Two talented individuals from Israel channel their response to the natural world as the inspiration for their works of art. Raised on a kibbutz in Northern Israel, Zemer Peled is a maker of fine and decorative art who draws her imagery from the complex anatomies of fossils, flowers and marine life. French-born architect Ben Gitai incorporated raw materials from the Negev Desert to design and construct a shelter/observatory there intended for the contemplation of the night sky.
Dangerous, playful, brutal, sharp, soft, silky, furry, fibrous—all of these seemingly contradictory qualities can be used to describe Peled’s wildly colorful porcelain objects, plates and sculptures. In her hands, the shards, that fragment of glass or pottery unearthed at the archeological digs she often witnessed as a child, are transformed and enervated, becoming petals, leaves, tentacles, stems and thorns imbued with more than a hint of the animal or the human. From all this aliveness will eventually come decay and its aftermath, regeneration, a theme which Peled is constantly exploring.
In Peled’s temporary site-specific installations, process becomes inseparable from the environment that she envisions. For “Suspension” (2017), commissioned by the North Dakota Museum in Grand Forks, the artist built up dense tangles of tendril-like porcelain skeins and arranged them as cascading “spills” on the walls and near the ceiling of the space. The resulting effect of lightness and delicacy was an illusion that deceptively masked the precarious nature of the resulting constructions, all of which were in danger of toppling from their own weight. That the experience of “Suspension” was as ephemeral as music was demonstrated during a concert by Peled’s brother and collaborative partner, cello virtuoso Amit Peled, profiled in October 2018 during his concert “Journey with My Jewishness,” which was performed in the same space.
Peled studied at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem and obtained a degree from London’s Royal College of Art. She is now based in the United States.
Words conveying the essence of Gitai’s work might include “transformative,” “elemental” and “pure.” He heads a team of architects and designers in Haifa and Paris who assume an interdisciplinary approach to the inside and outside of a space, conceived as a total aesthetic entity, and which is also mindful of the heritage and work of local artisans. These projects, according to Gitai, invite “us to think beyond the traditional frames of architecture, landscape and building models. This supposes us to be open to new perceptions of know-how and technologies that rely on life models, that is to say on exchanges between materials and their elements…”
Just large enough to hold two occupants, Landroom, commissioned by the municipality of Mitzpe Ramon, is the name of his 20-square-foot shelter/observatory in the Negev. Distinguished by an austerity, almost a naturalness, which seamlessly blends the structure with its environment, the building seems to have emerged organically from desert sand and rocky terrain at its location to the west of the Mitzpe Ramon Crater. It is made from “rammed earth,” a moistened mixture of sand, stone and other elements—which were taken from the Mitzpe Ramon Crater—that is forced into a mold.
Landroom has been situated to provide shade throughout the day, while its circular interior and roof opening offers an optimal view of the sky. Aside from the built-in bench, the only embellishment is a stone bell suspended from the top of the window, whose ring functions as an accompaniment to the sound and sensation of the blowing wind.
In recognition of the still-innovative thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright and other leaders of the early 20th century Prairie School, the Jaffa Roof House, completed by Gitai and his associates in 2020, envisions the surrounding land and sea views of the ancient port city as integral components of the apartment’s interior. Strategically placed glass windows and multiple balconies “create an in & out spatial experience, where the outdoor merges with the indoor to create a unique flow based on light and nature.” Both the exterior and interior of the apartment are constructed with soil, straw and lime plaster—building materials which were “sourced from the local area” and which continue to be associated with Jaffa’s history.
The following is a letter I’ve sent to Chad Nackers, editor of “The Onion.” Although directed to that satirical newspaper, its core message applies to many outlets now catering to politically minded young people, particularly online.
Let me volunteer that I’ve been a diehard fan of The Onion. “Our Front Pages” and “Our Dumb World” enjoy a more prominent place in my home than I probably should admit.
I also hesitate to approach you with a substantive concern. Writing satirists a serious response to their work might seem a questionable choice.
I do so, though, because I know that even satirical publications can have a conscience—and many aim to balance or even guide their entertainment with a sense of social responsibility.
I’m writing about multiple posts by The Onion during the unnerving 11 days of the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
With headlines like “Palestinian Family Who Lost Home In Airstrike Takes Comfort In Knowing This All Very Complicated” and “Israel Returns Occupied Territories To Palestinians After Running Out Of Targets To Hit In Gaza,” in practically all of these stories, Palestinians feature exclusively as victims and Israelis feature exclusively as aggressors.
A quick search of your website finds the same stark pattern over a stunningly long period—with criticism even of Palestinian radicals last surfacing only years ago. A biting piece like “Crazed Palestinian Gunman Angered by Stereotypes” goes back all the way to 1997.
To be clear, I recognize and am pained by the suffering of every innocent person. And under normal circumstances, I’d welcome the dishing out of smart, good-natured mockery on an equal-opportunity basis. But seeing humanity and suffering on only one side of a conflict isn’t fair, and it isn’t funny.
I’m not going to litigate the conflict here—not the causes of Israel’s specific military actions, its efforts to try avoiding civilian casualties or the reasons for higher losses among Palestinians nonetheless.
This said, over recent weeks—and this conflict, of course, is not limited to recent weeks--millions of Israeli civilians were terrorized by more than 4,000 rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza. Their lives matter, too. Other countries would be expected to exact a massive response to much less.
Now, a few words about me.
I’m a Jew. Almost all of my grandfather’s family was murdered in the Holocaust. I still have the bullet that entered my grandfather’s back in a deliberate attempt to end his life, and mine, too. When as a boy, I visited his native Poland—home now to perhaps 10,000 Jews, where there were 3 million before the genocide—I was greeted with ubiquitous spray-painted swastikas, Stars of David on a gallows and the words Żydzi, wydostać się z Polski (“Jews, out of Poland”) on a synagogue.
Years later, I went to Israel, to take courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem—overwhelmingly a bastion of liberalism, where Arabs, Jews and others pursue higher learning together. That summer, the cafeteria of the university’s international school was bombed in an attack proudly claimed by Hamas. Nine people were killed, 100 were wounded, and countless more were traumatized.
Fast-forward to 2021, when my family members in Israel, including little children, have again repeatedly been forced to take cover from relentless assaults by fanatics who aren’t engaged in a limited territorial or political dispute with Israel but openly, doctrinally, pledge the destruction of the Jewish state in its entirety.
And now, in the United States, where I live, a spate of unprovoked attacks on Jews by pro-Palestinian extremists is being widely reported.
Well prior to the renewed hostilities in the Middle East, Jews—a small minority—were already by far the leading targets of faith-based hate crimes. In my community, some mothers now tell their children not to wear a skullcap or Star of David in public, even in America—far removed from the tensions in the Middle East.
One-sided “reporting” by a publication like The Onion might not seem to be the most critical problem today, and it’s not. But we could probably agree that your outlet can serve a vital role by giving readers a respite from the hardships they endure. Even more importantly, it can entrench prejudice or dispel it, exacerbate divisions or help ease them.
Young people in particular actually look to your “news” for just that—and this has implications in the real world. Even jokes carry a message and can imbibe assumed truths, especially when they are repeatedly reinforced.
Please ensure that your work does not erase the story and the experience of Israeli Jews.
Read David's expert analysis in JNS.
Remarkably few people know that the United Nations – with nearly 60 Muslim and Arab member states – condemns Israel more than it does all other countries combined.The only state routinely criticized by the Commission on the Status of Women? Israel.
The only state attacked by the World Health Assembly? Israel. The only state targeted by a permanent agenda item at the Human Rights Council? Not North Korea or Iran, but Israel.
One effort, though, to weaponize the UN against Israel was so offensive that it was repealed 30 years ago. In 1991, the General Assembly rescinded a resolution that singled out Jews’ self-determination movement, Zionism, for equation with racism.
Zionism simply means support for Israel’s right to exist in Jews’ sole historic homeland. Recognition of that right is almost universal.
As George H.W. Bush put it at the time, “To equate Zionism with the intolerable sin of racism is to twist history and forget the terrible plight of Jews in World War II and, indeed, throughout history. To equate Zionism with racism is to reject Israel itself.... This body cannot claim to seek peace and at the same time challenge Israel’s right to exist.”
Only a decade after Zionism-is-racism was repealed, however, its specter rose again. The UN’s 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, perversely became the latest symbol of anti-Zionism as the predominant contemporary assault on Jews’ identity, legitimacy and equal rights.
With a backdrop of shocking antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on Jewish attendees, Durban’s outcome document implied that Israel alone was a racist state. Its forum of non-governmental organizations went even further, calling Israel alone a “racist, apartheid regime” and featuring calls for economic warfare against it. Even Mary Robinson, the conference chairwoman, later acknowledged, “There was horrible antisemitism present.”
Nonetheless, in 2009, the follow-up Durban Review Conference hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-denier known for saying Israel would be wiped “off the map.” This September, the UN will “commemorate” Durban’s 20th anniversary.
And now, after the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas – a terrorist group whose explicitly antisemitic charter pledges Israel’s destruction – an unusual alliance between Palestinian activists and global progressives has not merely excoriated Israeli policy, but called it racist.
For these voices, Palestinian nationalism is embraced, but Israeli nationalism is demonized. Those who shun majoritarianism elsewhere, and would otherwise cry “no person is illegal,” overlook Arab conquests and discrimination, and stigmatize Jews as a “colonial” presence in the land from which they had been collectively exiled.
SINCE ISRAEL’S establishment, the number of Palestinians in the land has increased five-fold. In Arab countries, the number of Jews has plummeted from 850,000 to barely 5,000.
Of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with skin color, just territory and security.
No society is free of inequities or of prejudices. But in Israel – the Middle East’s sole democracy – Arabs, let alone Jews and other regional minorities, enjoy far more civil liberties than in any Arab country.
Moreover, Zionists span the political spectrum. On horrifying but exceedingly rare occasions when fringe Jewish fanatics have perpetrated lethal attacks against Arab civilians – in 1994, 2005 and 2015 – Israelis from Left to Right, including their national leaders, have reacted with nothing less than revulsion and denunciation.
During the same period, innumerable suicide bombings, rocket bombardments, shootings, stabbings, stoning attacks and hostage-takings have targeted Israelis. Not just do jihadists often celebrate this deliberate bloodshed by distributing candies on Palestinian streets, but mainstream Palestinian leaders regularly glorify the attackers as heroes and “martyrs.”
Over the past 75 years, Muslim citizens, mosques, Islamic schools and halal restaurants have not been attacked, by Zionists, as have Jews and Jewish institutions in the name of Palestinian nationalism across Europe and elsewhere. Such violence was repeated over recent days from Berlin to Los Angeles.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has now repeatedly called Israeli leaders “racist,” a label he hasn’t afforded Arabs or others. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, too, has smeared Israel alone as an “apartheid” state.
Jews and Arabs do not represent different “races,” and there is nothing more racist about Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, than the dozens of Christian, Muslim and other countries whose identity is reflected in their state symbols.
To call Israel – with its Arab justices, parliamentarians, diplomats, academics and business leaders – an apartheid state is to not know the meaning of apartheid. It also is to not know substantial Israeli attempts at peace with the Palestinians.
Martin Luther King Jr. and other luminaries of the civil rights movement recognized Jews’ disproportionate contribution to their struggle. In turn, they consistently defended Israel’s own right to acceptance and security. Said King, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews.”
On the hard Left no less than the hard Right, words matter and truth matters. The fight against racism is too important to be tarnished by ignorance, politics and bigotry.
Read David's expert analysis in the Jerusalem Post.
As far back as I can remember, my mother would always make us aware of anti-Semitism. Not necessarily from a historic perspective; her admonitions were about what she had seen and experienced in her life. One of the first stories I recall her telling was about a group of boys in her Maine neighborhood, after church let out on Sunday, who would throw snowballs at the Jewish kids, including her brothers, who lived nearby.
Or, she might talk about the German-American Bund, the pro-Nazi organization whose paramilitary-dressed thugs would hold rallies in New York in the 1930s, spouting the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Occasionally, she would tell us about Detroit’s Father Charles Coughlin, an early manipulator of the radio airwaves, who held millions in thrall with his raw brand of classic anti-Semitism, including charges of Jewish control of the banks and for bringing about the Bolshevik Revolution.
And then, there were real-time accounts of a customer who might come into our clothing store who complained about another shop owner who had just “Jewed” her on the price of some purchase. This didn’t happen often, but I heard it enough to be aware that these kinds of tropes were still on the lips of many in the 1950s and 1960s.
I knew, too, when my older sisters were applying to college, that certain schools imposed quotas on Jewish enrollment. Many hotels and resorts made no bones about the fact that they were unwelcoming to Jewish guests. We heard that banks, big insurance companies and other sectors of the economy were largely off-limits when it came to hiring Jews. There were neighborhoods and clubs where it was known Jews were not welcome. Jewish actors and entertainers chose to Anglicize their names so as to make their career paths less obstructed.
I think of all this when I try to comprehend and analyze the explosion of anti-Semitism we have experienced in the United States over the past few weeks. Our focus has been so much on European and Islamic anti-Semitism, that we may have become inured to it as hiring and other forms of day-to-day discrimination nearly disappeared, and over the past two generations life became immeasurably better for Jews. We concluded that we had entered a circle of acceptance we had never before reached.
When it comes to the rise in European anti-Semitism we’ve witnessed over the same period, I have often thought that it stems from two sources. One, is that there is a deep-seated resentment of Jews for reminding Europeans that they stood by, or actively participated in, the persecution of its Jewish community. Holocaust remembrance is not only for us, it is for everyone to know exactly how Jews became victims, with few hands to hold and to help during the attempts to exterminate us as a people. I’m not a psychoanalyst, but my sense is that many otherwise reasonable Europeans see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an opportunity to simply level the playing field. Yes, you were victims, but now you are the victimizer. End of argument.
Connected to this is the other source for so much of the anti-Semitism we’ve seen in Europe and now in the United States. It is the cover that “legitimate criticism of Israel” gives for those who think the creation of Israel was a grave mistake, or which for some reason it shouldn’t be allowed to be stronger than those who wish to destroy it. There is a perniciousness in this patronizing view of the Jewish state and of all the reasons why it came into existence in the first place.
But now, we are way beyond that.
The Jewish connection to Israel (it is, after all the Jewish state) has opened the floodgates of what appears to be bottled up hatred by a dizzying array of accusers that each day brings us new verbal and physical attacks we never thought possible in the United States. Beatings in New York City, the largest Jewish community in the world. Jewish diners being terrorized in laid back Los Angeles, a mob demanding to know which of them were Jewish. Members of Congress, filled with hubris from their-elected positions, lecturing us on dual-loyalty and Israel of being an “apartheid state” and engaging in “state terror.” University chancellors and mayoral candidates who first try to condemn anti-Semitism, but are later cowed into retracting, clarifying or apologizing for their remarks. So-called “influencers,” many of whom I am certain would have trouble finding Israel on a map of the world, shaping millennial and Generation Z public opinion into a chorus of rabid denigration of Israel and those who support it.
There is a piling on aspect to all this that cannot simply be laid at the feet of the proliferation of social media. I don’t know if it is resentment of what a small, historically persecuted people have been able to do with their lives to make the world a better place. Or, as many have said, it is the product of a progressive worldview on steroids, including intersectionality, which mindlessly, and in an ideologically hollow formula, places Israel in the role of “colonial oppressor.”
I do know this, for sure: we will not emerge from this well, unless respected voices and figures from outside our community, who see what is happening to us and know it is unacceptable, join the fight. What seems to be missing over the past few weeks are more of these folks, whether public officials, faith leaders, top CEOs, heads of leading non-profits and others. We have friends out there, but my sense is there is a strong measure of trepidation when it comes to incurring the wrath of progressives and the woke crowd or, that Jews can take care of this themselves, and don’t need assistance to win the day.
In our own community, we need to reassemble the kind of solidarity American Jewry has demonstrated in the past, but surprisingly seems to be out-of-date or anachronistic to some. Let’s be clear: the attacks on Jews in America’s cities, the demands by roving mobs to tell them if we are Jewish, and the swastika and graffiti daubers, are not making distinctions about our ideological proclivities, the level of our Zionist inclinations, or our party affiliation. This is everyone’s battle, and those who think they are immune from it, should immediately Google “recent acts of anti-Semitism.”
My mother would be tremendously disappointed by the anti-Semitism we are seeing today, but not completely surprised by it. She was brought to America as a child by parents seeking a better life, from a place that was sodden for centuries by anti-Semitism. They found it here, too, but the promise of a better day — for Jews and everyone else—was just around the corner. She lived to see tremendous advances over the decades, but realized that anti-Semitism is a virus that takes little to bring to the surface, to burn again, another day.
This is one of those times. Stunned as many are by it, this latest incarnation of the world’s oldest hatred mustn’t be allowed to fester and grow in a cloud of debating points over whether this is “anti-Semitism or is it just anti-Zionism.” Just ask the folks who were dining out when the passing mob demanded to know if they were Jewish or not.
It is not a cliche to say we need all hands on deck to fight this. We’re not living in 19th century or mid-1930s Europe. But this is a time for friends and allies to join us in calling out and acting against those who are engaging in these daily acts of intimidation and violence. We ourselves are capable of standing up to it, but to really send a message, it is vital that others be roused from complacency, and he heard.
As a community, we have given much to the building of American democracy and civilization. We took the promise of America at its word and have done everything imaginable to have it apply not only to us, but to all who live here. The strength of the Republic has been its diversity, and unlike the world of our forefathers in Europe, being Jewish means not living in fear of who we are and, in the case of the State of Israel, whom we choose to support.
In this hour of challenge, it is not too much to ask friends, neighbors, colleagues and so many others to join us in extinguishing the hatred that has manifested itself so blatantly, and in so many places and so many ways, in our very own country.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
There’s no right way to do something wrong, even for the venerable New York Times. Last week, with a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel just days old, the Times created a large block of 64 “headshots” to tease stories inside.
“They were just children,” stated a heading above the photos of 69 Palestinian youths reportedly killed in the conflict. The caption added, “They had wanted to be doctors, artists, and leaders.” The loss of life is enough of a tragedy, much less the lives of future doctors, artists, and “leaders.” How amazing that the terror group Hamas would put such talent in harm’s way.
Journalistically, the problem with this presentation is at least two-fold. First, there are no photographs of Israeli innocent residents, including children, who were indiscriminately killed by the rain of 4,300-plus rockets during the 11-day spree. Next, there was no reference to the roughly 50 of 200 or so Palestinian deaths that were victims of misfired Hamas missiles or those that fell short of targets in Israeli villages and cities. That’s quite a glaring omission for an international news organization.
Any reader with a heartbeat will feel anything from empathy to outrage against a perpetrator of such a result, particularly if the newspaper has a built-in bias against Israel, the Zionist entity that it wants you to believe targets innocent civilians, engages in apartheid policy, occupies stolen land as a step-child of the United States. It is clever work that most freedom-loving people would expect from government-run newspapers from Tehran, Moscow, or Beijing. But this was on the front page of The New York Times, winner of more than 130 Pulitzer Prizes since 1917.
As for the “doctors, artists and leaders,” what parent doesn’t have big dreams for their children? At the very least, parents want their children to be happy and prepare for full lives.
The problem with lofty career/life aspirations—doctors, artists, and leaders—is that Hamas can’t deliver that opportunity. Hamas has one goal—to train jihadists to create the Islamic state in place of Israel. More specifically, Hamas advocates the “obliteration or dissolution of Israel.”
As with the May 28 front-page presentation in The Times and ancient blood libels of pogroms and expulsions past, today’s lies inflame and incite acts of anti-Semitism in the United States with such terms as apartheid and stolen and occupied land. The charge that Israel intentionally targets children is simply false. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority know it. Most Western countries know it but fear reprisals in their own countries if they acknowledge it. Even radar images from Israel Defense Forces planes show bombing raids called off when images detect children.
The “nation” of Palestine lives daily in a fantasy: flags, rockets, and all. They do so in the United Nations and in foreign capitals to create an impression for cameras and social media propaganda. A generation with little education nor respect for history has accepted the propaganda. The Times has accepted it as if its readers were born yesterday.
Palestinian leaders seem to lack the appetite to negotiate differences with Israel. Victimhood certainly is more profitable, at least for warlords, than building an economy in which future doctors, artists, and leaders can flourish. Palestinians have even captured the imagination of movement-hungry Americans, even many Jews, who’ve swallowed hook, line, and sinker the Palestinians’ false narratives.
I hope the Palestinians find a way to build a nation of doctors, artists, and leaders in a future generation or sooner. I hope they take the 141 square miles in Gaza and portions of the West Bank to do so. I pray that the doctors, artists, and leaders show the capacity to partner with Israel, the “Startup Nation,” to build a real economy. Many already are. I truly hope they find the vision to replace actually starting wars with building an economy. The paradise that jihadists seek is available in demilitarized territories and along Gaza’s Mediterranean coastline.
Again, there is no right way to do something wrong. As for The Times, its writers and editors certainly have a right to their opinions. But the reputation and integrity of a news organization with a slew of Pulitzers depend on a full picture of valid and verifiable information, all presented responsibly. Only then will their example serve the future doctors, artists, and leaders to fuel a vision of working in tandem with Israel. Only through partnerships will the world find peace.
Read President Kaufman's expert take in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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