Design Politics of Racism in Israel (2018)


There is the racist content and the fascist friend/enemy crouch. There is evidence as to the way that religion, in this case, the religion of Judaism and the fear of Islam, is used to manipulate the political discourse in Israel, now dominated by the anti-democratic Jewish right. Also interesting about these posters for municipal elections in the town of Ramle and the city of Tel Aviv is that they are racist by “design.” Instead of crude graffiti of vandals, these are paid for by mainstream rightwing political parties, created by graphic design teams, distributed by an advertising company, and worked into the full view of the public sphere.

The text to the first image reads: There are hundreds of cases of assimilation in Ramle every year and no one cares. THIS COULD BE YOUR DAUGHTER. Only the Jewish Home Party can preserve/protect a Jewish Ramle. The Jewish daughter in hijab, the Shabbat table behind her.

The text to the second image reads: IT’S US OR THEM. The Hebrew city or the Islamic Movement in Jaffa. Only the Likud, The Right of Tel Aviv.

The third image shows the first image from Ramle destroyed. The posters were apparently taken down almost immediately. There, there is a price to be paid for the racism that reflects the current force of rightwing ethno-nationalism in Israel, one that forces a graphic split in the country on the basis of race and religion; in violation of democratic norms of equal citizenship enshrined in that country’s own Declaration of Independence.


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(Not a Symbol) Bright Menorah Fresco in Dark Place (Catacomb Vill Torloni)

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Apart from providing some historical background information, the best thing about this article in Haaretz which you can read here about the restoration work on the Jewish catacomb  in Villa Torloni concerns the conflict and compromise between the religion and science (human bones found at the site were re-interred according to Jewish law without forensic anthropologists being allowed to study them). Consider also how the article reflects (poorly) on the poverty of discourse in visual culture by archaeologists, vested as they are in the idea of “symbols.”

In this banal way of looking at things, a painted fresco has to be a symbol of “something,” if not of Jewish peoplehood, then relating to the destruction of the Temple, a communal tragedy. But is there anything doleful about this image, framed in by delicate decorative devices? No, the painted menorah in a Jewish catacomb is not a symbol mourning the Temple or standing in for Jewish peoplehood.

In significant part, the locus of the image (where it is placed) is what determines the meaning of the image. That means that the meaning of the image relates to death. Why else is it there? Like the original menorah from it was most likely modelled, presumably the famous menorah taken from the Jerusalem Temple and stored by the Romans in the so-called Temple of Peace where other war trophies were kept, this menorah in the catacomb is tucked away in dark space which only its lights illuminate.

In pagan, Christian, and Jewish catacomb art, the image signals piety, devotion, eschatological salvation. Setting aside the appearance of multiple menorot, maybe E.R. Goodenough was onto something when he speculated that the Menorah is, in fact, a symbol; not a symbol of Israel, but rather a symbol of God, “streaming Light and Law,” Tree of Life, the astral path to God, and the mediating female principle, the Mother” (Jewish Symbols in the Greco Roman Period [abridged version], p.113).

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Conference: A German-Jewish Hermeneutics (Lehigh) (Oct. 29-30)

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Genesis High Sublime English Bourgeois Dudgeon (Hertz Commentary)


At Ansche Chesed the old Hertz edition of Pentateuch & Haftorah sit off neglected in the row of pews to the right and to the left of the two large rows of pews occupying the center column of the sanctuary. There, the old Hertz, which dominated liberal synagogues for decades has long since been replaced by the bound in red, more up to date, and but never quite as gripping Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. 

The Hertz was edited by Dr. J H. Hertz, C.H., referred to in the cover page as “the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire.” A first edition was published in 1936, and it is everything you would expect, or maybe not from that time and place. Hide-bound, it stands out as a masterpiece of modern right-leaning conservative Jewish apologetics. With a critical eye on modern science, its main object of ire is biblical criticism

As is my habit, I tend to occupy a place in the pews way back on the far side of the pews, stage right/audience left and to stage, which I share with the old Hertz Pentateuch. In my capacity as an intellectual historian of modern Judaism, I go take a peek every now and then to see what my nieghbor had to say about this or that passage in the weekly Torah reading.

The commentary-notes in the Hertz to the opening lines of Genesis convey in a nutshell the animating aesthetic of the biblical text, or to be more precise and sceptical, of the Hertz commentary.

In the beginning: A “majestic summary.” “God is the beginning, nay the Cause of all things.” The “Calling of matter into being and the reduction of chaos to ordered arrangement.” God. Heb. Eloheim: The existence of the Deity “assumed,” “fountain and source of all things” and “plentitude of might.” Created: The Hebrew word is “singular,” exclusive to Divine activity.” Earth: material. The Deep. Heb tehom: abyss. Spirit of God: mysterious, unseen, irresistible presence. And finally, Hovered: The Hebrew word appears in only one other place. God’s quickening spirit transforming material into a living world. And then the Hertz offers to the English speaking reader this “translation” from the Jerusalem Targum, “And the earth was vacancy and desolation, solitary of the sons of men and void of every animal, and darkness was upon the face of the abyss; and the Spirit of Mercies from before the Lord, breathed upon the face of the waters.

Yes, stuffy, old-fashioned and in high English bourgeois dudgeon, and because of that so utterly superior in style to its new English language successors in the American synagogue. Where the Etz Hayyim tries to teach and to explain, the Hertz performs. When turned to with a sympathetic eye, its place and time from so long ago now actually contribute their own liturgical aura to the reading of Torah in the synagogue. I’ll return to the Hertz here at the blog when the occasion demands, adding my own apologetic to all things old and archaic, made queer by the passage of time.

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Lara Alqasem & Study Abroad in Israel


The story about Lara Alqasem, about which you can read here, is a far more serious threat to academic study abroad programs in Israel than this or that professor or TA refusing to write letters of recommendation to students interested in going to Israel to study for a semester. Alqasem is a Palestinian American student accepted to an MA program at the Hebrew University to study human rights. Detained for almost a week at Ben Gurion International Airport, she is not being let into the country by the government which found her name listed among supporters of  BDS. First and foremost is the gross injustice to Alqaem as a person and the suffering caused her. Second is that these kinds of actions on the part of the Israeli government will more than warrant calls in the United States to cancel programs of study at Israeli universities for American students. This would be based on the principle that American universities should not be in the business of supporting programs not open to every student, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and politics. Consider signing this petition here on her behalf.

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(Political Icon of Northern Aggression) November 2018 Feels Like the Civil War (William Tecumseh Sherman)


I’ll confess that during these days of rage what brings out the worst in me are the stories about Trump, the GOP, and rightwing radio jocks revving up the base with vicious attacks against Blasey-Ford and Ramirez because they think/know that this could stop the blue wave in the November elections. Then, of course, there is the rising visibility of confederate flags and statues in the public sphere, children in detention camps. One can read in the history books about how senators from the antebellum south physically assaulted northern senators on the floor of the Senate. I try to remember that there are more of “us” than “them.” That one can reasonably suspect that so many of the people who don’t support Blasey-Ford are from southern, deep Red states has me thinking about this aggressive and ragged looking photograph of William Tecumseh Sherman as a political icon for today.

Yes, Carol Zemel, I have got to get a grip. But writing here in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin said something along the same lines about political war in the age of Trump: However, in producing a worthless investigation and declaring open season on sex-crimes victims, Republicans push women out of the party and onto political war-footing. If power politics is what the Republicans want, women and others in the anti-Republican coalition (male and female Democrats, independents and ex-Republicans) will learn to play just as fiercely.



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Pontius Pilate Was a Hottie


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