On El Al, We Are One People

El Al made headlines when several haredi men refused to sit next to women on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

El Al made headlines when several haredi men refused to sit next to women on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv.
(Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Airline travel is difficult enough without passengers making a scene. But that’s what occurred on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv just before Rosh Hashanah, when a number of haredi men went so far as to try to pay other passengers so they would not have to sit next to women and refused to leave the aisles when they could not switch seats. This behavior not only publicly shamed the women involved, it reflected the arrogance of these men, who apparently felt that their particular “need” trumped that of all the other passengers.

The story grabbed media attention in part because it involved haredim, who are exotic to some. But this story is really about prejudice against an entire class of people. It would be equally offensive if passengers tried to pay others to keep from having to sit next to African-Americans or Orthodox Jews.

According to at least one commentator, the incident also raises the question of whether the airline was abetting the men. Writing last week, attorney Rabbi Iris Richman cited a federal law, 49 U.S. Code 40127, that states, “An air carrier or foreign air carrier may not subject a person in air transportation to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or ancestry.” Is that what El Al was doing?

Nevertheless, an online petition started by Sharon Shapiro, a Chicago-based blogger and Orthodox Jew, called on El Al to “stop the bullying, intimidation and discrimination against women on [its] flights!” Within days, her petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures. Among Shapiro’s suggestions for fixing the problem was to let those who want gender separation request a seat behind a mechitzah, or divider, at the back of the plane.

We are not sure whether Shapiro was being flippant. But it is unreasonable to assume that people won’t mix on crowded transportation. Just as haredi men have no right to insist that women be excluded from crowded rush-hour subways, they have no right to redirect other passengers from their assigned seats on an airline.

We do not see this as a choice between the rights of woman passengers and a haredi man’s religious needs. Other than the length of travel time, an airplane is not substantially different from any other method of mass transportation. Passengers have a right to request specific accommodations at the time of booking — which, apparently, many of these men did not do — but no one has a right to demand gender separation in a public arena. If people want a gender-segregated plane, they should charter one.

Blood Money

A memorial plaque for the victims of the 2003 suicide bombing at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv. (Avishai Teicher via Wikimedia Commons)

A memorial plaque for the victims of the 2003 suicide bombing at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv. (Avishai Teicher via Wikimedia Commons)

With its recent judgment against Arab Bank, a New York jury has potentially paved the way for justice in the form of significant financial penalties against the bank and compensatory payments to victims of terror and their families.

We see this as a significant decision — one that through the legal process will enable victims of terror to accomplish results that have not been achieved through orchestrated economic sanctions.

On Sept. 22, a unanimous jury in the case entitled Linde v. Arab Bank found that the Amman-based lender — the biggest in Jordan — knowingly funded Hamas-affiliated terrorists and terror organizations during the Second Intifada. The bank’s financial support led to 24 attacks in Israel from 2001 to 2004, including suicide bombings, and violated the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

The plaintiffs in the Linde case — about 300 victims and their relatives — established that a portion of the funding for the terror attacks was provided through front organizations operating as “Islamic charities” that disbursed funding and cash payments through 22 Arab Bank branches in the West Bank and Gaza. The evidence further established that, in many instances, cash payments were given to individuals who were not account holders.

The Arab Bank has said that it will appeal the jury’s findings. And the bank asserts that the decision “exposes the banking industry to enormous liability for nothing other than the processing of routine transactions.” But the case has already sent an important message: Banks have a responsibility to ensure that the funds they hold do not end up in the hands of terrorists and that they cannot turn a blind eye to such activity.

By being the middle men in the channeling of blood money, it is as if those bankers are shedding the blood themselves. And for that, it is appropriate for participating banks to be held accountable and liable.

Spawn of Hate

081514_editorial

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using explosive rhetoric in his rants against Israel. (File)

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan was once a promising Middle Eastern leader. He had good relations with the West and a constructive, strategic relationship with Israel. And then it all fell apart.

In the span of a few short years, Erdogan morphed into a despot who promoted a nationalist opposition to the West and a visceral hatred toward Israel. As Erdogan now moves from serving as his country’s prime minister to serving as its president, he has moved freely from a troubling hostility toward Israel to an alarming bigotry toward Jews. Thus, in the midst of his recent campaign, Erdogan said of Israel: “Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target.” And he predicted that “one day they will pay for their tyranny. We are waiting impatiently to see the day of justice; I believe wholeheartedly that justice will be served.”

The apparent trigger for Erdogan’s anti-Semitic rant was Israel’s actions in Gaza. He is a friend of fellow Islamist Hamas and a champion of the Palestinian cause. But he uses his explosive rhetoric and politics of hate to distract Turks from his corrupt and increasingly authoritarian rule.

Erdogan’s departure from the path of moderation has not gone unnoticed in the United States. House members who have led the cause of U.S.-Turkish relations recently sent Erdogan a letter warning that his politics of hate were jeopardizing those ties. “Remarks you have made recently have been widely viewed as anti-Semitic and are most definitely anti-Israel,” the letter states. But those warnings changed nothing.

Indeed, it is doubtful that Erdogan understood the message from his Congressional friends. Rather, he seems focused on deflecting blame for his own mistakes. Thus, in May, he reportedly kicked a demonstrator who was protesting the deaths of hundreds of Turks in a coal mine disaster. Erdogan called the demonstrator “you spawn of Israel.” And, at another campaign rally, he attacked the American Jewish Congress, which asked him to return a prize it had given him in 2004. Erdogan’s response? “The American Jewish Association [sic] threatens me in their letter,” he said. “I will reply to their letter separately, but I want to call on them from here: They are killing women to stop them for giving birth to Palestinian babies; they kill babies so that they won’t grow up; they kill men so they can’t defend their country.”

Such hostility and hatred leaves little room for diplomacy. As a result, we may be settling in for a long, cold winter in our relationship with Turkey. Because, as the letter from the House members observed, Erdogan’s words of hate are now threatening his relationship with the United States.

Double Standard on Gaza

President Obama called the civilian deaths in Gaza “indefensible.” (Polaris/Newscom)

President Obama called the civilian deaths in Gaza “indefensible.” (Polaris/Newscom)

Death in wartime is a given, and this includes civilian deaths. The death toll in Gaza has been high because Hamas has put its nihilistic “resistance” against Israel before the protection of the lives of its own civilians. And most of the civilized world seems to understand that point.

What strikes us as hypocritical, however, is the criticism of Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war and the resulting civilian losses. Frankly, we expect such criticism from Israel’s foes. But we expect more from Israel’s friends. So when friends say things that are hypocritical or unfair, it hurts even more. We felt that sting on Sunday, when State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “the United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling” outside a U.N. school in Gaza that reportedly killed 10 people. And it hurt last week, when President Obama declared that others of Israel’s actions that resulted in civilian deaths were “indefensible.”

We want to be clear: Our complaint here is not with criticism of Israel. Our complaint is with the double standard of that criticism and the inherent unfairness of it. Quite apart from the fact that each of the civilian deaths in Gaza came in the course of unquestionably legitimate military action — most of it purely defensive — there is a streak of disturbing self-righteousness in the criticism that seeks to hold Israel to a higher standard of morality and military precision than the very countries that are expressing the criticism.

Would the United States, the European nations or any other country act differently if they were being threatened by terrorists next door? Can anyone expect a country at war for its survival to worry more about civilian losses on the other side than the safety and welfare of its own citizenry and military? Of course not, which is what makes the criticism of Israel so galling.

In war, the focus is never on civilian losses. It is on military victory and a country’s own military losses. In the eight-year U.S. involvement in Iraq, an estimated 500,000 Iraqis died, according to a 2013 study published in “PLOS Medicine.” Perhaps even more mind-boggling is the casualty count from the Vietnam War — 1.5 million to 3.8 million Vietnamese civilian and military deaths, according to a recent report in The Washington Post. Add to those more than 600,000 deaths in Cambodia and another 1 million in Laos, and you have a situation where the accusations and the outrage being spoken today seem to be wholly misdirected. And what about the historic civilian death tolls elsewhere in the Middle East?

Peace, and the people of Israel and Gaza, will be served by a vigorous diplomacy that demilitarizes Hamas, returns the Palestinian Authority presence to Gaza and eliminates the terror threat to Israel. Finger wagging and efforts to hold Israel to a different standard than any other nation just pushes that peace further away.

We’ve Seen This Before

French Jews fighting pro-Palestinian rioters on the Paris street where the Synagogue de la Roquette is located, July 13, 2013.  (YouTube)

French Jews fighting pro-Palestinian rioters on the Paris street where the Synagogue de la Roquette is located, July 13, 2013. (YouTube)

The scourge of anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head in Europe. And a troubling number of people aren’t even pretending anymore. Gone are the days of the false explanation that “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just anti-Zionist.” Instead, the haters are clear: They hate Jews.

Case in point: The sign in a Brussels café is written in two languages. In Turkish it reads, “Dogs are allowed in this establishment, but Jews are not under any circumstances.” The French translation next to it replaced “Jews” with the word “Zionists.” And no one seems terribly embarrassed.

Following the recent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, anti-Israel protesters in Paris didn’t march on the Israeli embassy. Instead, they surrounded a synagogue, where they chanted “Death to the Jews” while the members of the congregation were locked down inside. Days later, in a Paris suburb dubbed “Little Jerusalem,” a kosher grocery and a Jewish-owned pharmacy were torched by protesters who were incensed by Israel’s actions. “Anti-Semitism today is hiding behind anti-Zionism,” Paris Rabbi Salomon Malka told The New York Times, “and hate speech has become uninhibited.”

While it may be true that anti-Semitic agitation and violence in Europe have increased sharply since the Gaza hostilities began, the current round of Mideast fighting is hardly the cause of Muslim and neo-Nazi violence in Europe. The killing of three at a Jewish Museum in Brussels earlier this year and the 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse both occurred long before the current hostilities between Hamas and Israel.

So where are the governmental leaders? And what happened to law enforcement? While it is somewhat encouraging that French President Francois Hollande decried the hate and promised that he would not allow places of worship to be threatened, is that really enough? Saying the words without forceful enforcement of the law raises real questions about the level of governmental commitment to religious freedom and rule of law.

Let’s be clear. Chants to kill Jews are not manifestations of free speech. They are frightening calls to genocide that are reminiscent of a pre-World War II Europe that is chilling. Offenders should be arrested and prosecuted. And political leaders need to step forward with more than words to address the rising problem.

Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky recently observed that “we are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe.” We hope he is wrong. But unless European leadership does something to stem the tide of hate, discrimination and growing anti-Semitism, it is only a matter of time until European Jews will leave of their own accord or be forced to leave under pressure.

We have seen this movie before. And we didn’t like the ending.

Sharpening Operation Protective Edge

An Israeli soldier directs a Merkava tank at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 17. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

An Israeli soldier directs a Merkava tank at an army deployment area near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on July 17.
(Gili Yaari/Flash90)

This week, the combat in Gaza grew increasingly deadly, as Israeli ground troops sought to pursue the elimination of “terror tunnels” and Hamas fought back and increased efforts to infiltrate Israel through those very tunnels. By press time on Monday, Israel had suffered 25 military deaths, and 565 Palestinians had been killed since fighting between Israel and Hamas began on July 8.

We mourn the mounting loss of life. At the same time, neither the legitimacy of this war nor its success can be measured based upon a simple number count of military and civilian casualties. This conflict is not a numbers game.

Growing Palestinian losses do not make Hamas righteous or its cause sympathetic. Hamas has engaged in a cruel and blindly hateful series of attacks, which have brought Palestinians under its control nothing but calamity. Hamas encourages the death of its own civilians as a mark of martyrdom and directs (and sometimes forces) civilians to stand directly in harm’s way, knowing they will be killed by Israeli defense activities.  That callous disregard for its own citizenry and perverse encouragement toward “glory and martyrdom” debases the value of human life.

And while Israel was fortunate to be able to minimize the loss of life through the protective shield of Iron Dome, the ground offensive and extended rocket attacks increasingly jeopardize Israeli lives.  Each loss is painful, and the mourning for each loss is deep. But Israel has no alternative.  It must protect its citizens and eliminate the ongoing threats.

More than in any of its recent conflicts, Israel successfully has taken control of the narrative of Operation Protective Edge with a clear, focused message — a stated goal to remove the terror threats of rockets and tunnels. And while there have been protests  against Israel, international support for the effort appears to be holding, at least for now. This is due, in large part, to Hamas’ diminished support in the West and even in the Arab world. Other Arab states might not like Israel, but they seem willing to look the other way while Hamas is battered.

When the fighting began, many predicted it would soon be brought under control by a cease-fire agreement. This was a war neither side wanted, the thinking went. But the ongoing dynamics — including Egypt’s failure to negotiate a cease-fire agreement (agreed to by Israel but one that Hamas would not endorse) — have confounded the early predictions.

World support for Operation Protective Edge will eventually run out. The longer the fighting continues and the more lives that are lost, the more pressure will be placed on Israel (even from the United States) to stop its effort — even if the job isn’t finished. Israel clearly understands this and appears to be making every effort to remove the terror threats with speed and precision. We support that effort and pray for a rapid conclusion.

Support for Our Beleaguered Israeli Family

The scene of a gas station in  Ashdod that was hit directly by rocket fire from Gaza on the fourth day of Operation Protective Edge, July 11, 2014. The rocket caused explosions and three people were injured, one of them critically. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The scene of a gas station in Ashdod that was hit directly by rocket fire from Gaza on the fourth day of Operation Protective Edge, July 11, 2014. The rocket caused explosions and three people were injured, one of them critically.
(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

We are all glued to news sources for information about Israel’s ongoing Gaza war. While there is some sense of déjà vu in the daily reports of the conflict — reminding us of a similar war fewer than two years ago — this one is different. This time, Hamas’ rockets have a far greater range and have put a larger part of the country under threat. That threat requires a more comprehensive response.

Israel has every right to defend herself and her citizens and to do what is necessary to remove the ongoing threat to her safety and security. But the reality is that such activity comes at a tremendous price, on every conceivable level.

So, what can we do to help and support Israel? While the violence and uncertainty have led to a drop in general tourism to Israel, targeted programs such as Taglit Birthright are still going full force. And several Jewish organizations have launched “solidarity missions” to Israel to demonstrate Diaspora concern for Israel’s well-being. Members of our local community have gone on those solidarity missions, and their reports from Israel are inspiring.

To that same end, major Jewish organizations and local Jewish federations have commenced campaigns to raise funds to support the mounting social needs generated by the ongoing conflict.

Locally, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has set up an Israel Emergency Relief Campaign for trauma relief, to care for those at risk, including the elderly and vulnerable populations, and for the immediate mobilization of those vulnerable populations to safer environments.

The Associated’s effort is part of Jewish Federations of North America’s Stop the Sirens Campaign, which is leading a major North American effort to raise and to distribute funds to provide emergency aid. That campaign is also supported by the Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism. The Orthodox Union has set up a separate emergency campaign, as has B’nai B’rith International.

Each of these efforts is worthwhile. They present members of our community a direct means to help Israelis in need, to express support for the Protective Edge effort and to strengthen connections with the Jewish state. We endorse and encourage participation in these and other similar efforts designed to bring comfort and support to our Israeli family.

Shame in the House of Israel

The murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir was denounced as “abhorrent” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Flash 90)

The murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir was denounced as “abhorrent” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Flash 90)

Coming as it did on the heels of the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teens, the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian, was assumed to be an act of revenge. Whether the six men arrested Sunday in the crime turn out to be ultra-nationalist fanatics or mere thugs, they have brought shame to Israel and to Jews everywhere.

The allegations with regard to the brutal killing of the young Abu Khdeir are horrific.  They bespeak actions that are totally outside the bounds of a society of laws and justice. Israel is treating this case with the severity it deserves — from the quick arrests to charging the six under the law for suspected terrorism. And, to his credit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not wait to condemn the murder. Instead he made clear in a phone call Monday to the boy’s father that “we denounce all brutal behavior; the murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being.”

The murder of Abu Khdeir has done more than take a life and rob family and friends of a loved one. It has also put Israeli lives — and Arab lives — at risk by providing a pretext for the riots in East Jerusalem that could be the beginnings of a third intifada.

While there can be no excuse for the Abu Khdeir killing, and we certainly offer none, Israel’s detractors have been quick to use the crime to paint Israeli society with a broad brush, even as they attempt to ascribe the kidnap and murder of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach to the workings of a fringe element of the Palestinians. That’s not right.

In any nation, there will be those who wrongly take the law into their own hands. But the strength of the rule of law can be seen in how a community, a government and a country respond to the illegal actions of the few. In the moments following the Abu Khdeir murder, Israelis expressed outrage, concern, remorse and consolation. By comparison, in the days following the disappearance of the Israeli teens, Hamas endorsed the kidnapping, Palestinians adopted a three-fingered salute for victory, and one Palestinian newspaper ran a cartoon heralding the capture of three Israeli mice.

If peace is ever to come to the troubled region, it will be in the spirit of Naftali Fraenkel’s uncle, Yishai Fraenkel, who last week telephoned Abu Khdeir’s father, Hussein Abu Khdeir. The two men spoke not of recriminations and vengeance but instead consoled one another.

With friends like these …

062714_editorialWhat’s with the Presbyterians? On the one hand, the Presbyterian Church (USA) claims to love its “Jewish sisters and brothers” and believes in interfaith dialogue; and its member churches frequently partner with Jewish organizations to combat such societal ills as hunger and homelessness. On the other hand, the church has now become the poster child for the promotion of the boycott, divestment and sanctions agenda to delegitimize Israel.

At its biennial General Assembly last week in Detroit, the standard bearer of main-line Protestant groups voted to divest millions of its investment dollars from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard over those companies’ dealings with Israel’s security forces in the West Bank. This decision, coming against the backdrop of the horrific kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers just a week before, is not the work of a brother or a sister, much less a friend.

And it’s not as if the organized Jewish community didn’t try to work with the Presbyterians. Repeated efforts were made. For example, in a valiant plea to prevent the divestment resolution from coming to the floor, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism appeared at the assembly and practically begged those gathered to steer their church back to a path of engagement. He even invited the Presbyterian leadership to join him in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the Israel settlements in the West Bank, rather than embrace divestiture.

In the end, those pleas fell on deaf ears.

Some are arguing that the result of the vote, at 310-303, indicates that Israel and the Jewish community still have plenty of friends on the Presbyterian side. That may be true, since almost 50 percent of those assembled actually voted against divestment. But two years ago, when a similar resolution came to the floor in Pittsburgh, the outcome was again about half and half.

What this shows instead is that in two years, the concerted efforts of the Jewish community has failed to move the needle. And over the course of the past 10 years, when the Presbyterians first toyed with the idea of divestment, the sentiment within the church has increasingly moved toward the view of Israel being the aggressor against a victimized Palestinian population. Sure, the church proclaims that their vote shouldn’t be read as support of BDS. But who are they trying to fool? Boycott, divestment and sanctions by any other name is BDS.

Let’s make no mistake about what has happened: The Detroit fiasco has escalated the simmering tensions between Presbyterians and Jews from a dispute among friends to a slap in the face. It hurts.

A nightmare come true

Racheli Frenkel (center), mother of kidnapped teenager Naftali Frenkel, addresses the media with the mothers of the other abducted teens, Eyal Yifrah and Gilad Shaar, outside her home in Nof Ayalon in central Israel. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Racheli Frenkel (center), mother of kidnapped teenager Naftali Frenkel, addresses the media with the mothers of the other abducted teens, Eyal Yifrah and Gilad Shaar, outside her home in Nof Ayalon in central Israel.
(Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Having a child snatched off the street is a common parental fear, although one with little basis in reality. In the case of three Israeli teens who disappeared late last week after hitchhiking home in the West Bank, such a nightmare has come true. The apparent kidnapping galvanized Israelis, tens of thousands of whom gathered at the Western Wall to pray for the teens’ return.  And it has touched Jews here as well, leading to prayer meetings and vigils.

The one party that appears to be unmoved by the teens’ disappearance is the Palestinian Authority. It is troubling that the only word of condemnation (let alone concern) from the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government came in a statement from its president, Mahmoud Abbas, who equated the kidnappings with “the ongoing series of violations, by Israeli soldiers and settlers, against innocent Palestinian civilians and against prisoners held in Israeli jails.”

And while Hamas hasn’t claimed credit for the disappearances, it has applauded them. While not explaining how Israeli authorities have reached the conclusion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fingered Hamas as the culprit for the kidnappings and has held up the crisis as proof positive of the dangers of legitimizing — as the United States has done — any government in which the terrorist group takes part.

All this has been accompanied by bickering over who has security responsibility — Israel or the Palestinians — over the area where the teens disappeared.

What is supremely troubling, beyond the failure of the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn the kidnappings, is the apparent lack of concern by some on the left who have argued in editorials in Haaretz and the Forward that the kidnappings are to be expected. By the same token, we anticipate some on the right will respond by advocating the expansion of Israel’s settlement activities. All of this back and forth cheapens the terror experienced by these innocent teenagers and their families.

At the end of the day, kidnapping children is beyond the pale of any movement or government. That fact needs to be acknowledged by all.

In the meantime, we continue to pray for the missing young men and wish them and their families the strength to persevere.