Jewish world, Jewish news

Joseph Aaron

If there was still any doubt that Vladimir Putin has something on Donald Trump, the summit in Helsinki should have put a definite end to that.

There is simply no other way to explain how an American president could stand next to the murderous thug who is the president of Russia and say he believes him more than all of America’s intelligence agencies and that he believes Putin when he denies having interfered in America’s election.

What I want to know is what’s the deal with Putin and the prime minister of Israel? Bibi seems to drop into Moscow way too often to have a chat with Vlad. Indeed he’s done so twice in just the last month, including a week or so ago. Putin himself said Bibi came to watch a World Cup game, but Bibi said he had come to have a sit-down with Putin.

Indeed, in the last year, Bibi has met far more often with Putin than with any other leader. So much so that even Trump’s State Department felt the need to express concern that Bibi might secretly work out a deal on Syria with Putin.

Russia is an enemy of democracy, of decency, of the rule of law, of international order and so not a country that the Jewish country should be palling around with.

These things matter. Some things are not normal, some things have a corrosive moral effect on a country, some things have an impact that can last for a very long time.

It’s fine for Israel, as it is fine for the United States, to have a relationship with Putin and Russia. It is not fine, it is dangerous, to be kissing cousins.

You know there are a lot of things that are depressing me these days, a lot of things that make me want to give up, and one of them is how right wing supporters of Israel, who consider themselves the only supporters of Israel, go crazy, get incredibly vicious, when you have the audacity to issue warnings about things going on in the Jewish state that should be cause for concern. They don’t want to hear it, they don’t believe anyone has the right to say it. Oh the names I have been called, the ways I have been punished.

Well, I’ve been saying for a while now that Bibi is engaged in a whole bunch of things that are eroding democracy in Israel. They can be things nobody really pays attention to, things that seem like they are being done for a valid reason, but that are in truth things that chip away at the democracy that Israel is and is meant to be.

I won’t again list the things that have been done in the last year or so, but will bring up two new ones. One is that Israel recently did not allow an American Jew, yes a Jew, into the country because it doesn’t like her politics.

Ariel Gold was denied entry into Israel because of her work with the BDS movement, despite having a valid student visa. Gold, a 43-year-old mother of two who is active in the social justice NGO CodePink, was detained at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Gold arrived in Israel with a student visa, and said she would be studying Judaism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In addition to being denied entry to the country by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Gold had her student visa canceled by Interior Minister Arye Deri.

“We prevented Ariel Gold, an extreme boycott activist, from entering the country,” Erdan tweeted. “Our policy is clear: Those who campaign towards boycotting Israel and come here in order to cause harm — won’t be allowed to enter the country. The rules have changed, and Israel will not show restraint towards those who try to hurt it.”

Sounds good right? On the surface maybe, but talk about a slippery slope. Look I am as opposed to BDS as anyone but every Jew should be free to feel what they feel, be involved in whatever they want to be involved in.  A Jew should not be kept out of Israel because the current government doesn’t like their politics.

The very essence of the First Amendment, and indeed of Judaism, is that freedom of speech protects all speech, especially speech you don’t like or agree with. Because if someone takes it upon themselves to decide what speech is too objectionable, what speech has no right to be heard, you never know when that can happen to you. Israel should be the one place every Jew feels free to say whatever they want, think whatever they want. It should not be a place where a mother of two coming to study at an Israeli university is kept out because she takes a political position many don’t like.

Same with a current effort to give the Israeli government far-reaching power to remove or block content from social media sites. The so-called Facebook Law could delete the content for reasons that include incitement to terrorism without criminal proceeding and without any admissible evidence. Along with Facebook, among the social media outlets that would be covered by the legislation are Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, YouTube and reddit.

Again sort of sounds good on the surface. Sure why not block incitement to terrorism. Problem is who defines that? Some right wingers might consider posts from Peace Now or Jstreet incitement to terrorism. Again you start giving the government power to decide what posts and tweets should not be allowed and you never know when they might be yours.

The legislation “can effectively create censorship,” according to Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute. She called it the “widest application of such a law in the whole of the democratic world.” Altshuler said the legislation could also “harm political speech in this country tremendously.”

Indeed. Yet another effort to curtail Jewish thought and speech, to decide what is okay and what is not, what should be heard and seen and read and what should not. All determined by the government. That’s not how a democracy works and while most of us don’t notice when things like this happen and some of us are all too ready to justify anything and everything the government decides is dangerous, the consequences can be all too damaging and far reaching.

I have a bunch of other stuff I’d like to talk about but, as I say, I’m depressed enough as it is so I won’t get into the current efforts to block the building of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, thus alienating the majority of American Jews, turning the Kotel into a political issue as sure as the right wing in this country has done so much to turn Israel, formerly a bipartisan issue, into a very partisan one, and needlessly inflaming passions and turning off Jews.

No let’s end on some cheery notes. As I’ve continually pointed out, there’s so much good for the Jews stuff going on in the world today and so many of us either not noting it, not appreciating it or taking it for granted, that I feel it is my responsibility to bring to your attention and invite you to kvell over the fact that, if not for the damage Jews are doing to themselves and Judaism, this would be a fantastic time to be a Jew.

So let’s count some of the recent ways, shall we.

Mexico City elected a Jewish woman as mayor — setting two firsts for the largest city in North America. Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is the first woman and the first Jew to be publicly elected to the office. Sheinbaum, 55, is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Bulgaria.

Germany has increased state benefits for the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The federal minister of the interior for building and community announced that the annual state support for the Jewish umbrella organization would be raised from 10 million euros to 13 million euros (more than $15 million). The increased funding will enable the Central Council to expand its work in the areas of Jewish integration, the fight against anti-Semitism and promotion of Holocaust remembrance.

The German government helping German Jews. Pay attention, Jewish people, to the great times for Jews we live in.

An Israeli law professor has been chosen to head the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of a rights pact by member states. Yuval Shany is the first Israeli to head the committee. An Israeli gets a big job at the UN. Pay attention, Jewish people.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called it “absolutely unacceptable” to question Israel’s right to exist or call for its destruction in a joint appearance with Iran’s president. Kurz also condemned Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism before he and President Hassan Rouhani went into a private meeting in Vienna.

“The concerns of Israel have to be taken seriously,” Kurz said. “Austria is unconditionally committed to the security of Israel and its citizens. We strongly condemn all forms of anti-Semitism as well as any form of downplaying or denial of the Holocaust.”

An Austrian chancellor defending Israel. Right in front of the president of Iran. Pay attention, Jewish people.

But here’s my absolute favorite story among all the stories of good news for the Jews. One that brings us back full circle, to Russia.

A kosher sushi restaurant has opened in Moscow. Kosher Pirate offers more than 100 kinds of sushi rolls. The opening of a dedicated Japanese restaurant serving sushi almost exclusively is a new development in the capital city and possibly in all of Russia. Many of its sushi items are named after Israeli places, including cities with many Russian-speaking immigrants such as Ashdod, Kiryat Yam, Netanya, Eilat and Haifa.

Kosher sushi in Moscow. A far cry from the days of pogroms and refuseniks.

Putin is a creep and Israel shouldn’t buddy up to him, but when you can get kosher sushi in Moscow, you know these are very good times for the Jewish people. Pay attention, Jewish people.

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