Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Fear in the rabbinate

July 7, 2017



Most rabbis who see the reality of occupation are unwilling to have their names or photos published. Their congregations back home, they explain, might not understand their decision to participate in a tour that offers a different narrative about the conflict – one that puts a human face on the other side and doesn’t paint Israel in the usual rosy colors.

“Most of these people have never had an opportunity to see what the Palestinians experience,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, “Their synagogue boards are attached to AIPAC.
“We are losing the next generation,” one rabbi lamented; but the rabbis avoid talking about Israel lest they divide the congregation.

The elders have romaticized israel; the youth see what’s happening.

Oy vei, what a conundrum.

Thom Yorke, Radiohead, get a conscience

June 30, 2017



Dear Thom Yorke,

We are Israeli musicians writing you about your scheduled performance in Israel this July 19. It is our understanding that the public appeal urging you to respect the Palestinian picket line and cancel this concert was published only after a private appeal went unanswered. Likewise, we will only publish a public letter if we are unable to engage with you in private.

We would like to respond directly to a comment you made in Rolling Stone. Referring to Roger Waters, Desmond Tutu and the many other artists and public figures who’ve urged you to respect the call for cultural boycott, you said that you “just can’t understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them].”

We have great respect for Roger Waters and Desmond Tutu, but their problems are not the point, as they would surely be the first to concede. Waters, Tutu and the others have reached out to you in response to a request for solidarity from Palestinians. The call for cultural boycott to end grave Israeli violations of human rights has overwhelming support among Palestinians. To them, it is clear that to entertain their oppressors at this point in time shows indifference to their suffering and helps perpetuate it.


Every international artist who plays in Israel serves as a propaganda tool for the Israeli government. International performances in Israel serve the government’s agenda of whitewashing its war crimes against Palestinians by creating a “business as usual” atmosphere wherein the status-quo, a reality of colonization and military occupation for Palestinians, becomes normalized. Maintaining this atmosphere relies heavily on creating a facade of Israel as a hip, advanced, progressive state with a vibrant and diverse cultural scene.

In 2005 the Israeli foreign ministry decided to invest in a public relations strategy to “re-brand Israel,” diverting attention away from Israeli crimes by highlighting Israeli cultural and scientific achievements. Needless to say, the government which just celebrated 50 years of brutal military rule over the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip should not be assisted, even unintentionally. The government which legislated to suppress even the commemoration of the displacement of the majority indigenous Palestinian population in 1948 should not be given the chance to claim that artists and musicians are endorsing its policies.

This effect of a performance in Israel can not be undone even with the best intentions. Any statement that you might wish to make on stage would be overshadowed by the fact that you would be crossing an international picket line established by the vast majority of civil society organizations in Palestine. On the other hand, if you decided not to play, it would send a strong message to the Israeli government that their racist policies and grave violations of Palestinian human rights will not be normalized. It would also send a message to the people of Palestine that you’re with them in their struggle in a very real way.

Israel is increasingly notorious for being a place that forward-thinking artists who care about equality and freedom want little to do with. We are confident that this reality will contribute to moving the Israeli government to change its unjust policies, and help convince companies to divest from Israel, just as they did in apartheid South Africa. Canceling your show will disrupt the “business as usual” facade that international performances in Israel perpetuate.

Please reconsider violating the Palestinian call for boycott. We remain at the ready to talk to you about any questions or concerns that you may have, and continue to welcome a conversation with you.


Ohal Grietzer

Michal Sapir (Afor Gashum)

Alma Ben Yossef (Lil’ Oof)

Aviad Albert (finkelbert)

Yoav Barak

Ben Ronen

Yonatan Eldan (You’re Next Records)

Yonatan Shapira

Out by 5 years

May 7, 2017

mand m

I loved his spirit and for 20 years I often wondered what happened to him.He was one of those kids who was outrageous, undisciplined but lovable.

Last i heard (rumour) he was fishing off the coast of South Africa.

Could be. Like Vasco De Gama and Magellan he came from the same sea bound nation.

I first rebutted him that he was foolish to fight a turf battle in Christie Pits against Hispanic kids.

He told me he had to stand up to these spics.
Then I warned him if he didn’t stop he would be dead before he was 30.

I was out by 5 years.

At a school reunion Saturday night John told me exactly where he was— in the third tier at Prospect cemetary.

“How do you know?”

“I put him there.”

“How did he die?”

“An overdose.”

Sad closure for me. He should have been at the reunion.

Israeli novelist: truth to power

April 30, 2017

Phil Weiss and James North did a nice piece of reporting on Dorit Rabinyan’s publicity tour to the USA. The best-selling israeli writer stunned the israeli Foreign Ministers in Stephen Wise Free Synagogue with her blistering criticism of Israel.

Not reported in the USA or Canada.

Rabinyan’s third novel is a best seller in Israel and it’s a real scandal.


Imagine a love affair between a Israeli Jew and a Palestinian.It’s not possible. It simply can’t be.

Say it isn’r so Dorit! How could you?

Here in Toronto we can’t believe that this stuff is news but in the deeply racist Israel it is a shocker.

The novel was so controversial that the education ministry took it off the curriculum.the reason given in “the only democracy in the Middle East” is that “it would damage Jewish identity by promoting assimilation.”

For those who still romanticize Israel this disgusting racism is a pandemic in Israel and the cornerstone of state policy which is called hafrada or separation. Think the monstrous illegal wall as symptomatic of this racism. The state must keep the Palestinian incubus from infecting Israeli blood. The official policy knows as we in this multicultural city of Toronto know, that people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and religion can live in amity and love with one another simply because we’re human.But Israel like the US south of the 50’s wants segregation.

Living next to the USA and watching Jim Crow segregate African-Americans—and still ghettoize them in all major American cities—turns our stomachs. Watching our first nations shoved to reserves and treated as the Other continues to shame us.

Here’s what the brave Rabinyan said in NYC:

Rabinyan said the book’s message was that “the other” is equal to you, but that message was being fought by an Israeli government of “nationalists who have taken hostage of what we call Israel.”

I get furious when I am being reminded of all those accusations I had to suffer from the Minister of Education himself who had twisted fragments of my book on the 8 o clock news in front of the whole nation and blamed me as being the enemy of the nation, just by humanizing the other, just by redeeming the other from this suffocating sack of generalization that is being done by the government in the past two decades ever since the assassination of Rabin.

Israeli democracy is being shaped by this sorceress and his apprentices. Mr Netanyahu and all this Bennett, Regev, all these stupid apprentices, they follow him and his demagogue rhetoric. And you know, your president, I think he was an apprentice of his as well. Because he has internalized so many of his methods. They have the same sponsor, as you well know. The one responsible for brainwashing Israelis’ minds is an American billionaire. Sheldon Adelson. He is nurturing Bibi’s regime…adelson reportedly gave betwen $25 and $35 million to Trump’s campaign.

Rabinyan said that the education committee that had barred her book from the curriculum was acting at the behest of Bennett, for whom she had choice words:
It was a committee that was very much wanting to please their master. Their master is a religious rightwing propaganda demagogue. I stop here with the adjectives because I go rude.

The main fault of the book in the eyes of the government is that it might encourage identification with Palestinians. And we certainly don’t want that.

And Israel’s leadership knows that once ordinary Israelis who are kept apart from Palestinians actually meets “the other” they will realize what I came to know very early on the playgrounds of my city, there are only fellow human beings who desire the same things I want. But Israel persists in hafrada and that’s why Zionism is dying everywhere.
Rabinyan addressed Aviad Ivri, Israeli consul for cultural affairs in New York who was in the audience.

This government, and you can pass it on, our prime minister had radicalized empathy to that extent that even feeling for the other, even considering the other to be worth being sorry for is considered nowadays in Israel to be a radical action. It’s an unbearable thought. I can see your face! Empathy is our cure– this is the only way we can get free out of this conflict.

The prophetic lives and too often it appears as a New York Jew Paul Simon wrote 50 years ago:

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.

The prophetic today once again appeared in the voice of a israeli novelist on April 26 in a New York synagogue.

Ella turns 100

April 25, 2017

Photo on 2017-04-25 at 11.12 AM

There are enough sultry saloon singers and balladeers in this world; we don’t need to cry all the time. We need singers like Fitzgerald to remind us that our great songwriters wrote music as well as words

So wrote jazz writer Will Friedwald in his book Jazz Singing

Then there was Ira Gershwin who said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard ELLA sing them.”

Today we celebrate the singer Duke Ellington said was “beyond category.” today is the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth

As Duke Ellington wrote about this woman singer of incandescent talent, “Ella was beyond category.”

When she died in June of 1996 and I passed on to my daughters the sad news of the lady whose music was the soundtrack of their young lives, their response was “whaaaaat?” They remembered that we had gone as a family to see her last performance in Toronto Ella it seems was forever. Such was the transcendence she had achieved in her 60 years on stages.

Here, it’s an all Ella day.

Haaretz, a sign of hope

April 2, 2017


If you like the McCarthy period, witch hunts and fear-mongering you will fall in love with Israel’s democracy under the most right wing government in its history.

One of Israel’s saving graces as it lurches into a caricature of democracy is the modicum of free speech the country hangs on to. The newspaper Haaretz acts as a “Fourth Estate” with great integrity calling the national government to an authentic democracy which can tolerate a diversity of opinion.

Sadly “the most brainwashed country in the world” as Writer Gideon Levy calls his homeland” 40% of whom is predisposed to read the equivalence of the Toronto Sun’s parallel universe paper, Israel Hayom, a propaganda sheet funded by American billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Haaretz is read by 4% .Yet it vainly struggles on daily shedding light on Israel’s descent.

This editorial is representative

Haaretz Editorial Mar 30, 2017  Culture Minister Miri Regev’s demand for the names of screenwriters, directors, producers and officials who approved or turned down the documentary series “Megiddo” – about Palestinians in Israeli prisons for security offenses – is perfectly in sync with the rightist government’s modus operandi. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his senior ministers and their supporters in the ruling institutions and social networks are relentlessly searching out “leftists,” denouncing them in blacklists and restricting their freedom of expression and protest.

Here are a few examples from the last few weeks. The prime minister and his mouthpieces in politics and the media portray the directors of the Public Broadcasting Corporation and its journalists as “having leftist views” and call for closing the corporation down; Minister Gilad Erdan calls for setting up a data bank of Israelis who support the boycott on the settlements, as a sequel to the law forbidding foreign boycott supporters’ entry to Israel; The Strategic Affairs Ministry, which Erdan heads, is surveilling government critics in the social networks. Education Minister Naftali Bennett plans to set up an intelligence department in his ministry; his ministry issues warnings to school principals who invited Breaking the Silence activists to their schools; the state lottery Mifal Hapayis, headed by Likud figure Uzi Dayan, blocks a Breaking the Silence event in Kiryat Ono, in an auditorium that hosted a meeting of the ruling party; the Culture Ministry withholds funds from Al-Midan Theater with see-through excuses.


What are they afraid of? On the face of it, they have no reason to be afraid. The rightist rule seems secure. The opposition is cooperating with the government in delaying the two-state solution and few believe in its feasibility. Donald Trump’s administration boasts of defending Israel in the UN and refrains from criticizing its policy publicly. Europe is busy with internal problems. The military threat to Israel is weaker than ever. Israeli high-tech is thriving and weapon exports are booming. Even Nicaragua has resumed relations with Israel. And yet, the government is afraid of a handful of activists and organizations struggling against the occupation and exposing its iniquities despite the public’s indifference.

The Israeli left has all but disappeared in the voting booths and Knesset. But the “strong man” Netanyahu and his partners describe it as a powerful monster. It’s hard to believe that the prime minister and ministers of education, culture, public security and public diplomacy are afraid of losing power to B’Tselem. They seem to be more afraid of their image in the mirror – of leaders of a state calling itself a democracy and practicing apartheid. It’s hard for them to accept responsibility for their immoral acts beyond the Green Line and they hope that shattering the mirror and silencing the criticism will make the ugliness disappear. The stress they display shows they’re not really certain of their historic victory over the “left” and they fear that exposing the occupation’s wrongs will lead to their being driven from power. Their fear holds great hope for change.

Rosie Dimanno: “a Light Unto the Nations”

March 24, 2017


Oh my, the Toronto Star has a know-it-all columnist Rosie Dimanno.Give her credit she is a facile writer, apparently with no social life, a scribe who who roams far and wide in her opinions. In Friday’s Star she left the locker room of the Leafs (only briefly her column appeared in the Sports section) to pontificate on the work of the distinguished Princeton Professor of International Law, Richard Falk.

Richard Falk was the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Dimanno never having walked in the West Bank or Gaza and angry at Falk for telling the truth about Israel’s shameful human rights record, labelled Falk a “self-hating Jew.” Wow, if the professor is a sel-hating Jew there are hunbdreds of thousands in this category: Jews raised in a culture of human rights who can no loinger abide Israel’s barbaric behaviour.


Now contrast Dimanno’s narrow Toronto-centric rant with those of Tel Aviv’s secular prophet Gideon Levy who has been writing for 20 years about his native country.

Levy is a secular Jew but iis well aware of the Biblical expression of Isaiah’s that the biblical people Israel were called to be l’or goyim, a light unto the nations.

Opinion A Light Unto The Nations
Gideon Levy Mar 23, 2017

How right-wingers in West wish they could shut their states to citizens of Muslim countries and suspect anyone who has an Arabic last name – like Israel is doing. Israel has resumed its biblical role as a light unto the nations in recent years. To increasingly larger groups in the West it is a source of inspiration and a subject of imitation. Israel is the model, the forerunner, the pillar of fire, the lighthouse. It is also the defensive shield. When the world charges to the right, Israel once again shines brightly, like in those beautiful days of pony tails, the kibbutz and the Six-Day War.
When the world wages war on the Muslims, it remembers that Israel was there first, the vanguard of the sons of light in their war on the sons of darkness. When they talk about the ways to fight them, Israel is the most tried and tested training field. When they talk about the influence of Donald Trump’s election on the Israeli right, we should also pay attention to the opposite, much more significant influence – how Israel has become the legitimacy source for the American radical right.

Dutch far-right Party of Freedom leader Geert Wilders came to Israel 40 times. He also lived here for two years. What exactly did he see in it? A source of inspiration for his racial doctrine and a shelter to launder his views. “Nowhere in the world do I feel that feeling of friendship like in Ben-Gurion Airport,” he once said. What more can we ask? Just like its predecessor, South Africa, which the West saw as its front outpost against the savages and the Communists, Israel is now seen as the West’s front outpost in its war on the Islamic darkness.

“Thanks to parents in Israel, who send their children to the army and don’t sleep at night, the parents in Europe and the United States can sleep peacefully,” said Wilders, the Israel enthusiast.
Indeed, Israel started all this. It was the first to identify the Arab menace and wage war on it. It brought back colonialism. The right will not forget that. It built the separation fences and walls, realizing the global right’s dreams. If only they could surround Europe with a wall like in the West Bank, if only they could build a fence on the Mexico border, like the one on the Egyptian border. Israel has proved it’s possible. It has proved that a country can be both a democracy and apartheid – something the global right is dreaming of.



Israel has proved that it’s OK to flout international law and exist without the High Court of Justice and human rights groups. Trump would swell with pleasure. Wilders’ eyes would glitter to see the routine executions of girls with scissors and boys throwing stones in the West Bank. They can only envy their friends from Israel. They can only envy the Israelis, who are not ashamed to hold millions of Arabs as subjects without rights for 50 years and still be part of the enlightened world; to legitimize every abomination under cover of “the war on terror.” How the rightists in the West wish they could close their countries to all the asylum-seekers and not recognize anyone as a refugee, as Israel does. How they would love to thumb their noses at international conventions and international institutions’ resolutions – it’s so 2017. How they wish they could shut their states to citizens of Muslim countries and suspect anyone who has an Arabic last name – like Israel is doing; to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners, most of them political prisoners, some of them without trial.

From Marine Le Pen to the far-right “Sweden Democrats,” they would all want to implement that in their countries. Israel was the one that started all this, and now the West is imitating it – they’re already banning computers on flights from Muslim states and you can feel the Israeli inspiration in the air. Not only drip irrigation has Israel contributed to the world, but profiling, too. Not only cherry tomatoes, but detention without trial.

It has shown the world how to incite against minorities – and the Wilders were impressed and amazed. It is showing how to fight critics, human rights NGOs, the media and the courts – a model Le Pen would gladly adopt. It is demonstrating theocracy in the West – and the evangelists in America are full of admiration. Please show a hand of applause the old-new chosen people; please welcome Israel.

Diane Ravitch on Education pt.2

February 27, 2017


As for testing you could eliminate all the standardized testing and just say tell us your parents income and we’ll tell you where you fall on the spectrum. So we’re not helping children by labeling them.

Why don’t people change their minds, it’s the ideology of the free market.


You know, we went through this period of saying democracy has now conquered the world and the free market has conquered the world and we should oppose all government bureaucracy. Well, that’s really saying that private is always better than public. And in a healthy society, you have a private sector that’s strong and you have a public sector that’s strong.So there’s a big move on and has been for a long time to make education a commodity. In higher education, the states have been shifting the burden of cost to students. And there are some countries that recognize that higher education should be free because education is a human right and we shouldn’t expect children and young people to pay for human rights.

Education should be a right

Why is education not a human right in this country? It should be, but the word education never appears in the U.S. Constitution. That’s number one. And number two is that a lot of people have the view that education somehow is a privilege and not a right. And I think that what we have to continue arguing for — and I think one day we’ll persuade people — is that education is the most important investment we can make in the future of this society.

And that means that this society, and particularly right now, we look around and Los Angeles and California is a great place to see this, we’re a multicultural society. We have to educate all children. We can’t just educate the privileged children. We can’t just educate those who are in the top half.
So that means that we have to see our society in the future is one where the investment in brain power, the investment in thinking skills, critical thinking skills, that has to be spread across the spectrum to all children.

But that’s controversial right now because what we’re going to see during these Trump years is a push to privatize public education, not a push to equalize education.

To my way of thinking, every child deserves to have a high-quality school within reach of them. They shouldn’t have to say, well, we’re going to close your neighborhood school and there’s a good school an hour away, but you don’t have transportation to get there. That’s no choice at all.

Diane Ravitch and Charter schools pt 1

February 22, 2017


Diane Ravitch was Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991-93 under President George H.W. Bush and member of the National Assessment Governing Board under President Bill Clinton. Born in Texas, she attended Houston public schools as well as Wellesley College and Columbia University. She’s now president of The Network For Public Education and Research Professor of Education at New York University. Her most recent text, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, was an impassioned but reasoned call to stop the charter school movement that is draining high-performing students and funding from our public schools.

Ravitch was invited by PBS host Tavis Smiley to think out loud about the new billionaire American Secretary of Education,Betsy DeVos who has spent her fortune on trashing public schools and promting charter schools.

Ravitch: She does not believe in public education. She has spent millions of dollars funding candidates who are opposed to public education. She has funded anti-public education people all over the country. She’s had huge influence in Michigan. Michigan is now not only an all-choice state, they don’t have vouchers.

But she tried to promote a referendum to put vouchers into the State Constitution and it was turned down overwhelmingly, 69 to 31. So she tried and failed on vouchers, but still there are hundreds of charter schools. Michigan is the only state in the country where 80% of the charters operate for profit and that’s the way she likes it.

Tavis: Why would an otherwise reasonable senator, no matter what party you were in, put someone at the top of the hierarchy who doesn’t believe in the system they’re overseeing?

Ravitch: They didn’t want to disappoint Trump, but, secondly, she and her family are among the biggest donors to Republican politicians in the country. She and her family have given about $50,000 each to half the Republican members of the Senate. And several of the people on the committee that approved her had received $50,000 to $60,000 each from the DeVos family.

So you’re talking about people who are masters of dark money and masters of being Republican contributors, and they were not going to let her down.

Ravitch’s history is interesting.

I was invited to join the first Bush administration as Assistant Secretary in charge of research and counselor to the Secretary, the Secretary then being Lamar Alexander who was from Tennessee, and I have great respect for Lamar.I was involved in very right wing think tanks at Hoover Institution and two others.

I was in favor of testing. I was in favor of school choice. I supported the original idea of charters. But about 2005, 2006, after No Child Left Behind had been in effect for half a decade, I began to look at the results and say this is not working. It’s not helping kids. It’s turning schools into testing factories.

I began to hear documented case after case where charter schools were failing and one of the think tanks I was on was sponsoring charter schools in Ohio. Every single one of them was a failing school, and I said, “But this isn’t what I expected. So I began writing critically about what was going on and then I decided I would write a book about what I had learned. And I wrote a book in 2010 called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education”.

I cut my ties with all the think tanks. I found myself for a time kind of out on a limb all by myself and then I discovered I had a lot of new friends. And I felt very comfortable in my skin because if not for public schools, I wouldn’t be here.

My family — my mother was an immigrant from Moldova. The proudest thing she ever owned was her high school diploma from the Houston public schools. I was one of eight children. We all went to public schools. I’m not sure what the world would have been like for us had we had the kind of system that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos want.

Breaking news: Frederick Douglas lives

February 2, 2017


You can not make this stuff up.

A notorious non-reader Donald Trump has no idea of who Frederick Douglas was.

The good news is that President Donald Trump opened Black History Month by mentioning the renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The bad news is, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s dead. “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” Trump said at his “African-American History Month Listening Session,” which he hosted at the White House.

Whether it was a misstatement or genuine ignorance of who Frederick Douglass was, or, perhaps, one of Trump’s notorious “alternative facts,” is not clear. What is clear is that the spirit of resistance for which Frederick Douglass is best remembered is alive and well, and is directed squarely against the Trump administration.