Analysis from Israel

Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

But of course, it can’t–because one of the most technologically sophisticated armies in the world has somehow proven incapable of equipping its soldiers with the kind of simple cameras found on every cell phone. And so, day after day, week after week, it’s confronted with Palestinian allegations to which the only response it can offer is its soldiers’ unsupported testimony.

A year ago, I thought the penny had finally dropped: The IDF announced with great fanfare that it had finally decided to train soldiers to film operations in the field. But it now turns out this vaunted project comprises all of 24 cameramen–24 people to provide round-the-clock coverage of the entire West Bank plus the Gaza border. It’s a joke. And not a very funny one.

There’s no reason why every single soldier couldn’t be equipped with a small, wearable camera that would operate automatically. This would have the additional benefit of cutting down on real abuses, from which no army is completely immune. Indeed, several Western countries have experimented with policemen wearing such cameras, and they have generally led to reductions in both real brutality and false claims of brutality.

But what seems like a no-brainer to me evidently isn’t so obvious to Israel’s chronically public-diplomacy-challenged government and army. Otherwise, they would have done something about it by now.

Consequently, this is an issue on which American Jewish help is badly needed. Jewish groups and individuals frequently meet with Israeli officials, both in the U.S. and in Israel, but it probably never occurs to them to raise a minor issue like IDF cameras at those meetings. If they thought of it at all, it would doubtless seem too obvious to need saying.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. And therefore, U.S. Jews would be doing Israel a big service if they started raising this issue at every single meeting with Israeli government officials or army officers. If Israeli leaders keep hearing about it from American Jews, maybe they’ll finally realize how important it is.

Or maybe they still won’t. But it’s worth a try–because waiting for them to figure it out on their own certainly isn’t working.

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‘We need to talk’ about the role of non-Orthodox movements

The Jewish Federations of North America are holding their annual General Assembly this week under the title “We Need to Talk,” with “we” meaning Israel and the Diaspora. In that spirit, let’s talk about one crucial difference between the two communities: the role of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. In America, these movements are important to maintaining Jewish identity, something Israelis often fail to understand. But in Israel, they are unnecessary to maintaining Jewish identity—something American Jews frequently fail to understand.

A 2013 Pew Research poll found that by every possible measure of Jewish identity, American Jews who define themselves as being “of no religion” score significantly worse than those who define themselves as Reform or Conservative Jews. For instance, 67 percent of “Jews of no religion” raise their children “not Jewish,” compared to just 10 percent of Reform Jews and 7 percent of Conservative Jews. Only 13 percent give their children any formal or informal Jewish education (day school, Hebrew school, summer camp, etc.), compared to 77 percent of Conservative Jews and 48 percent of Reform Jews. The intermarriage rate for “Jews of no religion” is 79 percent, compared to 50 and 27 percent, respectively, among Reform and Conservative Jews.

Indeed, 54 percent of “Jews of no religion” say being Jewish is of little or no importance to them, compared to just 14 percent of Reform Jews and 7 percent of Conservative Jews, while 55 percent feel little or no attachment to Israel, compared to 29 percent of Reform Jews and 12 percent of Conservative Jews. And only 10 percent care about being part of a Jewish community, compared to 25 and 40 percent, respectively, of Reform and Conservative Jews.

Granted, the non-Orthodox movements haven’t done very well at transmitting Jewish identity to subsequent generations; Orthodoxy is the only one of the three major denominations where the percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds isn’t significantly lower than the percentage of people over 50. Nevertheless, these movements do vastly better than “Jews no religion,” which, for most non-Orthodox Jews, is the most likely alternative. Not surprisingly, any Jewish identity is better than none.

Yet the picture is very different among secular Israeli Jews, the closest Israeli equivalent to “Jews of no religion.” The vast majority marry other Jews, if only because most of the people they know are Jewish. Almost all raise their children Jewish because that’s the norm in their society (fertility rates are also significantly higher). More than 80 percent consider their Jewish identity important. Most obviously care about Israel, since they live there. And because they live there, they belong to the world’s largest Jewish community, whether they want to or not.

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