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P. David Hornik

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the new book Choosing Life in Israel. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/
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Israeli Women, Part 4: Great Ladies of Hebrew Song

Sunday, April 20th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Editor’s Note: Please check out the previous installments of this ongoing series. 

Israeli Women, Part 1: Ace Pilots Reporting for Duty

Israeli Women, Part 2: Island of Progress in a Dark Sea

Israeli Women, Part 3: The Jews’ Iron Lady, Golda Meir

Songs have played a huge role in Israeli nation-building. With Jews immigrating to the land from all over the world, an incredibly diverse mix of influences had to be sifted into the musical melting pot. And yet, even in pioneering days well before the declaration of statehood in 1948, songs of distinct, unmistakable Israeli (or what came to be called Israeli) character started emerging.

The Zionist enterprise was not an easy one, beset with economic hardship and violent attacks, and songs were a huge morale-booster. Public sing-a-longs, often with dancing, were a staple of life in the rural settlements and also became part of the general culture. Songs ran the gamut of human experience, but love for the restored land, and heroism and mourning connected to wars and battles, were common themes especially on the collective level. Songs using biblical motifs and passages were also very popular.

Women have been among Israel’s greatest creators and performers of songs. Here I can only offer a few examples from dozens of worthy cases.

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4 Things to Get Liberated From This Passover

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

Still-life with wine and matzoh (jewish passover bread)

Passover, which began Monday at sundown and lasts for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora, is one of the major, constitutive holidays of the Jewish people. It commemorates the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt 3300 years ago, which led to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and an arduous 40-year trek to the Promised Land.

The basic instructions for Passover are laid down by God in Exodus 12:

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever….

And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.

The “feast” is the Passover seder practiced by Jews all over the world to this day; the “unleavened bread” is the matza eaten at the seder and all throughout Passover by observant Jews. Passover is a joyous holiday, and in our era it has the added spice of the return to the Promised Land and the rise of a free and independent Jewish state.

Passover coincides this year with a dramatic political event—the crisis and possible demise of yet another Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” this one shepherded earnestly, passionately, and futilely by U.S. secretary of state John Kerry. We are now at a juncture that offers two options: to remain enslaved to the same flawed assumptions that lead again and again to failure; or to finally get liberated from them and reach a Promised Land of understanding and rational policy.

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Israeli Women, Part 3: The Jews’ Iron Lady, Golda Meir

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Golda Meir was Israel’s fourth prime minister, serving from 1969 to 1974, and the world’s third female head of government. In her seventies at the time, she charmed much of the world with her “Jewish grandmother” image—especially as juxtaposed with her defense minister Moshe Dayan, a tough sabra (native-born Israeli) with an eye-patch.

Unlike Dayan, Meir was not a sabra; she was born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1898. Her first memory was of her father boarding up the front door because of rumors of a pogrom. In 1905 her father moved to Milwaukee by himself in search of work; a year later, having found a job in a railroad yard, he brought the rest of the family over.

Golda showed leadership qualities early, forming something called the American Young Sisters Society. She was also drawn to socialist Zionism, then an energetic enterprise devoted to creating pioneering settlements in the Land of Israel. She joined a socialist-Zionist youth movement, and in that context she met Morris Meyerson. They got married in 1917, and in 1921 they left to join the fledgling Jewish community in Palestine. (Golda later Hebraicized the name Meyerson to Meir.)

Golda Meir’s story stirs a certain nostalgia. The current Israeli Labor Party—a descendant of socialist Zionism or, as it came to be called, Labor Zionism—is a pallid, even ludicrous remnant. It hardly has the spunk and grit that Golda Meir embodied. True, the decline of socialism left a void for this ideological trend; but it’s not only that.

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Israeli Women, Part 2: Island of Progress in a Dark Sea

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Observers like Caroline Glick, Michael Curtis, and popular blogger Elder of Zion have all noted the strange fact that feminists tend to beat up on Israel while giving the Arab (and larger Muslim) world a free pass.

As Glick points out:

if being a feminist means attacking the only country in the Middle East where women enjoy freedom and equal rights, then feminism…has become at best, a meaningless term…. The deception at the heart of the feminist movement is nowhere more apparent than in the silence with which self-professed feminists and feminist movements ignore the inhumane treatment of women who live under Islamic law…. Leading feminist voices in the US and Europe remain unforgivably silent on the unspeakable oppression of women and girls in Islamic societies….

On December 30, 2010, Moshe Katsav, who had served as president of Israel (a ceremonial but significant post) from 2000 to 2007, was convicted of rape and sexual harassment by a three-judge panel. The judges were two Jewish women, Miriam Sokolow and Judith Shevah, and an Arab man, George Kara.

It was an illuminative moment in several ways:

● Whereas in Israel rape, including marital rape, is a felony, most Arab countries explicitly or tacitly allow marital rape; rape is currently endemic particularly in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen; and in many Arab countries the victim of rape is the one who is charged with an offense.

● There could be no parallel phenomenon of a Jewish judge sentencing an Arab defendant, let alone a former high official, in an Arab country, not least because almost all the Jews who lived in those countries had to flee because of persecution.

● Whereas there are very small percentages of female judges in a minority of Arab countries (and none in the rest), in Israel half of all magistrate and district-court judges are women, and for years the Supreme Court has included at least one woman.

Even if it doesn’t fit the warped view of today’s feminists, the difference between Israel and the Arab world on women’s rights (and human rights generally) is night and day.

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Israeli Women, Part 1: Ace Pilots Reporting for Duty

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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As of 1996, if you were a woman, you could be a pilot in the Israeli air force. As of this year, you can keep being one even if you’re pregnant.

The Times of Israel reports that “the IAF…has opened the skies to pregnant pilots and navigators” and that “transport plane pilots will be allowed to fly until the 25th week of pregnancy.”

It was in 1995 that an Israeli woman named Alice Miller, who was already a civilian pilot and an IAF officer, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down the IAF’s ban on female pilots. In 1996 the court ruled in her favor, and since then about 35 women have received their wings from the IAF.

It’s part of a general trend where more and more women are filling combat roles in the Israel Defense Forces. About 3% of its combat soldiers are now women, including 70% of the Caracal infantry battalion, 10% of the artillery corps, and 6% of the Border Police. Also this year the IDF appointed Oshrat Bachar as its first-ever female battalion commander.

One might think all this would make Israel a hero of the feminist left. But you’d be more likely to stumble upon an Israel Apartheid Week exhibit on a campus than see the left give Israel credit for much of anything these days.

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Farewell to a Fighter: Meir Har-Zion, Larger-than-Life Israeli Legend, Dies at 80

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Meir Har-Zion, an iconic Israeli military figure, died at 80 on March 14. He never pursued a political career and you probably haven’t heard of him. Indeed, his military exploits were mostly confined to a three-year period in the 1950s. Yet his fame in Israel never wore off, and a 2005 poll ranked him 15th out of the 200 greatest Israelis of all time.

Moshe Dayan—another iconic Israeli figure who was a chief of staff, defense minister, and foreign minister—called Har-Zion “the finest of our commando soldiers, the greatest Jewish warrior since Bar Kochba,” referring to the leader of the 2nd-century-CE revolt against Rome. It was Dayan who had Har-Zion appointed an officer even though he had never undergone officers’ training.

In eulogizing Har-Zion, current defense minister Moshe Yaalon called him “one of the greatest warriors in the history of the IDF—an audacious, distinctive commander whose influence in molding generations of fighters and units was pivotal.”

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Near-Death Experiences, a New Take on Life, Part 5: Can God and Evil Be Reconciled?

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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“I went down a tunnel, I saw a light.” It has become such a standard part of near-death-experience accounts that it’s almost a cliché. Near-death experiencers report moving through a (usually dark) tunnel and emerging at a different place, where they may encounter a being of light, deceased relatives, heavenly landscapes, a review of their lives—usually some combination, or all, of those elements.

The tunnel experience is common though not universal. Some NDErs seem to go directly to the other world, without passing through a tunnel. Tunnels seem to be considerably less common in Hindu NDEs. Japanese NDErs report moving along rivers instead of tunnels.

At least in Western NDEs, though, tunnels are more common in cases where NDErs are actually clinically dead. All this suggests that the tunnel is a metaphorical representation of the transition from one world to the other. What is, however, universal is that the world encountered in the NDE is very different from the earthly one—and in the vast majority of cases, a lot better. To such an extent that NDErs—no matter what their earthly responsibilities and attachments—usually want to stay in the transcendent world, and regret—sometimes quite painfully—having to return to the earthly one.

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Purim: A Wacky Tribute to Life

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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The wackiest of the many holidays on the Jewish calendar is Purim, which falls this year on Saturday evening and Sunday (and a day later in Jerusalem). Purim commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from a genocidal decree of the Persian Empire sometime in the 5th century BCE. Its story is told in the Book of Esther, the last of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible to be canonized.

Purim, as laid down in the ninth chapter of Esther two and a half millennia ago, is a joyous day, marked by a festive meal, the sending of food gifts, the giving of charity, and the public reading of Esther (mostly in synagogues, though in Israel you can tune into synagogue readings on TV). The Talmud even tells you to get drunk on Purim until you can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” (the villain of the Book of Esther, who is eventually hanged) and “blessed be Mordechai” (a good guy, who eventually becomes the king’s second-in-command).

At some point in medieval times Purim also became a costume holiday. While, in today’s Diaspora, Purim is mostly celebrated by observant Jews, in today’s Israel it’s a countrywide event and you can see colorful, often bizarre costumes everywhere, along with carnival processions on city streets (a custom begun in a then brand-new city, Tel Aviv, in 1912).

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Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 4: Brian Miller’s Case Challenges the Skeptics

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

Skepticism is the right attitude if it means you insist on real, strong proof before being persuaded of something. It is not a good attitude if it means you’re set to deny and belittle proof of something no matter what.

Skeptics about whether near-death experiences are real tend to be in the second category. Millions of people have undergone them since the 1960s; a good summary of the confirmative evidence that arises from this vast trove of experience is here.

Just last month an NDE case in Ohio was reported (here, here, and here, for instance) that should give the skeptics a particularly hard time.

As The Blaze told it:

Brian Miller, 41, was hospitalized after suffering a major heart attack. While he was doing well at first, his heart eventually went into a deadly arrhythmia called Ventricular fibrillation, described by the Mayo Clinic as “a … rhythm problem that occurs when the heart beats with rapid, erratic electrical impulses.”

From that point, Miller was out cold. As a nurse affirmed, “He had no heart rate, he had no blood pressure, he had no pulse…. His brain had no oxygen for 45 minutes….”

In other words, Miller was in the state known as clinical death. Before the advent of modern CPR techniques, there would have been a simpler name for it: death. He would have been seen as beyond any hope of revival.

Brian Miller, of course, revived—but how it happened, and even whether the medical team’s efforts were solely responsible for it, is not at all clear.

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Introducing: A Deity Who Makes Sense

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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“HEAVENLY Father,” take to thee

The supreme iniquity,

Fashioned by thy candid hand

In a moment contraband.

Though to trust us seem to us

More respectful—“we are dust.”

We apologize to Thee

For Thine own Duplicity.

That’s by Emily Dickinson, the wonderful 19th-century American poet who churned out almost two thousand poems in almost total obscurity, too shy to publish more than a handful of them during her lifetime.

“Heavenly Father” is a retort, couched in acid irony, and also a plaint. We are not supposed to be anything much—dust, iniquity. Creating us was a momentary lapse, a glitch. The father is not presumed to be proud of what he has wrought.

And yet, if the creations are that flawed, why blame them for their failings? It seems like a double insult—to be fashioned as something iniquitous, then also held accountable for it. Dickinson raised here a profound question about moral responsibility and the relationship of the creator to his imperfect handiwork.

The poetess died at 55 in 1886, and “Heavenly Father” is considered one of her later poems. That means she wrote it about a hundred years before the publication in 1975 of Raymond Moody’s Life After Life, the first major, groundbreaking book on near-death experiences. At that time, thanks to advances in resuscitation medicine in the 1960s, there was a sudden surge in the numbers of people—ordinary people, not mystics or spiritualists—saying they had had a direct experience of the deity. They gave descriptions of a being more logical, or reasonable, than the one Dickinson had accosted.

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What if They Gave a Review of Your Life and You Had to Come?

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 1 of P. David Hornik’s new series: Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 1: Sam Parnia Explains Where the Field Is Leading. And click here to see his previous articles on the subject here: Do You Believe in Life After Death?

Out-of-body experiences, tunnels, bright lights, deceased relatives, a being of light—and life reviews. These are the most commonly reported elements of near-death experiences. They have been reported now for decades from all over the world, across cultures and religions. Of all of them, the life review may be the most difficult to imagine and “otherworldly.” Out-of-body experiences, encounters with dead people, mystical experiences of a deity—all these have long been on record outside of NDEs as well. The tunnel experience seems to have been represented in a painting by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch over five hundred years ago. Life reviews, however, may be the most “exotic” compared to our familiar modes of perception. Dutch cardiologist and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel quotes this life-review account of one of his patients:

All of my life up till the present seemed to be placed before me in a kind of panoramic, three-dimensional review, and each event seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of good or evil or with an insight into cause or effect. Not only did I perceive everything from my own viewpoint, but I also knew the thoughts of everyone involved in the event, as if I had their thoughts within me. This meant that I perceived not only what I had done or thought, but even in what way it had influenced others, as if I saw things with all-seeing eyes…. Looking back, I cannot say how long this life review…lasted, it may have been long, for every subject came up, but at the same time it seemed just a fraction of a second, because I perceived it all at the same moment. Time and distance seemed not to exist….

This is only one account, but anyone who has delved even modestly into the NDE literature as I have knows there are numerous other, remarkably similar ones.

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Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 1: Sam Parnia Explains Where the Field Is Leading

Sunday, February 16th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Sam Parnia is one of the world’s leading experts on death—on how people can medically be brought back from the dead, and on what happens to the mind, or soul, or consciousness, after people die.

Of UK origin, Parnia works these days as assistant professor of medicine at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. He is also directing the joint American-Canadian-British AWARE study, which he calls “the world’s largest ever study of mind and brain during cardiac arrest.” And he is the author, most recently (with Josh Young), of Erasing Death, an up-to-date exploration of both of Parnia’s areas of expertise—resuscitation from death, and death itself.

About half of this book focuses on resuscitation science—which, since the 1960s, has been able to bring people back from states of clinical death. What Parnia has to say is interesting and informative, though it is not the reason I got hold of the book; I’m more interested in what could be called the mystical angle.

Basically, in Parnia’s telling, resuscitation science is both making unprecedented advances and not doing that well. Thanks to the new technique of cooling the body of a clinically dead person, cell deterioration in the body can be slowed down, and people can be resuscitated for ever-longer periods after death has occurred. On the other hand, survival rates—the percentages of people who are actually brought back to life—are still low and have not improved since the 1960s. “It’s really amazing,” Parnia says, “but absolutely true.”

What’s needed, Parnia contends, is for the resuscitation field to be much better organized, standardized, and coordinated. At this point, the quality of resuscitation care you get at a hospital—or whether you even get it—is pot luck. Parnia thinks the situation can be drastically improved, which would not only mean bringing a lot more people back to life, but restoring a lot more of them intact instead of in vegetative or brain-damaged states.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #1: Louis Farrakhan

Sunday, February 9th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Louis Farrakhan, born in New York City in 1933, started out in life as a talented musician. Training intensively on the violin from the age of six, he played with the Boston College orchestra and the Boston Civic Symphony, appeared and won an award on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, and won national competitions as a teenager. In the 1950s Farrakhan—or Louis Wolcott as he was then known—took a different musical tack as a calypso performer. He recorded albums, toured, and in 1955 headlined a show in Chicago called “Calypso Follies.” In other words, Louis Wolcott could have gone on contributing something positive to society as a musician and entertainer.

But that year, 1955, in Chicago, he embarked on a different path. Through a friend, Wolcott came into contact with the Nation of Islam, an antiwhite, antisemitic, African-American organization founded in the 1930s. Wolcott joined, converted to Islam, renounced music, and—in a profound sense—was no more, having morphed into Louis Farrakhan. And Farrakhan quickly rose through the Nation of Islam’s ranks, becoming its leading figure by the early 1980s. He has also been, for decades, America’s most vicious antisemitic rabble-rouser, poisoning thousands of minds or exacerbating poison that was already there. As Discover the Networks notes:

For many years, Farrakhan has ranked among the most influential black figures in America. He draws enormous, standing-room-only crowds of listeners wherever he speaks. An October 1992 lecture he gave in Atlanta actually outdrew a World Series game played there that same night….

Farrakhan’s October 16, 1995 “Million Man March” [in Washington] drew several hundred thousand attendees….

Farrakhan has been a mentor and role model to many black radicals, among the most notable being Malik Zulu Shabazz and the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad.

Farrakhan’s venues for speeches include mosques, churches, and universities, as well as online lectures. At Madison Square Garden in 1985, he addressed a notable but typical statement to Jews: “And don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!”

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #2: Students for Justice in Palestine

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Students for Justice in Palestine is a vicious, violent, antisemitic organization that hopes to contribute to Israel’s destruction. With U.S. campuses a hotbed of antisemitic and anti-Israeli agitation driven mainly by Muslim and leftist organizations, the Anti-Defamation League has called SJP the “most ubiquitous” of these groups.

SJP was founded by Islamic and Marxist activists at Berkeley in 2001. One of its cofounders, Hatem Bazian, is a senior lecturer at UC Berkeley who won notoriety in 2004 by calling for an intifada in the United States. Before cofounding SJP, Bazam was a student activist at San Francisco State University and, according to Rabbi Doug Kahn, “more responsible than any other student on campus for trying to make life miserable for Jewish students.” That included working to keep students with Jewish last names out of student government.

SJP’s other cofounder is Snehal Shingavi, a Marxist and member of the International Socialist Organization. Shingavi, now at the University of Texas at Austin, made a national splash in 2002 when he offered a course at Berkeley on “Palestinian Resistance” and said conservatives need not apply. He has praised the Taliban, Iraqi terror, and Hamas, and his collaboration with Bazian was a classic case of the Red-Green Alliance.

SJP, which is closely allied with American Muslims for Palestine, has kept growing and now has about 90 chapters at American universities. It held its first national conference at Columbia in 2011. There it promulgated its “Points of Unity,” which state that SJP is

committed to ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands…. It calls for respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.

In line with this destroy-Israel agenda, based in part on a nonbinding GA resolution that was unequivocally rejected by the Arab world at the time, SJP mounts “apartheid wall” displays on campuses, campaigns for divestment from Israel, equates Israelis with Nazis, disrupts events with Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers—and worse.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #3: Thomas Friedman

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was for a long time a particularly harsh critic of Israel. The criticism had a special edge, a sneer, to it. The Israelis were such idiots he almost couldn’t believe it.

As in a November 2009 column where Friedman asserted:

Right now [America] want[s] [peace] more than the parties…. Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other…. [T]hen I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table….

Full disclosure: Israelis don’t like this sort of thing. We don’t like being derided by a comfortable American Jew like Thomas Friedman for “not feeling enough pain,” not wanting peace. We don’t like being told that we and our rather peace- and democracy-challenged neighbors are on the same peace-refusing page, and a “detailed U.S. plan” is all it would take for flowers of harmony to sprout.

Then there was the March 2010 dust-up when Vice President Biden was here, and the Israeli Interior Ministry committed the terrific faux pas of announcing plans for apartments—for Jews, no less—in a Jerusalem neighborhood. Biden, Friedman wrote,

should have… flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious….”

Again, those damn idiot Israelis. If one were to veer into the psychological, one would note that in these outbursts Friedman himself is suffering embarrassment over what he sees as his boorish country cousins, and contrasting this rather emphatically with his American allegiance.

And there were other instances, as when, writing from Tahrir Square, Cairo, in February 2011, Friedman celebrated what he called a “Facebook-driven, youth-led democracy uprising” and jeered at Israel’s leadership—after all, what did these country rubes know about the region they lived in?—for being so “out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven” as to think that the fall of Hosni Mubarak would usher in the Muslim Brotherhood.

All this, again, was especially nasty criticism, but not antisemitism. But if there’s one thing you learn from looking into antisemitism in today’s world, it’s that the severe and persistent Israel-critics have a larger Jewish problem.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #4: Ali Abunimah

Sunday, January 19th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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If you oppose Israel’s existence, and especially if you work for its destruction, you’re an antisemite—even if you don’t say things like “Jews are always out for your money,” “Jews control all the world’s governments and banks,” “Jews drink blood at Passover,” etc.

Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, and about half the world’s Jews live in it. If you devote yourself to its dissolution, you’re anti-Jewish—antisemitic—just as someone devoted to America’s dissolution would, of course, be anti-American.

Ali Abunimah, an American of Palestinian descent who runs the Electronic Intifada website, has been called “the leading American proponent of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” “One-state solution” is code for Israel’s demise, to be replaced by a country of mixed Arab and Jewish population that would, however, extend the “right of return” to millions of descendants of (purported) Palestinian Arabs.

In other words, there would no longer be any Jewish state anywhere in the world, but there would be yet another Arab state in the Middle East, one where Jews would be a minority. For an idea of how that would work out, one can consider the current situation of Christians in the Arab Middle East.

Indeed, Ali Abunimah himself has acknowledged that, under a “one-state solution”:

You can never have an absolute guarantee about what the future will be like….You cannot guarantee that if there was a one-state solution it wouldn’t, it would be…the best scenario is if it’s more in the direction of South Africa and Northern Ireland than Zimbabwe. But we couldn’t rule out, you know, some disastrous situation, like Zimbabwe.

Not only couldn’t we rule it out, we could be sure of it, and almost all Israeli Jews know it. But for Abunimah and so many like him, the current tally of at least two Palestinian states, twenty-three Arab states, and forty-nine Muslim states isn’t enough; the one Jewish state has got to go.

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Tu Bishvat, Israel’s Holiday of Trees

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

PJM-Tu Bishvat-1This Wednesday evening and Thursday mark the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat (the name refers to the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat). Also known as the New Year of Trees and as Israeli Arbor Day, it’s a minor, nonbiblical holiday, its source in the Talmud. But quite a to-do is made about it in Israel.

The Talmud specified Tu Bishvat as the day on which the annual agricultural cycle begins. Considering that the holiday falls in January or, at best, February, this—the middle of winter—may seem a strange time for agricultural rebirth. It is, though, the time in the Land of Israel when—amid the cold and damp, but with sunnier intervals—you start to see the first white and pink almond blossoms.

You also see packages of dried fruits (dates, figs, apricots, pineapple) and nuts, especially almonds, everywhere. In the Diaspora, Tu Bishvat was marked by eating fruits of the Land of Israel. In the European Diaspora with its cold winters, that meant dried fruits. Now, back in the Land of Israel, they’re ubiquitous at this time of year.

But on a deeper, more ideological level, Israeli Tu Bishvat has become a day of massive tree planting. The custom began in 1890, in the early days of Zionist settlement. A bit later—about a century ago—it was adopted by the Jewish National Fund, which made Tu Bishvat a day to fight malaria by planting swamp-draining eucalyptus trees.

By now the Jewish National Fund has planted over 240 million trees in Israel, adding 12,500 acres of new forest every year. On each Tu Bishvat it holds tree-planting events in forests; about a million Israelis take part in them including large numbers of schoolchildren.

Mark Twain, touring the Land of Israel in 1867, not long before Zionist settlement began, described it this way:

…[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds—a silent mournful expanse…. A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…. We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere….

 He wouldn’t recognize it today.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #5: Ron Paul

Sunday, January 12th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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A few months ago Ron Paul touched off a media flap by agreeing to give the keynote address, on September 11, to a conference of the Fatima Center in Niagara Falls, Canada. The American Jewish Committee said it was “appalled” and “dismayed” and called on Paul to reconsider. Of course, he did not take the advice.

The Fatima Center is a Catholic fringe group whose leader, Father Nicholas Gruner, was suspended by the Vatican in 1996.

As a Huffington Post blogger noted at the time, the center,

has in the past published writing suggesting that Jews should be stripped of certain civil rights…. Gruner [and other leaders] have for over two decades promoted claims that a global conspiracy of wealthy “apostate Jews” and Freemasons—who are alleged to have financed Hitler and the Nazis and hold a “Hitler-like doctrine of exterminating the gentile races and repopulating the Earth with their own kind”—is plotting to institute a “New World Order” global government under the command of the anti-Christ.

 …Also…at the event will be speakers who have promoted Holocaust denial and portrayed global warming as a hoax that will be used to justify a Jewish and Israeli-led genocide of most of the Earth’s population, and who reject the long-established scientific fact that the Earth orbits the Sun.

Gruner himself is a blatant Holocaust denier, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has called the Fatima Center “perhaps the single largest group of hard-core anti-Semites in North America.”

What, then, was the longtime congressman and three-time presidential aspirant doing—on September 11, of all days—addressing such a gathering?

The answer is that he fit right in.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #6: Patrick Buchanan

Sunday, January 5th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

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Here’s Pat Buchanan in 1990, not long before the First Iraq War:

There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East—the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.

Here he is in 2004:

[N]eoconservatives…Perle and Wolfowitz and Wurmser and the others, working with Netanyahu, had an agenda for war with Iraq that was going nowhere.

9/11 happens, and they put this agenda before a president, who in my judgment was untutored, as his father was not. Reagan would not have done this. I don’t think his father would have done this.

They captured Rumsfeld, and they captured Cheney, and I think they captured the president….

Also in 2004:

Who would benefit from these endless wars in a region that holds nothing vital to America—save oil? … Who would benefit from a “war of civilizations” with Islam? Who other than these neoconservatives and Ariel Sharon?

In 2008:

Israel and its Fifth Column in this city seek to stampede us into a war with Iran….

And here he is on December 11, 2013:

One wonders if Netanyahu and his amen corner in Congress have considered the backlash worldwide should they succeed in scuttling Geneva and putting this nation on the fast track to another Mideast war Israel and Saudi Arabia may want but America does not.

In psychological terms, this is called obsession. In ideological terms, it’s called antisemitism. It casts Jews as a uniquely powerful, malign, manipulative group.

Sprinkled through Buchanan’s writings one can find derisive references to the non-Israelis and non-Jews who were hawks on Iraq in the 1990s, or on Iraq in the 2000s, or are hawks on Iran today—Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, George W. Bush, William Bennett, the Wall Street Journal, James Woolsey, John Bolton, Lindsey Graham, and Trent Franks are a few.

In Buchanan’s telling they are all in thrall to Israel, the source of all evil and the only threat to America emanating from the Middle East. No one, not even a president, a defense secretary, can think for himself; anyone who has ever been a hawk on any of those three issues has never had a valid argument but has instead been corralled by the Jewish lust for war.

Nothing has ever made Buchanan think otherwise. Not 9/11; not Iran’s 2011 attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant; not its ongoing record of anti-American terror; not its whole parliament joining in “Death to America” chants on November 3, 2013; not its continuing work on ICBMs; not dire warnings on its nuclear progress by groups like the IAEA and the ISIS (in the Jews’ pocket?); not statements by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei like “our people say ‘Death to America,’ and this is like saying ‘I seek God’s refuge from the accursed Satan….’”

Not the fact that the U.S.-led coalition for the First Iraq War included Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Oman, the UAR, Qatar, Pakistan…all members of the “amen corner”? Not the fact that American Jews are mostly left-liberal doves and 70 percent of them opposed the Second Iraq War. Not the fact that Ariel Sharon advised George Bush against that war.

But Pat Buchanan’s type of antisemitism has never been trumped by facts.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #7: David Duke

Sunday, December 29th, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

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No top ten of American hate would be complete without David Duke, the ex-Louisiana state representative who has made a career out of white supremacism and slandering African Americans, gays, and most of all Jews. The reason I put Duke no higher than number seven on my list is that, despite his fervent efforts, he has been kept—just barely—out of the mainstream. More mainstream, presentable figures—who are not hate-mongers per se—are more effective purveyors of antisemitism.

The Anti-Defamation League has called Duke “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite.” His greatest triumph, if one can call it that, was being elected in 1989 to the Louisiana State Legislature, where he served until 1992. Duke has also run unsuccessfully for governor of Louisiana and for U.S. senator (twice), representative, and even president. His first bid for the Senate and his bid for the governorship, however, won a majority of white Louisiana voters.

Meanwhile Duke has carried on with the show, tirelessly spreading hate through books, articles, his newsletter, his website, and leadership of racist organizations from the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s to, at present, his European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). More recently Duke has been taking the show on the road, further inflaming Jew-hatred in places—including parts of Eastern Europe and, particularly, the Middle East—where it is already strong. And lately Duke has been starring on Iranian TV.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #8: John Mearsheimer

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

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Up until 2006 John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, was a scholarly exponent of the realist school, which holds that foreign policy is driven by interests and not by domestic politics.

That year, however, Mearsheimer, with coauthor and fellow realist Stephen Walt of Harvard, published—both on the website of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and in the London Review of Books—a paper called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” It argued that America’s Middle East policy was totally in thrall to “the Israel Lobby,” which was responsible for getting America bogged down in Iraq and making it a target of Islamic terrorists.

Suddenly the two professors, who until then had worked within the academic world, found themselves the focus of a much wider polemical ruckus. Their paper drew praise from some—including, to put it mildly, a problematic figure like white-supremacist David Duke, who called it “a modern American Declaration of Independence.” And it drew bitter criticism from others.

One of those critics was Eliot A. Cohen of Johns Hopkins University, who published a Washington Post op-ed on the paper called “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”

Cohen noted that, whereas Walt and Mearsheimer claimed that “Osama bin Laden’s grievance with the United States begins with Israel,” actually the terror leader’s 1998 fatwa declaring war against America began by condemning its supposed sins in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

And if the war in Iraq “stemmed from The Lobby’s conception of Israel’s interest” as Walt and Mearsheimer charged, it was odd that “the war attracted the support of anti-Israel intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens and mainstream publications such as The Economist.” (It was also revealed a year later that in 2003, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had actually advised President George W. Bush against invading Iraq.)

“Inept, even kooky academic work,” wrote Cohen, “but is it anti-Semitic?” In reply to his own question, he wrote:

If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments…why, yes, this paper is anti-Semitic.

Undoubtedly taking note of the fireworks, Farrar, Straus & Giroux gave the two profs an advance of over $700,000 for a book based on their controversial paper. The book was published in 2007 and made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #9: Willis Carto

Sunday, December 15th, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

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If Satan himself, with all of his super-human genius and diabolical ingenuity at his command, had tried to create a permanent disintegration and force for the destruction of the nations, he could have done no better than to invent the Jews.

Those words were written back in 1966 by Willis Carto, whom the Anti-Defamation League calls “one of the most influential American anti-Semitic propagandists of the past 50 years.”

Carto, born in 1926, is still going strong at 87, having devoted most of his adult life to hatred of Jews. It seems to have started sometime after Carto’s service in the U.S. Army during World War II, when he encountered a crank named Francis Parker Yockey.

Yockey, too, had served in the U.S. Army, but was medically discharged with a diagnosis of “dementia praecox, paranoid type.” In 1946 Yockey served as an assistant to the prosecution at the War Crimes Tribunal in Wiesbaden, but soon quit because he thought the Nazi defendants weren’t being treated fairly.

A couple of years later Yockey finished his magnum opus, a 600-page, racist and fascist, nearly-unintelligible treatise called Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics. Willis Carto, however, read it and was profoundly impressed, and later had his own publishing house reprint it.

In June 1960, Carto visited his mentor in a San Francisco jail where Yockey was being held for passport fraud. The visit didn’t seem to boost Yockey’s morale; a week later he swallowed cyanide and was done for.

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The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #10: Gordon Duff

Sunday, December 8th, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

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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.

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The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #1: The Iranian Regime

Sunday, December 1st, 2013 - by P. David Hornik

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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.

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