Category Archives: Israel

“Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State” by Cary Nelson— Academia on BDS

Nelson, Cary. “Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State”, Indiana University Press, 2019.

Academia on BDS

Amos Lassen

“Israel Denial” is the first book to offer detailed analyses of the work faculty members have published―individually and collectively–in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and it contrasts claims with options for promoting peace. The faculty here have devoted a significant part of their professional lives to delegitimizing the Jewish state. While there are beliefs they hold in common (including their belief that there is nothing good to say about Israel), they also develop unique arguments designed to recruit converts to their cause and do so both as writers and as teachers who pay substantial attention to anti-Zionist pedagogy. We look at the strategies and argumentation of the BDS movement, and on some of its leading proponents. Nelson offers his readers powerful dissections and refutations of many of the BDS’s talking points, as well as some thoughts about moving towards accommodations regarding –if not a solution to―the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After reading Nelson’s book, no one should be able to take the work of the BDS professors seriously, given their reliance on propagandistic lies. Cary Nelson’s Israel is not the mythic realm of demons fantasized by BDS advocates but an actual place that contains signs of hope.

“The campaign to boycott Israel wants to be seen as a symbolic marker of the true community of the good; it poses as the simple global resistance to the Israeli right.” The book disrupts this dishonest and menacing positioning and articulates opposition to both the BDS and the pro-settler adherent. It embraces a politics of peace and it consistently opposes both anti-Arab racism and antisemitism.

Nelson recognized the need to document the absolute loss of the values upholding academic standards  in which a complicated battle over land has been turned into a morality tale accusing Israel of the very crimes―genocide, ethnic cleansing–historically unleashed against Jews.  “Israel Denial” is dispiriting in shows how deeply politics can intrude on and compromise intellectual projects and demonstrates what can be achieved with traditional scholarly skills and honesty

 Nelson sets out “to take anti-Zionist faculty positions seriously and address them in detail” and he accomplishes that objective and much, much more. This is a wide-ranging and incisive analysis of the academic movement to delegitimize and demonize Israel. Nelson thoroughly exposes and refutes the arguments for boycotting the Jewish state as he explores  ways to actual peace and reconciliation.

“Tel Aviv: Food. People. Stories: A Culinary Journey With NENI” by Haya Molcho et.al.— Cosmopolitan City, Cosmopolitan Food and Stories

Molcho, Haya and Nuriel Molcho, et al. “Tel Aviv: Food. People. Stories: A Culinary Journey With NENI”,  Acc Art Books, 2019).

Cosmopolitan City, Cosmopolitan Food and Stories

Amos Lassen

Having lived in Israel for many years, I spent a lot of time in Tel Aviv and even lived there for a year but that was many years ago. The Tel Aviv that I knew was just beginning to become the colorful, diverse, cosmopolitan and modern city it is today. Tel Aviv grew with the rest of the state but it had an extra dimension of being something of an international city— a place where the world meets, where cultures, traditions and religion traditions merge. It is constantly changing and actually could be anywhere in the world and I believe that what distinguished it as an Israel city is that everyone speaks Hebrew. I remember that not many people used to go to restaurants for meals and Israeli cuisine was nothing special but that has all changed. As Tel Aviv came of age so did her menus. “Tel Aviv: Food. People. Stories: A Culinary Journey With NENI” is a look at today’s Tel Aviv through atmospheric photos, exciting stories and local recipes, Haya Molcho, founder of NENI restaurants, herself grown up in Tel Aviv, and her sons, Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv and Ilan, paint a living portrait of their vibrant and ever-changing hometown.

We get many NENI recipes that are “complemented by dishes prepared by local restaurateurs and connoisseurs” that reflect the Tel Aviv’s diverse cuisine. There are recipes for  foods that I have never heard of before and they are mouth-watering. Some come from Haya’s youth and all are prepared with local ingredients that are memories of the taste of Haya’s childhood. These include Sabick sandwich, green shakshuka, lamb with figs and grapes, cactus fruit sorbet among others so it is best to read this after you have already eaten something so you will not be hungry.  What I real love about this book are the stories that go along with the recipes and we all know that the best way to get to know someone is to have a meal with them. We get shared food, shared stories and shared fun reading this.

The stories we read here are those of local chefs and story-tellers (“from the epicures and the urban forager, to the magician and the survivor – capturing the special spirit of the city’s many cuisines and inhabitants. Haya revisits the recipes of her home town, re-creating the flavors of her childhood: knafeh, green shakshuka, sarma, Israeli paella, pickled lemons and much more”).

Physically, the book is beautiful and it is filled with gorgeous photographs and wonderful stories. When Haya opened the first NENI restaurant, it was a hit with its

traditional Israeli cuisine mixed with Mediterranean and Romanian influences. What we have is a book of recipes alongside of biographies and interviews with local people from all walks of life. For anyone who wants to prepare some new items, this book is great and for those who like good stories and photos, this is also a book for them.

“Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation” edited by Carolyn L. Karcher— Stories from Diverse Backgrounds

Karcher, Carolyn L., editor.  “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation”, Olive Branch Press, 2019.

Stories from Diverse Backgrounds

Amos Lassen

I have never seen the American Jewish community so divided on Israel. When I was growing up through Zionist youth activities, there was never a question about the way we felt about Israel. We totally supported her and wept when there was pain and rejoiced when there was reason. I will never forget the exhilaration we felt with the Six-Day War, the very same war that is now the basis of so many problems.
Today Jews face a choice. We can be loyal to the ethical imperatives at the heart of Judaism—on one hand, we can love the stranger, pursue justice, and repair the world. On the other hand, we can give our unconditional support to the state of Israel. We face a choice between Judaism as a religion and the nationalist ideology of Zionism, which some feel is usurping that religion.

Carolyn Karcher brings us a powerful collection of personal narratives with entries from forty Jews of diverse backgrounds who share a wide range of stories about the roads they have traveled from a Zionist world view to activism in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving to build an inclusive society founded on justice, equality, and peaceful coexistence. Naturally this
will be controversial. Those contributors here welcome the long overdue public debate. They want to tear down stereotypes of dissenting Jews as self-hating, traitorous, and anti-Semitic. They want  us to meet readers and writers  who are part of  the large and growing community of Jewish activists who have created organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and Open Hillel. They want to form and strengthen alliances with progressives of all faiths. However, it seems that their mqin goal is  to nurture models of Jewish identity that replace ethnic exclusivity with solidarity, Zionism with a Judaism once again nourished by a transcendent ethical vision. Nothing  the actions of Jewish Voices of Peace, I was already prejudiced against what I read here and that has not changed. I lived in Israel for many years and served in the Israel Defense Forces. I saw firsthand how Israel was forced to exit day-to-day because she is surrounded by enemies.

One of the reviewers said that, “These powerful stories send a message about the resilience and passion of a courageous group of Jews who have come to the realization that the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians does not live up to the ethical standards Jewish tradition demands.” If that is the case, why is nothing mentioned about the way Palestinians have treated Israel and the terrorist tactic the non-nation has used?  The contributors  challenge the idea that Judaism and Zionism are inseparable. I totally disagree that “Their commitment to live a Jewish life without Zionism bodes well for the future of Judaism.” What it does is tear us apart even more that we already are.

An emeritus professor of law at one of America’s most respected universities states “Carolyn L. Karcher has superbly edited a fascinating collection of autobiographical essays describing how devout American Jews disentangled themselves from the distortions of Zionism. In the process they recovered their authentic religiously and ethnically framed identities. Required reading for Jews, and engaging reading for everyone.”  I need to know the definition of devout here. I know members of some of these organizations and the only devout things about them are misinformed and radical views of the Jewish state.

Contributors include: Joel Beinin; Sami Shalom Chetrit; Ilise Benshushan Cohen; Marjorie Cohn; Rabbi Michael Davis; Hasia R. Diner; Marjorie N. Feld; Chris Godshall; Ariel Gold; Noah Habeeb; Claris Harbon; Linda Hess; Rabbi Linda Holtzman; Yael Horowitz; Carolyn L. Karcher; Mira Klein; Sydney Levy; Ben Lorber; Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber; Carly Manes; Moriah Ella Mason; Seth Morrison; Eliza Rose Moss-Horwitz; Hilton Obenzinger; Henri Picciotto; Ned Rosch; Rabbi Brant Rosen; Alice Rothchild; Tali Ruskin; Cathy Lisa Schneider; Natalia Dubno Shevin; Ella Shohat; Emily Siegel; Rebecca Subar; Cecilie Surasky; Rebecca Vilkomerson; Jordan Wilson-Dalzell; Rachel Winsberg; Rabbi Alissa Wise; Charlie Wood.

It is now time to hear from the other side.

 

 

“THE REPORTS ON SARAH AND SALEEM”— Power and Privilege

“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem”

Power and Privilege

Amos Lassen

Muayad Alayan’s Palestinian drama “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” is, in his own words, about  “an extramarital affair in Jerusalem that ignites a dangerous game of deceit between those who hold power and those who don´t”).

Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) is a Jewish café owner in West Jerusalem and is married to David, a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces and have a young daughter.  She is known for  closing up her shop because of her husband´s relocations. Now David is waiting for a promotion and this means that they will be moving once it comes through.

Arab Saleem (Adeeb Safadi),  lives in East Jerusalem and works in West Jerusalem delivering bakeries. His low-paying job is a problem since his wife Bisan will soon give birth to their first child. Bisan´s brother is helping them make ends meet while Bisan hints she is studying. Saleem feels emasculated in  his conservatively-gender-stereotypical environment, and Sarah is frustrated with her distance husband and has too much work on her hands. These feelings from both of them lead them into the back of Saleem´s van for sessions of steamy sex at dusk. There are no deep emotions attached and the sex is purely therapeutic reasons. This sexual hook-up is supposed to be temporary and insignificant, and they develop a secure routine. Saleem’s attemps to raise more money leads him to accept his brother-in-law’s offer to smuggle items to Bethlehem late at night.

On one fateful night, Saleem cuts short the session with Sarah because of a delivery. Sarah decides to accompany him, and while being aware of the bad combination of Arab and Jew and Bethlehem, she tries to pose as a European tourist. A conflict with a local emerges after he adamantly hits on Sarah and Saleem loses his temper.

As soon as the secret affair crashes with the politics of the territory, the film becomes a political thriller and social drama about the history of the region and the current stereotypes controlling it, such as racism. A friend of Sarah´s, for example, does not care she is cheating on her husband, but on the fact she is cheating with an Arab.

Muayad and Rami Alayan are brothers who made the film. They unite  arthouse drama and a political thriller shrouded as an illicit affair. The dramatic plot, street action and a suspicion of treason included, builds up suspense and pulse-racing rhythm. Rami Alayan, who wrote the screenplay succeeds in weaving all the local particularities into the script without  trying to school the audience.

In the end, whatever the two of them may have felt, the weight of other people’s imagination is sufficient to do the damage. Because it’s not just about the fact that they’re married to other people – it’s about the fact that she’s Israeli and he’s Palestinian.

“ALL IN”— A Crime Comedy from Israel

“ALL IN”

A Crime Comedy from Israel

Amos Lassen

Four guys, best friends from high school, meet 20 years later.  Morad , a powerful union leader at the Ashdod Port, divorced and with a broken heart; Tzofi, tall, blue-eyed and an AA; Benson, a bar owner with bleached blond hair; and our hero, Yaki who is handsome and sweet as chocolate.

 All four receive invitations to take part in a secret  but prestigious poker game in the south of Israel. The only problem is that the game is organized by Oren Kleers, the arch-enemy of the high school friends who embarrassed them in front of TV cameras when they  were children.  

They took revenge on him in high school and now, 20 years later, he is challenging them with a high-stake poker game. “All In” stars Tzahi Grad, Shlomi Koriat, Yael Bar Zohar, Tzachi Halevi (Fauda), Dina Sanderson,  Dana Frider, Maor Cohen…

“SARA STEIN — FROM BERLIN TO TEL AVIV: THE COMPLETE SERIES”— A Force to Be Reckoned With

“SARA STEIN — FROM BERLIN TO TEL AVIV: THE COMPLETE SERIES” 

A Force to Be Reckoned With

Amos Lassen

 Sara Stein (Katherina Lorenz) is an Israeli criminal investigator and indeed, she is a force to be reckoned with. We finally get to meet her in a two DVD set from Omnibus that features four feature length mysteries. Sara comes from a Jewish family and had been working as an investigator in Berlin and she is proud to be independent. Her instincts are sharp and her judgement is sound and there enable her to solve cases. One recent case in which she investigated the murder of an Israeli DJ opened her mind to politics and religion and she was drawn to Tel Aviv where she works as a detective and facing new challenges. She works for truth and justice and she dreams about and hopes for peace.

The series goes by the name “Sara Stein – From Berlin to Tel Aviv” and is made up of four feature length movies:

  “Shalom Berlin, Shalom Tel Aviv” Sara goes to Berlin to investigate the murder of Tamar, an Israeli DJ and star of the Berlin club scene.  At first, suspicion is on Tamar’s Palestinian boyfriend Khalid and his family but Sara believes there could be more than just a religious or political motive at play.

 “Jewels in the Grave” is Sara’s first case in Tel Aviv and it appears that no one was awaiting her arrival. Her colleagues are Shimon Ben Godin and Ja’akov Blok.  She receives an assignment to investigate because her predecessor Noam Shavit, was found dead in his apartment suffocated with a plastic bag. Sara sees  parallels to a two-year old robbery. But was it the same perpetrator?

“Masada” is at the southern edge of the Dead Sea and it is a significant Israeli symbol. Following an explosion at the site, Chief archeologist Aaron Salzmann is found dead. When Stein and Blok investigate, they discover the deceased is the son of Avram Salzmann, a celebrated archaeologist who was also present at the blast but survived unhurt. Foul play is what it looks like but how many clues can Stein find in the rubble before it’s too late?

“Old Friends” begins with a severed hand discovered on the beach in Tel Aviv and it is the spark that links human trafficking, the special forces, and even Sara’s husband. Sara is has to investigate and unwind this vast criminal conspiracy.

“LOVE IN SUSPENDERS”— Love Has Its Own Rules

“LOVE IN SUSPENDERS”

Love Has Its Own Rules

 

The encounter between two people with such different personalities, such
as Tammy and Beno, has to result in a nightmare…but love has its own rules. So it happens that Tammy (Nitza Saul), a 64 year old widow who constantly deals with the memory of her loving late husband, meets Beno (Yehuda Barken), a 70 year old sarcastic lone wolf widower – and the two fall in love.

From their first unfortunate encounter, when Tammy  hits Beno with her car until they unite in front of the altar, Tammy and Beno experience all sorts of emotional, funny struggles. They get closer, break up, get back together  and fight again, until ultimately their love wins out.

Shlomo Bar-Aba gives a heartwarming performance as Tammy’s late husband, who refuses to let her go in a cinematic tribute to Jorge Amado’s Vadinho in  “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”.

 

“The Tenth Plague” by Alan N. Levy— A Political Thriller

Levy, Alan N. “The Tenth Plague”, Chickadee Prince Books, 2019.

A Political Thriller

Amos Lassen

Sometimes I just do not want to read political thrillers because we live in a world that it does not take much for fiction to become reality especially regarding the Middle East. Alan N. Levy’s “The Tenth Plague” looks at a world that is forced into almost nuclear war by  an Iranian plot to attack Israel and the United States. Set in 2028, we are in a world where there has been a brutal reprisal of the 9/11 attacks on America, non-ending unrest in the Middle East, and Russia that is still under the leadership of the ruthless Vladimir Putin. 

Because this is a thriller, I must be careful about what I can and cannot say since I want to keep the read thrilling for everyone. I do think that it is important to say that there is a sense of coming catastrophe throughout the read and even though we know that what we are reading is fiction, the author is that good that he can create a sense of unease in the reader.

What we have is a story of global conflict due to the cynicism that is felt from the feeling that a catastrophe is headed our way. I do believe that since 9/11, most of us feel that something like this could happen even though our guard is up. I do not think I am a pessimist but rather a realist.

 Col. Arshad Sassani is a high-ranking Iranian intelligence officer who  also is a valuable informant for Israel, a double agent, if you will. He’s been sharing details about Iran’s nuclear capabilities and ambitions with Israel’s Mossad. When he reveals that there is a plot to launch missiles against major cities in Israel (Tel Aviv) and the United States (Washington, D.C., and New York City) at the same time, the Israeli government dispatches Major Yaacov “Jake” Rafaeli, a top Mossad agent, to bring Sassani back. Israeli authorities who have access to the best espionage available believe that it will be impossible to prevent the planned by conventional military means, so they have made up a plan to use a deadly biological weapon to pre-emptively destroy Iran’s entire population. However, there is a problem and that is that the majority of the surrounding region, 14 nations in total, would be affected adversely. Scientists in Israel have developed an antidote to protect their own people, and the Israeli government tries to blackmail the United States into assisting in the operation by threatening to release the virus on American soil. (this gives is an idea as to how much the relationship between the two countries has broken down to the point that Israel threatens its best ally). Shannon Parks, the deputy director of the CIA, brokers a deal with the head of the Mossad, Shlomo Mizrahi to take out Iran’s nuclear missiles instead. At the same time, Iran rushes to find and silence Sassani and arrest and torture his family members in order to assess the damage he’s done.

As I read, the word “wow” kept on coming to mind. Sentence after sentence possessed the wow factor and I surprised myself by my reaction.  I am not much of a thriller reader; I find I get too excited by becoming caught up in the plot and I do just fine with romance and historical fiction. However, I might have just found what has been missing in my literary diet and I need to red more thrillers. Of course, not all thrillers will be as good as this is especially when we know that this is author Alan N. Levy’s debut novel. I read that a critic said that the novel is so “bombastic and cinematic” that it is no wonder that “it abandons any sense of political plausibility from the start.” I think that statement can only be interpreted by who you are and as one who logged many years in the Israel Defense Forces, nothing is implausible.

“THE ROAD TO WHERE”— A Film by Michal Bat-Adam and Starring Moshe Mizrahi

“THE ROAD TO WHERE”

A Film by Michal Bat-Adam and Starring Moshe Mizrahi

Israel 1948. A house by the sea in Jaffa, from which Palestinian families  have had to flee in haste, becomes the home of Jewish Holocaust survivors who managed to escape the inferno in Europe.

Out of the turmoil of their existence, under the shadow of the unresolved conflict between Jews and Arabs, rises a desperate cry for love.

“Michal Bat-Adam weaves an epic poem in which time moves back and forth between past and present and raises questions about the essence of our existence.”

“Daniel and Ismail” by Juan Pablo Iglesias and illustrations by Alex Paris— Coming Together

Iglesias, Juan Pablo. “Daniel and Ismail”, illustrations by Alex Paris, Restless Books,  2019.

Coming Together

Amos Lassen

“Daniel and Ismail” is a very special picture book about a Jewish boy and a Palestinian boy who bond on the soccer field and the story comes to us in three languages—English, Hebrew, and Arabic.

“Daniel and Ismail, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, don’t know each other yet, but they have more in common than they know. They live in the same city and have the same birthday, and this year they get the same presents: a traditional scarf—for Daniel a tallit and for Ismail a keffiyeh—and a soccer ball. Taking their gifts out for a spin, they meet by chance on a soccer field, and they soon begin to play together and show off the tricks they can do.”

“They get so absorbed in the fun that they lose track of time and mix up their gifts: Daniel picks up Ismail’s keffiyeh and Ismail takes Daniel’s tallit. When they get home and discover their mistake, their parents are shocked and angry, asking the boys if they realize who wears those things. That night, Daniel and Ismail have nightmares about what they have seen on the news and heard from adults about the other group. But the next day, they find each other in the park and get back to what really matters: having fun and playing the game they both love.”

“Daniel and Ismail is a remarkable multilingual picture book that confronts the very adult conflicts that kids around the world face, and shows us that different cultures, religions, societies, and languages can all share the same page.” However you won’t be able to get this book until May 14.