
And second, as long claimed and as Financial Times confirms, one of Golden Dawn’s strongholds in the country is none other than the police:
[Golden Dawn] has penetrated the country’s police force, set up caches of heavy weapons in remote locations and trained its recruits to carry out brutal attacks against immigrants and political opponents, according to the country’s top security official.
Nikos Dendias, minister of public order and civil protection…has assigned the police antiterrorism unit to probe the party’s allegedly criminal activities…. But another reason for taking the investigation away from the regular police force is that it has been infiltrated by Golden Dawn. Some police officers in districts with sizeable immigrant populations have gone beyond colluding with local neo-Nazis to set up political cells within their units, Mr. Dendias said.
…The move to crack down on Golden Dawn follows an escalation of violent incidents in recent months. Analysts say attacks became more frequent because of police foot-dragging over making arrests of Golden Dawn sympathisers and reluctance by politicians to take a strong stand against it.
Indeed, the bad news.
Check out the previous installments in this ongoing series:
#10: David Irving
#9: Roger Waters
Back on June 10, 2005, in New York, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accepted an award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of Turkish diplomats who had saved Jews during World War II. Erdoğan had been elected two years earlier as head of the Islamist AKP Party, at a time when the Turkish-Israeli strategic alliance and trade relations were thriving.
Although antisemitism ran deep in the AKP and in the Turkish Islamist camp generally, Erdoğan’s words at the award ceremony sounded reassuring. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Turkey,” he said.
It is alien to our culture.
The Turkish nation has been living for centuries with the Jewish people and will continue its close and friendly relations with them in the future.… Our consistent policy towards anti-Semitic diatribes can be nothing short of zero tolerance.
Erdoğan went so far as to call antisemitism “a criminal disease of mind.”
Just a month earlier Erdoğan had visited Israel with a large group of businessmen, held talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and said Iran’s nuclear program was a threat not just to Israel but to the whole world.
Today Erdoğan is still in office, having been reelected twice. And yet, while unofficial trade relations continue, Turkish-Israeli strategic and military ties are in shambles. The small Turkish Jewish community of about 20,000 (some put the figure lower) has been subjected to terror attacks and vilification and largely lives in fear. The same ADL has denounced Erdoğan’s “vitriolic condemnation of Israel and unqualified embrace of Hamas.” Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg has called him “a semi-unhinged bigot.”
What went wrong?
Legendary English rocker Roger Waters, born in 1943, cofounded the iconic group Pink Floyd in 1965 and stayed in it until 1985. Since then, while sometimes reuniting with other Pink Floyd members, he’s mainly pursued a solo career.
Waters is a pop star on a gigantic scale. Pink Floyd, for which he was the main songwriter, has sold over 250 million albums across the globe. Waters’s worldwide tour The Wall Live, which he began in 2010, sold over 1.4 million tickets in the first half of 2012, making it the international leader for all categories of concerts.
Like many pop stars, Waters has taken up causes. In 2009 he called the Israeli security fence in the West Bank an “obscenity” that “should be torn down.” He never got around to criticizing the waves of Palestinian suicide bombings and other terror attacks, which killed 1500 Israelis and wounded many thousands more, that prompted the building of the fence in the first place.
In 2011 Waters announced he had joined the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Consisting of Palestinian NGOs and leftist supporters, BDS favors a “one-state solution” whereby Israel would cease to exist.
Waters has been quite active in BDS. In a November 2012 speech to the UN he accused Israel—a member of the exclusively democrat OECD and rated a “Free” country by Freedom House—of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” and “international crimes.” Last August he published an open letter calling on other musicians to “declare a cultural boycott on Israel,” citing Stevie Wonder’s cancellation of a concert in Israel as a success story.
Waters, it goes without saying, does not call for a boycott of any other country on the globe. He has recently played concerts in human rights beacons like Russia, China, and Turkey without raising a peep of protest. Does all this—not least the scurrilous claim of “apartheid”—qualify him as an antisemite? In general, the Jewish world gave him the benefit of the doubt and refrained from making that charge.
That is, until an incident last July.
Anyone who may have thought that, after the Holocaust, antisemitism would be passé is revealed in retrospect as naïve.
Sixty-eight years after the genocide, antisemitism remains rampant in the Arab world and much of the Muslim world. It’s back with a vengeance in Europe, largely—but not solely—Israel-focused. Today the world’s only country to be subjected to a global delegitimization and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign is the Jewish one.
A study released last spring by Tel Aviv University found that worldwide antisemitism rose 30 percent in 2012 compared to the previous year. That particularly involved “violent acts against Jews,” with “273 attacks on persons of all ages; in addition, 190 synagogues, cemeteries and monuments were desecrated, and over 200 private and public properties damaged.” Most of the attacks occurred in countries having the largest Jewish communities outside Israel—in descending order of attacks, France, the U.S., the UK, Canada, and Australia.
The report also “noted the rise of anti-Semitic parties on the far right in Greece, Hungary and the Ukraine” and observed that in those countries,
vociferous representatives of these parties openly incite in parliament against local Jewish communities. Blatant anti-Semitic and anti-Israel expressions appeared to ignite violent activity in Hungary, and a significant rise in desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust memorials was recorded in Poland.
This series, counting down from 10 to 1, will profile ten of the worst purveyors of antisemitism—whether individuals or groups—in the world at large; an ensuing series will focus on U.S. antisemitism. In our era, antisemitism is most endemic in the Arab and Muslim sphere; outside of that domain, it tends to be most concentrated on the far right (both religious and political) and far left. All the categories will be “represented” in the series.
After the seven days of Sukkot, the early-autumn harvest festival that also commemorates the long trek to the Promised Land, falls the holiday of Simchat Torah. Also called Shemini Atzeret, it lasts for one day in Israel and two in the Diaspora.
Simchat Torah, which starts this year at sundown on Wednesday, September 25, means “rejoicing in the Torah” (and Shemini Atzeret means “assembly of the eighth day”). The holiday marks the end of one year’s cycle of readings of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and the start of the next year’s cycle. It can fall anytime from late September to late October.
Like Sukkot but with a somewhat different focus, Simchat Torah is a jubilant holiday. Torah scrolls get carried around synagogues in hakafot (circuits) amid singing and dancing.
The year is a cycle and the Torah itself is a cycle: it ends with Moses’ death and begins with God’s creation of the world. So Simchat Torah is renewal and rededication; it harvests the learning of the year just ended, and embarks on a new year of study.
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, when Jews were denied the right to emigrate and incurred personal risk by studying the Hebrew language and their heritage generally, Simchat Torah became a defiant assertion of identity. As reported, for instance, on October 22, 1976:
Thousands of Soviet Jews celebrated the Sukkot and Simchat Torah holidays last week in full view of agents of the KGB…. 20,000 Jews sang and danced in joyous celebration of Simchat Torah in front of the Moscow Synagogue.
For the KGB this was suspicious and threatening, warranting surveillance.
She announced that, at the foot of the Temple Mount, the team had found a large gold medallion, “remarkably well kept and glittering,” with reliefs of a seven-branched menorah, a shofar, and a Torah—timeless fundaments of Judaism well familiar in Israel and much of the Jewish world today.
The medallion was in a fabric bag; along with it was another fabric bag containing 36 gold coins and other artifacts.
Mazar assessed that the medallion and coins were abandoned in 614 CE, the year of the Persian conquest of Jerusalem. She added:
The position of the items…indicates that one bundle was carefully hidden underground, while the second bundle was apparently abandoned in haste and scattered across the floor. …
[T]he most likely explanation is that the findings were earmarked as a contribution toward the building of a new synagogue at a location that is near the Temple Mount. …
What is certain is that their mission, whatever it was, was unsuccessful, and its owners couldn’t return to collect it.
Mazar believes the medallion was an ornament for a Torah scroll, which would make it “the earliest such archeological find in history.” As for the coins, an Israeli expert said they “can be dated to the reigns of different Byzantine emperors, ranging from the middle of the 4th century CE to the early 7th century CE.”
Also this year Mazar’s team discovered the oldest known inscription in Jerusalem—from around 1000 BCE at the time of King David, a period of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. The medallion, however, comes from almost half a millennium after the loss of Jewish sovereignty and attests to the ongoing attachment to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
An attachment that continued up to the astounding restoration of Israel in our era.
Fifteen days after the stocktaking of Rosh Hashanah, and five days after the more rigorous stocktaking of Yom Kippur, falls the weeklong holiday of Sukkot—one of the most joyous and pleasant Jewish holidays. It began this year at sundown on Wednesday, September 18.
In ancient Israel, Sukkot was (along with Passover and Shavuot) one of three pilgrimage festivals in which Jews from throughout the land made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. In its oldest origins Sukkot was an autumn harvest festival. Exodus 23:16 calls it:
the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.
But in the next biblical book, Leviticus, God confers on Sukkot a more specific significance as he tells (Lev. 23:42-43) the Israelites:
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt….
The reference is to the Israelites’ dwelling in rough, temporary structures during their 40-year desert-trek to the Promised Land. Hence the “booths”—sukkot in Hebrew—that observant Jews (and in Israel, some not-so-observant Jews) build, decorate, eat meals in, and even sleep in during Sukkot.
Hence also the holiday’s English name, the Feast of Tabernacles.
Indeed, some historians make a highly plausible case that the holiday of Thanksgiving has its origins in Sukkot.
It’s reported that since Syria’s civil war erupted two and a half years ago, over 120 Syrians have come to Israeli hospitals for medical treatment. They appear to come mainly to Ziv Hospital in Safed, in the upper Galilee, and to the Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, also in upper Galilee on the Mediterranean coast.
The Syrians are described as “very badly hurt, with gunshot wounds and blast injuries, and receiving life-saving treatment.” They somehow make it to the Israeli border, from where the Israeli army transports them to the hospitals. Although predominantly civilians, often women and children, one report cites a Syrian patient who appears to be a “rebel fighter”—meaning he could well belong to a jihadi group that wants Israel destroyed.
Syria as a whole is decidedly hostile to Israel, having been in a state of war with it since Israel was established in 1948. If the situation was reversed—if Israelis were savagely killing each other en masse, which has never happened and never will—there is scant chance Syrian hospitals would accept wounded Israelis, even less that Syrian soldiers would bring them there for treatment.
Nevertheless, Dr. Calin Shapira, deputy head of Ziv Hospital, told Agence France-Presse that no wounded Syrians who come to Ziv are turned away:
It doesn’t matter where they’re from…. It’s important to give medical aid regardless—this is a principle of the medical profession.
Syrian wounded who come to Israel are in desperate need. A Syrian woman told French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières that in her country “there are no medicines, nowhere to go, no hospitals. Medicine has become a rare commodity.” Fifty-seven percent of Syria’s hospitals have been damaged in the fighting—some most likely deliberately targeted by one side or the other—and 36 percent have stopped functioning.
Saturday marks Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the solemnest day of the Jewish Year and, at least in Israel, the most widely observed.
Israel shuts down totally on Yom Kippur. No transportation; no TV, radio, or activity on websites; no stores, cinemas, or restaurants open. Kids exploit the utter stillness of the roads to cavort on them on bicycles.
Observant Jews pray three times a day on regular days; on Sabbaths and sacred holidays, four times; only on Yom Kippur, five times. And synagogues are packed to overflowing on Yom Kippur because the less-observant come to them too. Some come to synagogue only on this one day; some only for two days out of the year—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is the culmination of the ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. Its origin is in Leviticus 16:29-30:
in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do not work at all…
For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.
On the physical level, affliction takes the form of a fast, a 25-hour abstinence from all food and drink. Close to two-thirds of Israeli Jews, including even some who never go to synagogue, observe the fast. Considering that the weather from mid-September to mid-October (when Yom Kippur can fall) usually remains hot and dry, going 25 hours without even water can be a real affliction. Each year on Yom Kippur dozens of people, often elderly, get rushed to hospitals in ambulances for dehydration.
And on the spiritual level, affliction means Vidui—confession of sins before God, while undertaking to desist from them as the year begins. The afternoon prayer service includes a reading of the Book of Jonah, whose essence is God’s forgiveness of those who repent.
Yom Kippur ends, finally, with a fast-breaking meal, and an exhilarating sense—in Israel, interwoven with a special atmosphere of early autumn—of a new beginning.
See the previous installments of P. David Hornik’s fascinating series:
This summer a total of about 800 Jewish immigrants from France are expected to arrive in Israel. They’re part of a total of about 2500 who are expected to make their way here from France over the course of the year—an increase of 40 percent over last year.
As Sabrina Kozirov, arriving in August with her husband and two teenage daughters, told Israel’s Ynetnews:
The situation in France had become unbearable. There is a large Muslim community and harsh political criticism of Israel. Therefore we preferred to leave.
Her words dovetail with a report by an Israeli institute on the bleak situation of France’s Jews and Europe’s generally, and with a much-read article by French Jewish intellectual Michel Gurfinkiel on the same theme.
Along with the problems Sabrina Kozirov alludes to—the animosity (not infrequently violent) of Muslim populations and an intense anti-Israeli atmosphere generally—many of the European countries have been banning or trying to ban kosher slaughter and even circumcision, a Jewish practice going back to Abraham’s time in the Book of Genesis.
The attempt to “rebuild Jewish life” in post-Holocaust Europe was, of course, problematic from the start. A continent that could have produced the Holocaust could not, realistically, have been expected to make an abrupt about-face and become Jew-friendly. But the form European antisemitism now takes—particularly the animus against Israel—is not without some striking ironies.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes as early as it can this year on September 5 (lasting two days). It always falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, but since the Jewish and Gregorian calendars don’t match, Rosh Hashanah can also fall as late as October 5.
In any case, Rosh Hashanah (it literally means “head” or “beginning” of the year) comes with the onset of autumn or at least the dwindling of summer. It may seem an odd time for the year to begin; and Tishrei is, indeed, the seventh month of the Jewish year, not the first. The Jewish calendar, though, is marked by a certain defiance of nature: days begin at sundown, and the year begins when the natural year starts its decline.
Here in the Land of Israel, Rosh Hashanah is a time when the hot, bright blue of summer finally relents, permitting breezes and puffy white clouds. A time of apples and pomegranates, of kids going back to school, of stocktaking and renewal. The time when the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown in flat, eerie blasts in the synagogue, calling us to repent and get inscribed for another year in the Book of Life.
See the previous installments of P. David Hornik’s fascinating series:
Each time I fly, my ability to enjoy plane rides declines a bit further. Yes, there’s still something in me that likes the change, the adventure, being served meals in the sky. On the other hand, you pay over a thousand dollars to sit in a way that, on a bus or train, would be outrageously cramped and unacceptable.
That’s how it was in mid-August as I took a one-week jaunt—via Brussels both ways—to the U.S. and back. Instead of succeeding to sleep on the flights, my contorted attempts to achieve a comfortable position brought back all my ergonomic symptoms—sore shoulder, sore thumb—from the preceding year. In the twelve-hour layover in Brussels for the return trip, I felt so lousy—physically—that I didn’t even bother leaving the airport.
And yet…it was all worth it. Not only to go to my niece’s wedding and see various people again, but because, like all my trips to the States since moving to Israel 29 years ago, it had rich and notable moments.
Check out the previous installments in P. David Hornik’s ongoing series exploring how Israel is perceived around the globe.
August 4: Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 1: The Whole World Against Us
August 11: Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 2: That Bird Could Be a Mossad Agent!
August 18: Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 3: From Woodstock to the Promised Land
In a recent blog post, British Jewish author and commentator Melanie Phillips took the European Union to task for deciding to boycott Israelis who live in East Jerusalem, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and the Golan Heights.
Phillips clarifies why the EU’s designation of all Jewish life and activity in those places as “illegal” is legally, let alone morally, baseless. But if the EU and the UN regularly and ritually make this “illegality” charge, and pressure and punish Israel accordingly, Phillips claims that
the fault in large measure surely lies with Israel. For although some may find this incomprehensible, Israel does not make to the world the one case that matters—why Israelis are fully entitled under international law to build their homes in these territories….
And Phillips attributes that failing, among other things, to
Israel’s bleak and despairing judgement that the international community, composed of those who historically and presently were and are driven by obsessive hatred of the Jewish people and which finds expression for that hatred through vehicles such as the UN and EU, will always do the bidding of those who wish to destroy the Jews and is therefore impervious to reason and morality.
While I wouldn’t put it quite so strongly, I found those words noteworthy and insightful. It’s true, as many have complained, that Israel tends to be hesitant and diffident in making its case. Here I want to suggest three of the factors that have a discouraging effect.
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky,
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation.
Thus sang Joni Mitchell in “Woodstock,” a song of haunting beauty that she wrote in 1969 at the height of Vietnam War protest. Like all peaceniks, she assumes that “our nation” (technically, she was Canadian) is responsible for the hostilities, and if its bombers would just turn into butterflies, peace would reign.
In many places in Israel — a small, cramped country — you can hear the bombers in the sky on training flights. It most piques your interest when you hear them at night. Usually they’re just practicing night flying, but it could mean there’s been—or is going to be—an incident somewhere.
Or — in rare cases — you might hear just one bomber in the sky very late at night, in the wee hours. It can be scary: what if it’s not one of ours? Or, assuming that it is — why now, when they know it’s going to wake up and annoy (and scare) thousands of people?
Sometimes — after a bombing incident in, say, Syria or Lebanon — you’ll read a thousand speculations in the media on whether Israel was behind it, while Israeli officials remain tight-lipped and ambiguous. It may be, though, that everyone in a certain area of Israel actually knows pretty much what happened — because they heard the bombers take off from the airbase at a certain time and can see from the reports that the incident occurred shortly afterward.
There is probably no one in Israel, no matter how far to the left, who really wishes in his or her heart that the bombers weren’t there or would turn into harmless, fluttery entities.
What a relief. It turned out recently that a bird detained in Turkey, on suspicion of spying for Israel, was cleared of the charges.
The bird was a kestrel, a type of small falcon. It was discovered by residents of the Turkish village of Altinavya in the Elazig province. It had a metal ring on its foot stamped with “24311 Tel Avivunia Israel.”
Worried residents of the village turned the bird over to Elazig’s Firat University. There, as Britain’s Telegraph reports:
medical personnel…initially identified the kestrel as “Israeli Spy” in their registration documents. Intensive medical examinations—including X-rays—determined that the bird was, indeed, just a bird. There were no sign of microchips that might transmit information back to Israel, local media reported. The kestrel was allowed to fly off after authorities determined there was no need to press charges.
Turkey, it should be noted, was long considered a prime example of a Muslim secular democracy. It even had extensive economic and strategic relations with Israel.
Many date the deterioration of those relations from the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when Israeli commandos, attacked by a mob, killed nine Islamists on a Turkish ship headed toward Gaza. But Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had already started curtailing those relations over Israel’s 2008-2009 operation against his fellow Islamists, Hamas, in Gaza.
Turkey, in other words, has moved closer to the anti-Israeli attitudes prevalent in the region’s Arab countries. Both in those countries and in Turkey itself, the kestrel incident was hardly the first of its kind.
One of the most arresting passages in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) occurs in the 23rd chapter of the Book of Numbers.
The stage is set in Numbers 22. The Israelites, on their way to the Promised Land, have camped out in the plains of Moab—in what is now Jordan, just across the Jordan River from what is now Israel. They’re a vast multitude, and Balak, king of Moab, sees them and is deathly afraid.
So Balak summons a Moabite prophet, Balaam, and asks him to “curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me….” Balaam eventually agrees, but with the proviso that “the word that God putteth in my mouth, that I shall speak.”
In Numbers 23:9, referring to the people of Israel both in the singular and the plural, Balaam pronounces:
For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
This, then, is not a “curse” but something God has put in Balaam’s mouth. Yet it seems to imply some sort of splendid isolation, a separate and unique fate.
Yet other, no less resonant statements in the Bible suggest that Israel’s destiny is very much connected to that of other peoples. In Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6, God says Israel’s mission is to be “a light unto the nations”; and in Isaiah 60:3: “And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising.” In Genesis, God tells Abraham three times, and Isaac once, that “In thee shall all nations [or 'families'] of the earth be blessed.”
That theme—or contradiction?—of splendid isolation while having much to offer other peoples runs throughout Jewish history, and is very much present in Israel today.