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.