Archive for August 26, 2010

Commentary: Efforts needed to rescue Arabs and Haredim from Israeli poverty

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Part two of a series on poverty in Israel; to read part one, click here.

Ephraim Guttman illustrates both the face of poverty in Israel and a solution. Dressed in the uniform of the ultra-Orthodox — the requisite black suit and white shirt, which makes no concession to the scorching summer heat — he does not appear destitute in the classic sense. But like most men in his community, he was utterly unprepared for the modern workplace when he married two years ago at 18, with only a rudimentary education beyond the religious curriculum of a Jerusalem yeshiva. 

While Israel is eagerly joining the elite club of developed nations, and luxury buildings rise above the modest Bauhaus landscape that once defined Tel Aviv, and while stock offerings and real estate prices and the number of start-ups continue to soar, economic and social inequalities are growing, too, threatening the Jewish state’s civic fabric and its ability to prosper and defend itself. No longer a nation of struggling immigrants and refugees, Israel’s economic challenges are driven by the persistent non-employment in two key populations, Arab Israelis and Haredi men like Guttman.

That these two groups share a sort of ignoble bond is a deep irony of Israeli society. Their structural poverty is caused or enabled by long-standing government policy: By subsidizing Haredi men who study instead of work, and exempting them from military service, successive Israeli governments have created huge incentives toward non-employment that are only now beginning to be dismantled. Meanwhile, the gross public disinvestment in Arab communities has left those residents nearly four times more likely than their Jewish counterparts to live in poverty.

But, interestingly, creative grassroots efforts to address these problems also have much in common. “The culture of dependency cuts across populations, and they all face discrimination in the workplace,” says Chaviva Eisler, who oversees an employment center supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Jerusalem. “So you have to work with the population you are serving to build interventions that are culturally and religiously appropriate.”

Eisler comes from the Orthodox world herself, and she has seen the evolution from, in her words, “a society of earners to a society of learners.” It was not always so in Israel, and still isn’t the case in many communities around the world. A recent study found that only 18% of Haredi men in London sit in yeshiva all day, compared to about 67% in Israel. Why? British welfare policy encourages work. Traditional Jewish education there includes nonreligious studies. And there is no mandatory military service to flee, so entering the work force is more palatable.

So Eisler’s center, Mafteach, has much to overcome. Since the ultra-Orthodox in Israel don’t feel comfortable using government employment centers, Mafteach deliberately acknowledges the Haredi lifestyle: Men and women are trained separately, and clients are placed in jobs with a shomer Shabbat schedule. The staff works closely with rabbinic leadership, encouraging them to support men working outside the home. Dignity is at stake here, and social status. Guttman consulted with his rav before taking a job in a matzo factory, and then another job managing a produce market; the young man was told he could work as long as he studied one hour every day.

There are many obstacles placed before Arabs seeking to enter the Israeli workforce — poor skills from under-resourced education; lack of access to jobs; pure discrimination — but culture is also an impediment, particularly for women. “We try to convince husbands to let their wives out of their homes,” explains Mohammed Namneh, project director in the JDC’s Tevet employment initiative in Jerusalem. His program employs a kind of gentle peer pressure, with group discussions for reluctant husbands, and visits from those men who have already made the leap. Women must be assuaged, as well: “We tell the women, ‘You don’t have to take your scarf off to do this job.’ We don’t go against the cultural taboos, never.”

And, much like Eisler’s attempts to utilize rabbinic leadership, Namneh strives to convince imams to talk about shared responsibility in the home and the Islamic tradition that considers work a kind of worship. “We focus on work as a value, work as something that can improve the family situation,” he says. “And once they see the first salary, they get satisfied.”

Clearly, grassroots interventions alone will not satisfactorily address this problem. When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that poverty in Israel is more widespread than in any of the 30 nations in this elite global club, it noted that “tackling the causes of such entrenched and wide inequalities as exist in Israel will not be easy. It will require a sustained effort across a broad range of policy areas.” Among them: better enforcement of labor laws and anti-discrimination policies, and serious investment in education and welfare-to-work programs.

But government policy in any democracy depends in part on the will of the people. The Haredi and Arab communities in Israel are too often isolated as the “other” by a largely secular society with little patience for the stringencies of ultra-Orthodoxy, and by a largely Jewish citizenry with little sympathy for the Arabs in its midst. And yet these two substantial, growing minorities may hold the key to Israel’s economic future.

As Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn noted recently: “If Israel managed to reach its current standard of living without them, one can only imagine where we could go with the added talent and motivation that is not currently being tapped…. If we open our doors to them and give them opportunities, we will all benefit. And if we continue to shut ourselves off, we will all crash.”

Preceding editorial from The Forward  reprinted with permission


ADL condemns attack on Muslim taxi driver in New York City as a ‘brutal hate crime’

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK (Press Release) — The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) strongly condemned the stabbing of a New York City taxi driver in an apparent anti-Muslim hate crime, calling the attack especially disturbing amid the current atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy.

Michael Enright is accused of stabbing Ahmed H. Sharif after entering his cab and asking the driver if he was Muslim. According to police, the suspect also referenced military checkpoints and uttered an Arabic phrase before attacking Sharif with a knife. Enright is charged with attempted murder and assault as a hate crime.

Ron Meier, ADL New York Regional Director, issued the following statement:

“The attack on Ahmed Sharif was a brutal hate crime and we condemn it in the strongest terms. No person should ever be targeted because of their religion or ethnicity, and there is no justification for singling out Muslims.
“It is especially disturbing that this attack occurred amid an atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy. No matter the passions stirred up by an issue, resorting to anti-Muslim bigotry and violence is unacceptable. 
“New York is a diverse city of equally diverse opinions, but we must not allow these differences to overshadow the basic tenets of mutual respect and human dignity. We applaud the NYPD for bringing bias crime charges in this case, and urge that the suspect be prosecuted to the full extent allowed under the state’s hate crime law.”
Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League

Going to market in Jerusalem is a gender issue

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

MEVASSERET ZION, Israel — When I first moved to Israel, some forty years ago, there was one supermarket in Jerusalem, and perhaps a few more in Tel Aviv. My housekeeping requirements as a student were not very great, and I seem to remember my forays to the supermarket as rare occasions, requiring little more to be purchased than bread, milk and eggs. I lived on black coffee and chocolate biscuits, and ate proper meals only at the weekends, when kind relatives invited me for Friday night supper or Shabbat lunch.

After I got married and set up a household of my own things became more complicated. The corner grocery was the source of most of our purchases, and the procedure of going shopping was an arduous task. My limited Hebrew and the elderly shop-keeper’s non-existent English meant that I had to have a dictionary at hand or point to the items on the shelves, then watch with bated breath as he perched on a rickety step-ladder to get the items down for me. Then he would add up the cost, using pencil and paper, and before paying him I would do the same, or pretend to do so.

Much to my surprise, my husband insisted on buying all our fruit and vegetables, as well as basic foodstuffs such as rice, in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. My surprise was doubtless confounded by the contrast with my father, whose only foray into shops was to buy flowers for my mother every Friday on his way home from the office. The idea of a man going shopping, and doing so in an open-air market to boot, was totally alien to me. My husband enjoyed this event, which evidently represented something of a weekly hunting expedition for him. I suspect that he would also indulge in a portion of falafel or a plate of humus at one or another of the well-known local eateries

My ignorance of male behavioural norms in the Middle East was understandable, considering my background. How could a girl brought up in London and born to parents originating from Germany be expected to know that in this part of the world women were traditionally expected to remain at home, while the outside world was a male preserve? And the open-air market was a male club, as it were, with cafes and restaurants where men would meet and exchange information, mainly about football and politics. To this day, incidentally, most of Jerusalem’s money-changers are to be found in or near the Mahaneh Yehuda market, although it is no longer largely a male preserve.

While women are no longer confined to the home, many men still choose to do the household shopping in the market. I have even been informed by an authoritative source that women don’t know how to choose good fruit and vegetables. It is true that in order to choose a watermelon one should pick it up, place it on one’s shoulder and knock it to test for the right resonance, and that is something for which strong biceps are required. It seems, however, that choosing tomatoes or cucumbers that are just right for a salad is also considered a masculine skill.

Be that as it may, the corner grocery stores have almost all disappeared, and these days a plethora of air-conditioned supermarkets and shopping malls vie for the patronage of shoppers, be they male or female. Even the open-air markets have been spruced up. Shopping in Israel is a very different experience today.


Shefer-Vanson, a freelance writer and translator based in Mevasseret Zion, can be reached at This article initially appeared in the AJR Journal, published by the Association of Jewish Refugees in the United Kingdom.

Words of controversy: It’s ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ to some, ‘Cordoba House’ to others

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM– The Ground Zero Mosque as its opponents call it, or Cordoba House according to its promoters, has become a mirror of  politics in the United States and elsewhere, and not always the best of those politics. Bottom feeders in New York see strong opposition as their best road to a nomination. Some who claim a posture of high principle do not go beyond the slogans of religious freedom or property rights to the problem that there are no rights without limits.

Relevant here is the counter slogan against those who would call fire in a crowded theater. A song in the style of American country music shows that the issue has gone far beyond New York City. Europeans are chiming in to focus on American naivite, and urging the sane to do something like their own campaigns against large mosques proposed for city centers.

Somewhere is a report that the project has only been able to raise $18,000. Insofar as the total cost is estimated at $100 million, the issue of money has been a prominent topic of speculation. The promoter has not ruled out relying on money from Saudi Arabia or some other Middle Eastern source. That raises the possibility that it may come from some of the pockets that paid for 9-11, making that tragic event into a project of urban renewal that will produce a Muslim icon in lower Manhattan instead of the World Trade Center.

Trust is an element in the controversy.

Important to those supporting the project is the notion of Islam as a religion that deserves protection in the fabrics of American society and politics. Some have signed on to the concept of Abrahamic religions to replace Judeo-Christian as the inclusive adjective for the United States. The word has an attractive ring, but I am not aware of how many Muslims subscribe to something that considers their faith as only one among equals. Also, Abrahamic religions does not include Hindus and others who may be as well represented as Muslims among immigrants who came to the United States since the 1960s.

Opponents do not deny that Islam is a religion, but they assert that it is associated with a political agenda, ancient and modern violence, and aspirations to dominate wherever it can. The principal promoter of the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has caused problems for those who admire him by refusing to speak clearly about funding, or to condemn Islamic groups widely identified as terrorist, like Hamas and Hizbollah.

Rauf has sought to convey an Islam that is not aggressive toward others, but skeptics doubt that his sentiments will assure that the lessons taught over the years in the community center, and the sermons offered in the mosque will overcome other themes that have been more prominent in Islam.

Accommodationists have endorsed the rights of the Muslims to create something like Cordoba House, without putting it on what many view as the sacred location of Ground Zero. President Obama backed off from an endorsement offered at a Ramadan ceremony to express his concerns about the wisdom of that location. The archbishop of New York indicated that he had no strong feelings about the project, but that it was his “major prayer” that a compromise could be reached.

He refered to the actions of Pope John Paul II in ordering Catholic nuns to relocate a convent from the location of the Auschwitz death camp in response to protests from Jewish leaders. According to the archbishop, “He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address’ . . . It worked there; might work here.”

Intrade is a pari-mutual internet site that accepts bets and adjusts the odds about a large number of public events. On the subject of “Construction of ‘Ground Zero mosque’ to commence before midnight ET 30 Jun 2011,” the odds shifted during August from showing a bit over 60 percent positive probability to only 20 percent positive probability.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Violence flares in Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC)–Muslim protestors set ablaze half a dozen vehicles in the eastern part of Jerusalem on Thursday and threw stones and firebombs at Israeli police after Jewish settlers approached a mosque, local residents and police said. There were no reported injuries in the incident in the Silwan neighborhood, where tensions have flared between Palestinians and a small group of settlers who have moved there in the past two decades.

Local residents said settlers tried to reach a spring, which religious Jews view as a biblical site, by crossing through a mosque courtyard. Israeli police said Palestinians then took to the streets in violent demonstrations, throwing rocks and firebombs at police and vehicles, burning six cars.

“At three a.m., four settlers arrived and asked to open the gate so they could take a shortcut to a spring,” Mahmoud Karin, a resident of the neighborhood, told the ‘Haaretz’ newspaper. “One of the [Muslim] worshippers saw them and yelled to them to find out what they were doing and they fled,” he was quoted as saying. The settlers involved in the incident denied the Palestinian allegations, saying that “the story with the gate is completely unfamiliar to us.”
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

Iran offers to sell Lebanon arms in wake of U.S. freeze

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

TEHERAN (WJC)–Iran has said it was prepared to sell weapons to the Lebanon should the government in Beirut seek help to equip its military. On Tuesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had proposed to the unity government of Prime Minister Hariri to formally seek military assistance from Tehran, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

In Teheran, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Lebanon “is our friend, and its army is also our friend” and if there was a demand [for arms], “we are ready to help that country and conduct weapons transactions with it.” Nasrallah, whose movement is backed by Iran and Syria, vowed in a televised speech Hezbollah could help secure the aid for the Lebanon’s army, which is still seen as under-equipped compared to the Shiite paramilitary group.

“I vow that Hezbollah will work fervently and capitalize on its friendship with Iran to ensure it helps arm the Lebanese military in any way it can,” Nasrallah said. His call came following a US freeze in military aid to Lebanon in the wake of deadly border clashes between Lebanese and Israeli troops four weeks ago.

A US$ 100 million aid package for the Lebanon’s military was put on hold earlier this month by two leading members of the House of Representatives over concerns the weapons could be used to attack Israel, and that Hezbollah might have influence over the Lebanese army. Nasrallah’s movement is part of Hariri’s governing coalition.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the possibility of Iran selling arms to the Lebanon underscored “the importance both to our national security and the security of the region to continue with our security assistance to the Lebanese army”. He added that a review of the aid program to the Lebanon was under way and that “we hope to conclude that soon, and renew assistance.”

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

14 Israeli police to serve in U.N. force in Haiti

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

JERUSALEM (WJC)–A team of Israeli police officers will leave for Haiti to serve as part of a multinational force set up by the United Nations. It marks the first time Israelis will serve on a UN force. The 14 police officers attended a ceremony at the Western Wall on Monday ahead of their scheduled departure on early next week. The delegation constitutes the first-ever Israeli group to serve in active duty under the command of the United Nations. The police officers will remain in Haiti for an extended period of time.

“You are Israel’s true face,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon told the officers during a meeting Wednesday. “This mission will demonstrate to friends and foes alike that Israel is always willing to contribute and volunteer anywhere and at any time. It is important for people to see Israel beyond the conflict and to see that this is the real Israel. We are not only strong materially, but also strong in spirit.”

The head of the delegation, Meir Namir, said that the best police officers were mobilized to the task, some leaving behind pregnant women, children, and one even putting off his wedding.

Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in January 2010 which left more than 200,000 dead and approximately one million people homeless.. At the time, Israeli humanitarian workers assisted thousands of victims on the ground.

Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress