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. 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.

They’re embarrassed and ashamed

30 Jun
Image taken from Haymarket Books website

by Ilan Bloch

Some American Jewish progressives are embarrassed by and ashamed of Israel. They see many of the actions of successive Israeli governments during the last decade as immoral and simply impossible to justify or accept. They are disgusted that Kahanists sit in the Knesset, with Binyamin Netanyahu serving as the midwife of the deal which planted them there. They are ashamed that more Palestinian families will be expelled from their homes of more than half a century in Sheikh Jarrah, because Jews can reclaim previously owned Jewish properties but Arabs cannot reclaim previously owned Arabs properties. They are repulsed by the fact that the government allows Flag Parade participants to march through the Muslim Quarter, some who shout and sing racist epithets and chants, forcing residents to close their stores and hole up in their homes. They are outraged that Israel – the country that they were told always extended its hand in peace to its Palestinian neighbors – has not even deigned to bother with any negotiations or peace processes for years, yet still saw fit to pass the “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People” law, which explicitly failed to even mention the notion of equality between citizens. They have not forgotten or forgiven Netanyahu’s racist and patently false comments about “Arab voters… heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” They are abhorred by the unending price tag attacks against Palestinian property and person, for which the vast majority of perpertrators have not been arrested or prosecuted. They are outraged that two different national groups in the same territory do not fall under the same regime of laws, policing, prosecution or incarceration as one another. They are deeply upset that MKs from across the political spectrum (with a handful of notable Jewish exceptions) support the extension of the (temporary) “Citizenship Law” amendment first passed in 2003 during the Second Intifada, which blocks Palestinian spouses of Israelis from gaining Israeli citizenship — all in the name of protecting the Jewish State against a perceived “demographic threat.” They are appalled that Ayelet Shaked, the Interior Minister of this “government of change,” made the point at the “handover ceremony” with her predecessor that she would do all she could to rid the country of asylum-seekers. They are sick of leaders who entrenched the (Ultra) Orthodox hegemons and delegitimized and demonized other streams of Judaism.

Whether one agrees with their arguments or not is irrelevant; we must still nonetheless understand their narrative and grapple with it. They are not trying to protect their “progressive credentials,” nor are they trying to ingratiate themselves with their contemporaries. They are not concerned that their non-Jewish friends and colleagues will deem them not “woke” enough. They are not self-hating Jews, they are not auto-antisemites and they are not “un-Jews.” They are deeply committed and involved Jews who have enormous problems with Israel and Zionism. We can ignore them, we can condemn them, we can write them off or we can engage. For more than a decade we were ruled by governments who argued that Israel, and Judea and Samaria, are one, that there is no Green Line, that all of the Land of Israel between the River to the Sea is our patrimony. And when Jewish progressives internalize that message and agree that all territory under Israeli control is Israel’s responsibility and perceive that what is happening in the territories on a daily basis is emblematic of Zionism and the State of Israel as a whole, we expel them from the Big Tent, and condemn them as enemies of the Jewish people.

This does not excuse the actions of Hamas, which launched 4300 rockets at my people, and made me run with my four-year-old twins toward the bomb shelter, on May 10. Regardless of any power imbalance which exists between the sides, Hamas members have agency and must also be held accountable for their actions.

I too felt the isolation and pain caused by some Diaspora Jews being seemingly more concerned with the fate of Gazans than with that of their own people. I too still fail to understand those who gave Hamas “a free pass” because they are the weaker party, as though strength and guilt automatically go hand-in-hand.

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. Perhaps if we had had the courage and were willing to engage in discussion with Diaspora Jews about the issues raised in the first paragraph of this piece in a serious and constructive manner many years ago, perhaps if we had not, for the most part, refused to condemn (not just critique) Israel plainly and simply when called for (and bringing Jewish supremacists into the Knesset would have been one such appropriate occasion), perhaps if we had brought Palestinian (not just “good Arab”) voices and narratives to our educational frameworks in an ongoing, comprehensive and deliberate manner, we would not be where find ourselves today. Perhaps a true mifgash (encounter) needs to take place in order to heal the fissures.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Talking English with Israelis

24 Jun

by Tara Carey

Israel is the Land of Milk and Honey, and it is rich with culture and history. Our people are just the same. Every person comes with a story and a history, but Israeli history is filled with the colour of cultures and worlds combined. 

What do you associate with Israel? Falafel? The Kotel (Western Wall)? How about ice cream? No? I thought not. I am a cultural English expert and I help Israelis navigate the world in English. Let’s flip this now and learn some of the more fun things about Israelis. The ones you wouldn’t otherwise know.

One of their favorite expressions is pa’am shlishit glida. This means ‘third time, ice cream.’ It’s just one of those empty expressions that we all have. When was the last time you said “let’s get together” and actually did? If Israelis got together every time that they said third time ice cream, there would be more ice cream stores in this country than hummus spots. 

Understanding the culture you are visiting is such a crucial part of travel. Yeah, we all want to go to those touristy places, but what better way to learn who a people are than to learn how they tick? One of my favourite things about teaching them is laughing with them at their mistakes. Like when my students regularly go in their computers.  I have to remind them that it’s physically impossible to go in your computer.

Israelis are an amazing people. They are full of life, resilience and passion. They don’t let little things get them down.  They will fall and pick themselves back up again. They will pass you by on the street and a second later take you by the hand to have coffee or protect you from an incoming rocket. 

Make sure that when you are touring here that you take the time from your busy schedule to go to a local place (in whichever city or town you happen to be in) and try to strike up a conversation with someone. Most Israelis speak English well enough to converse with you. You won’t regret it. I warn you though, Israelis are known to be dugri (direct) and may just tell you exactly what they feel about something. 

What should you ask them?  Almost nothing is off-limits if you are prepared for their answers 😊. 

Tara Carey is a CELTA certified English teacher and a cultural language specialist. Visit her website for more details.

The end of an era: goodbye to Netanyahu

13 Jun

by Ilan Bloch

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Later today, barring any unforseen change in circumstances, we will bid farewell (and some might say good riddance!) to our longest serving prime minister. Dubbed “King Bibi,” “Israel’s magician,” and “Mr. Security” by many pundits, I want to take a moment to examine this last epithet. For some reason, there is less than the usual Israeli lack of accountability when examining Netanyahu’s record. I simply do not understand why people, who understand cause and effect when it comes to analyzing the policies of Shamir, Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, somehow ignore any hint of causality when it comes to Netanyahu’s policies. Suddently, when violence erupts, it is considered a force majeure, and some even express relief that Netanyahu, rather than a “weak left,” is in charge at such a time.

Take for instance the violence during the last month — both in terms of the conflict with Hamas and the inter-ethnic clashes in Israel’s mixed cities. One obviously cannot hold Netanyahu wholly responsible for what happened but it would be intellectually dishonest and outright disingenuous to ignore certain policies which he implemented or for which he bears (prime) ministerial responsibility, which lay the groundwork for the flare-up. It was the third major Gaza conflict since coming to office (It is said that Albert Einstein exclaimed, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”) but the real shock was the internecine confict within Israel proper. Newspaper headlines regarding this part of the conflict sounded like they had been cut and pasted from the time of the British Mandate. Let us discuss these policies, for which he should be held accountable.

  1. Years of so-called “price tag” terrorist attacks by Jewish terrorists against Palestinian property and person in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank and Israel proper, for which almost no perpetrators have been arrested or tried. Although Israeli security forces can locate a Palestinian youth who slapped a Haredi youth (an act I obviously condemn, along with the other handful of so-called “TikTok terror” attacks!), we cannot find the perpetrators of hundreds of anti-Palestinian acts?! This simply beggars belief.
  2. The incitement by Netanyahu and his minions against Palestinian citizens of Israel, including him trying to get Ra’am to split from the Meshutefet (Joint List) so it would not pass the electoral threshold, so Netanyahu would reach 61 seats, and then pretending to care about Palestinian citizens of Israel so that Ra’am would support the government from the outside so Netanyahu could evade justice (and now come the claims that the incoming government has “sold the Negev to the Bedouins” for making a deal with Ra’am that it appears he himself would have made).
  3. Six Jewish supremacists who hate women, LGBTQ, Palestinians and leftists, now sitting in the Knesset with legitimacy, which has given a tailwind to Jewish Blackshirts (I use this term both literally and figuratively) who want to – and do – attack Palestinian citizens of Israel, “hunting” them in downtown Jerusalem and around Damascus Gate. The Religious Zionism party comprises three components: Tekuma/National Union, whose leader Bezalel Smotrich has publicly called for either genocide, expulsion or apartheid/slavery of the Palestinian population (“Tochnit Ha’hachra’a“), who led a “Beasts Parade” to protest the “Pride March,” implying that a homosexual couple is equivalent to committing bestiality, who supports segregated (Arab/Jewish) maternity wards, and who was arrested in the lead-up to the disengagement and held by the Shin Bet for three weeks, which investigated him for conspiracy to blow up cars and damage infrastructure in order to try and stop the withdrawal; the leader of Otzma Yehudit Ben-Gvir is the ideological successor of Meir Kahane, whose legislative endeavors were likened to the Nuremberg Laws by Mickey Eitan (former Likud MK), and the Noam party, one of whose leaders previously spoke out against Knafayim shel Krembo, a youth movement seeking to integrate children with special needs and able-bodied children, who demanded that cabinet resolution 2331 (from 2014) calling for greater representation of women in public bodies be rescinded because 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 because she is a women. This is the Religious Zionism party; Netanyahu served as its midwife!
  4. The absurd provocative decision to close the plaza of Shaar Schem (Damascus Gate) during Ramadan and then for the Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to outright lie on prime time television that this did not represent a change to the status quo; Palestinian protests around Damascus Gate were met with disproportionate Israeli force; Jewish protests (by these same Blackshirts) were met with at most some pushing aside by Israeli security forces. 
  5. The situation in Sheikh Jarrah, which will see dozens of Palestinians evicted from their homes of decades and thrown out onto the street. How can a Jewish state pass laws which allow a Jew to reclaim property which a Jew previously owned (a Jew, but not the Jews who have moved in and not the Jews who will move in to these homes in Sheikh Jarrah) but simply does not extend this right to Palestinians? This is a challenge (to say the least!) to the idea of equality before the law and democratic norms and mores. It opens up 1948 and not 1967 as the problem which needs a solution, a Pandora’s Box, which even some thinkers on the right oppose. 
  6. Netanyahu actively propping up Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, and weakening Fatah in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria, and actively embracing the split in the Palestinian polity. It is ever so convenient to say ‘If Mahmoud Abbas only represents half the Palestinian nation, why should I negotiate with him?’ when they are split, and then ever so convenient to say ‘How can I negotiate with Abbas when he’s in bed with terrorists? when any talk of Palestinian reconciliation come up; when exactly were negotiations meant to take place? The Abraham Accords, which largely tried to sweep the “Palestinian issue” under the rug, was also a factor. So too, the Nation State Law, which demonstrably did not include the word “equality” and demoted the status of Arabic as a national language also played a role..
  7. Blocking any Palestinian National Authority voting in East/eastern Jerusalem. Even though this was obviously going to be used as a pretext by Mahmoud Abbas to suspend (read: cancel) the elections he feared Fatah would lose, it allowed an opening to develop for Hamas to present itself as the guardian of al-Quds, and to break down some of the divisions between different groups of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine (Gazans, citizens of Israel, permanent residents of Israel in Jerusalem, in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria). Of course, Israeli force used on the Temple Mount, along with blocking busloads of pilgrims from entering Jerusalem in the lead-up to Laylat al-Qadr, also contributed to this.
  8. The insanity of even thinking of allowing a Flag March by national religious men, not a few of whom sing odious songs and chants, inciting to hatred, racism and violence, through the Muslim Quarter, forcing many residents to close their stores and stay in their homes, any year, but especially this year, was an unnecessary provocation.
  9. The ongoing process of supporting the “Judaization” of mixed cities through garin torani groups and through public housing company Amidar’s move to sell-off “public housing” in Jaffa, without allowing it to be transferred to the third generation, even though much of this housing belonged to Palestinian refugees in the first place, prompting a process of gentrification with ethnic hues.
  10. Finally, not having any proper governance for the last 30 months because the criminal defendant refuses to resign as he demanded of Olmert (who at the time of his resignation was not even charged; the ultimate indictment was for crimes which were much less serious than the crimes for which Netanyahu is already standing trial) had a significant effect. One cannot try to turn the Knesset into a rubber stamp, destroy the “gate-keepers” of democracy and surround oneself with sychophant political neophytes and think that it will not influence Israeli politics and statecraft. The crisis of last month which we suffered through did not happen in isolation, unlinked to Israeli governmental policies.

One cannot simply count the casualty figures when determining whether someone has contributed to or harmed Israeli security. Security is more than tactics, optics and soundbites for the eight o’clock news. And policies (and embracing the status quo is a policy!) have results. The Palestinians do not only act; they also react (obviously the same can be said for Israel). And they react to Israeli policies, they do not act in a vacuum, disconnected from who sits in Balfour.

This does not excuse the actions of Hamas, which launched 4300 rockets at my people, and made me run with my 4 year old twins toward the bomb shelter, on May 10. Regardless of any power imbalance which exists between the sides, Hamas members have agency and, just like Netanyahu, must also be held accountable for their actions.

עושה שלום במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל (וכל יושבי תבל) ואמרו אמן.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

There is a limit

23 Jan

by Ilan Bloch

Jake Angeli (Photo from Wikipedia)

The guide stood with her group on the lawn facing the Capitol building. After speaking about the structure, its architecture and its history, she turned to the events of January 6, 2021. She told her tour group members that the most commonly accepted narrative is that Joe Biden won the presidential election and that there was an attempted insurrection by supporters of then President Donald Trump who had just heard him say that he would never concede defeat and that the rally participants should now march to Capitol Hill, where a joint sitting of Congress, presided over by then Vice President Mike Pence, was being held to confirm the Electoral College results. The guide continued by explaining that an equally valid alternative narrative holds that loyal patriots, battling massive and widespread electoral fraud, sought to disrupt the process, which would have falsely confirmed that Trump had lost the presidential election, which he, in reality, actually won. Moreover, she explained, that those people who were most responsible for the mayhem were, in actual fact, Antifa members.

One of the participants on the tour lambasted the tour guide, wondering how and why she would give credence to lies and conspiracy theories. The tour guide explained that she wanted to present both narratives and allow the tourists to come to their own conclusions. The participant said that although he understood that fostering independent thought was a lofty goal, it did not make sense to present unfounded accusations, which triggered violence, destabilized American democracy and dishonored the Constitution, as equally legitimate to… well… the facts and reality. This is not to say that the motivations of the insurrectionists should not be taught; a full understanding of the events of that day requires it, just as we would need to teach about fascist ideology in order to understand Italy under Mussolini. But just as we would not afford legitimacy to Mussolini, so too we should not dare to do so to those who led the march on the Hill.

Of course, we would never countenance such a travesty in the American context. And yet, we accept Israel educators in Israel and the Diaspora presenting two competing narratives as equally legitimate when it comes to the legal travails of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This happens not infrequently and it is disgraceful. Apparently, in an attempt to be as objective as possible, educators explain to their charges that perhaps there is evidence to warrant Netanyahu being tried in three separate cases on multiple counts of breach of trust and fraud, and one count of bribery, and that the legal process which attempts to bring him to justice is legitimate and proper. Or — they continue — perhaps there is a conspiracy between the former Police Commissioner (Roni Alsheikh) and State Prosecutor (Shai Nitzan), and the Attorney-General (Avichai Mandelblit), all appointed by Netanyahu and none of who could be considered a “leftist,” in collusion with the media and the judiciary, to bring down a right-wing prime minister (even though he will likely be replaced by a right-wing prime minister).

This is not objective Israel education. It is not teaching to develop independent, critical and analytical thinking. Putting facts and conspiracy theories on the same footing is immoral and educationally unsound. Furthermore, it alienates Diaspora students — not just liberals or progressives, but anyone who values democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights — from Israel. As Israel educators we must be non-partisan — no political party which runs in Israeli elections (including those which survive attempts by the Central Electoral Commission — whether on the left or the right — to disqualify them) should be presented to our students more favorably than another. But supporting and upholding the authority of the key institutions of the state is not about left or right, liberal or conservative. It is about mamlachtiyut (which one might roughly but wholly inadequately translate as “country before party”). This is obviously not to say that one cannot make legitimate criticisms of state institutions or even founding documents, or call for their reform. (There is, of course, good reason why there have been amendments to the US Constitution). But there is a difference between this and a wholesale and manipulative delegitimization of them, for the unholy benefit of one man alone. This is not political disagreement. This is corruption. A viewpoint pillorying these institutions cannot be presented as equally legitimate to one supporting and respecting them, which should, of course, be a matter of broad consensus.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed tour guide.

Hope to #guide you in #Israel soon!

22 Jan
Hope to guide you at #Masada soon. #Israel #israeltourism #IsraelEducation #israeltravel #israelhiking

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

Virtual tours during COVID-19

14 Jan

by Ilan Bloch

Virtual tours during COVID-19

In these difficult times, during which travel is virtually impossible, and when we may find ourselves isolated at home, I invite you “to visit” Israel virtually, through participating in a fascinating lesson, incorporating photos and videos from one or more tourist sites, plus Jewish texts, primary and secondary sources, and song or poetry. Ideal for your synagogue/temple or Federation, or for Jewish day school faculty or parents. Contact Ilan now ( or +972-546-911-001) to discuss your needs or select one of our ready-made tours.

Tour 1: Castel and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park – During this virtual tour/lecture we will examine the siege of Jerusalem in 1947-8 and the first major battle to open the road to the city when Zionist forces attacked the Arab village of Castel. We will explore how Israeli society remembers those who fell in the battles and celebrates Jewish access to the city today. We will also walk in the footsteps of Jewish pilgrims who “went up” to the city during the time that the Second Temple stood.

Tour 2: The end of the Great Revolt and the aftermath of the Bar Kochba Revolt – During this virtual tour/lecture we will explore the lesser visited site of Herodium. We will “meet” King Herod and examine the first of three “mop-up” military operations of the Roman Empire against Judean forces. We will learn about the Bar Kochba Revolt, including how the Zionist movement and the State of Israel grappled with the legacy of the event.

Tour 3: Jerusalem United/Divided: Past, Present and Future – During this virtual tour/lecture we will deconstruct and critically analyze the slogan “Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people” through exploring key milestones and sites related to changes to the city’s administration over the last century. We will learn about:
a) the deep Jewish connection to the city, while we visit Haas Promenade, overlooking the Old City;
b) the Arab siege of Jewish Jerusalem in 1947-8, through visiting the Mt. Zion cable car museum, Batei Machase Square and the Bell Outpost;
c) the “Seam Line” (between West and East Jerusalem) during 1948-1967, through exploring Mandelbaum Gate and the Israeli-held enclave at Mt. Scopus;
d) the 1967 Israeli seizure of East Jerusalem, through exploring the battle at Ammunition Hill and the capture of the Temple Mount/Sacred Esplanade and the entire Old City; 
e) current issues surrounding Israeli administration of the city, including Israeli settlement in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the building of a wall segment of the Israeli barrier built in territory seized in 1967, including inside Jerusalem, and
f) finally, potential solutions to the quesiton of the future of Jerusalem.

Tour 4: Monasteries and monasticism in the Judean Desert – Join us on this learning pilgrimage as we visit the area of John the Baptist, of Elijah the Prophet and of Jesus. Explore the land of hermits and of seeking God. Visit: Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site on the banks of the Jordan River; the monastery of Dir Hajla (St. Gerasimus); the archaeological site of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; Nebi Musa, and an overlook over the Saints John and George of Choziba Monastery (St. George Monastery). 

Tour 5: Devotion and commitment in the Holy Land -Join us on this learning pilgrimage as we revisit the narratives which changed the world and meet those who devote their lives to a cause greater than themselves. Visit: Mary’s Spring, the Church of the Visitation and the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem; Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant in Kiriyat Yearim, and the Benedictine Monastery in adjacent Abu Ghosh (and Emmaus Nicopolis), and the Trappist Monastery in Latrun.   

Tour 6: The Twisted Road to Independence – Join us as we visit the Museum of Undergound Prisoners in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound where we will learn about and critically examine the worldviews and activities of the three Zionist paramilitary groups active in British Mandate Palestine-Land of Israel. 

Session 7: The State of Israel vs. Benjamin Netanyahu: the protests against the prime minister – During this Zoom session we will examine: the corruption cases against Netanyahu, for which he was charged with breach of trust, fraud and bribery, as well as the “submarines and shares” case in which he was not investigated as a suspect; reasons for the protests, including economic issues (triggered by the pandemic crisis), political instability (four elections in just two years), the inchoate nature of COVID-19 restrictions and enforcement mechanisms, and “diminishing democracy”; the different protesters (anti-corruption, economic, liberal-leftist, and international), and Israeli police, and Likud and other political responses to the protests which have now lasted more than half a year.

Session 8: The Abraham Accords – During this Zoom session we will examine: the agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco; controvery surrounding the deals, and the effect of the deals on Israeli politics on annexation (and whether critiques of annexation might still be relevant), the Trump peace plan, the Arab Peace Initiative, other peace plans and the Palestinian arena.

Session 9: Shimon and Levi – During this Zoom session – available for people of faith and text learning backgrounds – we will explore Jewish texts and textual analysis. What did Yaakov (Jacob) really think about Shimon (Simeon) and Levi? Is there a difference between how he speaks about them at the end of the story of the rape of Dinah (Parashat Vayishlach) to how he speaks about them at the end of his life (and the book of Bereshit (Genesis) (Parashat Vayechi)? What do the medieval Jewish commentators the Rambam and Ramban have to say about their actions? Can we learn anything about international relations from this story? Is there a difference between Shimon and Levi?  

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

There is no commanding voice

3 Dec

by Ilan Bloch

Image taken from Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot website (

One of my favorite sites at which to guide is the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (Davidson Center), which includes a wonderful timeline of the history of Jerusalem, detailing which great power ruled the city over the course of the last several millenia. A similar — albeit more detailed — timeline (from the store at Beit Hatfutsot) is pictured above.

Canaanite (including an Egyptian conquest). Israelite (United, Divided, Judahite kingdoms). Assyrian (in Samaria). Babylonian. Persian. Hellenistic. Hasmonean (Maccabean). Roman. Byzantine (including a brief Persian conquest). Early Muslim (Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid). Crusader. Ayyubid (including a parallel Second Crusader period). Mamluk. Ottoman. British. (Jordanian/Palestinian National Authority and) Israeli.

Many Israelis are convinced that the above historical timeline teaches us one thing and one thing only — that so many conquests over the course of multiple centuries can only mean that Israel must make every effort to ensure that it is militarily superior to its close neighbors and those further afield. A strong IDF and (according to foreign sources) nuclear warheads are the most essential take-aways from learning the history of this land. In their minds, this is what the commanding voice of History (with a capital ‘H’) teaches us.

But I would suggest that there is no commanding voice of history with only one message from which we can learn. Perhaps the timeline teaches us that if even the greatest empires, with the greatest armies, and fighting in the name of the greatest gods, could ultimately be vanquished, then perhaps — Heaven forfend! — Israel can be too. Perhaps the timeline does not teach us about the essential value of power, but rather, about its ultimate limitations. It is unclear whether unrestrained military might can achieve any and all policy goals.

And perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. Maybe it is here, in this space, where Israeli and Diaspora Jews can meet to discuss and debate what it means to wield power Jewishly in a sovereign state, and what it means to live without sovereignty in free and democratic (and less free and less democratic) countries in the Diaspora.

As guides, teachers and parents, we must be careful in declaring that “History” speaks to us with a singular message. History has facts. How we build its narratives and determine its messages depends on our philosophical outlook and political values.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

They are not straying lambs

12 Nov

by Ilan Bloch

Many, if not most, engaged American Jews suffer from cognitive dissonance. On the one hand they are committed to human rights and liberalism and on the other they are committed to Zionism and the State of Israel. I do not believe they can be written off as Jews trying to curry favor with BLM or other American progressive movements. This is not about court Jews trying to ingratiate themselves with the goyim (Gentiles). It is genuinely difficult for those who believe in universal values of peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights and human dignity to reconcile these values with the hyper-particularistic manner that Zionism has been applied in Israel over the last five to ten years.

Too often we find Israeli tour guides and Israel education institutions saying American Jewish millenials are stuck in the millieu of their social media bubble (which is liberal), their media outlets (which are liberal, assuming they are not watching Fox News), their college campuses (which are liberal) and their overall Jewish community (which is mainly liberal). They will say “We’re not trying to engage in hasbara (“explaining” or Israel advocacy) but rather simply trying to broaden the understanding and outlook of our students.” But, this is really just code to explain the essential legitimacy of key Israeli policies.

A proper educational approach would at least adopt the idea that the flip-side of the American Jewish millenial bubble argument also holds true for Israeli Jewish millenials who often participate in Israel programs alongside their American peers in the context of a mifgash (encounter). Their social media feeds, their media outlets (unless they read Haaretz), their college campuses (with organizations like Im Tirzu “outing” liberal professors) and their overall Jewish community are all (mainly) conservative. A proper educational approach would try and broaden Israeli students’ outlooks too.

All participants — whether Israeli or American, whether right- or left-wing, whether Zionist or not — should get a sense that their previously held positions regarding Israel, Zionism and government policies have been healthily challenged, in a manner that leads to further growth. Hopefully, participants will even move in both directions along an axis of liberal/conservative political thought and affiliation.

Our task as Israel educators is certainly to present a wide variety of different opinions, and to attempt to be as objective as possible in our presentation of multiple and competing narratives, without sharing our own personal take on political issues. But, a line has to be drawn. The notion that mamlachtiyut (which one might roughly but wholly inadequately translate as “country before party”) should lead Israel educators to present all views as equally legitimate is folly. To present the insane theory that a liberal-controlled deep state is conspiring to foment a coup by unseating Prime Minister Netanyahu as an equally legitimate view to the facts that the (former) Israel Police Commissioner, (former) State Prosecutor and Attorney General (all of whom were appointed by Netanyahu himself), acting as the gate-keepers of Israeli democracy, saw fit to investigate, indict and try Netanyahu for breach of trust, fraud and bribery because they had uncovered evidence to suggest he was guilty, is not objective Israel education. It is immoral education.

One can teach that a lacuna in the law does not require a prime minister charged with these crimes to resign before he has exhausted any appeal, just as one can debate the pros and cons of legislation which would (for future cases) bar the prosecution of prime ministers while they are in office (e.g. a so-called “French Law”). However, to present conspiracy theories as legitimate views is doing a disservice to our students — intellectually and morally, and in terms of supporting their very connection to Israel. Even Fox News cut off White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s press statement in which she alleged election fraud without any evidence.

It is easy to say – as many Israel educators do – that we need to distinguish the State of Israel from the Government of Israel. It is much harder (if not impossible) to do so when this government (led by a prime minister who is a criminal defendant and who has been in power for more than a decade) is, in effect, at war with the State of Israel. Only a general waging war could have delivered Netanyahu’s tirade against an imagined coup by the police, state prosecutor, “the left” and the media, inside the courthouse before his arraignment on May 24. Students who see their Israel educators as not taking a clear stance against corruption and the erosion of Israeli democracy, will come to see us as apologists for Netanyahu’s misdeeds. And this will alienate them from Israel.

Ilan Bloch is a licensed Israel tour guide.

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