Saturday, August 30, 2008

Georgina W. Bush

So, we now have an attractive, affable, young governor, who believes in the spirit of bipartisanship in the state legislature. The governor has no knowledge of, much less experience in, foreign policy, and is a religious rightwing ideologue: pro-life; supports teaching intelligent design in schools, against equal pay for women, anti-gay, a game-hunter.

In short , Sarah Palin is George W. Bush all over again.

I wonder whether Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and Dick Cheny are available for more tutoring.

Four Reasons Why Israelis Don’t “Get” Obama

Over the past year, the reactions to Obama in Israel have ranged from mockery to incredulity to suspicion. The suspicion has been allayed by the candidate in recent months, and most intelligent Israelis are confident that Obama is "ok" on Israel, if a bit soft on Iran. Of course, the Israeli right is more apprehensive. Most Israelis I know don't believe he will get elected president. Just as most Israelis a six months ago didn't believe that he would win the Democratic nomination.

In fact, most Israelis I know don't understand Obama, either the man, or the phenomenon. And I am not just talking about the man-on-the –street. I am talking about people who should know better, like the Washington correspondants for Haaretz, or my university colleagues. In America, whether you are Democrat or Republican, you generally "get" what is going on with Obama. In Israel, whether you are on the left or the right, you don't.

Even American-Israeli Obama supporters, like Haaretz writer Bradley Burston, don't understand what is going on. Burston wrote a column called "What Scares Us About Obama". Burston calls himself a "foreign visitor" in American and yet his "us" turns out to be Americans. Now, certainly many Americans will not vote for Obama, and he may lose the general election. But on the day Burston wrote his piece, Obama was either tied or ahead of McCain in every national poll. So to ask the question, "Why Americans are afraid of Obama" is more than slightly bizarre. His evidence for the fear? Louisiana has voted for the winning presidential candidate for the last 36 years, and McCain is ahead in Louisiana. That race may be a factor in a deep south state like Louisiana is, apparently, not entertained by Burston.

You want evidence for fear of Obama? Try McCain's decision to tap Sarah Palin for the VP slot. That is his "Hail-Mary" play – with third and twenty-five, he uncorks the long bomb (American football talk).

But I wish to focus on Israelis, not American Jews who have moved to Israel like Burston and myself. Here are four reasons not why Israelis fear Obama – they don't – but why they don't understand him.

1. Cynicism about politics. Israeli politicians are generally so mediocre, not to mention corrupt, that it is hard for Israelis to understand why anybody would be enthuiastic about a politician. They have little faith in the Knesset, and recent leaders of the country have been plagued by financial corruption scandals. The idea of "public service " through politics is foreign to them. What they understand is service to one's "sector". So when Obama comes along, Israelis alternately blink uncomprehendingly and smirk. The last person who inspired some sort of idealistic enthusiasm– Ehud Barak in the late nineties – produced even bigger disillusionment after he was elected.

2. Religio-Racism. The Israelis are probably no more racist than other folks, but "gizanut/racism" in Israel is considered a sin only by the Left. Since Israeli Jews consider themselves (wrongly) free of racism, because they are Jews, there is no education in the schools against racism. And so what would be considered politically incorrect in the US, even by Republicans, is considered wrong only by a small section of the Israeli population. If you don't believe me, talk with Ethiopian Jews. At best, it is not considered bon ton to be biased against other Jews. As for Arabs, and I mean, Palestinian citizens of Israel, there is not even a pretence of it being politically incorrect to be prejudiced against them. Since they are Arab they are ipso facto a threat to Israeli security.

3. Ethnic-nationalism vs. civic nationalism. In American, any citizen is part of the American people, and so any citizen should be able to become President – at least, if he or she is native born. So there is something genuinely exciting when a member of a discriminated group like Obama gets nominated. But in Israel, you can be a citizen for generations, and still be excluded from the nation – since Israel is a Jewish state. A woman, a black, a Jew, may not have a good chance of becoming president – but in Israel, an Arab citizen has no chance of being prime minister or president – not only because he or she is part of a minority, but because it is a Jewish state. Were one to argue that a Jew cannot be a president because America is a Christian nation (and no doubt some would argue that), the overwhelming amount of Americans, at least leaders, would reject that.

4. The Occupation. When an African American like Obama succeeds, it reminds Israelis, especially Israeli liberals, of the moral and political deficiencies of its democracy . Israel holds 3 ½ million people under Occupation indefinitely without fundamental rights, and b) it refuses to grant a little over ¾ million non-Jewish citizens serious political power because of their ethnic origin. Since the founding of the State, only Jewish parties have been invited into the ruling coalition – since Israeli is a Jewish state. The success of Obama holds up a mirror to Israelis, and the liberal and centrists don't like how they look.

By the time the Israelis wake up, Obama will be in the White House. Once again, we will be on the wrong side of history.

Remember how we cheered Nixon months before his resignation?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Peace Now’s Semi-Annual Settlement Report

Yesterday Haaretz published a story on the semi-annual settlement report of Peace Now. Read about it here. The publication is one of those repetitive rituals that we Israeli Jews are so good at. First, there is a report that the settlement activity has doubled in the last six months, in comparison with the previous year. Then, we are told about where the new housing is being built (this year it is mostly in the Hebron and Har Hebron South area). Then, there is the ritual statement from the US about how increased settlement activity is unfortunate and harmful to the peace process (this year it was by Condi, whose tenure at the State Department rivals her tenure at Stanford for ineffectuality.) And finally, there is the reaction of the Council of Settlements of Judea and Samaria praising the settlement activity, condemning the monitoring of Peace Now as "informing", and complaining about government restrictions.

As is almost always the case Haaretz's story runs on the front page and may get an editorial the next day. Yediot Aharonot buries two paragraphs on the report and the reaction somewhere in the paper. Few notice and fewer care.

Peace Now's Settlement Watch, run first by the legendary Dror Etkes, and now by the very able Hagit Ofran, is important because it provides an accurate account of the theft of Palestinian land. Most of the housing is built within the "municipal boundaries" of the settlements, so this is considered by the Israeli government to be ok – as opposed to the illegal outposts, which is supposed to be not ok. But the whole thing is a sham because all building continues on Palestinian private and public land, since Israel has no sovereignty over the Green Line, as is well known (and, my rightwinger readers, as a general rule, if the world and its legal experts don't agree with you, you are wrong, whatever your state happens to be.)

Like everything else that is done here, Peace Now's reports are ineffectual. Israel can't stop the West Bank settlement activity. Like a heroin addict it will do anything for its addiction, even when it clearly wants to break its habit. How do you explain that Israel has not been able to remove illegal outposts, despite its repeated pledges to do so? Olmert doesn't want the outposts, but he simply is unable to move them. These settlements are arguably worse than terrorists attack – they kill generations of Palestinians by making life intolerable, and they thwart the legitimate self-determination of the Palestinian people, recognized in the same document that recognized the rights of a Jews to a Jewish state – the UN partition plan.

Peace Now can't bring peace now or tomorrow, but it provides an important service -- for posterity. The ritual does something for those who participate in it. And that is nothing to sneer at.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Note and Request to My Readers who Receive My Posts in Their Email

The email version of my posts is generated around a day after I write it. So when I wrote in my post below that the US media had not covered the story of the boats that arrived in Gaza, that was true when I looked at Google News. Apparently I checked a bit early because there was an article later in the New York Times here, as well as in a few other papers.

The lag may have something to do with deadlines, but the fact remains that there were more pieces in the European media about the boats, and at earlier times, than in the US media. And I don't think that is explained merely by American parochialism and time-zones. US newspapers rarely write about Israeli human rights violations; occasionally you will see an article about the settlements or the security fence; less frequently, something about Gaza. In my message below I said "ask Walt and Mearsheimer" but what I really meant to say is that the the US media is anchored deeply in the Zionist consensus; on this you can see my post here.

Don't get me wrong; some of my best friends and family are political Zionists. But until people know what really goes on over here, the suffering will continue.

And now my request -- if you get my posts via email, can you just drop me a line telling me so at For reasons that baffle me I cannot determine how many people subscribe via email.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Gut Vokh (A Good Week) – Welcome to Gaza, S.S. Liberty and S.S. Free Gaza

Nice news greeted me when I turned on my computer as soon as Shabbat was over in Israel – the S.S. Liberty and S.S. Free Gaza made it to Gaza. Israel decided not to stop the boats, lest that attract more publicity for the voyage. For Israel's reaction, see here. For the BBC account see here

So, welcome to Gaza, activists. I hope that others take up the idea. Yours was a small symbolic gesture, but such things are meaningful, especially for the Gazans.

I note, unsurprised, that virtually none of the US media have picked up the story yet. And I don't think it is because of the Joe Biden story, either. Mind you, the initiative came from the US, and US activists were behind getting the boats. So why are stories like this ignored in the US, despite the fact that there is clear human interest of breaking the Naval blockade of Israel?

Ask Walt and Mearsheimer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Shabbat Shalom, S. S. Free Gaza and S. S. Liberty!

Well, the gallant crew and passengers of the S.S. Free Gaza and the S.S. Liberty are headed toward the shores of Gaza. I just want to wish from Jerusalem/al-Quds, to each and every one on boat, a nesiah tovah, a bon voyage, and may your mission be accomplished speedily and safely.

And as for those Israeli sailors who have to desecrate the Sabbath to blockade a mission of hope and human rights – remember, Jewish law says that there is no "agency" for a forbidden act, and you cannot plead that you were following orders.

God speed, all, and remember – contributions to the voyage are cheerfully and gratefully accepted at


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Meron Benvenisti’s Doom and Gloom

My favorite Israeli Cassandra, Meron Benvenisti, wrote a sobering op-ed in Haaretz today that sums up, more or less, how I feel. The two-state solution is dead; the one-state solution is not going anywhere; the status quo will continue unabated, with periods of violence alternating with periods of relative calm. The world, except for some leftists and Muslims, won't care. There will be some further erosion of Israel's "moral stature" but not enough for any real change. No boycotts, no sanctions, nothing with teeth. And 3 ½ million Palestinians within Palestine, not to mention the multitudes outside in refugee camps and with stateless status, will continue to have a quality of life far lower than their Israeli counterparts.

And what Benvenisti says, in effect, is that no matter what happens, there will be a fundamental economic inequality that ensures that the Israelis will have the upper hand. How long can the status quo continue? Indefinitely.

This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the donor nations, which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed.

Of course, Benevenisti, as is his wont, holds out a slim chance for change:

Its not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible.

I think he feels that change is possible, if one eliminates some of the above factors.

My view is as follows: there is no solution, there is no possibility of justice or peace, there is no way to make a seismic shift. In situations like this, the task of any decent man and woman is to do what they can to alleviate the suffering – to support the activists and the NGOs, to publicize the human rights violations, to talk to our family and friends and let them know what is going on. This will not end the occupation, since the occupation cannot end. But fifty or hundred years from now, our children will be able to say to their children, "Your grandparents were not silent. They tried and failed, but at least they tried."

One thing that we can talk against immediately: the so-called peace process. One of the strongest reasons for the ongoing occupation is "the success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement". More Israelis, and more supporters, must be taught the lesson – there is no possible agreed upon solution, not now, not in fifty years, not in a century. Israelis and supporters must understand that their war is a permanent one, and that the injustices they commit in the name of their security are permanent. Then, and only then, can one ask the question whether the price of a Jewish state is too high. The Jews survived for two thousand years without a state. And while being a minority is not a picnic, they can be proud of what they achieved. Can't they get together and start thinking about alternatives to what a few Russian Jews came up with in 1948? "The Jewish head doesn't stop inventing things," Uri Zohar used to sing. Well, can't we start thinking outside the 1948 political Zionist box?

Here's the article from Haaretz.

Moot argument

By Meron Benvenisti

Its hard to tell whether the reports that more and more Palestinians are now leaning toward a one-state solution are genuinely due to an increase in supporters of the idea, or to Israeli sensitivity. The binational bogeyman is so off-putting to Israelis that any Palestinian expression on the issue gives rise to speculation and conspiracy theories. Former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) is aware of this sensitivity, and exploits it every time he hits a bump in the negotiations: "If Israel continues to put up opposition, we will demand a single state for two peoples," he said recently.

Indeed, the Palestinians use the slogan "One State" to threaten Israel, and they know full well how effective that threat is. So great is the fear that the Palestinians are planning to exchange their struggle for national independence for a demand for citizenship rights in a binational state, that the very mention of this option is seen as proof of their unwillingness to reach peace. The Palestinian demand for Israel to annex the territories and extend citizenship rights to their inhabitants is considered more of a threat to Israel than the demand for an independent state, since civil equality is a universal norm and the demand for its implementation would win sweeping support in the West. And woe to the Israeli who dares to champion binationalism; he is denounced as a traitor wracked with self-hatred.

The Israeli public debate over binationalism versus a partition into two states is conducted on the theoretical, ideological and philosophical level, and in effect is put forth only as a threat to the accepted and desirable solution of partition. But that debate, which always resurfaces when frustration with the peace process intensifies, never manages to turn into a real discussion of the two alternatives and instead remains a provocative academic topic. This is not only because the binational option is viewed by most Israelis as spelling the destruction of their state, and by most Palestinians as the end of their national liberation movement. Mainly, it is because the debate over the two alternatives is a moot argument, the sole value of which is in its very existence, and whose purpose is to obscure the robust and durable nature of the status quo.

A status quo is preserved as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it, and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After more than 40 years, the Israeli governing system known as "the occupation," which ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community's total domination and the political and material advantage that it accumulates, has become steadily more sophisticated through trial and error - without planning, but in response to the genetic code of settler society.

This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as a temporary military occupation would indicate. The tensions and internecine confrontations that prevail in the area under Israeli control are so acute - and the power gap between the Jewish and the Arab communities so decisive - that there is no way to deal with these tensions except by means of military might.

Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of division - or, alternatively, inclusion in a binational government - is supposed to solve. But the greater, and more dangerous, inequality is the economic kind that is characteristic of the current situation and will not be reversed by either alternative: the dramatic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis, which is 1:10 in the West Bank and and 1:20 in the Gaza Strip, as well as the enormous inequality in the use of natural resources (land, water). This gap cannot exist without the force of arms provided so effectively by the defense establishment, and even most of those who oppose the occupation are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their welfare.

This explosive status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other; enlistment of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as protecting its very existence; funding of the status quo by the donor nations, which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as negotiations with the Palestinians, which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the final-status arrangement; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological repugnance toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed.

Its not nice to admit, and it is a sad forecast, but without accepting this conclusion and learning our lesson from it, change will not be possible.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Annual "Comfort-Ye-My-People" Post

All right, it is time for the annual Shabbat Nahamu post -- the comforting thoughts for the Jewish people, and, in particular, those in Israel.

Last year I wrote:

Has Israel been built with the blood, sweat, and property of millions of innocent Palestinians? Yes it has. And it must make amends and offer restitution. But it has also been built with the blood, sweat, and energies of millions of Jews, inside and outside. And while there are many deep and structural problems with the state that was founded in 1948, there are many worse post-World Was II states than Israel, many more states that perpetuated the same crimes and worse than Israel, and yet are in much worse shape today.

Yes, things are the absolute pits here. But we can be thankful of the little things.

For example, I still love Jerusalem -- whatever is left of it after its overbuilding and its ghetto-like, apartheid wall.

I love the quiet neighborhoods [unfortunately not so quiet in Summer 2008 -- JH], the bustling areas, the amount and quality of kosher food I can eat...

Where but in Jerusalem can you go to a kosher restaurant that doesn't look irredeemably Jewish? Where the diners don't all look like they followed you out of the early minyan (prayer service) at shul?

What other Jewish community in the world gives your daughters at least two shuls in which women read from the Torah AND there is a mehitzah (partition)?

What other Jewish community in the world has Jews and Arabs working together to protest injustice and humanity?

What other Jewish community in the world has a DVD rental store like the Third Ear, where you can get alternative indie movies that show you the true face of the Occupation, as well as the complete sets of Simpsons and Seinfeld?

All this is in Israel, and in Jerusalem, the Holy City.

We Jewish people are in a spiritual malaise. Traumatized by the holocaust, supportive of a state that is still, after sixty years, foundationally racist, and yet has achieved so much....if I didn't believe in the indestructability of the Jewish people -- that the seed of Abraham will never wither away -- I would despair.

But we will prevail. With the help of people of good faith everywhere, and, desperately, with the assistance of our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we shall overcome the malaise. Justice will be served. We will learn from them and from our mistakes. It will take decades, but it will come. I am 54 years old. I compare my generation with that of the younger generation -- things are changing.

So what do I have to add this year?

Not a whole lot. The good things haven't changed; the bad things have gotten worse. But I will add one thing from the vantage point of Shabbat Nahamu 2008/5768

Time has run out on the two-state solution. It isn't going to happen. I know that the leftwing and rightwing opponents of the two-state solution have been saying this for a long time. But now the moderates are. Sari Nusseibah, the Palestinian who is the most acceptable to Israelis, and who teamed with Ami Ayyalon, threw in the towel yesterday. Read the interview here. Since the West Bank is de facto annexed to Israel, and since Gaza will always be under siege, it will shortly be time for annexation de jure with citizenship for the Palestinians. That will be the battle cry of the younger generation.

It will be a hard sell for both Palestinians and Israelis, who don't want to power-share. But Israel is intractably opposed to a Palestinian state, and has been so from day 1 of its existence. Most people who say that they favor a Palestinian state don't really mean it. And even if they do mean it, the settlers aren't going to let them do i.t So something will have to be done with millions of Palestinans who have been under Israeli control for the last 40 years without citizenship. Step One is for the PA to disband itself (a step favored by Nusseibah); step Two is for Israel to take responsibility for them again. And step three will be to agitate for annexation and citizenship for the West Bank Palestinians.

I don't say that I favor this solution. Like Nusseibeh, I like the idea of two, three, or a whole bunch of states in a federation or confederation. But it ain't going to happen. So we have to start thinking of alternatives.

What makes me optimistic is that I believe this can be done without destroying what I like about Israel now (see above). Oh, sure, there will be a regime change and changes in the fundamental character of Israel from an ethnocracy with racist laws under the veneer of a liberal democracy (a bit like Russia, which is not surprising, since Russians founded the State of Israel) into a binational, or bicultural, or just bi-state. But if naturalization is done correctly, through a process of education, and a gradual conferral of benefits for potential citizens, then there can be an Israelification of the new civilians that will include a familiarization with Jewish culture -- as well as a familiarization of Palestinian culture for the Jewish citizens.

Nothing of what I like about Israel need change in such a state -- unless the merge is bungled so that the fundamentalists (Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, they are all the same in this regard) take power. Then it will be a one-way ticket back to the US for me. The last thing I want to do is live in modern state governed by Shari'a or Torah (the medieval Hebrew translation of shari'a)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Please Help This Young Man Get to America

The boy in the picture above, proudly displaying his diploma for learning English, had his visa revoked last week by the United States, while waiting in Amman for his plane to America.

Ahmed al-Mughari (in my post a few days ago I spelled it Ma'ari, following English press accounts) studied English in Gaza for two years as part of a program administered by AmidEast, "a private, nonprofit organization with a mission of strengthening mutual understanding and cooperation between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa." Talented students from Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, as well as Yemen, Kuwait, and Egypt, etc., are nominated when they are about 13 or 14 years old to participate. The students study about 150 hours of general English language, 40 hours academic writing, 30 hours, conversation, and 20 hours public speaking. Classes are on Fridays or during vacations, and are in addition to the students' regular schooling. Mind you, Friday is the only day off from class in the Muslim world, so this means that students give up their break from school to participate in their program, which is well-liked. Friday is, of course, the Muslim sabbath, and attending the program means, for some boys, missing their Sabbath meal with the family. But they do it because they are excited about learning English.

It is a year long program, but Ahmed was lucky and was allowed to spend a second year in the program.

When Ahmed finished his second year, he applied to AmidEast to study in America and to live with an American family. Details of the exchange program, called, YES (Youth Exchange and Study Program), can be found here.

The world pictures Gaza as a dysfunctional, overpopulated, hellhole, run by fanatical Muslim fundamentalists, with armed thugs and terrorists roaming the streets. Maybe this is too detailed a picture; most Israelis, if they think of Gaza at all, see it as a miserable place where terrorists who are trying to destroy Israel live.

That somebody like Ahmed could grow up in a place like Gaza seems incomprehensible to many Israelis. That Gaza could be home to doctors, lawyers, and university professors, seems as incomprehensible. Such is the power of prejudice and stereotypes.

Recently, I received a letter from Ahmed that I would like to share with you. I am not editing it in any way.

Dear sir

I'm very appreciated for you and your huge efforts in seeking to give me a last chance in order to come back to my program.

My name is AHMED AL MAGHARI. I'm 16 and I'm Palestinian as you know.

At first, I'm going to provide you some details about my program(YES program), YES it is abbreviation for ( Youth and Exchange Study). It's a global program for exchange students all over the world for bridging cultures and building understanding among the people in the world.

I succeed in this program believing in my self and believing a better education and a better place to live in, but unfortunately, they destroyed my only hope for a better future, however I still insist to travel in any way. In addition, this problem effected me in a very negative way, I felt that I disappointed all my friends and my family's hopes. Moreover, a lot of hard decisions that I took based on studying in America simply destroyed.

Any way, thanks a million for you and all the honest people like you and I hope that the problem will be solved in a quick way


So what can I say to Ahmed? How can I explain to him what the Shin Bet will not explain to him – why they told the US that he is a security threat. And why did he became a security threat only after the US had granted him a visa. And what is a security threat? Does he have a relative that is suspected of being Hamas? Is there fear that he will want to revenge a martyr? Is it difficult for the Shin Bet to trump up charges – even convincingly -- against anybody they want to?

If you an American citizen, I ask you to contact your representative in Congress, or senator, and bring Ahmed's case to their attention.

You may think that this is a lousy time to do something – Congress is or will be soon in recess; the world is paying attention to Russia's invasion of Georgia and the Olympics. If one young man can't travel to America, is this such a big deal?

For me, it is an enormous deal. To save this young man's belief in himself, and in the importance of education, is to save an entire world. Keeping Ahmed in Gaza is a vindictive, spiteful act that says more about Israel's desire to save face with the US than with anybody's security.

How ashamed we all should feel.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Keep the SS Free Gaza Afloat

Many of you know that human rights activists, Israelis and Palestinians, among others, are trying to bring supplies to Gaza by boat. They have raised $300,000 so far, but the expenses (and the weak dollar) have exhausted funds. They are maxed out , and they need financial support. So if you can help, please answer their appeal by contributing at

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nine Comments on the Ninth of Av, 5768

  1. Tisha B'Av. The Ninth of Av is the Jewish fast day that commemorates the catastrophes that befell the Jewish people over the centuries,especially the destruction of the first, then second temples in Jerusalem. Jews all over the world gather in synagogues to recite the scroll of Lamentations, and then to say elegies over the destruction of Jewish communities, especially in Jerusalem. The graphic description in these elegies of the suffering of innocents is heartrending. Would that we Jews, or for that matter, any people, use these descriptions to sensitive ourselves to the sufferings of other groups! We sit and wail about something that happened centuries ago, when, at the same time, innocent civilians are being killed in indiscriminate bombing in the Republic of Georgia. Can we not make the connection?


  2. Baseless hatred and Jewish Zealotry. Two reasons are generally given in Rabbinic Judaism for the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce: baseless hatred among Jews, and the activity of the zealots against other Jews and the Romans. If one reads Josephus, the historian of the Jewish revolt, the emphasis is upon the latter. Josephus, though he is hardly a disinterested observer, provides the "balance and context" for the destruction of the Temple that is lacking in the rabbinic sources. In this way, and using moral standards that civilized people reject, he mitigates the Roman responsibility for the atrocities. Can he not condemn Roman atroicites yet attempt to understand them at the same time?


  3. "Balance and context," we are often told, is what is lacking in the criticism of Israel's human rights. Granted that the Palestinians are suffering, and there are human rights violations. But haven't the Israelis suffered as well? What about the suicide bombings and the shelling of Sderot? Doesn't this one-sided criticism suggest naivit̩ at best, and, perhaps, anti-semitism at worst? The call for "balance and context" seems reasonable, until one understands the underlying motivaton Рto lessen responsibility, to shift the focus to the other side, to justify, and ultimately, to condone. We hear the same demand for "balance and context" from war criminals, dictators, and other apologists for atrocities. I once heard a professor of Serbian studies, herself a Serb, criticize the West for unfairly blaming Milosevic for atrocities. "And what about the atrocities on the other side?" she said. "What about the centuries of atrocities against the Serbian people" She was right, there had been centuries of atrocities. But in her voice I heard the voice of the Jewish supporter of Israel who attempts to mitigate crimes by pointing fingers at other Palestinians. It is natural enough; we all do it in kindergarten. We don't want to be considered bad, so we point our fingers elsewhere. Can we not grow up?


  4. Whose Balance? Whose Context? Here are two responses to the calls for "balance and context." First, bite the bullet and say, "There is no balance. Both peoples suffer, but one people suffers much, much, more than the other. And when trying to gauge suffering, one doesn't do use a partisan measure. One looks at the total picture using measures that can be used in any conflict." Second, look at context, but not just the context that is favorable to our – or their – side. Both the suicide bombings and the shelling of Sderot have their origins no more in baseless hatred than the actions of Israel in the West Bank. They are local responses to local situations, based on broader ideologies and contexts. These should be studied and lessons should be drawn from them. If one's commitment is to human rights, you will condemn the indiscriminate shelling of Sderot as a violation of human rights, and then go on to condemn the Occupation as a more serious violation of human rights, for obvious reasons.


  5. The Settlers Demand "Balance and Context" I heard on the radio this morning that the West Bank Settlers are demanding from B'Tselem video cameras. It seems that they want to document the Palestinians who provoke the settlers to use violence, and then who film settler violence with B'Tselem video cameras. B'Tselem's response was that it will cooperate with the settlers when their human rights are violated. More "balance and context" for their crimes.


  6. Jewish Zealotry. The historical Zealots believed that Jewish independence from Rome trumped all other considerations, and whoever did not agree with them, Jew or non-Jew, was the enemy. With the growth of nationalism, the destruction of most of European Jewry, and the birth of the State of Israel, Jewish zealots today range from respectable spokespeople like Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz, Ruth Wisse, Yehezkel Dror, Alan Dershowitz, etc., to ROYS (Racist Orcs with Yarmulkes), like the ultra rightwing settlers in Hebron. But, in a sense, anybody who makes the existence of a state – any state – into an absolute value is a zealot. If the price for the existence of a Jewish state is the ongoing occupation and suffering of another people, then that price is too high. I am not saying that this is the price of the Jewish state. But the defenders of Israel, who try to justify the ongoing occupation with Israel's existential worries, lead me to this conclusion.


  7. Jerusalem in Ruins. When Israeli troups occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, there were some calls to revise the traditional "Nahem" prayer, which describes a decimated city in ruins. One such prayer, by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, turned the prayer into a memorial prayer for those slained and a call for the flourishing of the city. Most traditional Jews ignored such a liturgical innovation that reflected the moment. And they were right to do so. With each year, the city declines through over-development. Can anybody seriously say that the city has developed positively over the last forty years? Returning from shul today, I found on my car a pamphlet with the headline, "What is Happening on Yorde Ha-Sira Street?" The pamphlet pictured a building that had recently been constructed on the street that dwarfed the other buildings, and that was completely foreign to the Katamon architecture. "We won't let builders and the wealthy destroy the neighborhood." If you can read Hebrew, go to their website here. Every day buildings are being destroyed to make room for multistory complexes that not only replace beautiful building with ugly ones, but that increase the population density of the neighborhoods. A corrupt city management combines forces with greedy developers. The prayer to speedily rebuild Jerusalem is a curse, not a blessing, today.


  8. Our Hurban. Among the current candidates for Israeli Prime Minister, I vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. In my opinion, Netanyahu, a paper tiger who crumpled before Clinton, will damage Israel's image internationally the most, and will be the most susceptible to American and international pressure. The worst of the crop is, needless to say, Ehud Barak. The reasons are obvious, but if you don't get it, just read Gideon Levy's perceptive op-ed to see why here. As for the other two, Mofaz is preferable to Livni – it will be more difficult to pressure an Israel led by a woman than by an obtuse general who represents all that is wrong about the IDF. But, needless to say, as candidates, they are all a hurban, a destruction.


  9. Their Nakba. In tribute to the great Palestinian poet who died yesterday. Mahmoud Darwish, on the eve of the Ninth of Ab, I conclude with his beautiful poem:


In Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.

I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah's messenger
mouth: “If you don't believe you won't believe.”

I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension's presence. But

I think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Additional Reasons for the Academic Boycott of Israel

Meet Fidaa Abed and Ahmed Ma'ari. Abed was headed to the University of California at San Diego for a graduate degree in computer science. Ahmed is a high school student. Both won Fullbrights to study in the US. Both had their Fullbrights cancelled, then reinstated, then US visas issued, then revoked.

Now, let me get this straight. At first they weren't a security threat; they were just kept in Gaza because of Israel's stranglehold on that territory. It's called "collective punishment" – if we hurt the Gazans enough, they will rise up and throw out Hamas. Gee, that's a smart strategy. Certainly has worked.

Then, it turns out that they were a security threat, or so Israel claimed. But the US didn't consider them a security threat, saying that the evidence provided by Israel was flimsy, so they were issued student visas. Then, when Mr. Ma'ari was at Dulles airport he found out that the visa had been revoked – at least for the time being. It seems that "new information" had been provided by Israel which made the Americans think twice. So now they are investigating the "new information."

What's a better explanation for the reversal of fortune? That Mr. Abed and Mr. Ma'ari are the victims of a face-saving ploy that Israel was desparate to pull off, and that America has agreed to, for the moment. You know the drill – the US decides to let some of the Fullbright students in (to make Condi happy), and decide to keep some of that out (to make Israel happy). That resolves the diplomatic mini-crisis. On the backs of the Palestinians.

I have always held academic freedom to be important, and as I have written before,I am not a fan of academic boycotts. Academic freedom is very important to me. But it's a two-way street. If Israel continues to curtail the academic freedom of Palestinian students and faculty, especially in Gaza, why should Israeli academic institutions complain that the academic boycott undermines their academic freedom? Is the academic freedom of Israelis dearer than that of Palestinians?

Apparently so, for Haaretz reports that

Gisha, an Israeli organization aimed at protecting Palestinian freedom of movement, says the problems the Palestinian students faced are not out of the ordinary.

"In addition to the particular students who did not receive visas for technical reasons or unexplained security reasons, there are hundreds of students in the Gaza Strip who were accepted by universities abroad and have valid visas," said Gisha executive director Sari Bashi. But, she added, "Israel issues a comprehensive ban on students from Gaza going abroad, as part of its policy of collective punishment toward Gaza residents, thereby impinging on the right to education of hundreds of talented young people who want to study, develop and create a better future in our region."

Some 1,100 university students wanted to leave Gaza to study abroad last September, of whom 480 went to Egypt and from there traveled elsewhere, according to Gisha. However, Israel has not operated such trips from Gaza to Egypt since January.

That Haaretz article, by the way , was written by Barak Ravid, whose job at Haaretz includes providing a shofar for unnamed government officials who are ticked off by even mild US pressure on Israel. After years of Israel telling American Jews to shut up and just send cash, they are now trying to say that to the Americans.

The Hebron Tour -- Police Guard, Settler Harrassment

So today I went on the "official" Hebron tour, led by Breaking the Silence, the group of IDF veterans who themselves did military service in Hebron. The group has been given this tour for a few years now.

This time it was different. (See video below)

Twenty-three Israelis and a few members of the Breaking the Silence were encircled by over a hundred police and border police -- to protect them from the Hebron Jewish settlers. That works out to over six policemen per tourist. And the settlers were there, albeit not in full force. In fact, there were only about twenty of them, but their leaders had megaphones. So the planned chaos went on for two hours, as Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence and the tour's participants was verbally harrassed ("Homo," "Nazi,", "You sleep with terrorists"), while the police watched and did not interfere.

Each group did what it was supposed to do. The police can now tell the High Court that it accompanied the tour, as agreed, but at an enormous cost of manpower. The Breaking the Silence folks succeeded to have at least part of their "tour". And the settlers -- well, they were there to verbally harrass, and they did a good job. No rocks, no eggs, just a lot of insults at high decibels.

Have you ever seen the footage of blacks in the US South during the 1950s entering =schools and universities under heavy police protection, as they are being taunted by the crowd? Well, that's a bit how we felt. We weren't allowed by the organizers to say anything, to respond to the harrassment, to get off a good crack or some bon mot. We were stony-faced silent.

By the way, on the bus down, we were given a balanced portrait of Hebron that stressed its importance in Jewish history, and we were told of the settlement there, and the 1929 massacres. None of the Breaking the Silence leaders called for removing the settlers. On the contrary, the guides said that the settlers had legitimate security claims in Hebron. But what has happened on the ground has gone way beyond security. It is all about making life hell for the Palestinians so they will leave the area under Israeli jurisdiction.

Many have.

The video takes around five minutes of your time. I apologize for the poor quality. It's from my camera. All the noise you hear is from the settlers.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It Wasn't Just Me

All right, so I am a bit paranoid -- I was afraid that my blog was attacked by rightwing meanies. In the two minutes I had before Shabbat, I saw that some anti-Obama sites had been locked last Spring, and that the Washington Times (not the most accurate of news sources) had reported about it.

But it is more likely that I was simply suffering along with a zillion other Blogger uses, whose blogs were locked on August 1. You can read some of the cries for help here.

End of story...for now

Unlocked by Blogger -- Keep Reading Here

Shavua Tov, a Good Week, Readers

I don't know when over Shabbat my blog was unlocked by Blogger, but everything seems ok now, for the moment.

I am still a bit shaken by what I consider to be a violation of my blogging space, and I still suspect people who are unfriendly to my blog. One of my readers suggested that the culprit was somebody who was unhappy that I called the settlement of Efrat ugly. Don't laugh. The few times I have blogged about Efrat I have received some very nasty reponses from Efratians.

And that's a shame because although none of my best friends lives in Efrat, I have very good friends who live there. I can criticize the settlement without dumping on some of the settlers there.

But maybe the whole thing had nothing to do with Efrat.

Thanks for your support!