Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jonathan Tobin's Editorial/Screed Against the UPZ. Or was it the ICC?

Jonathan Tobin writes well. I suppose he should; after all, he is the editor of a major Jewish newspaper. And so he almost had me when he came up with a sensible question in a recent editorial: Who needs the Israel Campus Coalition? That is the coalition of Jewish organizations that promote what is known as "Israel Advocacy" on campus. The ICC has not been around for a long time, and I have a hunch that it won't last long either -- there will be too much dissension in the ranks. And isn't there something odd about a Jewish umbrella organization to facilitate the indoctrination of college students? If students want to have their own ideological organizations, fine. If they want to get money from the grownups, also fine. But what's the point of an umbrella group doing it? Well, there is a point -- the umbrella defines a "consensus on Israel," something we have been hearing a lot about lately. Nobody wants to sound as rightwing as Mort Klein, except, perhaps, Mort Klein. And it is bon ton to say, "Hey, I criticize Israel's policies sometimes...." (Alan Dershowitz is the master of that line. Try to see how many times in the past he has criticized Israeli policy publicly on moral grounds.) So the purpose of the ICC is not only to advocate for Israel, but to define what Israel advocacy is. Which means that if you are an Israeli soldier who has given the best years of your lives to the IDF, who has undergone officer training, who has led an elite unit of infantry, yet who has witnessed repeated acts of dehumanization and humiliation of Palestinians, and has spoken out against it -- first in Israel, until blue in the face, and then before Jewish groups in the US, in short, if you have born witness to the inevitable inhumanity and insensitivy of an occupying army, any occupying army -- then you cannot be an advocate of Israel. You must be at best, naive, at worst, a traitor. Either way, you are weakening Israel's security. That, in a nutshell is the real message of Tobin's editorial. He asks:
Moreover, is it appropriate for a coalition that was created expressly for promoting Israel's defense at a time when the press and campus radicals were undermining it with disinformation and out-of-context stories, to pay to bring in speakers who, echo the same distortions the group was founded to oppose?
First things first: the UPZ paid to bring in the soldiers from "Breaking the Silence"? As far as I know, BTS didn't get a penny from the UPZ. At best, they received some coke and pretzels. The UPZ student activists put up some posters and made some arrangements. Like any NGO, BTS solicits funds from foundations, etc. Nobody paid to bring them to the US. What was Tobin referring to when he mentioned "distortions" and "out-of-context-stories"? . He gives no examples. Yehuda Shaul told the story of how when he was on patrol in Hebron, and a football match was on television, and his unit wanted to see the match, they walked into a Palestinian house, kicked the family upstairs, and sat around watching the tv in the family's living room. A minor event, surely, nothing to be compared with Darfur. Just one of tens of thousands little humiliations that have been happening for almost forty years. But according to Mr. Tobin, what that story lacked was "context". Well, here's the context: soldiers, civilians, and a forty-year occupation. Or consider this testimony on the website
Name: *** Rank: First Sergeant Unit: Battalion 50, Nachal Infantry Unit Place of incident: Hebron Date: 3 weeks after the beginning of Operation Defensive Shield. Battalion 50 took over the city of Hebron about four months before “Homat Magen” (Operation Defensive Shield). At this time it was to be replaced by Nachal Battalion 932. The changeover started in stages and my company of March 2001 was the first to leave the front. We were replaced by the parallel unit. We went out on regular leave during which time we were called back to participate in Operation Shield. The rest of the battalion stayed on in Hebron and that is how we found ourselves with unit 932 while the rest of our company remained with 932 in Hebron. After three weeks we exchanged in order to reserve our original organization. Two or three days after we had returned, I went to the “pharmacy” post, (it was near a pharmacy…hence called the pharmacy post) that was next to the Bus parking lot beside the open lot beside the tomb of the Patriarchs. As part of the procedures, we would go up to the roof of the building in order to watch tover the roads coming into the crossroad. While going up to the watch, I noticed that one door was broken into and I remembered that it hadn’t been like that when we had left…. We opened the door and viewed a horrific sight!!!...The place was a doctor’s clinic and what we saw were wooden doors that had been completely smashed and glass showcases had been destroyed. Syringes scattered all about, along with documents, drawers that had been upended and smashed, and the worst was the used toilet paper scattered about and two piles of shit in the middle of the mess….
Now I am sure that Tobin is a decent man. So I would like him to explain to me what is the context that explains, if not justifies, the IDF soldiers destroying a doctor's clinic and leaving excrement? I would really like him to hear him say, "Well, smashing up a doctor's office and leaving excrement is an indefensible act, but there is no moral equivalency between that and suicide bombing." Because if that's what he means by "context"; if he thinks that suicide bombing explains the reaction of the soldiers, then he is an apologist for war crimes. The defenders of terrorism also talk about "context" and "understanding." I can guarantee to you that no soldier watching the game thought, "I am so upset at this Palestinian family for not publicly condemning their suicide bombers that I am kicking them out of their living room. Let them hear the game on the radio." Bottom line, though -- Tobin is right. Who needs an ideological-watchdog umbrella on campus? Only paternalistic alte kakkers who are scared to let yinge kakkers think for themselves.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A New Wind Blowing? Breaking the Silence and UPZ at a Hillel near you

Much has been written recently in the Jewish blogosphere and the American Jewish press about "Shovrim Shtikah" ("Breaking the Silence"), the group of IDF veterans (many of whom are combat officers), whose purpose is to raise people’s awareness about IDF behavior in the West Bank. (Check out their website and read the testimonies, some of which are available in English. There are many more that have not been put up on the web. Donations are welcome for this avodat kodesh/holy project) Several soldiers toured the US in the fall and spoke a variety of venues, mostly Jewish. The trip was organized by the group in Israel, with the help of activists across the US. The Union for Progessive Zionism also got involved with cosponsoring the group at a Hillels. Sorry, Lebel Fein, the UPZ did not bring them to the US – but they were helpful; Tammy Shapiro, head of the UPZ, gets a big yasher koah/congratulation for her work. But the biggest one goes to Judith Kolokoff. The only relatively balanced piece on the group was by Michelle Chabin in the New York Jewish Week. If you missed the link to that article, that may be because there is none; the Jewish Week apparently posted it on their website -- it turns up in Google --and then took it down. Too hat to handle, Gary? It appeared in the January 19, 2007 issue. The worst piece about the American tour, also not available on the web, was in the Israeli tabloid "Yediot Aharonot" under the headline, "Palestinian Groups Fund Draft Resisters." For the record, combat officers are not draft resisters -- and Palestinian groups do not fund BTS. The worst editorial, that of Jonathan Tobin, will be the subject of my next post, kicking off the series, "Captive Children", or as they say in Hebrew, "Tinokot she-Nishbu". This is the way we orthodox Jews label poor, benighted Jews who were brought up with the wrong ideology, that is, when we don't want to consider them to be heretics and deserving death! Stay tuned.