What Slate Got Wrong About Birthright and Max Steinberg’s Death

Placing blame for an IDF casualty on a free trip to Israel is irresponsible

Birthright participants on Mount Hertzl in 2012. (Margarita Korol)

“There are many people to blame for [Max] Steinberg’s death,” Slate’s Allison Benedikt writes, about the 24-year-old American who died this week fighting in the Israeli army. “There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame.”

Her thinly argued piece, which one can imagine struck her editor as an ingenious, high-controversy bit of click-bait, goes on to hedge its bets a tad: “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good …” But the gist is that the Bronfman-funded trip that has sent hundreds of thousands of young Jews on a Zionism tourist safari helped nudge a young man to his death. (more…)

Aviation Ban Isolates Israel as Casualties Mount

Third Israeli civilian killed in rocket attack; Palestinian death count passes 600

Passengers check a departure time flight board displaying various cancellations at Ben Gurion International airport, near Tel Aviv, on July 23, 2014. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images)

As Day 15 of Operation Protective Edge came to a close on Tuesday, Israel found itself facing a level of isolation that it had not experienced in decades, as the Federal Aviation Administration placed an aviation ban on U.S. flights to Israel for 24 hours, following a rocket strike in a house hours earlier near Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s only international airport. By Wednesday morning several European airlines had also followed suit, including Turkish Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, and easyJet.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel on El Al to protest the ban, which he called “a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory.” (more…)

French Prime Minister Denounces Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism

Manuel Valls shows political courage, becomes a hero to Jews worldwide

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech on June 27, 2014. (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Against the backdrop of large anti-Semitic riots in Paris, and the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a French Muslim killer, Mehdi Nemmouche, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made a resoundingly firm connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism that other world leaders—and many Jews—are afraid to make. As is his style, he went straight to the point: “Anti-semitism, this old European disease,” he said in a speech, has taken “a new form. It spreads on the Internet, in our popular neighborhoods, with a youth that has lost its points of reference, has no conscience of history, and who hides itself behind a fake anti-Zionism.”

The occasion was the 72th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup—the arrest of 13.000 Jews in Paris, by the French police under German authorities during World War II on the 16th and 17th of July, 1942. Valls’ strong, clear words are a breakthrough that separates him from the general complacency on the subject among most European politicians—and separates France from its growing reputation as a beacon of hate. (more…)

An Idealist Says Goodbye to Israel

Israeli Arab writer Sayed Kashua is moving to Chicago with his family

Israeli Arab writer Sayed Kashua. (Die Welt)

Sayed Kashua has long represented the hope that some kind of co-existence in Israel can be achieved between historical antagonists. After all, he is an Israeli Arab who has lived in Jerusalem for 25 years and seems to have thrived there. A popular writer, he has a column in Haaretz, worked in television, and has three novels under his belt, all inspired by his experiences.

When he was 14, Kashua won a spot in a Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem and left his family and village behind. In the Guardian on July 19, he describes his initial encounters there with Hebrew literature. “I read Agnon, Meir Shalev, Amos Oz and I started to read about Zionism, about Judaism and the building of the homeland. During these years I also began to understand my own story,” he writes. “I began to write, believing that all I had to do to change things would be to write the other side, to tell the stories that I heard from my grandmother. (more…)

Did ‘Close Encounters’ Herald the Advent of a New Religion?

Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi epic is loaded with portents, but what do they mean?

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (IMDb)

You don’t need to strain too hard to find the biblical imagery in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. You don’t even need to see the movie. The poster alone—a mountain clouded with smoke and bathed in heavenly light—is enough to signal that something big is about to be revealed.

In the movie itself, the allusions to Mount Sinai are even more direct. When we first meet our protagonist, electrical lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), he’s just given his kids permission to watch Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, even though it’s almost bedtime. “Roy, that movie’s four hours long,” complains his wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr). “I said they could watch five commandments,” he answers. (more…)

Are Israel’s Attacks on Gaza Proportional?

The answer isn’t in the skewed number of casualties or mismatched weaponry

Smoke from an Israeli offensive is seen as people gather at a cemetery during the funeral for members of the al-Kelani family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on July 22, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel is often accused of using disproportionate force. Last Thursday, U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg blasted Israel’s operation in response to Hamas rockets raining down on its cities as being “deliberately disproportionate”. Similar claims have been made by other world leaders and can be frequently heard in the corridors and meeting halls of the United Nations in New York.

So what does “disproportionate” mean? The number of dead on each side is often cited as evidence of disproportionality—so far more than 600 Gazans have been killed and 30 Israelis. In war, one side aims to emerge victorious and intuitively their casualties will be fewer. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, has highlighted that this was the case in World War II, when German casualties were 20 times greater than those of the Allies, who turned German cities to piles of rubble despite the fact that Germany never managed to drop a single bomb on the continental U.S. (more…)

Nine Arrested in NYC at Jewish Protest of Gaza Operation

Civil disobedience act targeted the Friends of the IDF office in Times Square

Protestors outside the office of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Times Square, New York City, where nine people were arrested. (Jewish Voice for Peace)

Nine people were arrested this morning during an act of civil disobedience at the offices of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a non-profit committed to the education and wellbeing of the IDF. A total of 14 people, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, participated. It was part of a larger protest against the war in Gaza, organized jointly by two Jewish groups that advocate for Palestinian human rights: Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!

The 14 protestors entered the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ offices south of Times Square (on Golda Meir Square) at 11 a.m. “We said we wanted to discuss donations, which was correct,” said Felice Gelman, who elected not to get arrested. “They said, ‘Wow, all these people, fantastic,’ and opened the door.” Then the protestors explained: “We are here to demand that you end your support of the IDF and stop your contributions to the war in Gaza.” (more…)

Gaza War Brings Down L’Internet in France

Trolls come out strong for the Jews


France’s online forums, those virtual bastions of Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité, are the unsung victims of Operation Protective Edge: with three times the amount of user-generated comments, most of them heinous, forum moderators are collapsing under the weight of inane vitriol.

“As soon as you talk about Israel, it crystallizes all passions, with up to 20,000 or 30,000 comments sometimes after an article, of which we will only let five to 10 percent through,” David Corchia of Concileo, a company that helps manage the websites for such leading newspapers as Le Figaro and Liberation, told the AFP. The average comment rejection rate in stories unrelated to Israel, he added, was much lower, hovering at around 25 to 40 percent. (more…)

Anti-Israel Protests Make the Case for Israel

As protestors’ rhetoric heats up across Europe, many Jews feel safer in Israel

Restaurant in Sarcelles, a northern Paris suburb, damaged on July 20, 2014 after a rally against Israel's Gaza offensive descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses. (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

The case for Israel is now playing out on the streets of Paris.

Over the weekend, pro-Palestinian rioters marched into a Jewish suburb in the French capital to break Jewish things. They torched cars, lobbed firebombs into a synagogue, and burnt Jewish-owned stores to the ground. One group of men reportedly spoke loudly of “hunting Jews and killing them.” That followed last weekend’s attempt to storm two other Parisian synagogues to a chorus of “Death to Jews!” and “Hitler was right!” They were only held in check by Jewish vigilantes who took up arms to defend those trapped inside. (more…)

FAA Suspends Flights From U.S. to Israel

Flights halted for 24 hours after Hamas rocket lands near Ben Gurion airport

(Lukas Rebec /

The Federal Aviation Administration has halted all U.S. flights to Israel Tuesday for a 24 hour period after a Hamas rocket landed about a mile from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

“The FAA immediately notified U.S. carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing [the notice],” the agency said in a statement. “The FAA will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation.”

Delta had to redirect an Israel-bound flight already in the air from New York’s JFK airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. (more…)

IDF Soldier in Gaza MIA; Presumed Dead

Oron Shaul was in the armored personnel carrier hit by Hamas rocket Sunday

Israeli soldiers from the Golani Infantry Brigade prepare their equipment and weapons near their Armoured Personnel Carrier or APC at an army deployment near the Israeli-Gaza border,on July 19, 2014. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Image)

Bitter news greeted both Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday, the 15th day of Operation Protective Edge, as the IDF confirmed that a soldier is missing in action in Gaza and feared dead, while further Israeli strikes on the Strip brought the Palestinian death toll to more than 600.

The soldier was named as 21-year-old Oron Shaul of Poriah, who was in the armored personnel carrier hit by a Hamas rocket in the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Six of the seven bodies of the soldiers in the vehicle have been accounted for, but there is still no final word on if Shaul is alive or if Hamas is in fact holding his body. (more…)

Inside the Hamas Tunnel Terror Network

IDF forces say they’ve uncovered more than 23 tunnels and 66 access points

A view of a tunnel reportedly dug by Palestinians beneath the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel and recently uncovered by Israeli troops, on October 13, 2013.(DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images)

The Israel Defense Forces’ ground incursion into Gaza which began last week had a very specific aim: to target and destroy tunnels built by Hamas that stretched underground from Gaza into Israel. But the tunnel system uncovered by IDF forces in the past few days is a network far more extensive than previously thought—with four of the 25 IDF casualties occurring during confrontations with Hamas gunmen exiting the tunnels—suggesting that the military offensive, in which nearly 600 Palestinians have been killed, could yet expand in response.

IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner compared the network to a subway system. “It’s like the Underground, the Metro or the subway,” he said. Lerner has also described the tunnel system as “an entire underground Gaza.” (more…)

Berlin Protesters Chant: ‘Jew, Jew, Cowardly Pig, Come on out and Fight’

Another anti-Israel rally in Europe devolves into anti-Semitism

Participants demonstrate at a protest against Israeli military action in Gaza, on July 17, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Across Europe, many pro-Palestinian rallies have been taking a disturbing turn. Under the guise of opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza, thousands of protesters have given expression to virulent anti-Jewish sentiments–and often acted on them. In France, mobs have shouted “Death to the Jews,” and eight synagogues have been attacked. One journalist even overheard a man who “spoke loudly about ‘hunting Jews and killing them.’” In the northern suburbs of Paris, the neighborhood of one of France’s largest Jewish communities was ransacked, with cars and businesses destroyed, including a kosher grocery store that was burned down.

Elsewhere in Europe, similar scenes have unfolded. In the U.K., for example, anti-Semitic incidents have doubled, with one woman being physically assaulted by pro-Palestinian marchers in London, who called her a “Jew Zionist.” But perhaps the most striking and disturbing example of this phenomenon has come out of Germany, where one would have hoped primitive anti-Semitic mobs were a relic of history. (more…)

The Inside Scoop on How the Kerry Peace Process Crumbled

How far were Netanyahu and Abbas willing to go?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 29, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images)

Over at The New Republic, Tablet contributor Ben Birnbaum and co-author Amir Tibon have published a riveting account of the latest attempt to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace. Drawn from over 100 interviews with American, Israeli, and Palestinian sources, the piece traces the intricacies of Secretary of State John Kerry’s abortive bid to broker a peace agreement. Full of behind-the-scenes quotes from the principals, from President Obama to Tzipi Livni to Mahmoud Abbas, it makes for engrossing reading. Some highlights: (more…)

Is Israel Finally Winning the ‘Hasbara’ Battle?

Clear goals and a ruthless enemy mean public opinion is with Israel—for now

The trail of a rocket launched by Palestinian militants into Israel is seen from an area East of Gaza City on July 21, 2014. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Is this the war in which Israel finally won the ‘hasbara,’ or public perception, battle?

Although it’s not hard to find the usual criticism of Israeli “disproportionality,” and public opinion can change on a dime, what seems to make this Gaza incursion different from the many that have come before it is a notable lack of condemnation from the usual quarters.

American Jews especially are sensitive to the notion that “the world” gives the Palestinians a pass, and that “the media” want Israel to turn the other cheek. But in the current conflict’s first two weeks, Congress and the White House have been fully and loudly on board with Israel’s right to defend itself; the U.N. is quiescent; and even dependable European capitals have been slow to criticize. (British Prime Minister David Cameron, for one, expressed support for Israel today, saying, “This crisis was triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, indiscriminately targeting civilians in contravention of all humanitarian law and norms.”) College campuses are on recess, and, perhaps most significantly, the Muslim world has either been distracted or—pinch me—critical of Hamas for jeopardizing innocent lives in Gaza. (more…)

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