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Wall of shame

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It’s not easy for a religious Jew to feel civilized these days. On the streets near occupied Nablus, an Orthodox Jewish settler, earlocks waving, has just been seen handing out candy to celebrate the fatal shooting of an unarmed 23-year-old Palestinian last Thursday–whose apparent crime was getting in the way of another settler’s car. Meanwhile, one of Israel’s top politicians is publicly blaming the young Palestinian for the bullet that killed him: “Any one of us, as a parent, as a citizen, would have acted” as the gunman did, said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, another yarmulke-wearing Jew, while the Orthodox rabbinate looked on in approving silence.

After all, it’s almost “Jerusalem Day”–Israel’s annual orgy of self-congratulation over its seizure of East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, 50 years ago–and in the spirit of the day, “religious” Jews seem determined to prove Bennett’s point. Occupation? No problem. Ethnic cleansing? Fine with us. We’re all settlers now. Savagery has gone mainstream.

So please do not expect any kind words from me over the latest attempt to distract newspaper readers from the advancing flood of Israeli apartheid–I mean, the spat over whether or not Donald Trump thinks the Western Wall is in Israel. Not that The Donald–who has referred to Belgium as “a beautiful city”–is anyone’s idea of an authority on geography. The real question is why anyone would think the retaining wall of the Second Temple complex, built by Herod (not Solomon) as part of an urban renewal project meant to broadcast his own glory, was worth a war.

For that matter, who could imagine that this pile of stones, or anything like it, would ever justify 50 years of military occupation?

I know, I know. I’ve seen and heard all the kitsch there is about that spot–including the impromptu consecration of a war zone by Rabbi Shlomo Goren on June 7, 1967. Is this really supposed to be impressive? Heavily armed Israeli soldiers recited a blessing of thanksgiving when they reached the Western Wall, having just seized another piece of Palestinian property for the Jewish State. Yet the Talmud rules that a Jew who sees that site must tear his clothes in mourning for the ruined Temple–hardly a triumphal gesture. The breathless sentimentality with which Israeli propaganda has invested this bit of stolen architecture is as untraditional as it is vulgar.

Nor did anyone, before the advent of Zionism, consider the Wall a proper place for communal Jewish worship. To quote Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, “The Kotel was never a synagogue; nor should it ever become one.”

In fact, wondering aloud whether “we Jews” have “gone mad,” that honest Orthodox scholar has argued that we “must free the Western Wall of all denominations and abolish all synagogue services at the site, including bar and bat mitzva celebrations” so that the site can be reserved “solely for individual prayer and meditation, just as our ancestors treated it throughout our long history.”

I say amen; I would only add that, first and foremost, the property should be restored to its rightful owners–the indigenous Palestinian population–honoring the ethical principles that animated those same Jewish ancestors.

Yet popular mythology dies hard. When I wrote a column a year ago critical of “Jerusalem Day” festivities, the Jewish periodical the Forward was kind enough to publish it–for which I am grateful. But without my knowledge the editors rewrote a sentence, softening my insistence that the conquest of East Jerusalem shouldn’t be granted any sort of religious status. “Access to the holy sites is worth celebrating,” the revised passage reads, “but it wasn’t a miracle.”

Indeed it wasn’t. But allow me to add–for this is my actual opinion — that “access to the holy sites” isn’t worth celebrating either, if “access” means military conquest. (As early as April 1949, Jordan agreed to grant access to the religious Jewish sites in East Jerusalem, refusing to implement the agreement only when it became clear that Israel would not repatriate any of the refugees it had driven into Jordan during the war.)

I’m also repelled by the implication that “access to the holy sites” means only Jewish sites, and only access by Jews. Israel’s arbitrary and often brutal curtailment of Palestinian worship at the mosque on the same ground is a matter of record, but evidently this is not supposed to figure in the public discourse about the “reunification of Jerusalem,” as Israel’s continued occupation is typically described in Jewish media.

Speaking of Jewish media, I cannot discuss Jerusalem Day without mentioning the outright fraud that gets recycled at this time each year. In 2015, in honor of the occasion,Times of Israel blog contained this litany of myths-as-facts:

“Forty eight years ago…Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon amassed forces on their borders, getting ready to storm the Jewish State and destroy her for good. Radio broadcasts in Israel and abroad were full of the same grim tidings – cries by Arab leaders for the Jews to be driven into the Mediterranean Sea…and the especially terrifying declaration by Israeli rabanim [rabbis] that every public park in the country would be a graveyard, in an effort to prepare for the bloody onslaught.”

In fact, as scholars like Norman Finkelstein have decisively shown, the two Egyptian divisions in the Sinai (the only ones seriously in question) remained in a defensive posture, as Israel’s Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin reported at the time, and in any case “would not have been enough to unleash an offensive.” Mossad chief Meir Amit similarly concluded weeks before Israel’s attack that “Egypt was not ready for a war, and Nasser did not want a war.” Besides, both Israeli and U.S. intelligence experts predicted that even in the unlikely event that several Arab countries attacked in concert, Israel would easily defeat them all within ten days. Israel’s claim that it faced serious danger in 1967 was “a bluff,” according to General Mattityahu Peled, one of the architects of the Israeli assault.

Knowing all this, how can any decent Jew celebrate Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of that violent “bluff”? Or exult at its tragic epicenter, the Western Wall?

For the record, I visited the famous Wall on the first night of my one visit to Israel some years ago. I was unsettled by the theme-park look of the place – the beaming floodlights, the polished stone “plaza” built to accommodate crowds of tourists – and by the proximity of the elevated parapet marking off the Al-Aqsa mosque, where in 1990 Israeli soldiers massacred some 18 unarmed worshipers. Only afterward did I realize that I had literally been standing on a crime scene: days after Israel’s capture of the Old City the army had demolished the homes of at least 600 Palestinian civilians to clear the space next to the Western Wall, killing one and injuring several others.

Naturally I don’t intend to return to that site – a place of shame for me, as it should be for any Jew, so long as it remains under occupation.

But staying away isn’t enough.

Because the real trouble isn’t about a wall. It’s about an ideology. An ideology of Jewish ethnic supremacy carefully crafted to purge memories of Jewish vulnerability. An ideology that defies religion yet makes icons out of religious texts. An ideology that replaces history with myth, that denies human rights and dehumanizes an entire people, that reduces Judaism to a cynical real estate hustle.

As a religious Jew, I pray for the speedy demise of any such ideology. And I mourn what Jews have done, in the name of religion, to the Western Wall – and to Judaism.

Michael Lesher

Michael Lesher, an author and lawyer, has published numerous articles dealing with child sexual abuse and other topics, including the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is the author of the recent book Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., Inc.), which focuses on cover-ups of abuse cases among Orthodox Jews. He lives in Passaic, New Jersey. More information about his work can be found on his web site

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16 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson on May 23, 2017, 2:50 pm

    RE: “For the record, I visited the famous Wall on the first night of my one visit to Israel some years ago. I was unsettled by the theme-park look of the place – the beaming floodlights, the polished stone ‘plaza’ built to accommodate crowds of tourists – and by the proximity of the elevated parapet marking off the Al-Aqsa mosque . . .” ~ Michael Lesher

    MY COMMENT: I recall reading an article in the New York Timesback in the mid-’70s by the excellent architectural critic Paul Goldberger about the “plaza” Israel had created at the Western Wall after the ’67 war. He wrote about how before 1967 a person would wind their way through a maze of residential streets before the ‘Wall’ would suddenly loom up above them. He considered that drama to be a very important part of the experience of visiting the ‘Wall’.

    I got the distinct impression that Goldberger did not think very highly of Israel’s new “plaza” adjacent to the Western Wall!

    ALSO SEE: “Jerusalem Skyline: Morels Not Necessarily Better” | By Paul Goldberger | | July 8, 1975

    JERUSALEM—Mayor long ago Mayor Teddy Kollek enthusiastically showed visitors the new structures on the way up in this ancient city. Now he seems to point with as much pride to the projects he has helped to prevent. And, he talks of the city’s need to “learn from its mistakes.”

    An Appraisal

    Jerusalem, which a 1968 master plan foresaw as an American vision of skyscrapers and freeways, has now begun to change its mind. Plans for highways that were to cut through old residential neighborhoods are being dropped, permits to build high‐rise structures are beingless readily granted and Mayor Kollek talks of his desire to make his multicultural city “a mosaic, not a melting pot.”

    The change in mood is due in part to the recession, in part to generally scaled‐down ambitions since the 1973 war. But it is also a result of continued international criticism of the ways of city planning here.

    In 1970 a group of international experts, known as the Jerusalem Committee, was invited by the city to evaluate its planning. The group denounced the master plan as appalling and, in so doing made the physical future of Jerusalem an issue of world concern.

    At that time, the Israelis of Jerusalem, eager to assert the new prosperity that came after the city’s unification in 1967, were on a vast building spree. Skyscraper hotels altered its classic skyline; housing projects covered the once empty hillsides, aggressively injecting the Israeli presence into former Jordanian lands.

    The recent turnaround has not been easy for Mayor Kollek, a jovial figure who might be called the LaGuardia of Jerusalem. An ardent civic booster, he helped line up a great deal of the city’s new construction. Now he seems to have conceded that much of the building has not been in Jerusalem’s long‐term interest. And he makes no secret of his distaste for the most conspicuous recent addition to the Jerusalem skyline, the 17‐story Plaza Hotel, a bloated version of a Miami Beach tower that sits in Independence Park.

    The Plaza is one of the saddest legacies of the city’s nineteen‐sixties planning approach: Its land had been set aside for a city hall, and when that project was postponed, Government officials, eager to promote the Israeli economy at any cost, turned the land over to hotel developers.

    More Towers Rising

    More towers are still on the way up in Jerusalem, so the skyline, dramatically altered since 1967 will change more. But city officials point out that building permits for these structures were issued years ago and cannot be rescinded . . .


    P.S. The Western Wall Plaza: National and Architectural Controversies (PDF)

  2. Don on May 23, 2017, 4:17 pm

    Michael Lesher is without a doubt one of the most impressive persons to post articles on this site. Strikes me as being almost in a class by himself.

    • Mayhem on May 23, 2017, 8:02 pm

      Not impressive – vicious and aggressive. Lesher emotes when he spitefully mentions that Naftali Bennett happens to be a Jew who wears a yarmulka. Would he ever refer to an imam who incites his congregants to go out and stab Jews as a radical wearing a sack on his head? Full of spite, contempt and a lack of appreciation that Jerusalem was finally unified by Israel in 1967. If he has no respect for the religious significance of the Western Wall for orthodox Jews is that good reason to use his prejudice and hostility to forge an argument that relies on his pointy opinionation?
      Would he prefer to put the city in the hands of the Waqf that has permitted an archaelogical crime of huge dimensions to occur, where bulldozers were allowed to dig up and destroy the historical heritage buried in the ground on the Temple Mount. Jewish archaelogists have scoured the rubbish dumps produced by this sacrilege to rescue and preserve the remnants.
      Would Lesher say anything about the Mohammedian mythology surrounding the city of Jerusalem ? He leaves that aspect totally aside to lambast his own religious origins. He needs to face up to the religious lies constantly trumpeted by Muslims who have manufactured a connection to Jerusalem based on a political ideology and a Koran replete with Jew hatred.

      • eljay on May 23, 2017, 8:52 pm

        || Mayhem: Not impressive – vicious and aggressive. Lesher emotes when he spitefully mentions that Naftali Bennett happens to be a Jew who wears a yarmulka. Would he ever refer to an imam who incites his congregants to go out and stab Jews as a radical wearing a sack on his head? … ||

        – Lesher says “Education Minister”
        – Mayhem says “imam who incites his congregants to go out and stab Jews”

        – Lesher says “Jew who wears a yarmulka”
        – Mayhem says “radical wearing a sack on his head”

        When it comes to being vicious and aggressive and emoting spitefully, you can’t beat a Zionist.

      • oldgeezer on May 23, 2017, 11:37 pm

        Pot and kettle mayhem. I have some sympathy for some of your arguments but in the final analysis you are no different than those you despise. It is actually quite sad to see. People like you, on both sides, are the ultimate barrier to peace. You have no seat amongst decent people of all stripes.

      • Mooser on May 23, 2017, 11:49 pm

        Gee “Mayhem”, I must admit, your comment has taught me a lot. I feel like I have a much better understanding of why there are so many Muslims and so few Jews in the world.

      • Mooser on May 24, 2017, 12:09 am

        Would I be a bad person if I suspected that “Mayhem” dragged Islam into this because he is completely unable to refute or even answer Mr. Lesher on a Jewish basis.?

      • Citizen on May 24, 2017, 7:04 am

        “… lack of appreciation that Jerusalem was finally unified by Israel in 1967…”

        This claim is disputed by international law and every state in the world–except Israel, the land thief. Maybe Mayhem would like to dispute the Nuremberg Trials law & of Geneva IV too?

      • RoHa on May 24, 2017, 10:00 am

        Very bad indeed, Mooser.

        You are probably right, but that just makes you even worse.

        Hang your head in shame.

      • Mooser on May 24, 2017, 12:03 pm

        “Maybe Mayhem would like to dispute the Nuremberg Trials law & of Geneva IV too?”

        Fantasies of absurd abilities and power are usually a psychological compensation for feelings of weakness and helplessness. Or an escape from a consciousness of guilt.

      • lonely rico on May 24, 2017, 2:15 pm

        > Mayhem

        Lesher emotes when he spitefully mentions that Naftali Bennett happens to be a Jew who wears a yarmulka.

        So Lesher emotes and gets spiteful of Bennett’s yarmulka, simply because Bennett gave his stamp of approval to the murder of a young Palestinian by an illegal Jewish settler.

        Et tu Mayhem?
        Do you approve of the murder of the young Palestinian who was defending his homeland from foreign invaders? Would you too have acted like this miserable Jewish settler, murdering another Palestinian without compunction?

  3. on May 24, 2017, 12:17 am

    Michael, an excellent article, well written, well argued, obviously well thought through. Sometimes it is hard to believe there are Jews like you left because the zio-fascists, incl. certain christians, scream loudest, are best funded, and drown out anyone else’s voice, resorting very easily to violence the way the brown-shirts did.

    The zio-fascists have nothing to do with Judaism, they are just the ugly face of an ugly ideology that is no different from the ugly ideology in the 1st half of the 20th century they pretend to hate. If only more Jews like you would let themselves be heard …..

  4. Elizabeth Block on May 24, 2017, 9:55 am

    I was very interested to learn that Jordan offered access to religious sites – that’s not what we were told!

  5. YoniFalic on May 24, 2017, 10:12 am

    I discussed previously the significance of the Kotel in The Bulldozers of Shavuot, 1967.

    Racist Jewish/Zionist obsession with the Western Wall is a rather recent phenomenon. Before Zionist indoctrination very few E. European “Jews” like me had any interest whatsoever in the Wall or in Jerusalem.

    In the 16th century some Spanish Jews developed an interest probably as a response to the Expulsion. In the early 19th century some religious E Euro Jews, who moved to Palestine where they could solicit charity beyond the Polish Jewish community, which lacked funds to support kolalim because of the economic collapse of Polish territories, also developed an interest in the Wall — probably in imitation of the practices of Polish and other Slavic pilgrims.

    Only in the 20th century do hate-filled secular “Jewish” Zionists begin to fixate on the wall for the purpose of ethnic assertion against the native population.

    The current fixation of Jews on the wall deserves only scorn.

    As an historian of E European Jewish heritage, I can list many E European sites far more historically significant to people like me than the Wall.

    Ernest L. Martin, PH. D., who provided the content of the first URL above, is not a specialist in the relevant fields of archeology or history, but he is far from alone in his conclusions.

    • inbound39 on May 27, 2017, 10:26 am

      Israel’s position on Jerusalem is especially surprising given when they had the chance they did not include it within its declared borders of 1948. Israel’s only legitimately recognized borders. I n my view it seems Israel’s interest in Jerusalem is only an excuse to further persecute Palestinians and etnically cleanse them. Highlights how sick and resentful about their past under German Occupation many Israeli’s have become….now they are the persecutors.

  6. YoniFalic on May 24, 2017, 10:29 am

    BTW, a good book to read for Jerusalem Day is The Fall of Jerusalem by Abdullah Shleifer.

    It is unfortunately long out of print.

    I found fascinating the importance of the context of the Egyptian Saudi war in Yemen.

    In some sense, little has changed in 50 years.

    Abdullah Shleifer is an American Jewish convert to Islam. He was born Marc Shleifer. He was NBC Cairo Bureau chief from 1974 through 1983.

    Shleifer founded and directed Kamal Adham Center for Journalism Training and Research at the American University in Cairo and thus has been responsible for the training of a large part of modern Arabic language journalism.

    Shleifer may be the reason why contemporary Arabic language journalists often seem so much more competent to me than contemporary American journalists.

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