September/October 2009- Letter from the Editor
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Letter from the Editor

Many Israelis, disillusioned by the failure of the peace process, Hamas rule in Gaza and shifting demographics, have been drawn to the message of Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, an émigré from Moldova, who advocates transferring Israel’s Arab citizens to a future Palestinian state. This relative newcomer to the Israeli political scene led his party, Israel Beiteinu—which enjoys strong backing among the one million new citizens from the former Soviet Union—to a third-place finish in last February’s elections with the slogan “no loyalty, no citizenship.” Lieberman’s impressive showing has underlined how, on the subject of Israeli Arabs, the country may be more divided than ever.

While 53 percent of Jewish Israelis support encouraging Arabs to leave Israel according to a recent Israel Democracy Institute survey, many others find this conversation unrealistic or unethical or both. The split illuminates an issue that is generally ignored by the American media: the status and lives of the 1.3 million Arab citizens of Israel.

Our lack of knowledge has serious consequences: I regularly meet Jews and non-Jews who view Israel’s Arab citizens as, at best, suspect and at worst, terrorists. The reality is that this is a largely peaceful population—very few have been associated with terrorism—with a complex identity. They speak Hebrew, sometimes even better than Arabic, and many vote in Israeli elections. They support a Palestinian state, but their lives are in Israel and most have no intention or desire to leave. At the same time, they are often considered collaborators by some of their Arab brethren.

Although Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence guarantees them equality, their lives are both separate and unequal. As the 2003 report by the Or Commission, headed by Theodor Or, a retired Supreme Court Justice, concluded: “The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs.”

The topic of Israel’s Arab citizens requires more than one story. So in this issue, Moment launches a multi-part series about their lives and relationships with the Jewish state and its Jews, covering politics, economics, education, the media, women and radical Muslim movements. It will explore possible futures—from a shared society along the lines of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland to complete separation via population and land transfer.
The first article, by veteran journalist and Israel watcher Dina Kraft, details the history of Israel’s Arab citizens since 1948 through the changing identity of three generations of one family, documenting the transition from “Arab” to “Israeli Arab” to the most recent iteration: “Palestinian Israeli.” We hope that the voices and insights of Zeinab Edris, Mariam Edris and Shams Kalboni will help you better see Israel through the eyes of the “other.”

We also launch another series, this one on the new Eastern Europe that has risen from the ashes of totalitarian rule. In this installment, I write about my travels to Uman, the south central Ukrainian city where the Hasidic Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is buried. Closed to visitors for most of the 20th century by the Soviet authorities, Uman is now a Jewish happening of the first degree on Rosh Hashanah, with tens of thousands of men (women are discouraged from attending) leaving their families behind to spend the holiday with the rebbe.

As always, we pride ourselves on variety. Cookbook author Joan Nathan writes about the history of Jews and pomegranates and shares her recipes. Anne Roiphe reviews Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, and there are also reviews of Blood and Politics, an analysis of the white nationalist movement, and a new biography of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. A history of amen, a Hebrew word that resounds in nearly every church, and an Ask the Rabbis debate on the question of “When does life begin?” await. We are also delighted to welcome our new cartoonist, Bob Mankoff, the witty cartoon editor of The New Yorker.

Last but not least, get ready to add to your list of must-see films. To mark the debut of our annual Guide to Jewish Film Festivals, Moment asked essayist and film critic Phillip Lopate, Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman and other professional film aficionados to tell us their favorites. To all of you armchair critics out there, we welcome your picks and reviews at

Students, parents and educators will be interested in our annual “You Can Save the World” contest for high school students. The economic downturn has made this year’s question—“What can you do to help end poverty in the U.S. and the world?”—more relevant than ever. It’s also time to start submitting book reviews to our annual Publish-a-Kid Contest for students 9-13. For more information about these contests visit

We invite all of you to join us on November 1 to celebrate the winners of Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest with this year’s judge, Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent and the new Day After Night. We’ll be at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center’s Bookfest at 4 p.m. Diamant will read from her work and our three winners will read from theirs. L’shana tovah, and we’re looking forward to seeing you in the city by the bay!


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