A complicated day in Jerusalem

10 Aug

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I left the house and turned to B., a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who works as a cleaner for City Hall, wishing him a good morning, and asking in my badly accented Arabic how he was. I understood and accepted his response “How can it be a good morning?! What can possibly be good?!” With sixteen dead Gazan children, and hundreds of injured Palestinian civilians over the three-day “Operation Breaking Dawn,” how could he respond otherwise? Would I be anything but depressed if that number of Diaspora Jews had been killed over the course of a single weekend, regardless of the circumstances? B. has been a staple in my life in recent times — he has seen my twins grow up over the years as I took them to pre-school and then kindergarten; he commiserated with me over my unemployment status during the COVID pandemic and encouraged me that, inshallah, things would improve, and he encourages me when I try and get back to my exercise regime, doing my best to run through the neighborhood. I feel his pain and that of his people.

Later in the day, I was guiding together with a Palestinian Christian tour guide. I mentioned that I had read an interesting article regarding the Muslim tombs at Jaffa Gate. The piece challenges the claim that the two people buried in the graves are the engineers of the Ottoman city walls from almost half a millennium ago and that they were murdered by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Whether this was because they excluded Mt. Zion from the walls, in order to ensure that they would not share their skills or secrets with others, or even in order to “skip out on the bill,” the research paper argues that the claim is both not historically accurate and intentionally paints Muslims as brutal and cruel. She responded by exclaiming that, in fact, Muslims had indeed spread their religion throughout our region through brutality and cruelty! I never thought I would find myself on the other side of a discussion with a Palestinian in which I would be disagreeing with her over what I consider her prejudicial views (against Muslims!)

We also disagreed when she spoke of Israelis digging under Haram al-Sharif (the Sacred Esplanade) [the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism, for which it is known as Har Habayit (the Temple Mount)] as part of a plan to collapse the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Temple. I responded that this was an ongoing lie of the Palestinian leadership and that Israel has never dug under the Temple Mount. She mentioned the Kotel Tunnels and I made clear that the Tunnels do not involve any digging under the Temple Mount and run along the Western Wall and not within the Mount itself. I made clear that this lie of the Palestinian national movement (repeated during the 1920s and 1930s, and again when Israel embarked on an archeological salvage dig next to the Mughrabi Gate in 2006) has cost the Jewish people in the Land of Israel in blood. In fact, the only official body which has done any digging under the Temple Mount is the waqf (Islamic religious trust)! In 2000, in order to open an emergency exit for the Marwani Mosque (in an area also known as Solomon’s Stables), the waqf used heavy machinery and worked without archeological supervision. Was it really a coincidence that a bulge developed on the southern side of the Temple Mount just a few years later?! We can disagree about narratives and we can read history differently, but we cannot allow “alternative facts!”

After the tour, a Palestinian shopkeeper in the Christian Quarter heard me talking with some of my charges and he said that there would never be peace because Israel only understands the language of force, and that there was no Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. I explained that there will never be peace without respecting one another’s narratives and religions. He told me that he respects Judaism. I replied that denying the existence of the Temple on the Temple Mount is as offensive as if he were to tell me that Shabbat, kashrut or tefilah (prayer) are false. I am happy to go a long way in my views of the Palestinian narrative — even to respect (but not believe in) the Palestinian claim that they are the descendants of the Jebusites. But, to deny the existence of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount is not a view that can help lead us toward peace or coexistence. It is not simply an attack against Zionism; it is an attack against Judaism.

It was a complicated day in a complicated city. May the city live up to its name and its potential and be a city of peace.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

On Smotrich and Ben-Gvir

3 Aug

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

News broadcasts are filled with updates as to whether Otzma Yehudit and National Union will, once again, agree to run on a combined slate in the November elections. (It seems that Noam, which ran on a joint ticket with both parties in the last election, has not been mentioned.) The Religious Zionism party, with six Members of Knesset, comprises three components:

a) Tekuma/National Union, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich publicly called for either genocide, expulsion or apartheid/slavery of the Palestinian population (“Tochnit Hahachraa”). He led a “Beasts Parade” to protest the “Pride March,” implying that a homosexual couple is equivalent to committing bestiality, and he was arrested in the lead-up to the disengagement and held by the Shin Bet for three weeks investigating him for conspiracy to blow up cars and damage infrastructure in order to try and stop the withdrawal;

b) Otzma Yehudit, whose leader Itamar Ben-Gvir is the ideological successor of Meir Kahane, whose legislative endeavors were likened to the Nuremberg Laws by Mickey Eitan (a former Member of Knesset and Minister, representing Likud). Rabbi Benny Lau went even further saying a vote for them (to be precise, for Bayit Yehudi, when they ran together with them) was “a vote for racism and Nazism,” and

c) the Noam party, whose number three previously spoke out against “Knafayim shel Krembo,” a youth movement seeking to integrate children with special needs and able-bodied children (this sounds perhaps like more than just Jewish supremacism and closer to other fascist movements with which we are familiar!), who demanded that cabinet resolution 2331 (from 2014, I believe) calling for greater representation of women in public bodies be rescinded because, it seems, they are mysoginists who think that women need to get back to being barefoot and in the kitchen, who hate LGBTQ people, and who refused to join the Union of Right Wing Parties when it was led by Ayelet Shaked — seemingly because she is a women.

This is the Religious Zionism party. Not people I would want at my Shabbat table, to say the least. Not a handful, but more than 225,000 people — both Religious Zionists and Hardalim (National Religious-Ultra Orthodox) — voted for these representatives of the people. Attacks against innocent Palestinians (citizens and residents of the State of Israel, and victims of so-called “price tag” terror attacks in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank) got a tailwind by having these people sit in the Knesset and receive a salary from the state coffers.

Do we not have the intellectual and ideological integrity to call out Jewish supremacism when we see it? Will we continue to contextualize and legitimize it? The most steadfast right-wing prime minister, Yitzchak Shamir, walked out of the plenum (together with all MKs!), whenever Kahane spoke. And now Ben-Gvir appears in television studios more than any other MK who is not a cabinet minister or leader of the opposition. How has the impure become pure? How did we learn to kosher that which is treif?

Have we lost our mind? I fear that we have lost our soul.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide.

No need to extend the emergency regulations

6 Jun

by Ilan Bloch

Ofer Detention Center, Military Court and Prison. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

At the end of this month “Emergency Regulations Judea and Samaria: Jurisdiction and Legal Aid” will expire. The temporary ordinance, which allows Israeli citizens and zakaei chok hashvut (those eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return) to enjoy certain legal rights and to come under the legal authority of the Israel Police, has been renewed every five years since Israel captured Judea and Samaria/the West Bank. But surely, there is no real need to extend the ordinance.

Without an extension, Israeli citizens in the territory will be governed by Israeli military law, which incorporates some elements of Jordanian law. The IDF is the most moral army in the world so it follows, of course, that martial law will be kind to the almost half a million Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria. Sure, there will be various changes to the law on a practical level such as the age of criminal liability and custodial sentences being lowered to 12 years old, even for less serious crimes. But, their local neighbors, around three million Palestinians, have managed with it for the last 55 years and, our governments have continuously told us that their situation is just fine.

Without passage of the law, Israeli citizens in the territory will be liable for arrest by the IDF. Again, we are talking about the most moral army in the world, so they probably should not be so bothered. Sure, we often see footage of Israeli soldiers not doing anything while anti-Arab terrorists attack innocent civilians and I am sure that the only criminals who will be shot dead are those who constitute an imminent threat to life. We know from successive Israeli governments that the army has very serious rules of engagement from which they never deviate. We know that the principle of tohar haneshek (purity of arms) is never compromised. The Jewish residents of the territory would not have to worry at all.

If the coalition of change cannot win the vote, Israeli citizens in the territory will be tried in military courts. But I am sure they will fare okay. Governments from the left and right have made clear that Palestinians can access justice — without the need for due process, with evidence being declared classified and not being shown to the defense, and with ex parte hearings as par for the course. And, as we love to say, even stateless Palestinians can take their case to the Supreme Court, acting as the High Court of Justice. The Jewish residents of the territory need not worry about their rights — they will be able to enjoy the same fair treatment that their Palestinian neighbors enjoy at Ofer Military Court.

If nothing changes, Israeli citizens in the territory will be jailed in military prisons, just like the one at Ofer. They need not be perturbed; if they are missing bedding or other items, or want to ensure their relatives can see them, the International Committee of the Red Cross will assist them and help coordinate visits, and may even organize delegations of EU officials to ensure that basic standards are being met. In any case, as we have often heard, security prisoners’ lives are as good as a kaytana (summer camp); if any new prisoners want to study for a degree on the taxpayers’ dime, they will be more than welcome to enroll.

Of course, Israel does not occupy the West Bank (how can you occupy your own land?!) so there is no need for the protections of the Fourth Geneva Convention to apply under the new system. If their three million local neighbors have not needed to be afforded the status of protected persons, then there is certainly no need for the 450,000 odd Jewish residents of the same territory to enjoy a similar status. (Of course, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 4), Israeli citizens cannot be ‘”protected persons” of the state of which they are already citizens.)

This could even be a great hasbara (Israel advocacy) victory. Which BDS-supporting hater would be able to accuse Israel of apartheid in Judea and Samaria if the regulations are not extended?! The benefit to public diplomacy could be wonderful.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Equality is not a gift

17 May

by Ilan Bloch

Lt. Col. Mahmoud Khir al-Din (left) and his wife Nahed, in an undated photograph published by the military on May 15, 2022. (IDF)

This week, the name of the IDF commander killed in a special operation in the Gaza Strip in 2018 was published. The death of Lt. Col. Mahmoud Kheir el-Din, a Druze Israeli, is a tragedy. However, it is not — as some have suggested — a reason to change Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (2018), which promotes the establishment and strengthening of settlement on the land by and for Jews, as opposed to by and for Israelis, downgrades the status of the Arabic language, which was previously an official language of the State of Israel, and deliberately fails to mention the notion of equality between citizens.

The law should never have been passed in the first place. It is not wrong because it might offend Druze servicemen and their families who have linked their fate to ours in a brit damim (a covenant of blood) even since before the establishment of the State of Israel. Even if there were no non-Jewish IDF soldiers, and even if none had paid the ultimate price in sacrificing their lives for the state, it would still be wrong. The law is not wrong because Arab doctors, nurses and pharmacists (and a Druze COVID-19 Chief COVID-19 Officer) shepherded us through the pandemic. Even if there were no non-Jewish medical staff in the country’s hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, it would still be wrong.

A Christian Arab waiter, a Muslim Arab janitor, a Druze accountant, an unemployed Circassian and a Samaritan high school dropout are all valued and equal members of society. Equality is not conditional. It is not given by the majority by sufferance. Equality is a basic right. The death of this or that soldier, or the contribution of this or that doctor, does not change this. The law should not have been passed.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide.

The mission of Israel

10 Mar

by Ilan Bloch

Our Sages teach (Hullin 7a) that Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was going to do pidyon shvuyim (redemption of captives) when he came upon the River Ginai.

He said to the river: “Ginai, split your waters and I shall pass through you.” The River responded: “You are going to do the will of your Creator, and I, the will of mine. It is doubtful you will be able to succeed, whereas I will certainly be able to do so.” R’ Pinchas replied: “If you shall not part your waters, I decree that water shall never again flow through you.” The River parted for him.

There was a man that was holding wheat [to make matzah] for Passover. R’ Pinchas said to the River: “Split for him too as he is engaged in a mitzvah.” The River split for him.

There was an Arab who was accompanying them. R’ Pinchas said to the River: “Part for him too lest it be said that this is what is done to those who accompany.” The River split for him.

Perhaps this short text can present a mission statement of sorts for the State of Israel:

  1. Redemption of captives — a great mitzvah, which takes precedence over other mitzvot; even monies collected for the rebuilding of the Temple can be diverted in order to fulfill this mitzvah. The right of the individual to be free, the pursuit of liberty, and collective responsibility for our fellow Jews in Israel and beyond are cornerstones of what the Jewish state should stand for. We will be judged on how successfully we work toward the building of an ethical society.
  2. Matzah — an independent state affords us a unique opportunity to grow Jewish civilizational output and Jewish life. Allowing for, and facilitating, a framework for enhanced Jewish living – for those who want this – should certainly be part and parcel of what a Jewish state represents.
  3. The accompanying Arab — notwithstanding the above two points and perhaps even because of the first, a Jewish state must afford full rights to its non-Jewish population, viewing them as people accompanying the Jewish population of Israel on this miraculous journey of Jewish self-determination. This is because equality must be a fundamental governing principle of any democratic state, because we understand all too well what it means to be a minority, and also because “lest it be said that this is what is done to those who accompany” us. A Jewish state cannot be (only) about demography.

If we fail in any of these, we run the real risk of the River Ganai turning on us. In such a case it will force us to examine ourselves (and others to look at us), with ginui, condemning us, and bearing witness to our moral opprobrium. And, as much as many of us may ignore the censure of others (Ben-Gurion famously derided the United Nations as Um Shmum (“United Nothings”)), will we really be able to ignore our own self-reproach?! Some may criticize Jews who are ashamed as Jews who bring shame or even as “self-hating,” but the River Ganai is clear, and anyone who is willing to open her eyes will be able to see her reflection in its waters.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and teacher.

The challenges of Israel education

9 Feb

by Ilan Bloch

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

With Israel educational tourism still affected by the fifth (Omicron) wave of the COVID pandemic, it is an opportune time to reflect on other challenges affecting the field. In this post, I will present and discuss five key issues affecting Israel education today.

  1. Along with a heightened sense of political engagement, there is an increasingly dogmatic approach to political affiliation on the part of many learners (whether from the left or the right of the political spectrum). This can often be linked to their religious denomination, with some Orthodox students more likely to offer knee-jerk support for the right (both in the US and Israel), and some Reform and Liberal students more likely to offer robotic support for progressive causes (again, both in the US and Israel). The idea that students would critically and independently analyze issues on a case-by-case basis and come to their own conclusions, even if they sometimes differ from those of their declared political camp, seems to be rarer in today’s hyper-polarized world.
  2. Even with the best of intentions, tour guides are faced with a massive information deficit about millions of Palestinians and their lived experience. Without fluency in Arabic (and, of course, without the ability to travel to the Gaza Strip, or even to take groups to most cities in Area A of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank) the ability to truly engage is severely circumscribed from the get-go.
  3. Again, even with the best of intentions to present Palestinian narratives in order to give a more substantial and nuanced educational experience, perhaps there exists a subconscious inability and unwillingness on the part of Israel educators and tour guides, educational institutions and parents (and, even on the part of some students) to truly engage with (non- and anti-Zionist) Palestinian narratives.
  4. Growing disenchantment with Israel and Zionism as it becomes clear that even after 12 years of Netanyahu at the helm of the country and with the inauguration of a new “government of change” not all that much has necessarily changed. The occupation continues and, with it, a declared governmental policy of opposition to any peace negotiations. The worst excesses of the occupation can be seen clearly: a) with the massive increase in anti-Palestinian terrorism on the part of some settlers and their supporters, with almost no indictments filed against perpetrators; b) with former Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to grant legal backing to the re-establishment of the Evyatar illegal outpost, and c) with ongoing government unwillingness to deal with the Homesh Yeshiva, operating illegally at the site of the former community/settlement for the last 15 years, with many of its supporters even attacking IDF soldiers. Moreover, even with no Haredim in the coalition, the government of change has not changed very much in regard to the status of the Reform and Conservative movements and even froze the Kotel deal, just like Netanyahu’s last government.
  5. And, perhaps the most difficult phenomenon to deal with: an increasing incidence of American Jews simply “opting out” of a relationship with Israel. As Israel educators and tour guides (and as committed Jews) we presuppose that engagement with Israel is an essential aspect of the life, and in the identity formation, of every Jew. But, increasing numbers of American Jews simply don’t. Sometimes this is based on non-Orthodox anti-Zionism but sometimes it is merely a matter of people who feel more than comfortable with their American identity and see no clear need to engage in any substantial manner with what they view as a “foreign country.”

Which Israel education challenges do you see in 2022?

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Honi Ha’Meagel and Shimon ben Shetach, and Israel education

29 Oct

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Our Sages teach (Taanit 23a) that halfway through Adar rain had not yet fallen. The people send a message to Honi Ha’Meagel (Honi the Roof Thatcher), asking that he pray for rain, which he does, but to no avail. He then draws a circle and stands within it, beseeching God to open the skies, even stating that he would not leave his circle until God did so. God responds with only a drizzle. With chutzpah (audacity) he exclaims to God that he wanted more and God responds by opening the floodgates. With even more chutzpah, he tells God that this deluge is too much, and a regular amount of rain starts to fall. Overall though, the land is flooded (people even need to ascend the Temple Mount to gain shelter) and Honi lays his hands on a bullock for a thanksgiving offering, asking that the rains now stop. The clouds dissipate, the sun shines and the people go out into the fields to gather mushrooms and truffles. Disaster is averted. Honi manages to serve as an intermediary between the people and God, bringing deliverance to them in a miraculous manner.

Shimon ben Shetach tells him that if not for the fact he was Honi Ha’Meagel he would surely be excommunicated. Who acts so petulantly toward God, making demands again and again?! It is as though Honi is a toddler acting as one would expect when trying to convince his parent to grant him something special!

Honi makes things easy for the people, he gives them what they want, and he successfully serves as an intermediary, bringing the people and God closer to one another. Shimon ben Shetach wants the people to have to work harder to strengthen their relationship with God and to try to achieve a greater level of spiritual loftiness. He does not want them to rely on miracles or miracle-makers; he wants the onus to change the situation to be on them. Honi seems to be the hero of the story, whereas Shimon ben Shetach perhaps comes across as a stodgy man, making unnecessary demands of the people, pushing them unreasonably when easier alternatives exist. Honi may well bring people closer to God but the relationship might be one that is juvenile and shallow. Shimon ben Shetach may well push for a deeper, more complex connection, but people might give up on the endeavor because of the effort involved, or may find such an attachment once achieved to be uninspiring, and even artificial.

How might we understand this passage in regard to Israel education? An articulate and inspiring tour guide or teacher can spoon-feed his charges, serving as entertainer-in-chief, while offering Zionist sound bites or easy-to-digest messages. He may even receive top grades in terms of student feedback. His students may view him as their intermediary to connect with Israel; he might even be considered to be a miracle worker in the field of education and tourism.

A tour guide or teacher might also have higher expectations of her students. She may embrace the Socratic method continuously, even when students are exhausted; every new topic taught might need to be acquired by the students through hard work, rather than be simply transmitted by the guide/teacher. She might not prepare a source sheet or course reader but rather force students to look up original works to find a relevant quote or text. Every lesson or tour experience might call for indefatigable efforts on the part of students and force them to ponder controversial and complicated issues and clarify where they stand in relation to them. Her students may even hate some lessons or tours. By the end of the Israel program or school semester or year, the teacher might well not be seen as the central actor in the educational enterprise; student evaluations of her might not be as high as those of her colleague who embraces the approach of Honi. The students may have learned a lot and achieved a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the content matter, but they may well be missing some element of splendor, wonder and fun.

Perhaps Honi and Shimon ben Shetach are really on a spectrum and our job as Israel educators is to try and find our point on the axis between their two hashkafot (philosophical worldviews) — one which works for us as educators and for the learners themselves, which is suitable in terms of the content knowledge we are trying to convey, and which accords with the policies of the institution in which we are teaching or guiding.

Where do you stand? Are you more of a Honi or a Shimon ben Shetach? Why?

Inspired by a class with Nechama Goldman Barash.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide and teacher.

The UNGA, politics and Israel education

3 Oct

by Ilan Bloch

Too many times I have heard Israel educators, program administrators and presenters at professional development sessions say that Israel is not only about the Arab-Israeli conflict. They exhorted their audience to remember to forget the Palestinians, telling us that Israel is about more than our relations with the neighbors a few miles up the road over the Green Line and with those in the villages and mixed cities within Israel proper.

They stressed that the students’ relationship with Israel need not be inextricably linked to issues of peace and security, that Israel was about so much more than military conflict and diplomacy, and that there was so much more to examine in the short time that students would spend here. Exploring Jewish heritage, sampling culinary delights, enjoying music and art, meeting the LGBTQ community, and investigating Start-Up Nation (as though the high tech sector here is not closely tied to the IDF through Unit 8200 and Unit 81 graduates), and more, are all essential parts of Israel education, as important as – if not more important than – the (non-existent) peace process. The conflict/the matzav/geopolitics/news and current affairs was just another component of this tapestry which should make up an Israel education curriculum but, they would say, it is not the entire backdrop to the story of Israel. Each proponent of this view made clear over and over again that none of what she said was in any way intended as a political statement.

Just last week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke from the dais at the United Nations General Assembly: “For way too long, Israel was defined by wars with our neighbors. But this is not what Israel is about. Israelis don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the conflict.” He sounded not just like a politician aiming “to shrink the conflict” but rather like one who wanted to try to ignore it completely and to make it disappear from the concerns of the international community.

I was immediately reminded of those Israel educators who say that we do not need to concentrate on educating about the conflict because Israel is about so much more. Both cases involve making a clear and bold political statement. And both are transparently seen as such by students hoping to grapple honestly with the complexity of the conflict, and who (rightly) view the conflict as a central aspect of life in the Land of Israel (at least for millions of Palestinians) and how they relate to it as a central component of their engagement with, and relationship to, Israel.

Minimizing curriculum hours spent on the conflict is just as political as a declared policy of minimizing the conflict itself. Our charges understand this. We need to as well.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide and teacher.

Not just “good Arabs”

19 Sep

by Ilan Bloch

We need to bring Palestinian speakers to speak with our educational tour groups. Diaspora Jewish students need to be exposed to alternative voices, which support narratives which compete with the conclusions which they probably drew from their Israel education. In order to more fully understand Zionism and Zionist history and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and perhaps even in order to move toward becoming a changemaker who believes in peace, they need to hear such speakers.

We should not fear our charges hearing from speakers who define themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, as opposed to Israeli Arabs. We need not protect them from anti-Zionist voices, which see our national liberation movement as racist and discriminatory, and which seek to reconstitute Israel as a state of all its citizens. Speakers who feel equal (or even more) affinity with the Palestinian flag as the Israeli flag, and who don’t sing Hatikvah when everybody around them is doing so, do not need to be excluded from speaking to Israel program participants.

We should not be dispensing “kosher certificates” to speakers, ensuring they accept Israel as a Jewish democratic state as a starting point for discussion, vetting their social media profiles to ensure that nothing that they have ever written, thought or said might be seen as legitimizing terrorism, or checking they do not lionize Yasser Arafat as the grandfather of their national movement, before granting them “legitimacy” to speak to our groups. (One Palestinian citizen of Israel who spoke to a group of mine told me that she thought of Ben-Gurion the way that most Israeli Jews and Zionists think of Arafat.)

Not every viewpoint raised in our educational programs in Israel necessarily needs to be supported by the establishment – board members, program administrators, educators or counselors. Real education involves confronting difficult narratives, being exposed to challenging ideologies and being ready to really hear the Other, on her terms, and not on ours.

We need to be less fearful of potentially alienating partners and donors, parents, staff and the students themselves, and to be confident in our ability to educate our students toward independent, criticial and analytical thought, and in their ability to apply these skills in relation to new content knowledge. Of course, Palestinian speakers might well decide themselves to present different messages to different audiences and the same speaker might alter his content, tone and delivery style to target different audiences. This would be his choice.

Palestinian citizens of Israel who serve as “coexistence NGO” speakers, and who come to the table with a willingness to at least acquiesce to the status quo within Israel proper and even in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and who are even willing to be critical of the problems in their own society (e.g. violence, misogyny, etc.), have a role to play in Israel education. But real Israel education involves exposure to other Palestinian voices — not just those of “good Arabs.”

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Sinat chinam (baseless hatred) is alive and well

18 Jul

by Ilan Bloch

אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים
 דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעל דבביה בר קמצא
 עבד סעודתא אמר ליה לשמעיה
 זיל אייתי לי קמצא
 אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא (גיטין נה:)

Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza. 
There was a certain man whose friend was named Kamtza 
and whose enemy was named bar Kamtza. 
He once made a large feast and said to his servant: 
Go bring me Kamtza. 
The servant went and mistakenly brought him bar Kamtza. (Gittin 55b)

In response to my recent blog “They’re embarrassed and ashamed” J.J., a fellow tour guide, an Israeli Jew, commented:

“I think Israel should retake Gaza. As an IDF soldier, I would be the first one in. God I hate left wing, self hating, liberal Jews. You are worse than all the terrorists combined”

I responded:

“Your sinat chinam is horrible, especially during the 9 Days. I hope you have a meaningful Tisha Beav. Tzom kal u’moil.”

He responded:

“if you love hamas and the Palestinians so much (and apparently more than you love your own people) then why don’t you go live in Gaza. I’ll come and watch you go in from the Israeli border. I don’t want to miss out on the fun as I know what they will do to you. You should also wear a kippa when you cross into Gaza, they will love that”

I responded:

“I feel bad that you’re so filled with hate. If you want to have an open dialog, then great. Otherwise, have a nice life! Goodbye.”

He responded:

“The liberal Jews of today are the exact equivalent of the Jews that used to help round up the other Jews for the nazis”

I responded:

“That’s a truly terrible comment. I’m sorry you’re so filled with hate for people who have a different opinion to you. Goodbye.”

He responded:

“I only have hatred for backstabbing Jews and terrorists who want to destroy the Jewish state”

I responded:

“I’m sorry you think any Jew who disagrees with you is a “backstabbing Jew.” I’m sorry you’re filled with such hate. I don’t want to continue this discussion with you. Have a good life. Goodbye.”

I have only included the initials of the person who chose to comment on my blog post with vitriol and invective, with what can only be described as incitement to hatred and violence, even though he happily posted publicly in his own name. I cannot imagine what goes on in somebody’s head when they think these things, let alone write them in a public forum. My initial blog post was simply a plea for Jewish unity and for dialog:- “But maybe, if we really, really care about achdut Yisrael (Jewish unity), we need to engage in an open and real dialog with our Diaspora sisters and brothers — “negotiations without preconditions” so to speak, without dismissing one another’s views a priori.” 

Sinat chinam is alive and well in Israel 2021. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” seems truer than ever. May we merit being wise enough to learn lessons from Jewish history.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

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