Friday, June 27, 2008

Two More (Palestinians) for the Road – The Ethnic Cleansing Continues

Anybody accusing me of dual loyalty would be right: as a citizen of both America and Israel I pledge allegiance to two countries and enjoy the rights and responsibilities of both countries, traveling between them as much as I want, and spending time in them without having to wait in long lines at the airport and apply for visas.

If I were a Palestinian, and spent some time out of the country, then I could lose my residency rights in Palestine. If I were a Palestinian who lived all my life in Jerusalem, and then married a Palestinian from the US, who lost his residency privileges in his native Palestine, then ipso facto I would lose mine – even if I spent most my time in the land where my family has lived for generation. Just marrying a Palestinian living in the US would jeopardize my status in my native land.

That is what is known as "ethnic cleansing lite". The Zionists have always done their best to rid Israel and the Occupied Territories of Palestinians – not so much through murder, rape, or torture, which would be ethnic cleansing of the sort we expect in Rwanda or Bosnia, as through more banal methods, such as telling a Palestinian-American like Sam Bahour, who moved to Israel during the Oslo period, and who has been living in the West Bank with his wife and two daughters, and who during that time has had to renew his "tourist" visa every 3 or 6 months, that he will not be able to renew it again -- and that he will have to separate from his family. Oh, and about that "tourist" visa; you see, that's the best a Palestinian who comes to live in Palestine can do in the Palestinian territories, whose population is controlled entirely by Israel.

Some part of me wants this policy to be part of a master Israeli plan in which Palestinian Americans, and upper middle-class Palestinian professionals, are deliberately driven from the territories in order that they become centers for poverty, terrorism, and Islamic fundamentalism. Such centers will ensure the requisite number of Jews being blown up in order to justify Israel's continuing existence before the world as an ethnonationalist state that controls and settles the territories. I say that some part of me wants this policy to be part of such a plan, only because that would indicate some degree of intelligence on the part of those who framed such a policy.

But no, I really think that there is no master plan; it is simply bureaucratic evil, an expression of the need to humiliate Palestinians. Otherwise I cannot explain why Israel has gone to such lengths to stick to this policy, despite US "pressure" and despite its promises to work out "humanitarian" solutions.

The first letter is from Mona Nasir Tucktuck; the second from Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, who happens to be the daughter of Hanan Ashrawi. For these two there are many, many more, of course.

Dear Friends and Family,

I am writing to share a little about what is happening in my life lately. As most of you know, I have been in Jerusalem since March 18 with Ramzi who at the time had barely turned 5 months. We left Habib and made the sacrifice to be apart for the coming 4 months for the sake of preserving my Jerusalem ID, to keep my residency status. I know this might sound strange, but as a Palestinian who has lived her whole life in Jerusalem, and despite the fact that my family has lived in Jerusalem and Palestine for centuries, according to the Israeli law, Palestinians living in Jerusalem are only residents but not necessarily permanent residents, and therefore are at risk all the time of losing their residency rights.

For the past 3 years, I have been married to Habib, a Palestinian by blood but an American by citizenship, because Habib's Jerusalem residency was revoked in 2004- although Habib was born in Jerusalem, and has lived there until his adult life. Anyways, now it was my turn to renew my entry visa to "Israel" (yes, I needed a visa in my own country)- I met with a lawyer who asked for a substantial amount to help me renew my entry visa, which would preserve my residency until the next time I have to renew (a maximum of 3 years), but this time the Israelis refused to renew it and instead told me that since I made the decision to marry an "American", who can't reside in Jerusalem, I have made a decision to seek residency in a foreign country and am therefore "choosing" to abandon my residency rights in Jerusalem. (Palestinians are not allowed to have dual residency or citizenship, a law that is not applicable to Israelis who are able to hold dual or multiple citizenships.) To make a long story short, I lost my residency rights in my own country!!!! I can only go back to visit as a tourist, and have to acquire a tourist visa from the Israeli embassy!! The ironic thing is that all my family still live there!! But I can never join them, I don't have a choice in the matter. We, the people of the land are being thrown out!!!

On my way back from the lawyer's office, I was stopped by Israeli soldiers who asked to see my papers- they spoke Russian- I thought to myself, these immigrants know nothing of this land they are serving and protecting- they don't even know the language- They come from Russia, Europe, Africa, the US, and other places and choose to reside in my country- and they can!!!! Not only that but they can limit my movement in my country, and even kick me out of it! When I complained to my lawyer about this injustice he simply answered, " Mona, this is occupation!!!" Not at all the legal answer I was looking for at- there is no human law that can protect me, or preserve my rights. Needless to say, I have lost my right to return, to my the only country I ever belonged to, the only place I ever called home.

As an adult who has been living under occupation for the past 33 years, I was upset but I can't say that I was surprised by what happened to me. However, what surprised me was what is happening with my 7 month old, Ramzi. Ramzi was born in the US and therefore got an American passport. Although he is the son of two full blooded Palestinians who call Jerusalem and Palestine home, he was denied residency rights in Jerusalem and was given a tourist visa. I asked the lady at the airport when we first arrived if she could give Ramzi (then 5 months old) a 4 month Visa, rather than the traditional 3 month visa, I showed her my residency card (at the time I still was considered a resident), and showed her our return plane tickets. She said no, and said that I should apply for an extension for Ramzi at the ministry of interior. To avoid conflict and to make my life easier I asked the lawyer to apply for an extension for Ramzi..... to my surprise Ramzi was denied. The Israeli government refused to grant a 7 month old baby an extension on his visa, not even with the help of our lawyer and all his connections!!! So, now I have to face the choice of leaving with Ramzi early and change our vacation plans, or stay with Ramzi here as planned until July 25th, and have my 7 month old be illegally overstaying his welcome in the land of his ancestors. The ironic thing is that this poor little baby can't even say mama or baba, yet he is pausing a security threat to Israel that they denied him a one month extension on his visa!!

So now, my little family of three are added to the millions of Palestinians who lost their right to reside in their country and have been kicked out of their homes. We now are

residents of Las Vegas, but I will always refer to Palestine as my home. Since the 1948 diaspora of our people, the Palestinians in the world have been waiting for a just solution, that would give them the right to return to their homeland, and now 60 years later the list gets longer everyday with people just like the 3 of us who were driven out of our country. I will never give up the hope that one day I would have the choice to live in Palestine, and I will make sure that Ramzi also knows that he has a right to return!



I am Palestinian – born and raised – and my Palestinian roots go back centuries. No one can change that even if they tell me that Jerusalem , my birth place, is not Palestine , even if they tell me that Palestine doesn't exist, even if they take away all my papers and deny me entry to my own home, even if they humiliate me and take away my rights. I AM PALESTINIAN.

Name: Zeina Emile Sam'an Ashrawi; Date of Birth: July 30, 1981; Ethnicity: Arab. This is what was written on my Jerusalem ID card. An ID card to a Palestinian is much more than just a piece of paper; it is my only legal documented relationship to Palestine . Born in Jerusalem , I was given a Jerusalem ID card (the blue ID), an Israeli Travel Document and a Jordanian Passport stamped Palestinian (I have no legal rights in Jordan ). I do not have an Israeli Passport, a Palestinian Passport or an American Passport. Here is my story:

I came to the United States as a 17 year old to finish high school in Pennsylvania and went on to college and graduate school and subsequently got married and we are currently living in Northern Virginia. I have gone home every year at least once to see my parents, my family and my friends and to renew my Travel Document as I was only able to extend its validity once a year from Washington DC . My father and I would stand in line at the Israeli Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem , along with many other Palestinians, from 4:30 in the morning to try our luck at making it through the revolving metal doors of the Ministry before noon – when the Ministry closed its doors - to try and renew the Travel Document. We did that year after year. As a people living under an occupation, being faced with constant humiliation by an occupier was the norm but we did what we had to do to insure our identity was not stolen from us.

In August of 2007 I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC to try and extend my travel document and get the usual "Returning Resident" VISA that the Israelis issue to Palestinians holding an Israeli Travel Document. After watching a few Americans and others being told that their visas would be ready in a couple of weeks my turn came. I walked up to the bulletproof glass window shielding the lady working behind it and under a massive picture of the Dome of the Rock and the Walls of Jerusalem that hangs on the wall in the Israeli consulate, I handed her my papers through a little slot at the bottom of the window.

"Shalom" she said with a smile. "Hi" I responded, apprehensive and scared. As soon as she saw my Travel Document her demeanor immediately changed. The smile was no longer there and there was very little small talk between us, as usual. After sifting through the paperwork I gave her she said: "where is your American Passport?" I explained to her that I did not have one and that my only Travel Document is the one she has in her hands. She was quiet for a few seconds and then said: "you don't have an American Passport?" suspicious that I was hiding information from her. "No!" I said. She was quiet for a little longer and then said: "Well, I am not sure we'll be able to extend your Travel Document." I felt the blood rushing to my head as this is my only means to get home! I asked her what she meant by that and she went on to tell me that since I had been living in the US and because I had a Green Card they would not extend my Travel Document. After taking a deep breath to try and control my temper I explained to her that a Green Card is not a Passport and I cannot use it to travel outside the US . My voice was shaky and I was getting more and more upset (and a mini shouting match ensued) so I asked her to explain to me what I needed to do. She told me to leave my paperwork and we would see what happens.

A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from the lady telling me that she was able to extended my Travel Document but I would no longer be getting the "Returning Resident" VISA. Instead, I was given a 3 month tourist VISA. Initially I was happy to hear that the Travel Document was extended but then I realized that she said "tourist VISA". Why am I getting a tourist VISA to go home? Not wanting to argue with her about the 3 month VISA at the time so as not to jeopardize the extension of my Travel Document, I simply put that bit of information on the back burner and went on to explain to her that I wasn't going home in the next 3 months. She instructed me to come back and apply for another VISA when I did intend on going. She didn't add much and just told me that it was ready for pick-up. So I went to the Embassy and got my Travel Document and the tourist VISA that was stamped in it.

My husband, my son and I were planning on going home to Palestine this summer. So a month before we were set to leave (July 8, 2008) I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC , papers in hand, to ask for a VISA to go home. I, again, stood in line and watched others get VISAs to go to my home. When my turn came I walked up to the window; "Shalom" she said with a smile on her face, "Hi" I replied. I slipped the paperwork in the little slot under the bulletproof glass and waited for the usual reaction. I told her that I needed a returning resident VISA to go home. She took the paperwork and I gave her a check for the amount she requested and left the Embassy without incident.

A few days ago I got a phone call from Dina at the Israeli Embassy telling me that she needed the expiration date of my Jordanian Passport and my Green Card. I had given them all the paperwork they needed time and time again and I thought it was a good way on their part to waste time so that I didn't get my VISA in time. Regardless, I called over and over again only to get their voice mail. I left a message with the information they needed but kept called every 10 minutes hoping to speak to someone to make sure that they received the information in an effort to expedite the tedious process. I finally got a hold of someone. I told her that I wanted to make sure they received the information I left on their voice mail and that I wanted to make sure that my paperwork was in order. She said, after consulting with someone in the background (I assume it was Dina), that I needed to fax copies of both my Jordanian Passport and my Green Card and that giving them the information over the phone wasn't acceptable. So I immediately made copies and faxed them to Dina.

A few hours later my cell phone rang. "Zeina?" she said. "Yes" I replied, knowing exactly who it was and immediately asked her if she received the fax I sent. She said: "ehhh, I was not looking at your file when you called earlier but your Visa was denied and your ID and Travel Document are no longer valid." "Excuse me?" I said in disbelief. "Sorry, I cannot give you a visa and your ID and Travel Document are no longer valid. This decision came from Israel not from me."

I cannot describe the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach. "Why?" I asked and Dina went on to tell me that it was because I had a Green Card. I tried to reason with Dina and to explain to her that they could not do that as this is my only means of travel home and that I wanted to see my parents, but to no avail. Dina held her ground and told me that I wouldn't be given the VISA and then said: "Let the Americans give you a Travel Document".

I have always been a strong person and not one to show weakness but at that moment I lost all control and started crying while Dina was on the other end of the line holding my only legal documents linking me to my home. I began to plead with her to try and get the VISA and not revoke my documents; "put yourself in my shoes, what would you do? You want to go see your family and someone is telling you that you can't! What would you do? Forget that you're Israeli and that I'm Palestinian and think about this for a minute!" "Sorry" she said,"I know but I can't do anything, the decision came from Israel ". I tried to explain to her over and over again that I could not travel without my Travel Document and that they could not do that – knowing that they could, and they had!

This has been happening to many Palestinians who have a Jerusalem ID card. The Israeli government has been practicing and perfecting the art of ethnic cleansing since 1948 right under the nose of the world and no one has the power or the guts to do anything about it. Where else in the world does one have to beg to go to one's own home? Where else in the world does one have to give up their identity for the sole reason of living somewhere else for a period of time? Imagine if an American living in Spain for a few years wanted to go home only to be told by the American government that their American Passport was revoked and that they wouldn't be able to come back!

If I were a Jew living anywhere around the world and had no ties to the area and had never set foot there, I would have the right to go any time I wanted and get an Israeli Passport. In fact, the Israelis encourage that. I however, am not Jewish but I was born and raised there, my parents, family and friends still live there and I cannot go back! I am neither a criminal nor a threat to one of the most power countries in the world, yet I am alienated and expelled from my own home….

Well, Molech needs his sacrifices, doesn't he? Every Palestinian who is harrassed into leaving, or who is not allowed to come to Israel, is a bargaining chip, a hostage in the demographic numbers game.

Sixty-one years and counting….

Monday, June 23, 2008

Baka Lefties Again

In my post on Baka Lefties, I challenged the progessives who live in Baka (myself included) to recognize the morally problematic nature of living one's life in a house whose owners were expelled, and who will never receive compensation, at least not in our lifetimes. That post generated a certain amount of comment, although I must say that the only "Baka Lefty" I know of who responded was Deborah Greniman, and she raised some good points, which I will address below.

In my post I suggested that it would be a good idea to have the owners who have moral qualms about living in areas where the Palestinian owners were expelled to try to organize and to reach out to the original Palestinian owners, or more probably, their heirs, or, for that matter, the Palestinian people as a whole, and try to arrange some sort of interim settlement, symbolic or otherwise. I realize that there are many problems with the suggestion. But I wanted to open a discussion of what can be done.

I was misunderstood on several fronts, so here are some clarifications. But first, a story:

I have a friend who has become "green". But he drives every day to work, and that makes him feel guilty. He could take the subway but it would take him twenty minutes longer to get to work, and, frankly, it is not as convenient. He recently sold his SUV (his green consciousness is pretty recent) and got a Toyota Prius hybrid. But he still drives.

Now some people would say that my friend is hypocritical: if helping the environment were that important to him, he would not drive to work at all, they say. In fact, there are probably many things that he could do to reduce his carbon footprint. I mean, some people will die because of the environment, and he will be, in effect, helping to kill them and crying about it later.

I feel sorry for people who use that sort of argument against my friend. They don't realize – at least not when they are engaged in polemics -- that morality covers an enormous amount of grey area, that for most of that area there is no simple moral calculus to determine what is right and wrong, and that there can be areas of moral agreement and disagreement. There is a large area covered by "moral qualms," or "moral unease", which is weaker than "moral disapprobation," and over which there will be a lot of disagreement.

I used to drive on Highway 443, a highway that connects Jerusalem to Modi'in which was built on Palestinian land, and which is effectively closed to Palestinians, causing them enormous inconvenience. After thinking about the road, I decided that given the way I feel, I shouldn't use it. At first, I avoided the road unless there was a traffic jam on Highway 1, in which case I went back to 443. After all, does my use of the road make a single bit of difference to the Palestinians who can't drive on it, or to the other Israelis who can? I asked myself. Lately, however, I have been sitting in traffic jams at Sakharov rather than take the alternative route. (Serves me right for reading Gideon Levy.) But I may go back to the road, some day. Hypocritical? Yes, I suppose. But only if I feel that not using that road under any but emergency circumstances is a clear-cut moral imperative. Only if I criticized others for using it and then proceeded to use it myself.

Now, I am sure that there are people who won't buy houses in Baka because their Palestinian owners were never compensated. I salute such people, just as my friend who bought the Prius salutes those who don't drive to work at all. But there are many reasons why we do the things we do, and there are lots of factors that we weigh, when we choose neighborhoods or cars.

It is clear to me that the responsibility – legal and moral -- for compensation to the Arab refugees who left abandoned property devolves on Israel as a whole, not on the individuals living in Arab houses or on Arab lands throughout the country. Just how that compensation is to be paid and to whom is a matter for a whole different post. If you don't think the question is complicated, then you haven't been following the question of Holocaust reparations, or for that matter, the case of the Native Americans against the US government for misusing their trust funds , which is an even more egregious crime than appropriating people's houses.

I don't criticize others for not sharing my moral qualms. But I would still argue that accepting the status quo and not trying to do something about it is morally insufficient. Or, to be more modest, I still don't see how it is morally sufficient.

Let's look at this another way. Suppose there is a young Pole who learns that the house he bought, from another Pole, who bought it from still another Pole, was originally the property of a Jew, who never got compensated for it. And suppose that this young Pole feels some moral qualms about it. And suppose, finally, that he attempts to locate the owners, or that he makes a documentary film about the house, or something of this sort. Would we Jews be so quick to dismiss this guy as hypocritical or as acting from impure motives or even as acting inappropriately? When we invited him to show his film at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, would we argue that the idea of making a film was wrong, that what he really should have done was to influence the Polish government to recognize its collective responsibilities?

Or would we have said that this is a good Pole. He didn't have to do what he did, to be sure, but we admire him for doing it.

Now, to Deborah's comments:

  1. "The responsibility isn't individual; it is collective." On that I agree. But I believe that there is a greater obligation – or if that is too strong, greater cause for moral unease -- on the part of those who benefit more from the expulsion than those who don't, especially if they view it as expulsion. The way that this unease is expressed need not, of course, be in reaching out to the original owners or to their representatives. But why not make this a person-to-person initiative, especially if the people on the other side are receptive? As I wrote, I know of somebody who came to an agreement with the owners. Is what he did wrong-headed?

  2. "Living in Baka makes me feel a little less self-righteous with respect to the settlers. Like them, I too, live on contested land." The fact that the settlers and we Baka lefties are in some respects in the same boat should make me more critical of myself, and not less critical of them. My Prius–driving friend doesn't criticize his SUV-driving friends less because he didn't give up his car. Being self-righteous is never a good thing. But cutting someone too much slack in order to salve your conscience isn't great either.

  3. "It makes more sense to focus energies on better ways of making life liveable for Palestinian Jerusalemites." Amen to that. I am sure that there are lots of things more pressing than reaching out to people who abandoned their property sixty years ago. I wasn't offering my proposal as "drop-everything-let's-do-this". All I wished to do was to get people to start thinking about how we can help raise the consciousness of folks on this issue, beginning with ourselves. Zokhrot is one answer, but not the only answer.

There is every reason in the world to prefer addressing present injustices than to deal with past injustices. But if we Baka Lefties deny or rationalize the past injustices, for which we are not responsible, but from which we indirectly benefit (and all of us humans indirectly benefit from injustices, no matter how hard we try), then aren't we missing an opportunity here?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Michael Oren’s Purim Torah in June

If you need to have a good laugh before Shabbat, read Michael Oren's take on the Israel-Hamas truce/cease-fire agreement in the Wall Street Journal here

I have no problem with the title, "Israel's Truce with Hamas is a Victory for Iran." I am sure that Oren would have liked Israel to repeat America's success in Iraq with a "rolling, multi-month operation."

No, what amuses me so much is Oren's narrative of the "tragedy". Here is what he writes:

"The roots of this tragedy go back to the summer of 2005 and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The evacuation, intended to free Israel of Gaza's political and strategic burden, was hailed as a victory by Palestinian terrorist groups, above all Hamas.

"Hamas proceeded to fire some 1,000 rocket and mortar shells into Israel. Six months later Hamas gunmen, taking advantage of an earlier cease-fire, infiltrated into Israel, killed two soldiers, and captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

"Hamas's audacity spurred Hezbollah to mount a similar ambush against Israelis patrolling the Lebanese border, triggering a war in which Israel was once again humbled. Hamas now felt sufficiently emboldened to overthrow Gaza's Fatah-led government, and to declare itself regnant in the Strip. Subsequently, Hamas launched thousands more rocket and mortar salvos against Israel, rendering parts of the country nearly uninhabitable.

"In response, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) air strikes and limited ground incursions killed hundreds of armed Palestinians in Gaza, and Israel earned international censure for collateral civilian deaths and "disproportionate" tactics. Israel also imposed a land and sea blockade of Gaza, strictly controlling its supply of vital commodities such as a gasoline. But the policy enabled Hamas to hoard the fuel and declare a humanitarian crisis."

Like most Israeli apologists, Oren denies the Jews effective agency in their encounter with the Palestinians. Jews almost never take the initiative; they only respond. Hence it is wrong to look for the roots of the tragedy in the Israeli support of Hamas during the eighties by the Israelis, or the war against Hamas during the nineties, or the response of the Israelis to the Second Intifada, which crippled Fatah, or the sanctions against Hamas after they won democratic elections promoted by the US and Israel. These points are unimportant because the Palestinian actions and attitudes toward Israel are independent of anything Israel may do to them; they are born of MUSLIM ANTISEMITISM AND FUNDAMENTALISM that needs no external impetus. From Oren's account, it would seem that Israel never fought against Hamas before 2007, or even pressured them. Only after Hamas took over the Gaza strip – "emboldened by Israel's failure in Lebanon" (apparently, Hamas has no internal-Palestinian agenda, either)-- did Israel launch air strikes.

Oren doesn't talk about targeted assassinations, or sanctions, or shelling, or incursions, or about Israel's virtually complete control over the economic life of the Gaza strip. He doesn't talk about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza from 2000 on. He doesn't talk about Israel's kidnapping soldiers (or violating Lebanese sovereignty with fly overs.)

The Gaza evacuation is the exception that proves the rule -- because that was a deliberately unilateral move that excluded the Palestinians. Oren can make a silly statement about Hamas leaders being able to walk freely in Gaza while children in Sderot cower in bomb shelters. If there are Hamas leaders like that, it is only because the four previous generations of Hamas leaders were blown apart by Israeli shells.

I know enough not to listen to Oren's new and revisionist history. I read the papers when the events happened. But some Israelis actually believe this junk.

I am going to keep Oren's article for when Obama pulls out of Iraq. Now, that will be a victory for al-Qaeda, right?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Prominent Israeli Writers, Law Professors, and Intellectuals Back "Breaking the Silence"

On the front page of the print edition of yesterday's Haaretz, the following advertisement appeared:

"Enforce the Law in Hebron!

"For the past three years activists of the "Breaking the Silence" organization have been conducting tours in the city of Hebron.

"More than 5000 people have participated in one of the 300 tours that the organization has conducted in the last three years. The aim of the tours, conducted by veterans who have served in the city either as regular or reservist soldiers, is to expose to the Israeli public what is happening in the city of the patriarchs. This activity has encountered from the outset violent opposition from the setters in the Hebron, and has had to overcome difficulties from the security forces. Over the last few days, certain persons in the Israeli Police, including the commander of the Hebron District, Avshalom Peled, have called the activists, "provocateurs," "militants," and "lawbreakers." Assertions such as these, which aren't supported with any real facts or evidence, arouse the suspicion of political persecution. The background for these absurd statments is the weakness of the police, and its unreadiness to discharge the state's commitment, within the framework of the petition against obstructing the tours, submitted recently to the High Court of Justice. In response to the state's commitment to the court to permit a renewal of the tours, the settlers increased their attacks, and they continue to obstruct physically the tours. Caving in to the settlers's violence, the police have prevented the tours from being conducted. As always in Hebron, violence pays.

"We demand that the Israeli Police retract their scandalous and unsubstantiated assertions.

"We demand that the Israeli Police enable "Breaking the Silence" to conduct the tours in Hebron.

"We demand that the Israeli Police enforce the law with respect to the Hebron settlers.

"We call upon the Israeli public to take part in these important tours and to see for themselves the horrible reality in Hebron."

[Signed] Shulamit Aloni, Michael Ben Yair, General (res.) Shlomo Gazit, Ruth Dayan, Michal Zamora Cohen, A. B. Yehoshua, Prof. Yirmiyahu Yovel, Shomo Cohen (former chairman of the Israeli Bar Association), Amos Oz, Sami Michael, Colonel (res.) Paul Kedar, Yair Tzaban, Yehoshua Kenaz, Prof. Mordecai Kremnitzer, Judith Karp, Yair Rotloy, Yossi Sarid

Monday, June 16, 2008

Police: Leftists in Hebron More Dangerous than Right-Wing Counterparts

The police, working in tandem with the settlers, are doing their best to demonize "Breaking the Silence" and "Bne Avraham" as outside agitators and provocateurs.

Why do I say "working in tandem with the settlers." Consider this:

Ynet has a video documenting the "illegal" demonstration in April. From the narration, it appears that the video was shot by the police. Aside from the fact that it merely shows a sit-in and nothing more, the video was shot by settlers, not the police.

In the Ynet article,a "senior Shai District Police official" is reported as saying,
"Organizations such as Bnei Avraham (which is committed to 'disturbing the occupation, disrupting the segregation and apartheid regime') and Breaking the Silence are wolves in sheep's' clothing",

Now that's a picturesque metaphor, isn't it? And wouldn't you know, it is taken almost directly from the Hebron's settlers' petition last Thursday to the High Court of Justice. You can read the appeal here
אנחנו טוענים שהמשטרה יודעת אל נכון וגם הפרקליטות יודעת אל נכון, שאנשי השמאל הקיצוני הם בעצם נמר בעור של כבש

All right, so the settlers' appeal has "tiger" rather than "wolves". But it is hardly coincidental that the "senior Shai District Police official" uses the same language as Orit Struck, the settler's spokesperson and legal representative.

And now a curious fact about the settler's video of the Breaking the Silence demonstration:

Surprise! None of the leaders of Bne Avraham or Breaking the Silence are in the video! You see, the famous "demonstration" that took place in April was really a the end of a tour organized by the BTS folks for other activists groups against the Occupation. The people who staged the non-violent sit-in were none other than the Anarchists! (In the article the police say that BTS are worse than the Anarchists. Actually, what they meant to say was that the Anarchists are worse than the Anarchists!)

All right, so maybe in retrospect the idea of holding a tour for all the leftwing activists in Hebron was a bit de trop. But if you have to kick anybody out of Hebron for being a nuisance, at least kick out the right guys! (Don't get be wrong; I am a big fan of the Anarchists. Look at what they have done in Bil'in)

There is a simple and reasonable solution to all this. The Breaking the Silence organization has agreed to do tours, and no demonstrations, in coordination with the police. The State's Attorney's Office agreed. That was the compromise. (By the way, the April demonstration only became one when the police would not allow the tour to continue.) You know what else? Limit the number of people who can tour. You know what else? Make sure that the people on the tour are not anarchists or other leftwing activists.

The police/settlers don't want this, of course, And can you blame them? I mean, if you lived in a town like Tombstone, where the bad guys are in charge, and can do what they like with impunity, would you want to allow the good guys to have tours for the world to see what you are doing?

Anyway, as I have written before, this has got to be win-win for Breaking the Silence. If the guys are allowed to have the tours, they win. If they are prevented from having the tours, they win. They are getting more publicity for less effort than they have had in the three years they have of getting the tours.

Last but not least, a big yashar koah to Meretz MK Zahava Galon and to Peace Now for speaking out against the police. Peace Now's Yariv Oppensheimer has called for the suspension of Avraham Peled, the Hebron District Commander and the settlers' unofficial spokesperson.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Settlers, with the help of the Police, Stop “Breaking the Silence” Tour Again

Once again, the Hebron settlers proved that, in the Wild West Bank, they are the bosses. After the High Court of Justice ruled that Breaking the Silence can conduct their tours, provided that they are coordinated with the police, the settlers said, "Ain't no way they are coming in here" and blocked the bus for two hours. The police arrived and did not interfere, except to shorten the route of the tour to 500 meters. The BTS guys said, "Forget it," and they turned around and went home.

The settlers, for their part, have appealed to the High Court of Justice to disallow the tours. I should point out that the tours do not go on the settlers' property, nor do they involve, generally, more than small groups (There was one exception to that.) As a matter of fact, the tours have been conducted for several years, without incident. The trouble started after the settlers attacked a group of visiting German parliamentarians last spring, calling them Nazis, which prompted a diplomatic incident and an Israeli government apology.

Of course, if the rule of law prevailed in Hebron, the police would remove the settlers who are protesting, arrest them (or at least warn them), and allow the tour to go on. But let's face it – at the end of the day, the settlers are the law, and the police their lackeys. You can read about it here in Hebrew.

By the way, all of this plays into the hands of "Breaking the Silence." I have been on one of those tours. Basically, they take you to empty Palestinian streets which have been closed because of the settlers. With all due respect, it is not the most exciting thing in the world. Sometimes I think that Barukh Marzel, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Noam Federman are being paid by "Breaking the Silence" , in addition to their regular jobs as Shin Bet informants. After all, what better "action" can you have for foreign journalists, human rights activists, American Jews, and the other people who go on the tours, than having a lot of crazy settlers verbally abusing the "Breaking the Silence" folks, preventing their tours, while the police and army stand idly by, in violation of the High Court of Justice's ruling?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Argument Against the Two State Solution

When Palestinians have grievances against Israel, they basically have four ways to try and solve them: a) seek redress through international forums (never works); b) stage protests (almost never works); c) blow up Jews (works occasionally, but is a tricky strategy); d) grovel before the master (works occasionally).

When Israelis have grievances against Palestinians, they have quite a few methods at their disposal, ranging from mild to severe economic and military pressure.

Today Haaretz reported here that Israel once again held up the transfer of PA tax funds. Those are funds collected by Israel for the PA from Palestinians. They don't do this out of the goodness of their heart; they do this because the Palestinians are not allowed the structures to do so themselves under the (defunct) Oslo agreements. Israel actually enjoys this privilege. For if the PA wants their tax money, they have to make sure not to offend their Israeli masters.

Why did the Israelis hold up the tax funds this time? Well, one would suspect that it was because of widespread Palestinian protests and work-stoppages, right? No, that wouldn't work, would it, since Israel could care less about Palestinian protests. Oh, well, perhaps it was a response to all the terror emanating from the West Bank? No, that can't be it, since there is virtually no terror coming from the West Bank. It can't be because of Gaza, since Gaza is under siege.

No, the real reason was that the Palestinian prime minister got uppity. I mean, he had the chutzpah to call on the European Union not to upgrade its relations with Israel. And why not? Because of the human rights violations on the West Bank and the ongoing expansion of settlements. And doggone it, that OFFENDED the Israeli authorities who decided to teach Fayid a lesson.

I am not making this next quote up. An Israeli official said.

"We're not an unfeeling ATM," one official told him. "We too are permitted to get angry when such scummy things are done to us."

Oh, the humanity of that official! He is not an unfeeling ATM machine. Can you imagine if Israel actually had ATM machines with feelings like that of the official? Like Seinfeld's Soup Nazi they would shout, "Hey, you didn't punch my numbers the right way; no money for you!"

If Israel was so upset by what Fayyad did, wouldn't it be more appropriate for them to communicate their displeasure to him, instead of depriving the PA employees the salaries paid by their own tax money?

So why is this an argument against the two-state solution? Simple. Whatever state the Palestinians have, they will be under the thumb of Israel. Sure, Israel may not have all the cards they have now, but they will have most. And you can bet your sweet bippie that the PA will never have the sort of power over Israeli civil service that Israel has had for years over the PA's civil service.

Mind you, this is how the government acts when it is miffed by a Palestinian minister, one, I may mention, who has been universally praised for his honesty and ability. I shudder to think what it would do against a country that had economic and military control over it....

Maybe lob mortar shells?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Short Takes Before Shavuot

1. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai. It is also the agricultural feast of the first fruits. In the last few years, some people have observed the custom of staying up all night and going to lectures on Judaism. Even secular Jews have started attending some of these talks. Not yours truly. I will stay home and learn texts till midnight, go to sleep, and go to shul at 6:30 in the morning. Then I will come home, read, and take it easy until lunch, when the children and grandchildren are coming over. I don't get the custom of staying up all night, since it usually wrecks people for the next day (not to mention for the morning prayer service.)

2. Despite the unusually gloomy picture, small victories can be celebrated (and larger losses mourned.) On Thursday, the High Court of Justice ruled that "Breaking the Silence" can resume their tours of Hebron and the West Bank. As their attorney, Michael Sfard, pointed out in Thursday's Haaretz here, these tours had been suspended after a group on one of the tours was attacked by the Hebron settlers. The government lost this one. Of course, now the settlers are going to ask the High Court to suspend the tours, but they don't have a chance there. Unfortunately, Gisha lost its petition to the High Court to bring relief in Gaza.

3. Speaking of Michael Sfard, I am reading the new book by him and by Shaul Arieli, of the dovish Council for Peace and Security. The book is called in Hebrew Homah u-Mehdal, "Wall and Failure" (a play on the phrase Homah u-Migdal, "Wall and Tower," the watch-cry of the Zionist settlements. The book's title in English translation is "The Wall of Folly." Anyway, this is the first book-length treatment of Israel's land-grab wall. Basically, Sfard shows how illegal the wall is and Arieli shows how the wall damages Israel's security. Since nobody in the world who is not Israeli or a Zionist thinks that the land-grab wall is legal, much of Sfard's part of the book is like shooting fish in a barrel. But I will speak more about the wall later. (The reason why I don't call the land-grab wall a "security fence" is because it has nothing to do with Israeli security. In fact, there is no evidence that it has increased Israeli security, since there is no evidence linking the wall with the drop in suicide bombing. Those who argue that the wall stops suicide-bombing are guilty of the elementary post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But I have discussed this elsewhere. There is abundant evidence, of course, that the route of the wall was chosen to annex land, both to the settlements today and to Israel tomorrow, despite Israeli denials. Even the High Court has accepted that evidence.

Needless to say, the book is being translated into English. You can read about it here

4. A fascinating book that I have been waiting to appear for a long time is Chaim Gans's book, A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State. I will have a lot to say about that book after the Shavuot holiday. Stay tuned.

5. And Walt and Mearsheimer are appearing at Hebrew University this week, the guests of the Department of Political Science. After the disgusting ritual of the candidates at AIPAC last week (see Jon Stewart for his take), they will have a lot to talk about.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Shabbat in Kibbutz Saad

Thursday night my wife's nephew got married to a wonderful young lady, who lives in Kibbutz Saad. The wedding was in the kibbutz, and our family was invited to spend Shabbat there.

Kibbutz Saad was founded in 1947 by German orthodox Jews; it is one of the oldest religious kibbutzim in Israel. During the 1948 war it relocated to the other side of the road, and over the years, it became known for its produce, especially its carrots. My nephew's bride's grandfather was a founding member of the kibbutz and still lives there. Her father is one of the kibbutz leaders; her mother is a noted orthodox feminist (No, that is not an oxymoron, though everything is relative.)

My family was a bit nervous about going to the wedding. After all, Saad is within the range of Kassam rockets and mortal shells from Gaza, and has been shelled quite a number of times over the last seven years. On Friday morning, after the wedding, 4 mortar shells fell in the area, 1 in Kibbutz Kfar Azza, around a kilometer away. We weren't at Saad at the time, but two of our children were, and they heard the big boom. (There is an article in today's YNET about folks from Kfar Azza leaving the kibbutz for the Shavuot holiday, which starts Sunday night; the kibbutz is about a kilometer from Saad. Read about it here.) If you are in Gaza, and you are firing rockets, it makes more sense to aim at Kfar Azza, since it is closer. But they often miss. Everybody knows about Sderot, since that town is in the news all the time, but the firing is not just against Sderot. On Friday three other shells fell in the area around, doing no serious damage; the day before an Israeli was killed.

Of course, it is insane that the "border war" – really, a war of our indiscriminate shelling of civilians vs. their indiscriminate shelling of civilians, continues unabated for years. I am not going to point fingers in this post, although readers know where I would point. People on both sides of the border are psychologically rattled, although, let's face it, the Gazans' suffering is incomparable to that of the Israelis by any measure. But it is no picnic for the Israelis within rocket range.

We came, held our breath and left. When we got out of range, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. I can imagine what it would be like to live under constant threat of having a mortal shell land on your house. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in Gaza where, in addition, to all the other daily problems of scarcity of food, polluted water, unemployment that is a result of the Israel's open-ended siege, one also has to live in constant fear not only of rockets and mortar shells, but helicopter shooting, planes, tanks, etc. I am told that people can adapt to the most horrible situations. But it is still incomprehensible.




Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reprint: Why I Still Support Obama

[Note to readers: I recently changed some things on the Magnes Zionist splash page (or whatever it is called), and I bumped from the "top post" sections, the post below, written over five months ago. I am reproducing it here for its "historical value" and because of Obama's AIPAC speech yesterday, which upset progressives. I will restore it to the "top posts" section later.

Needless to say, some things have changed in the interval, but my perspective on Obama has stayed the same. Since January I read Obama's books and became interested in the candidate and a more enthusiastic supporter -- but not because of his Middle East positions. The skepticism on that score has remained. But it is helpful to recall that Obama yesterday spoke the same way that he has spoken for a long time now.

My heart genuinely goes out to folks like Rob Malley, Rashid Khalidi, Ali Abunimeh, and Rev. James Wright, who now have to be tucked away in order for Obama to win the general election. I am particularly upset for Khalidi and Abunimeh, who had reason to believe that this guy would be different. Although they are grown-up enough to know to deal with their disappointment, it must hurt a little. It sure hurts me.]

I have no illusion that Barack Obama will be any better (i.e., worse) for Israel than Hillary or any of the Republican contenders for the nomination. When he gave the "pro-Israel" (i.e., anti-Israel) speech at AIPAC last March, I wasn't surprised. When he sent a letter last week to the UN Security Council claiming that the Kassam rockets had "forced" Israel to increase the siege on Gaza, I wasn't surprised either. If he manages to pull off the impossible and upset Hillary, he will sound more and more "pro-Israel" and less and less balanced. I would like to think that all this is just rhetoric to get elected, but I am more realistic than that. The best I can hope for is a return to the liberal-Zionist position.

As I have written here before, the "moderate" position in the Democratic party -- and, indeed, in the liberal press and much of America -- is liberal Zionist a la Clinton, Dennis Ross, etc. To expect the Palestinians and their allies to have the clout in the US that the Jews have is wishful thinking. To be a Palestinian moderate in this country, you have to appear to be either a liberal Zionist, or somebody who has no problem with Zionism. So Palestinian groups like the American Task Force on Palestine have to buy into the two-state solution a la Clinton or Geneva, whereas a voice like the Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah is considered extreme, at least for now. Abunimah wrote last March a very poignant article on Obama's conversion to a "pro-Israel" stance as he became a mainstream national politician. His tone was one of profound disappointment, since he knew Obama before the Chicago politician had to pander to the Lobby. But Abunimah wasn't surprised at Obama's conversion. Nor was I.

So why do I still support Obama?

For one thing, since I don't believe that US policy towards Israel will change in any event -- unfortunately -- then there seems no reason not to prefer a progessive like Obama over a liberal hawk like Hillary for other reasons.

Second, I have been told that one of my personal "heroes" -- Rob Malley -- has become associated with the Obama camp. Malley co-wrote with Hussein Agha the seminal NYRB article that challenged the Israeli spin on Camp David -- and that provoked the response from Benny Morris (one of my favorite bigots) and Ehud Barak (a bigot, without Morris's charm) to utter the infamous remark about Arab "mendacity".

But most important, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And Obama's enemies within the Jewish camp -- the liberal-hawk-neocon-chorus of zealots who advocate policies that destroy the Jewish state morally and physically, while they celebrate their tough-Jew mafia morality -- over here in the diaspora, of course -- are getting nervous about Obama. It's not that they don't want to go on record blasting the first serious African-American contender for president -- they abandoned all appearances of concern for social justice in favor of ethnic loyalty a long time ago. It's that they have to view anybody who considers the Palestinians to be human as an existential threat to the State of Israel. That is why they go after Jimmy Carter, who did more for the State of Israel than the world Jewish community ever did, or why liberal hawks like Richard Cohen, still smarting from Alvin Rosenfeld's chutzpah of coupling his name with that of Tony Judt, feel compelled to call Obama on the carpet for not actively dissociating himself from his Chicago church's minister. Look how the rightwing Jews went after Condi Rice for daring to compare the Israeli treatment of Palestinians with Southern discrimination against blacks (the Palestinians should be so lucky.)

I once wrote a column urging American Jews to vote Republican so that when a Democrat is elected, he would not have any political obligations to the Jews. That, of course, was a liberal fantasy. But more and more "pro-Israel" supporters will leave the Democratic party for the Republican, and that is just dandy in my eyes -- because there are a whole lot of progressive Democrats out there who are not Jewish, who support Israel and the Palestinians, and don't see why one people should get more than the other. When Jonathan Tobin, the rightwing Krauthammer-wannabee who edits the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, writes an article critical of Obama on Israel, how can any real supporter of Israel not vote for Barack?

No doubt true lefties out there -- and not wimpy liberals like yours truly -- will have a lot of reasons to find fault with Obama. They will back a marginal candidate with no hope of winning, and I am sympathetic with that...after all, that's what I do in Israel, when I vote for Hadash.

Still, if for no other reason, Obama needs support from progressives now across the board -- and Jewish progressives should be part of that rainbow coalition for change which gave him South Carolina.

We can worry about his "pro-Israel" positions later.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Silver-Lining in Obama’s AIPAC Speech

Progressive Jewish bloggers like Phil Weiss and Robert Dreyfuss in the Nation have found the silver-lining in Obama's predictable and depressing talk before AIPAC. Obama closed his speech with the following:

In the great social movements in our country's history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder. They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man--James Chaney--on behalf of freedom and equality.

Their legacy is our inheritance. We must not allow the relationship between Jews and African Americans to suffer. This is a bond that must be strengthened. Together, we can rededicate ourselves to end prejudice and combat hatred in all of its forms. Together, we can renew our commitment to justice. Together, we can join our voices together, and in doing so make even the mightiest of walls fall down.

Note to Obama campaign: playing the "Jewish-Black-civil-rights-coalition" card will get you a landslide Jewish vote in November.

For years many Jews in the US have looked with nostalgia at a period when they were the good guys -- not only in their own communities, or for the State of Israel, but for the civil rights of black people. Of course, the Jewish support for civil rights was not universal, unequivocal, or at all costs. It was one thing to deplore segregation in the South. but quite another to encourage open housing. It was one thing to fight racial discrimination and quite another to allign with other whites in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy of the late sixties. Good blacks were those who behaved well and dressed well like Dr. King, Jr. (before he started to comment about Vietnam), and believed in integration. Not-so-good blacks were those who dressed and talked like Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) – the black power advocates who resented Jewish paternalism and saw the Jewish role in institutionalized white racism. Would it be churlish to recall that not all Jews were enthusiastic about Jews like Andrew Goodman and Michael Scherner going down to Mississippi?

Obama knows all this, of course. He knows quite a lot about the splits and fissures with the Jews during the waning days of the civil rights movement. But his belief in black-white coalitions is fundamental for him. The person who hired him as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago first was a Jewish leftwinger. Part of Obama's success in Chicago, and now in the Democratic primary, has been because Jewish liberal fat- and not-so-fat cats believe in his message.

Obama knows that saying "Some of my best friend are Jews" won't win him any points. But saying, "Some of the black people's best friends have been Jews" will. This is going to be a powerful message, especially since that message hasn't been heard since the late sixties. Even Podhoretz and the Commentary crowd will want to be reminded by Obama of the pre-Ocean Hill-Brownsville golden age. For the subtext is: I am here today because of what you people did for my people out of the goodness of your heart, and the morality of your tradition.

What Jew wouldn't kvell to hear that?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Death of Liberal Zionism in America?

Well, perhaps not. But you gotta wonder when the only panel of "intellectuals" speaking about Israel at the AIPAC convention consists of…three neocons and a liberal hawk!

Yes, that's right. A plenary session panel composed of Natan Sharansky (russian ethnonationalist and Shalem center neocon), Michael Oren (historian and Shalem center neocon), Ruth Gavison (law professor and Israeli neocon), and Leon Wieseltier (liberal hawk literary editor of the New Republic) was held at the AIPAC convention Monday night to discuss Israel at 60. Now I know Leon. Any panel in which he is the leftwinger has got to raise some eyebrows. What does this say about the place of liberal Zionism at AIPAC? Is Michael Walzer in cherem?

The old fashioned Abba-Eban-Peace-Now-Amos-Oz liberal/socialist Zionism is no longer suitable for the AIPAC crowd. AIPAC has been hijacked by the liberal hawk/neocons. I don't even to expect to find many liberal hawks there. It's a neocon show.

As such, it is SOOOO unrepresentative of American Judaism. I can't say it better than Richard Silverstein, who writes

AIPAC is like a fun house mirror.  You stand in front of it and watch as your entire body is distorted out of all proportion.  That's the relation of AIPAC to the real American Jewish body politic.  If AIPAC is a fun house mirror that would make its annual convention a carnival sideshow.

Sure, it hurts a bit to see goyim who should know better kowtowing to the loonies of the right. But it feels good when only rightwing intellectual ideologues frequent the place.

The Chutzpah of Hope

For the last five minutes I have been on the verge of tears. I simply cannot get over the latest news alerts I am reading on the web. Before that I received an email from a dear friend, a prominent Obama fundraiser, the one who yanked me onto the Obama bandwagon around six months ago. He sent me this from the AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama has effectively clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, based on an Associated Press tally of convention delegates.

The tally put Obama over the top Tuesday, ahead of the results from the day's final primaries in Montana and South Dakota. The Illinois senator becomes the first black candidate ever to lead his party into a fall campaign for the White House. Obama outlasted former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a historic contest and now faces Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the presidency.

I never thought I would feel this way again about a political victory. I have been disappointed so many times in the past – usually when the candidate I favored won! Since the assassination of Rabin, I have lived in one long nightmare – made livable only by the fellowship of good people around the world, Jews, Palestinians, and all the rest. In Israel our politicians wallow in corruption, sexual harrassment, rapaciousness, superciliousness, chutzpah.. Rabin was no angel – but look who has come after him.

Sure, I know that I will be disappointed when Obama becomes president. I certainly have no illusions about Obama's Middle East policy. And I will be upset by his speech before AIPAC on Wednesday.

But for the first time in years I have hope. You see, I have read both of Obama's books – books that he actually wrote. His intelligence shines through on every page. When I talk to my Jewish friends, especially in Israel, about Obama, it turns out they know virtually nothing about him. It is always, Iran, blah-blah-blah, Reverand Wright, blah, blah, blah, middle-name Hussein, blah, blah, blah. I have yet to meet somebody who is a Democrat, who knows a lot about Obama, and who doesn't support him – unless she is a woman with first loyalties to Hillary (which I understand totally.) All right, that last line was not fair There are folks who genuinely like Hillary, and I would have supported her for president. But Senator Clinton, you are no Barack Obama.

Yes, there are many reasons to predict a McCain victory in the Fall. If you don't know them, Shmuel Rosner will be happy to tell you them. But I am hopeful. A lousy economy, an unpopular sitting president, a dumb and immoral war that was mightily botched with no end in sight…one would have to go way back in history to find circumstances so propitious for change.

And my fundraiser friend hasn't been wrong yet. He was part of Obama's brilliant campaign, and he guarantees a brilliant strategy for the Fall. I asked him two weeks ago during shul, and within earshot of Joe Lieberman, what does Obama plan to do against an aggressive and vicious McCain campaign. "Jerry," he told me "We are going to flatten McCain like a pancake. He won't know what hit him." All right, so maybe he is exaggerating. Maybe it won't be a landslide victory, or even a pretty one. But Obama is going to do it.

I am getting my hankie ready for the inaugural speech. I cannot wait to hear the Chief Justice swear in Barack HUSSEIN Obama. What a day that will be for America! What a day that will be for the world!

Some Thoughts on Blogging and the Haaretz Brouhaha

Cecile Surasky's Muzzlewatch has published a letter by Haaretz's editor Dov Alfon responding to concerns over the recent changes at Haaretz. That site also has letters from Amira Hass and Dorothy Naor (the latter was the basis of my post from yesterday, since I didn't know whether Dorothy wanted to go public). I would love to hear a statement from Meron Rapoport but I don't want to bother somebody who was fired. I am a blogger, not a journalist.

Alfon speculated that the rumors about Haaretz had originated from extreme rightwing circles. Oy, so now he has outed me!

What does this mean? Within a week, a casual conversation between an activist and me starts a mini-brouhaha that ends with the major players making statements. That's the power of the web. (The threat of cancelling subscriptions to Haaretz did not hurt either.)

That gives my ego a rush, but it also makes me think of issues like...blogger responsibility.

Last week I heard a rumor and posted it. Journalists don't publish rumors (well, they do, but they are not supposed to.) They do fact checking. They get confirmations before they go public. That's journalistic ethics.

But bloggers aren't journalists. Sure, they shouldn't publish rumors that will hurt private individuals and hide behind some sort of freedom of blogging. But the point of my posting a rumor was, as I made clear in my original post, to try to clarify things. Some times attempts are made to verify a story before posting it. Some times it is not possible for a blogger.

The risk is, of course, that people will remember the rumor and not get the clarification. Well, that's a risk. But it seems to me that people know not to take blogger news as the final word. We are there to get things out in the world.

Frankly, I am happy that the editor of Haaretz got five emails on a single day querying him about what was going on at the paper. I know that if I had sent him an email identifying myself as a pseudononymous blogger, I would have waited a long time for a response.

Still, I would like to assure my readers that the bloggers I am friendly with (and whom I have never met in person) are responsible folks who do their best to get things right, and who will retract when they haven't.

PS. Coincidentally, I renewed my subscription to Haaretz yesterday.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Personnel Changes at Haaretz (Provisionally) Explained

Last week I reported a troubling rumor that Meron Rapoport, a fine investigative reporter for Haaretz, had been fired. I also heard that Amira Hass was not returning to Haaretz, and this suggested to me that a new political wind was blowing at the only Israeli paper worth reading.

As always, things are more complicated.

Sources close to some Haaretz journalists now report that there has been a definite shift of late, but more financial than political. The focus of the newspaper is now less on politics and more on business and finance.

Several months ago Haaretz reduced the size of two separate sections, News and Opinion, and combined them into one. It expanded its business coverage, especially its financial coverage in its supplement, The Marker. Its Tel-Aviv readership, especially in the business community, is not necessarily interested in human rights issues in Gaza. So while there will be still some reporting of that, not as much.

Personnel changes: Meron Rapoport, whose investigative reporting is no longer needed, apparently, is out. Tamar Rotem may also be out. Amira Hass is on a year's leave of absence. She intends to return, but nothing is certain. Gideon Levy continues to write the Twilight Zone column, but it has been moved from the prominent Musaf (Magazine) section to Friday's This Week section. Levy is also doing television reviews (!) and writing on other issues. Akiva Eldar continues to work for Haaretz, but less space is alloted to him.

Is this political censorship? Not really. Will the paper become more rightwing? As far as I know, there are no signs of that. But it will become less leftwing because of the shift of focus.

My source (and her Haaretz sources) claim that the change of orientation is that of the publisher's, Amos Schocken. He obviously is not in the business of publishing a human rights report but a profitable newspaper. Shocken has repeatedly shown that, as publishers go, his heart is in the right place. Part of this has to do with the slide of Israeli society into vast popular culture. I came back from the Hebrew Book week noting the proportionately smaller output of challenging books.

All this is a pity. Meron Rapoport, in particular, will be sorely missed.

Academic Boycotts, Anyone?

Last Fall I posted my opinions pro and con the academic boycott against Israel. See it here. In brief: I am pro, if it works; con, if it doesn't. My "default mode" is academic freedom, but academic freedom is conditional on other freedoms and is not absolute. That's a philosophically respectable position, but so is absolutism. The views of those who are absolutely opposed to limits on academic freedom cannot be easily dismissed. They and I will argue over where and when to draw the line.

So I expect the absolutists on the left and on the right to come out loud and clear against the curtailment of academic freedom for Gazans. Some, such as Natan Sharansky, have done so already here Rabbi Melchior of the religious left-leaning Meimad party, has even drawn comparisons between historical attempts to prevent Jews from studying and the Israeli government's attempt to bar Gazans from studying. He is the only religious Tzadik in Sedom (righteous person in Sodom) on this issue.

Not everybody is an absolutist like Sharansky and Melchior. Yuval Steinitz was quoted as saying,
We are fighting the regime in Gaza that does its utmost to kill our citizens and destroy our schools and our colleges. So I don’t think we should allow students from Gaza to go anywhere. Gaza is under siege, and rightly so, and it is up to the Gazans to change the regime or its behavior.”
It would have been more appropriate (and truthful) for him to say:
It is in Israel's long-term security interest to have Islamist regimes on our borders who will blow up Jews and bomb out towns. That way we can arouse the sympathy of the world and control Gaza and the West Bank forever. For this reason we helped create Hamas. The last thing we want is the creation of a strong and decent Palestinian civil society which will put pressure on Israel to compromise

But, frankly, Steinitz -- who has a phd in philosophy, which just goes to show that you can study that discipline and still have a mushy brain -- doesn't see where his reasoning leads to.

It was one thoughtful blogger, a "Wisconsin Yankee" sociologist currently in Israel, who pointed out that Steinitz's reasoning was precisely the same as those who advocate an academic boycott against Israel -- i..e, those who argue that the curtailment of academic exchange is a legitimate tactic in order to change a repressive and unjust government.

The Wisconsin Yankee is on the side of the absolutists. Does this mean that I am on the side of (shudder!) Yuval Steinitz and the boycotters, who obviously are not absolutists on academic freedom?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, I am not an absolutist; no, I still think are mistaken when they defend the curtailment of academic freedoms. I have written about how the academic boycott against Israel has not yet worked; it has backfired precisely because it provokes the absolutist response. I am waiting to see how the boycott tactic will development. My hunch is that we shall return to the boycott at a later date and that, ultimately, it will be implemented with the approval of many. Till then, I will write nothing against it.

With respect to the educational boycott against Gaza, the question again is tactical. If Israel genuinely want a two-state solution, it will support policies that will help encourage that. So allowing Gazans to attend institutes of higher education is a no-brainer policy that even a Sharansky can favor. The fact that Gazans have been prevented for seven years to do precisely that shows how abysmally short-sighted Israel's policy is.

It also shows how liberals will wake up only when they read about unjust policies in the New York Times. The Fullbright fellowship cancellation is just the latest of oppressive measures against the Palestinians in Gaza, including not allowing Gazans to pursue post baccalaureate higher education.

I should also mention that here is a big difference between a call for a limited boycott from a voluntary association, and a military curtailment of civil rights, including the right to education.