Wednesday, December 31, 2008
A writer in the UK Times worries that most of these films offer a sympathetic portrayal of Nazis, but I think he's being at least a little unfair. "The Reader" is a very absorbing film. There's nothing in it that absolves the Hanna Schmitz character, memorably portrayed by Kate Winslet. In fact, I think it contains a subtle indictment of German culture, particularly the characteristic that is commonly observed of many Germans to this day of a rigid obedience to rules and a narrow-minded devotion to one's "job." (I know that this is a stereotype, but my experience tells me there's some validity to it.)
By the way, any temptation in this time of renewed carnage to compare Israelis with Germans, would get it wrong; Israelis tend to suffer from the opposite of this "German trait." Israelis are generally anarchists in spirit who hate to follow rules.
"Valkyrie" depicts the nearly successful assassination plot against Hitler in July 1944, about a month after D-Day. I've never heard that the would-be assassin, Claus von Stauffenberg (played by Tom Cruise), was antisemitic (a point made by the UK Times reviewer), but this would hardly surprise me. Still, the History Channel claims that von Stauffenberg was moved to resist Hitler at least in part by his revulsion at the Holocaust. And if he had succeeded, ending the Holocaust would have been high on the plotters to-do list. Von Stauffenberg was a tragic hero who almost killed Hitler; other than the fact that he didn't succeed (and that the film's probably not so great), where's the problem?
Hanna Schmitz became a concentration camp guard because it was a job she could retreat to, rather than to take the promotion she was offered at a Siemens plant because an office position would have revealed her great shame in life – that she was illiterate. She even takes the rap as the leading criminal at her trial – more than the other guards – rather than to admit that she was illiterate and therefore not the author of the guards' report of the incident in which 300 prisoners burned to death in an Allied air raid (that the others accused her of writing). She is clearly both a criminal and a tragic figure.
The UK Times writer apparently hasn't absorbed the lesson Hannah Arendt provided in "Eichmann in Jerusalem," her world-famous book about the Eichmann trial. She got into trouble for the sub-title, "A Report on the Banality of Evil," because she drew a picture of a careerist bureaucrat with blinders on; he was a monster because of the work he did, not because he was inherently evil. On the other side of the coin, von Stauffenberg was a flawed human being who almost succeeded in doing something immeasurably good.
I can't comment on the other films mentioned: "Good" and "The Boy in Striped Pajamas."
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Even human rights groups acknowledge the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the worst contemporary humanitarian tragedy. For example, the Amnesty International 2007 annual report "offenders’ list" included places like Sudan, Congo, Iraq; these conflicts literally account for millions of deaths and many millions more of displaced refugees, yet Israel’s worst offenses are cited as the construction of the separation barrier and the war in Lebanon, which was actually initiated by Hezbollah.
A recent article in Front Page Magazine online ranked the Arab-Israeli conflict only as 49th in terms of fatalities since 1950. Even the “The Observer” Human Rights Index in 2000 (the last year it was published), listed Israel only in 31st place in terms of the severity of human rights abuses, and even on their weighted table, which has been greatly criticized because of its methodology that is heavily biased against more developed countries, placed Israel only in 8th place.
Nevertheless, you wouldn’t know that judging by some of the recent trends: the inclusion of Israel as the only a permanent item on the UN Human Rights Council agenda, boycott calls by unions in places like Britain, Canada and South Africa, constant condemnation by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, etc.
So, why is Israel singled out? Many Jewish organizations blame it simplistically on anti-Semitism. Granted, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist sentiment might be part of the problem, but given the fact that this criticism is so widespread and in some cases coming from former friends of Israel (e.g., former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) I am reluctant to believe that it is the major factor affecting the emphasis on Israel.
The fact is that when you carefully examine the criticism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is many times viewed and analyzed at an affective level rather than a rational one. I believe part of it has to do with the fact that it is one of the only two major conflicts between a "Western" developed nation and a Third World, non-Western people left in modern times. Indeed, of the other 48 conflicts analyzed in the Front Page Magazine report, only 11 are still continuing, and of these, the only other international one is the Iraq conflict, in which a developed country is responsible for the deaths of people in a developing nation.
Look at other of the major human rights crises is the world: in places like Sudan, Congo, Indonesia or Myanmar the crisis is the result internal infighting. Even Iraq, which is viewed as caused and exacerbated by the U.S., its mostly a conflict between Iraqis of different ethnic and faith groups. Israel is the only Western nation that occupies the territories of what should be a sovereign people. That allows for easy, simplistic black and white cognitive categorizations. Rationally, it is not nearly the worst human rights tragedy of the contemporary world, but it is the only one easily categorized as clear cut: West-East, Rich-Poor, Colonizer-Colonized, Good and Evil. For example, look at what Tom Hickey, chair of the University and Colleges Union in England and author of an anti-Israel boycott resolution, wrote to justify his proposal while ignoring the worst humanitarian crises:
“In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self image is one of a bastion of civilization in a sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish Diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere.” (British Medical Journal, July 2007).
Israel is singled out because it is easy to feel good about a conflict in which we can simplistically recognize the butcher and the victim, to support the weak, the abused, against the tyrant. Just browse some of the blogs, and you will see Israel and Zionism repeatedly depicted as Satan, as monsters, as worst than Nazis. When demonization of a nation is legitimized, it is easy to hate.
More moderate and reasoned calls for boycotts just feed this frenzy. And then, there is no need to think. No need to understand that the conflict is complex, multifaceted and two sided, even if the conflict is asymmetrical because of the overwhelming superiority of the Israeli forces. And when there is no need to think, all that is left is the emotion, the feelings of hatred, of disgust, of revenge. A solution, however, cannot be achieved by giving-in to this tendency of name-calling and boycotting that oversimplifies the issue and legitimizes the hate. It has to come through the rational analysis and understanding of a complex reality. And that is what our challenge really is.
Monday, December 29, 2008
In my view, Israel has been involved in two or three totally just wars: the Yom Kippur War, the War of Independence and, with some reservations, the Six Day War.
In October 1973, we were attacked by the Egyptians and the Syrians, and the natural and necessary response was to fight back. True, if Golda Meir had responded to Nasser and Sadat's initiatives, we probably could have avoided the war - but she didn't, and when the Egyptians attacked (we now know to break the impasse and force political movement), we had to respond.
In 1948, the UN backed the partition plan, and when the internal (Palestinian) Arabs and the external Arab countries didn't accept the decision and fought it militarily, the result was a just war.
In 1967, Nasser was bluffing, but we couldn't know that. He called on the UN to withdraw its forces from Sinai, blockaded the Straits of Tiran, and the result was the Six Day War, with its mixed bag of consequences.
When the Egyptians and Syrians attacked, my personal response on October 5th 1973 was to call my unit, and ask what we were doing. The response: "Don't worry, you'll know soon enough", and the call-up came a few hours later. If I were of military age now, I would not be calling my unit to find out how we were going to respond.
In July 2006, I was opposed from day one to the invasion of southern Lebanon, believing that the response was totally out of proportion to the actions of Hezbollah, and that the stated goal of bringing the kidnapped soldiers back was totally unobtainable (we now know that it was known at the time that they were already probably dead), and that it was also impossible to "destroy" Hezbollah, which is an integral part of Lebanese society. I think that the outcome of that war justifies my initial response.
This time around is more complex.
In my view, it's totally unacceptable for the government to claim, as it did for a long time, that "there is no way of solving the problem of the Kassam rockets." A solution had/has to be found, and there are solutions.
In many respects, Hamas brought this military operation (war?) on itself by its declarations that the cease-fire (tahadiya) was not being renewed on December 19th, and the renewed firing of Kassam rockets, while it was maneuvering for a "better cease-fire" from its point of view - i.e. the lifting of the international blockade, etc.
It is understandable that the government felt that it was necessary to act, militarily, due to pressure from public opinion, the media and the right. After-all, we are in the middle of an election campaign. Those are also part of the rules of Middle Eastern life - you can't show weakness when being attacked - you have to show that you are strong.
Of course, there are a number of original sins that led to this moment. One was the fact that the Sharon government insisted on carrying out a unilateral disengagement from Gaza, instead of negotiating and handing over the keys to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The second was the fact that the Israeli government gave in to the Bush Administration's insistence that the Palestinian elections be held in 2006, despite Israeli and Palestinian reservations about the timing and outcome, and the result was the Hamas victory. The third original sin was the fact that Hamas carried out a coup against the PA in Gaza and played a game of chicken with Israel with the Kassams. The sooner this action ends the better.
It should be clear that that it is impossible to "overthrow" Hamas in Gaza. The way to defeat Hamas is to offer the large majority of Palestinians a better way of life. It is also impossible to bring back Gilad Shalit via a military action. In my view, this action endangers his life. In addition, a large-scale ground action would cost many lives on both sides, and create the possibility of getting drawn into another Lebanon-like swamp.
There is also the question of proportionality. How many Israelis have been killed by all of the Kassams, and how many Palestinians were killed in one day by the Israeli air force? As commentator Shlomi Eldar said on TV tonight, one of the primary outcomes of this action (war?) will be to increase hatred of Israel and Israelis among the Palestinian people, whose cousins, brothers and children are being killed.
The Israeli government is using the twilight time between the end of the discredited Bush administration and the entrance of the Obama administration onto to the scene to act, under the assumption that the international community will find it difficult to intervene coherently.
And yet, Israel needs an exit strategy, and once again, the sooner the better. That exit strategy will require international involvement, if not intervention. There are ideas being circulated about the possibility of an international mandate over Gaza, and possibly the West Bank as well (replacing the IDF) with regional Arab and international forces. That might be the desirable outcome, but it's not at all clear whether the international community has the will to do this.
The bottom line is that peace is the key to security, and peace is obtainable.
P.S. These things fluctuate tremendously, but according to a Channel l0 poll tonight, for the first time in a long time, the center-left - Kadima, Labor and Meretz - with the backing of the Arab parties - has a 61 vote majority in the next Knesset, which would make Tzippy Livni, and not Netanyahu, the next PM. That's true for today, and could change tomorrow.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
The tireless Israeli blogger, Ami Isseroff, has grown so embittered over the years that it’s hard to classify him politically. In this recent post, while totally supporting the justice of Israel's offensive, he then questions its wisdom:
... After every other solution failed, one would like to hope that the military solution would succeed. But we should not confuse our wishes with reality. Didn't Israel pound Gaza continuously in 2006 after the abduction of Gilad Shalit? And what good did that do? Didn't Israel pound Lebanese targets in the Second Lebanon War? Did it oust the Hezbollah?
Short of Israel retaking Gaza in what would no doubt be a blood bath, what can be the outcome of this attack beyond Hamas remaining somehow intact and declaring "victory"? Israeli officials are a bit more cautious with their pronouncements than they were in the disastrous Second Lebanon War. Still, before the attack, Israel GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant said that an IDF attack would try to "send Gaza decades into the past" in terms of weapons capabilities. Since Israel held the Gaza strip until 2005, it is impossible to understand what Galant thought he was talking about.
Can there be much doubt about the outcome of the Israeli attack? The scripting of a tragedy cannot allow for a happy end. At the end of the exercise there will be an additional 300 or 500 or a thousand dead people, but it is very unlikely that the situation in Gaza will have budged very much. It is even likely that the attack will leave Israel in a worse position than it was before the attack. ...
Friday, December 26, 2008
Here's a clarification received from the World Union of Meretz, based in Israel:
- Chaim Oron, Meretz chair, calls for talks with Hamas and says that politicians must stop talking about a wide-scale operation in
Gaza, which will only cause Israel'to sink into mud much deeper than the one in '. Oron also thinks that, "Concrete negotiations for a ceasefire, as fragile as it is and as long as it is not a long-term solution, are preferable over an exchange of mutual accusations which will only worsen." As a response to the heavy missile-shooting on Wednesday, December 24 on the northern Negev population in the vicinity of Gaza and Sderot, Meretz backs a limited operation against Hamas and says: “There's no other choice but to hit Hamas in a focused operation and work for a renewed ceasefire”. Lebanon
A publication in Abu Dhabi puts it as follows:
- The growing calls for aggression drowned out the lone voices calling for dialogue. Chaim Oron, head of Meretz, the most left-wing of Israel’s Jewish parties, said the government should conduct talks with Hamas – an unlikely scenario since Israel refuses to deal with the group directly.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
It's been a busy political week for me, and rather bi-cultural, since it was both American and Israeli politics.
1 ) The Democrats Abroad-Israel elections were held on Tuesday, and Joanne Yaron was re-elected Chair, and I was re-elected Vice Chair. There is now an 8 member executive, including a young 23 year old international relations student of Galia Golan's at the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, who is the new treasurer/fundraiser.
All positions on the executive are for a two year term, and you can only hold a specific position for two terms. There's also a Democrats Abroad gender balance rule, which states that the chair and the vice chair have to be of different genders. Due to excitement generated by the primary and election campaigns, membership in DA – Israel more than tripled, and we hope to build on that success.
For those who don’t know her, Joanne is a very energetic grandmother of two little girls, with an MA in Middle East studies from Columbia, who has been in Israel since 1962, one of the founders of the Israeli feminist movement and the driving force behind the Rape Crisis Center in Tel Aviv, who was also a member of the Ramat Gan City Council (Meretz). She deserves a lot of credit for reviving the dormant DA Abroad organization in Israel.
2) As one of the thousand elected members of Viedat Meretz (the Meretz Convention) which elects the party chair, Knesset candidates and votes for policy, I participated in last week’s election for the party list. I've known Ilan Gilon, who came in first after party chairperson MK Chaim Oron (known as Jumas by all), for many years. A former head of the younger generation of Mapam (and a member of Hashomer Hatzair from the age of l0), he was a very good parliamentarian last time around (he was in the Knesset from 1999-2003), and one of his plusses is that his primary agenda is socio-economic. He's quite a character, and really speaks for the people, the down and out, etc. He walks with a cane due to a childhood case of polio, and is renowned for helping everyone with special needs.
I also have great respect for Zehava Galon as an excellent parliamentarian, advocate for peace, women's rights, human rights, the struggle against corruption, etc. I voted for her for first place and Gilon for second. (She won the #3 spot, with Gilon as #2 and Jumes heading the list as Meretz party chair.)
Incidentally, Jumas has challenged Netanyahu to a debate on economic policy, so far without a response.
Yesterday (Monday, December 22nd) the Meretz Convention convened again (by the way, Joanne Yaron is also a voting member) to vote on the merger between the Meretz list and the New Movement left party candidates, Channel 10 commentator Nitzan Horowitz for the #3 slot (he's an environmentalist, human rights and peace activist and gay rights advocate), lawyer Talia Sasson for the #7 slot (as a former government prosecutor she's the renowned author of the Sasson Report on the illegal outposts), Tzali Reshef (Peace Now leader, chair of Keter publishing and former Labor MK) at #9, and Avtisam Marana (a female Arab director) at # 1 2. I regret that the new grouping didn't choose Prof. Avner Ben-Zakan, a Mizrachi from the Be'ersheva slums, as one of their candidates, though I’ve been told that he has a "problematic personality."
After Reform Rabbi Meir Azari lit the candles for the second night of Chanukah and gave a progressive bracha, Jumas gave a detailed description of how the proposed merger evolved, saying that there is a major opportunity in the coming elections for Meretz to grow significantly. Veteran Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni was received with thunderous applause. Expressing her strong support for the proposal, she emphasized that the future of the state most be based upon the principles carved out in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Writer Amos Oz strongly supported the initiative, and bitterly criticized Ehud Barak for not removing the illegal outposts, stopping the settlements, and expressing his readiness to be a junior coalition partner with the Likud. Outgoing party chairperson Dr. Yossi Beilin also supported the initiative, saying that Meretz is unique on the Israeli political scene because it is the only party which consistently supports "peace, civil rights and social democracy."
Nitzan Horowitz spoke on behalf of the New Movement candidates, and made a strong impression on the delegates. He said that he had met many of the delegates on the front lines of the struggle for peace, human rights, and a livable, pollution-less urban environment, and was proud to join the struggle at the parliamentary level. He believes that he and his colleagues can appeal to the younger generation and the disaffected voters who have given up on politics. Nitzan said that he was proud to joint forces with a group of people who have such a distinguished record in struggling for causes that he believes in, and then said, "I’m not afraid to use that word, here it comes - S O C I A L I S M," which drew a rousing response from the audience in the oval building at the Exhibition Grounds Park in Ramat Aviv, next to the Luna Park and the Yarkon River, the traditional home for many Israeli party conventions.
While all of the delegates who spoke in the discussion supported the direction of the initiative, some expressed concern that the joint Jewish-Arab nature of Meretz would be damaged by the arrangement. Israeli-Palestinian Isawi Freij, was originally supposed to be in the 7th slot in the internal Meretz elections reserved for an Arab MK, and because of the new arrangement was moved to the l0th position, and some delegates proposed a rearrangement of the list to overcome this problem, a proposal I supported. In his response, Jumas said that Meretz has always been and will remain a Jewish-Arab partnership, and that all sorts of list combinations were considered and the majority in the leadership felt that this was the best possible balance. And he added "the union between Meretz and the New Movement makes the l0th position in the Knesset a much more realistic one than the 7th position if Meretz ran alone."
Before the convention, energetic Meretz younger generation head Uri Zaki (32 years old, #13 on the list) arranged a meeting between members of the Meretz list and some of the New Movement candidates as a getting-to-know-you encounter, which left a very good impression on all who participated. In the end, 87% of the delegates voted for the proposed list, with the others abstaining and just a small handful voting against.
P.S. Tzali Reshef was asked by Nachum Barnea why he's supporting Meretz rather than Ehud Barak. His response as published in the weekend Yediot Ahronot was that "Jumas has just as much chance as Ehud Barak of becoming prime minister this time around, and he's more worthy." And the truth is, there are many Meretz members who think that Jumas should propose his candidacy for prime minister.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Here are only the latest warning signs:
Last week, the Likud party elected a list of candidates for Knesset that is as close to the party's virulently right-wing component, "Jewish Leadership" ("Manhigut Yehudit"), as it is to party leader, Binyamin Netanyahu.
Here's just a sample of what "Jewish Leadership", led by Moshe Feiglin, a Likud candidate for Knesset, stands for:
- Stage one: Israel's annexation of the West Bank and the denial of all civil rights to its Palestinian population (while maintaining Palestinian "human rights", we are told!).
- Stage two: State-sponsored "encouragement" of Palestinian emigration.
- Stage three: The eventual expulsion of all Palestinians from Israel/Palestine when this becomes "feasible".
But "Jewish Leadership" is not the only manifestation of Jewish racism in Israel.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Bush pushed and demanded - over Sharon's objections - that Hamas be allowed to take part in those elections. What does this mean? What have been theFrom Akiva Eldar’s Haaretz column, Dec. 16:
consequences? If Bush had not done so then, both the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be under PA rule and Abbas could be negotiating on behalf of both territories (unless Hamas pulled off a military coup). I never quite saw all this in such stark terms. It sure would be a much better situation today if both the West Bank and Gaza were under PA control. This may well be one of Bush's most important "legacies" of all!
.... If Benjamin Netanyahu becomes prime minister, he will not have to work hard to stop Hamas and prevent the vote in the territories. All he will have to do is ask the Justice Ministry to pull out of the drawer the opinion prepared there in 2005, on the eve of the previous Palestinian elections.
At that time, the ministry's professional staff, not the political staff, determined that Hamas does not meet the threshold requirements for parties seeking to participate in the elections. This is because the Oslo 2 Accords state that "the candidacy of parties and individuals will be cancelled if they act with or encourage racism or attempt to achieve their objectives through illegal or non-democratic means."
Hamas' problem is that if it meets these requirements it will cease being Hamas. The Justice Ministry's experts in international law cite Hamas' acts of terrorism and its texts calling for Israel's destruction and the cancellation of diplomatic agreements. The document also relies on similar cases in Spain and Turkey, which in recent years disqualified similar parties whose appeals were rejected by a European court.
And who was the justice minister who requested this opinion? Tzipi Livni, Kadima's candidate for prime minister who presented the opinion to every foreign leader who passed her way and even managed to persuade a few that she was right. The foreign minister at the time, Silvan Shalom, found a similar opinion in his ministry and backed Livni.
The prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, shrugged his shoulders and agreed that Hamas cannot be allowed to achieve through democratic means what it did not achieve through violent means, but added that he did not have the power to oppose President George W. Bush, who demanded democratization at any price. Bush also ignored Abu Mazen, who warned of a Hamas victory and asked, nearly pleaded, for the elections to be postponed.
It is hard to know how the incoming Democratic president of the United States, Barack Obama, will act on the Palestinian-Israeli issue in general and Hamas' participation in the elections in particular. In an interview published this week in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abu Mazen claimed that in a conversation with Obama after the elections, the president-elect said he was committed to the promise he made during a meeting in Ramallah last summer -- "to start with the peace process immediately."
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This was true 40 years ago (pre-1967) but not today. Consider the recent big sellers on Israel: Jimmy Carter and Mearsheimer-Walt (and Tony Judt, in terms of the big splash he's made among intellectuals). Even most books and articles by liberal Zionists nowadays contain a healthy dose of criticism of Israeli policies (as they should). Few major analysts nowadays are uncritically pro-Israel. The best way to be fair to the legitimate concerns of both peoples is to publish material that is fair-minded toward both.
My critique of a Tikkun article by Slater about two years ago was met with derision and insults from the author when we exchanged emails. Slater’s latest pronouncement again denies that the Yishuv and nascent State of Israel faced a serious threat to survival during the 1948 war – a struggle that cost Palestine’s Jews 6,000 deaths (one percent of their total population at the time), 15,000 wounded, plus control over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the kibbutzim of the nearby Etzion Bloc.
The main focus of Slater’s ire here is a retrospective reading of the columns of Thomas Friedman of the NY Times. Why Slater resuscitates the issue of who was more at fault in the breakdown of the peace process in 2000 is beyond me, but assessing blame for 2000 is both complicated and besides the point.
My read is that then Prime Minister Barak, Yasir Arafat and Bill Clinton can all be faulted: I wish that Barak had been more sensitive to Palestinian sensibilities and been willing to go further in his peace proposals, that Arafat had been capable of swallowing his sense of wounded pride and had totally rejected the option of violence which he apparently embraced after their failed summit, and that Bill Clinton had been a more balanced mediator. But Slater denies that Barak made any concrete proposals and that Arafat made no counter-proposals.
Slater admits that Friedman has consistently criticized Israeli settlement policy in the occupied territories. What he can neither forget nor forgive about Friedman is his view that Arafat should have found a way to come to an agreement with Barak rather than opening the door to violence.
The onset of the Intifada and Arafat’s unwillingness to move to shut it down, obscured the fact that negotiations were continuing behind the scenes; the Taba conference in Jan. 2001 might otherwise have ended triumphantly with a workable peace agreement.
Monday, December 15, 2008
.... Muslims are increasingly being turned off by the barbaric methods employed by Islamists.
In Iraq, unprecedented revulsion was displayed by Iraqi Muslims at the fact that young children were being recruited as suicide bombers by Al Qaeda. Two cases earlier this year illustrate the point well. In one incident, a young girl aged 13 exploded her suicide belt in Diyala, and in September, a 10-year old boy blew himself up next to Sheikh Imad Jassem, the leader of the Sons of Iraq in Tarmiya. Not only was Muslim public opinion affronted by the age of the suicide bombers, but also at the fact that they were recruited by coercive means and, in one case, did not even know that they were being strapped with an explosive device. ...
This was recently repeated in India following a string of indiscriminate bombings that largely targeted innocent civilians and which were perpetrated by the Indian Mujahideen. In early November, 6,000 ulema and Muftis from different parts of India ratified the fatwa against terrorism issued by the powerful Darul Uloom Deoband, the renowned seminary and Islamic academic centre. In the process, these Muslim clerics were sending a powerful message to the Islamist extremists: You do not speak in our name!
Following the terrorist attack on Mumbai, Muslim clerics in India once again went on the offensive. Mumbai's Muslim Council refused burial space to the terrorists killed in the Mumbai attacks, making it very clear that they do not regard these as Muslims. Muslim imams in Mumbai also called on the community to wear a black ribbon on Eid as an expression of solidarity with those killed. Meanwhile, the India Organisation of Imams of Mosques called on all mosques, muftis and madrassas to reiterate in this week's Friday prayers that "Islam forbids the killing of innocent people and is against any form of terrorism. We are deeply aggrieved by the loss of human lives and especially by the brutal killing of Jews."
As a Muslim, I have to admit that I was really proud of these imams. Muslims were coming to terms with the enemy within – those who seek to subvert the noble ideals of a great religion into one which would justify the brutal massacre of the innocent. Just as the Mumbai terrorists demonstrated that the targets of terror have no religion – Hindu, Jew, Christian and over 40 Muslims were killed in Mumbai - so too were these imams loudly proclaiming that terrorists have no religion – whether Timothy McVeigh, Yigal Amir or Osama bin Laden. This gives me hope that in the battle between Islam and Islamism, Islam will triumph in the end.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This online debate begins with a book review by scholar, feminist and anti-Zionist activist Sherry Gorelick ("Marx’s Mixed Legacy: Anti-Semitism and Socialism"), a response by David Finkel (editor of the socialist "Against the Current" magazine), a rejoinder to Finkel by our occasional blog and IH contributor Bennett Muraskin and a final word by Gorelick.
Finkel seems to be engaging in apologetics for Marx’s antisemitic writing and our friend, Bennett Murasakin, is calling him on this. Although I take issue with Gorelick and Finkel’s automatic anti-Zionist biases, I find Gorelick’s reference to a construct dubbed "Christianism" illuminating:
If we build on Marx's perception, in his essay "On the Jewish Question," that the supposedly secular State in Christian society is deeply Christian, we can begin to understand what Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz has dubbed "Christianism." .... Kaye/Kantrowitz says "In the U.S., Christian, like white, is an unmarked category in need of marking. Christianness, a majority, dominant culture, is not only about religious practice and belief, any more than Jewishness is. As racism names the system that normalizes, honors and rewards whiteness, we need a word for what normalizes, honors and rewards Christianity," an invisible, taken-for-granted system of domination that affects Muslims and other non-Christians as well as Jews (and, one might add, atheists and other secular people regardless of origin).
Christianism as distinguished from Christianity, the religion, refers to the entire system of cultural and institutional domination. ...
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Considering all the media attention given to secular mayoral candidate Nir Barkat's victory in Jerusalem, I wanted to throw in a few comments about Tel Aviv. For the first time in my life, I found myself voting for a registered member of the Communist Party (Hadash), i.e., MK Dov Henin for mayor.
I wasn't the only one, since he got an impressive 34% of the vote to Mayor Ron Huldai's 50%. I think that kibbutz-born Huldai (Amos Oz' step-brother) has been the best mayor Tel Aviv has had in a long time, doing a tremendous amount of necessary infrastructure work, but he has his flaws, like allowing too many high-risers to be built, and not paying enough attention to public transportation and the environment. If it was a closer race, I might have voted for Huldai. Henin who headed an umbrella environmental organization, has a doctorate in political science and is a very good parliamentarian, was the mayoral candidate of Ir l'kulanu (A City for All of Us), a non-partisan group mainly of young people and artists, which was the buzz of this year's election.
They got five seats for the council, tied with Huldai's list – Huldai is a Labor man but ran as an independent. Meretz got three seats, as did the Greens, the Pensioners and another young people's group [aside from Henin’s Ir l’kkulanu–ed.]. And an Animal Rights party got one seat, as did a Jaffa-based joint Jewish-Arab party.
Huldai got the message of Henin's showing, and declared that he will be more attentive to the concerns raised by Ir L'kulanu, and would be happy to cooperate with them during the next term.
For the council I voted Meretz, since I have no intention of voting for Hadash in the national elections, and many people I know split their vote that way. I also think it's important that Meretz have a strong municipal base throughout the country towards the national elections - and they also got three seats in Jerusalem, far beyond the actual Meretz membership, because they are considered the most outspoken and committed defenders of secular interests in the city. The head of the Meretz list Peruvian-born Pepe Alalu, whose very impressive beard was featured on many city busses during the campaign, has become one of Barkat's deputy mayors. Incidentally, number three on the Meretz list is American-born Laura Wharton.
Meretz in Tel Aviv was led by Meital Lahavi, a graduate of the WIZO women's political leadership training course, who is very capable, but in my view shouldn't have overthrown Yael Dayan as head of the list. Dayan joined Huldai, and also got in as #5 on his list.
By the way, # 2 on the Meretz list is 32 year old Tami Zandberg, who served as Ron Cohen's very capable parliamentary assistant. She also happens to be the older sister of Beitar Jerusalem soccer star Michael Zandberg, who has publicly admitted that he supports Meretz (another one of the Beitar Jerusalem club Russian oligarch owner Gaydamak's ingrates who didn't support him in the Jerusalem elections). That's a real case of Daniel in the lions den.
We in Tel Aviv had the luxury of two good candidates, a fair reflection of the demographics of the city. I can only commiserate with my Jerusalem colleagues and friends about their selection of candidates, Barkat, the right-wing secular entrepreneur, Gaydamak, the strange Russian oligarch who is accused of having made his money from gun-running in Angola, and Rabbi Meir Porash, the extreme ultra-Orthodox candidate.
Monday, December 08, 2008
"Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b'zeh," it is stated in the Babylonian Talmud: The entire Jewish people is responsible, one for the other. This powerful dictum has been an important source of unity for hundreds of years, as Jewish communities around the world have worked to maintain internal cohesion in the face of hatred and systematic oppression.
But Jewish cohesion has been sorely tested of late, and no more so than over the past few weeks as Jewish extremists in the West Bank have further ratcheted up their battle against the State of Israel in an effort to hold onto their "House of Contention" outpost in Hebron.
(For those who haven't been following the issue in the newspapers, please click here for a summary of recent developments, with links to relevant articles.)
Of course, the story of the Hebron evacuation, although drawing the most media attention, is only part of the greater drama being played out between the settlers and the Israeli government. Vowing to "never again" allow the evacuation of settlements as happened in Gaza in 2005, Jewish extremists have devised and in recent months have been implementing a plan of violent resistance (entitled "Price Tag") to government authority.Their plan is painfully simple: To intimidate the Israeli government by carrying out premeditated rampages and enflaming the West Bank in response to any move against a settler outpost.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
"Srugim" depicts the lives of educated and high-achieving modern Orthodox Jerusalemites in their late 20s and early 30s. (The name refers to the knitted kipot [scull caps] worn by men of the "national religious" community – as opposed to the black hats and felt kipot worn by the haredim [ultra-Orthodox].) They negotiate career and life in contemporary Jerusalem as single men and women who maintain their ties to religious tradition, even as this tradition prizes early marriage and motherhood.
On the not-so-good side, were the two other films I saw. "Ben-Gurion Remembers" is a ponderous documentary that depicts Israel's founding father in his own words and in those of close associates – including Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan. It is entirely devoid of real analysis and insight, let alone artistic merit. Made in 1973, just prior to the Yom Kippur War, it only has value as a relic of this halcyon period between the 1967 and 1973 wars when most Israelis deluded themselves into thinking that time was on their side and they could just sit tight and wait for the Arab world to come hat in hand begging for peace.
The other, a 40-minute drama called "Homeland," was a 2007 television production, mostly in Yiddish. A young Holocaust survivor is inducted into Israel's defense forces during the 1948 war, without his informed consent, and is delivered by truck into a desolate and remote outpost. His commander is hardened, apparently by his own Holocaust experiences, into a sadistic brute. Nothing good comes of their relationship and this viewer was left wondering why this well-acted but nasty little film was made.
By contrast, "Bridge Over the Wadi," is a delightful and moving documentary which appeared both in the official Israel Film Festival and in the more or less simultaneous "Other Israel Film Festival" – the latter run in Manhattan for the second consecutive year under the inspiring leadership of Carole Zabar. I saw it in the "Other..." venue and benefited from a post-screening Q & A with Barak Heymann, who made the film together with his brother, Tomer. It's about the first year of a bilingual, bi-cultural Jewish-Arab elementary school in the Israeli-Arab town of Kfar Kara.
The most difficult episode to watch was of an Arab teacher struggling with her Jewish colleagues and students to get across the Palestinian narrative of loss and defeat (the "Nakba") during the celebration of Israeli independence. Mr. Heymann indicated that this striking young woman and her colleagues overcame their differences to find a less confrontational and emotion-laden way to co-teach this difficult subject. An image that stays with me is of the beautiful blond Jewish girl crying about Arab families having lost their homes. I wish that this delicate matter of how to fairly teach this subject could be explored in a follow up.
"Fog," also a documentary, was the other "Other Israel" film that I saw. It depicts the effort of the prominent Israeli-Druze broadcast journalist, Rafik Halabi, to find out what happened to a relative who was reportedly killed in action during the Yom Kippur War. As you may know, Israeli Druze are an insular religious minority, Arab in culture but fully loyal to Israel and subject to military conscription in equal measure to Jewish citizens. The Druze are still somewhat secretive about their religion, but it is now known that it includes a belief in reincarnation – that every Druze soul migrates upon death to another Druze who is born afterwards.
Sergeant Mu'in Halabi's soul is considered to have migrated to another body, a person who also dies as a young man while serving in the IDF (in a terrorist attack on an Israeli bus). His soul is then traced to a young boy born a little later. There was no obvious alternative explanation linking these three individuals. The spookiest connection recounted the terrible emotional upset that the middle individual experienced as a boy when, on a family vacation trip, their car passed the spot on the Golan Heights where the sergeant was probably killed.
"Fog" reminded me of the entertaining and thought-provoking feature film, "Maktub," which explored a similar theme in last year's Other Israel Film Festival .
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The most dramatic story was a feature film called "Altalena," about the confrontation between David Ben-Gurion’s new national government and Menachem Begin’s Irgun or Etzel nationalist militia. During the temporary summer truce in the 1948 war, the Hagana forces loyal to Ben-Gurion clashed violently with Begin’s Irgun over the possession of a boatload of arms being shipped in by the latter aboard the Altalena. Eventually, Hagana artillery shells destroyed the Altalena; 14 Irgun and four Hagana fighers died.
It was painful to see this graphic depiction of the battles in which young soldiers wearing the same uniform and speaking the same language were killing each other. The film hints that this tragic conflict might have been avoided if the two sides had not distrusted each other so much; a compromise formula might have been found. The Irgun had already incorporated its forces into the new national army, but the cohesion was not yet there. It demanded that 20 percent of the Altalena’s arms be distributed to its units in the Jerusalem area, with the Irgun overseeing this distribution.
My feeling was that a workable compromise might have been reached if the Hagana (the main component of Israel’s nascent armed forces) were given charge of the arms but had agreed to distribute 20 percent as the Irgun demanded. Instead, the entire shipment was lost at sea, with the attendant loss of young lives and the bitterness of a historical controversy that lasts to this very day.
There were two films on transformation and decline in the kibbutz movement. The feature production, "The Galilee Eskimos," is a bitter-sweet story of old veterans of a kibbutz who wake to the reality that the entire working population of younger members has deserted in the night, having settled their debt to the bank by allowing a private developer to demolish the kibbutz and make the property into a resort. For a couple of weeks they relive their youthful days as communal pioneers, relying on their collective energies and resources to survive while they decide on how to deal with their transformed situation. There’s even a globalist dimension as the elderly kibbutzniks join in a stirring rendition of the "Communist International" with the one Chinese guest-laborer who is also left behind – a gentleman old enough to remember the collectivist spirit of Maoist China.
The other kibbutz film is a documentary, "Children of the Sun," which eerily matches actual home movies and other historic footage with the disembodied voices of old kibbutzniks reflecting on their past – mostly on their youth and the rearing of their own children in the children’s houses. There are instances of pride upon their achievements, and moments of sadness – as they view footage of the burial of fallen comrades and of Memorial Day commemorations.
The collective identity engendered by kibbutz life was so complete that one veteran who left kibbutz stated that it took her a long time to get used to saying "I" rather than "we." Another regretted that they missed out on much of what they might have experienced as parents if their children had not spent most of their young lives away in the children’s houses.
When the weathered faces were revealed with the closing credits, my suspicion was confirmed that one of the voices was familiar; Nachum Shoor had been a madrich (guide) to a young person’s delegation of the "Mordechai Anielewitch Circle" of Americans for Progressive Israel, with which I visited Israel in 1982, during the initial summer of Israel’s first Lebanon War. (Our organizational hosts, the Mapam party and the Kibbutz Arzi [National] Federation were almost alone in 1982 as critics of the war.) I vividly recall his booming voice as he greeted us in the early morning of the second or third day: "Hi. I’m Nachum, your madrich. I just got back from Beirut and I’m much happier to be here with you, believe me."