Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Planning the Next Gaza Massacre -- and Celebrating the Last One

Three years ago, the Israel Defense Forces launched a massive attack on the Gaza Strip that reportedly left over 1400 hundred dead, thousands more wounded, and devastation of an unprecedented scale -- with very little damage to the attacking army, and a handful of deaths on the Israeli side.

One cannot say that the world was silent. But one can say that the large noise effected virtually nothing.

All major human rights organizations, and the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemned both sides, but singled out the Israeli side because it had committed the greater war crimes. Israel's response was to control the damage by attempting to control the narrative. The IDF presented itself as the most moral army in the world, admitted mistakes after it was forced to by incontrovertible evidence that it could not spin -- but was largely unrepentant. After all, it had provoked the war in order to deplete Hamas's military build-up and to punish the Gazan population for allowing Hamas to rule the Gaza strip.

At the time, Israelis said, "Baal-habayit hishtage'a" -- "The Boss Went Mad." Or, to put it in terms more friendly to Israel, "Deterrence was reestablished"

After the Gazans, the biggest losers of the Operation Cast Lead were members of the human rights community world-wide. They tried hard to defend the Gazans, or at least seek redress for the injustices committed against them. And they failed, big time.

One by one they came out with their damning reports. And one by one they were ignored. Even the famous Goldstone Report, which was considered by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the time an "existential threat" to the State of Israel, fizzled when the Palestinian Authority, in collusion with the US and Israel, buried it in Geneva.

Did the Goldstone Report accomplish anything at all? Some will argue that Israel will think twice before it attempts the next Gaza Operation, that its conduct will change. We don't know that now, but we may have the opportunity to learn about it soon:

In today's Haaretz, the IDF Chief  Lt. Gen Benny Gantz is quoted as saying that Operation Cast Lead was "an excellent" operation, and that they next round of fighting must be "swift and painful." Of course, that may be military bluster and certainly part of the ongoing psychological warfare. But I sincerely doubt that the IDF, and certainly the current Israeli government, learned anything from the Gaza Operation except in the realm of hasbarah and post facto legal justification. And why should it? After all, it managed to conduct the massacre with virtual impunity. The dogs barked, no doubt, but the caravan proceeded as before.

I am proud to have been one of the barking dogs. Most Israelis of the liberal Zionist variety were silent, or whimpered a bit. Among the whimperers were those who criticized roundly the Goldstone report, yet in order to protect their liberal credentials, called for an independent investigation. Did they mean what they said then, or was it just lip-service? It is now three years since the Gaza Operation and there was no independent investigation, nor will there be. Will those liberal Zionists who call themselves "leftwing"  join together and publish a public criticism of the government for not allowing such an investigation? Or  have they moved on to other things?

The blood of the innocent victims of the madness cries out to them -- but I doubt the public intellectuals will wish to revisit Operation Cast Lead.

A New Year's Resolution and Some Grounds for Optimism

Well, the semester is over; things are worse in Israel (and will be getting a lot worse). My day job took a lot of my time, and I didn't blog for a month. Two people let me know they missed my posts.

That's enough for me to get back in the saddle again.

My (secular) New Year's resolution for 2012 is to post at least once a week,  and I hope to do twice a week during semester break. As usual, my posts will be pretty long, probably full of typos, and always from a philosophical and modern orthodox Jewish point of view.

I have learned at my age that repetition isn't such a bad thing, especially when you feel that what you are saying expresses something important. So I plan and intend to repeat myself. Yeshayahu Leibowitz had only  around 10 ideas, but he repeated them until they were hardwired in his audiences' brains. He and his ideas are sorely missed.

So let me start by repeating what I have said before: We are living in a long dark night for Judaism.

No this is no ordinary Jewish pessimism. Historically, American Jews, according to Jonathan Sarna, have often viewed their generation as the last, or next to last, before the American Jewish community went kaput.  My pessimism is of a different sort. If the Holocaust was a hurban, a physical catastrophe for Jews, the "New Chauvinism," euphemistically portrayed as "Jewish Pride" (as if pride were anything but a vice in traditional Judaism), together with  real power and the loss of Eimat ha-Goyyim / Fear of the Gentiles, has been  a moral catastrophe of epic proportions for Judaism.

Every day Haaretz  publishes at least one article, usually buried somewhere, about how Palestinians are being cheated out of the birthright in a variety of ways by Israelis. It has nothing to do with Israeli security; it has nothing to do with Palestinian "terrorism;" it has everything to do with the theft of land, resources, and the infringement of liberty.

And yet, with very few exceptions among my coreligionists (God bless them), NOBODY CARES.  Of course,  people in general, and Jews in particular, need to feel moral outrage about something.  So they aim for a Jewish consensus in their expressions of such outrage.  Palestinians are being thrown out of houses that they purchased or received legally? Why not protest social injustice against Jews by Jews?  Palestinian women undergo humiliating strip searches by private security firms at checkpoints? Why not protest the separation of Jewish women from Jewish men on public transportation?

People need to feel that they are moral creatures -- that explains, among other things, the appeal of the pro-life movement in the US, among those who would expel  children of illegal immigrants who have lived their whole life in the US.  When you are accused of moral wrongdoing, the best offence is to protest against some other morally outrageous situation. If ultra-orthodox men are feeling oversexed because they are living in a relatively permissive era, then they should seek better ways (e.g., therapies) to handle their  situation besides segregating women on buses -- a practice for which there is no Jewish legal precedent. (One can say the same thing about having babies in the double digits.) Orthodox Judaism has enough issues of inegalitarianism without creating more. But as disgusting as this new practice of public separation is, it palls in comparison with what we Jews are doing on a daily basis to Palestinians.  So, yes, there is injustice here, and  I condemn it, -- but Jewish tribalism shouldn't dictate all priorities, and a sense of proportion should not be lost.

But I do see rays of hope in 2012 and beyond, or perhaps I am clutching at some proverbial straws.

1. I still have some hopes for, and belief in, the next generation. My generation, the generation of the children of the survivors and their baby boomer peers, have made a moral mess of Judaism. But there are signs that the coming generations of Russian offspring in Israel will be less chauvinistic than the current one. Voting patterns, I am told, are encouraging. The Putinization of Israel will most probably ebb after the generation that knew Putin close and up-front passes from the stage of history.

2. Good riddance to the old two-state solution. Oslo died a long time ago, and with it, the two state solution envisioned by the framers of Oslo. With more and more mainstream Israelis realizing that the two-state solution is, or should be, dead -- and just today, the moderate Likud Speaker of the Knesset, Ruvi Rivlin, said as much --  we are faced with a horrific status quo for a long time to come. And since the status quo is untenable over the long haul, sooner or later the apartheid like situation between the Jews and the Arabs will drag the 1948 regime down with it, to be replaced, I hope, by something more equitable.

3.  When I said that the two-state solution has died, I don't mean all two-state solutions -- only the sort of "rotten compromises" that have been proposed until now. 

4. Several years ago, I told a friend that one of the goals of my blog was to ensure that if you were an America supporting Israel's chauvinistic center, you were either a Republican or a rightwing fundamentalist, Jewish and Christian. There are signs that this is happening. Tonight I spoke with a prominent Jewish Republican living in Israel. He implied to me that Newt Gingrich he preferred Newt Gingrich to Mitt Romney. May all the Jewish Republicans go in his direction...and may the Democrats win.

5. As always, I am cheered by those waging the good fight in Israel and abroad -- Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and non-Jews. These, too, are my people. Yes, I have dual loyalties to both my tribes -- Jewish and liberal. But most of my moral criticism I save for my Jewish tribe. Guess that makes me a Jewish tribalist.

These rays of light do not dispel the darkness in front of us. But they give us hope for some distant future, and some consolation for coping in this horrible present.

And a Happy New Year to you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can One be a Liberal and a Zionist without being a Liberal Zionist?

Can one be a liberal (or: progressive) and a Zionist? The debate has been going on for some time now, and recent entries in the debate on the +972mag by Joseph Dana, Larry Derfner, and Abir Kopty, are worth reading.

What’s interesting is that both the advocates and detractors of liberal Zionism agree that there is an inherent contradiction between being liberal and being Zionist. Derfner considers himself a liberal, one who believes, for example, in civic equality, but there are times when his allegiance to the statist self-determination of the Jewish people trumps his liberalism. There is nothing wrong or inconsistent with attaching different weight to competing values.  

I don’t agree with the premise that there is an inherent contradiction between being liberal and being Zionist.  But that’s because of how I understand those terms.

Zionism for me involves a cluster of beliefs and attitudes that contain the following:

a) I am conscious of being part of a Jewish people, and that consciousness provides something meaningful within my life;  

b) As a member of this people, I am conscious of a religious/historical connection to the land of Israel/Palestine

c) The growth of Hebrew culture in Israel/Palestine, that began in the twentieth century, has been, on the whole, positive for the Jewish people, and compatible with the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestine Arabs.

d) The legitimate self-determination of the Jewish people requires nothing more than the ability for the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, within  the limits of a liberal, civic framework.

I find these views compatible with various political arrangements in Israel/Palestine. They are certainly compatible with a one state,  binational framework, and arguably compatible with a national Jewish minority status within a Palestinian state, with rights guaranteed by a constitution.

Still, these principles return us to the arguments within the Zionist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, before the Zionist movement made the (wrong, in my opinion) turn towards ethnic statism in the early 1940s. They are controversial, certainly from a Palestinian standpoint. Particularly problematic is c) which rests on Jewish immigration  – although, it is important to point out that most of the key institutions of the revival of Hebrew culture predated the Jewish state, and were not opposed by the Palestinian leadership.

In any event, we are not in the 1930s. There are now around five and a half million Jews in Israel/Palestine.  The overwhelming majority of Palestinians and Arabs, including the Hamas party, accept the physical presence of Jews within Palestine; their problems are more with a Jewish ethnic state.

I do not accept other principles, which may now be dogmas, of Zionism.  I certainly don’t accept the view that the self-determination of the Jewish people trumps the self-determination of the Palestinian people, or that it justified immigration against the wishes of the Palestinian population, much less the formation of an ethnic exclusivist state with quasi-racist laws and provisions that are unparalleled in liberal, decent societies.

Of course, there will be many whose view of Zionism is such that they won’t consider me to be a Zionist.  They will say that my Zionism is so attenuated as not to be worthy of the name.  And they may be right; the fact that there is historical precedent for my brand of Zionism may not cut the mustard for them.

Whatever. At least folks will know why this blog is called the Magnes Zionist

Monday, November 28, 2011

J. J. Goldberg Should Seek Another "Occupation"

The New York Times Op-Ed page has always been a comfortable place for liberal Zionists, those who genuinely bemoan the 1967 Occupation, the settlements, and its effect on both Palestinians and Israel.  When op-ed writers stray too far from the Zionist consensus, i.e., when they air too much of Israel's dirty linen before the goyim (in New York?), the Times routinely publishes letters defending Israel, and bravo for them. Even this amount of courage on their part loses readers, although, frankly, are there any rightwing Zionists reading the New York Times anymore?

In short, opinion on Israel in the New York Times ranges from progressive Zionist  to liberal hawk Zionist, mostly of the Democratic persuasion. You won't see any regular columnists on Israel who are not Zionist. You barely hear pro-Palestinian voices (unless they are close to the Palestinian Authority or the American Task Force on Palestine,)

Occasionally, though, the Times lets an op-ed through that is actually tough on Israel, and not just on the post-1967 Occupation. Two such cases recently raised the ire of liberal Zionists like the Forward's  J. J. Goldberg and AJC's David Harris (the former is a progressive Zionist; the latter, a liberal hawk Zionist), who, like other liberal Zionists, monitor how much criticism Israel is allowed to get from the paper of record.

The first was an op-ed published by Sarah Schulman about what has been known for some time as "pinkwashing", the trumpeting of Israel's recent record on gay rights as a hasbara tool to deflect criticism on other human rights issues.  In that article, Prof. Schulman cited Prof. Ayal Gross of the Tel Aviv University to the effect that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.” Schulman did not deny that Israel was a better place for gays than elsewhere in the Middle East, only that the
gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. 
I won't spend much time on David Harris's piece, which shows clearly that he hadn't heard of "pinkwashing" before he read Schulman's op-ed.   The academic who has written about it in the context of what he calls "homonationalism" is Prof. Aeyal Gross of Tel Aviv University. (Gross has a  representative  piece here that will provide some background for Harris, who seems strangely out of touch with the Israeli human rights scene, unless he only reads the New York Times. By the way, Gross himself finds the term "pinkwashing" inaccurate, because, unlike "whitewashing," which implies concealing the truth, there has been relative progress in LGBT rights.)

Harris is thus  unaware of how the Israel recent record on gay rights has been appropriated in recent years by Israel advocacy groups like Stand-With-Us to shore up support for Israel in the  LGBT community, and the Israeli government's encouragement of this. Israel's position here is consistent with its natural desire to garner support with other groups of all persuasions, whether homophiliac or  homophobic, such as evangelical Christians. When it comes to alliances, Israel has always found itself with incompatible bedfellows.

Israel advocacy in  LGBT circles  is a good way of weakening criticism in groups that tend to be leftwing. In a sense, the strategy is reminiscent of Israel's "divine-and-conquer" approch to Israeli Arabs.  By fostering Druze identity, and playing Druze off against their erstwhile Muslim persecutors, Israel attempted with some success to slow the progress of a Palestinian national identity. Why can't the same approach be tried in a leftwing community like the LGBT community, where if Israel can pick up support among mainstream gays who really don't give a hoot for anything outside their parochial interest, why not? And why should David Harris be opposed to this?

Actually, my main gripe is with J. J. Goldberg, who attacks -- get this -- the headline of a piece he likes, Gershom Gorenberg's op-ed against the increasing delegitimization of Palestinian Israelis. The headline, "Israel's Other Occupation," is a bone-headed mistake, according to Goldberg,  because it implies that Israel is occupying territory "within its own internationally recognized borders." Apparently the editor of the Op-Ed page,  put down by Goldberg as "a former fashion and culture maven," simply doesn't understand the Middle East.

The only problem for Goldberg is that Israel has no internationally recognized border. Nor did it ever have. In fact, it never wanted them, and  David Ben Gurion saw  its lack of recognized borders as an advantage, since it gave him negotiating power in future peace talks.  Liberal Zionists like to mislead themselves into thinking that the 1949 armistice lines are recognized borders, but I will be happy to donate money to the Forward if Goldberg can show me serious, diplomatic support of his claim.  In fact, even the UN Partition Plan borders are not recognized borders for the Jewish State, since they never existed except on paper. When the State of Israel was recognized by many countries, and later when it was accepted into the United Nations, there was no claim that these were Israel's borders, and that it was inappropriate for the Palestinians and bordering Arab countries to contest these borders. Can a state without borders be recognized?

Ask Mahmoud Abbas that one.

Ah, you will say, this is pilpul, Talmudic hair-splitting. Even if there are no recognized borders, everybody recognizes that the lands on which the Palestinians sit belong to the State of Israel. However, that is not so simple. Let's not forget that the Palestinian citizens of Israel had their much of their land systematically taken away from them after 1948, often in expropriation, or in land purchases against their will -- and Jews were settled on those lands, or forests were planted after razing villages. While that may  not be "occupation," it is not far from the situation of the Palestinians on the West Bank, with all the differences in status between the two Palestinian populations. And there is something else that they share, and is missed in Goldberg's reference to "ethnic discrimination" -- the feeling of official and foundational exclusion from the state that governs their lives without their having any control over those lives in key areas. Israeli Arabs have the vote, but their vote has no political weight. Palestinians in the territories do not have any vote over policies that directly control their daily lives.

The truth is that the term "occupation" is problematic  both in the case of the Palestinian Israelis and in the case of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. "Occupation" is, as Goldberg points out, used with reference to territory, but the terms that are  relevant here are "domination" and "control. In fact, Israel provides three models of control, or, perhaps four models, corresponding with the four types of Palestinian populations: exile and dispossession (Palestinian diaspora); remote military control (Gaza); direct and indirect rule (West Bank); and curtailment of civil rights based on exclusion from the nation (49 armistice lines).    All this control is necessary, argues Israel, for the sake of its security and in order to guarantee the ethnic character of the state. And, quite frankly, most liberal Zionists don't dispute this. They have no desire for direct control over the lives of Palestinians, but they insist that Israel's security requires some persistent measure of control over a potentially hostile population.

Potentially hostile or enemy populations are often occupied. As long as poll after poll show that the majority of Israelis view Palestinian Israelis as potentially or actually hostile, or an enemy fifth column, they can certainly be considered occupied. The answer for Palestinians, both inside and outside of the 49 armistice lines, is to grant them equal rights, equal authority, and equal dignity.

The political framework is not the issue. Let it be two states, one state, no state, many states. The real issue is ending the control of  the Palestinians's life, liberty, and property -- on both sides of the Green Line.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ben Gurion University's Persecution of Idan Landau

Some of my loyal readers have noticed that I have not blogged for a long time, almost a month. I should explain.

I am now the Director of one of the largest university Jewish Studies programs in the country, and I have no time for anything "extra-curricular" as I learn how to do my job in the best manner possible. I am also working in my almost non-existent spare time on an article for a book entitled, After Zionism. (My chapter is tentatively entitled, "Zionism After Israel". I have decided that Israeli Post-Zionism is soooo 1980's, and that it is now the time for Zionist Post-Israelism.)

Much of my writing has been motivated by moral outrage. But it is hard to keep the story-line fresh if moral outrage is a never ending experience. Whether it is an AP story about how the Gazans cannot press claims against the IDF for Operation Cast Lead because they are not allowed to travel to courts within Israel, or because they are asked to pay ridiculous sums of money to cover court fees; or whether it is an unfortunate New York Times Op-Ed by Justice Richard Goldstone that repeats Israeli talking points and makes NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg happy; or whether it is the hypocrisy of the Israel Lobby-castrated Obama Administration, which works hard behind the scenes to thwart the Palestinian Authority's UN bid in the name of a dead peace process, and "deplores" Israel's continuing expansion of settlements; whether it is the proposed law in the Knesset to tax or limit or control foreign grants to Israeli human-rights NGOs, while right-wing "Jewish-rights" NGOs hide their donors from the public view....the list goes on and on.

So I will just come out of my burrow to express solidarity for my colleague and cohort, the linguist (and blogger) Prof. Idan Landau. Prof. Landau once again refused to do his reserve duty on the West Bank, and for this he was sent again to jail this past May for a week. He took his research with him, and arranged makeup classes for his students. When he returned, he discovered that he had been docked his salary by Ben Gurion University. On what grounds? The university said that since he was in jail, he wasn't doing what he was paid for, which was to conduct research. When it was pointed out to the university that he had taken his books to jail, the university said that National Insurance did not pay compensation to the university for the time lost, which is what is done for academics who do their reserve duty. When it was pointed out to the university that it didn't need to be compensated since Landau was doing his job off campus (not unknown for, oh, virtually everybody who works at a university anywhere in the world), the university had no response.

Landau is now not only defended by the Faculty Committee but by such noted neoconservatives like Ruth Gavison. After all, Gavison must realize that the point of Ben Gurion's exercise is to punish its lecturer for his refusal to guard illegal West Bank outposts, and not to dock his pay because he is studying linguistics off-campus.

Idan Landau is not only suffering for his own "sins" -- he went to jail for that -- but for the "sins" of Neve Gordon, Oren Yiftachel, Lev Grinberg, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, and lesser known leftwingers that cost the university donations.

Landau should sue the pants off of BGU and its president, Rivka Carmy. At the very least he should force a retraction and an apology from the institution. Until the university installs webcams and gps's to follow and monitor the movements of the faculty, the only way they can know whether research has been conducted is when the faculty fills out its annual reports.

But, of course, I am talking rationally -- the last thing to do when conversing with a patriotic ideologue like Prof. Rivka Carmy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

With The Anticipated Prisoner Release, Let One Dumb Comment Be Buried

I write this from Jerusalem on the eve of Feast of Sukkot/Tabernacles -- and for the first time in years, I am hearing  good news -- that there will be a prisoner release between Hamas and the State of Israel

I cannot think of a better holiday gift for the families of the prisoners on both sides. Would that all prisoners be released as part of a general amnesty!

Unfortunately, I just heard on Israeli radio a repetition of the rather dumb comment, often heard in Israel, that Israelis value life more than "the Arabs" -- because Israel is willing to trade thousands of Arab prisoners for one Israeli, whereas "the Arabs" won't trade for less. "The Arabs" are willing to allow hundreds of Arab prisoners rot, rather than release them.

That's one way to look at it. Here's why a little thought shows it is wrong.

Say the shoe was on the other foot. Hamas held a thousand Israelis and Israel held one Arab prisoner. What would you think of Israel if it engineered a prisoner release that left five hundred Israelis in Hamas prison. And if the Israelies held out for all the Israeli prisoners they could get, would you say they valued life less that Hamas?

Here's a different way to look at it.  In order to get the maximum number of its people released, Hamas held out as long as it could -- and when it was clear it could not get them all, it reluctantly agreed to an exchange. Israel, on the other hand, preferred that its soldier spend years in Hamas captivity rather than lose face by releasing Palestinian prisoners. It valued its national pride over the life of one of its soldiers.

Which side valued life more?

The truth is that both sides behaved badly, Hamas kept its prisoner in an illegal captivity, denying him contact with the outside world. Israel took years before it acquiesced to Hamas' demands. And it turned out that the only thing that stood in the way of a prisoner exchange -- at least as far as we know now -- was the view of the former head of Shabak. New head, with different views on the security risk, and, voila -- prisoner exchange.

Oh, and one more thing. There is no equivalence. Only one side can seek out and arrest the other side with impunity. Only one side can swoop down in the middle of the night, break into a civilian house, arrest children, and keep them from their parents and legal counsel as material witnesses.. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, and that was a violation of the laws of war. Hundreds of Palestinians have been likewise kidnapped by the IDF after being fingered by collaborators -- and that is a violation of their human rights.

Let's hope that there are no last minute glitches -- and that the prisoner release goes through.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Goldstone Redux -- How Abba Mazen Was Forced by the US and Israel to Throw the Palestinians Under the Bus Again

Last year, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the three major threats to Israel were: Iran, rockets sent against Israeli citizens, and...Goldstone. I kid you not. Even for a former furniture salesman, the hyperbole seemed remarkable. I mean, how much had Israel really suffered as  result of the Goldstone report, which came down hard on Israel (and Hamas) for Operation Cast Lead. Lo naim, akh lo nora ('Not pleasant, but not awful') is how I would summarize the effects of the Goldstone Report on the Israel public. After all, only the most dedicated Goldstone Report watchers know that the report has been buried in Geneva.

And why? Well, the US put considerable pressure on Mahmoud Abbas to leave it there, since nothing made Israel madder than the Goldstone report. It will be recalled that Abbas, after an earlier display of US pressure had agreed to an "independents expert committee" (led by Judge McGowan Davis), and a delay of accountability. As Jared Malsin put it last October

Last month, under US and Israeli pressure, the Palestinian Authority (PA), once again delayed the process of accountability. This came at a September 29 vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which the PA backed a resolution to give Israel and Hamas officials in Gaza six more months to investigate crimes documented in Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Missionreport. According to Palestinian and international human rights groups, the Palestinian Authority has decided that the Goldstone report must remain in Geneva, away from the relatively more powerful UN bodies in New York. This is a position identical to that of the US State Department, which wants to keep pressure off Israel during the newly re-launched political negotiations.

By adopting this position, rights groups say, the PA is placing itself in open conflict with the interests of its own people. "What's very clear now is that the PA wants the report to stay in Geneva," said Fred Abahams of Human Rights Watch. "We thought there was a lot of progress made in New York and this was a step backwards...with peace talks going, they don't want Goldstone anywhere near the agenda," Abrahams said on the phone from New York.

The PA has never been a fan of human rights. This it shares in common with Hamas and the Israeli government. So it's not surprising that the US, Israel, and the PA, can agree to ensure that Israeli war criminals won't be dragged before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes. Such maneuvers are "distractions" from the "peace process". 

And now, according to some observers, Mahmoud Abbas has done it again. He took the statehood bid to the United Nations Security Council, not against the wishes of the US and Israel, but in accordance with them. For had he gone to the General Assembly, he would have received an immediate upgrade of the Palestinians' status -- enough of an upgrade to be able to drag Israel before the ICC and other international organizations. This he could not get from the Security Council, not because of a potential US veto, but because the US  continues to place intense  pressure on a handful of states serving now on the Security Council. My hunch is that there will be no need for the US veto. If the subject ever comes to a vote -- a very big if -- the US will have been able to get what it wants.

The Statehood bid, like the Goldstone report, will likely be buried under the bus. But that doesn't mean that Abbas was wrong to go to the UN. In so far as the process has served to reveal the US and Israel as the neighborhood bullies (again), that can only weaken their prestige in the world. Who likes a bully?

And in the meantime, sumud, sumud, sumud. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Liberal Zionists Should Support the Palestinian Statehood Bid -- And Why Most Don't

With the notable exception of a few Israelis and Michael Lerner here, I have yet to see liberal Zionists give unqualified support to the Palestinian Authority's statehood bid at the United Nations.What I have seen is a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the Netanyahu government.

I hear things like,  "If only Netanyahu had been serious about peace," "If only he had not preferred Lieberman," "If only he was willing to freeze settlements....we wouldn't be in this mess." Or: "We Israelis deserve all this; we had the best partner in Abu Mazen imaginable, and we screwed up. Instead of a negotiated peace, we are now witnessing Palestinian unilateralism."

The closest position to support I have seen in a mainstream media publication is this article by Yossi Alpher in the International Herald Tribune. Alpher argues that by going to the UN, the PA is making concessions that it could never make with its own people. He views the statehood bid as a way to leverage progress towards a viable two-state solution.

Ideally, the Palestinian request for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state can be leveraged into a two-state agreement that serves Israel’s vital needs, as well as those of the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t work, the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties.        
Americans for Peace Now have posted this on their website. To its credit, it does not oppose the statehood bid, as does the center left organization,  J Street (which is better named "O[bama] Street".) But I don't see an explicit endorsement either.

This strikes me as odd. After all, liberal Zionists have endorsed the principle of "two states for two peoples". Were they to regret  Zionist unilateralism in 1948 the way they regret Palestinian unilateralism in 2011, I would understand. In other words, had they said, "History has shown that unilateralism doesn't work; that the unilateral declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 was a tragic mistake for which generations have paid and continued to pay," their insistence on a settlement acceptable to both sides would be reasonable.

But the ones I have seen don't do this. Instead of cheerleading for the Palestinian two-state solution on at the UN, and writing editorials and op-eds that endorse the statehood bid (while questioning its efficacy in achieving true statehood), most see it as a counter-productive gesture that does not advance the peace process. The liberal Zionist New York Times opposes it. So does the liberal Zionist establishment in the US.

I think the reason is that all Zionists fear Palestinian empowerment. The Zionist left is willing to grant Palestinians enough unilateralism to move forward the Left's two-state solution through the UN, and nothing more. Alpher says that if the UN bid doesn't move the two-state solution forward:
....the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties
In other words, if Mahmoud Abbas can't move the two-state solution along through the UN, it should be "delivered" to ("imposed on"?) the two parties. And then what? Will their be sanctions on Israel and Palestine if they refuse the delivered solution? Will the Palestinian diaspora have a voice in the solution? Will those who support Hamas, whose military wing is comparable to the  Irgun and the Stern gang? And what of the Israeli public and the settlers?

I have my misgivings about Mr. Abbas's move simply because I do not think that he has the authority to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people. He is not the elected representative of the Palestinians, either in the diaspora or in Palestine.  He is propped up by Western and Arab money.  He is, I fear, willing to forego the legitimate rights of the Palestinians for the sake of a negotiated settlement; and if he had Yossi Alpher for a negotiating partner, a peace agreement between them (without real peace) could be attained.

The liberal Zionist's first and foremost concern is not justice but peace and quiet for Israel. As I heard a young activist say, "Israelis want to be free of the Palestinians; they don't want the Palestinians to be free". I agree with Alpher that we have to move beyond Oslo. But the post-Oslo paradigm for peace should be to abandon seeking a two state solution, and to work instead towards an equitable division of power between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and outside it.

Let there be compromise, but let it not be a rotten one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Tikvah Fund's Transparency Problem

Professor Zachary Braiterman has picked up a theme that I wrote about last year, but at much greater length and in much greater detail. He demonstrates that the Tivkah Fund, which ostensibly supports Jewish literacy and encounter with Jewish culture from a neutral, academic standpoint, is really a neocon kiruv (outreach) outfit. This is no surprise, considering the people on the Tikvah board. But, argues Braiterman, unlike the Posen Foundation, which wears its commitment to Jewish secularism on its sleeve (one might say, like frontlets between its eyes), the Tikvah Foundation, which funds quasi-academic programs at NYU, Princeton, Oxford, appears to take no political stand. On the contrary it positions in the middle -- just like other self-described centrist organizations like the American Israel Cooperative Enterprise and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, who think that they if they sponsor some Zionist left scholars from Israel (AICE) or have a few old fashioned Zionist liberals (SPME), they are somehow in the middle. Braiterman does not appear to be against ideological foundations like Posen funding academic initiatives, because they are transparent where Tikvah isn't. I don't agree. The cognoscenti know what the Posen foundation stands for, but I doubt many faculty members take the trouble to explain to their students that the syllabus has the approbration of Felix Posen, who only pays if a course has enough secular Judaism in it. Anyway, transparency is important, but it is not the only consideration -- ideological meddling in the academy is another. If a college professor thinks that secular Judaism is worth teaching, he doesn't need -- and shouldn't take -- money from an ideological foundation with an axe-to-grind. It is true that universities more and more accept money with strings attached. That undermines the whole mission of the university. And faculty members don't have to accept money from these ideological foundations. But back to Tikvah and its lack of transparency. Braiterman decided to focus his sights on Tivkah, USA, and the Jewish Review of Books, with its clear right-of-center bias. It's a pity he didn't rip the mask off the most egregiously rightwing and opaque Tikvah Fund project, the Tikvah Israel Fellows program. Like Aish ha-Torah's "Jerusalem Fellowship," which appeals to unsuspecting college students without revealing its rightwing, orthodox agenda, the Tikvah Israel Fellows promises that "a select, international group of outstanding undergraduates, post-graduates and graduate students will gather in Israel for a transformative journey of intensive study, cultural exploration and mutual discovery." And where will that discovery take place?
The program will take place at the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership, located outside Jerusalem, and will be led by Dr. Micah Goodman, one of Israel’s most celebrated thinkers
It doesn't serve the Tikvah's fund purpose, which is neo-con "kiruv", to note that Ein Prat is in "Judea", a.k.a., occupied Palestinian territory, not recognized by anybody as annexable to Israel in a peace settlement. The line-up of speakers reads like a veritable who's who of Israeli neocon and to the right, with the occasional liberal hawk on board for decoration. (Look at the website if you don't believe me.) This is the Shalem Institute's dream-team of speakers, but everybody knows that the Shalem Institute is a neocon think-tank, with folks like Yoram Hazony, transferist Daniel Gordis, Natan Sharansky, Moseh Yaalon, etc. as directors or fellows. And that's their business. But the lack of transparency of the Tikvah Fund "Israel" Fellows, who are being housed on occupied Palestinian land outside of Israel, and taught by Israel's own "Commentary Crowd," is simply incredible. Just a small example: Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the man who has made a crusade of delegitimizing Israel human right groups by questioning their transparency, and by taking that crusade to the Knesset, appears here on the Tikvah website as "founder of Bar Ilan University’s Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation and teaches in the Department of Political Studies" -- without any mention that he is the Director of highly ideological NGO Monitor. And what will he be teaching the Israel Fellows about?NGOs, Human Rights, and the Arab-Israel Conflict." So much for transparency. Which just goes to show that the first law of kiruv is that you are not doing kiruv.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Islamophobe Money Machine

Why has anti-Islamic hatred flourished in America? Well, of course, the root cause of all prejudice, as my father, of blessed memory would say, is ignorance. And when there was anti-Semitism in the US, and Jews suffered from it, it was born of ignorance. And fear of the other.

But when prejudice becomes widespread, as anti-Semitism did in the US in the 1930s, you cannot blame just ignorance. You need the machinery that distributes prejudice, the mass media, the prominent "experts," the publicists.

And, of course, you need money. Big Money. How big?

The Center for American Progress published today a 130-page report detailing how $42 million dollars from seven foundations has fueled over the past decade. the spread of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim feelings in this country. Read the full report here.

The foundations are:

The Donors Capital Fund, the Richard Scaife Foundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Russel Berrie Foundation, the Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund, the Fairbook Foundation, and the Newton and Rochelle Becker.

The money has flowed into the hands of five key “experts” and “scholars” who comprise the central nervous system of anti-Muslim propaganda:
Frank Gafney, David Yerushalmi, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and Steven Emerson

These five “scholars” are assisted in their outreach efforts by Brigitte Gabriel (founder, ACT! for America), Pamela Geller (co-founder, Stop Islamization of America), and David Horowitz (supporter of Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch). As the report details, information is then disseminated through conservative organizations like the Eagle Forum, the religious right, Fox News, and politicians such as Allen West and Newt Gingrich.

So what is the big deal? Has there been any violation of laws? Don't we have freedom of speech in this country. After all, these are not hate crimes.

Yes we do. And funding hatred of Muslims is, in principal no worse than, say, funding hatred of other minority groups. (Although in practice, it is worse than, say anti-Semitism, because the Jews are a highly successful minority that has ample organizations and other means to defend themselves.)

But the Islamophobia that ends up in state legistlation, such as the one pushed by David Yerushalmi (he contrasts sharia with halahka here, but, as I hope to show elsewhere, he is a complete am-haaretz when it comes to halakha) and Frank Gaffney, or pushed on college campuses by loud-mouth ignoramuses like David Horowitz -- has no peer in America today. We are not talking about a few hate websites. We are talking about a well-orchestrated campaign funding "scholars" who, like the scholarly anti-Semites of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, spew their poison in the American mainstream.

The fact that at least three of these scholars are Jewish, and one presents himself as an orthodox Jew, has to pain serious Jews everywhere. To think that only within several decades since the demise of organized anti-Semitism in this country, American Judaism has produced bigots of the sort mentioned above speaks volume about the success of the Jews in this country -- and, I may mention, the fact that the State of Israel is unnecessary for these folks. I mean, if you can be a well-paid Jewish bigot with impunity here, why bother to go to Israel?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Some Good News for Shabbat Nahamu

PCHR reported that the IDF was paying the Abu Hajja family approx. $147,000, in an out-of-court settlment, as reparations for for the killing of the mother Riyya and daughter Majda during Operation Cast Lead. Last year, the soldier who shot the two, who were waving white flags, was indicted by the IDF. As far as I know, the trial is ongoing.

To ensure reparation for the family, on 14 July 2010, PCHR filed a compensation claim before the Magistrate Court of Haifa demanding compensation for the family for the death of the two women by IOF. PCHR supported its claim by evidences confirming IOF’s responsibility for the two women’s death. Consequently, the Israeli prosecution sought to close the claim through a settlement, under which an amount of 500,000 NIS would be paid to al-Sawarka’s family in return for closing the claim. The court approved this settlement.

This is a judicial precedent, as it is the first time that PCHR is able to ensure compensation for victims of “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip. PCHR is following up hundreds of claims on behalf of victims of the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, known as “Operation Cast Lead.”

This was reported last week before Tisha B'Av, but I just read about it today, and it gives me a bit of comfort. Of course, the payment does not make up for the war crime. But we now have more confirmation of the Goldstone report, and more admission of guilt from the Israel military, who once again, blames the bad apples. According to the CNN blog,

In a statement to CNN the Israeli Ministry of Defense said the claim was settled out of court "because the Defense Ministry believes that it was exceptional (not reflecting at all on the norm) and justifies the granting of reparation."


You can expect the next Knesset will pass a bill denying reparation payments to victims of Cast Lead. It's happened before.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Gabriel Schivone Affair

Update: 8/15. I'm removing this post, and I will replace it in the next few days with another, hopefully, better one. In the meantime, I want to apologize publicly for writing a post about a person without making the minimal effort to contact him for a response, and instead, relying on responses he had made in other venues. This was doubly insensitive when discussing sensitive matters like ethnic identity.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Israeli Summer of 2011: When the Start Up Nation Became the Burned Out Nation

“The work of the righteous is done by others,” or so goes the Jewish saying. Well, I am certainly not righteous (though I have been accused of self-righteousness). There is no need for me to write about the social protests, since good pieces have been written in the last few days by Dimi Reider and Aziz Abu Sarah in the New York Times here and Noam Sheizaf in Middle East Project here (And check out the post by APN’s Lara Friedman here).

I have yet to get to Sderot Rothschild in Tel Aviv – I am planning a trip Sunday evening. On Saturday night I may check out the protest in Jerusalem; last Saturday I heard the chants from my window.

The protests have had high turnouts because they tap into a general feeling of economic malaise in this country, particularly among the secular – as Reider and Abu Sarah put it, the rent is too damn high. And it’s not just the rent. – housing prices are simply unaffordable for all but the rich and the subsidized (more on them later.) The cost of living is ridiculous here; I spend more money buying food in a supermarket in Jerusalem than I do in DC, and I buy there at Whole Foods. Israel has never had a tax revolt – the ethos here is not that of the greedy, selfish rich folks that make up the US Tea Party movement – and taxes are ridiculously high. The middle class is squeezed at the same time that certain sectors of the society – especially haredim and settlers – get huge government subsidies.

The “social justice” protest is about two fundamental economic inequities: the inequity between rich and poor (and rich and middle class), and the inequity between privileged and unprivileged sectors.

Around forty years ago, when I first came to Israel as a student, the major economic inequity was between Ashkenazim and Sefardim. But then, basic food stuffs and social services were available to all. There were significant government subsidies; housing was relatively modest and affordable. Few, except students, rented. This was an Eastern European socialist society, with all the pluses and the minuses. Privatization may have started in the late 1970s, with the ascent of the Likud, but it really went into high gear during the 1990s in a process described by Tom Segev in his Elvis in Jerusalem: Post Zionism and the Americanization of Israel. The Soviet Union had fallen, and so had Eastern European socialism; Rabin was the head of the Labour Party but was known for his American-orientation, and this continued under all subsequent prime ministers. Bibi is taking the heat for neo-liberalism and Thatcherism, and he sounds a lot like an American Republican. But these protests are not about Bibi, or they are not only about Bibi. They are in part a mourning for the passing of the Israeli socialist vision. When once asked about Israel’s greatest achievement, Martin Buber replied, “The Kibbutz.” The 1990s coincided with the privatization and industrialization of the kibbutz movement, now a shadow of its former self. So it is not surprising that a Labour Zionist dinosaur like Shlomo Avineri now lauds the protest movement as representing the true Zionism

But let’s not get carried away by nostalgia. Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days of Israeli socialism, when proteksia, based on your party allegiance, was everything; when you had long waits for government service, strikes all the time, 400% inflation, etc., etc. That was followed by privatization, but the privatization was not competitive; proteksia went from party affiliation to family cartels and monopolies, and the inequity between rich and poor became enormous. In the 2011 OECD survey, “Society at a Glance”, Israel had the second highest income poverty rate in the OECD after Mexico; 39% of Israelis find it difficult or very difficult to live on their current income. And Israelis reported “the 6th lowest positive experiences…in the OECD. At the same time israelis report the most negative experiences – pain, worry, sadness, stress and depression – in the OECD.”

So how does one explain the relative strong economy on the one hand with the social inequities on the other? The answer, I think, is that Israel retained a lot of its government regulation and oversight, smart fiscal policy, which favored the mega-rich and tycoons, and continued massive subsidies of some sectors at the expense of the others, mainly the settlers and the haredim.

This brings us to the second fundamental economic inequity: between sectors of the society. The haredim are a powerful political bloc, and their representatives are in the government coalition. There are massive subsidies to a sector with one of the largest fertility rates and highest unemployment rates in the world. As for the settlers, Lara Friedman’s piece cited above talks about subsidies on the West Bank. It is not just cheap housing; it is cheap everything. One of the reasons why the Gush Katif evacuation was a mess was that there was no way the state could provided the settlers with the standard of living they had been used to – living cheaply on stolen land just has no substitute.

The social justice protests have been, so far, about the first economic inequity not the second. And that is why they have been relatively successful. Everybody recognizes that cartels and monopolies are problems – the neoliberals because they discourage free trade, the socialists because they concentrate wealth in the hands of a few families. So Bibi has his solution; the socialist economists have theirs.

But the second economic inequity is, as Reider and Abu Sarah write, the elephant in the room. Attempts by some ultra-right wing movements to join the protests (“Hey, we need more building in Judea and Samaria”) have been met with scorn. I am surprised that Barukh Marzel knows where Tel Aviv is; he spends much of his time dissing it.

The social justice protests are not about the Occupation; well, they are not just about the Occupation – they are about Israel gaining a vibrant economy and losing its way socially.

And this is where the protests become interesting. For the last two weeks have seen greater delegitimization of Israel in the eyes of its supporters in the West than the last two years of the BDS movement. How will AIPAC and the Israel Campus Coalition spin this? That the protesters are not being shot at, like in Syria? But these are not protests that challenge the Israeli regime – these are protests that are asking for the government to do something.

Israel has been looked on by a lot of people as an economic success story. Look at how well the propaganda piece, Start-Up Nation sold in the US. (And look at the decisive refutation of the book’s hasbara thesis by Yagil Weinberg here). One of my friends challenged me two months ago with the question, “Which economy would you rather have? Israel’s or the US’s.” And he had a point. The housing madness in the US did not have its counterpart in Israel. In the US, people bought and defaulted; here, people can’t afford to buy in the first place. How would you rather die, by fire or by ice?

But my friend posed his question to me before hundreds of thousands took to the streets. Now, Israel will not even be seen as a place where most Jews prosper, much less Arabs. And this is happening when? You guessed it, right before September. Some secularists will blame the settlers and the haredim (and much of new haredi housing is built over the green line); some won’t see the connection, but this social economic malaise weakens Bibi at a critical point. He is no longer the prime minister of the start-up nation; he is the prime minister of the burnt-out nation.

And what is the Knesset doing through all this? Yesterday a bill was introduced in the Knesset that would define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, not necessarily democratic, and would demote Arabic from an official to a non-official language. Now that's important, isn't it?

Needless to say, I hope the bill passes. More of that de facto discrimination has to become de jure in order to wake up people.

In short, the social justice protests by Israeli Jews are about social justice for the Israeli Jews. Most of Israel's supporters can care squat about the Arabs, either Palestinians living in Israel or in the Occupied Territories. But now that the narrative has been not peace, and not freedom, but social justice for Jews, those supporters will start looking into why.
More bad publicity. And effective bad publicity, at that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Old/New Clash of Civilizations

In the Norwegian massacres we saw the latest salvo in the clash of civilizations– not between a “Judaeo-Christian” West, and an Islamism bent on taking over the world, but between a totalitarian vision built on fear of the other and feelings of religio/ethnic/cultural superiority, and a liberal vision based on the value of diversity and the necessity to bridge religio/ethnic/cultural divides. This clash of civilizations has been with us for some time: in the twentieth century it reared its ugliest head in the temporary triumphs of Nazism and Stalinism. But it is much older than that; it is found anywhere where a totalitarian worldview is merged with racial, religious, and ethnic prejudice. Tertullian once asked, “What do Athens and Jerusalem have in common?” Well, one thing is tribalism, with its concomitant xenophobia and intolerance of the other.

The reactions on the right to the Norwegian massacre have ranged from the sanctimonious to the nauseating. First there was the assumption that al-Qaeda was involved, since, heck, it’s always the Muslims who poison the wells in their headlong rush towards Armageddon, oops, I mean the messianic world order, oops, I mean the Rapture, oops, I mean the World Khalifate. If you don’t believe me, you don’t know Hebrew/Arabic/Latin, because what they say in their texts and in their cabals is very revealing – I can produce for you any number of ex-Muslims/Jews/PLO-terrorists/Mormons – who will reveal to you the secrets of the order. And frankly, friend, you are in denial – you simply don’t want to know how those Jews/Islamists/Christians are making for world domination.

When the perpetrator turned out to be a rightwing Norwegian and not an Islamist, there was the rush in the rightwing blogosphere to do damage control, because, God forbid, this unfortunate incident could turn out to be a setback for the forces of Good (e.g., Jews, Christians, Old Europe, Zionists, Israelis -- I actually saw that line of thinking in the talk-backs .) So the tactics are to condemn the violence (as perfunctorily and as non-comittally as possible, e.g., talk about “undiluted evil”), to mitigate the act (“lone wolf,” “violent Christian fundamentalist,” “psycho”); not even to mention the ideological motivation; and – equally as important – to move on and not to come back to the story, even though it is one of the lead stories of the week.

For a shining example of a MSM blogger who employs these aforementioned tactics, see the two posts here and here of Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who now has won my prize for the Dumbest Conservative Blogger of the Year, and, friends, that competition is no cakewalk.

Some social scientists like to distinguish between circles of support for ideologically-motivated violent crimes. At the center of the circle are the perpetrators, the so-called “lone wolves.” In the circle around them are the ideologues who preach violence, and those who do everything but preach violence. In the next circle are the ideologues who condemn the perpetrators in varying degrees, but who nonetheless support their ideological motives, and somehow mitigate the crime (strategies include appeals to “context,” distinctions between just and unjust grievances, injecting distractions such as, “Yeah, but what about suicide bombing?”)

There is usually no good reason to assign responsibility for an attack on innocents to the ideologues in the outer circle. There are many people who share the perpetrator’s ideology who do not condone the act, much less contemplate doing it themselves. I know rightwing ideologues who were initially shocked and dismayed at Yigal Amir and Barukh Goldstein’s actions; some even remained shocked. All people live with contradictory beliefs and self-delusions. Some of them can say that X deserves death and not mean that literally.

But although those who occupy the outside circle – let’s call them the Ideological tribalists – shouldn’t take the rap for the perpetrators, they are certainly responsible for their own bigotry, which itself is a moral wrong, whatever the consequences. Pamela Geller is not responsible for the Norwegian massacres, but she is responsible for the anti-Islamic hate she spews forth – hate that is a carbon copy of the anti-Semitic diatribes of Father Coughlin in the 1930s.

Europe faces serious questions, and different solutions have and will be tried. There are trade-offs in the amount of diversity a society can allow itself to have, and there are many degrees in the middle between enforced assimilation on the one hand and balkanization on the other. The Jerusalem Post editorial that declared that multi-culturalism in Europe has failed should remember how many Jews left Judaism in Europe because of the pressure to assimilate – and how toleration of diversity has allowed varieties of Judaism to flourish in many places. Sure, there has to be some balance – but to err in the direction of diversity befits the liberal society. What cannot be tolerated is hate-filled bigotry, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or None of the Above.

There always are barbarians at the gates. In every generation they rise up to destroy us. The question is how do we fight against them? And even more pressing, how do we recognize them?

Religious/nationalist/ethnic fundamentalism of all kind, coupled with power, not to mention weapons, has been shown time and again to be deadly. Their adherents are the barbarian at the gates; and fighting them is the clash of civilizations. And liberal and conservative moderates of all stripes should ally to fight those barbarians.

I write this not just as a liberal but as an orthodox Jew. Nobody suffers more from religious fundamentalism than religious moderates.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday’s March Supporting Palestinian Statehood in Jerusalem

For the first time ever, Israeli Jews and Arabs marched together in Jerusalem to affirm support for Palestinian statehood. Well, that was the official motto of the Solidarity Movement march. Judging from the signs and the chants, the real message was the liberation of the Palestinians from the 67 occupation, And there were a lot of chants and signs, in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, simply calling for the freedom of the Palestinians.

Out in force were what I would call the leftwing of the liberal Zionists – the young two-staters who shouted in Arabic “From Sheikh Jarrah to Bil’in, Will be liberated Falastin”. But there were one-staters there as well, and it really wasn’t about that – it was about recognizing the political aspirations of the Palestinian people.

Stickers and posters seen: “Bibi, Recognize Palestine!” “67 lines – a Palestinian State Alongside a Jewish State” and my favorite one, “Only Free People Can Negotiate.” The march started at Jaffa Gate, winded around until Damascus Gate, then went along Nablus Road past the American Consulate, the St. George School, the American Colony Hotel, etc., and ending in Sheikh Jarrah. The main street around the walls was not closed for us, so the marchers had to walk on the sidewalk, sometimes only 5 abreast, and that was a pain. The whole march took around an hour and a half.

Young people were out in greater force than their elders. I saw a lot of people I recognized from the Sheikh Jarrah demos; the crowd was overwhelmingly Jerusalemite, despite the lead editorial in today’s Haaretz, endorsing the march. I would have liked to have seen more people from outside Jerusalem…but I am proud that probably the most politically rightwing Jewish city in the country had such a high turnout of leftwingers. Of course, some leftwing politicians were there, Zahava Galon of Meretz, Dov Khenin of Hadash. A lot of prominent academicians were there. A few people with kippot.

Numbers. Haaretz Hebrew edition reported 2,000; Haaretz English version at first reported 4500 but has now degraded that to 2000; Ynet writes 1500. The police, I am told, estimated 500, which was a joke. Since the march and rally went on for close to 3 hours, and people came and went, I would have said some number close to 2500, at least as far as I could tell.

Arabs were very supportive along the route but there was little organized Arab participation; a representative of the Popular Committees spoke at the rally, but that was it. I can’t blame them. I saw police photographers videoing everybody participating – what Arab would want that hassle, and for what?

Still, the day hasn’t yet come where a march like that gets 10,000 people in Jerusalem. That would indeed be a glorious sight. But it is Jerusalem in July, with a hot afternoon sun, so I was pleased with the turnout, at least five times the normal Friday demonstration turnout.

Kudos to the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Folks, and their helpers, for doing things so well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Creating A New Communal Tent For Ending the Occupation

For some time I have had a dream about a community, a coalition, a big tent that includes within it all those constituencies who cry out to end the occupation now. Yes, I know, there already is a US Campaign to End the Occupation, and they do good work. Read about them here. But I am thinking of something else

I am thinking of people of all colors, races, creeds, ethnicities, sexual orientation – and of varying, even opposing ideologies. Under this tent are committed anti-Zionists who believe that a Jewish ethnic state is a bad thing; others who don’t think that Jews have right to national self-determination in Palestine; Palestinians who would, if they could, liberate all of Palestine from Zionist hegemony, and liberal Zionists, who believe that Israel, for all its flaws, offers promise to the Jewish people, the world, and, yes, even to the Palestinians. What unites these constituencies is the conviction that the occupation and subjugation of one people by another over three generations is morally intolerable and can go on no longer. And that now is the time to link arms, despite our profound and irreconcilable differences, and act to end the occupation.

But what does “ending the occupation” mean? It doesn’t mean merely a withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Forces from the West Bank. It doesn’t even mean the creation of a Palestinian state. It means simply this: that Palestinians can live freely and with dignity, that they are not under the control of anybody else, that they are free at last. And that this freedom extends not only to the Palestinians living still within Palestine but wherever they may be, in the camps, in the Arab emirates, in Jordan, in Detroit. It also means that Israelis, Jews and Palestinians, can also live a life of freedom and dignity, enslaved neither to fear, nor to feelings of ethnic entitlement.

Who is not in the tent, aside from the usual suspects?

Well, if you want to drive Palestinians or Israeli Jews into the sea, or coerce them in all sorts of ways to leave Palestine, you are not in the tent.

If you think that the occupation, though unfortunate, cannot end soon because of the possible threat to Israel’s security, you are not in the tent.

If you oppose the occupation, but hold it hostage to a bilateral “peace process,” you are not in the tent.

If you, like Prof. Ruth Gavison, claim to favor two states but oppose Palestinian unilateralism because it does not really advance the two-state solution, you are not in the tent. (Especially if you, like Prof. Gavison, have no qualms about supporting the Zionists’ unilateral declaration of statehood in 1948. That surely advanced the two-state solution, didn’t it?)

If you think that a Jewish right to self-determination trumps the Palestinians right to live freely in their homeland, you are not in the tent.

If you are more worried about the Fateh-Hamas reconciliation than the ongoing theft of land and resources, you are not in the tent.

If you are more concerned with tribal loyalty, and with possible coalitions with “enemies” of your people, then about the subjugation of a people for decades, you are not in the tent.

If, when people bring up the occuption, you say, “Yeah, well what about terrorism and the kassam rocket firing?” you are not in the tent.

Every day, more and more liberal Zionists are entering the tent. They are not checking their liberal Zionism at the tent’s opening. Some of them are swallowing hard when they see who is inside the tent (as do the others, when they see the liberal Zionists hovering at the entrance flap). But the actions of this horrible government and the equally horrible Knesset are pushing them into the tent.

When Peace Now – the grande dame of liberal Zionism, always so careful not to break the establishment Zionist consensus – issues public calls to boycott the settlements in a knowing act of civil disobedience it moves closer toward the tent. When Palestinians, though they refuse to “normalize” relations with Israeli Jewish peace activists, are nevertheless convinced that there are Israelis who support their cause in a non-condescending and non-paternalistic manner, they move closer to the tent.

This is happening here in Palestine/Israel. On Friday at 2 pm at Jaffa Gate, there will be a solidarity march of Israeli Jews and Palestinians (and others) in favor of Palestinians Statehood, and the September initiative. Liberal Zionists should be at the head of the line on this one. As Zionists, they should rejoice that the Palestinians are acting unilaterally, as did the Zionists in 1948,and that they are doing so within the framework of two states. As liberals, they should be appreciative that the Palestinians are seeking their self-determination in a diplomatic and non-violent manner.

The only liberal Zionists who can oppose the move, in my opinion, are the ones who are more Zionist than liberal, and indeed, their self-perceived “liberalism” is nothing more than a delusion.

It’s time for liberal Zionists to get off the fence and start heading towards the tent with the one-staters and the BDSer’s – without, necessarily, accepting those ideologies. This move will come first, in Palestine/Israel, and then throughout the world.

“For Torah Will Come from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The Torah that proclaims liberty throughout the land and the Word of the Lord that procaims, no more fear.


Monday, July 11, 2011

“Don’t Buy Golan Wines…and Sue Me”

When I was growing up in the 1960s, opponents of the Vietnam War would always ask each other, "What year did you come out against the war?" Higher status was always accorded to the early-birds. After all, by the 1970s, who wasn't against the war? As I write these lines, the Knesset is debating the anti-boycott law. Not to be outdone, Peace Now has already opened a Facebook page entitled, "Sue Me – I Boycott Settlement Products." Please go there, click the like button, and leave a comment. Note that they don't really call for a boycott; they just say that they themselves boycott. You can't get sued for that under the new law.

Would it be totally self-absorbed of me to point out that when the bill was first proposed a year ago, I published a post entitled "Don't Buy Golan Wines…and Sue Me". Now I have two posts with the same name.

This just in….the bill passed. So I am posting this to be one of the first up there to call for a boycott of Golan wines. (I think the law is retroactive, so I really was one of the first after the bill was proposed) I am not asking you just to boycott Golan Wines, since there is a lot of wine made on the West Bank by settlers, some pretty good (I am told), some pretty crappy.. But I picked Golan wines because, let's face it, they are pretty popular among kosher wines, and some are really good.

Full disclosure. When somebody brings me some good Golan wines for Shabbat, I don't throw it away, I drink it. I know, I know, such a bleeding heart hypocrite… But what do I know from wine? I just drink the Kosher stuff. The worst is when you find out that a wine you like may actually be made in the West Bank, despite what's on the label. It's not fair. Read the report here. In fact, according to that report, I may not be able to drink a lot of Israeli wine. I should stop reading those reports

But I wander.

Anyway, I don't want to give the impression that I am violating the new law. As I argued in my previous post, I don't want you not to buy Golan wines because they are made in the Golan. No, I want you not to buy Golan wines, because Israel has no right to have industry in occupied territories that does not benefit the population of the occupied territories, and I don't mean the Israeli settlers who are illegal there. I pick the Golan precisely because most Israelis don't see it as "occupied," the Syrian regime is horrendous, and wine is the sort of thing that, you know, comes and goes.

All right, all right, buy Golan wine if you want….how about those mushrooms from Tekoa? I mean, what's the deal with them? Do you really need to eat those mushrooms, you know, the fancy kind whose name I forget? What's wrong with normal mushrooms?

And while we are on the subject, don't buy Soda Stream. I mean, have you ever tasted the seltzer it makes? I got one of those things for my wedding years ago. Buying the cartridges drive you nuts. They tell you it saves you money; I don't believe it. Has anybody ever made good homemade cola with them? Even if it weren't manufactured on the West Bank, you shouldn't buy it….

Mei Eden bottled water. All right, I confess, I buy it occasionally. Cesar Chavez, please forgive me for the grapes I ate in college.

No seriously, the bill passed; that wasn't a joke….uh, oh….well, anyway, please pass around this call. Don't drink the Golan wine stuff (unless a guest brings it for Shabbat, in which case it is not nice to get rid of it.) There are a zillion Facebook groups out there for boycotting; I couldn't find any one with more than a couple hundred people, but you can join them.

Check out the JVP divestment campaign here. Gush Shalom has taken down its list of settlement products to boycott. Here is a list that the PA gave out to Palestinians last year. It's been downloading for the last ten minutes. That must be one big list. Viva the global BDS movement!

And if I start getting sued by any of the companies out there, I may actually have to figure out how I can ask for donations for my legal fund on my blog.

Did I mention that I have Paypal?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why Endorsing Partial Boycotts of Israeli Products, or Even Global Boycotts, Doesn’t Violate the Proposed Anti-Boycott Law

For some time I have been waiting for the Anti-boycott Bill to pass on its second and third parliamentary readings so I could be one of the first to violate this ridiculous infringement of free speech as an act of civil disobedience.

Yet having read the current version of the bill, I find that violating it won't be easy. In fact, I can't do it.

You see, I thought that the bill outlawed, for example, calling for boycotts against Israeli companies. But that can't be right because a successful boycott against cottage cheese recently caused companies to lower the price. So according to the law, there is nothing wrong about supporting a boycott of an Israeli company, as long as you do it for the legitimate reasons.

But what are the illegitimate reasons?

Say I don't want people to buy B & B pretzels because I happen to be connected with their competitor, Osem. So I say, "Don't buy B & B pretzels." And B & B pretzels happen to be manufactured on the West Bank. Does that make me culpable, i.e., liable to some suit, according to the new law?

Not really. The Anti-boycott Bill says,

In this bill, "a boycott against the State of Israel" [means] deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another party only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage.

At first glance, that seems to be saying that I can't call for a boycott of products originating from the West Bank, an area under the State of Israel's control. So I can't call for a boycott of B & B Pretzels.

But the operative clause is "only because of [the company's] ties with [the West Bank]. " And, frankly, I don't think B & B should be boycotted only because it is located on the West Bank. For if it were a Palestinian company, of were Israel licensing the rights to operate the company from the Palestinians, I wouldn't be boycotting it. It's not the geography that concerns me, it is the fact that the company is built illegally on Palestinian land and hence should be boycotted. Had the law said, "only because of its ties with the State of Israel's policy of confiscating lands" that may capture better my motivation.

And the same thing within Israel, proper. Say I support the boycott of Sabra Humus and publicly endorse it on this blog. If I do it as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian students at Princeton, then I can't be said to boycott it solely because it is made in Israel.

But what if I call for a boycott of all Israeli products, or endorse the global BDS movement. Surely, the intent of the law is to prevent such blanket endorsements? But the law doesn't say it; it simply says you can't call for a boycott of a product simply because it is made in Israel. And even the BDS movement doesn't cite "being made in Israel" as the motivation of the boycott, but rather, the desire to hold Israel to the standard of decent nations.

And now I understand the crazy reasoning behind those who framed the law. You see, they thought that the purpose of the global BDS movement, or the targeted BDS movement, limiting it to the occupied territories, is to destroy Israel. If that is the purpose then it makes sense to say that anybody who calls for a boycott of Israeli products simply because they are made in Israel or the territories is liable to suits, punishments. But that's not their purpose of the global BDS movement, and they don't say that it is.

Ditto for the cultural boycott. If I call on artists not to appear in the theater in Ariel, it's not because the theater is located in Ariel, which is in the West Bank;. It is because Ariel and the other illegal cities and settlements directly benefit from the occupation. Were Israel to change its policies and end the occupation, I would end my call for a boycott. The global BDS movement has higher requirements but they certainly fall short of calling for the end of the Israeli state.

Heck, the international sanctions against Iran don't aim to destroy the country, but to get the government to fulfill their international obligations.

So I would like to go on to record, as I issue my call for boycotting the companies that profit from the occupation, that I do not intend to violate the new boycott law, should it pass.. I am not calling to boycott these companies "only" because they are in the West Bank or Israel proper.

I have other reasons.

And here's a useful website that contains of some of those companies.