On June 9, 2013, this coming Sunday, the legendary, Jerusalem-based Women of the Wall plan to conduct a full Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) prayer service in the women's section at the Kotel (Western Wall). They plan to leyn (chant) from a Torah. This will be the second time we will have been able to do so "legally" and with police protection since 1989. Before then, the Israeli police allowed violence against praying Jewish women to prevail and, if forced to act, arrested WOW leaders and supporters.
Haredim (fundamentalists) are again threatening violent and soul-shattering "prayer protests" against WOW. They are cautioning their young men to refrain from committing physical violence but sustained shouting and cursing are also violent and disruptive.
No one, including a Jew, should be forced to run a gauntlet of hostility in order to be able to pray. Were this to be happening in any other country, were our antagonists non-Jews, it would be called rabid anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
We did not want to leave Egypt when we were Pharoah's slaves; within weeks, we wanted to return. This longing for the place of one's childhood, the smells and haunts and gravesites of our ancestors also characterized the Egyptian Jews of the 20th century.
It is human, understandable, to cling to that which is familiar, and to resist that which is new, foreign, uncomfortable, frightening.
But we are a people whose first ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, left town, left all that was familiar to them, and obeyed God's commandment to Abraham: "Leave your land, your birthplace, your father's home."
But not every Jew is a pioneer or a crusader; not every Jew hears God's command.
In my lifetime, the 850,000 Jews who were forced to flee Arab and Muslim lands in the 20th century still cherished the lands that had impoverished them, and that, for millennia, had tortured and murdered their religious compatriots. Moroccan- and Persian-Jewish cookbooks appear every year. Spanish music sings in my bloodstream, speaks of long forgotten origins. I am the daughter of Ashkenazi Jews, and yet I melt at Moorish arches, beautiful glazed tile-work, the sights and smells of a bazaar, the taste of cardamon and cinnamon in my coffee.
The American government has just gone into the anti-honor-killing "business." Given my extensive academic and legal work documenting and opposing honor killing, I support this venture. I do find it a bit odd that the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem has just launched such a campaign--but for Palestinian women only.
I have written about honor killing among Palestinians and among Israeli Arabs; I also interviewed Palestinian feminist Asma Al-Ghoul about how she was fired and then arrested for her anti-honor-killing advocacy both in Gaza and on the West Bank. Thus, I favor some U.S. intervention in the matter.
However, I wonder: Why not branch out to Pakistan or Afghanistan where honor killing and honor-based violence is, possibly, even more epidemic?
Last night, I watched an excellent and heartbreaking Frontline documentary by Habiba Nosheen about honor-based violence in Pakistan: "Outlawed in Pakistan." Thirteen-year-old Kainat Soomro was chloroformed, drugged, kidnapped, and then gang-raped for three or four days by four men who threatened to kill or sell her.
Suddenly, the price of speaking one's mind has gotten very high. You may agree on every issue save one; dare to share your independent or dissident view—and you might shut down the conversation or lose all your friends.
Since this kind of censorship and self-censorship has been going on for some time, people who want to stay out of trouble write under pseudonyms, smile carefully at meetings and dinner parties, but do not say what they really think, there is too much at stake.
I call this the crisis of individualism and the destruction of independent thinking. It is the death knell of free thought, free speech, critical inquiry, and Western civilization (at its best) as we have known it.
Lois Lerner, the Director of the IRS Unit responsible for ruling on applications for tax-exempt status has refused to testify. She is taking the Fifth.
There is an eerie resonance in America and especially in Hollywood, when someone "takes the fifth." It harks back to the McCarthy hearings in the early 1950s, when the "good guys" refused to name their friends as communists. We remember how great filmmakers and script writers -- "good people" -- were cruelly blackballed for refusing to name names; instead, they endured decades of poverty and ostracism. We remember them as heroes. Perhaps they were.
They would not betray their friends or their own innocent ideals, no matter how misguided they may have been. (Stalin's totalitarian Hell was not the paradise they imagined it was). In any event, those who "took the fifth," refused to knuckle under to state power.
Lois Lerner represents the power of the state. She is not taking a noble stand against unjust government authority -- she is protecting those who are even more powerful than herself. We should not see her as a brave "victim."
Her government has also just invaded the First Amendment and violated our free press. We, the people, are the victims.
Tuvia Tenenborn has German youth lining up to buy his book on Germany today. It is about an incurable disease. But he can't find a publisher in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I first met Tuvia Tenenbom, the author of the provocatively titled book, "I Sleep in Hitler's Room", a few years ago at a lecture. I was pointed out as "an expert in anti-Semitism," and his wife, Isi, insisted on giving me their very last copy. In 2011, Tuvia had just self-published the book.
Tuvia's group, The Jewish Theatre of New York Incorporated, was his publisher and the philanthropist, Michael Steinhardt, funded its publication.
Last night, I attended what was advertised as a theatrical presentation of Tuvia's book. The theatre, "The Triad," is a Weimar era-like cabaret. It felt as if I'd walked right onto the set. The scene was funny, a bit disorienting. The address was right—but it was also a Turkish restaurant, "Seven," which occupied that same address. The staircase to the cabaret-theatre was located in the restaurant.
I would have passed it by entirely if I hadn't seen Tuvia on the street an hour before the performance was to start. We greeted each other. I congratulated him on his larger "performance."
Every time a news story breaks about a woman imprisoned as a sex slave (for example the Cleveland Three) people are, appropriately, shocked and horrified.
What is even more shocking is the fact that such crimes are committed every single day in every country on earth. Children and adult women are routinely sold, tricked or kidnapped in epidemic numbers and trafficked into sex slavery for profit. Rarely do such pimps and profiteers bother to keep one girl (or boy) only for themselves.
Civilian pedophiles do that. We think of pedophiles as depraved older men or, increasingly, as men of the cloth, whose prey is an under-age stranger. Once caught, they are registered as sex offenders and law enforcement can, potentially, keep eyes on them.
Professor George Jochnowitz, a gentleman and a scholar, (he is a linguist), has just republished his review of my 2003 book The New Anti-Semitism. The Coming Crisis and What We Must Do About It.
I wrote this book in 2001-2002, and published it almost immediately thereafter. I am now sobered by my own prescience, by how on-target I was about what was "new" about anti-Semitism in the 21st century: namely, that it was coming to us from the Left and from the intelligentsia, as well as from the Islamic world and that anti-Zionism was, indeed, a core part of the "new" anti-Semitism. I also stressed the important role that media, the internet, and "fauxtography," (doctored, and staged images of Jewish and Israeli aggression) all played in the escalation of a genocidal hatred against Israel and the Jews.
I wrote about the betrayal of both the truth and the Jews by the Western academic establishment, including leftists, feminists, and gay liberationists--and by lynch mobs in the Islamic world. I wrote, darkly, early on, about the possibility of a Second and "slow" Holocaust being underway, one that started in Israel, in 2001-2002.
Films wield great power over people; cinematic images are forever burned into memory and imagination – even if the memories implanted are false, not based on true facts – but on a sophisticated and biased manipulation of reality.
I have just watched The Reluctant Fundamentalist twice. This is Mira Nair's new film about a soulful and handsome Pakistani man who once believed in the American Dream and who succeeded brilliantly as a super-capitalist, but who is forced to abandon corporate America, return home to become, perhaps, a "reluctant" fundamentalist. I write "perhaps" because Nair leaves us wondering about whether such a smart and sympathetic fellow would actually order hostage taking, torture, and murder for a "fundamentalist" cause.
Is it possible that certain people are really angels who quietly but directly intervene in the lives of thousands of people?
I am talking about my dear friend, Ruth Bergman Jody, whose Memorial at the Ethical Culture Society I just attended. I knew Ruth for 46 years. I knew she was a "good" person. But I did not know her at all.
Ruth arrived here as a teenaged Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany in 1940—a fact she never dwelled upon in our first thirty five years together. I know she also lived in Mexico for a decade, returned to NYC, and obtained a Master degree in Counseling from Columbia University. Ruth was the long-time director of the Hunter College Guidance and Tutoring program.
At her Memorial service, people of all ages, many colors, both genders, all sexual persuasions, and from many continents, gathered to memorialize her: a veritable rainbow of tribute. They described how Ruth turned their lives around, mentored them, found them jobs, shelter, safety, and set them on their path. Ruth was interested in everybody and everything. She made each person feel "special."
As the speakers came forward, each memory they shared was as incredible as the last one.
I do not understand what motivates sensible, even heroic, people to claim what is clearly a defeat as a victory.
I am talking about the Women of the Wall struggle for equality for women at Jerusalem's Western Wall (Kotel) which has recently spawned global headlines. Now, everyone agrees, Natan Sharansky has presumably found a "compromise" that grants every Jew "equality" at the Wall. I have been fielding calls from feminist friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to congratulate me on this great accomplishment. But it is all smoke and mirrors, a charade.
I am writing this article to dispel this illusion right now.
Nearly 25 years ago, I was blessed with the privilege of being part of the first-ever woman's prayer service at the Western Wall (the Kotel). We prayed out loud, with a Torah; many women were religiously learned, some were rabbis, many wore their prayer shawls. This was the first time in history that women had "liberated" the Wall. We broke a psychological sound barrier. The date was December 1, 1988. The woman whose idea this was, Rivka Haut, turned to me and asked me to open the Torah for the women to read from—which fatefully wedded me to this struggle for women's religious, civil, and legal rights in the Holy Land. At the time, I was also the Editor at Large for On The Issues magazine and both Merle Hoffman and myself worked very hard and lovingly on the first major piece to come out about what had happened, who was there, and what it meant for us all. It appeared in these pages in 1989. Subsequent pieces appeared in the 1990s.
I disagree with my colleague Jonathan Kay's recent article "American super-hawks demand to know: 'Are you Jew enough?'"
First, let me thank him for referring to me as "a feminist-turned anti-Islamist" and not as "anti-Muslim" or as an "Islamophobe." However, in becoming an "anti-Islamist" I did not check my feminist credentials at the door; my work on honour-based violence, including honour killing among Muslims and Hindus (mainly in India) is pure feminist work. The victims are primarily women of colour, and yes, in the West, they are primarily Muslims. I am championing their cause just as I have championed the cause of non-Muslim Western women. I work with Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents who share my Enlightenment values, a single universal standard of human rights, and who, like me, have taken a stand against the persecution of girls, women, homosexuals, free thinkers and pro-Israel advocates in the Muslim world.
And so, poor soul, she has died and been cremated in New Delhi, the victim of a public and murderous gang-rape. Six men attacked her for more than an hour, raping and beating her with a heavy metal bar which damaged her intestines beyond repair. They said they wanted to "teach her a lesson."
In their eyes, what taboo did she violate?
She boarded the bus they were driving—perhaps women should walk, and not avail themselves of public transportation? How could they have known that she was a physiotherapy student, that her family had chosen to educate their eldest daughter, that she had just seen a movie, "The Life of Pi," or that the young man she was with was a friend, not a father, brother, or husband?
Clearly, they could not know this. All they knew was that she was a woman, on the street, and therefore vulnerable, a fitting target for their arrogant, patriarchal rage.
Please forgive my extraordinary silence. Know that I have continued my life's work as a wordsmith. My new book is now almost final.
I forgot how much I enjoy writing books. I will never forget this again. One escapes time, one leaves one's own time in history in order to hunt for buried treasure which patience, discipline, and solitude, allow one to find.
Yes, writing and conducting studies that only I can do remains my civic duty and also my joy. You will be hearing my voice "out there" soon enough. But allow me to linger a bit longer in the playing fields of dreams and memories. It is hard to be a journalist-activist and write a book for the ages.
In 2012, I was blessed with a second granddaughter. Of course, both granddaughters are precious and teach me, yet again, about human nature. I am a restless spirit and yet with them and their parents, I find some measure of peaceful contentment.
I have been getting email and phone calls from dear friends in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Tel Avivians and Jerusalemites are sober but slightly shocked to have woken up to a lesser, but still a Sderot-like reality. Senior citizen friends cowered in stairways and hunkered down in "safe" rooms. Younger citizens rushed to shelters or hit the ground. Everyone supports what the IDF is doing. No one was injured or worse.
Day #6 of Israel's decision to fight back, to stop the constant barrage of Hamas rockets, meant this: according to the IDF, in the first five days, over 500 rockets from Gaza rained down on Israeli civilians and the Iron Dome intercepted 287 such rockets. Additionally, they note that 45% of Israelis live within rocket range of Hamas's missiles and rockets. That number is equivalent to 140 million Americans.
Would America or any other non-Muslim majority country live with such constant terror, such overwhelming vulnerability to genocidal forces?
And yet, demonstrations in favor of just such terrorism to exterminate the Jewish state have been taking place around the world. They are ugly, pre-planned, formulaic, and very, very loud. People scream, they do not talk; screamers do not listen to reason, they march to kill.
I recommend this book be put on the reading list of every American school.
--Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Author of Infidel and Nomad
This is a bold book, intimate and rich in detail… Chesler is a voice crying out for women. She will never stop
The 2011 Edition of Mothers on Trial
The 2009 Edition of