The View From Here | With Friends Like These


For certain recent generations of American Jews, visiting Jerusalem’s Old City was synonymous with spending a night or two — or more — at the Heritage House, welcoming men’s and women’s hostels in the Jewish Quarter founded in 1985 by the late Rabbi Meir Shuster.

When combined with Shabbat meals at local residents’ homes arranged by Jeff Seidel’s Jewish Student Centers, the experience became a hallmark for thousands of backpacking university students open to exploring their Jewish identities as well as enjoying the practically free accommodations.

Today, the picture that emerges from the men’s side of the Heritage House is not one of openness, but of the current director, Rabbi Ben Packer, insulating himself against an ever-widening group of Jews he’s labeled sonei yisrael or “haters of Israel.” He’s promulgated a list, now public thanks to the Twitter work of Chasidic journalist Jacob Kornbluh, of people forever banned from the Jerusalem Heritage House (as opposed to the Heritage House-Jerusalem Hostel, as the now-unrelated half of the women’s operation is known) for unnamed “crimes against the Jewish People.”

I haven’t made the list, but I probably should, because alongside such entries as Michael Chabon, Jewish Voice for Peace affiliates and “Peace Now staff and supporters” — organizations and people with whom I have deep disagreements on Israeli policy — the list excludes “all Times of Israel staff,” “all Haaretz staff,” “CNN staff,” “New York Times staff,” and Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz from the Heritage House and its activities.

I’m no enemy of the Jewish people (although I’ve been called that by disgruntled readers furious over having the temerity to publish a handful of columns critical of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), but having spent a summer interning at the Post, having family on staff at the Times of Israel, counting certain members of the Times staff as professional acquaintances and being the editor-in-chief of this publication, I consider myself sufficiently entrenched in the Jewish journalism world to meet Packer’s clearly minimal standards for being blacklisted.

(Were I on the list, I’d be in the company of some famous celebrities, too, as Jon Stewart, Bette Midler and Natalie Portman occupy the No. 1, 5 and 7 spots, respectively.)

Few people are taking this whole affair seriously, and I doubt that Midler or Portman — or for that matter, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who appears at No. 4 — have been banging down the door of the center begging for entry. But I decided to address this blip on the radar of global Jewish news because now, more than ever, Israel does need friends; blacklisting anyone who disagrees with a Kahanist worldview, though, makes for a small circle of compatriots.

With the launch of hundreds of rockets last week from Hamas positions in Gaza into such neighboring Israeli communities as Sderot and Netivot, as well as the torching of thousands of acres of Israeli farmland from flaming kites and balloons sent by Palestinians in Gaza, it is clear that now is a perfect time to reassess the positions of officials in Washington and elsewhere.

For all the good that senators and representatives in Congress have done on behalf of the Jewish state, such as the billions in military aid the U.S. sends Israel, any politician singling out Israel for negative treatment while it faces down the proverbial barrel of the Palestinian gun deserves at the very least to have their friendship questioned.

Into that camp I place Reps. Dwight Evans and Mike Doyle, the only Pennsylvanians who continue to be listed as cosponsors of H.R. 4391, the Promoting Human Rights by Enduring Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act. Several weeks ago, I called out Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat, in this column for his support of the legislation and his office’s weak justification, which explained his endorsing a key item of JVP’s legislative agenda on the grounds that the congressman cares about children.

Evans’ office hasn’t said anything more about the matter, but Doyle, an Allegheny County Democrat, authored an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle last week defending his name on the bill. Although the bill implicitly and falsely accuses Israel of detaining Palestinian children in military jails in contravention of international law, Doyle — who voted for such demonstrably pro-Israel bills as the Hamas Human Shields Prevention Act and the Taylor Force Act — maintains that his support is in keeping with how he looks at legislation: “Will this help promote the security of Israel and is it consistent with our values?”

How singling Israel out for disapprobation when the other side sends children to attack Israeli forces is in keeping with American values is beyond me. But it seems to be a common failure of logic among certain elected officials of late. Just take the case of N.J. Sen. Cory Booker, who was photographed holding a sign comparing Israel’s security fence to Trump’s proposed Mexican wall and denouncing both. (To his credit, Booker ended up apologizing for the photo, and said that he didn’t know what was on the sign he was holding or the views of the people he was photographed with.)

And lest anyone think that these problems are purely a creature of the left, you’d be hard-pressed to deny that the rise in anti-Semitism that has helped fuel the candidacies of Republican white supremacists in California and Illinois is anything other than the logical result of a certain style of politics now practiced in Washington that has valued extremism over moderation.

As it turns out, people like Packer are making the same mistake as those prodding Doyle and Booker. They’re treating Jews, Jewish identity and the Jewish state as separate things. In Packer’s case, he’s equating disagreement with his brand of pro-Israel politics as incompatible with Judaism, while JVP and others treat Israel as incompatible with their brand of Judaism.

They’re all wrong.

At the end of the day, Jews, Judaism and Israel are all remarkably intertwined, and being a friend to one must also make one a friend to all. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at


  1. It is clear that this author has forgotten the words of the late Zionist philosopher and leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. In his famous essay, “The Iron Wall,” Jabotinsky wrote:

    “It is incredible what political simpletons Jews are. They shut their eyes to one of the most elementary rules of life that you must not ‘meet halfway’ those who do not want to meet you.”


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