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January 1, 2016 9:46 am

Defending Israel to Diaspora Jews at Limmud

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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An Israeli flag at the Wailing Wall. Ruthie Blum argues: "Being a Jew outside of Israel today, especially in Europe, means being exposed to all the hatred and physical danger that radical Islamists and fellow travelers pose -- without the safety that living in a Jewish state provides." Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli flag at the Wailing Wall. Ruthie Blum argues: “Being a Jew outside of Israel today, especially in Europe, means being exposed to all the hatred and physical danger that radical Islamists and fellow travelers pose — without the safety that living in a Jewish state provides.” Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

I spent the last days of 2015 meeting with British Jews in Birmingham. Along with many presenters from different countries and professional fields, I had been invited to participate in a Limmud conference, a multi-annual — and by now multi-continental — Jewish happening.

The topics on my agenda were ostensibly varied: the viability of a two-state solution; flaws in the Israeli political system; Israel-US relations in the wake of the Iran deal; the cause and effect of the knife intifada; and whether antisemitism is sufficient impetus for immigration to Israel. Still, they all came down to basically the same debate — the extent of Israeli culpability in local and global affairs.

The Paris attacks were still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the heightened security in other European capitals was so palpable that it made Israel’s pale in comparison — as reports on the cancellation of public New Year’s Eve celebrations indicated. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at Limmud was upbeat. Attendees spent good money to live in not-so-luxurious conditions at a hotel repurposed to house the dozens of simultaneous lectures, classes, singles’ events and entertainment for both adults and children. This was a crowd of some 2,500 Jews who could have spent the week after Christmas doing anything they chose. And they opted to spend it reinforcing their sense of community and dedication. Impressive doesn’t begin to describe it.

So far so good. Except for the sad specific reason that I and a handful of like-minded people from Israel and abroad were brought there by one of the members of the organizing committee: to serve as the only voice not singing in the predominantly left-wing choir.

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British-Jewish intellectual Jonathan Neumann said so in plain English, and each of us rallied for the cause in his or her own way. My method was to hammer home the fact that Israel is neither to blame for the ills of the Middle East and beyond nor responsible for curing them.

As simple and straightforward as such a message should be, it was not received well by a majority of the Jews I addressed. The small minority who was relieved to have its grasp of this reality reinforced nodded when I spoke. And it was actually for them that I made the trip. Aware that my ability to persuade those with an opposing worldview has always been nil, my words — whether expressed verbally or in print — are aimed at people who need no convincing but feel lonely in their convictions. It is an unpleasant sensation with which I am utterly familiar.

Indeed, one need not live in the Diaspora to experience it. On the contrary, Israel is filled with Jews whose collective cries of mea culpa are not reserved for Yom Kippur. Nor does the fact that Israelis are on the military, political and spiritual front lines of the war against the West in general and the Jewish people in particular give us greater license to be critical.

Being a Jew outside of Israel today, especially in Europe, means being exposed to all the hatred and physical danger that radical Islamists and fellow travelers pose — without the safety that living in a Jewish state provides. This is not merely due to possessing an army, but to being surrounded by an entire population in the same boat. No wonder the French Jews who made aliyah during the 2014 war in Gaza said they felt more at peace running to bomb shelters in Tel Aviv during Hamas missile attacks than walking the streets of France.

The Jews of Britain are another story, however, and not only because many of them claim antisemitism is not on the rise in the UK. Though statistics say otherwise, individuals whose anecdotal evidence runs counter to the dry numbers should be heeded as well.

My own “anecdotal evidence” is that the attitude toward Israel among British Jews is that because they consider themselves to be held accountable in their society for “bad” Israeli behavior, they want Israel to stop engaging in practices that reflect negatively on them. And it is this ill ease above all that shapes their political views. It is thus that they are both affected by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and end up abetting it, albeit unwittingly in most cases.

So deeply rooted is this malaise on their part that a young man attending one of my lectures had the gall to suggest that perhaps Israeli Border Police should not shoot to kill Palestinians in the act of committing stabbing attacks, but rather aim for their limbs. You know, because dead Arab teenagers don’t look good on the BBC.

The most striking thing about such a shocking question is that it came from someone who was not taking issue with the Israeli soldiers — whose predicament he said he understood — but with how they are portrayed in the anti-Israel press. As though somehow the Jewish state would be given a pass if it adhered to the script of its enemies.

My ultra-emphatic reply to this person, which I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to keep at a reasonable decibel level, was drowned out by the applause in an adjacent room, where a member of Breaking the Silence was accusing his comrades in the IDF of war crimes.

Ruthie Blum is the web editor of The Algemeiner (algemeiner.com). This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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  • Buddy Holly

    CASE OF THE ZWI MIGDAL SOCIETY (JEWISH)
    Warsaw, Poland; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; New York City, NY; South Africa; India and China
    This page is dedicated in the memory of Sophia Chamys, Rebecca Freedman, Rachel Liberman, and the thousands of other women who were abducted and forced into prostitution by the Zwi Migdal Society. According to reports there were members of the Society who were RABBIS.

    Thousands of naive, impoverished Jewish girls from Eastern Europe were sold by Jewish mobsters into sexual slavery. Originally believing they were leaving their homes to get married. Most of these women were from poor families, their parents hoping for a better life for their daughters, were shipped off to various locations. This kidnapping, rape and forced prostitution of young Jewish women lasted from the end of the 1860s until the start of the Second World War.

    This hugely profitable (annual revenues of $50 million in the 1890s) commerce in flesh was operated by the Zwi Migdal, a criminal association It was centered in Buenos Aires, with branch offices in several locations in Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; New York City, NY; Warsaw, Poland; South Africa; India; and China.
    The first boatload of young Jewish women arrived in Brazil in 1867; by 1913, there were 431 brothels in downtown Rio alone.

    Three women –largely illiterate, bitterly poor–banded together to form their own benevolent society: the Chesed Shel Ermess, or Society of Truth. At the forefront were Sophia Chamys, Rachel Liberman and Rebecca Freedman, who also managed to get to a police station, and provide testimony which helped an honest cop destroy the Zwi Migdal in Argentina in the 1930s.
    Sophia Chamys –
    Was 13 when her father arranged her marriage to a well-dressed stranger from Lodz. She died at the young age of 18. Sophia’s “husband” was, in fact, a wheeler-dealer in an international prostitution ring – Zwi Migdal. Chamys ended up, locked in a whorehouse, despised and shunned by the more respectable members of the city’s Jewish community, which refused even to give the prostitutes proper burials.
    Rebecca Freedman –
    Became their leader (the women called her their queen) and made it her mission to perform the sacred tahara ceremony of washing the dead. Deeply religious, she died in either 1984 or 1986, at the age of 103.She was last president of the Society of Truth.
    Rachel Liberman – more information needed on this hero.
    THE POLACAS (“POLISH WOMEN” in Portuguese) first organized in 1906, in Rio de Janeiro, setting up the Jewish Association for Charity, Burial and Religion (ABFRI). Their goals, they wrote in the charter, were: “To set up a synagogue, and there practice all the ceremonies of the Jewish religion. To grant sick members in need of treatment outside the city a third-class train ticket and three pounds sterling. To grant members a third-class funeral.” In its heyday, the organization existed in several cities, and several rabbis, all since deceased, were in its employ.
    Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

  • Frank Adam

    Part of the difficulty in relationships between the Diaspora and Israel is NOT a matter of “left wing” except in the peculiarly Israeli context of Israeli politics where the anti-partitionists have always come from the right of centre and the Trot Left fringe while the pragmatic left and centre have been partitionist but since the post 67 Arab generations of Arabs still refused to compromises and the Second Intifada and now “knife intifada” have crated a nasty atmosphere with their viciousness so pushing pragmatic partitionists to give up in current Israeli politics.

    The Left since the late 18th century Revolutonary epoch of the Enlightenment and the French and American Revolutions has always been patriotic. It had to be because it was switching sovereignty from God and God appointed kings to “The People” and “The Nation.” All the Communist states were also patriotic which explains the Trot schism not believing in nations, in the name of classes. The jihadis too do not believe in nations only Islam.

    It is not only wrong but a political mistake to throw “left wing” around when you mean “partitionist” as that blinds you to the subtleties of the arguments and who might be allies and who not.

  • Dav Schlman

    Don’t let frustration get the better of your resolve, (I’m confident you won’t). What has happend to Jewish identity in the last thirty years? Never mind the motives of the Far Left. How can a rational person come to the conclusion that Israel is the oppressor? Oh, I know. Ignorance. I grew up in America, as my parents and some of my grandparents did, but the spectre of Auschwitz and the rest of Hitler’s Nazi genocide still cast a pall over any consideration for a belief in human rights and self-determination. The numbers tattooed on the forearms of the survivors who shared their home and shabbbas dinner with us in Oak Park, Michigan were all too convincing that Antisemitism was not a liberal arts concentration, but meant that their were people who hated, scapegoated, and applauded any harm to others just because they were Jewish.
    I suspect those born into Judaism who see Israel as an apartheid state have no perspective on history. Then there is Haaretz. I bet there was a significant population of European Jews prior to 1939 who felt that Hitler could be dealt with. They are not around to denounce that hypothesis because they joined their brothers and sisters in the gas chambers and ovens.

  • charles simenoff

    i could have gone to limmud to either listen to a bunch of left wing liberal jews spout rubbish about judaism and israel. i could also have challenged the views of reconstuctionist “rabbis” talking nonsense about feng shui. instead i spent my money having a wonderful holiday in israel seeing no apartheid, arabs mixing with jews and others and everyone getting on with life. i would recommend you all do the same next christmas and leave the liberal ashamed jews to talk to each other

    • Lawrence Copitch

      Your ignorant comments regarding Limmud are astonishing

      I have attended eleven Limmud Conferences and can tell you that your description of limmudniks as liberal ashamed Jews who ,you imply ,think Israel is an apartheid state is not only nonesense but is extremely offensive.

      As you have the arrogance to recommend to others what they should do at ‘ Christmas ‘I have no hesitation in recommending to you that next ‘Christmas’ you come to Limmud where you cannot fail to have a stimulating ,life enhancing and enriching Jewish experience. Rather than sneering at what you believe happened at this years conference , go online and have a look at this years massive programme .

      You can take a lazy holiday in the sun at any time of the year.

    • Lawrence Copitch

      I have attended eleven annual Limmud conferences since 2011 ,including this year .It is clear from your ignorant comments that you have attended none.

      Your caricaturisation of limmudniks as ashamed Jews who believe Israel to be an apartheid state is not only entirely without merit but is also highly offensive .

      A quick glance online at the conference programme for 2015 ,will I hope convince you that you could learn a great deal ,if ‘ next Christmas ‘ you cast your prejudices aside and come to conference .
      You can sun yourself in Eilat at any time of the year.

  • fairlinda

    How shameful, Ruthie Blum, that you and other advocates for Israel are having to spend your time and emotional input [energies that should be reserved in lecturing non-Jewish antisemites] trying to convince JEWS that they are wrong about Israel.

    It’s no wonder that the pro Palestinian PR machine is working so well leaving Israeli hasbara lagging behind time after time.

    Shame on Limmud! After reading your post I would like to suggest that Limmud is investigated, prosecuted and has its funding removed. The remaining members of Limmud can then slip effortlessly into the teams as ‘executives’ of the BDS movement, Breaking The Silence, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty, Oxfam and Stop The War. They belong there, not with Zionist supporters of Israel and the Jews.

  • It takes courage to stand up and speak against the accepted viewpoint. Survival depends in blending into the herd or the background. That applies especially to those who feel under threat.

    I arrived in South Africa in 1946 from Europe after years in concentration camps where nearly all my family perished. By 1947 I was in a school where at least one in four pupils was Jewish. The strife in Palestine was reaching boiling point and one day the press informed the world of the hanging of two British sergeants by the Irgun.

    Our first lesson was by a teacher who taught English. She told her class that on that occasion she would teach a different subject and gave us a lecture on the injustice that had been perpetrated against these two sergeants.

    She informed us that WW2 had been fought by Britain at great cost in order to save Jews and that this was how she was being rewarded.

    By that time I had already been a member of Habonim and taught differently. But my English was poor and accented, so I waited for my Jewish classmates to challenge this teacher.

    No one said a word. So I had my say according to what I knew and had been informed. The teacher was outraged that a pupil had contradicted her, told me that I did not know what I was talking about and to sit down. With my background I told her that I knew exactly what I was talking about and refused to be silent. Then I became aware of voices in the class telling me to shut up and sit down. Looking around I saw that they belonged to the Jewish pupils. I sat down.

    When our break came I was the last one out of class and found all the Goysche kids waiting for me. Not one Jewish pupil. I thought that they intended to attack me as I had experienced in the concentration camps. But all they wanted was information about those camps which I provided. They listened in total silence.

  • Joy Wolfe

    This makes very disturbing reading. What has happened to Zionism in the UK and who is responsible for this undoubted sea change in the attitude of so many people to Israel.
    I was shocked to learn that the current president of the Union of Jewish Students allegedly told a Limmud audience that she believes that Jewish students should have their opinion of Israel influenced by exposure to the organization whose raison d’etre is to bad mouth the IDF and travel the world doing it.
    In my view Jewish students and young people should be hearing Soldiers Stories, an initiative of StandWithUs, not Breaking the Silence.
    Ruthie Blum’s experience at Limmud and her accurate assessment of the negative image of Israel currently being promoted, seemingly by the majority is further evidence of my concern.
    Who needs enemies from without when we have so many from within. In a recent attempt to set the record straight, fellow IDF personnel called one of their fellow soldiers a liar when they challenged his Breaking the Silence story, saying they served alongside him and that his story was completely false.
    Yet people are buying in to it, and are prepared to damn genuine IDF soldiers without any context of what they have to face.
    I am in despair. I have been a Zionist activist for nearly 60 years. I believe Israel has never faced so much false opposition, has never been more misunderstood and has never experienced more false criticism.
    Of course Israel is not perfect. Many Israelis despair about the current political leadership and lack of any acceptable and effective alternative. Yes of course there are bad apples in the IDF. Yes there are many examples of things happening we should all be ashamed of.
    But the level of deminisation and delegitimisation has reached an unacceptable level. The number of Jews, Israelis and NGOs and organisations who queue up to damn Israel has reached an intolerable proportion. The minds of our young people are being stolen by those who fill their heads, their eyes and ears with a one-sided out of context negative view of our Jewish state.
    It is time to fight back. We have a biased UN, a so called Human Rights Council that sees only Israel as a target of their criticism, UN spokespeople who spread lies and misinformation in a misguided view that the Palestinians are helped by BDS, labeling and restrictive practices aimed at Israel when in fact the exact opposite is true.
    It is high time those of us who still believe Israel is a light unto the nations to stand up and be more effective in telling the truth about Israel. It is time for the anti Israel brigade to be made aware to know what it is like to walk the streets looking over their should or to stand at a bus stop wondering if they could be stabbed, shot at or car rammed. They should experience what it is like to live in Sderot or on the Lebanese border wondering if it is safe for their children to walk to school or play in the street in case, as is happening as I write this, a rocket might be launched against they should be exposed that all the good initiatives that are going on at grass roots level with Israelis and Palestinians working together in a mutual desire to be able to live alongside each other in peace. They should visit Israeli hospitals where Jews and Muslims work and are treated alongside each other. The should accompany IsrAid on one of their humanitarian trips to help in areas around the world hit by natural disasters. And they should familiarise themselves with the benefits Israel has brought to the world with her medical and technological expertise which she generously shares.
    And, above all, it is time to challenge the negative voices and to speak up. demand an even playing field for the Israel so many of us still love, to challenge the anti Israel soundbites, to criticize international media for its failure to question interviewees who are given the space to voice outright lies, and to expose the world to the real Israel we can be so rightly proud of. We have a great story to tell and it is time to share it loudly and clearly.

  • stevenl

    Most Jews of the diaspora still prefer where they are. For many IL is an afterthought alas! They are satisfied with their dhimmitude.

  • Anthony Dayton

    Do these people – Jews and non-Jews alike, have any knowledge of the past hundred years? The conversation needs to be changed.

    As for anti-semitism in England, during WWII, Jews with obvious Jewish names who were going into the armed forces were advised to change their names. Both Jews and non=Jews fighting Hitler together and yet…How’s that for irony? OR my aunt losing her job when the company owner found out she was Jewish????

    • Mark

      There may be anti-Semitism in the UK, but if the British were suggesting that Jewish soldiers change their name, it was because the British knew that the Germans were killing Jewish POW’s. The Nazis killed thousands of Red Army POW’s who were Jewish and treated some American Jewish POW’s as slave laborers.

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