Israel Launches Information War Against Hizbullah

If you click on the Israeli army’s new Hizbullah website, you will see a red and black logo that reads, “Hizbullah, Army of Terror.” The site is a combination of graphics, text and videos, all focusing on the Lebanese-based, Iran-proxy terrorist organization and its leader, Sheikh Hassan Na’srallah.

New IDF Hezbollah - 7.14.2013One link refers back to what Israelis call the Second Lebanon War of 2006, and in fact, the site was launched on the seventh anniversary of that 34-day war between Hizbullah and Israel that was triggered by a cross-border raid by Hizbullah fighters that left eight Israeli soldiers dead and two captured. It ended with a United Nations – brokered cease-fire.

The website warns that Hizbullah today is stronger than ever.

“Seven years later, Hizbullah has developed capabilities to strike anywhere in Israel,” it says.

A neon-green graphic that follows the text shows the different weapons Hizbullah now in its arsenal and how far each one is able to reach. The missile with the longest range, the Scud-D, can travel more than 430 miles, potentially penetrating deep into Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel, as well as targeting American military assets in the region.

“Since the war, Hizbullah has tripled the size of its missile arsenal,” the website says. “In 2009, an IDF intelligence report revealed that Hizbullah had built close to 1,000 military facilities throughout southern Lebanon. The installations included more than 550 weapons bunkers and 300 underground facilities. Since the report’s release, Hizbullah has continued to build facilities in the region, enhancing its ability to strike at nearby Israeli towns and cities.”

The website says that Israel is in more danger than ever before.

“Hizbullah’s weapons are capable of causing far more substantial damage than its 2006 arsenal,” the website continues. “With its current abilities, Hizbullah is capable of bombarding Israel with continuous, precise attacks over an extended period of time.”

The website is the product of Israel’s new interactive media branch, a spin-off from the IDF Spokesman’s Unit. Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, the head of the new branch, says some 30 soldiers work there, and put out content in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian. Two of the soldiers, she says, are native Egyptians who moved to Israel about seven years ago.

“This is the first time a military invests in such a platform using confidential information.” Leibovich told The Media Line. “When information will be interesting and high quality it will create a buzz about Hizbullah, and raise awareness about this organization that is sitting on our border with 60,000 rockets [pointed in Israel’s direction].”

Leibovich said some of the information came from classified sources, including combat intelligence troops based on the Lebanese border.

On the other side of the border, however, Lebanese journalists were not impressed with the website.

“This is the kind of information that any person can get on the web,” Farid Chedid, the editor of Lebanon Wire told The Media Line. “There is nothing new – it’s just a compilation of anti-Hizbullah propaganda.”

In Lebanon, Chedid says, Hizbullah is seen as an Iranian proxy, but it also runs a network of schools and clinics, providing salaries to thousands of Lebanese and social services to many more.

The website was put together by Pvt. Gabriel Freund, 25, an immigrant to Israel from Australia with a background in computer graphics.

“We tried to tell the story of the terrorist organization Hizbullah to the world in a way that is easy to share,” Freund told The Media Line. “We tried to make it as interactive as possible. You can see it is user friendly and you can easily access different parts of the site.”

The website also includes animations and videos showing how Hizbullah uses civilian homes from which to launch weapons. It was launched as Israel has undertaken a campaign to convince more of the international community to define Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. Seven states, including the US and Israel already define Hizbullah that way.

Leibovich says the interactive media branch has gained a large following with 340,000 followers on Facebook and more than 35 million page views on YouTube.

“This initiative shows the military has to adapt to a new media war zone which is interactive media,” Leibovich said.

A similar website on Hamas is currently being planned.

View the website>>

 

Wall-to-Wall

At sundown on July 15, we begin the commemoration of the destruction of the Temples. Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, is a day of mourning.

“The destruction of the Temple was by sinat chinam, the inability for our people to get along,” said Jerry Silverman, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federations of North America.

For centuries, and particularly after Israel reunited Jerusalem as one city in 1967, the Kotel (Western Wall) has served as the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people. It is the last remnant of the Temple and a place where Jews from around the world gather to pray, a living testimony to the strength and resilience of the Jewish nation.

But in recent months, the Kotel has served as an image of divisiveness. Monthly, we read of clashes at the Kotel — not between Palestinians and Jews, but between Jews and Jews. The Women of the Wall are calling for the right to pray out loud, dressed in talitot and tefillin and to read from the Torah. The Orthodox establishment is pleading for status quo, to maintain a prayer environment that allows for Orthodox men and women to pray comfortably (on separate sides) at the Western Wall.

Just this past Monday, between 5,000 and 7,000 ultra-Orthodox seminary girls turned out at the Kotel to counter and oppose the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service. Approximately 250 women came to pray under police protection. Again, it was a media nightmare.

In late May, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called upon Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to intervene.

“He asked me if there was a way to bring down the tension,” Sharansky said in a phone call from Israel. “And so I tried to understand what is the most important thing about this fight.”

Sharansky said he spoke with the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites in Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. He talked with leaders of Nashot HaKotel (Women of the Wall) and with the heads of Jewish communities from across the religious spectrum in America and Europe.

“I found that the real desire was to make [the Kotel] a place of connection and not division,” he said.

071213_wall_to_wall1And so Sharansky proposed a plan.

The large plaza running up to the Kotel will be divided into two equal areas: one managed under ultra-Orthodox rules mandating separate prayer areas for men and women; and one in which egalitarian prayer of all denominations will be allowed. The reconfiguration of the site would be implemented in two phases. The first, which planners hope will be completed within a year, would include redirecting foot traffic to the Wall into one joint entry way, which will then be divided into the two sections. The egalitarian section will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The second phase, which requires complex permit procedures regarding archeological excavations and Muslim controlled areas, will take another year. When the second phase is complete, the entire Kotel plaza will increase in size.

But the big elephant in the room is, will this plan work? Are people getting what they need, and can the Kotel once again be a place of unity and cohesion?

The History
To understand the importance of the Kotel, one has to understand from where it came.

In the year 37 B.C.E., Herod was appointed king in Jerusalem and he soon initiated a huge renovation project for the Temple. He hired many workers who toiled to make the Temple more magnificent and to widen the area of the Temple Mount by flattening the mountain peak and building four support walls around it. The Western Wall is the western support wall built during this widening of the Temple Mount Plaza.

This Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., yet all four Temple Mount support walls remained standing. The Western Wall (as opposed to the other three) is considered the most special because of its proximity to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. And since the Temple’s destruction, the Kotel is the closest remaining site to the Temple that is accessible to Jews.

Over the generations, the Kotel became a place of prayer and longing for the Jewish people.

“Every day, three times a day, we pray in the direction of the Bais HaMikdash [Temple],” said Rabbi Yaakov Menken, who runs Torah.org. “The Kotel is the closest we can get to it now.”

In art and music, the image of Jerusalem was conveyed via the image of the Western Wall.

The Old City of Jerusalem, and the Western Wall within it, was not in Jewish hands from the War of Independence in 1948 when the Jewish Quarter of the Old City fell to the Jordanians until the Six Day War in 1967, when, led by paratrooper Motta Gur, the Jewish people penetrated the Old City through the Lion’s Gate and took it back.

“In 1967,” said Rabbi Menken, “everything changed.”

The Kotel, according to Laura Shaw Frank, a doctoral student in Modern Jewish History at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Jewish history teacher at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School, has become symbolic of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel (a national symbol). Additionally, she said, it reminds us of a period in which the Jewish people were closest to God (a religious symbol).

“The Kotel does not just belong to Israeli citizens,” said Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. “It belongs to the Jewish people.”

Two Jews, Three Opinions
Because of the wall’s importance, Jews across the globe waited with bated breath for Sharansky to unveil his intentions. The two parties — two sides with the same ultimate goal of praying at the holiest site of the Jewish people — accepted the plan but still do not see eye-to-eye.

“It hurts,” said Rabbi Rabinowitz on a call from his Jerusalem office last Sunday morning. “But I will not start a war over it.”

Leah Aharoni, co-founder of the grassroots movement Women For The Wall, a group whose self-proclaimed mission is to “preserve the sanctity and tradition of the Western Wall in the spirit of Jewish unity,” said in an essay that liberal Jewish movements and Orthodoxy sometimes sound like both sides are talking to a brick wall; neither side can penetrate the thinking of the other. This lack of mutual understanding, she noted, is especially apparent in the discussion of women’s rights in Judaism.

“Orthodoxy views the Torah as a God-given document, which governs every aspect of Jewish life, while liberal movements, starting with the Pittsburg Platform [a pivotal 19th-century document in the history of the American Reform Movement], either completely reject or call into question the divine authorship of the Torah,” Aharoni wrote. “The two schools are at odds, because they truly speak two different, mutually exclusive languages.”

She equated the parties to two people, each wearing a different pair of tinted eyeglasses — one blue, one red. She said they are staring at the same wall but can’t come to terms about its color.

Aharoni’s group claims Women of the Wall and groups like it are coming at the dialogue from a position of rights.

“Liberal Judaism staunchly supports women’s ability to pick their own forms of worship,” Aharoni wrote.

In contrast, she explained, Orthodox Judaism speaks in a language of responsibilities. She said in the name of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato that “human beings come into the world to overcome challenges and elevate themselves spiritually, based on an intrinsic value system articulated by a Higher Authority. … Traditional Judaism views men and women as fundamentally equal yet different, with each gender tasked with its own set of responsibilities.”

Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls and pray at the Western Wall. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls and pray at the Western Wall.
(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“Women of the Wall are hoping to incite a revolution among Orthodox women,” said Rabbi Menken.

He noted that they don’t want Orthodox women to be OK with being different from men, but to “be more feminist, to demand change from their rabbis.”

He said Women of the Wall offends Orthodox women, because it is essentially telling them that they practice as they do not by choice, but because they don’t know any better.

“They are saying Orthodox women are too repressed, ignorant and stupid to know there is a better way,” Rabbi Menken said.

But head of Women of the Wall Anat Hoffman does not agree. She said she is not fighting a battle for Orthodox women — or even a battle for herself. She said she is fighting for the State of Israel.

While Hoffman noted that her group, which has been around for 24 years, is appreciative of steps that have been made in the past, such as the erecting and beatification of Robinson’s Arch, adjacent to Jerusalem’s Western Wall worship area and available to egalitarian groups for worship, “separate is not equal.”

“It is not that I am Rosa Parks, but I don’t want to sit at the back of the bus,” she said. “Robinson’s Arch is the back of the bus. … Even if you make better upholstery in the back and add air conditioning, it is still the back of the bus. I want to be in front of the bus like everybody else.”

Hoffman said that it has taken years for Women of the Wall to get the media attention it needed to move its agenda forward. Israelis, she said, did not catch on. In Israel, most people are either religious or secular.

“The media couldn’t understand how you could be a feminist and deeply religious,” she said.

But now that the Diaspora population has learned of the group, she does not believe American leaders will accept anything less than the Sharansky plan. Sharansky told the JT that the prime minister recently appointed a separate commission to ensure the plan’s feasibility, and pending positive findings, work on the Kotel plaza will commence.

Halevi said he does not think Sharansky’s plan is the best-case scenario. Rather, he would recommend a time share: a part of the day when the Kotel is set up like an Orthodox synagogue and another part when it is available for egalitarian prayer.

“That is simply impossible under the current reality,” said Halevi. “This is a respectable fall-back plan.”

Sharansky said he did examine other options — and the demands of other, niche groups (such as Orthodox women who want separate prayer but want to sing aloud and read from the Torah). But, he said, “You cannot give an answer to every group.”

“Those who want makhloket [divisiveness], even if we gave them a new Kotel, they will find makhloket,” said Rabbi Rabinowitz. “If they don’t want it, then this will serve as a solution.”

Unleashed Potential

Jacob A. Frenkel brings an international name and reputation to his new position as governor of the Bank of Israel. (David Vaaknin/StillsBank)

Jacob A. Frenkel brings an international name and reputation to his new position as governor of the Bank of Israel.
(David Vaaknin/StillsBank)

On American Independence Day, a committee headed by Judge Yaakov Turkel approved a new governor of the economy, so to speak, when it approved the appointment of Jacob A. Frenkel as the new governor of the Bank of Israel. This is the second time Frenkel, who replaces Stanley Fischer, has filled the role. He had the same position from 1991 to 2000.

Frenkel was serving as JPMorgan International’s chairman when he accepted the nomination by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid in late June. The significant pay cut Frenkel will be taking, Lapid said at the time, showed he was committed to the public.

The JT caught up with professor Asher Blass, CEO of Israel’s Economic Research and Consulting Group, to find out how he thinks Frenkel will be for the Israeli economy.

JT: Why Jacob Frenkel?

Bass: [Netanyahu] wanted someone who had and an international name and reputation. … [Frenkel’s acceptance] proves that when Netanyahu really wants something, he can get it.

Explain the role of governor of the Bank of Israel. What does he really do?

In addition to being the governor, which is like being the head of the Federal Reserve of the U.S., he serves as an adviser to the government. It is a dual role; he not only sets monetary policy, but also has involvement in economic decisions. He has much more influence than your average bank governor.

That’s a lot to handle.
There is always kind of a tradeoff; to what extend can the governor really do both? Some governors embarked upon policies independent of the government — not what the government wanted. Then, they had less influence on the government’s [economic policies]. These are issues I think Frankel will be very capable of navigating.

Is it a good or bad choice for Israel — or something in between?
I think it’s good. He does have a track record and a lot of international experience. He was not the only possible candidate; there were other local candidates who would have been fine. Frenkel is an international player, and that is what Netanyahu thought was needed; it is possible he heard from foreigners that this was important to do. Certainly, he is a very high-caliber and qualified candidate.

How will Frenkel be different from Fischer?
It is not clear that they will be different. They have a bit of a different emphasis. Fischer is more of a moderate European social democrat. Frankel is more oriented to less government intervention, as he is more skeptical of [the government’s] ability to get things done.

How is the Israeli economy now, thriving or just surviving?
It is not great, not bad. … The Israeli economy didn’t have the downturn experienced by others, our unemployment rate is lower, and investments are reasonably OK. The main concern for the Israeli economy is how Israel’s standard of living moves in the direction of the U.S. and more developed countries in Europe. There is a constant gap in per-capita income; we have 40 percent less than what is observed in richer countries. It is not enough to grow 3 percent per year, while our population grows by 1.5 percent or more. The question is, can we bring acceleration growth and not just growth that isn’t slower than in the West?

Street talk is that Frenkel will focus on building a free-market economy. What does that mean?
That he is more skeptical of government spending [than Fischer]. I don’t think we will see a seismic shift or anything, but there is skepticism. The country clearly wastes money on government spending — defense, pension rights — some issues that are hard to address. … I think eventually we will need to address some of the spending, and he will be helpful in that area.

With this shift, for Americans, is now a good time to invest in Israel?
It depends in what you are investing. I don’t think it is a bad time or good time. There is some potential here. If the economy grows, many industries will be profitable. It could be that the real estate market has peaked, so it is not the best to time to invest in that. But, pundits have been wrong with that issue, too, so it could go either way.

What else do people need to know?
There is some potential in Israel that has not been unleashed, and the hope is that dealing with some of the structural problems and bureaucratic difficulties will unleash some of this potential. But, it is too early to say.

To Washington

Ron Dermer is a close confidant of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and analysts say that will serve him well in Washington. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ron Dermer is a close confidant of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and analysts say that will serve him well in Washington.
(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

I was with “him” when Ron Dermer laced his address to the 2009 American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Dermer used the phrase five times in the first five minutes of the speech — the “him” being Binyamin Netanyahu.

“I can shed a little insight into the mind of the Israeli prime minister,” Dermer told the crowd. “Because on that I’m something of an expert.”

Two elements of the address, made just weeks after Netanyahu assumed office, explain Dermer’s ascension this week to the country’s most important diplomatic post, the ambassadorship to Washington.

Dermer has a closeness to Netan-yahu so steadfast that it does not inhibit his brashness in boasting about it. And Dermer utterly buys into Netanyahu’s most cherished notion about himself — that he has been right when others have been wrong.

Born to a family of conservative Democrats in Miami — his father and brother are both former Miami Beach mayors — Dermer, 41, served as Netanyahu’s top adviser from his assumption of office in March 2009 until his new term began in March of this year.

But Dermer is known for more than just loyalty to his boss. His reputation is as a brash political player dismissive of those with whom disagrees.

He is rumored to be the one responsible for news stories about Obama’s supposed snub of Netanyahu during his 2010 White House visit. And Obama administration officials believe he was behind Netanyahu’s perceived tilt toward Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election.

“To me, it’s not an ideal choice, as he’s seen as extremely political and as someone who has repeatedly gone to the press with negative stories,” a former Obama administration official said. “You want someone trusted and discreet to be your ambassador.”

Dermer’s reputation raised eyebrows when his name first surfaced earlier this year as a possible replacement for Michael Oren, who will wind down his tenure in Washington this fall. But leaders of mainstream Jewish groups, which lavishly praised the pick on Tuesday, said those muddied waters were under the bridge.

“He’s coming here as ambassador to the United states, not to get involved in partisan politics,” David Harris, the American Jewish Committee director, said. “He knows it.”

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defa-mation League’s national director, noted that Dan Shapiro, Obama’s envoy to Israel, once was closely identified with positions that upset the Netanyahu government. In his previous position, as the top Middle East official on the National Security Council, Shapiro took the lead in pressing Israel to freeze settlement expansion.

“The relationship is bigger than political nuance,” said Foxman, who added that since Obama’s successful March visit to Israel, the tensions that once divided the governments have passed.

Passed, perhaps, but difficult to forget. Unlike Shapiro and other functionaries turned ambassadors, Dermer made the case for his boss in an abrasive tone. In 2011, he declined a New York Times request for an Op-Ed in a letter that was later leaked to The Jerusalem Post.

“It would seem as if the surest way to get an Op-Ed published in The New York Times these days, no matter how obscure the writer or the viewpoint, is to attack Israel,” Dermer wrote.

Dermer immigrated to Israel in 1997 after several years of involvement in Republican congressional politics. He drew close at first to former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky, co-writing with him “The Case for Democracy,” a book that President George W. Bush later cited as a major influence. In the book, Sharansky treats Dermer as a full partner in shaping its ideas.

Through Sharansky, Dermer met Netanyahu, and they also forged an immediate closeness. Netanyahu, the
finance minister in the mid-2000s, sent Dermer to Washington as economic consul.

Dermer lets little stand in his way. Oren wanted to keep his job, insiders say, and the only reason he was removed is that Dermer wanted the envoy post.

Long before Dermer was formally named as the new ambassador, he was taking calls from Jewish schools and synagogues in Washington eager for his membership.

Oren and his two predecessors, Salai Meridor and Daniel Ayalon, made outreach to the U.S. Jewish community a hallmark of their tenure. Oren was sensitive to anger in the Jewish community over Israel’s perceived discrimination against women and helped broker a tentative compromise that would allow for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.

In 2009, Dermer said he considered cultivating ties with the American Jewish community’s liberal wing a waste of time. Dermer is believed to be behind the liberal lobby J Street’s inability to secure meetings with high-level officials during its Israel trips. Oren, by contrast, has forged low-level ties with the group.

Like other Jewish groups, J Street welcomed Dermer’s appointment.

Dermer also led efforts in the Prime Minister’s Office to limit the activities of human rights groups in Israel, casting them as agents of foreign powers.

Dermer’s defenders in Washington say those issues are dwarfed by the immediate challenges facing Israeli-U.S. interests in the Middle East.

“He will be an effective representative of the State of Israel generally, and Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically, as we are in a crucial period of U.S.-Israel relations with the need to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” said William Daroff, who directs the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office.

Unprompted, Foxman, Harris and Daroff all made the same point: Dermer’s closeness to Netanyahu is what will make his time in Washington a success.

“The most important thing for any ambassador in Washington, especially any Israeli ambassador, is that he brings the full trust of the prime minister,” Harris said. “That’s an asset you cannot put a price on.”
Ron Kampeas writes for JTA Wire Service.

A Leader Who Responds

“This is a good and important step forward,” said Nadine Sherif, an international advocate and employee at the Cairo Institute of Human Rights.

Speaking from Egypt, Sherif said the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and the institution of military law until true democratic elections can take place is “a call by the public. … We are looking to create an inclusive government process; hopefully, the military will allow that to happen, and Egypt’s democratization will be back on track.”

As of Monday, reports indicated that social democratic lawyer Ziaad Bahaa el-Din likely would be appointed interim prime minister of Egypt. Adly Mansour, chief justice of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, assumed the title of interim president shortly after Morsi was overthrown.

Sherif told the JT that the Egyptian people did not feel the election of Morsi was transparent and honest and that he quickly began to rule by Islamic law and not by the will of the people. She said the hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians who gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to urge Morsi to step down last week were part of a campaign started last month known as Tamarod, which had gathered more than 22 million signatures on a petition calling for Morsi’s resignation. While violence did erupt at this protest and other protests throughout the country (dozens were killed as late as Monday), Sherif said, on the whole, the people are peaceful but determined.

“I don’t think it is fair to paint all the protests with that [violent] brush,” she said. “The rule of law will bring stability.”

Sherif continued: “The Egyptians want the antithesis of what the government wants. They don’t just want a leader, they want a leader who takes their voices into account, that hears them and responds.”

Although this is the second time in less than three years that the president of Egypt has fallen (Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011 after a people’s revolt), Sherif maintained this is just a part of the process — a bump in the process.

Sherif said there is a false dichotomy being made in the international media that this battle is between the Islamists and the secularists. She said that the Egyptian people are religious by nature but that religion is not necessarily politicized. The people are not rejecting Islam but the use of Islam by the government as a control tactic.

“That is what has been overthrown,” she said, noting that in America when questions such as gay rights and abortion come up, the public weighs in. Christian and other conservative viewpoints are brought to the table, and ultimately the people vote.

“We want a system that is fair, transparent and accountable,” she said. “The people felt decisions were being made not by the government but by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Professor Sammy Smooha of Haifa University cautioned quick reaction by Israel or the United States. He said in Israel the people get immediately anxious when there is instability in neighboring countries. However, he said, in this case, “I think we have to support this good development. Despite the instability, this is good in the sense that it is opening up Egyptian society. The Arabs in Egypt are fed up with dictatorships. They want a better destiny, and they are protesting.”

Smooha noted that democratization can take decades. He cited, for example, Europe after the French Revolution.

“It took 20 years to stabilize democracy in France,” Smooha said.

Smooha explained, too, that Islam and secular society/the modern world can work together — it is just challenging to make it work. He offered Indonesia as an example of success.

“I think we should be more open and supportive of this process,” said Smooha. “It is not always bad for Israel.”

Sherif requested the same of the U.S. She said, “America should not intervene. This needs to be an Egyptian-led process.”

America provides Egypt with $1.5 billion per year, mostly for defense. U.S. President Barack Obama declared earlier this week that would not consider Morsi’s overthrow a “coup d’état,” and therefore funding will continue at this time. Under a law dating back to the 1980s, a coup label would force the U.S. to cut spending, taking away what little leverage Washington has with Cairo.

Sherif did not comment on the funding, which is mostly for defense, but said Egypt is a sovereign state and should have the ability to engage with itself without international pressure. She said she, now, does not see Morsi’s overthrow as a coup but rather the will of the people.

“Intervention by the U.S. is divisive. … We want to handle our own matters,” she said.

And with regard to Israel, Sherif said it is too soon.

“We have to build a society that can deal with our own internal problems,” she said. “At this point, Israel will have to wait.”

Israeli Arabs Rally In Support Of Morsi
Rallies in support of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi were held in two Israeli-Arab towns in the Galilee last Saturday night. About 250 protesters rallied in Sakhnin and Kfar Kana, in northern Israel.

“The Egyptian people have chosen Morsi, and their choice must be honored,” said Sheikh Ali Abu Ria, head of the Sakhnin Islamic movement.

Morsi was deposed last week by the country’s military amid mounting protests against the country’s first democratically elected leader.

JTA Wire Service

See also, Kudos To Egypt

Machzorim for Lund

In Baltimore, as in most American cities, wearing a kippah (yarmulke) is something we do as an expression of our Judaism. Many of us wear one all the time, as a part of our everyday life. Some wear one for specifically Jewish occasions (weddings, funerals, or when praying, learning or entering a synagogue). Although traditionally worn only by men, many women now wear kippot as part of their Jewish practice. But it is rare in the United States for a kippah to be a symbol of protest.

Malmö, Sweden, is a short 10 minute train ride from Lund. The Jewish communities in these two cities are very closely intertwined, by necessity as well as convenience in this country of 20,000 Jews; by comparison, Baltimore alone has a Jewish population of about 95,000. Since Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas, Malmö has seen a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents, mostly perpetrated by first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants who comprise 30 to 40 percent of Malmö’s population. In December 2010, the Simon Wiesenthal Center advised Jews to exercise “extreme caution” when visiting the southern parts of the country due to an increase in verbal, physical and violent harassment of Malmö’s Jewish citizens.

Enter Jehoshua Kaufman, director of a healthcare company and an active member of Malmö’s Jewish community. When he witnessed the community’s Rabbi being targeted, he and other local Jews sat down to discuss the situation. I had the opportunity to speak with Kaufman by phone recently, and he described what happened.

“People were afraid to be seen as Jewish. Typically, when synagogue was over on Shabbat, everyone would take off their kippot or cover them with a hat before going outside. Children were afraid to wear a magen David (Jewish star) to school because they’d be subject to insults. So I said, ‘Let’s all just walk around in our kippot and see what happens.'”

So in December of 2011, Kaufman and several others escorted the rabbi the few blocks to his home still wearing their kippot. When nothing bad happened, they repeated the “kippah walk” several more times, each time venturing farther into the community and attracting more attention- and more participants. They began drawing non-Jewish supporters, like priests, politicians, and even some Muslims who were not happy with the tension in the city.

“Surprisingly, the most opposition to the walks came from other Jews,” Kaufman recalled. “Jews had traditionally kept a low profile in Sweden, even before the Holocaust, and many felt uncomfortable about attracting so much attention. I had not realized that people were so afraid, and many were worried that it would end badly.”

Kaufman also remembers that when he gave an interview to a local paper, he was asked if they could use his name in the article.

“When I asked, ‘Why not?’, the reporter said, ‘Jews never want to have their names in the paper.’ This was typical of the Jewish idea of staying out of the public eye,” he said.

The “Kippah Walks,” as they came to be known, have gained national attention in Sweden, and have also spread to other cities such as Stockholm and even Berlin. Last September a busload of 70 Danish Jews arrived in Malmö to express solidarity with their Swedish brethren, all wearing kippot. Recently the event has taken on a more universal flavor, calling for tolerance and acceptance for all minorities. The latest Kippah Walk in Malmö took place just six weeks ago, and was a large event drawing over 400 participants, including Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and many others from all over Sweden and Denmark. When I asked Kaufman how it feels to have the event grow so large, he said, “It’s mainly positive. Of course, when you have so many groups represented, the unique situation of the Jews in Sweden becomes a bit watered down. But with so many people involved, and so much public support, the Jews of Malmö now are less afraid to be open about their Judaism. They can hold their heads high and not hide in the shadows. And that’s a good thing.”

I will be touring Malmö with Jehoshua and other members of the community during my visit to Sweden. I will wear my kippah proudly, as I always do; but this time, instead of blending into the thriving Jewish community of Baltimore, I will be supporting the brave Jews of Malmö, and all our brethren who suffer oppression anywhere in the world.

See early posts:

Machzorim For Lund: A Cantorial Odyssey>>

Machzorim For Lund: A Mohel For All Seasons>>

 

 

Egypt President Mohamed Morsi Ousted By Military

 Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president of Egypt whose rule sparked protests that had engulfed the country since last Friday, was removed from power on Wednesday by the Egyptian military.

The constitution of Egypt was also suspended. Egypt Army Chief General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi said in a televised speech that Adly Mansour, chief justice of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, would temporarily assume the presidency until a new election is held.

Morsi’s ouster, which comes shortly after the one-year anniversary of his rise to power on June 30, 2012, marks the second time in less than three years that the president of Egypt has fallen. Hosni Mubarak resigned in February 2011, ceding control to the military following the popular revolt against him.

Unlike Mubarak, Morsi refused to yield to the popular movement against him, and was instead forced out. He said in a speech before being overthrown by the military, “The price of preserving legitimacy is my life. Legitimacy is the only guarantee to preserve the country.” Morsi later tweeted that the military’s actions represented “a full coup, categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation.”

After Morsi had rejected the military’s ultimatum to surrender to public pressure and resign within 48 hours, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by General al-Sisi, posted on Facebook, “We swear to God that we will sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against all terrorists, extremists and ignorant [group].”

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians gathered around Cairo’s Tahrir Square to urge Morsi to step down on the one-year anniversary of his election.

“It’s the same politics as Mubarak but we are in a worse situation,” said Sameh al-Masri, one of the organizers on the main stage of Sunday’s protest, Al-Jazeera reported. “Poverty is increasing, inflation is increasing. It’s much worse than Mubarak.”

The protests against Morsi were part of a campaign started last month known as Tamarod, which had gathered more than 22 million signatures on a petition calling for Morsi’s resignation.

The Price Of Jewish Blood

French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrate in Paris. (Ligue de Defense Juive/JTA)

French Jewish Defense League activists
demonstrate in Paris. (Ligue de Defense Juive/JTA)

With scooter helmets in hand, a man called Yohan and six buddies stroll around Paris’ 20th arrondissement. The seven look much like a typical group of French students — until they locate a group of Arab men they suspect of perpetrating an anti-Semitic attack the previous day.

Using their helmets as bludgeons, members of France’s Jewish Defense League, or LDJ, set upon the Arabs and beat them. Several of the Arabs attempt to escape in a blue sedan, but the LDJ members pursue the vehicle, causing it to crash into a stone wall.

The attack last August, filmed by a television crew shooting a documentary on LDJ, was one of at least 115 violent incidents that critics attribute to the group since its registration in France in 2001 — a year after the eruption of the second intifada in Israel and the sevenfold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the 12 years that followed.

“Now they know the price of Jewish blood,” said Yohan, the nom de guerre of Joseph Ayache, one of LDJ’s young bosses.

An offshoot of the American Jewish Defense League, which was founded in New York by the ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 and which the FBI considers a domestic terrorist group, LDJ stages violent reprisals to anti-Semitic attacks.

The group, which numbers about 300 members, is now on a collision course with France’s Jewish establishment, which has condemned its activities and threatened a lawsuit.

French authorities have ignored calls to ban LDJ, though in Israel the Kach movement, also founded by Kahane, has been outlawed.

The French government’s apparent acquiescence may have inspired LDJ to ratchet up its deterrent potential by showcasing its activities following the murder of four Jews in Toulouse last year by a Muslim extremist.

LDJ traditionally had shied away from media attention. But in the weeks after the killings, which was followed by a 58 percent increase in attacks on Jews in France over the year before, LDJ for the first time allowed a television crew to tag along on a number of guerrilla operations.

In addition to the helmet assault, Ayache was filmed calling for revenge killings in posters he and his group posted around central Paris. When a police car neared, Ayache told officers that he and his friends were working on an art project. The police officers wished him a pleasant evening and drove away.

Ayache also was filmed attempting to storm a performance of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne.

“Since when is it illegal to run?” a brazen Ayache told the police after they detained him. Another sequence shows Ayache firing a pistol at a shooting range.

“We’ve noticed the Muslim community believes LDJ is some vast machine that operates with impunity and help from Mossad,” said an LDJ spokesman, who goes by the alias Amnon Cohen. “It’s not true, but it’s not a bad thing if they are scared. It’ll make them think twice.”

LDJ’s growing assertiveness has further strained the group’s already tense relationship with the CRIF, the umbrella body of French Jewish communities.

In April, CRIF’s former president, Richard Prasquier, said he would sue LDJ for defamation for posting a photograph on its website depicting him with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The caption accuses Prasquier of “pardoning [a] killer.”

LDJ, meanwhile, has accused CRIF of being undemocratic, obsolete and ineffective.

“We operate outside and independently, and that creates opposition within the establishment, which is run by men and women who mean well but don’t know the painful reality of the Jewish rank and file in Paris’ suburbs and poor neighborhoods,” Cohen said.

“There are hundreds of French and Belgian Muslims fighting in the Syrian civil war. When they return, do you think they will be scared of a couple guards trained by the community?”

CRIF declined to comment.

Earlier this month, LDJ announced that its “soldiers” had put a young Arab in the hospital with a coma, “a rapid and effective response” to the man’s attack on Jews at Saint-Mande, just east of Paris.

The announcement drew calls to ban LDJ. As criticism mounted, LDJ retracted the statement and denied any involvement in the violence.

Cohen said the person who published the “false statement” had been removed from the group and that the violence actually resulted from a drug deal gone sour. A spokesperson for the Saint-Mande municipality confirmed that account.

Still, the events at Saint-Mande resulted in a public row between LDJ and CRIF, which on June 4 blamed LDJ for the violence at Saint Mande and for subsequent calls “to take revenge against the Jews.”

Cohen said CRIF is looking for a “scapegoat” to distract from its failure to prevent attacks on Jews through outreach and education. He also denied the group engages in violence, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Besides the television footage, a French court last week sentenced LDJ activist David Ben Aroch to six months in prison for an attack he staged with another LDJ member at a Paris bookstore owned by a pro-Palestinian activist.Aroch’s accomplice, Jason Tibi, was sentenced to four months for the attack at Librairie Resistance that sent the two victims to the hospital for days.

It may have been a real-life demonstration of what one masked LDJ boss recently called “treatment a la Israel” during a speech at a secret training camp in France.

The filmed address was the introduction to a LDJ propaganda clip titled “Five cops for every Jew, 10 Arabs for each rabbi.”

Machzorim For Lund
A mohel for all seasons
Read Cantor Thom King’s next piece about the Swedish Jewish community. Visit jewishtimes.com.

Cnaan Liphshiz writes for JTA Wire Service

Machzorim For Lund

There were many coincidences that informed my decision to personally travel to Sweden to deliver Machzorim to Lund. One of the most happy coincidences happened when I sent out a group e-mail asking if any of my cantorial colleagues had a Swedish connection. Imagine my surprise when Hazzan Edwin Gerber of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase replied: “My brother Maynard is the cantor of the great synagogue in Stockholm.”

I immediately contacted Ed, and it wasn’t long before I was engaged in a lively transcontinental telephone conversation with his brother. When Maynard told me he was going to be visiting the States late in June, I considered it an opportunity not to be missed. That is how I found myself in Cantor Gerber’s home, talking to the <I>other<P> Cantor Gerber.

Cantor Gerber’s journey to becoming a mohel began when he was already the Chief Cantor in Stockholm.

“I felt there was need for a real mohel in the community,” says Gerber. “There were a few Jewish doctors performing circumcisions, but sometimes they would say the right blessings, sometimes not, and sometimes they would do it on the eighth day, sometimes not.”

His views on the subject were also affected by his participation in a brit milah in Salt Lake City that was performed by an inexperienced physician; after 20 minutes, the grandmother of the honoree turned to him and whispered, “Is it supposed to take this long?”

When the time came to renegotiate his contract in 1987, he asked that the community support him in his goal to become a trained mohel. He took a sabbatical, and spent 10 months in Jerusalem with his family as a mohel apprentice. Upon returning to Sweden he immediately began applying his new-found skills, and was dubbed “The Yankee Clipper.”

Most doctors in Sweden will not perform circumcisions because they consider it unnecessary surgery at best, or mutilation at worst. Finding someone in Sweden to perform a brit milah has always been a challenge. This situation became more serious, and more politically charged, about 20 years ago.

Cantor Gerber describes it:

“Over the past 30-35 years, Sweden has taken in refugees from Muslim countries who practice circumcision. In some of the refugee camps in the 1990’s, boys of varying ages were being circumcised by very non-professional lay people, without anesthesia, and bad things were happening — infections and accidental mutilations. The story got into the Swedish newspapers, and people began to protest this “barbaric ritual” going on in their progressive country,” the cantor explained.

The government got involved, and formed a committee comprising representatives of all the ethnic minorities practicing circumcision: Jewish, Muslim and certain African communities. Cantor Gerber was appointed as the Jewish representative, which surprised him since he was the only non-physician on the panel. The government came up with a set of rules that stated that not only must anyone performing circumcisions be licensed and approved by the Board of Health, but that some kind of anesthesia must be used, which must be administered by a medical professional. At first, this made cantor Gerber’s job much more complicated. Eventually, he was able to find a retired Jewish nurse who was only too happy to accompany him on his rounds. But because of these new regulations, it became even more difficult for Swedes to obtain a circumcision for either religious or health-related reasons.

Because of the unavailability of professionals who are both qualified and willing to perform circumcisions, Cantor Gerber has found frequent need of his services from an unexpected source- Sweden’s large Muslim population. Although circumcision is not a religious requirement in Islam, it is a very old and established tradition that connects the male Muslim to Abraham. The experience of performing circumcisions on Muslim babies has been very interesting for Cantor Gerber; most of the procedures he performs for Muslims are done in the nearby university town of Uppsala. Cantor Gerber said jokingly, “I have my own Muslim congregation.”

When asked how he is received when he visits a Muslim home, he said, “I have never had a problem. There is often a language barrier because many of the recent immigrants don’t speak Swedish, and since most of them live in apartments the conditions can be very cramped. But they are very gracious and appreciative because there are not many people in Sweden, including doctors, who will perform this important ritual for them. They often offer me Turkish coffee or baklava to take home.”

He also observes that there are a few differences in a Muslim circumcision. Due to the prohibition against alcohol, he will give the Muslim babies sugar water instead of Manischewitz. Instead of singing “sim’n tov u-maz’l tov,” there is a lot of high-pitched ululation.

Cantor Gerber related one personal story which speaks volumes about the impact his work has made. He was invited to an interfaith dialogue at a largely Muslim school, and was seated on stage with an Imam and a Lutheran minister. Every time the Imam would make a point the crowd would cheer, while Cantor Gerber’s statements regarding Jewish tradition were met with stony silence. In particular, one older Muslim man in the front sat frowning and staring, and Cantor Gerber assumed he must be a virulent anti-Semite. After the event, the participants were able to meet with the audience, and the man who had been frowning at Cantor Gerber walked up to him. His face broke into a smile of recognition he said, “I knew you looked familiar. You did my son’s circumcision!”

It is through relationships such as this that relations between peoples are strengthened. Throughout history, Jews have faced adversity and in overcoming challenges have found new ways to connect with other peoples. Cantor Gerber, through his dedication and his humanity, has forged a unique link with a traditional adversary, and has proven himself a true rodeph shalom, a pursuer of peace.

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Vandalism Strikes Portland Jewish Institutions

Two Jewish institutions in Portland, Ore. — a synagogue and a community center — were defaced with racist graffiti.

“White power” was written in red spray-paint on promotional banners at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center and Neveh Shalom, a Conservative synagogue, on June 27, police said, according to The Oregonian. Both institutions are located in southwest Portland.

Authorities are seeking a man in his early 20s who was spotted in the area shortly before the graffiti was discovered.