Turning the Jews of the Land of Israel into Hebrew Speakers

April 21 2017

Two recent books—An Unpromising Land by Gur Alroey and Babel in Zion by Liora Halperin—explore the experiences of rank-and-file Jewish immigrants to Ottoman and British Palestine as opposed to the passionate pioneers and ideologues who have dominated most historians’ attention. In his review, Allan Arkush deems the first book poorly argued but finds much of interest in the second, which documents how Hebrew succeeded in taking hold among the East European-born masses:

When Yiddish movies first hit the market, . . . the Zionist educator Yosef Luria tried to discourage theater managers from showing them. . . . On September 27, 1920, members of the Battalion of the Defenders of the Hebrew Language protested the screening of Mayne Yiddishe Mame at the Mograbi Theater in Tel Aviv. When they failed to prevent it, they infiltrated the theater, then booed and hurled foul-smelling objects at the screen when the talking began. [But] it was easier to keep Yiddish off the screens than off the streets, which were often crowded with peddlers hawking alte zakhn [used goods] and street food in their native tongue. . . .

More threatening to Hebrew than the languages of the countries from which the Jewish immigrants had come was the language of the colonial power governing Palestine: English. It was an uphill struggle to get the British administration to live up to its promise to treat Hebrew as one of the official languages of Palestine. . . .

Halperin does not suggest that people’s recourse for one reason or another to languages other than Hebrew was a defection from Zionism. It would be wrong, she says, to imagine a “rhetorical divide between pro-Hebrew Zionist Jews and apathetic, foreign-language-using non-Zionist Jews.”

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More about: Hebrew, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Mandate Palestine

A University of Michigan Professor Exposes the Full Implications of Academic Boycotts of Israel

Sept. 26 2018

A few weeks ago, Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the University of Michigan told an undergraduate student he would write a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study-abroad program. But upon examining her application more carefully and realizing that she wished to spend a semester in Israel, he sent her a polite email declining to follow through. His explanation: “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” and “for reasons of these politics” he would no longer write the letter. Jonathan Marks comments:

We are routinely told . . . that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study-abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. . . .

Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the [Michigan] student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights [and] freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney-Lippold could have found out by using Google. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent “resistance” but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.

That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an international day of solidarity with the “new generation of Palestinians” who were then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis—all civilians—dead.

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More about: Academia, Academic Boycotts, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Knife intifada