Monday, November 30, 2009
Lilly mentioned the problem of running against the strictures of political correctness in agreeing that Friedman has identified a genuine problem within the Arab and Muslim worlds. At the same time, however, Friedman tends to downplay the role of Abu Ghraib and other US (or Israeli) misdeeds in lending credence to this "Narrative." Here is the core of his column:
What should we make of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?
Here’s my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced .... But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam,” and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by “The Narrative.”
What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.
The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.
Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny— in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.
Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.
.... As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: “This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf.”
This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people’s grievances over why their countries are falling behind. ... Click here for Friedman's full column online.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
... “The Invention of the Jewish People,” ... spent months on the best-seller list in Israel and is now available in English. Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms.One area that I didn't much address in my previous posts is Sand's point that the Jews were not literally "exiled" by the Romans. My understanding was not that the Romans decreed that Jews could no longer live in Judea/Palestine (although they did forbid Jewish settlement in Jerusalem), but that Jewish independence was destroyed and that the depredations of the Romans in putting down the two great Jewish rebellions, in the years 66-73 C.E. and then 132-135 (Bar Kochba's rise and fall) depleted the land and made it exceedingly difficult for Jews to live as Jews there---even outlawing Judaism for a time after Bar Kochba's revolt. Irregardless, the widespread devastation made it difficult for a large population to continue to earn a livelihood there.
Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past.
The longing for the ancestral homeland (whether exactly biological or not, fully a spiritual homeland) is expressed clearly in Jewish liturgy and collective memory for nearly 2,000 years. But it is only the catastrophic antisemitism of the late 19th century and early to mid 20th that made a massive "return to Zion" plausible and even desirable. It is the history of malignant and persistent antisemitism that merits the ire of the anti-Zionist left-wing ideologues, not Zionism---the latter being an amazing and unprecedented popular reaction to oppression by a weak and scattered people.
Finally, I will repeat what I've indicated in a prior posting, that all nationalist notions are "an invention." In the words of Palestinian-American historian, Rashid Khalidi: "National identity is constructed; it is not an essential, transcendent given...." It's shocking that a left-wing scholar has to be reminded that what defines a "people" is political consciousness rather than biology.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Among several positive reviews, I encountered an interesting paradox: Some reviewers characterized the book alternatively as too objective (Fox, 2007), biased towards the Israeli-Western perspective (Elbedour & Ferguson, 2008), or biased against Israel (Salamon, 2007) because it “overlook[s] the issue of [Islamic] fundamentalism” as the major cause of the conflict. The fact that it has been criticized from all sides is, in fact, a welcoming fact that shows it belongs in what I call, "the radical center."
First, in his review, Fox argues, rather convincingly, that in order to understand this protracted conflict, we cannot avoid the politics behind it, and detach it from its historical perspective, and therefore the academic objectivity of the book is an obstacle to understanding of the conflict. Fox, however, misses the point of the book. The question is whether depoliticizing the conflict can help move towards a solution.
One of the main premises of the book is precisely that in order to solve the problem, there is no choice but to move away from the parallel, contradictory and irreconcilable political and historical contextual narratives, and into a human paradigm with an orientation to the future. Counseling psychologists have shown that you can only resolve a conflict when you are able to move beyond the past, and as long as we insist on focusing on who is to blame for the conflict, we will never be able to solve their problems.
Psychological phenomena such as self serving bias and cognitive distortions make it impossible to agree on past events, creating parallel narratives and an endless cycle of blaming the other. It is this fact, and not, as Dr. Fox argues, my own personal history as a progressive Zionist activist, that drives my deliberate attempt to separate the usually neglected social psychological dimension of the conflict from its historical and political contexts. Dr. Fox’s implication that the conflict must be seen as “an indication of injustice and oppression” is, in my opinion, an example of a “culpability orientation” that is focused on blame, and is precisely an obstacle to achieving peace.
Second, as Elbedour and Ferguson point out, the book is indeed skewed in its sources because it presents many more studies that analyze the conflict from a Western/Israeli perspective than from the Palestinian/Arab one. However, in this case, rather than it being the result of conscious or unconscious biases, it is the result of a methodology in which the content of the book was driven by the available literature, and a sad reality in which the majority of the research is done by Israeli or Western scholars. It would be great, for example, as Elbedour and Ferguson suggest, to use the more contemporary theories of prejudice, such as Stephan & Stephan "integrated threat theory." However, once again, there is no research available directly and, although it would be tempting to hypothesize, I believe it would be a mistake to include such speculation in an empirically driven literature review.
Elbedour and Ferguson also explain that occupation and security are the main issues you would need to analyze, which is true if you are making a socio-political analysis. However, the point of the book is precisely to move beyond the political realm, and more in terms of the subjective experience; for example, occupation might be a reality, but hatred is the subjective result. Security might be a real concern, but fear is the underlying emotion.
In conclusion, I believe that the question one must ask to move beyond the past and into a future orientation, is not what is the historical and political context of the conflict, but rather: what is currently preventing the Israelis and Palestinians from reaching an agreement? I believe, as is the main point of the book, that psychological factors such as mistrust, hatred, fear, stereotypes, and prejudice-- often overlooked-- are as important as disagreements over borders, refugees, and settlements. The historical narratives only serve to maintain a perception of injustice on both sides that is not conducive to dialogue and reconciliation.
Dr. Fox asks if “reconciliation requires acknowledging past injustice." And the psychological evidence would suggest it does. But as a process, it can come only after rapprochement, not as a precondition. Only after the sides stop hurting each other, agree to end the fighting, and begin to build trust, can violence and abuse be sincerely acknowledged, and only then can it be forgiven.
Dr. Fox’s contention that a substantial percentage of the population oppose "splitting the difference through decontextualized dialogue and then moving on” might in itself exemplify how both sides’ obsession over past atrocities, result in a culpability orientation because of a misguided quest for subjective justice. This is the main obstacle to a final and just solution to the conflict.
*This article is based on a version originally published at Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2009, pp. 341--343.
As you would know from reading this Weblog, Meretz USA was a partner in J Street's very successful first annual conference last month in Washington, DC, and we enthusiastically see ourselves as allies. As Ben-Ami put it: "We share an agenda in what it means to be pro-Israel."
Ben-Ami says that the passage of national health care is vital for progress on the peace front because Barack Obama's entire presidency will likely fail without it. He sees no new energy from the Obama administration until health care passes; he does not see the "mind space" from Obama to renew work on Middle East peace until next February or March. What he hopes to see from the United States is not a new push for negotiations-- which he sees as "talks about talks" and endless "process" without peace-- but work to shape "bridging proposals," by meeting separately with the parties to the conflict.
In the meantime, he told us about J Street's absorption of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. BTvS will be renamed, possibly "J Roots" (for grassroots), and he's hiring a half dozen new organizers for this operation. Similarly, about a half a year ago, the Union of Progressive Zionists, a student group which Meretz USA founded and nurtured in cooperation with Ameinu, Habonim-Dror and Hashomer Hatzair, was reorganized as J Street U under the rubric of the J Street Education Fund. (UPZ's dynamic young executive director, Tammy Shapiro, remains in place as director in her office at Beit Shalom in Manhattan.)
This same fund will also now conduct trips for Congressmen to Israel, something that AIPAC does with a less dovish agenda in mind. And Ben-Ami indicates that J Street now has six lobbyists working Congress; AIPAC has nine, so he sees J Street approaching parity with AIPAC in this important arena.
The value that he and we see in J Street is that it functions as the "political arm" of the same pro-Israel, pro-peace movement that Meretz USA is part of. J Street is a registered lobbying organization and has an allied PAC (political action committee) that legally raises money for political campaigns. This gives it special clout with politicians. But he affirmed that J Street will support Meretz USA's joint slate with Ameinu, Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim-Dror, if there are new elections in the coming year for the World Zionist Congress.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The documentary is painful in relating his discomfort with both Jews and Arabs in Israel. Hebrew is his writing medium and an object of "love" for him. But he also relates how difficult it was to adapt as a lone Arab child in a Jewish school and how problematic it is for Israeli Arabs to find housing outside of Arab towns and neighborhoods; Israel has no anti-discrimination laws. But today he lives in West Jerusalem, even as he tries to minimize the Arab profile of his young family (for example, he contemplates a visit by his typically Arab-garbed grandmother with great anxiety).
So he illustrates in his very being how Arabs can reach material success in Israeli society, but also how difficult it is even for him to live comfortably as an Arab citizen. The riff he comes back to in the film is that he is "forever scared" of the trucks that may come one day to forcibly transport him, his family and other Arabs beyond Israel's borders. This fear has to come as a surprise to most of us as Jews, many of whom of a certain age have long had a similar and even more horrifying nightmare, that of being collected for transport to a death camp.
I am saddened by the ongoing difficulty of even a successful Arab like Kashua to feel at home in Israel. Discrimination in housing and other aspects of Israeli life is scandalous. But the fact that he is a success, and feels free enough to share his discomfort and dissatisfaction in living in the Jewish state (it can even be seen as a kind of shtick for him), is also a source of hope. Something that did not come up in the film is that if and when (God willing) there is a peaceful resolution to the external conflict with the Arab world, relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel should evolve in a dramatically more positive direction.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Dear Mr. Friedman-
I am disappointed, I truly am. I agree with you that it is time for the Obama administration to make certain changes to their approach on bringing peace to the Middle East, but to give up? In your opinion, we are watching the rerun of the same tired story, wasting efforts on two peoples so obsessed with conflict that our struggle is bound to be futile. Mr. Friedman, I hope you will forgive me when I say that you are wrong. This is not the same tired story: this is the beginning of a new story.
When in history has an American president made the amelioration of the Israeli-Arab conflict a priority within the first months of his presidency? Granted, it has been a rough few months, but it has opened the forum for groups like J Street, and other moderate voices stifled during the years of Bush and Intifada. And it has only been a few months. The Israelis and Palestinians are indeed defensive and distrustful, but they are above all tired of conflict, and moreover unable to free themselves from its grasp without American help.
Your approach, Mr. Friedman, strikes me not only as off the mark in terms of analysis, but also as dangerous in terms of implications. If you disagree with the premise that ending this conflict is important not only for the sake of the people of Israel and Palestine but also for the sake of world peace, security and American interests, then so be it. But having read your work in the past, I do not think that you would disagree with such a premise. Thus it is truly disappointing, and surprising, hearing you tell Obama and his administration to give up, to go home.
Do I believe that Obama's push for peace is going perfectly? Of course not, but that should lead to a rethinking of strategy, perhaps a decision to shift focus from the settlements, or to push forward with Syrian-Israeli peace talks as a first step. It should not lead to giving up. Things are not going well now, Mr. Friedman, but what we need, as thinkers, human beings, and American constituents, is not cynicism, but hope, and creative, thoughtful alternatives.
It was interesting to hear the perspective of a Labor centrist on Israel's situation today. He views Israel's posture under Netanyahu as more moderate and open to negotiating peace with the Palestinians than we doves are inclined to see; he characterizes the Palestinian Authority nowadays as being recalcitrant in not understanding that Netanyahu is being relatively flexible.
This may not be completely wrong. We actually heard something along these lines from our longtime friend from Meretz, Avshalom (Abu) Vilan, who lost his Knesset seat in the elections early this year. And we know that the harsh system of roadblocks and checkpoints has significantly eased, allowing for a renaissance of economic activity on the West Bank.
And Herzog indicates that the West Bank settlements are weaker than widely thought. He sees only two Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlements as growing substantially in population. He claims that Ariel, the West Bank's largest Jewish town, is down to 18,000 and (most significantly) has 50% fewer children there than there were ten years ago. As for Kiryat Arba, the militant community next door to Hebron (where mass murderer Baruch Goldstein had lived), he says that most of its original leadership no longer resides there and that it's largely populated now by two mutually antagonistic groups of Jews from India.
But the Palestinians' rigidity, if that's what it is, reflects Mahmoud Abbas/Abu Mazen's weakness as head of the PA, with Hamas pushing him toward more militant stands. Herzog mentioned former Prime Minister Olmert's effort to make a deal with Abbas last year; I will add the details of Olmert's offers of territory to the PA, if I find my notes. The bottom line is that Olmert was offering somewhere in the range of 95% of the West Bank with a transfer of about 2-3% of Israeli territory to compensate for incorporating most of the settlement blocs into Israel. Olmert is also said to have been fairly forthcoming in offering Palestinian control in much or most of East Jerusalem, with a special status for the various religious sites in the "Holy Basin," in the middle of the city.
The latest we know about Abbas's future is that his departure is not imminent, as new presidential elections have been postponed. This is what former Meretz leader, Yossi Beilin, wrote recently about Abbas in The Forward:
When Ehud Olmert became prime minister, he conducted negotiations with Abu Mazen in his own living room in Jerusalem, meeting him once every few weeks, without any note takers and without enjoying support from within his own Cabinet. Olmert was surprised that Abu Mazen did not fall head over heels for what the Israeli prime minister thought was a very generous peace offer. But we should remember that this offer included Israel’s annexation of Ariel, a large settlement in the heart of the West Bank, along with other bitter pills that would be difficult for any Palestinian leader to swallow. ...
None of this is to say that the Palestinians did not make their own contributions to the lack of progress toward peace. Palestinian hesitancy and clumsy political conduct and, perhaps most of all, the ongoing split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip — that is, between Fatah and Hamas — have all been detrimental to peace prospects.
Now, we face the consequences of our collective failures. With Abu Mazen seemingly on his way out, it is increasingly clear that we may have missed a rare chance to reach a peace agreement. Abu Mazen may not be terribly charismatic or a great orator, but he is a responsible leader who believes that the Palestinian national interest lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with both states enjoying peaceful relations and economic cooperation with one another.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Like the Abba song "Waterloo," history seems to be repeating itself “like the book on the shelf.” This past Sunday evening, a group of Labor Party rebels met with about 300 supporters in Tel Aviv. Four of the rebels seemed to want to organize a new party immediately, but the fifth, former Labor faction chairman Daniel Ben-Simon, wanted to give Labor one last chance. He said that in two or three months, if things hadn’t improved, he would join his four colleagues as the fifth MK needed to declare a new faction in the Knesset with state funding (at least one third of an existing faction must split away to be recognized as an official new parliamentary party).
This two to three months would give Meretz a chance to prepare its reaction to the launch of the new party. Meretz might begin by studying a similar situation that began about 35 years ago in South Africa:
The United Party formed the government for the majority of years between 1910 and 1948. It was a moderate party (in white-ruled South African terms), tied to its foreign patron, Great Britain, and led by a trio of former Boer War generals who provided electoral charisma. The last of these generals lost the election in 1948. Two years later, Jan Smuts, admired around the world, retired due to ill health and old age and soon died. The United Party in opposition was short of dynamic leaders and a viable alternative policy to the catchy apartheid slogan of the opposition. Their final leader of note was a distinguished lawyer from an established German family in the Cape Town area, Sir De Villiers Graaff.
Div, as he was known to friends, remained head of the party until its dissolution 21 years later. The United Party represented English-speaking whites who were pro-Empire and despised the Afrikaner nationalism of the rival National Party. But this did not make them true racial moderates or liberals. The United Party attacked the National Party in parliament but was a very loyal opposition. In fact, when "grand apartheid" or the bantustans policy was first proposed, the United Party was opposed to buying up agricultural land to transfer to the blacks in an attempt to make the homelands viable. This led to a revolt of the liberal wing of the UP to form the Progressive Party in 1959.
In 1975, the leader of the UP’s caucus in the Transvaal Provincial Council led a splinter group of Young Turks to form the Reform Party. Because both the Progs and the Reform Party knew that two left-of-center opposition parties were one too many, Reform Party leader Harry Schwarz quickly agreed to accept the Progressive Party platform and leadership in exchange for a new name that reflected both parties and some role in the leadership of the new party.
In late 1976, Div attempted to organize a new opposition party out of the existing three parties. Yet he was unwilling to meet the demands of the Progs for a liberal racial policy and insisted on one that was closer to apartheid than to majority rule. This led to the UP's fatal decline and its demise in the 1980s, beginning with a disastrous election result in 1977, running as the New Republic Party (NRP).
The Progressive Reform Party changed its name to the Progressive Federal Party in 1977 as it took on a new group of former UP defectors. With 17 seats to the NRP’s ten, it became the official opposition. The Federal Reform Party spent the next decade gradually taking over the English-speaking electorate so that it could eventually take on the South African right wing.
Israel is too small for two parties to the left of the Labor Party. It should quickly organize a merger. But if the new party is not to go the way of the New Movement [the grouping of doves and progressives who allied with Meretz with a disappointing result in the recent elections--ed.], it must have a coherent program in line with at least part of the Israeli electorate. It should emphasize domestic economic and social policy over security, as Amir Peretz tried to do in 2006. It should also favor the Syrian track over the Palestinian track in the peace process.
The new party will have to target the electoral base of the existing Labor Party as the Progressive Federal Party once targeted the New Republic Party. Once Labor is eliminated, Kadima might be ripe for a negotiated merger or at least having the new party as the junior partner, as Kadima had Labor from 2006 to 2009.
Nothing serious will happen in the peace process as long as Obama has to worry about managing two wars, health care reform, and economic recovery. So the center-left can worry about its internal battle while Obama takes care of his higher priorities. The goal of the left should be to be prepared for Obama’s second term.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
When President Obama appointed former Senator George Mitchell as his Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process on only his second day in office, one cannot imagine he envisioned the region being mired in a painful stalemate less than a year later. On the contrary, his early engagement was designed to keep such an impasse from occurring.Read this entire piece at IPF's Website. And consider reading my article, "Jews on J Street," at the 'In These Times' Website. The connecting thread here is that J Street is all about the United States doing whatever it can to forge agreement for a two-state solution.
Unfortunately, mistakes were made. The U.S. went too far in demanding nothing less than a complete settlement freeze, ensuring that the Palestinians could demand no less. The popular right-wing government in Israel remained obstinate on the freeze; the U.S. then backtracked, causing the Palestinians to cry foul and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to threaten not to run in the next election. In the process, Israelis have lost trust in Obama (if they ever had any to begin with is debatable), and the Palestinians have lost their once high hopes.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Quick quiz - who said the following last week: "If hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come here now, they will bring with them a profusion of diseases: hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis, AIDS and drugs."
If you guessed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, you're way off the mark. It wasn't Rush Limbaugh either.
To answer correctly, you need to pan 5,800 miles eastward to Jerusalem where the man in charge of Israel's borders and immigration, Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas party, said precisely those words on Israeli TV's widely viewed "Meet the Press" program.
For those who follow developments in Israel closely, these remarks should not come as a surprise: Shas officials, led by spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, have made a career of comparing women to donkeys, and homosexuality to the plague, and of blaming assimilated Jews for the Holocaust.
What is disappointing, therefore, is not Mr. Yishai himself, but the fact that his party continues to be courted by Israel's mainstream leadership. Indeed, even before this year's elections, Prime Minister Netanyahu made sure to name Shas the linchpin of his future coalition, and later awarded Mr. Yishai the honorific of "Deputy Premier" in addition to his weighty ministerial portfolio.
Monday, November 09, 2009
A detailed preview of the Autumn 2009 issue is now online. Learn with a click of your mouse how to enjoy its entire contents by receiving it regularly.
Contents of Autumn 2009 issue:
Albert Einstein's Zionism
By Ralph Seliger
Peace vs. Justice
By Michael Lame
‘They’ Teach Hate
By Stephen Scheinberg, Ph.D.
Youth Essay Winners for Peace
By Hillel Schenker
Striving for Democracy in Mideast
By Ziad Asali, M.D.
Two Nations Into One Don’t Go
By Philip Mendes, Ph.D.
Are Mizrahim Still Marginal in Israel?
A Progressive Zionist Examines AIPAC
By Thomas Mitchell, Ph.D.
On Goldstone Report;
Against Boycotting Israel
By Ron Skolnik
Visitors from Meretz Party
Talk by Leah Shakdiel
Editor's Odds & Ends
Israel Is Not South Africa
Again, see more details by clicking here.
Friday, November 06, 2009
Art D'Lugoff was one of a kind that could only probably have happened in America. There are very few left of his ilk: a universalist/Yiddishist/Zionist.
Our connection harked back to Jerusalem. He came from the Mandelbaum family as in Mandelbaum Gate, which was a border crossing after 1948. I'm not sure whether we were actually related but he called me his cousin and I liked that. Art served on the Meretz USA Board for a full term.
Art's connection to Israel was lifelong, through his family and by marriage to Avital, a vivacious sabra who proved to be an excellent match for Art, known to the world as the owner of the The Village Gate nightclub, located in the heart of the Village near the corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets. He booked such jazz performers as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. The club also featured comedy, and among the famous comedians who performed there, way before they became famous, were Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and Mort Sahl.
In 1994 Art sold the club, but in the next few years he tried to start another Village Gate on the Upper Westside but it didn't take. Times had changed. Art threw his ever burning passion into building a jazz museum, but he couldn't raise the funds. Art was approached by a documentary filmmaker to be the subject of a biography. He was excited about this. I spoke to him at the beginning of the week, the funding was in place. Art was elated. We planned to attend Theo Bikel's Shalom Aleichem performance next week. On Wednesday he died.
Art was a man for all seasons. -- Lilly Rivlin
Charney Bromberg (the immediate past executive director of Meretz USA) adds:
Art was a passionate member of the Meretz USA Board. Truth be told, lending us his good name was one of his major contributions to our organization - he had many, many commitments - but his heart was with our camp always. As in all things, Art was on the cutting edge in his beliefs about what Israel could and should be. He found the sweet spot at the intersection between culture and politics - Israeli and American - and gave it life.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
However, the fact that the Goldstone report has many flaws, that its mandate was skewed, that the UN does not press Libya the way that it presses Israel, does not give the Israeli government the right to write off the report in its entirety and to refuse to cooperate and conduct an in-depth investigation, as the report recommends. Goldstone stated in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post that he would be happy if some of the findings were proven wrong; so would I and all supporters of Israel. But there is no way to prove the findings wrong without an investigation. And if, after investigation, some of the findings prove to be accurate, that is something that Israel and the Israeli people, and supporters of Israel must reckon with, just as the United States had to reckon with Abu Ghraib. So, were I to rewrite my op-ed, I would maintain a criticism of the UN's bias, the report's flawed mandate and execution, but would emphasize that the onus is now on the Israeli government to address the report, and to conduct an investigation.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Shinui was part of the parliamentary alliance with Mapam and Ratz that emerged as Meretz in '92. In 1997, Rubinstein led half of that party to merge into Meretz as a unified entity -- as opposed to the half of Shinui led by the late Tommy Lapid, that briefly became Israel's third largest party and a partner in Sharon's coalition before crashing and burning. Both writers, while defending the concept of a Jewish state, are doves and human rights-oriented liberals who are sensitive to Arab and other minority rights.
Last year, this Weblog posted part of a lengthy article in The Jerusalem Post, based on an enlightening interview with co-author Alexander Yakobson. That piece is more detailed than the review mentioned here in MEQ.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Having just returned from the J Street conference, I want to add my voice to the media controversy surrounding the new Pro Israel Pro Peace organization and its first conference in DC. I am writing from the perspective of a student, a connected Jew, a liberal, an Israeli citizen, and an American citizen when I say "finally." Finally, a Pro Israel organization that does not deny or turn a blind eye to the immense suffering of the Palestinian people and the deep legitimacy of their narrative. Finally, a Pro Peace organization that does not demonize Israel and grossly oversimplify the situation with labels like colonialism and apartheid. Finally, an organization that proudly declares its support for Israel as a Jewish State, and that proudly emphasizes the need for the creation of a viable Palestinian State. Finally.
J Street, through its programming, platforms and sheer energy, has shown its ability to provide an organizational voice to people like myself, people who love and are deeply connected to Israel, and who are immensely frustrated with and critical of many Israeli policies. Moreover, J Street represents a chance for people like myself to reclaim Zionism. The word Zionism has taken on such a pejorative connotation in the liberal world that many have been hesitant to use it to self-describe. This hesitance has been compounded by the fact that many of those loudly proclaiming to be "Zionist" are from the expansionist, extremist settler movement, which cares nothing about the plight or rights of the Palestinian people. I vehemently disagree with the latter group, but I am a Zionist. I believe in Israel, and I believe in Israel as a Jewish state. I believe in a Jewish state based on the best ideals Judaism has to offer, ideals of justice and repairing the world, ideals of tolerance and equality, ideals of hope. I believe in a Jewish state that acts as a "light unto the nations."
Do I see the Israel of today as embodying the best ideals of Judaism, as acting a light unto the nations? No, I do not. But that does not mean that I should abandon my ideals, my goals and my dreams as to what the Jewish State should and indeed could be.
Does the fact that the American system has left so many disenfranchised and suffering mean that we should give up on America and American democracy, or that we should work to change and better America, bringing it closer to its foundational ideals?
Returning to the subject of what Zionism means, the spirit of the J Street conference reemphasized something that I have always believed: Zionism, while clearly a Jewish movement, has profoundly universalist implications. Zionism was a movement formed from communal longing, from religious and cultural dedication, from historical roots and from the desire that Jewish people be safe, secure and able to flourish. Thus, it is in fact through the very lens of Zionism that I am best able to understand the Palestinians’ desire for independence, for national self-determination and for freedom from the oppression and repression they have suffered throughout history. As such, it is through this reclaimed paradigm of Zionism that I aim to struggle for two viable and independent states, for the sake of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and for the sake of Palestine and the Palestinians.
Finally, the J Street conference reaffirmed that the struggle to make Israel the type of Jewish state that I --and many others-- long for cannot be through silence nor reactionary defensiveness. As a Jew, a liberal, a student, an American, an Israeli and a Zionist it is crucial that I actively support Israel when it does what I see as right, and speak out, loudly, strongly and with conviction when the Israeli state carries out unjust and immoral policies and actions. For indeed, such policies (the continuation of the Occupation, for example) are, in a sense, anti-Zionist, both in their negative effects on the possibility of a democratic, Jewish state and in their inconsistency with core Jewish and Zionist values.
Moriel Rothman is a junior at Middlebury College, in Vermont. He was born in Jerusalem, Israel, studies political science and Arabic, and is co-president of Middlebury’s Hillel.
Monday, November 02, 2009
The progress of the Jewish peace movement, which began here in the 1980s, can be compared with an earlier American political movement—the antislavery movement. The antislavery movement went through three distinct phases characterized by different political parties. For purposes of alliteration I shall dub these the "pioneer," "pragmatic," and "power" stages.
The pioneer stage was the longest, lasting from the creation of the abolitionist movement in the early 1830s to the creation of the Free Soil Party in August 1848. Tired of being lied to by professional politicians from the two main parties, the abolitionists created their own political party, the Liberty Party, in 1840. But because they were Evangelical Protestants rather than professional politicians they tended to be self-righteous and overtly religious rather than pragmatic. The Liberty Party presidential candidate received about two percent of the vote in the 1844 election.
In the Jewish peace movement, the pioneer stage began with the creation of Americans for Peace Now in the early 1980s and also with input from predecessors of Meretz USA, especially Americans for Progressive Israel/Hashomer Hatzair. But the equivalent of the Liberty Party was Brit Tzedek V'Shalom.
In the next phase, the pragmatic stage, a figure from the Liberty Party, Salmon P. Chase, frustrated by the lack of political instinct among the Liberty men, started corresponding with antislavery figures from the two main parties. In August 1848, he effected a merger of the antislavery wings of the Massachusetts Whig Party and the New York Democratic Party with the Liberty Party and individuals across the North. Three months later, the Free Soil Party nominee, former President Martin Van Buren, received 14 percent of the vote in the North (10 percent nationally). The party also elected eight members of Congress and helped to elect four others from the Whigs.
But two years later, the Compromise of 1850, a compromise settlement on slavery issues between the two geographic sections, seemed to put an end to slavery. The Free Soilers atrophied and were reduced to four and then three congressmen, although they also managed to elect two senators. The New York Democrats, over half of the Free Soil Party, returned to their former party. The Free Soilers were little more than the core of former Liberty men by the next presidential election.
The power stage began in May 1854 with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This led to an upsurge of antislavery and anti-Southern sentiment in the North. This sentiment led to the merger of the Free Soilers and antislavery Northern Whigs to form the Republican Party in July 1854. The Whig Party disappeared over the next two years as its members joined either the Republicans or the nativist anti-Catholic Know Nothings in the Northeast. In 1856, by astute maneuvering that split the Know Nothing party in two, the Republicans became the natural successor to the Whigs and the opposition party.
Six years later, the Republicans were in the White House and controlled the Congress. Because of the foolishness of the Southern secessionists, the antislavery movement finally had a legal justification to seek an end to slavery in the South rather than merely an end to its expansion.
J Street’s successful conference was the equivalent of the 1848 election, in that the Jewish/Zionist peace movement is embarking upon its "pragmatic" stage. It is now dependent on outside factors to determine if it will be able to reach the third stage ("power"). These factors depend largely on developments in the Middle East—among the Palestinians and Israelis: Can the Palestinians develop a united pragmatic leadership? Can the Israeli center-left recover? Can Obama win a second term? These factors will determine the length of the second phase and if it moves into the power stage.