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Nefesh B'Nefesh bashing

In response to "Land of Milk and Money," Haaretz Magazine, October 26

It is with great sadness that I write this letter. I was frankly horrified at the mean-spirited journalism in Haaretz concerning Nefesh B'Nefesh. Nefesh B'Nefesh in partnership with the Jewish Agency has done so much to bring Jews to Israel in the last 10 years. They have smoothed the way and cut red tape and other obstacles so that we in Israel can be blessed with more olim.

Why your newspaper saw fit to be so vicious and provocative in its presentation of Nefesh B'Nefesh is beyond me. At a time when Israel needs all Jews on deck, at a time when we're searching for good news, Nefesh B'Nefesh is on the scene with one goal only: to bring more Jews to Israel and help them stay in Israel, live and work here and be productive citizens.

Tony Gelbart's home in Florida bothers you? That Rabbi Fass has a beard is a problem for you? These are men with a vision, and they have made many people's dreams come true. They are devoted to a lofty cause, and I say more power to them.

My dear editor, what was really bothering you to have such a piece of journalism like that appear in your paper? Is NBN too successful? Your article smacked of intense jealousy and yellow journalism, and you can do much better. I hope not to have to see articles of that doubtful caliber again in your newspaper.

Yehudit Spero

Beit Shemesh

Where the funding should really go

In response to "How to best spend Jews' money," October 26

The second to fifth words in Anshel Pfeffer's column are "120 most important Jews" who will be in Jerusalem October 31-November 1 for the Jewish People Policy Institute meeting. Who are these 120? Except for a few names, we are left in the dark. Will Home Depot's owners be here, will Mark Zuckerberg be here, will Martin Gilbert or Philip Roth be here, will the real Hollywood David Geffen or Bobby Dylan be here?

The wispy theme running through Pfeffer's story is that there is plenty of money out there for world Jewry to spend on Israel, Judaism and a strong Jewish future. He is unhappy with how all this money is being spent, so he showers us with his Big 5 list of where the cash should really flow.

I happen to agree with his point that indigent Holocaust survivors who made it through hell are being shortchanged. He mentions that some of the money is being applied to "education" or "commemoration." But he could have told us that if this money goes to the survivors, its holders will have to give up elaborate banquets, five-star hotels, deluxe seating on flights and a multitude of other perks.

He also emphasizes that Jewish money should stop going to dinosaur organizations. Sad but true, we the Jewish people are saddled by unrepentant groups who still believe their message should get through since they are sure it is the truth. The continual funding for these agencies is what drives many young Jews away from Judaism. They know what "the real thing is."

His other three points have no attraction for me. For all three, I would substitute a major investment in Jewish education in the Diaspora. Synagogues and temples are still the largest educators in every locale Jews might live. But the schools, for the most part, are weak because Jewish religious institutions are poorly funded in this area. Give a $25,000 grant to every synagogue and temple in the world for innovative learning programs in Jewish education.

About 35 years ago, Prof. Marcella Brenner z'l, a talented U.S. educator and philanthropist, met with officials from the Education Ministry. She was prepared to donate major sums of money and increase it regularly so Israeli teachers could create innovative programs for their students. The program offered teachers a chance to think outside the box; many of their pilots have become Ministry courses. If we could do it here, why not all over the world? Look out this week as the modern Sanhedrin lands.

Dr. David Geffen

Akin to a blood libel

In response to 'Most Israeli Jews advocate discrimination against Arab citizens,' October 23

As a long-time subscriber to Haaretz in English, the respected paper's shift from left of center to far left pains me. October 23's lead headline is outrageous. It is based on a minuscule survey of 503 Israeli Jews and interpreted by Gideon Levy in a front-page article.

The 503 respondents were divided into five distinct groups. How many in each group? How many men, how many women? Young, old? Levy doesn't tell us. Was it conducted by phone or by questionnaires? The questions' formulations are not revealed, so we can't tell whether "most" Israeli Jews actually "advocate" discrimination of Arab citizens or merely tolerate it (bad enough! ).

Now, by "most," most people think of a number way above half, say around 70 percent. Let's see: In the beginning of the article, the percentages of Jews who supposedly advocate various forms of Arab discrimination are 59, 49 and 42. Frightfully too many, but certainly not "most." On the contrary, toward the end, the percentages of secular Jews who oppose various aspects of Arab discrimination are 68, 73 and 50. Since the secular Jews are a majority, one can conclude that most (regrettably not the vast majority ) of Israeli Jews actually oppose Arab discrimination.

But most outrageous is Levy's conclusion that "we're racists" and "we practice apartheid." Now, a bigoted person can be called a racist. A person who intentionally blows up a bus filled with passengers can be called a mass murderer, a terrorist, an activist. But "apartheid" is not subject to interpretation. It is a documented system of odious laws and sanctioned practices imposed on the large majority of blacks in South Africa by the small ruling minority of whites.

Throwing apartheid at Israel is akin to the medieval blood libel, to equating us with the Nazis. According to the article, "the survey conductors say perhaps the term apartheid was not clear enough to some interviewees." It obviously was not clear. Is it clear to Levy?

Eliezer Kreindler

Haifa

Dangerous nostalgia

In response to "Native Son," Haaretz Magazine, October 12

Meron Benvenisti's nostalgia for the Israel of the founders is temperamentally undemocratic. How dare the present generation create its own culture in defiance of the visions of the founders? This is not only Benvenisti's problem. Nostalgia has become the sickness of our time. As Eric Roll wrote in "A History of Economic Thought":

"It is [during] ... rapid and radical changes in the economic and social structure that there can be found those who are distressed ... but who cannot rise to more than an idealization of the past. They want to re-establish a mythical golden age, since they cannot understand the forces which are transforming their own society."

Benvenisti confirms Roll's analyses when he says: "I don't understand exactly what is happening. Everything is different. Not what we wanted it to be." His fetishism of the land is reminiscent of Knut Hamsun's and Heidegger's views and not much different than Gush Emunim's.

He might consider the political and cultural consequences of this land fetishism and how it resulted in some of the greatest crimes in history. This nostalgia for a simpler soil-based existence is dangerous. As historian Peter Gay has written: "Nostalgia is the most sophistic, most deceptive form that regression can take."

In any case, his claim that the Arabs have a more "authentic" relationship with the soil (as opposed to the invented Zionist relationship ) is just another kitsch version of Orientalism. The truth is that second-generation educated Arabs have no more attachment to the land than Manhattan apartment dwellers.

As for the one-state constitutional communalism he hints at, one only has to look at Lebanon to realize how impractical the concept is. Given the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, constitutional communalism would be an oxymoron.

Tsvi Bisk

Director, Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking Kfar Saba