In this week’s ‘Jewish Week’

In this week’s ‘Jewish Week’

I’m monitoring my local Jewish weekly, The Jewish Week, for the New York City local chapter of J Street.  This is what I’ve found in the latest issue:  

There is an important article depicting the complexities of the BDS issue: “Culture Group Rebuffs Bid To Condemn Boycotts: Fight at Foundation for Jewish Culture over film content spotlights increasingly testy, and muddy, issue.”  It features a photo and three paragraphs on the position of Theodore Bikel (not identified, alas, as the board chair of Meretz USA):

… Theodore Bikel, 86, a renowned Jewish actor, … said he is generally wary of cultural and academic boycotts on principle: like many artists and intellectuals, he thinks boycotts violate the principle of freedom of expression. …
But this fall he wrote a letter in the Israeli daily Haaretz supporting the Israeli-led boycott of the Ariel theater — a boycott that is unaffiliated with the BDS movement. …
The Ariel theater boycott has become a cause célèbre among many liberal Jewish artists, including Frank Gehry and Daniel Barenboim. And many say it accomplishes what the BDS boycotts do not: it specifically targets the occupation in the West Bank.

The article also mentions that the international BDS movement called for a boycott of New York’s “Other Israel Film Festival,” and this caused some people to withdraw their involvement:

“We believe they’re boycotting it because it’s a Jewish festival, an Israeli festival,” said Carole Zabar, the film festival’s director.

On its website last month, PACBI said that independent calls for a boycott would meet its criteria, though, on the grounds that the festival “endorsed the oxymoronic notion of a ‘democratic Jewish state,’” and because it took no official stance on the Israeli government’s treatment of Arabs and Palestinians. “Avoiding taking a position,” PACBI’s website states, “is a form of whitewashing Israel’s colonial and apartheid reality.” 

In an op-ed, an Orthodox rabbi writes a nuanced piece appealing for a more thoughtful and authentically Jewish analysis, informed by moral considerations, regarding the requirements of Halacha (Jewish rabbinical law) on this matter: “The Rental Controversy In Israel: A Time For Bold, Ethical Halachic Decision-Making.” It bears mentioning that the recent anti-Arab Israeli rabbinical ruling has been almost universally condemned in mainstream Jewish media, both here and in Israel.  

There’s also an op-ed worth reading by a UJA-Federation planner on “Israel and the Challenges of Peoplehood.” 

By | 2011-01-03T20:38:00-05:00 January 3rd, 2011|Blog|15 Comments


  1. Anonymous January 4, 2011 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    As long as your posting that quote in the article from Carol Zabar re the Other Israel Film Festival, it would seem to make sense to post the first comment posted directly below the article by a person identifying themselves as Carol Zabar that I read at least as distancing herself from the alleged quote. I am pasting the comment below:

    Submitted by carole zabar (not verified) on Wed, 12/29/2010 – 12:11.
    You misunderstood me. The OtherIsrael Film Festival is neither Jewish or Israeli. It is a film festival about Palestinian Israelis- the fact that we work together with the JCC in Manhattan does not make it a Jewish Film Festival. The fact that the name Israel appears in the Name of the festival does not make it an Israeli Film festival- it has not Israeli sponsorship.

    It is important not to c onflate Jewish and Israeli- those terms are different and this difference is not widely understood. One of the reasons for our festival is that most people think all the people who live in Israel are Jewish. They are not. %20 of t he citizens of israel are Arabs.



  2. Ralph Seliger January 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I hadn’t noticed that comment, Ted. I understand what Carole Zabar says here; she does great work in making this festival possible.

    But whether this is considered a Jewish or Israeli film festival or not, she is not addressing the fact that the BDS movement is boycotting this as well, because THEY consider it a Jewish/Israeli cultural expression. It speaks volumes to me that the official leadership of the BDS movement is boycotting even this noble effort to educate Jews about the reality of non-Jewish minorities in Israel.

  3. Anonymous January 4, 2011 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    Desr Ralph,

    I am not sure how your claim that”the BDS movement is boycotting this as well, because THEY consider it a Jewish/Israeli cultural expression” jibes with what Jewish Week (more or less correctly) describes as PACBI’s expressed reason for saying the Other Israel Film festival meets its criteria for a boycott:

    “On its website last month, PACBI said that independent calls for a boycott would meet its criteria, though, on the grounds that the festival “endorsed the oxymoronic notion of a ‘democratic Jewish state,’” and because it took no official stance on the Israeli government’s treatment of Arabs and Palestinians. “Avoiding taking a position,” PACBI’s website states, “is a form of whitewashing Israel’s colonial and apartheid reality.”

    Please enlighten us all on how PACBI’s reasons correspond with boycott “Jewish/Israeli cultural expresion” when PACBI focused on notions of democracy

    Please also bear in mind that PACBI said the Other Israel Film Festival was not a priority target for PACBI. I forgot the exact words, but believe it was something to the effect that PACBI only responded when others approached them and asked them for an opinion.


  4. Ralph Seliger January 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    The Other Israel Film Festival is obviously for coexistence and the equitable treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens. Ted should not try to weasel out of PACBI’s clear anti-Israel bias by stating that they don’t regard this purely cultural institution as a “priority target” for their boycott. If he can’t see what’s wrong with PACBI from the statement that Ted himself quotes, I can’t “enlighten” him further.

  5. Anonymous January 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Dear Ralph,

    Carol Zabar, in explaining The Other Israel Film Festival on the festival’s website, writes about Israel as “a democratic Jewish state.”

    That is fundamentally how she frames what the festival is about to the public. She raisees no questions about Israel as a democracy, but affirms that it is.

    Leaving aside your belief (as I understand it) that Israel has flaws, but can work towards greater equality for all, and can be both a Jewish State and democratic, do you honestly believe and this point in history that it is not legitimate to strongly question the framing of Israel as a democracy?


  6. Ralph Seliger January 4, 2011 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    Ted and PACBI are free to disagree with us on the legitimacy of Israel as Jewish and democratic. But it’s wrong for them to condemn our efforts and aspiration for Israel to remain the national homeland of the Jewish people while non-Jewish minorities are treated equitably as citizens.

  7. Anonymous January 4, 2011 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Carol Zabar, in explaining the film festival on the website frames Israel as “democratic Jewish atate”, in the present tense.

    Do you feel comfortable saying that Israel is now a democratic Jewish state?


  8. Ralph Seliger January 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Israel is imperfect, but it is definitely a democratic state. It is the most democratic country by far in the entire Middle East.

    The situation is not democratic for the Palestinian territories (that’s part of the reason that we call them “occupied”). But Israel is internally governed by a democratically-elected parliament and an independent judiciary.

    Is Israel a fully egalitarian society for all of its citizens? No, it is not, and this is something that I’m sure Carole Zabar (along with ourselves and all progressive Zionists) wants to change.

  9. Anonymous January 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Interestingly there seems to be a growing sense among some left Israelis that Israel can’t be called a democracy. For example, see this below by Yossi Gurvitz at +972Mag. I wonder where Meretz and Meretz-USA will stand?


    What we saw last night was a final breaking of the rules of the games, the use of an investigation for the persecution of political rivals, the Israeli equivalent of the burning of the Reichstag. That, as may be recalled, was not just the torching of a physical building, but the excuse used by the revolutionary right to politically persecute their rivals, including elected deputies of the left parties (and, a few weeks later, also of the more moderate right wing parties). The taunting of the brownshirts of their rivals was reflected in MK Danny Danon’s victory chant yesterday: “You, my colleagues on the left, should hear today the words of the song: ‘sometimes the party is over’”. (Inarticulateness in the original).

    And, yes: the democracy party in Israel is over. People who still mistakenly think Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East” should be informed this title is no longer relevant. One doubts whether Ayalon, Kirshenbaum, Danon and the rest understand just how much aid they provide to the de-legitimization of Israel, but the process ought to be completed: finish off the legitimacy of the Zionist regime and the Liberman-Ayalon government. No loyalty must be shown to such a regime, if we hope to salvage something of what used to be Israel. If Israel is to live, the Zionist regime must pass away. This must be said everywhere, but particularly outside of Israel. As a long series of fascist regimes – from Italy through Germany to the Serbia of Milosevic – the people living under such regimes cannot save themselves, cannot wake out of the nightmare on their own, but require a strong external intervention. Since most Israelis love hating leftists, but love their vacations in Europe and their consumerism even more, let’s hope some heavy duty economical sanctions will do the job.

  10. Ralph Seliger January 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    This parliamentary committee of inquiry is clearly a threat to free and open public discourse and civic action. But it’s not anything like the “Reichstag fire.”

    It doesn’t end free elections and it doesn’t shut down opposition parties, which is how Hitler exploited the Reichstag fire in 1933.

  11. Ron Skolnik January 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    If you follow this blog (and you do), you know that we’ve been warning about the very real threats to Israeli democracy and Israel’s potential descent into fascism for some years. In fact, I can recall the forerunners of Meretz warning about this since the 1970s! So your question of where Meretz USA stands on this is a bit puzzling.

    What troubles me isn’t your critique, as much as what seems to be your desire to needle and bait, rather than finding common ground to help. Or perhaps it’s your seeming delight (compared to our dismay) in watching Israel’s rightward gallop. Rather than say “I told you so”, Meretz USA is more interested in helping Israel be a place that can still fulfill the ideals espoused in its founding document.

    I can’t really grasp what you’re after. Is your insistence that Israel is no longer a democracy – compared to our general view that Israel is a democracy facing grave threats – an important distinction? Is this an argument we should be having? The best use of our intellectual resources?


  12. Mark January 7, 2011 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    Ron & all:

    Mapam/Hashomer Hatzair/API, etc. did warn of this in the 1970’s. I’ll reask the question that I asked in 1977 when Begin and Likud won for the first time: what is Mapam willing to do to stop the slide to catastrophe? Related to the discussion concering Lieberman’s bill to investigate the Civil Rights organizations, what, if anything, is MK Horowitz and Meretz (Labor?) proposing?

    Mark Itzkowitz

  13. Ron Skolnik January 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    I don’t speak for or represent the Meretz party (we wear their name, but we’re an independent US organization), so I can’t offer an official report. But I do know there’s going to be a mass emergency march for democracy this Saturday night in Tel Aviv, sponsored by Meretz and a slew of NGOs.

    So far, I only have material in Hebrew, on Facebook –!/event.php?eid=142599465798346

    But we hope to get material in English up soon.


  14. Anonymous February 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    This is a good blog. Keep up all the work. I too love blogging and expressing my opinions

  15. Anonymous November 13, 2011 at 3:33 am - Reply

    First class article!!!

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