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Yiddish in the Age of Identity

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by Lina “Khave” Morales

From the Spring 2017 issue of Jewish Currents

LATE LAST December, I went to an event that promised to do something I’m always striving to do and mostly failing at: organically bringing together parts of my identity that I usually count as disparate and disconnected. The occasion was a performance of Sholem Asch’s play Got fun Nekome (“God of Vengeance”), which one hundred years ago shocked the Yiddish theater world for its focus on brothels and lesbianism. I had read the play years ago, tipped off to its existence by a sympathetic Yiddish teacher who knew I was a lesbian. Reading it was only a start to my personal project of having as a full range of vocabulary and expressions to describe my queer life in Yiddish as I do in English, but seeing the play performed, seeing my Yiddish and lesbian worlds brought together even for a night, was a delight.

Even though I was in New York, the world capital of the Yiddish language, where you can hear it in the streets and on the subway, and even though there was a full, talented cast of native or otherwise fluent Yiddish speakers, and even with friends in the audience whom I recognized from the Yiddishist circles in which I am active, while waiting in line to get my tickets, I overheard an ignorant woman loudly asking her friend if anyone still speaks that language, then confidently exclaiming that it’s just German, really.

I responded first in English, and then with a more aggravated tone in Yiddish, to really get my point across to the entire room. But as any Yiddishist will tell you, hardly a public event about Yiddish can pass without someone having to address the most basic misconceptions about the language. Likewise, it’s a rare occurrence when I present all my identities without someone expressing shock and wonderment at the very idea that these identities can coexist.


WHEN I was growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, Yiddish was little more than a punchline. There were even a few headlines proclaiming the death of the language, and even my gentile friends seem relieved that such an “ugly” language had disappeared. I never heard my last living link to Yiddish, my great-great uncle Yale, who immigrated from Lithuania, say a positive word about the language. (As I found out later, he was of course not named after the WASP-heavy university; ‘Yale’ or ‘Yeyl’ was the Lithuanian Yiddish pronunciation of Yoel.) Only by reading about Jewish history and culture did I get my first hints that Yiddish was the foundation of an entire culture, a language of more than shmalts and funny words.

The public profile of Yiddish has changed for the better — even if misconceptions about it haven’t gone away — as part of a general flowering of identity politics, helped by the internet’s ability to build online community. Many children of assimilated Jews, who have become another “ethnic white” American community, are searching for something more meaningful in their heritage than the usual chasing-the-American-Dream immigrant story. Young Jews are wondering what was lost in the process of becoming comfortable white Americans, or even if that was a worthwhile goal in the first place. Whiteness, as an unmarked hegemonic identity, is on the defensive against a chorus of people of color who consider it only an oppressive construct. Whether recognizing their privilege or emphasizing their differences from white gentiles,  young white Jews are more than ever having fierce debates about where they stand vis-a-vis whiteness and white supremacy.

Yiddish, a Jewish language that has been scorned for as long as it’s been spoken, a language that didn’t just slide out of use but was actively discouraged by parents who spoke it and children who didn’t, was an obvious candidate for reclamation.

I personally came to Yiddish in my late twenties, after many years of disconnection from Jewish community. I became a bas mitsve in a standard Reform temple, complete with both an American and an Israeli flag on the bima, that taught me little about Judaism and nothing about yidishkayt. Being biracial and Latina, I didn’t look (white Ashkenazi) Jewish and didn’t have a name that sounded Jewish. Even in New York, no one read me as Jewish.

I could have easily discarded my Jewishness, as my own brother did, and no one would have noticed. The only time I was speaking publicly as a Jew was in the context of my activism in solidarity with the Palestinian people. But was my Jewishness only defined by my objection to Zionism? Didn’t I rail against those Jews whose Jewishness was only expressed through slavish defense of the state of Israel? Given all my differences from the hegemonic Jewish community, was there no place for me?

Yiddish held the promise of a Jewishness not defined by Zionism or any specific political project. Modern Israeli Hebrew, a language whose revival was a definite goal of the Zionist movement, makes me think of the tanned soldiers and women wearing bikinis that I saw on a Tel Aviv beach as a teenager on my Birthright trip. Most of my Birthright peers found the idea of tanned, buff, and militaristic Jews fulfilling and exciting, but I found them alienating and more than a little problematic, since I knew what cruelties some of those buff soldiers were committing against the Palestinian people. Yiddish, on the other hand, offered a real and deep Ashkenaziness, an alternative to the endless caricaturization. To learn Yiddish was to go against the current of assimilation and Zionism, to reclaim the nebbish shtetl Jew that most Jews found an embarrassing relic. Learning Yiddish was almost contrarian, and that sounded to me like the theme of my life.

Of course, this was the theory — I didn’t know until later that learning Yiddish was accessible for people who weren’t academics. I was reading a book about Yiddish radicals in early 20th-century New York City, when a friend more in the know pointed me towards Yiddish classes to take, and living Yiddishist communities to join.


FROM YIDDISH communities, I’ve gained a bridge to yidishkayt and to having a strong Jewish identity. Yiddish communities are some of the most diverse Jewish communities I’ve ever been in, a mix of lefties, liberals and rightists, from completely secular people to modern Orthodox and haredim (ultra-Orthodox), with not much but some racial and class diversity, and even a few goyim! In Yiddish communities, there’s space for people leaving the haredi world to socialize with people entering Orthodoxy. With some exceptions, most of the community is made of people who decided as adults to learn Yiddish and become as fluent as possible in it ­—  in other words, committed nerds.

In Yiddish community, I’m surrounded by people who take Ashkenazi history and culture seriously in all its facets, and don’t try to play to popular culture to attract young Americanized Jews. I’ve had my most meaningful experiences as a Jew having shabbes at Yiddish-Vokh (a week-long Yiddish immersive retreat held every August) or at Yiddish New York dancing to incredible klezmorim. And I’ve wondered: why don’t other Ashkenazi Jews have access to this? What are the forces in Jewish communities that made Ashkenazi Jews only approach this culture with derision and irony?

In Yiddish communities, we have enough to talk about that the conversation doesn’t automatically float towards Israel/Palestine. Even in a community with a lot of Zionists, that’s powerful. Also through Yiddish, I have access to a treasury of Jewish thought that deals with many of the same questions that American Jews deal with today, but with a much broader range of views, including a tradition of radical and anti-Zionist Jewish thought that makes it clear that my politics and values are the farthest thing from assimilation or self-hatred.

After a Reform Jewish education that taught me to view Orthodox people as anachronistic reactionaries, I have, in Yiddish circles, met and befriended Orthodox people for the first time, and realized the beauty, complexity and diversity of the Orthodox world. Even the most secular people in Yiddish communities have respect for Judaism and understand that you can’t isolate it out of Jewish culture or mark a clear division between Jewish religion and culture. This has led me to engage seriously with traditional Judaism; the first time I studied Talmud and realized it was meaningful to me, it was in Yiddish translation at Yiddish-Vokh.


NOTWITHSTANDING the positives that Yiddish has brought to my life, I don’t want to convey the naive attitudes of my early Yiddishist years. Learning Yiddish isn’t by itself revolutionary or radical by any means. No language is inherently political in that way. Learning Yiddish can connect you to your heritage, but it doesn’t dictate what you choose to do with that. Plenty of Yiddish-speaking Jews have terrible and reactionary politics. De-assimilating doesn’t mean a white Ashkenazi Jew will take a critical stance towards whiteness. I still definitely encourage all Ashkenazi people I know to learn Yiddish, but that’s a cultural project, not a political one.

From my Mizrakhi friends and comrades, I’ve learned that Yiddish can even be used as a tool of exclusion and oppression. An older Mizrakhi professor told me that she knew of Yiddish only as the source of racial slurs against Mizrakhi people before she met Yiddishists in the U.S. We shouldn’t forget that in Israel, Golda Meir participated in the denigration of non-Ashkenazi Jews in Israeli society by calling a group of recently arrived Russian immigrants “real Jews,” saying, “Every loyal Jew must speak Yiddish, for he who does not know Yiddish is not a Jew.” Many Mizrakhi and Sephardi people have been erased and repressed by the idea that Yiddish and the shtetl represent an authentic Jewishness in a way that Judeo-Arabic and the shkhuna (neighborhood) don’t. Even as Yiddish is being preserved, other Jewish languages that are part of Mizrakhi heritage are in danger of dying out.

Yiddish is gaining in profile, but it’s far away from being the language of the majority of the Jewish people, as it was before the Holocaust. Every Yiddishist has to face the fact that the community that sustains Yiddish as a living language is the haredi world. In addition, the standard Yiddish that most students learn in college or at the Workmen’s Circle is significantly different from the Yiddish you hear on the streets of Boro Park or Kiryas Yoel. Even as the haredi Yiddish world interacts more and more with non-haredi Yiddish circles, there’s a lot of ribbing of “Yiddishist Yiddish” by those who are native speakers of haredi Yiddish. This can lead secular Yiddishists, who worry about lacking authenticity, to fetishize haredim or even, on occasion, to become frum themselves. Even as we say “beser a tsebrokene Yiddish vi a fleysik english” (“Better to speak a broken Yiddish than a fluent English”), it’s hard to suppress the reflex to reach back to a long gone Yiddishland and create something new. An Israeli friend who enjoys my Yiddish obsession (and my intense love for the Israel TV series Shtitl, which features Yiddish-speaking Lithuanian haredi Jews) recently described me as a shtetl fetishizer, and I couldn’t say that was completely false. I know I can’t and really shouldn’t want to recreate the shtetl, but it’s no easy task to create new and diverse Yiddish culture and community that could be a strong alternative to assimilation and Americanization.

Outside of tight-knit haredi communities, there’s a lot more money and resources for Yiddish as a cultural resource than as a living language. Plenty of money goes towards teaching people Yiddish so they can read Yiddish books and sing Yiddish songs and produce scholarship on Yiddish culture, but precious little goes towards building Yiddish-speaking communities. Yiddish Farm, for example, is one of the only Yiddish institution that not only teaches Yiddish but provides an environment to live in Yiddish — yet in order to build Yiddish community, we need a lot more than a farm or week-long vacations. (Besides, not all Jews are comfortably middle-class and can devote time to week-long language retreats!)

Inspired by friends who done it, I’ve decided a few years ago that when I get married and start a family, I want to raise my children with Yiddish. This would be a difficult task in the easiest of times, and with the Trump presidency and the rise of white supremacist forces, it seems positively dangerous. All manner of fascists are coming out of the woodwork, and antisemitism is still on their agenda.

Of course, I can’t guarantee that if I raise my children with Yiddish, that they’ll care enough to speak it as adults or raise their children with it. But, with all my identities, I’m used to doing too much. I hope that, like me, they’ll recognize their heritage as difficult but ultimately a gift.

Lina “Khave” Morales is a biracial Latina Ashkenazi Jew from Chicago. She began learning Yiddish in 2010. She works as a teacher and is an organizer and educator in Palestinian solidarity and anti-fascist activism.

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Israel’s One-State Movement in the Spotlight

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by Ron Skolnik

from the Spring 2017 issue of Jewish Currents

FOR DECADES, the right wing has been Israel’s version of the “Party of No.” Just as Republicans in America threw up a wall of obstruction to prevent President Obama from advancing his policy agenda for eight years, so has the bevy of rightwing activists, parties, and organizations in Israel, since the 1993 Oslo Accord, pursued a “Strategy of No” meant to stymie the efforts of the international community and of the occasional center-left Israeli government to achieve a two-state compromise to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But with Binyamin Netanyahu securely ensconced as prime minister since March 2009 — the longest period of unalloyed rightwing dominance in Israel’s history — many in the settlement and occupation movement are coming to realize that they cannot forever only play the role of naysayers. Israel’s citizens are looking to those in power for practical solutions and a clear vision of the future, not simply contrarianism and rejectionism. If not two states, the opponents of partition are repeatedly asked, then what?

In recent years, Israel’s right wing has been constructing answers to this question, building an alternative to the land-for-peace discourse. Emboldened by the failure of successive American administrations to convert diplomatic energy into a concrete peace deal, Israel’s rightwing leaders have been shedding their defensive posture, pronouncing the two-state solution dead, and telling the world to prepare for permanent Israeli control of the entire area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea (variously known as Greater Israel and Mandatory Palestine). Once upon a time, such calls were restricted to an extremist fringe, but one-state ideas are now embraced by senior members of the governing coalition, including Cabinet members from the ruling Likud party.

More recently, Israeli rightists have taken another step toward annexation by translating their slogans of intent into numerous outlines of what a one-state future for Israelis and Palestinians would ultimately look like. The various plans differ in their specifics but are all based on a common illiberal goal: extending Israeli sovereignty into the West Bank without allowing the Palestinians the democratic representation needed to imperil Jewish control.

It was to these plans that Donald Trump was apparently alluding when, at a February press conference with Netanyahu, he stated that he was “looking at two-state and at one-state” and could live with either. (Back in the early 1970s, the Palestine Liberation Organization called for a single “secular democratic state” in which Jews and Arabs would live together on equal footing, but it is highly doubtful that this was the framework to which Trump was referring, if he is even aware of it.)

OF RIGHTWING Israel’s many proposals, the most well-known is the so-called “Stability Initiative,” initially publicized in late 2012 by Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, chair of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party. Ruling out the feasibility of any compromise arrangement with the Palestinians (it’s “childish,” he says, to insist that every problem has a solution), and acknowledging that full annexation would undo Israel’s Jewish majority, Bennett proposes, instead, that Israel annex “Area C,” the 60 percent of the West Bank where all of Israel’s 400,000 settlers (not including in East Jerusalem) live and where, under the Oslo Accords, Israel maintains absolute interim control. Per the plan, the Palestinians living in Area C would be offered either Israeli citizenship or “permanent residency,” a status comparable to America’s green card, but without a path to citizenship. The estimated number of Area C Palestinians varies widely, from 50,000, per the Israeli army, to some 300,000 according to UN reports.

Bennett proposes, furthermore, that the approximately 2.5 million Palestinians living in the remainder of the West Bank in a series of non-contiguous enclaves known as Areas A and B be allowed “self-rule” — a code word in Israel for stateless, local autonomy. He sugarcoats his initiative with a call to establish a “Marshall Plan for Judea and Samaria,” using the Biblical name for the West Bank. The status of Gaza under the “Stability Initiative” would remain unchanged.

Bennett argues smugly that the international community will bark but not bite, should Israel implement his plan. “And what will the world say?” asks the narrator of the snappy YouTube video promoting Bennett’s program, before answering: “The world doesn’t recognize Israel’s sovereignty in [East] Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. So Area C can be added to the list!”

The plan, it should be noted, in no way relinquishes claims to the remaining, un-annexed portion of the West Bank: Israel, Bennett emphasizes, would “not concede [any] piece of land.” His party colleague, Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel, sharpened the picture last June by indicating that partial annexation would be just Stage One: “If someone asks about Areas A and B,” he said, “their time will come . . .  For now, let’s agree on Area C.”

Bennett’s implicit goal is to add to Israel “maximum territory, minimum Arabs” — a phrase used explicitly by Dr. Yoaz Hendel, former head of National Hasbara, the government’s public relations unit, under Netanyahu and currently the chair of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. The approach is far from novel: The same principle was employed by Israel’s Labor-led government following the war in 1967 when it decided where to expand the boundaries of Jerusalem before annexing to Israel the enlarged municipal area.

Hendel, believing that full annexation would be financially unbearable and a gateway to binationalism, wants Israel to annex the major settlement blocs as well as the Jordan Valley, a total area, he calculates, which makes up “only” 30 percent of the West Bank. Palestinians in the annexed region would be granted full Israeli citizenship. The Palestinian Authority would be allowed to control Areas A and B, 40 percent of the West Bank, and could call itself an “expanded autonomy, a demilitarized state or the third Palestinian empire, as far as I’m concerned,” Hendel remarked snidely. The remaining 30 percent of the West Bank would be considered a “disputed zone” where the status quo of occupation would continue. Even with this, Hendel doesn’t really mean what he says: The Palestinian entity could control its own economy and internal affairs, but it would be forbidden to take in Palestinian refugees and would need to remain completely permeable to the entry of Israeli security forces. To underscore his emphasis on Israeli dominance, Hendel says his proposed arrangement would be imposed unilaterally by Israel, without any negotiation with the Palestinians themselves.

NOT EVERYONE on the Israeli right is enamored of the relative ‘magnanimity’ and ‘moderation’ of such proposals. MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Jewish Home), for example, rejects the piecemeal approach of her party leader, Bennett. Talk of partial annexation is mistaken, she says, because it would continue to give the Palestinians hope. It is “necessary to make clear,” she stated, “that the goal is application of Israeli law over the entire . . . Land of Israel.”

Journalist and activist Caroline Glick, who writes for the rightwing Makor Rishon and is deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, believes that mentioning even reduced Palestinian statehood, as in Hendel’s plan, poses a danger to Israel. She therefore demands a full if gradual annexation of the entire West Bank. (As with Bennett’s plan, she does not relate to the Gaza Strip.) Using sketchy demographic claims that Israel’s right has adopted, but which are rejected by the Israeli army, Glick foresees a Greater Israel in fifty years with “nine to ten million Jews . . . and an Arab minority of three to four million.” But while Glick and others peddle the claim that her plan involves the full naturalization of West Bank Palestinians, her many stipulations belie its “One Person, One Vote” character. Asked whether her outline would allow Arabs to vote for Knesset, Glick replies: “Some will and some won’t . . . We’re not giving full rights, and certainly not suffrage rights, to anyone who belongs to a terrorist organization or the Palestinian Authority apparatus. All those will have to undergo de-Nazification.”

She fails to mention that the Palestinian Authority employs a whopping 150,000 people, and that huge numbers of West Bank residents have been affiliated over the years with the PLO, which she continues to categorize as a terrorist group. In other words, a huge portion of the Palestinian population would be denied voting rights. Glick’s plan also includes a period of disenfranchised local autonomy (of undefined length) that would precede any steps toward naturalization.

To accomplish her plan, Glick believes Israel should be “reducing our . . . dependence upon the United States.” Overall, though, she is not particularly concerned by international reaction, and, like Bennett, believes the world would do nothing to stop Israel. Annexation might not be formally recognized, but “so what?” she quips.

MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Miki Zohar, of the Jewish Home and Likud parties, respectively, are even more explicit about the permanent disenfranchisement that awaits Palestinians under annexation. Here’s Smotrich at an October 2015 public forum (note again the alternative-facts demography): “They tell us that we will have to give citizenship to a million and a half Arabs, but I say that if we must choose between democratic and Jewish, I have no doubt what I would choose. . . [T]here are models of democracy in the world that do not give citizenship.” An even more plainspoken Zohar has stated that “we must not give [the Palestinians] citizenship” when Israel annexes the territories. Denying West Bank Palestinians the right to vote, he stresses, is essential to the one-state plan.

SCHEMES FOR ISRAELI domination of the West Bank are indeed springing up like mushrooms after the rain. A “Jordan is Palestine” plan would keep the West Bank in Israel’s hands but turn its Palestinian population into Jordanian expatriate citizens, making them the political and economic responsibility of the Hashemite Kingdom. A plan put forth by Dr. Mordechai Kedar insists that Palestinians have no actual national aspirations, are tribal in identity, and regard the local sheikh as the only true leader. Hence, with clear echoes of South African Bantustans, he calls for turning the seven major West Bank cities (not including East Jerusalem) into disconnected “city-states” or “emirates” that would handle economic affairs and other local matters. Israel would control all the territory outside these cities; the Palestinians living there would be allowed to stay, and “might” be granted Israeli citizenship if they were “peaceful.”

Moshe Feiglin, a former Likud MK who has formed his own far-right Zehut (“Identity”) party, believes that Israel should exploit future military campaigns in the West Bank and Gaza (which are “just a matter of time”) in order to expand sovereignty over the entire territory. Palestinians would be given three options: “voluntary emigration with the aid of a generous emigration grant;” permanent residency for “those Arabs who publicly declare their loyalty to the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish Nation;” and a “long-term process of attaining citizenship” that would be “reserved for relatively few Arabs, and only in accordance with Israeli interests.” Feiglin compares his plan to the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by the U.S. (which “did not grant citizenship to the local residents for decades”), and argues that it is “perfectly fine . . . to create a separate civil status” for non-Jews, because the “State of Israel was established to be the state of the Jewish Nation.”

One Likud activist has been pushing a plan to have the international community create a fund that would encourage Arabs to emigrate, not just from the West Bank and Gaza but from Israel proper. Another suggestion would have Israel neutralize the voting power of newly enfranchised West Bank Palestinians by scrapping the country’s proportional electoral system in favor of gerrymandered districts. The result: “In Israel, just like in America, it will be possible to lose the popular vote and still win the national election.”

Not all one-state plans are necessarily anti-democratic. Israel’s primarily ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin, a member of the Likud party’s more liberal old guard, recently declared that he supported the application of Israeli sovereignty to the entire West Bank. However, he stressed, “[i]f we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all,” because “[a]pplying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there.” There can be “no separate law for Israelis and for non-Israelis,” Rivlin stated.

Such proposals, which were once politically marginal, are now gaining mainstream traction. A January-February 2017 poll revealed that fully 37 percent of Jewish Israelis (32 percent of Israelis overall) favor “annexing large parts of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank” in the wake of Trump’s election, with 53 percent of Israeli Jews opposed. Even more worryingly, in response to a separate question about a hypothetical annexation, only one quarter of Jewish Israelis said that the Palestinian residents of Israeli-annexed territories should become citizens. Sixty-two percent felt they should either be given a non-voting residency status (30 percent) or that their status under the Occupation should continue unchanged (32 percent).

One can even notice some blending of late between leftwing and rightwing visions. Dovish Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua, while proclaiming continued fealty to the two-state approach, has called for a “partial solution” that would grant Israeli residency without voting rights to the Palestinians living in Area C, “in order to ease the burden of the occupation.” Such a residency status, he argues, would afford these Palestinians “social security benefits, health care, unemployment benefits, minimum wage, freedom of movement, and a stronger legal status” vis-à-vis Israel’s occupation authorities. Yehoshua explains that his proposal is an expression of the “humanitarian duty to reduce human suffering.”

THEN THERE IS the Two States One Homeland organization. While its program is not rightwing in the classic sense, it has drawn support from a slice of the settlement movement due to its call for a two-state “Open Land” regime, under which citizens of Israel and of a future State of Palestine would be allowed to live, travel, work and trade anywhere in either country. In other words, settlers would be allowed to dwell in the West Bank and Gaza, but would need to accept Palestinian sovereignty if residing there within the borders of a Palestinian state.

Not all Israelis are lining up for annexation. Political centrists such as Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, which polls as the second most popular party in Israel, and former foreign minister MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) continue to adhere to the “two states for two peoples” idea. Speaking to the BBC after the Trump-Netanyahu confab, Livni maintained that “the conflict is a national conflict between two national movements . . . Zionism . . . and the national Palestinian movement . . . Each people [must] implement [its] own right of self-determination.” A former Likudnik, Livni said she would fight against any annexation plan that turns Israel into an apartheid state. She also dismissed Rivlin’s democratic one-state approach as well-intentioned but naïve. The outcome, she warned, “would not be living happily ever after,” it would be “bloody.”

Even some rightwingers are urging restraint, such as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who cautioned that an annexation of territory by Israel would precipitate an “immediate crisis” with the U.S. and countries the world over. He told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the coalition government “should clearly state that there is no intention to impose [Israeli] sovereignty.”

But with the two-state ideal having failed to deliver and growing increasingly musty, momentum is on the side of Israeli expansionists, who feel the time is ripe to move their fight from the public square into the legislative realm. On February 6, the Knesset passed a law, with the backing of Netanyahu, that allows Israel to expropriate Palestinian private property in the Occupied Territories if settlers have “inadvertently” trespassed upon it and created a settlement there.

MKs from the “Land of Israel caucus,” with the support of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, are pushing a new bill that would annex Ma’aleh Adumim, a settlement city (population 40,000) just east of Jerusalem. The city is generally expected to remain part of Israel under any future peace accord. But Jewish public opinion in Israel seems ready to take unilateral steps and not wait for that deal: A 2016 poll found that 78 percent of Israeli Jews would back the bill, with 60 percent maintaining that support even when told that it might elicit harsh international reaction.

For his part, Netanyahu prevaricates, seeking to please his rightwing allies without overstepping what the United States will allow. While the majority of Knesset members elected in 2015 support a two-state solution, he has forged an enduring coalition dominated by those who don’t. When speaking to foreign audiences, Netanyahu pays lip service to the two-state formula (although at his February press conference with Trump, he dismissed the phrase as an unhelpful “label”). Yet he demands preconditions — including full, ongoing Israeli security control of the West Bank — that align him with the fundamentals of the one-state camp.

Netanyahu conditionally agreed to a future Palestinian state in his much-discussed 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, but he has never sought either his party’s or his government’s backing for these words, and he makes no effort to rein in his many coalition colleagues who are campaigning in favor of annexation. He has also stated that his personal “vision” is to “enact sovereignty over all the settlements” [emphasis added] spread out across Area C — a broad hint at his own support for annexation of at least that major section of the West Bank.

Unless called to order by the Trump administration, Netanyahu, who faces no imminent electoral threat, is likely to continue his one-state/two-state tightrope act for the foreseeable future, while his government expands settlements, approves laws and implements other measures that lead Israel ever further down the path toward an undemocratic one-state future.

Ron Skolnik (@Ron_Skolnik) is associate editor of Jewish Currents. His writings have been published in Haaretz, The Jerusalem Report, Tikkun, Palestine-Israel Journal and elsewhere. He previously served as political adviser to the British Embassy in Israel and as director of Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA).

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The 100-year-old challenge to Darwin that is still making waves in research : Nature News & Comment

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Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty

The shape of this chambered nautilus is one of many biological features that D’Arcy Thompson used maths to explain.

This year marks the centenary of what seems now to be an extraordinary event in publishing: the time when a UK local newspaper reviewed a dense, nearly 800-page treatise on mathematical biology that sought to place physical constraints on the processes of Darwinism.

And what’s more, the Dundee Advertiser loved the book and recommended it to readers. When the author, it noted, wrote of maths, “he never fails to translate his mathematics into English; and he is one of the relatively few men of science who can write in flawless English and who never grudge the effort to make every sentence balanced and good.”

The Dundee Advertiser is still going, although it has changed identity: a decade after the review was published, it merged with The Courier, and that is how most people refer to it today. The book is still going, too. If anything, its title — alongside its balanced and good sentences — has become more iconic and recognized as the years have ticked by.

The book is On Growth and Form by D’Arcy Thompson. This week, Nature offers its own appreciation, with a series of articles in print and online that celebrate the book’s impact, ideas and lasting legacy.

Still in print, On Growth and Form was more than a decade in the planning. Thompson would regularly tell colleagues and students — he taught at what is now the University of Dundee, hence the local media interest — about his big idea before he wrote it all down. In part, he was reacting against one of the biggest ideas in scientific history. Thompson used his book to argue that Charles Darwin’s natural selection was not the only major influence on the origin and development of species and their unique forms: “In general no organic forms exist save such as are in conformity with physical and mathematical laws.”

Biological response to physical forces remains a live topic for research. In a research paper, for example, researchers report how physical stresses generated at defects in the structures of epithelial cell layers cause excess cells to be extruded.

In a separate online publication (K. Kawaguchi et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature22321; 2017), other scientists show that topological defects have a role in cell dynamics, as a result of the balance of forces. In high-density cultures of neural progenitor cells, the direction in which cells travel around defects affects whether cells become more densely packed (leading to pile-ups) or spread out (leading to a cellular fast-lane where travel speeds up).

A Technology Feature investigates in depth the innovative methods developed to detect and measure forces generated by cells and proteins. Such techniques help researchers to understand how force is translated into biological function.

Thompson’s influence also flourishes in other active areas of interdisciplinary research. A research paper offers a mathematical explanation for the colour changes that appear in the scales of ocellated lizards (Timon lepidus) during development (also featured on this week’s cover). It suggests that the patterns are generated by a system called a hexagonal cellular automaton, and that such a discrete system can emerge from the continuous reaction-diffusion framework developed by mathematician Alan Turing to explain the distinctive patterning on animals, such as spots and stripes. (Some of the research findings are explored in detail in the News and Views section.) To complete the link to Thompson, Turing cited On Growth and Form in his original work on reaction-diffusion theory in living systems.

Finally, we have also prepared an online collection of research and comment from Nature and the Nature research journals in support of the centenary, some of which we have made freely available to view for one month.

Nature is far from the only organization to recognize the centenary of Thompson’s book. A full programme of events will run this year around the world, and at the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum in Dundee, skulls and other specimens are being scanned to create digital 3D models. Late last month, this work was featured in The Courier. One hundred years on, Thompson’s story has some way to run yet.

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Brazil's Temer to Allow Full Foreign Ownership of Airlines

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Brazilian President Michel Temer will sign on Tuesday a decree allowing foreign companies to own 100 percent of local airlines.

Brazil Court Launches Trial that Could Boot
Temer from Office over Illegal Campaign Funds

Temer will sign the decree at a ceremony with the Tourism Minister Marx Beltrão, according to Reuters.

This is part of a measure aimed at increasing investment in the tourism industry, a reform that the government had drafted since January.

Inn 2016, deposed President Dilma Rousseff issued a decree lifting the limit on foreign ownership of airlines to 49 percent from 20 percent.

As part of the measures, the government will also subsidize airlines to fly to remote areas such as parts of the Amazon.

Meanwhile, at the expectation of the signing, Brazilian airline AZUL stocks surged as much as 9 percent in the market.

Rival Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes also gained 6 percent after the news.

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public-key cryptography for non-geeks - blog.vrypan.net

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It's not as complicated as you think.

I’ve often found myself trying to explain public-key cryptography to friends. To my surprise, there's little written on the subject to help someone without good mathematical skills understand the basic concepts of public-key cryptography. Everything I’ve come across makes it look more complicated than it should.

Symmetric Cryptography

Public key cryptography is based on what is called "asymmetric" cryptography. But before going there, let’s see how “symmetric” cryptography works.

To understand symmetric cryptography, imagine John has a box with a lock. As usual, the lock has a key that can lock and unlock the box. So, if John wants to protect something, he puts it in the box and locks it. Obviously, only he or someone else with a copy of his key can open the box.

That’s symmetric cryptography: you have one key, and you use it to encrypt (“lock”) and decrypt (“unlock”) your data.

Asymmetric Cryptography

Now let’s see how asymmetric, or “public-key” cryptography works.

Imagine Anna has a box too. But this one is a box with a very special lock.


This lock has three states: A (locked), B (unlocked) and C (locked).

And it has two separate (yes, two) keys. The first one can only turn clockwise (from A to B to C) and the second one can only turn anticlockwise (from C to B to A).

Anna picks the first one of the keys and keeps it to herself. We will call this key her “private” key, because only Anna has it.

We will call the second key, her “public” key: Anna makes a hundred copies of it, and she gives some to friends and family, she leaves a bunch on her desk at the office, she hangs a couple outside her door, etc. If someone asks her for a business card, she hands him a copy of the key too.

So. Anna has her private key that can turn from A to B to C. And everyone else has her public-key that can turn from C to B to A.

We can do some very interesting things with these keys.

First of all, imagine you want to send Anna a very personal document. You put the document in the box and use a copy of her public-key to lock it. Remember, Anna’s public-key only turns anticlockwise, so you turn it to position A. Now the box is locked. The only key that can turn from A to B is Anna’s private key, the one she’s kept for herself.

That’s it! This is what we call public-key encryption: Everyone who has Anna’s public-key (and it’s easy to find a copy of it, she’s been giving them away, remember?), can put documents in her box, lock it, and know that the only person who can unlock it is Anna.

Digital Signatures

There is one more interesting use of this box.

Suppose Anna puts a document in it. Then she uses her private key to lock the box, i.e. she turns the key to position (C).

Why would she do this? After all, anyone with her public-key can unlock it! Wait.

Someone delivers me this box and he says it’s from Anna. I don’t believe him, but I pick Anna’s public-key from the drawer where I keep all the public-keys of my friends, and try it. I turn right, nothing. I turn left and the box opens! “Hmm”, I think. “This can only mean one thing: the box was locked using Anna’s private key, the one that only she has.”

So, I’m sure that Anna, and no one else, put the documents in the box. We call this “digital signature”.

Keys are numbers

In the computer world things are much easier. [**]

“Keys” are just numbers —big, long numbers with many digits. You can keep your private key, which is a number, in a text file or in a special app. You can put your public-key, which is also a very long number, in your email signature, your website, etc. And there is no need for special boxes, you just “lock” and “unlock” files (or data) using an app and your keys.

If anyone, even you, encrypts (i.e. “locks”) something with your public-key, only you can decrypt it (i.e. “unlock” it) with your secret, private key.

If you encrypt (i.e. “lock”) something with your private key, anyone can decrypt it (i.e. “unlock” it), but this serves as a proof that you encrypted it: it’s “digitally signed” by you.


[*] photo By Koppas (Own work), CC-BY-SA-3.0

[**] They can also get much more complicated. We can use our private key to sign a file and then someone else’s public-key to encrypt it so that only he can read it. And one user, or an organisation, can digitally sign other users’ keys to verify their authenticity, etc., etc. But all this actually breaks down to encrypting with the one key or the other and it’s outside the scope of this article.

[***] This article was also published on Medium.

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42 days ago
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How America Tried (and Failed) to Solve its "Servant Problem"

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In the early twentieth century, a “servant problem” swept across America. In a time before vacuum cleaners and washing machines, household work was a constant, unrelenting burden in American homes, and thus most middle-class households had at least one servant. If that seems unthinkable now, it’s because domestic service all but died during the twentieth century.

Faye E. Dudden tracks the ways in which early twentieth-century Americans tried to solve a riddle of conflicting expectations and realities. Servants were once “a vital element of middle class domesticity,” Dudden writes playing into women’s self-image along with their parental and personal relationships and affecting their personal privacy. But in the early twentieth century, it became harder to find servants.

In 1928, a group called the National Council on Household Employment brought together working servants, labor activists, efficiency experts, and even future First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to try to solve the so-called “servant problem.” The “servant problem” boiled down to the fact that wealthier women wanted reliable, cheap, willing labor, but poorer women (many of them black) did not want to be their servants. The NHCE tried to figure out why. They concluded that not only was domestic service undesirable because of its low pay and unlimited hours, but that the terms “servant” and “maid” alienated would-be domestics.

Domestic service dropped by more than half between 1940 and 1950.

The NHCE’s suggestions weren’t exactly welcome to potential employers who realized they’d have to pay more and give more to workers they considered “unskilled menials.” When the Depression hit, the ones who could still afford servants became even less willing to make concessions. “The experts saw that employers who continued to hire domestic workers during the Depression believed that they did a worker a favor by offering her a job at all,” writes Dudden. People even stopped paying servants altogether, offering instead an “opportunity home” that traded food and shelter for domestic work.

Hypothetically, the Depression might have ended the “servant problem” by offering an endless supply of desperate would-be workers, and yet servant positions still went unfilled. Despite rebranding service as a highly skilled position and encouraging the use of standardized tests, both groups flailed. Even though wages rose during World War II, women could find better pay in the war effort.

It was the beginning of the end. Domestic service dropped by more than half between 1940 and 1950. After the war, wages remained high. In a bid to sidestep labor laws, employers paid nannies and cleaners under the table instead of hiring servants full-time. Slowly, women began to take over housework themselves. The servant problem stopped being a problem because servants stopped existing. Not that upper-class women didn’t have a helping hand or two: At the same time, household tools like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and coffee makers became ubiquitous. Permanent-press clothing and relaxed manners reduced the burden of ironing and clothing maintenance. And packaged convenience foods could make even the most inept upper-class woman feel confident about her domestic skills.

So why did the well-intentioned NHCE fail? Dudden blames the bust on its refusal to acknowledge race, its failure to unionize workers, and language that alienated employers while failing to appeal to domestic workers themselves. Without knowing it, the group was presiding over the death of an institution—and today’s homes are shaped by that shift in American culture.

Experts and Servants: The National Council on Household Employment and the Decline of Domestic Service in the Twentieth Century

By: Faye E. Dudden

Journal of Social History, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Winter, 1986), pp. 269-289

Oxford University Press

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43 days ago
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