For most of the spring and summer months of 2021, I worked on a report on the work of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael - Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) with Maya Rosen, a friend and fellow Jerusalem-based activist. It was a massive undertaking. We see KKL-JNF as a key force upholding inequality in Israel/Palestine, and our report focuses on how progressive Jews can strategize together in order to counter the discriminatory work of KKL-JNF. The report gives an overview of the parts of KKL-JNF's work that have displaced Palestinians and further entrenched the occupation, explains the (often opaque) internal structures of the organization, and provides some initial suggestions on what can be done to begin to counter the discriminatory work of KKL-JNF.
Our hope is that this can be a resource to more fully understand the work of KKL-JNF and to help ignite increased broad coalitional work on this front.
The report is long, so we included an executive summary for those who want a quicker overview.
The full report is posted here and you can download it here:
The olive harvest
Today I climbed a hill with a group of 20 Rabbis for Human Rights volunteers to a Palestinian olive grove not far from the village of Awarta in the shadow of the Itamar settlement in the occupied West Bank. We were there for the same reason we are out nearly everyday right now: To support Palestinian olive farmers who face daily violence and ongoing oppression under occupation.
A Freedom Seder in Hebron
This essay previously published in Liberating Your Passover Seder (Ben Yehuda Press, 2021).
When I think about Passover, I remember the cold evenings and late nights of Toronto’s early spring months. I see my family and our friends around a long table in whichever neighborhood home was hosting that year. We were gathering, as we do in every generation, to tell the story of our people finding liberation in becoming a people.
We were there to examine our ideals and ethics through classic parables read throughout the world, and new additions that one of us had decided to include that year. In my memory, the kids would spill swiped wine on the already beaten up Haggadot while the parents were out in the backyard striking a match to begin what they called “The Burning Bush” ceremony before we began the Seder.
This article first appeared at +972 Magazine.
Driving northeast from Jerusalem into the occupied West Bank, the sun is making its quick ascent in pinks and oranges over the hills to our right. In the early morning light I notice flocks of sheep on either side of us. Their beige wool coats bleed into the hay and rock. For a few minutes on the quiet 6 a.m. drive into the Jordan Valley, I enjoy the cool air and morning radio, wondering what to expect in the hours ahead.
Since Israel began occupying the West Bank over 52 years ago, the Jordan Valley, which makes up about 30 percent of the entire West Bank along the border with Jordan, has been seen as a strategic asset by Israeli governments from across the political spectrum. For years Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will not give up control of the area, and at this point, the Jordan Valley has been normalized in the public discourse as just another part of Israel. In reality, however, the tens of thousands of Palestinians who live there are under military rule.
This first appeared at +972 Magazine.
I am awakened by the “thud thud thud” of someone pounding and then the sound stops. It feels like I am waking up after only five minutes of sleep. Each of my eyes feels like it weighs 10 pounds. I can’t remember where I am, but the sound is unmistakably a fist hitting a door. I hear rustling somewhere near me and realize I’m in a dark room, on a mattress on the floor surrounded by other people.
I am in a room with 20 or 30 other activists. We have been sleeping for a few short hours in an office in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Baher, which straddles the Green Line between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. We are here because the local community is facing a number of home demolitions.
I am a Jew if I am anything. I was born in Toronto and I live in Israel. I have red hair. But I am a Jew if I am anything. Witnessing the murders of eleven Jews on Saturday morning, part of a congregation that was welcoming a new life into the world at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, has been devastating.
Recently, there has been growing focus and debate on the role Jewish educational spaces ought to play in educating their communities about the 51 year old occupation. Last year when a West Coast Jewish camp displayed a Palestinian flag they wound up apologizing. When the executive director of Breaking the Silence spoke in Australia many in the community were up in arms. When a youth leader from the UK joined a Kaddish for Gaza major controversy unfolded. When the North American activist group, If Not Now ran training sessions for Jewish camp counselors, Jewish youth and camp organizations had to choose sides.
Soon after, Jewish organizations began releasing statements and earlier this summer the youth movement I grew up in and am involved in today, Hashomer Hatzair, published its own statement, adding our voices to the ongoing debate.
This is that statement:
This originally appeared at +972 Magazine.
The Israeli government voted this week to support a bill that would criminalize documenting Israeli soldiers tasked with carrying out the violence of the occupation in the West Bank. Supporters of the bill — which could make “videotaping, recording, or photographing Israeli soldiers carrying out their duty with the intention of eroding morale” a crime punishable by five years in prison — believe that stopping the dissemination of violent images from the occupied territories will help Israel’s PR game. But at the core of the proposed law lies something else: a fear of the power that the camera may hold for Israeli soldiers.
Boots Or Hearts
I don't feel all that Canadian most of the time, even though I grew up in Toronto, learned in its public schools, studied its literature, slept under its stars each summer and visit my family and friends there as often as possible. Culturally, I feel more Jewish than anything... But as I reflect on The Tragically Hip in the wake of Gord Downie's death today I'm realizing that their music hits me right in my Canadian gut. I feel connected in an inexplicably natural way to that Canadian I-don't-know-what when I hear Wheat Kings, Boots Or Hearts, and Nautical Disaster. When I hear Gord Downie's irreplaceable voice I am happily transported back to my car on a cold late 90's afternoon spent driving in midtown Toronto with whichever radio station on, trying to maintain its Canadian content quota by playing Ahead By A Century for the fifth time that hour. Thank you, Gord for creating something so essential for me and for millions of others.
What to do, what to do?
If today you are mourning the six dead and lamenting the hundreds injured in terror and violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank yesterday, the way to help is to join the movement to build a just peace and self determination for the peoples that call this place home. Demonstrate, donate, write, read, block and build in the name of equality and in deep and full solidarity. Be in this movement when things seem calm - though true 'calm' in occupation is an impossibility - and you haven't heard much recently, and be steadfast in your commitment to justice and actual peace in the face violence and hate.
It is time to run for office so start raising some cash from family and friends and neighbors and partners in crime and it is time to make a fund for lawyers and a fund for bail and it is time to grow food and catch rain water and it is time to put pens and paints and the golden age of TV away because we don't have time for bearing witness right now because humans like you and our entire existence on the actual planet are at risk and these last five days have been exhausting and depressing and there are so many more days to go and despite the massive march this is only the beginning and executive orders are five by five making quick work of campaign promises and we do not stand a chance unless we take power and as long as elections are still taking place it is incumbent on you to run and win
This was originally published at The Forward.
The most common question I get asked about my decision to immigrate to Israel five years ago is “Why? Why would you move here?” Sometimes it’s asked by earnest American Jews, and sometimes it comes with a tinge of that famous Israeli cynicism. Either way, it raises the specter of another question, one that is increasingly bubbling to the surface among Israeli leftists as the country’s rightward slide becomes more and more pronounced: How much longer will you stay?
Obstruction of Justice
They totally agree with your goals, but they're not fans of the tactics. Don't obstruct parades. Pride and the brutality of police forces are different matters. And don't obstruct highways. And don't let the constant threat and actuality of murder turn into hard and real anger. It's disruptive and only serves to polarize people. Making people late for work will only make them angry, more so than when people see a bleeding man die on 'facebook live'. Some saw gross injustice in that blood stained car as tears welled up across the country. Others saw a one time, or maybe one hundred times, or perhaps a one thousand times incident, but definitely not something systemic.
Stay in the Race, Sanders
The memorial songs for Bernie Sanders' campaign are ringing through the streets and everyone seems ready to call it for Clinton as a growing centrist voice is demanding that democrats fall in, and toe the party line in the coming presidential campaign, which is most likely going to be against the racist, sexist, and always conspiracy-theory-minded Donald Trump. But in actuality, Clinton is just around three hundred delegates up on Sanders, with about eleven hundred delegates still up for grabs in the race to two thousand three hundred and eighty three. Super delegates, which are decidedly with Hillary right now, can go to anyone up until the July convention, so counting anybody out at this point would be foolish, particularly given the massive crowds and record crowdfunding that Bernie has managed to call upon. It's true that the American political discourse is so deeply to the right that it would seem strange if Sanders were to make it to the general election. He is avowedly for putting firm limits on capitalism and environmental abuse. He sees society as a collective project and says out loud that Palestinians deserve freedom and that Black Lives Matter. Those were all positions that the Clinton camp came into the race disregarding, disagreeing with or dismissing as bad politics. It's true that no matter who wins, the American people will have to organize movements to push those in office to act for a better world, and it's true that Hillary Clinton is better than Republicans on issues like safe and healthy abortion access, and she would probably pick better judges to sit on the supreme court. But beyond that, in issues of policy, both foreign and domestic, Clinton might make a good manager in the current reality, but since when does the Left simply want to manage the current violent and exploitative reality? The loudest voices are trying to tell voters that the race is over and it's time to get real, but there's a lot of room between now and the nomination. And don't forget that Sanders does better against the GOP in poll after poll. American voters should raise their voices for the candidate they want to see win in these primaries, not the one they're told is going to win.
I originally wrote this for, and presented it on, the i24news show "Road to the White House."
The Role of the Press These Days
There are a growing number of violent outbreaks taking place in Trump's wake and the blank stare of the news cameras are worrying to say the least. For months, media have been capturing Trump's calls to violence, the racist atmosphere he has created, and his dangerous proposals with little comment. The story being told, of Trump and Sanders as two sides of a coin, both outsiders with an angry message for the political elite is nowhere near reality. They aren't even the same currency. Sanders has been firing folks up - whether you agree with him or not - with a package of policies that are aimed at raising up the tired, poor and huddled masses, while Trump has been feeding the flames of fear and shopping a tax plan to help the wealthy just a little bit more. Media reactions to Trump's racism and sexism have been mild and ultimately wrong-headed in their attempts at neutrality and just a few journalists are talking about it. I mean, even with endorsements from noted white supremacist anti-Semites, ostensibly Pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC feels comfortable inviting him to speak at their annual conference. That's because no matter what Trump says or does the only consequences are being felt by his targets. There are times when journalists need to speak out about what we witness. It's time to act like a free press. That doesn't mean we ought to limit free speech, or present opinion as fact. It does, however, mean standing up for truth in the face of lies, holding up an ethic of inclusion, and naming danger when it is clear and present.
The New Yorker magazine ran a story in its March 7, 2016 issue on a $30,000 a year private school called AltSchool that has sprouted up in Silicon Valley and Brooklyn Heights and leans heavily on technology and individualized learning. It is a for-profit enterprise that is gathering data on kids, which, on the surface, it say is to help quantify interests, and information. There is a serious problem with the idea that everything from personal growth to poetry is quantifiable on a spreadsheet. It's not, and the very notion sucks the creativity out of learning and life. Though the teachers seem have incredible space to be creative with their day to day (something that is seriously missing from most educational spaces), this school has, at the end of the day, a bottom line and part of their plan seems to be to achieve that bottom line by entering the classrooms of the United States public schools and then they want to move on to the learning spaces of the world.
The biggest problem, though, may be that AltSchool's ceilings are filled with surveillance cameras and microphones that they say help teachers look back at "breakthrough" moments throughout the day and learn more about their learners and classrooms. They say they are preparing kids for the workplaces of the future. Far from challenging students to think critically about our societies, this will only serve to prepare kids for the frightening and constant surveillance we all endure in industrialized countries today. Their growth will likely be deeply stunted as they internalize the fact that this for-profit enterprise is deciding whether they pass or fail each step of the way, and given that they are always watching, it is best for the 4 year old or 14 year old to never, ever step out of line.
Here is how the article describes the surveillance:
This originally appeared in The Forward in print and on the website.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders must have cringed when the name of his mystery kibbutz finally came to light last week. Almost as soon as the world found out where he had stayed after finishing his undergraduate degree in 1963, right-wing blogs started up the spin machine with the intent of tagging Sanders as a “Marxist revolutionary,” and left-wing blogs attacked him for being part of a kibbutz that had been founded on Palestinian land.
But instead of shrinking away from this story, Sanders should embrace the kibbutz narrative and, in fact, place it front and center in his campaign.
New York State's Bad Boycott Bill
The New York State Senate passed "BILL S6378A" earlier this month, which attempts to shut down calls for boycotts on a number of so-called "allied nations". The list of nations includes members of NATO, signatories of the Southeast Asia Treaty, and Rio Treaty (excluding Venezuela - which is already on the United States' 'bad guy' list), as well as Israel, Japan, South Korea,and Ireland.
The bill - one of many introduced in recent years across the United States as calls to boycott Israel have grown - takes aim at the First Amendment, U.S. anti-occupation activists and all those calling for a boycott of an 'ally', as well as any areas it controls. This means that it covers those calling for a total boycott, including the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which calls for a boycott of Israel. It also covers those calling for a boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements and outposts in occupied territories.
Everyone found to be involved in boycotting allies and businesses located on their territory or territory they "control" will be included on a state comptroller-kept blacklist. This list would include folks like Peter Beinart, who teaches at CUNY and who has called for "Zionist" boycott to "save Israel". So, just to be clear, the legislation seeks to stamp out support for the generally mainstream (in Israel and Jewish communities around the world), decades old Israeli-led boycott of settlement goods. Sounds like an anti-Israel (maybe even Anti-Semitic) law to me! Okay, too much.
According to the bill a boycott:
With images on Israeli screens of wedding guests and Palestinian teens, wielding knives and eyes aiming to kill, I walk through Jaffa and South Tel Aviv with my hood on and headphones in, listening to the history of debt – a book on tape – and passersby pass by me, and look scared of me, without a full view of my face. Some of them must think I’m a monster willing to do anything, and some of them must guess that I’m on their side.
It’s unclear if I’ve ever been viewed this way before. There is terror in those eyes and nearly everyone feels it. Terror at the sight of a human being is a learned response. Images, experience and text books teach them that fear is the root of hate and the plant that grows is mandatory at celebrations of their pain and lamentations of our own.