Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on Meron Rapoport and Haaretz

Well, although I googled "Amira Hess" in Hebrew before I posted the story below. I didn't google "Rapoport." I should have: his departure from Haaretz already appeared on Monday here:

Apparently, Rapoport is one of three reporters associated with former editor David Landau who are leaving Haaretz. Landau appointed him news editor. His departure may be filed under the headline "New Editor Shakes Things Up at Haaretz."

David Landau was a good editor (I am sorely tempted to add, "for a liberal Zionist.") He was to be congratulated inter alia for bringing in Rapoport. I haven't noticed an ideological shift with the changing of the guard, but, then again, I haven't been looking. Before Meron Rapoport came over to Haaretz, he worked at Yediot Aharonot as a desk editor. He was fired from that position after he published Moti Gilat's story under the headline, "Sharon Did Not Speak the Truth"

Haaretz has been a courageous, if elitist, newspaper. Let us hope that this will not change. I certainly hope that Rapoport will continue to write his exposes.

Haaretz Rumored to Have Fired Amira Hass and Meron Rapoport

I just heard rumors that two of Haaretz's best investigative journalists, Amira Hass and Meron Rapoport, will no longer be employed by the newspaper.

Amira Hass, Israel's prize-winning journalist, has been on sabbatical from Haaretz and will not be returning (according to the rumors.) I don't know anything more than that, including whether the decision was a mutual one.

The rumors about Rapoport are more disturbing. Hass is an established journalist and will land on her feet. Rapoport is not as well-known but has his finger on the pulse of events going on in the army and in the territories. He is an extraordinary and valuable resource on exposing the sins of the Occupation. From what I have heard, he was fired, pure and simple.

That's all I know, folks. I would love to get emails from Rapoport and Hass saying that the report of their firings has been greatly exaggerated. I will update you on this as the facts become known.

By the way, if you are wondering about Gideon Levy, I am told that as a member of Haaretz's editorial board, he has sufficient clout with the publisher. On the other hand, I would have said the same thing about the others.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Back Home to Baka, But Please Keep Commenting

I won't be posting or responding for a few days since I am flying home to Jerusalem tomorrow. I have received some critical comments on my "Baka Lefties" and "Finklestein's Deportation" posts, and I will respond to them. I have also received privately some nice comments on the post about the Ninty-Four Year Old Supporter of Obama.

Thank you all.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Finkelstein's Deportation and the Reaction of Progressive Jews

God punishes Jews who observe the Sabbath with a zillion emails when the Sabbath is over.

So I learned that Norman Finkelstein was deported from Israel after the rest of the Jewish blogosphere had reported on it. Still, I may be the first sabbath-observant progressive blogger to report on it, since Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman, the other progressive orthodox Jewish bloggers, have nothing on it on their South Jerusalem site.

So here's my take on the deportation. As readers of this blog know, I have gone to bat for Finkelstein before, not because I agree with everything he says, but because he has been hounded mercilessly.

In brief, Norman Finkelstein was declared persona non grata and deported from Israel after he was detained at the Ben-Gurion airport and questioned about his meetings with Hizbollah. So say the reports in the Israeli media. For news read ynet

It's hard to make sense of this. Was he deported because he was considered a security threat? That would imply that the Israelis were nervous that he could report on Israel to Hizbollah in such a way as to compromise Israeli security. That is the most charitable explanation of Israel's actions. If that is the correct one, then the Israel Secret Services are simply crazy.

Another explanation is that Israel was upset with Finkelstein because he had openly consorted with and supported an enemy, and that there is no obligation of any county to let in foreign nationals who do this. The security business was just a pretext. If that is the correct explanation, then Israel is acting as we Israelis have come to expect of it -- as an authoritarian regime that picks on the weak, in this case, foreign nationals.

A third explanation is that Finkelstein was barred because he is a high-profile critic of Israel, even without the Hizbollah business. Israel regularly bars the entry of pro-Palestinian academics who come to show support for activists. I really hope that Israel hasn't stooped that low in Finkelsteins's case, but I wouldn't be surprised.

There is a way to determine which explanation is correct. Perhaps Noam Chomsky can be convinced to visit Israel. Finkelstein has written nothing that Chomsky substantively disagrees with. And Chomsky met with Nasrallah and praised Hizbollah. I doubt that Finkelstein is out ahead of Chomsky on the Hizbollah contact business.

Would Israel bar Noam Chomsky from visiting? No blanking way -- the man is too powerful a force in intellectual circles. The embarrassment would be too great. Chomsky is a protected high-profile critic.

Israel can go after Finkelstein because it knows that he won't have the support that a Chomsky would have. And that is what all this boils down to -- picking on a weak out-of-work academic who occasionally talks and writes like an annoying New York Jew. Heck, I even know Jews who call themselves progressives who wouldn't go to bat for Finkelstein. Everybody has his or her Finkelstein story to tell. So who will support him, besides the Palestinians who have been encouraged by a New York Jew who goes to bat for them? Does anybody besides a few socialist Brits and Palestinian supporters care that Finkelstein was barred from going to visit his B'Tselem activist friend in Hebron?

Listen up, Jews -- and I mean some of the progressive Jews who are hesitating on this one. Titbayeshu lakhem -- Shame on you! How can you profess skepticism about who is right here, when you know that the Israeli track record on truth-telling is a lot worse than Finkelstein's? How can you take a position opposed to that of the moderate Association for Civil Rights in Israel that has reportedly condemned the deportation?

If you are a progressive Zionist, the default mode must be to support Finkelstein until you have conclusive evidence that he constitutes an existential threat to the state of Israel And since you can never see that evidence, you have no reason to trust even a High Court decision against Finkelstein. Because the High Court has proven unreliable time after time in these matters. Its default mode is to back the security establishment. (Occasionally -- just occasionally -- it comes through.)

Frankly, I am surprised by the reaction of some of those who call themselves "progressive," who profess to hate Bush, who cry about the loss of civil liberties in this country, and then take a "wait-and-see" attitude about who is right in this affair, or who don't want to go to bat for Finkelstein because he annoys them, or because he said, "We are all Hizbollah." Criticize him, by all means, for kowtowing to the fundamentalists, but what does that have to do with the price of felafel?

Look, I don't understand why Chomsky and Finkelstein celebrate Hizbollah. OK, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that, and I don't think Hizbollah or Hamas should be demonized. But lionized? a modern orthodox Jew, I would be happy to put all the fundamentalists on a boat and send them out to an uninhabited island where they duke it out (More likely, they will find out how much they have in common.)

But that's not the point. The point is that the ongoing hounding of Norman Finkelstein should make any decent human being vomit. Let the guy alone. Let him publish his books and keep his website. Why shouldn't he be allowed to see the West Bank for himself and to visit his B'Tselem friend in Hebron?

By the way, it is not just Finkelstein who is being barred from Hebron Michael Sfard, is now representing the "Breaking the Silence" organization, which has been barred by the police from conducting its tours in Hebron.

Progessives should unite on this one. And if you don't want to join, then at least think hard before you write against.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

One Elderly Jew's Passionate Support of Obama

Over the past few months I have had some interesting discussions with a 94-year old Jewish supporter of Barack Obama. The supporter, a prominent real estate developer, was one of the pillars of the Jewish community in his prime. A past president of the local Federation, the Jewish Community Center, and a board member of a big conservative shul, he has led a long and active life of service to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. I should also mention that he is a life-long liberal, who only once wavered in his support for Democrats, and that was when he supported John Anderson over Jimmy Carter in 1980. (He has come to respect Jimmy Carter in his post-presidency.)

I asked him how he came to support Obama. After all, he seemed to be bucking the demographics: white, elderly, Jewish former businessmen aren't supposed to be in the Obama camp. This is what he told me:

About a year and a half ago, I was given Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope. I didn't know anything about him, except that he had given a good speech at the Democratic Convention. Well, I read that book, and I was amazed by his life story, and by his vision for America. On the strength of that book I decided to support the campaign, and I have continued to do so. If anything, I have become more disenchanted with Hillary Clinton, who has run a negative campaign. She comes nowhere near Obama. Most of the people who don't support him don't really know anything about him.

What about his views on Israel?

All the candidates have similar views on Israel. His is just as positive as the rest.

Are you nervous that, well, as an African-American, he may not always be so favorable to Israel, or for that matter, to the Jews.

Let me tell you something. One of the reasons I support him is because he is an African-American. All my life I have supported the cause of racial equality. For years I gave money to the NAACP. I remember growing up, working in my father's grocery market, which was in a black neighborhood. I was very friendly with a group of young blacks, so much so that they asked me to be a counselor of their group. I said, "But I am not like you." They said, "It don't matter, Bernie, we like you." Once they told me they were going to Hagerstown, and they insisted I go with them, which I did. I believe in treating fairly all people, regardless of their race and their religion. I have believed that all my life.

You know, McCain is pretty moderate, compared with Bush. I suppose you could live with him as president.

I could live with him, but I couldn't support him. He is not, in my opinion, a very bright man. Of course, I respect him for being a prisoner of war -- I served in World War II. But that doesn't mean that he would be a good president.

Joe Lieberman supports him.

Well, I don't like him much either. He should start voting more like a Democrat and stop supporting people like Bush.

You know, I heard that you talked about Obama at the family seder last year.

Yes, I did. When they got to the part of the Haggadah called "Barekh", I said, "Not Barekh, Barack!"

Recently, this elderly gentleman has been suffering from clinical depression, which makes him pessimistic and anxious about Obama's chances. He worries a lot. So I have been trying to cheer him up and give him hope, with a little help from a friend, who is a prominent fundraiser for Obama.

And with a little help from the candidate himself. You see, when Obama heard about Bernie, he sent him a copy of the book he liked so much, The Audacity of Hope. And to help him fight his depression, the candidate inscribed it:

To Bernie,

Keep Dreaming Big Dreams

Barack Obama

Thanks, Barack.

And may you soon recover from your depression, Dad.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yehezkel Dror's Defence of Jewish Fascism in the Forward

"Fascism" means many things to many people, and is, I grant, an overworked term. Leftists cry "fascist" so many times that it is hard to tell a real fascist when you see one. So for the purposes of this article, let me define "Jewish fascism" as a belief that the existence of a Jewish state trumps all values, especially moral ones; that individual and collective morality must be submerged to the interests of that state. In Zionist historiography, "Jewish fascism" is identified with the revisionists, but that is arguable. Jabotinsky, like so many others, often talked the fascist talk, but was ambivalent. Labor Zionists did not like to talk openly like Jabotinsky, since they were socialists, but their tactics confirmed his strategy. In recent years, Jewish fascism is associated with neocons like Poldheretz and Ruth Wisse, who opens her book on Jewish Power with a story implying that a live immoral Jew is better than a dead Jewish mensch, something that even Judah Halevy wouldn't have believed.

Yehezkel Dror, a professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a recipient of the Israel Prize, has written a not-so-brilliant defence of Jewish Fascism in the Forward, of all places. The argument is a familiar one and contains the familiar elisions: the state of Israel = the Jewish people, so the survival of the former is the same as the survival of the latter, or at least a necessary condition. Dror doesn't even bother to raise the question whether the state of Israel is good for the survival of the Jews; he holds that truth to be self-evident. The fact that more Jews have died as Jews since 1945 because of the Jewish state than of any other cause doesn't faze him. The fact that not a single Jew has been rescued by the Jewish state that wasn't previously endangered by it doesn't cross his mind. He could argue, of course, that Jewish existence is more certain than it was a century ago. But he doesn't; he just takes it for granted.

But let's grant him the point that the survival of Israel = the survival of the Jews. The question is what can be done in order to ensure that survival? And it turns out that Dror, like many other intellectual fascists, wimps out at this point. He allows that it is legitimate to criticize policies of the state, so long as they are unreasonable, or do not advance the state's interests. Who is to judge what they are? Well, Dror, I suppose, and other like-minded individuals; certainly there is no good argument why Israeli-style democracy is essential for the survival of the state. A fundamentalist theocracy a la Iran would do just as well.

No, for Dror the issue is between realpolitik and liberal morality; chuck the latter, he says, in favor of the former. All right, in that case we have chucked neoconservatism and liberal interventionism, and we are back with Walt and Mearsheimer's thesis that US unlimited support for Israel is against the US interest. Look, I have no problem with realpolitik (sorry guys), but why say that it has anything to do with Judaism or with Jews? Once again, Dror has no argument for a liberal democratic state; he believes in it precisely because of the values with which he was inculcated.

Are state's moral agents? That is a long philosophical discussion that I can't go into. But whether they are or whether they are not, states that allow widespread immorality generally are not stable over time. If Dror wants to argue that liberal morality is in the Jewish state's interest (for one thing, it is a stabilizing factor, for another, it eases a small state like Israel's acceptance in the family of nations, that is one thing. And I imagine he would agree to that. But it is a sign of his intellectual poverty that he can't see that that conclusion is undermined by his main claim.

The truth is that folks like Dror, Podhoretz, and Wisse attempt to provide moral justifications for Israel's actions. When they think they can't, they resort to the Jewish Fascist strategy of Israel's "survival" trumping all considerations. The form of their argument is: either Israel's actions are moral, or morality doesn't count.

Of course, as I said, none of this has anything to do with Judaism. I suppose that it does have something to do with all those Jewish kings in the Bible who identified their own interest with the interest of their people, and were promptly disabused of that idea by the prophets. Prophetic Judaism doesn't count much with the Jewish fascists. Jewish fascism is the latest version of Jewish zealotry that goes back to Reuven and Shimon, who would massacre an entire people to avenge the lost honor of their sister Dina. For them, the clan's survival trumped all morality. To Azure's editor David Hazony, the brothers were just engaging in realpolitik.

My response -- the Jewish response -- is Israel's last word: Be-sodam al tavo nafshi. "I will not participate in their councils." Jewish zealotry is as Jewish as felafel, my favorite Palestinian dish.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Baka Lefties

Hell hath no fury like a settler criticized by the liberal Zionist.

The settler looks disdainfully at the liberal Zionist and says, “We are doing in Judea and Samaria what you guys did for a century throughout the Land of Israel.” If the Zionist leftie happens to live in a formerly Arab neighborhood, like Jerusalem's Katamon, Baka, Talbieh – or in Sheikh Munis, the Arab village where Tel-Aviv University sits today -- the settler gloatfully throws this at him: “You guys are worse than we are. At least we built settlements on land where nobody ever lived. You live in Arab houses."

At this point, the liberal Zionist generally sputters in outraged response: “There is no comparison. Where we live is internationally recognized, albeit de facto, as part of the state of Israel. Even the Palestinian national leadership has recognized Israel’s right to the lands within the pre-67 borders, or at least it doesn’t demand more than this. What was done by a Zionist movement in pursuit of independence, and during a war, cannot be compared to the actions of a sovereign state after independence and during peace time. Moreover, the actions of the settlers thwart the possibility of a two-state solution.” Some may even add that they are willing to move out of their formerly Arab neighborhoods in the case of a peace settlement, provided they get fair compensation.

Yada, yada, yada....

All this is well and good when discussing the behavior of states and their citizens. But I want to talk in this post about personal morality,. And I will start with myself.

I am a Baka Leftie. I live in that part of South Jerusalem that Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman write so elegantly from and about in their South Jerusalem blog. Baka was a Palestinian middle to upper-class neighborhood before 1947; after the war it was used to house Jewish immigrants from North Africa. Some of those original immigrants still live in Baka, although many have died or moved elsewhere. The neighborhood has been undergoing “gentrification” for over two decades, with a lot of the old properties bought up, at outrageous prices, by American and French absentee owners. Local residents, less well-off, have purchased flats in the shikunim (“projects”) that are slowly being renovated, at least on the outside. These owners include a fair number of liberal American Jews who made aliyah in the seventies and the eighties. Not all the lefties are Anglos. Aging Peace-Now activists like the philosophers Avishai Margalit and Menachem Brinker live in Baka, though you won’t seem them frequenting synagogues like Yedidya, Shira Hadasha, bastions of the Anglo-orthodox left, or Kol ha-Neshama of the Anglo-reform left.

Now I don’t live inside an Arab house, but I do live on top of one; my flat was built around ten years ago on somebody’s roof. Needless to say, the Palestinian owner of the roof didn’t get a penny from the purchase. I have no idea who he or she is/was. I can console myself with the idea that I am not living inside his house. But so what -- I am living on a roof that does not belong to me, utilizing air rights that don’t belong to me.

So how do I justify this to myself morally? The answer is that I can't. It took me thirty years to realize that there is no justification. Of course, there are a lot worse things than what I am doing, but that doesn't make me feel better. Robert Fulghum said it best: One of the things we learn in kindergarten is not to take things that don’t belong to us. Living in a house which was taken from the owners is stealing. It’s that simple. True, others do it all the time. But so what?

After forty years it is time that the "Baka Lefties" get together and discuss the problem, critically and honestly. Preferably that discussion should be with Palestinian groups.

Several years ago I privately began inquiries with Palestinians to see if I could find the original owners of the house on which I live. What would I have done had I found them? Well, first of all, I would have apologized for living on top of their house. Second, I would have tried to come to a a financial understanding with them that would not prejudice any future claims they would have to state-compensation. And third, and more basically, I would ask their permission to live on top of their house.

I did all this without telling anybody, including my family, who gave me hell for not involving them. I wasn't very successful. Since then I heard that an acquaintance of mine, who lives in Talpiyot, had successfully done the same thing. I am not at the liberty to divulge his name, especially since I haven’t spoken with him about it. But when I was making my inquiries as to the owners, I was encouraged by the Palestinians with whom I was in contact (with the notable exception of the London-based Salman Abu Sitta, who told me to give up the whole project, and just support a group like Zochrot.)

I think the time has come to organize. There is now a critical mass of Baka Lefties –and not just Baka Lefties, but Israelis of all sort, who, I believe, would be willing to try to attempt some sort of encounter between settlers and refugees. Perhaps we should try to work through Zochrot; perhaps somebody has a better idea of proceeding.

But we must stop saying that this is only a matter for the government. If we wait for the government to do something about the injustice, we will die waiting. And, frankly, as bad as I feel about living on top of somebody else’s house, without his or her knowledge, or permission, I feel a lot worse about living out my life and dying there.

Liberal guilt? You bet. But I am tired of hearing facile raitonalizations. I see no reason why I have to wait for other people in order for me to do the right thing.

Help me out here, ye gang of agin' sixties activists! Let’s do something about this thing before we are sent to Baka old-age homes -- which also belong to Arab refugees.

Shabbat Shalom

Monday, May 12, 2008

Leon Uris' Influence on Barack Obama

Jeffrey ("You-Can-Dump-On-Israel-As-Long-As-You-Are-A-Liberal-Zionist-Like-Me") Goldberg has an interview with Obama in Atlantic.Com that will trouble Obama supporters who are under the illusion that the US can still be an honest broker in the Middle East. On the same day when my Shabbas-minyan-mate Joe Lieberman wonders out loud why a Hamas spokesman welcomes an Obama presidency, a wary Goldberg goads Obama into expressing his undying admiration for the Jewish state.

JG: You’ve talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris. So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.

In that paragraph, and in the entire interview, you see why Walt and Mearsheimer's thesis of an Israel Lobby is so, well, irrelevant. There is an Israel Lobby in America, and it is called America (minus some leftwing churches and Muslims). So why should anybody be surprised that Obama goes on and on about his understanding for Israel, with just a few words about the Palestinians. (Goldberg, who apparently is spooked by goyim talking about Palestinians, never brings up the subject.) This is all Obama has to say about the Palestinian people.

When I visited Ramallah, among a group of Palestinian students, one of the things that I said to those students was: “Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional. Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” I’ve said this in front of audiences where, if there were any doubts about my position, that’d be a place where you’d hear it.

So there you have it -- according to Obama, the Israelis get a country whose "security is non-negotiable", whereas the Palestinians get, if they are good, "a country that can function."

That could be any liberal Zionist speaking, and it will play big with Obama's target audience, the Jewish liberals like my sister-in-law who are still nervous about him.

There is, of course, the ritual Goldberg defamation of Jimmy Carter in his best Alan Dershowitz manner:
JG: What do you make of Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that Israel resembles an apartheid state?

Funny, Jeff, but I never heard Jimmy Carter suggest that Israel resembles an apartheid state. I did hear him express his fear that the West Bank may resemble de facto a system of apartheid because of separate roads, separate laws, and separate water resources for settlers and natives. I have heard you suggest somewhat similar thing sans the "A"-word. Of course, you are a Jew and Carter isn't.

It is no surprise that Obama stays squarely within the American liberal Zionist consensus on Israel. I have said from the beginning that he will disappoint, and that there is a lot more to this election than Israel.

But maybe not all is bleak if he brings in a diverse Middle East team. Before the last presidential election, I had lunch with a prominent neocon intellectual and military historian, a man who had been a high-profile supporter of both Iraq wars. I asked him who he was voting for, and he said, "John Kerry". When I expressed surprise, he said, "Look, I may have some misgivings about Kerry. But I know the people he is working with, and they are intelligent -- unlike the Bush folks who were responsible for the fiasco in Iraq."

That may be true of Obama, though, frankly, I don't have the hutzpah -- sorry, the audacity -- to have much hope on this one.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rob Malley "Sacked" from Obama Campaign? Puleeze!!!

Leave it to Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz's out-of-touch rightwing US correspondent, to fall for a cooked-up story from the London Times about Rob Malley's being "sacked" from the Obama campaign. Rosner "reported" the story here. Since Malley never served in the Obama campaign, he couldn't have been sacked from it. He has acted as an informal advisor in the past and no doubt he will in the future, along with several others. Because of the McCain's campaign effort to tie Obama with Malley, Malley formally "severed all ties" on Friday with the campaign. This is nothing more than a media gimmick to puncture McCain's campaign. As for McCain, well, he obviously has "lost his bearings," not because he is old, but because he is dumb.

The London Times story was that after the McCain campaign pointed out that Malley talked with Hamas, he was fired. I suppose that the Brits can be forgiven for completely misinterpreting the following remark of Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr. Obama
Rob Malley has, like hundreds of other experts, provided informal advice to the campaign in the past. He has no formal role in the campaign and he will not play any role in the future

So if Malley never had a formal role in the campaign, then how can he be "sacked" from it? Note that LaBolt didn't say that Malley hadn't given advice in the past nor would he in the future, only that he wouldn't play a role in the campaign. It's comforting to know that Malley won't be overseeing campaign strategy for Obama. Duh!

I can't blame the Brits for manufacturing news. But Rosner, who could pick up the phone from his Suburban Maryland home and call Malley, should know better. His pathetic attempts to deflate Obama (usually with question marks, so as to appear as if he himself doesn't necessarily buy the rumors, e.g., "Will Jews support Obama?" or "Is International Support Hurting Obama?") haven't reaped any fruit.

The McCain folks are trying to dig up Obama's past associations with -- God forbid --Rashid Khalidi to smear him with the Jews. Well, I am on record saying that I hope the Jews don't vote for Obama, so that he can elected without our help and then not be beholden to us. But the truth is that Jews will vote overwhelmingly for Obama -- mark my words -- much to the chagrin of the rightwingers, and to the detriment of the Palestinians.

As Obama's political career has taken off, he has distanced himself from the Palestinians to win elections and to get the Jewish vote. That's just what politicians do. When the Palestinians have the political clout that the Jews do, then things may change, but when will that happen?

For Obama's abandonment of the Palestinians after initial expression of sympathy, see today's Times. But anybody who reads the Electronic Intifada has known about that for some time.

As for "talking to Hamas"...everybody knows that Hamas is a major player, and that the United States (and the Quartet) erred by boycotting the democratically-elected Palestinian Authority. You don't need Rob Malley to understand the drift of the following passage:

" setting rigid, all-or nothing preconditions for engagement after the [Palestinians parliament] election, US diplomacy was perceived as confusing the positions of Hamas as a movement with the actions of the elected Palestinians government. The preconditions adopted by the Quartet closed off diplomacy."

That is a direct slap at US and Israeli policy of non-engagement with the Hamas-led PA government. And it is not made by Rob Malley, but by Daniel C. Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky in their book, "Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace." (p. 72)

Dan Kurtzer will no doubt play a major role in the Middle East policy of the Obama administration -- but McCain's Jewish Republicans find Malley easier to go after now.

Man, are they aiming at the wrong guy. Ed Lasky at the American Thinker rightly senses that Kurtzer's views differ significantly -- and, in his eyes, dangerously -- from the views of previous administrations under which Kurtzer served. That is because those administrations failed abysmally in their Middle East policy. Still, don't expect anything but a change in tone from an Obama administration on the Middle East, Kurtzer or no Kurtzer.

Still, that will be welcome.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Liberal Wimp's Guide to Celebrating Yom ha-Atzma'ut and Remembering an-Nakba

Of all people, Bradley Burston in Haaretz summed up a lot of my feelings on this, the 60th anniversary of founding of the State of Israel, and the commemoration of the Nakba. Of course, I reject totally his symmetry between us and them. But he obviously is not in the mood for celebrating. Read the article here

The other day I was asked whether I recite the Hallel prayer with a blessing on Yom ha-Atzma'ut. That is traditionally a demarcator between enthusiastic religious Zionists and more halakhically cautious ones; of course, the ultra-orthodox don't recite it at all. This is what I told the questioner: There is a famous midrash on the parting of the Red Sea, where the Almighty rebukes the angels who are singing His praises by saying, "My creatures (i.e., the Egyptians) are drowning, and you sing a song of praise?" Now God may allow recently-freed slaves to rejoice over the downfall of their oppressors. But surely not that is not the ideal. And when those who are drowning in sea are not oppressors but innocent victims of, according to the Zionist narrative, Jewish liberation -- then how can any decent person rejoice?

The answer is that despite the sixty-year old (100 + year old?) Nakba, there are some positive elements to the Jewish state founded sixty years ago, that imperfect regime that engaged (and engages) in ethnic cleansing and dividing up the spoils of war. In fact, they are too numerous to mention.

So here's the liberal wimp's list of things to do to celebrate Israel's Independence Day:

1) If you can't have a mangal (barbecue) at least eat felafel. It's a good Palestinian dish that Israeli Jews have -- what else? -- appropriated from them. When you eat it, have a special kavannah that you are eating it for the sake of uniting the Palestinian and the Israeli Jewish people.

2) If you live outside of Israel, don't attend any of the community celebrations honoring sixty years of Israeli independence. Or if you do, hand our t-shirts that say, "Happy Birthday, Israel" on the front, and "Remember the Nakba" on the back. Be prepared to run fast.

3) Buy five copies of the powerful English translation of S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh and send it to family and friends. This is a short powerful book that brings home the Nakba in a way that Elie Wiesel's Night brought home the Holocaust to me forty years ago.

4) Honor the Palestinian and Jewish activists who labor day and night to bring justice to the Palestinians inside and outside of Israel. "The day is short and the labor is long." There are so many groups whose work allows wimpy liberals like me to sleep a little better at night. May God bless them all.

But a special blessing this year to Gabi Eldor, of the Jaffa Arab-Jewish theater, Yosef (Pappe) Allo, a Jerusalem activist, Sa'id el-Uqbi, a peace activist, Sherry Bashi, Gisha (organization that works to provide access for Palestinians, Beni Gefen, peace activist, Alon Lee Green, labor activist, Giora Segal, educator and teacher; Yigal Ezrati, the Arabic-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa, Lilia Pether, foreign worker activist, Ehud Shem Tov, Social TV. (Please forgive the misspellings. These activists were honored by lighting the torches at the Alternative Torch Lighting Ceremony sponsored by Yesh Gvul

5) Give a donation to the Obama campaign. All right, I know this one is cheezy. And I don't have many illusions. But of all the candidates, he has the most potential to do something, which I don't believe he will do, to bring justice, which I don't believe will happen, to the Palestinians.

That's all. Note that I didn't post this until the day was over. My bad.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Judah Magnes -- The Forgotten Prophet

There is a series in Haaretz called, "1948 Diaries," which today featured Judah Magnes's Zionist activities to prevent the unilateral establishment of a Jewish state. I have reproduced the article below. Unfortunately, this is a very busy week (month) for me, so I have to be a bit brief on comment.

But one of my occasional readers, bar_kochba132, has asked that even if Magnes was right, what was the alternative? I will let him say it in his words:

A continuation of the British mandate seemed not to be in the cards, because Britain was bankrupt and they were going to pull out of their main base in Egypt anyway, so Palestine had less and less strategic importance to them (once they had to give up the Suez Canal). One possibility was a UN Mandate, but those have been problematic. A unitary state would have likely lead to a Lebanon-type situation with an ongoing civil war, with the Arabs jealous of Jewish economic dominance. So what did Magnes think was the solution?

Oy, I simply can't answer that important question now. And, needless to say, 1948 is not 2008. But here it is in brief:

Magnes was a pragmatist and a tireless diplomat. As I have said before, he should be distinguished from Buber, Simon, and the Brit Shalom crowd. Before the establishment of the state, he pushed for a binational state, and was encouraged by the minority UNSCOP that called for a federal state. The latter solution was also rejected by the Arab States; some of the Arab side were prepared to allow the Jews to have minority rights and a certain degree of cultural autonomy, but not parity of any sort. As the article states, Magnes was prepared for a temporary UN mandate or trusteeship, and he was also in favor of postponing the implementation of partition (as was the US State Department). Following the establishment of the State of Israel, he argued for a federation of several states with a joint army, economic and foreign policies.

The tragedy of Magnes was that his ideas were, I believe, right in principle, but their timing was wrong. Neither the Zionists nor the Arabs were willing to listen, and he understood quite well the logic of their positions.

After the semester is over, I will post a fascinating debate between Aubrey (Abba) Eban and Judah Magnes that appeared in Commentary in 1948. He called then for a United States of Palestine. Who would have thought sixty years ago, and in a much altered situation, that so much of that debate is relevant?

1948 diaries: Saving the Jews from themselves

By Ofri Ilani

Judah Magnes, a founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its first president, was in poor health on April 13, 1948. The 70-year-old Magnes knew the end was near, but that didn't stop him from flying to Washington, D.C., in an effort to end the violence in the soon-to-be-born State of Israel. He represented almost no one other than a group of peace-seeking professors, but was nonetheless able to access and influence the American administration.

He had access because the State Department wanted to slow down partition, and they wanted Magnes to influence Truman. It didn't work.

The details of this forgotten period during Israel's struggle for independence are revealed in excerpts of Magnes' diary, published here for the first time, which describe the Zionist leader's attempt to convince the president of the United States to force a cease-fire and prevent both the implementation of the partition plan and the establishment of a Jewish state.

When the United Nations passed the partition plan on November 29, 1947, not all the Jews celebrated in the streets. A group of intellectuals, most of them Hebrew University lecturers, believed that the war that would break out in the wake of the establishment of a Jewish state would bring disaster down on the Jews and the Arabs alike. Magnes, a Reform rabbi, pacifist and anti-imperialist who was known for his opposition to World War I, was one of the most important Zionist leaders of his era. He was a leading figure in the New York Jewish community and was a key liaison between the Zionist leadership and the American administration. He moved to Israel in 1922 and came out in support of the establishment of a single, binational state for Jews and Arabs, with a government comprised of representatives from both peoples.

Magnes' personal diary, which he wrote in English, discusses his despair at the violence as the British Mandate came to an end, intermingling those accounts with descriptions of his worsening health and his nightmares.

On April 12, 1948, Magnes wrote in his diary: "For more than a generation I have been pleading for peace, conciliation, understanding. How can I not and stand before the world and say: 'Friends, stop the bloodshed. Understanding is possible.' This is the moment I have been preparing for all these years."

The American consul told Magnes that if no trusteeship were formed by May 15, Palestine would enter a period full of "very grave danger with bloodshed," Magnes wrote the same day. "Great need of courageous, constructive attitude such as mine," he wrote. "Therefore time come for me and others selected... or me alone to come to U.S. in order to cooperate." Magnes expressed the hope that if a state were declared, the United States would impose sanctions on Israel, saying that there can be no war without money or ammunition.

On April 13, Magnes was informed that 34 Hebrew University and Hadassah hospital employees were killed in an attack on a convoy to Mount Scopus. All told, 77 people were killed in the attack, many of them Magnes' friends. But Manges was no less shocked by the massacre than he was by the circumstances that preceded it: Four days earlier, the Irgun and Lehi pre-state Jewish underground militias killed more than 100 Palestinians at Deir Yassin.

At the funerals of those killed in the convoy attack, Magnes condemned the cruelty of both sides, and was denounced as a traitor by many members of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine).

"Unlike other Zionist leaders, like [David] Ben-Gurion, Magnes' diaries are not just a political document," says Hebrew University Prof. Aryeh Goren, who is researching and editing Magnes' writings. "His writing is very personal - he shares and talks about his misgivings and his weaknesses."

Magnes considered himself to be a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and the prophet Jeremiah, and opposed all forms of nationalism that are based on military force. The Ihud (Unity) association he established with several others is seen as the flagship group of left-wing Zionists regarding all that pertains to Jewish-Arab relations. Its members were attacked by nearly all the political parties in the pre-state period, and were described as defeatists, ghetto-like and anti-patriotic.

A long study of the Ichud was published by Prof. Joseph Heller in Hebrew a few years ago. Unfortunately, it is only in Hebrew, and the author can't afford to have it translated into English. (I should mentioned in passing that the author does not share Magnes's views, or thinks that they would have worked.)

"Magnes predicted that even if we win the war, there would then be another war, and another one. It would never end," says Goren. "When the battles of the War of Independence began, he tried to halt the implementation of the UN decision and advance the idea that was promoted then by the American State Department, that the UN would freeze the partition decision and in the interim force both sides into a trusteeship with a temporary government, until the conditions suit another arrangement. Magnes thought that this was an opportunity to stop the turn of events, in the hope that in the meantime there would be understanding and it would be possible to talk."

Magnes died several months after the establishment of the state. His loss was not only a great loss to the Jewish people but to Zionism and the State of Israel. He is virtually a forgotten figure. And the reason for that, aside from the obvious one that he went against the master narrative, is that, as an American and a reform Jew, he was an outsider in a country founded by Russian Jewish nationalists on a European socialist model. In a sense, the failure of Magnes was the first of countless failures of liberal Zionist American Jews to have an impact on the country. His writings have never been translated into Hebrew, and, aside from Heller's book, very few have studied him.

But his time will come

Friday, May 2, 2008

Now the Hebron Settlers Are Attacking the Road Map Implementation Monitor

Haaretz is reporting that the Hebron settlers successfully disrupted the visit to Hebron by General William Frasier, the new road map implementation monitor. They managed to get one of their jeeps into his motorcade, whereupon his security people's car hit the jeep and a fight broke out between the settlers and the security people. The general and his people left the place immediately.

Apparently the settler hooligans don't discriminate -- or they believe that General Frasier is a crazy leftwing self-hating Jew.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Police Bar "Breaking the Silence" Tour Group From Entering Hebron

This just in from Haaretz: The Israeli police in Hebron (a.k.a. the military wing of the Hebron settlers) have prevented Bne Avraham/Breaking the Silence from giving tours of Hebron. These tours have been going on for three years without much incident. But emboldened by their violence last week, the Hebron settlers (a.k.a. the pseudo-Jews, or the Judaeo-Nazis) have convinced the police that the balagan the settlers make can be avoided by barring the "outside agitators."

I know, I know, this is small potatoes compared with some of the other stories from Haaretz, such as the millions of liters of raw sewage that are polluting and poisoning the water of the Gazans, due to the ongoing siege of Gaza, or the humiliation of Palestinians by Border Police.

The Hell only gets worse. Happy Birthday.

Still, with any luck, Michael Sfard will get a court order instructing the police to allow the tours to go on. And if the courts rule against the group, well, heck, I will be back at the end of May, and I will be happy to drive to Hebron and give the same tour.

Leftist group: Police barring us from monitoring Hebron settlers By Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondent

The group "Shovrim Shtika" (breaking the silence) said that the police have recently begun barring the organization from touring Hebron to monitor the actions of settlers. The main reason for this, according to the group, is the fact that the police has surrendered to the policies of the settlers in Hebron and Kiryat Arba.

The police, for their part, describe the "Shovrim Shtika" tours as a "platform for extreme left-wingers to enter the Jewish territory and create an imbalance in the area." The police maintain that they have not done anything that deviates from the law.

An altercation erupted Thursday between activists and settlers from Hebron and Kiryat Arba. Yehuda Shaul of "Shovrim Shtika", who has been organizing tours of Hebron for three years, said that he arrived in Kiryat Arba and turned with his group to show them an outpost outside the settlement and was then stopped at the entrance by a group of settlers who surrounded the vehicle he was in.

The right wing activists tell a different story: Noam Arnon said he and his friends were among the few people at the scene who did not surround the vehicle. He said that the car shaul was in had driven backwards in efforts to run over another activist.

A police officer who arrived at the scene forbade the group from touring Hebron, even though the tour was already coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces and the police, and despite the fact that the settlers can travel freely anywhere in the area.

According to Shaul, this was the third such incident this week. He explained that this kind of restriction was a part of a growing trend. Attorney Michael Sfard said that the police behavior in these incidents has become "the executing arm of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, and if this behavior doesn't change, legal action will be taken."

Are the Palestinians "Oppressed and Abused" by their Leaders

For my sins, I am a member of a listserve called the "Jewish Faculty Roundtable." Too much of the listserve is devoted to Israel, particularly the question of the so-called "anti-Israel climate" on campuses. It is good that Jews, especially wealthy Jews, believe that there is such a climate. For then they donate lots of money to universities, who then hire scholars of "Israel Studies," most of whom are center-left (if they are Israeli, they are usually more to the left.)

But on a recent post, Ed Halper, who is a professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Georgia, and a fine scholar, made the following remark about the "abuse and oppression" of the Palestinians by their leaders

The [Palestinian] leaders' intransigence, propagandizing, willingness to use ordinary Palestinians for cannon fodder, along with their theft of aid funds has done everything to prolong this conflict and prevent implementation of the only just and feasible solution, the self-determination for the two communities.

I cannot understand how people who claim to be leftists can turn a blind eye to this oppression.

Here's my response to this very bad argument.

First, change "Palestinians" to "Israelis", and change "theft of aid funds" to "fiscal corruption", and you have, arguably, an accurate description of Israel@60. So what?

Or, if you like, substitute "Americans," who, arguably, have been oppressed by their government for the last eight years. So what?

Or, if you believe that the Palestinians have been oppressed by their leaders -- I don't -- my question to you will be, so what?

It doesn't make a damn difference.

Because, you see, what the Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians, have in common is that their governments were elected in fair elections. The Palestinian elections were monitored by international observers. In each case, the people should have gotten what they deserved. If they voted the bums in, that's their headache.

But only in one case -- that of the Palestinians -- were the elections results overturned by outside interference. After supporting elections -- elections, I may add, that to a large extent, actually threw the corrupt bums out -- Israel arrested the elected officials that it did not like and imposed a siege on Gaza -- not because it was actually being attacked, but because the Palestinians had elected a group viewed by the US and Israel (and much of Europe), to be a terrorist organization.

Fair enough...but if you justify Israel's actions in the interest of Israeli security (what about Palestinian security?), you have automatically declared Palestinians territories to be, if not under occupation, than under the thumb of Israel. And therefore you have made the Israelis responsible for the governance of thsoe territories.

Indeed, it follows that the Israelis are responsible for the oppression of the Palestinians, even by their leaders -- for their leaders really have no power but serve at the whim of the Israelis.

In short, you can't have it both ways, but that is exactly what Israel, and its defenders want. They are willing to give the Palestinians autonomy as long as it is no threat to Israel.

If the Palestians feel "oppressed" by their leaders, then it is up for them to vote them out. To a large extent they did just that -- but that's when the "grownups" stepped in.