Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Memoir Of A Sick-Soul: Ilona Karmel's Divinity School

Ilona Karmel died on Dec. 13, 2000. She was supposed to have died in the Krakow ghetto, or in the Plaszow death camp, or when a retreatingWehrmacht half-track ran her down, crushing her legs and killing her mother; but instead she lived, came to Radcliffe, graduated, and wrote a novel, then married and, as fate would have it, wound up working in a Munich orphanage, where she began another novel, which she published back in Boston in 1969, eventually teaching “longer fiction” in the MIT Writing Program, which is where I met her in 1980. To say this was love at first sight is not to say much. Ila had a heart “like a street-car”—so I was told by the guarded (and somewhat envious) colleague who introduced us—and I was new to Boston and an orphan to boot. Ila was also the most immediately inviting person I had ever encountered, probing and candid and big-sisterly. She seemed to say, “I have no patience for mere acquaintances, so this first talk is actually an audition for a lifelong friendship,” and I left her home raw and exhilarated. I would soon learn that Ila had no patience either for any great show of admiration for her, so writing now about how she helped some of us with God, of all things, feels pretty reckless. “Nu, come on!,” Ila would scoff, implying self-effacement, but not really meaning it, wanting, not less honor, but more scrutiny, which no human being could stand too much of, let alone God. Only children were perfect, and not past 18.

Read on at Tablet

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

'Now, Write It 100 Times'

Our Greek Colony home, which my wife Sidra Ezrahi and her then-husband Yaron Ezrahi built with Yaacov and Felice Malkin in the 1980s, was defaced last week by neo-Zionist extremists. On the wall, a painted slogan, "Destruction of Amalek," and a reference to a verse from Exodus. (Amalek is the mythical people that attacked the children of Israel in the desert from the rear, and has become code for unbridled Jew-haters.)

The object of the vandalism was Yaacov, the veteran campaigner for secular and humanistic Judaism, which (a moment's thought would tell you) was the very purpose of the Zionist revolution. We think of the building--where, post-divorce, we, Yaron and his wife Ruth HaCohen, and the Malkin clan, all live as friends--as a kind of tribute to peacemaking. The vandals, for their part, left Yaacov a veiled death threat: "Should you continue your actions following this warning, know that you are yourself choosing to forsake your fate and future." It was signed by "your brother who brings to you the word of God your creator and king, the father still waiting for your return to him."

Yaacov, who is 89, and has never lost his wry sense of humor, will be forgiven for being mildly amused by this warning. His fate is, already, sealed. (You can read about his remarkable career here.) And since Yaacov is also a film buff, and one of the founders of (among other institutions) the Jerusalem Cinematheque, it is hard to conjure our "brothers who bring the word of God," brush-in-hand, and not chuckle, if only for a second, about the benighted hero of the Monty Python film, "The Life of Brian," who can't quite get "Romans Go Home" quite right.

For the vandals hadn't got the verse about Amalek quite right. They had obviously meant to refer to Exodus 17:14, where the "blotting out" of the name of Amalek is promised. Instead, they wrote next to their warning Exodus 16:14, which, touchingly, has a very different implication: "And when the layer of dew was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: 'What is it?' – For they knew not what it was. And Moses said unto them: 'It is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat."

We will reinforce our front door, yet I can't help imagining John Cleese in the garb of a stern Yeshiva rebbe, catching our young zealots in the act, twisting their ears, and correcting their grafitti. "So what is in the verse?! Not Amalek, but--wait for it!--God's bread! Now, write it 100 times." And the next morning we wake up, not to a single threat, but to neighborhood walls all testifying to God's grace.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

EU Vs. BDS: The Politics Of Israel Sanctions

This past Monday, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council reaffirmed a November requirement that Israel label products made in the settlements differently from those made in Israel. On Tuesday, the State Department spokesman John Kirby unexpectedly reinforced the E.U. position, saying that “construction, planning, and retroactive legalization of settlements” is illegitimate, and that the U.S. does “not view labelling the origin of products as being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel.”

The E.U.’s action, and the Obama Administration’s concurrence, might seem unremarkable. Their opposition to settlements is long-standing. The E.U. labelling requirement, which would apply to little more than one percent of the fourteen billion dollars in goods and services Israel exports to the E.U., is a practical matter, since settlement products were never subject to a free-trade agreement between the two. E.U. ministers, too, were careful to insist that they don’t consider their action “a boycott of Israel, which the E.U. opposes”; there is an obvious difference between opposing the Israeli government’s policies and opposing the state’s existence.

Predictably, though, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the November resolution with indignation. “The E.U. decided to mark only [goods made by] Israel, and we are unwilling to accept the fact that E.U. labels the side being attacked by terror.” His justice minister, the Jewish Home Party member Ayelet Shaked, called Brussels “anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.” Most senior opposition leaders have toed the government line. The Labor Party leader, Isaac Herzog, conjured a parallel between the E.U.’s decision and the U.N.’s 1974 “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s U.N. ambassador at the time, famously denounced. Yair Lapid, another opposition leader, accused the E.U. of “capitulating to the worst elements of jihad”; labelling “is a direct continuation of the boycott movement against Israel, which is anti-Semitic and misguided,” he said.

The near unison reflects growing dread of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement targeting Israel, which is separate from any E.U. measures, but is often considered part of a mounting threat of isolation. Formally, the B.D.S. movement began with a 2005 Palestinian campaign—endorsed by more than a hundred and seventy Palestinian civil-society organizations—to encourage public condemnation in the West of the occupation, the settlements, and, arguably, their ideological roots. Leaders of the B.D.S. movement have also called for “full equality” for Palestinian citizens in Israel proper and endorsed the demand for a Palestinian right of return. Omar Barghouti, a founder of the movement, insists that B.D.S. does not threaten Israel’s survival but rather its “unjust order.” Given the ambiguity of the movement’s demands, this is a reassurance that few Israelis can take comfort in.

Read on at The New Yorker