Miriam Shaviv

  • Mr Obama, the devil's in the details

    Apr 9, 2010

    Two stories appeared this week indicating the President Obama is considering 'imposing' his own settlement on the Israelis and Palestinians: one by David Ignatius in the Washington Post and another in the NYT.

    The proposed settlement would, apparently, follow the same old outline now being worked on for close to two decades: no right of return for Palestinian refugees, a divided Jerusalem, a return to close-to-the-1967-borders with some minor border adjustments and territorial swaps, and recognition of Israel by the Arab states.

    “It’s not rocket science,” said Robert Malley, director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group, the Brussels-based organization that seeks to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts.

    Actually, answers Elliot Abrahams in the Weekly Standard, it is:

    First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them?

    Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?)

    This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

    His blow-by-blow fisking of Ignatius's column is masterly. I suggest you read the whole thing. 

    One point he left out: when this imposed settlement refers the 'Palestinians', it seems to address solely to the Palestinians on the West Bank. What exactly does the administration propose to do with Hamas in Gaza - who are unlikely to accept any American settlement (or any settlement at all)? It's all very well talking about 'solving the Palestinian-Israeli problem', but as long as there is a hostile regime in Gaza, the conflict goes on.

  • Anat Kam and the newspaper wars

    Apr 8, 2010

    Oh, what fun The Jerusalem Post is having with the Anat Kam story. The paper is currently splashing the following headline across the top of its website: 'Cancel Haaretz subscriptions 'til military docs returned' (quoting MK Yisrael Hasson, former deputy head of the internal security service). Could they be less subtle?

    Coincidentally, Hasson's reaction is nowhere to be found on the Haaretz site....

  • Israeli 'Taliban mothers': still with us

    Apr 8, 2010


    A couple of years back, the Orthodox world was roiled by the story of the 'Taliban mother' - a Charedi woman living in Beit Shemesh, who had taken to dressing head-to-toe in a cloak, and covering her face in a veil, burka-style. She had amassed, it emerged, more than 100 followers, who adopted a similar mode of dress, frightening a good number of Charedi women who became afraid that this chmurah, or stringency, would soon be demanded of them too. Many Charedi leaders were, indeed, appalled and denounced her as 'crazy'.

    Then it turned out that the 'Taliban mother' was abusive to her own children, and she was convicted of aggrevated assault on six of them. It seemed clear that there was much more to this woman's dress code than mere 'modesty' - as she had claimed - and the issue of burka-clad Charedim seemed to disappear from the public agenda. Who, after all, would continue to dress this way, when the cult leader was exposed as disturbed?

    Well, here is one case. On Tuesday, police shot at a woman dressed in a veil who was attempting to board a bus. They thought she was a terrorist. She turned out to be a religious woman dressing this way for reasons of 'modesty'. The picture, from YNet, shows her being driven away by the police.

    The Taliban mother might be rotting in jail; but this trend she has unleashed, in which Charedi women voluntarily clad their bodies in bags and cover their faces, is apparently far harder to contain.  Even as her personal credibility crumbled, the concept of hyper-tzniut took on a life of its own. And - here I'm guessing - her followers probably never really accepted that the woman they had revered as saintly was really guilty of the things of which she was convicted, anyway.

    The fact is that the Charedi trends which were a catalyst for the original Taliban Mother - the ever-increasing emphasis on women's modesty and the moves to eradicate women from public space - have not gone away. Is it any wonder that the burkas are still with us too?

  • 10 things I love about the United Synagogue

    Apr 1, 2010

    Sitting in shul over yomtov has been a rather difficult experience. And not only because it was crowded, long and the children's service turns my brain to mush - but because just a few weeks ago, I was publicly branded an enemy of the United Synagogue by none other than its president, Simon Hochhauser.  

    Amongst the JC columnists, he told a US council meeting, “we find there is an antipathy towards what we stand for in Orthodoxy” (that is, he explained, modern Orthodoxy).

    Columnists such as Miriam Shaviv, Geoffrey Alderman and Jonathan Freedland - he said - engage in a “constant attack on everything we stand for“.

    “We feel a little bit like the Jewish community generally does with the Guardian. It’s almost like a delegitimisation of the United Synagogue going on. We have a case, we have a strong case… We do feel we are being given a particularly rough deal.”

    Now, I can’t answer for Messrs Alderman and Freedland - who are in any case both perfectly capable of defending themselves. But when it comes to me, Mr Hochhauser, you couldn't be more wrong.

    There are plenty of things I love about the United Synagogue. Here are my top 10:

    1 Fishballs at Kiddush. Genius invention (practically unknown beyond these shores) which ensures that members keep returning again and again, no matter how bad the rabbis’ sermons. (Plus, my kids love them. Means I don’t have to feed them Shabbat lunch).

    2 Burial included in membership. Cemeteries well-kept and landscaped (the fish at Bushey are a particularly nice touch). Regrettably, beneficiaries may not appreciate this fully at the time.

    3 Board of Deputies included in my fees. And where would Anglo-Jewry be without the Board of Deputies?

    4 Chief rabbi is very handsome.  Little-mentioned secret to his success.

    5 The pom poms on top of the chazans’ hats (now an endangered species). Very retro.

    6 Canonicals. Another seriously bold fashion statement. Why oh why did they get rid of them?

    7 Disastrous decisions by the dayanim provides me with half a livelihood. My good friend Rabbi Schochet provides the other half…

    8 London Beth Din certifies pet food as kosher. Chicken, ham and vegetable dog food made by Applaws is apparently Kosher for Pesach and is presumably better for their digestion than shemurah matzah. Do not serve at Kiddush!

    9 London Beth Din is the gold standard for conversions. Ensures that the Jewish population remains confined to N16 and a few select streets in NW11 (NW4 now suspect).

    10  Women can't be presidents of synagogues - leaves us with more time to make cakes.

    Happy April 1...

  • The unintended, and dangerous, consequences for Israel in east Jerusalem

    Mar 24, 2010

    Leon Wieselthier - in a piece that deserves to be read in its entirety - explains why the Israelis trying to reclaim properties that used to belong to Jews in Arab east Jerusalem, pre-state, are opening a can of worms:

    Since the Palestinian right of return, and its premise that restoration is preferable to reconciliation, would undo the Jewish state, Israel is right to deny it. But if, in the name of moral realism, and so that they do not delude themselves with catastrophic fantasies of starting over, Palestinians are not to be granted a right to return to what was theirs before 1948, then neither should such a right be granted to Jews.

    When Jews fled Sheikh Jarrah, they fled to a Jewish state, which should have been worth the loss of their property; and the same would have been true of the Palestinians, if their Arab brethren had allowed the state of Palestine to come into being. But the lunatic Jews who insist that a Jew must live anywhere a Jew ever lived do not see that they, too, are re-opening 1948 and the legitimacy of what it established.

    What, in short, can Israelis say to Arabs who wish to reclaim their properties in Katamon, when they are busy reclaiming properties in Sheikh Jarrah?


  • Idea #18 - Create a website for Jewish women

    Mar 24, 2010

    During the month of March, I will be publishing a daily proposal to transform the British Jewish community. Email your own idea (up to 350 words) to miriamshaviv@thejc.com

    Today's idea comes from Marlena Schmool: Create a website for Jewish women

    In examining the Jewish population of Britain on most social, geographical or synagogal criteria, we discover a range of groups where people in one may feel distant from those in others.   The 2001 Census of population showed that every Local Authority in England and Wales had a Jewish presence.  Registers of Jewish organisations indicate that Jews seek each other out locally. So British Jews are simultaneously spread out and compartmentalised. This contrasts with a media image which seems for the main part to be based on Greater North-West London with inputs from Stamford Hill or Manchester.

    Such a basically monolithic representation can be alienating especially for those whose ideas and values may be formed by less conventional life-styles.  In 2009 the women who contributed to the study Connection, Continuity and Community: British Jewish Women Speak Out made it abundantly clear this is so.  They responded from London, Leeds, Manchester, Scotland and small groups away from these major centres.  Their responses articulated the gap between institutionally defined norms and the day-to-day reality of British Jewish life.   

    Women account for more than half of British Jewry. Those who spoke out last year are secularly highly educated and they care deeply about the community.  They want to be part of an inclusive community where the leaders accommodate the social changes that are affecting us all.  They want to connect with each other across the community’s religious divides.  They applauded the opportunity to do so afforded by the study. 

    All want better Jewish education for their children – especially their daughters – wherever they live.  It’s available in Hendon but not in Hereford or Hampshire.  They recognise that they are not qualified enough to provide this themselves and know that without it the British Jewish future is in peril - but feel it shouldn’t depend on Jewish day schools in ‘ghetto areas’.  They are emotionally attached to the idea of community but question whether it needs to be defined through congregations. 

    The community needs to de-compartmentalise, to permit ideas and activities to flow across the community – from one ‘denomination’ to the other.  Women have shown that they are ready to recognise the benefits of working together regardless of personal religious affiliations.  The League of Jewish Women and Wizo show how well.  Sadly, there is no one-stop focal point to continue this conversation, to allow it to develop and inform community thinking.   

    It can be done technically quite easily in today’s world of Facebook, Twitter and other virtual communities.  What we need is a Jewish Women’s Website to promote and facilitate cross-community exchange and co-operation.  At the moment the women who spearheaded the study are thinking through how. 

    First and foremost it should be independent of any synagogal affiliation or supervision; moral support is of course another matter.  Placing a conversation page on a more generally focused site could be another way. 

    Musmnet shows us that if there is a will there is a way.  And, of course the conversation must not exclude men.


    Marlena Schmool is a freelance research consultant and Project Director 2009 for ‘British Jewish Women Speak Out’

    Check out our previous ideas: 17 - Create a UK Centre for Jewish Education 16 - Learn to talk to each other about difficult subjects 15 - Merge some of our charities and community services 14 - Hold joint events for JSocs and Islamic societies every term 13 - Create a virtual community 12 - Turn Anglo-Jewry into a learning community 11 - Turn Shabbat into the Greenest day of the week 10 - Focus on people, not institutions 9 - Create an online platform for Jewish students8 - Appoint anti-antisemitism champions7 - Share our synagogues and community centres with other religions,  6 - Establish a Succah in Trafalgar Square5 - Create a 'community service' programme for young Jews4 - Recruit older people to volunteer for the community,3 - Establish a fund for the Jewish arts2 - Pay membership fees to your community, not your shul1 - Make 2010/11 the year of synagogue renewal

  • The long arm of the Mossad

    Mar 24, 2010

    The last paragraph of the NYT report on the UK-Israel passports crisis notes, by-the-by:

    Officials in South Africa have said that several members of the Israeli hit team left Dubai for Johannesburg on a direct flight by Emirates Airline, the Dubai flag carrier, then flew back to various destinations in Europe before catching connecting flights back to Israel.

    South African news reports have quoted South African officials as saying that they were unable to comply with Dubai’s request for closed-circuit video recordings taken as the men transited through Oliver Tambo International airport in Johannesburg because the recordings had been mysteriously wiped before the Dubai request was made.

    [Insert creepy Twilight Zone music here...]