Category Archives: Tikkun

"Progressives" on the Shalit deal: Israel is the moral equivalent of Hamas

Arab terrorists, 2011
Some of the discussions by Jewish “progressives” and their allies have used the Shalit prisoner exchange to propose a moral equivalence between the Israeli justice system and the Hamas abductors.
First, there is a relatively mild version.
Mr. Ralph Seliger, writing a blog for “Partners for Progressive Israel,” has the following musings on Shalit:

There’s a lot more that can be said on this, of course. For example, the diverse reasons that so many Palestinians have been imprisoned, some justly and others not: from participating in heinous mass murders to offenses that should not be cause for  imprisonment, e.g., merely being a member of Hamas.

In other words, the Israeli system of justice is sometimes just, to be sure, but at other times it is unjust, when, not to put too fine a point on it, it functions on the moral level of the Hamas abductors.  Mr. Seliger insists that there are “so many Palestinians” who may have been, or have indeed been, imprisoned for “offenses that should not be cause of imprisonment.”   How does he know this ?  He speaks, by way of example, about “mere membership” in Hamas as too trivial for punishment.  But what were the details in cases that he would consider instances of unjust imprisonment ?  Were these cases of Hamas membership with or without criminal conspiracy to commit murder ?  What does he know about actual cases ?  If he knows he will not tell.  We are just asked to trust him that “there is a lot more that can be said” about the Shalit matter, namely that Israel acts unjustly.
If Mr. Seliger’s musings are annoying and pretentious, his colleague Ashley Bates on “Tikkun” (to which Seliger also  contributes regularly), is more than a bit over the top. 
Now, we know that the boss of Tikkun is person whom his supporters and he himself call Rabbi Michael Lerner, but who has steadfastly refused to disclose how or by whom he was ordained, apparently on grounds of freedom of speech or some other important democratic principle.  I have had occasion to write about him before; since then,  I have found nothing on his on-line publication that detracts from my impression of him as someone implacably hostile to Israel and the Jewish people.
Ms. Bates, in her contribution to the Lerner blog, complains that media reports on Shalit have given the impression that only he was a victim when, in fact, according to Ms. Bates, there are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who suffer just as much.  At least many of these imprisonments, she suggests, are as unjust as that of Gilad Shalit.  On these general matters she resembles Mr. Seliger, but then she does something that Mr. Seliger does not do:  she goes into detail.  And she does this with such surprising clumsiness that any attentive reader is bound to catch her various distortions.
1)  how many Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails ?
Ms. Bates maintains that since 1967, “about 20 percent of the Palestinian population have served time in jail.”  How does she know this ?  Her data come from the link that I have reproduced here, i.e. Addameer, a Palestinian support group.  Not perhaps the most unbiased source.  But be that as it may, the very source that Ms. Bates here quotes does not support her allegations of 20% having “served time in jail.”  What it in fact says is that

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over 700,000  Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

So Ms. Bates goes from the “have been detained” of her source to “have served time in jail.”  “Detained” by police can mean detention of a few minutes or hours to much longer.  Not a distinction that Ms. Bates will entertain.  This switch — from detention in her source to imprisonment in her text — is enough to destroy any and all credibility of her piece.  And, we must conclude, this is not a matter that the learned Rabbi who is in charge of Tikkun would care to investigate.

There is also something breathtakingly vague about the computation of that twenty-percent figure.  A percentage computation requires a numerator — in this case the number of prisoners — and a denominator — in this case the population.  When Addameer speaks of the Palestinian population “since the beginning  … in 1967,” just which population figure does it have in mind ?  In the last forty four years many have died, many were born.  Does Addameer include in its population the total of all these lives and births and deaths ?  Or only the population at one point in time ?  If it is the latter, as the context suggests, then the denominator is artificially diminished, leading to an artificially inflated percentage figure.  Of course all this asumes that we can trust the original raw figures, which we cannot.  But even if they were trustworthy, the computational errors would vitiate the results.

Does either Ms. Bates or her self-styled rabbinic supervisor care about such detail ?  Apparently not.

2.  The case of Ameer Makhoul

Most of Ms. Bates’s piece is taken up by the case of Palestinian convict Ameer Makhoul.  Ms. Bates’s take on the case is that it is a matter of unjust imprisonment for strictly political reasons, citing Amnesty International and a variety of pro-Palestinian sources.  She writes about 500 words on this case, charging forced confessions and other such matters.  She also reports that Makhoul is now involved in a hunger strike, etc.  But nowhere in her piece does she mention that Makhoul in fact agreed to a plea bargain in which he admitted espionage against Israel.  The facts were reported in Haaretz, and were certainly available to Ms. Bates.  Why does she suppress them in her reporting ?

Ms. Bates suggests that Makhul was victimized because he supports a boycott of Israel, and she cites the recent anti-boycott legislation in Israel as somehow relevant to his case.  Like others, she distorts this legislation (see my blog on this, and also that of NGO MONITOR).

But her overall charge is really against the Israeli system of justice as a whole:  it is unjust, period.  To believe this proposition, which is also endorsed by Mr. Ralph Seliger and other Jewish “progressives,” one would have to be so biased against Israel (and the Jewish people) as to simply overlook the internal inconsistencies and obvious distortions of those who advance it.

Rise of the Schivone Jews

Mr. Gabriel Matthew Schivone is one of the very few people in human history whose very name appears destined to become a description of a phenomenon, in this case the Schivone Jew.  Previous examples of persons who have given their names to phenomena include Vidkun Quisling, the Earl of Sandwich, and only very few others.

If you google Mr. Schivone, very little of his distinction will appear.  You will find him described as a proud Jewish member of the Gaza flotilla, as an interviewer of Noam Chomsky, even as a poet;  in short, just another one of those very very righteous Jews who battle on behalf of the oppressed Palestinians.  Nothing outstanding there.

Here, for example, he explains why, particularly as a Jew, his conscience led him to resist “U.S. – Israeli aggression.”

Well, so far so good.  The only problem is that Mr. Schivone is not Jewish.  He has had a distant Jewish relative, but no, no Jewish parent, no conversion to Judaism.  On the other hand he feels strongly about the Palestinians and suggests that such feelings qualify him as a Jew;   as he put it, you work with what you have.

These little bits of his biography have just emerged from two letters published in Haaretz, to which he had contributed one of his anti-Israel rants.  Here is the first of these letters:

In response to “A moment before the next flotilla,” Week’s End, June 24.

 In his editorial about joining the flotilla to Gaza, Gabriel Schivone represented himself as a Jewish college student. I feel I must point out that this not his true identity, but one he has created in order to generate insider credibility, shield himself from accusations of anti-Semitism, and resonate with a target audience.

I met Gabriel in 2004 while attending the University of Arizona, where we became very close friends. I am a strong supporter of Palestinian human rights and agree with Gabriel that the blockade of Gaza has caused great humanitarian suffering. However, readers have a right to know the facts and reach their own informed conclusions.

 Gabriel is not Jewish, whether in terms of ethnic ancestry, religious belief, or cultural identity. He has never identified as a Jew until it became useful in advancing his political agenda. During the High Holiday season of 2007, Gabriel told me that he discussed Israel with campus representatives of Chabad, identifying himself as a Jew. When asked why he did this, he explained that he has a distant Jewish relative and that “you use what you have.”            

In all the time I’ve known him, he has never expressed feeling morally conflicted about Israel, nor has he succumbed to pressure to be “silent.” The editorial’s narrative is not Gabriel’s story, but one crafted to lend moral and emotional weight to his argument while appealing to the young, college-aged Jews whose participation is so vital to the pro-Palestinian movement.

The aim of this letter is not to discredit that movement or the flotilla, or to take a political side, but to alert readers to specific distortions in this editorial. It is a shame that the war of narratives so readily eclipses and manipulates the truth.

Valerie Saturen  
Tacoma, Wash.

And here is Mr. Schivone’s response:

I’m astonished by the bizarre charges about my most cherished sense of personal identity made by a person I haven’t seen, nor corresponded with, in years. It is precisely through my work organizing for Palestinian human rights with other Jews that I evolved to become deeply proud of my identity as a Chicano Jew. 

This is not an uncommon story. Many of us find, after years in the wilderness, that this work has brought us closer to our Jewish roots because we found a community of other Jews who believed as we did and who commit themselves, with every ounce of their being, to full equality for all people, especially Palestinians. 

Petty attempts at personal defamation of this sort act as distractions from the urgent task that should concern us all: to expose, and resist, U.S.-Israeli policies of closure and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian life under occupation. 

Gabriel Matthew Schivone
Athens, Greece        

What are we to make of the Schivone Jews ?  Gabriel here is the purest form:  no Jewish background whatever, but this lack compensated by a strong desire to work against Israel.  The old joke was about the fervent anti-Communist being some-sort-of Communist, so, why not, by that logic the anti-Jew surely has claim to being, at the very least, a some-sort-of Jew.  This pure form of being a Schivone Jew may be rare, it is the Schivone Jew in the strong sense.

Much less rare is the Schivone Jew in a weaker sense.

Most of the few active anti-Israel Jews that I have known fall into this category.  Usually there was a Jewish parent (whether mother or father, in this context, matters little) but a life totally apart from any other Jewish entanglement.  The spouse (or, more often, the “partner”) would not be Jewish, and, of course, there would not be synagogue membership, except when that involves, as it sometimes does, anti-Israel activism.  In short, the self-identification as “Jewish” comes up for one and only one purpose:  a life devoted to fighting against Israel.  Which brings us to a definition of the Schivone Jew:  someone of little or no Jewish background who, nevertheless, petulantly claims a Jewish identify for the sole purpose of agitating against Israel as an aggrieved Jew.

As it happens, Schivone Jews seem to predominate in the major self-styled “Jewish” groups that oppose  Israel.  This is certainly true of Jewish Voice for Peace (of which Gabriel Schivone is a member and reports “many non-Jewish Americans” as members) and perhaps also of Michael Lerner’s Tikkun (which acknowledges that 40% of its readership is non-Jewish).

Chapeau:  Paul Bogdanor

read more details on Mr. Schivone by Benjamin Weinthal of the Jerusalem Post

UPDATE, July 2012
It appears that another Schivone  Jew (i.e. a non-Jewish anti-Israel activist, claiming to be Jewish) has appeared in Germany, a Ms. Irena Wachendorff.  Here is the Jerusalem Post report.

Chapeau:  Richard Klagsbrun

UPDATE, May 2015

Schivone still claims to be Jewish 

My Writings on “Partial Jews”

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

The Partial Jews in Nazi Germany

What About the Partial Jews ?

Rise of the Schivone Jews

What to Think When Someone Writes “Speaking as a Jew, I am against Israel”