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.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Israel's Hamas, Akiva Eldar's Obituary for Oslo, Adam Shatz's Picture of the Palestinians

My day job has kept me very busy lately, but there are three short points I would like to make before Shabbat enters.

1. Israel’s hamas

Today’s Haaretz headline says it all: Israel Expropriates West Bank Land in Order to Legalize Settlement. How many similar headlines has Haaretz published in the last forty years?The system is simple. Settlers squat on Palestinian land. The settlement is considered to be an "outpost," illegal even by Israeli standards. Then the government confiscates the land on which the settlement sits in order to retroactively legalize the settlement. In Hebrew that is called, le-taher et ha-sheretz, to purify a reptile that is inherently impure. It doesn't work in halakha, Jewish law; it doesn't work it in real life. We sin against the Palestinians, and we lie to ourselves.

That is what we call in Hebrew hamas, the Biblical word for theft and oppression. Israel has ruled the West Bank by force, through theft and oppression. Of course, the thief doesn't agree that it is theft, but it is indeed our hamas.

It is morally and legally indefensible. And as a religious Jew, I believe that Providence will in the end deal justly with the perpetrators and the victims of that hamas. But the Lord helps those who help themselves. It's up to us to begin.

2. If you are a two-stater, this piece by Akiva Eldar is a must read

Akiva Eldar is one of the last serious two-staters in Israel, a believer in the Geneva Initiative. Of course, I have written here many times that the Geneva Initiative does not give the Palestinians a real state. But no matter; Eldar is convinced that this is the way to go.

So when Eldar -- and not Jerry Haber or Ali Abunhimah -- lashes out at Dennis Ross and the fake peace process, you two-staters should read it here...and weep.

If I had one wish, it would be that every so-called liberal Zionist, from Jeremy Ben Ami to Alan Dershowitz and all the people in between, read Eldar's obituary for Oslo.

I take that back -- I will be happy if only Tom Friedman reads it.

2. The Must-Read Article of the Week: Adam Shatz on the Palestinians in the LRB

Finally, the best take on the Palestinians in June 2011 -- including the various groups within Palestine, but not so much those outside Palestine -- is provided by Adam Shatz in a long article in the current London Review of Books here. Some may take objection to some points, but the article is a must-read.

I was particularly interested in the claim that West Bank Palestinians are more inclined to see Israelis as temporary invaders, like the Crusaders, than they were during they were in the halcyon Oslo days -- primarily because they are isolated entirely from Israelis. It seems that the "Iron Wall" actually makes Arabs less likely to accept Israel's existence. Is anybody surprised by that?

Who should read this article? Anybody who thinks Palestinian society is monolithic, that things are getting better for the Palestinians on the West Bank, and who see Fayyad and Fayyadism as the hopeful wave of the future.

In other words, self-deluded Zionists.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Advice for the Next Gaza Flotilla

Let me put my cards on the table. I think that Israel's blockade of Gaza blockade is illegal, has nothing to do with Israel's security, and has everything to do with Israel's desire to control the lives and resources of Palestinians without taking responsibility for their welfare -- and without treating them as equals.

All that said, the present Gaza flotilla, which I support, has left its purpose open to misconstrual by its insistence on bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza. Its real purpose is to demonstrate the illegality and immorality of the blockade. But, no matter what its expressed intentions are, and despite the fact that the American ship, the "Audacity of Hope," apparently contains no humanitarian aid on it, the focus of the media story has been the aid -- and that plays into the hands of the Israelis, because they can counter that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; that they themselves are prepared to deliver the humanitarian aid to Gazans; that they cannot take any chance that illegal material is being smuggled to Hamas. None of this is true -- the flotilla organizers themselves wish to focus on the questions of freedom of movement and economic freedom -- but to this end the humanitarian aid gets into the way.

Even Gisha, the excellent NGO that monitors the situation in Gaza with respect to access and freedom, wishes to focus on the freedom of movement and freedom to export. They are not very happy that the question of aid has dominated the discourse.

So, here's my proposal to the organizers of the next Gaza flotilla:

Bring to Gaza empty boats.

Install webcams in each cabin to show that it is empty, with members of the crew going in and out. Invite members of the press and the world community to travel on the posts. Heck, invite Prime Minister Netanyahu and any of his cabinet.

Ships that are designed to take out exports in the full light of day cannot be described as a clandestine operation to smuggle in weapons or threatening materials. Israel may want to make the argument that its security is threatened by a healthy economy in Gaza -- in fact, I would love to hear that argument -- but that won't fly with anyone outside the true believers.

On the contrary, such a flotilla would point to the real humanitarian crisis in Gaza -- the inability of Israelis to treat Gazans as fully human, with the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as they enjoy.

Of course, the last thing a Gazan may want to do is to put his person and property in jeopardy by loading up one of the flotilla boats. So this would have to be a symbolic gesture, like publishing the names of all the Gazan students who have been prevented from studying abroad, or the Gazans who have been denied exit visas, or medical attention.

But symbolic gestures are important, too. After all, isn't the Flotilla ultimately a symbolic gesture?