Friday, September 29, 2006

Harper takes principled stand at "La Francophonie" Summit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, representing Canada at a summit of the Francophonie held in Bucharest, Romania, rejected a one-sided resolution on the Israel-Hizbullah conflict today. The Francophonie is France's imitiation of the Commonwealth whose exact pratical impact on world politics is unclear to me. Egypt, a member of the Francophonie (the Baltic states and Macedonia are also part of the club!), introduced a last-minute resolution at the summit that would have recognized only Lebanese victims of the war. Harper wisely vetoed the resolution.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pray for the Release of the Soldiers

Cpl. Gilad Shalit

Egypt, which is the main mediator in the negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, is blaming Khaled Meshal of Hamas's Damascus bureau for blocking a deal that would have seen the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, who has been held by Palestinian militants since June 25, 2006. In a leaked letter, Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, warned Meshal that he would be responsible for a major Israeli operation in Gaza if Shalit is not released by the end of Ramadan (October 23), Ha'aretz reported yesterday. Meanwhile, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped by Hizbullah on July 12, remain in captivity.

If you believe that it might help, please pray for the safe return of Gilad ben Aviva, Ehud ben Malka, and Eldad ben Tova to their families, God-willing before Yom Kippur. Many people are saying תהילים קכא (Psalms 121):

א שִׁיר, לַמַּעֲלוֹת:

אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, אֶל-הֶהָרִים-- מֵאַיִן, יָבֹא עֶזְרִי.

ב עֶזְרִי, מֵעִם יְהוָה-- עֹשֵׂה, שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ.

ג אַל-יִתֵּן לַמּוֹט רַגְלֶךָ; אַל-יָנוּם, שֹׁמְרֶךָ.

ד הִנֵּה לֹא-יָנוּם, וְלֹא יִישָׁן-- שׁוֹמֵר, יִשְׂרָאֵל.

ה יְהוָה שֹׁמְרֶךָ; יְהוָה צִלְּךָ, עַל-יַד יְמִינֶךָ.

ו יוֹמָם, הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא-יַכֶּכָּה; וְיָרֵחַ בַּלָּיְלָה.

ז יְהוָה, יִשְׁמָרְךָ מִכָּל-רָע: יִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-נַפְשֶׁךָ.

ח יְהוָה, יִשְׁמָר-צֵאתְךָ וּבוֹאֶךָ-- מֵעַתָּה, וְעַד-עוֹלָם.

For all those who are observing on Monday, we wish you an easy fast and גמר חתימה טובה. And to our Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Iranian-Turkish Offensive Against Iraqi Kurdistan "Imminent"

One of many controversial maps of Kurdistan.

DebkaFile claims that Turkey and Iran are coordinating a preemptive attack on Iraqi Kurdistan with the aim of crushing 5,000 Kurdish guerrillas said to be hiding out on their borders, inside Iraq. Both countries accuse the rebels of carrying out and supporting terrorist attacks inside Turkey and Iran respectively. According to DebkaFile, Iranian and Turkish troops have long been operating inside Iraq.

Tensions recently escalated with the publication of a "semi-official" American military map that labelled territory inside Turkey as well as Armenia as "Kurdistan." Both Ankara and Yerevan fear that the US may be giving tacit approval to plans by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (who is also the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and Massoud Barzani, President of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in Iraq to "help themselves" to Turkish and Armenian territory in the event of imminent attack. Iran has been growing increasingly agitated about Kurdish cross-border raids into its territory.

DebkaFile's allegations seem rather fanciful at first glance. Turkey combining to fight an American ally with Iran? Armenia entering the war basically on the side of Turkey? But it is clear that American and Turkish interests do not coincide when it comes to the Kurds of Iraq. Furthermore, US-Turkish relations are a far cry from what they were before the invasion of Iraq. Combine that with the recent high-profile bombings in Turkish Kurdistan, and a precedent (according to the Turks) in Israel's actions against Hizbullah, which were conducted with US approval, and things begin to look more plausible, at least as far as Turkey is concerned.

ADDENDUM: I seem to have confused at least one of our readers - so just for the record, the map depicted above is NOT the "semi-official" map to which I refer in the post. As you can see, it is a French map that appeared in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1998.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Benefit Concert

Though the date has passed, this flyer still hangs on a wall in the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Holiday Greetings - Rosh ha-Shana and Ramadan

!!!שנה טובה!!! رمضان مبارك

Aznar Against Apology

Jose Maria Aznar Comes to the Defense of Western Civilization

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has waded into the polemics surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's September 12 speech. The last time I heard Aznar speak was in Spanish at the AJC's 2003 annual meeting in Washington, DC. Back then, he spoke through a translator. Judging from several quotes attributed to him in the Herald Tribune, he should have done the same at a recent engagement at the Washington-based Hudson Institute. But who am I to discourage people from practicing their English public speaking skills? Referring to the 800-year period of Muslim rule over Iberia, Aznar is said to have declared:
"I never (heard) any Muslim apologize (to) me (for) conquer(ing) Spain and to maintain a presence in Spain during eight centuries. What is the reason ... we, the West, always should be apologiz(ing) and they never should ... apologize? It's absurd."
Wow, that seems to be a record number of parentheses in a quotation. In all seriousness, I do think that J.M. has a point, although I'm not sure that it's worth opening that particular can of worms (history of Medieval Spain). Nevertheless, Aznar should be commended for his courageous statements in support of the United States and Israel. In contrast to his successor, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, this man has cojones.

Trivia of the Day: In Arabic, the Pope is called "al-baba" as in this al-Jzaeera headline:

أزنار يدافع عن البابا ويطالب المسلمين بالاعتذار

Aznar yudaafi' 'an al-baaba wa-yutaalib al-muslimiin bil-i'tidhaar
"Aznar defends the pope and demands that Muslims apologize"

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Berkeley's Byzantinist on Benedict's Blunder

The Pope claims he was just quoting. But Berkeley's Prof. Maria Mavroudi has very kindly provided us with some historical context and glossed a few of Palaeologus' words:
If we assume that the Pope's use of Manuel's "Dialogue with Persian" is not the result of scholarly incompetence regarding things Byzantine on the part of the Pope's advisors and speech writers, then it is a (mis)reading of the past in light of the present and an example of how one can take a historical source completely out of context and employ it for the purposes of one's own rhetoric.

Manuel II was an intellectual emperor; he left a whole body of work, generally written in highly rhetorical style and classicizing language. The "Dialogue with a Persian" belongs to an established literary genre of Christian-Muslim polemic that came into existence soon after the rise of Islam. The format of the dialogue is supposed to help communicate complicated thoughts in a simple manner. Such polemical disputes between representatives of the two religions were frequent in the 14th century, not only in literary form, as imaginary works of fiction, but also in reality.

The "Dialogue with a Persian" is a Christian's (=Byzantine's) dialogue with a Turk. "Persian" is how Byzantine sources in classicizing language tend to call the Turks, a fact that the Pope's speech neglects to clarify. The "holy war" Manuel discusses in the dialogue is essentially the war (whether holy or unholy) that the Turks waged successfully towards the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, as a result devouring his empire.

As hostage to the Turks, Manuel had been forced to participate on the Turkish side in the siege against Byzantine Philadelphia and witness its fall. He resided in Thessaloniki (the second largest city of the empire at the time) during the time of its siege and capture by the Turks. He spent a few years in Paris trying to secure military aid (trips away from their territories were extremely unusual for Byzantine emperors, therefore this is indicative of Manuel's desperation); at the same time his capital was besieged by Bayezid, and the Ottomans would have taken it, had it not been for Timur Lenk who defeated them in Ankara. Manuel's surviving letters show him a witness to increased Islamization and Turkification in the territories that he continued to lose to the Turks.

Authoring the "Dialogue with the Persian" is also a call to the Christian flock (Manuel's own conquered subjects) not to convert; under the circumstances, the ideological purpose of the "Dialogue" could not have been aggressive, only defensive.

I will let the readers of your blog draw their own conclusions regarding the reasons why the Pope did not clarify the identity of the "Persian" or the "Dialogue's" context and what he was trying to achieve by not doing so.
I for one think it's very important that the Pope's speech be scrutinized. This isn't a learned pope's fleeting pedantic allusion to a learned emperor. It's actually quite a significant clue as to the part the Vatican will play in the coming "debate" on Civilization, which Tony Blair has, in a sense, inaugurated with his polished oratory.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Kurds deny Israeli presence in Iraqi Kurdistan

I just heard a Radio Sawa broadcast in which a spokesman of the Kurdish provincial government in Iraq categorically denied allegations that there is an Israeli presence whatsoever in the Kurdish controlled region. Apparently, the Kurds have come under fire for relying on Israeli military and security experts to build an airforce and train their security forces. The Kurdish spokesman emphasized that there are no Israelis in the Kurdish region, but said that the regional government does not discriminate against members of any religion, be they Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Yazidis. He also voiced his anger at the fact that the Kurds are singled out for alleged ties to Israel, while a number of Arab states (Egypt and Jordan) have Israeli embassies. Finally, responding to renewed talk about the historic links between the late Kurdish KDP leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of the current ruling KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani, the spokesman argued that the late Barzani's action have to be viewed in their context and light of the dire situation of the Kurds at the time.

Previous Kurdish denials can be read on the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government (note the lack of an Iraq suffix in the .org domain). The Kurdish Regional Government's professional website full of English commentary is just one more indication of how much better the Kurds have fared in the new Iraq. As much as they might deny it, the Kurds are building a state and they're going about it the right way.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stop the Genocide in Darfur

Protests today demanding intervention in Darfur

More than 200,000 people killed and millions displaced.

Rabbis Criticize Pope's Comments; West Bank Churches Attacked

Chief Rabbi Shlomo 'Amar

In an interesting development, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, R' Shlomo 'Amar has written a letter to Qatari Sunni legal scholar Sheikh Yusef Qardawi, criticizing the recent remarks of the Pope. Here is an excerpt from the letter, which R' 'Amar wrote in Arabic:
Our way is to honor every religion and every nation according to their paths, as it is written in the book of prophets: 'because every nation will go in the name of its lord.'"
Even when there is a struggle between nations ... it cannot be turned into a war of religions.
Israel has a Sephardi and an Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. R' 'Amar was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1948. He came to Israel at the age of 14.

The letter was preceded by an introduction written by R' Menahem Froman, the head rabbi of Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank. R' Froman has been involved in interfaith dialogue with Muslim leaders for years. In his introduction, he writes that
every Jew who learns the writings of the great sages - who, at the head of them all stands Maimonides - knows that our great thinkers wrote in the Arabic language, lived in Islamic states and participated with the great Muslim thinkers in the effort to explain the words of God, according to the paths of the sages and amidst the difficult bloody battles that we have had since the beginning of Zionism with the Muslims.
This is a rabbi identified with the national-religious camp, who studied at Yeshivat ha-Kotel and taught at Makhon Me'ir, two places not usually known for their affinities to such views.

In another twist, the letter was delivered to Sheikh Qardawi by the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Abdullah Naimar Darwish.

Just two days ago, the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement
Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, a known radical, announced that Jerusalem would soon become the capital of an Islamic nation. In front of a crowd of 50,000, he declared that Israel's "occupation" of the Temple Mount was approaching its end. Just to pour a little more oil on the fire, he accused the Israeli government of damaging the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (Ha'aretz).

Meanwhile, churches across the West Bank were attacked on Saturday, and violence against Christians and Christian institutions was reported elsewhere in the region and beyond. The targets included Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic houses of worship.

I appreciate the efforts of R' Amar and R' Froman, and I think Pope Benedict would not disagree with their more general statements. Nevertheless, it would have been nice if they had added some condemnation of the threats against Christians and asked Sheikh Qardawi to speak out against those too.

I do not believe that Pope Benedict actually endorsed
Palaeologos's view that Mohammed's innovations were "only evil and inhuman" ones. He should have made his opposition to that part of the Byzantine Emperor's polemic clearer. I am also not sure how correct some of his characterizations juxtaposing Christianity and Islam were. But who can argue with his efforts to condemn the use of religion to promote violence?

The Catholic Church has made significant progress in the past half-century in confronting the injustices committed by Christians, in the clergy as well as well as the laity, which resulted in the persecution or marginalization of Muslims, Jews, "heteredox" Christians, as well as people of other faiths merely on account of their beliefs. I am certain that Pope Benedict does not want to turn the clock backward in this respect. Rather, he is challenging adherents of the world's religions to find peace rather than violence in their traditions.

In any case, it is unacceptable that the Pope's remarks, no matter how critical of Islam, should be turned into a pretext for violence against Christians. All those Muslim religious leaders who, instead of preaching moderation, are further inciting their followers represent precisely the kind of evil that the Pope was talking about. Ironically, they are also likely to further cement the impressions of some observers, who believe that Islam is indeed the "religion of the sword."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Haifa Cinematheque

Like most other places in Haifa, the cinematheque was closed for the duration of the Hezbollah-Israel war. But members, who prepay for a year in advance, are not to worry.
The sign on the left reads, "Did Nasrallah waste a month of your membership? The cinematheque will extend your membership by one month! (Those whose membership expired in the middle of last month will have their membership extended in proportion to the days they have missed!)"

Friday, September 15, 2006

Boogie Bares All - Now in English

For those who haven't had a chance to read it yet, Ari Shavit's stunning interview with former Chief of Staff Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, on which John blogged earlier, is now available in English. I highly recommend it, as Ya'alon's is the most penetrating critique of the war's management and of the current leadership I have read until now.

Pope Benedict Faces Wrath of Muslims

Better put those Swiss Guards on high alert

It looks like another storm is brewing in the Muslim world. This time, the spark seems to be a recent speech by Pope Benedict XVI delivered on September 12 at Germany's Regensburg University. The original German speech and an English translation are available on the Holy See's website. In the speech, the Pope argues that the "will of God" cannot be divorced from "Reason". He emphasizes the links between early Christian thought and Greek philosophy to make the point that Christian faith and reason are compatible. To establish that link, he refers to a theological discussion between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologos (14th century) and a Persian Muslim, which was recently published in a volume edited by a Professor Theodor Khoury at the University of Münster (a German school with a well known Near Eastern Studies department and a lot of philologists). In the course of their conversation, the Emperor is to have told his Muslim interlocutor
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The Pope seems to have cited this statement not because he was trying to make some point about Islam, but in order to prove that this Byzantine Emperor saw Christianity as based on reason. According to the pope,
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God, " he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... "
Yet, while the Pope’s and Khoury’s central argument seems to be related mainly to Christianity and Reason, rather than Islam, they make their point by contrasting "Muslim teaching" with the Byzantine Emperor’s Christianity, which they characterize as being rooted in Greek philosophy. According to Khoury, cited by the Pope in his speech,
For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement [denying that conversion must be achieved through argument, not violence] is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.
I know too little about Islamic thought to comment about the accuracy of Khoury’s interpretations. What bothers me is the apparent failure of Muslims and heads of state of Muslim countries to engage the Pope more deeply. I hope I turn out to be wrong, but it seems to me as if we are in for another round of violent demonstrations. Palestinian Prime Minister Isma‘il Haniyye has already begun organizing protests to "express Palestinian anger toward the comments that offended Islam and the Muslims." Ha'aretz is already reporting that a Greek Orthodox (!) Church in Gaza suffered minor damage from a homemade explosive device planted next to its door. That would be a useful diversion for a government that is becoming increasingly unpopular.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The UN Outpost Bombing

UN troops carrying the body of one of the peacekeepers killed on July 25

On July 25, an Israeli air strike led to the tragic deaths of four UN peacekeepers manning an observation post in southern Lebanon. The world reacted with widespread condemnation of Israel. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan even accused Israel of deliberately targeting the peacekeepers. These were his words on that day:
I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a United Nations observer post in southern Lebanon that has killed two United Nations military observers, with two more feared dead (SG/SM/10577).
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, justifiably, reacted with outrage. The charge that Israel deliberately targeted the peacekeepers has never made sense to me. Some of our readers will recall the discussion about this incident that took place on these pages about this question. I was especially disturbed that a teacher of mine, whose judgment I respect, was convinced that Annan had been right. This person told me that because the position of the peacekeepers had been so well-marked, it was clear that the air strike had been part of a deliberate attempt to discourage an international or UN-sponsored peacekeeping intervention in the war. My teacher was unequivocal that the attack was deliberate, and that it would be "hard to convince many of us otherwise." In retrospect, this makes very little sense. First of all, deliberately targeting UN personnel blatantly contradicted military directives and law. Second, Israel has actually welcomed the new UN peacekeeing force, so that the idea that this was a signal to discourage such a peacekeeping missions lacks traction.

Canadian newspapers have been following this story carefully from the beginning, in part because the country lost one of its soldiers in the incident. (The other peacekeepers were from China, Finland, and Austria respectively). On July 27, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, the Canadian in the outpost, a few days before July 25, had sent reports which implied that Hizbullah had been using the UN soldiers as human shields. Now, the Globe and Mail has a report on the latest findings by an Israeli inquiry into the incident. First of all, it turns out that Hizbullah was firing rockets from a position only 180 meters away from the UN outpost. Apparently, it was the deployment of new Israeli forces in the area that led to this tragic mistake. The new deployment required a duplication of charts and maps of the area; in the course of this duplication, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said, the UN position was not accurately marked on the duplicated maps.

Lebanese Shi'a Cleric Bashes Hizbullah

This just in from Abu Kais's Blog, From Beirut to the Beltway. I urge you all to read up on this story:
Ali al-Amin, the Shia mufti for Tyre and Jabal Amel, which covers most of Hizbullah's zone of influence, is making history in Lebanon. He is reclaiming the Shia voice, which he says speaks for the Lebanese project, and not Hizbullah's Iranian project, which puts national interest last.
Abu Kais, himself a Lebanese Shi'a living in the United States, says that this mufti was encouraged by the war to speak his mind.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Protest in Front of Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv

Picture from the scene of the accident in Sinai

The relatives of victims injured or killed in a bus accident in Sinai last month (August 22) protested in front of the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, September 13. Twelve Israelis were killed when their bus overturned, and more than fifty were injured. The protestors accused the Egyptian government of negligence in its response to the accident. They demanded that Egypt conduct another investigation into its handling of the disaster. The demonstrators expressed dissatisfaction with Egyptian security and rescue forces, and condemned the Egyptian government's refusal to allow Israeli rescue crews to reach the site. They also condemned a recent court verdict which punished the bus driver with only 12 months in prison. Police officers stationed there prevented two protestors from entering the embassy, Ha'aretz reported. All of the victims were Israeli Arab tourists visiting Sinai from Nazareth, Kafr Manda and Kafr Yasif.

The Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv is located at Basel near Even Gvirol, one of the most expensive areas in the city. It is not guarded very heavily actually. The "police officers" stationed there, to whom the Ha'aretz article refers, are a couple of Magavnikim (Border Guard officers), usually looking very bored.

Boogie's Bombshell

The Chief of Staff (Ret'd) and his new sandals

I just came across an extremely interesting interview with former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe ("Boogie") Ya'alon. In the interview by Ha'aretz writer Ari Shavit, Ya'alon lambastes the political and military leadership in Israel and calls on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Minister of Defence 'Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to resign. Some of the revelations that Ya‘alon makes in the interview include that:
  • He hated serving in the army; and

  • That he orders half-pita servings of falafel for lunch;

  • That he advised Sharon to enter into negotiations with Bashar al-Asad in 2003, but that Sharon "preferred" to go ahead with the “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. Ya'alon implies that it would have been better to ignore the Palestinians and to make peace with Syria or to at least open channels of communication between Asad and Israel so as to create cracks in the alliance between Iran and Syria. [Ya‘alon’s predisposition towards negotiations with the Syrians reflects a common division in Israeli policy circles. Many Israeli policy makers are divided over whether it is preferable to make peace with Syria first, and then with the Palestinians, or vice versa. Since the failure of Barak to come to an agreement with Asad Sr. (or Asad Sr.’s failure – it depends on what you read), the Palestinian track has generally been favoured.];

  • That he appreciates the fact that Israel’s economic stability remains central to its national security and that he continues to oppose an increase in the military budget;

  • That he believes that it is impossible to uproot Hizbullah or to crush the organization, because of its popularity among Lebanon’s Shi‘a. Ya‘alon asserted that he still stands by his now infamous claim before the war, according to which Israel had to wait and let Hizbullah’s rockets corrode on their own. In the interview, he argues that only combined diplomatic and military pressure would succeed in eliminating the threat posed by Hizbullah by turning the organization into an actor perceived as illegitimate by Lebanese themselves. (A recent piece published by Amir Tahery in the Wall Street Journal actually suggests that the IDF offensive achieved this objective. Tahery argues that the war has succeeded in alienating many Shi‘a from the organization and that most Lebanese don’t consider it to have won the confrontation);

  • That he had prepared a plan to fight Hizbullah using IDF ground forces that would act like guerrilla forces and would conquer strategic hilltops in southern Lebanon without tanks and without using the main roads. Ya‘alon claimed that IDF intelligence was aware of the dangers posed by Hizbullah’s bunkers, mines and its anti-tank missiles.
Ya‘alon, who was once vilified by Israeli commentators on the left side of the political spectrum for referring to the Palestinians as a “cancer” in 2003, comes across as an honest person with a good work ethic and a distaste for what he considers the corrupting influence of political patronage on the IDF. The interviewer, Ari Shavit, describes him as belonging to that mythical era when Israeli politics were somehow less corrupt and more idealistic. It’s a theme that is often expressed in Israel and that I heard quite often in late August. Israelis feel that their country is generally mismanaged. They don’t trust their leaders, they think their country is turning into a banana republic (taxi drivers love using that term), but they also blame themselves for not being meticulous workers and they complain about the all-important role of the “kombina” (the working of connections or the use of tricks) in the Israeli job market. Shavit turns Ya‘alon into a living antithesis of new Israeli khafeenikism (a Hebrew neologism that uses the Arabic word khafeef, or “light of weight” to refer to a laid back, irresponsible approach to life and work). It’s worth looking at how Shavit describes his encounter with Ya‘alon:

השנה שלו במכון מחקר בוושינגטון לא ממש שינתה אותו. הוא נותן ליושרה הגאה והנוקשה שלו לומר את דברה כמו פעם. שהרי כל כולו כמו פעם. כל כולו הקשיחות הערכית הבלתי מתפשרת של בן קרית חיים. בן מפא"י ההיסטורית. בנם של אשכנזים עניים, ניצולי שואה פועליים, ששלחו את בנם להתיישבות, לביטחון ולבניין הארץ. להגשמה חסרת פניות וחסרת חוש הומור וחסרת קריצות וקומבינות

His year at a policy research institute in Washington has not really changed him. He lets his proud and obstinate integrity speak as he always has. He has not changed one bit, in fact. He is still the same person with the same rigid, uncompromising values […] the son born in Qiryat Hayim to poor Ashkenazi blue collar workers who were Holocaust survivors and who sent their son [on a mission] to build the country and to defend it […] and on a mission to realize his vision without a sense of humour and without [secret deals] and “kombinot”.
Shavit’s description of Ya‘alon, who serves as a foil for the lazy, corrupted and “Levantine(???)” Israeli, expresses a general malaise in Israeli society about eroding norms and slipping moral standards. The exact same themes about the need to restore the old values of hard work and of Zionist idealism are present in the discourses of people like Avishay Braverman, the brilliant former president of Ben-Gurion University who joined the Labour Party, ran for a seat in the Knesset and embraced ‘Amir Peretz (no small feat for a former World Bank economist!) only to find himself betrayed by the latter and relegated to the backbenches. I think it’s probably about time for Israel to give its Ya‘alons, its Ayalons and its Bravermans a chance.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

5 Years

Berkeley Professor: Hizbullah and Hamas "Part of the Global Left"

Saba Mahmood Addresses the Crowd, Thurs., Sept. 7, 2006

A good friend of mine and loyal reader of this blog took issue with the cut-up of the Berkeley Teach-Ins Against War event, that I posted late on Thursday night. He charged that instead of crudely bashing the speakers, I ought to have engaged the "complex arguments" presented by them. I regret to say that I will not be able to do that. I simply did not hear any such arguments. Perhaps I entered the event with the wrong kind of attitude. But I came away with a very different impression of the teach-in than my friend.
It is true that the various panelists repeatedly pointed to the large number of Lebanese civilian deaths caused by Israel's air campaign. I do not object to this. From the first days of the war, we at Kishkushim have expressed our sorrow about the deaths of Lebanese and Israeli civilians in the conflict. The Israeli government and military cannot escape the soul searching that the loss of civilian lives requires of them. I want such soul-searching to take place with the aim of averting more civilian deaths. But that is simply not the type of discussion that I witnessed on Thursday. When all was said and done, I left that teach-in feeling as if I had sat through a sophisticated, two-hour commercial for Hizbullah. I say that not to discredit or smear those who criticize Israel but rather to provide some context for my admittedly harsh attack on the panelists.
Let me begin from the end. Ironically, during the question period after the five speakers had finished, one member of the audience asked Judith Butler why she had included any critique, however weak, of Hizbullah in her discussion. She responded with an astounding statement that N has already cited. “Understanding Hamas and Hizbullah as social movements that are on the global left is important,” she said, “but [it] doesn’t stop us from criticizing them.” I know that some of our readers would applaud such a statement. For them, the global left, in any case, represents hypocrisy, foolishness, terrorist appeasement, and antisemitism. But despite all the terrible things I have seen among movements that identify themselves as “leftist,” I still believe that the “global left” stands or ought to stand for values that are diametrically opposed to those of these two organizations.
In fact, speaker after speaker at the teach-in, made efforts to embrace Hizbullah as part of a “left” opposed to the right-wing forces represented by the US and Israel. Thus, Charles Hirschkind, claimed that “since the end of the occupation, most of [Hizbullah’s] activities have been focused on social services,” and that the movement “increasingly showed itself to be a positive force,” with no desire to create a theocracy in Lebanon. The United States, on the other hand, although it claims to be fighting al-Qaeida with its “war on terror,” is actually trying to liquidate Islamic activists worldwide. Hizbullah is at the top of its list, together with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which Hirschkind described as having been “peaceful since the 1950s” and as one of the key groups involved in the struggle to democratize Egyptian society.
Like a number of other panelists that night, Hirschkind scoffed at the notion that Hizbullah is a terrorist group. “The label ‘terrorist’ is radically inaccurate for describing resistance,” he said. Indeed, Hirschkind’s argument continued, most “terrorists” in the Middle East are not really terrorists, and certainly not Muslim fundamentalists. Suicide bombers share a commitment to resisting foreign occupation, not to Islamism. And suicide bombings are “the strategy of the weak against vastly more powerful adversaries,” which have nothing to do with “a culture of death.”
Saba Mahmood, who opened the talk, also did her best to rehabilitate Hizbullah. In a list of impressive achievements of the Lebanese in recent years, she included “successfully driving out the Israelis.” Of course, Hizbullah has claimed that particular achievement all for itself, so that heralding it as impressive, is another way of giving the organization kudos. But more perversely, she argued that Hizbullah had contributed positively to fashioning a new political ethic in Lebanon that ensured coexistence. As evidence, she cited the lack of Hizbullah reprisals against Christian militia men in southern Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. She also painted a rosy picture of the national dialogue in Lebanon before the 2006 war. Interestingly enough, she did not mention once the assassination of Rafik Hariri by pro-Syrian forces. Indeed, the only person who mentioned Hariri was Zeina Zaatari, in a derisive reference to “clientism.”
Zaatari’s talk, as N has already written, was the most blatantly propagandistic among the five that night. She extolled Hizbullah’s services, and reiterated that “its interest has always been driving out Israel.” Zaatari lauded Nasrallah: “He spoke to the people; he talked their language.” She also made a cryptic reference to the lands that Israel had taken from Lebanon in 1948! “The creation of the state of Israel was a hostile act not just against the Palestinians but also against other Arabs,” she said, “Lebanon lost 7 villages then.” Danny Rubinstein published an article about this claim during the war. Unfortunately, the full text is no longer available online, but an excerpt can be found here (it’s near the bottom of the page, search “Rubinstein”). Yoav Shtern also wrote a longer article about these villages in Ha’aretz, which I have only found in Hebrew. While the Sykes-Picot agreement allotted these 7 Shiite villages to Lebanon, the 1923 border demarcation assigned them to Mandatory Palestine, and the UN recognizes them as belonging to Israel. The point is that Zaatari’s claim, about the seven Shiite villages that Israel “stole,” is embraced by the most ardent rejectionists in Lebanon. It was employed specifically by Nasrallah to justify Hizbullah’s ongoing presence in the south despite Israel’s withdrawal.
Of all the speakers, Beshara Doumani, was the only one who refrained from being sucked into the Hizbullah-propaganda vortex – at least as far as I remember. I found his contribution deeply problematic for a number of other reasons. I hope to deal with these as well as with Butler in more detail in a future post.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Judith Butler, Zeina Zaatari, Beshara Doumani and Charles Hirschkind

I too attended Berkeley Teach-Ins Against War's event last night. I feel somewhat responsible for the admittedly inflammatory comment, "Judith Butler played the Jewish card." So I want to put that comment in context and offer my impressions.

I think there are two sides to Butler's presentation of herself as a Jewish critic of Israel. On the one hand, she argues that Jewish values motivate her critique of the state of Israel. That I can't argue with. And that I can respect. On the other hand, after hearing her spiel twice this year, I've gotten the sense that she -- and her partisans -- believe that the fact of her Jewish ethnicity in and of itself renders morally and intellectually credible any and all commentary she offers the public on Israel. It's no accident that her fellow panelists "conscripted" her (in absentia) to speak about Israel, rather than, say, the social services of Hezbullah.

So as a critic of Israel, we're to understand, Butler is authentic. Let me relate her opening words from last night: "To make a set of events thinkable is not to take a normative position. Yet all discourse as public discourse is normative." Is this a person I should take at her word? For me, she doesn't make her criticism relevant by couching it in platitudes about Judaism. But she'd make it relevant by laying bare her ethical stance; by acting as a responsible public intellectual. Her talk at the conference earlier this year on "Is there a New Anti-Semitism" opened with an equally sophistic preamble: "I'll leave questions of historical and social issues to those qualified to address them, but..." And she went on to lecture at length on Primo Levi's relationship to Zionism, cryptically advancing an anti-Zionist position of her own.

Now I went to this most recent Berkeley event because I'm perfectly willing to hear anti-Zionist positions expounded and, preferably, debated. Of course, this wasn't an "Organized Research Unit," or a department that hosted the event. This was a group of people who indeed come together for ideological solidarity. But this was a UC Berkeley-sanctioned event, and, at the risk of sounding like Grover Norquist or Benjamin Netanyahu, I don't think that the taxpayers of California should have to pay for the lights to be on while such vulgar propaganda is spread on a UC campus. The most egregious example of this was the "Hizbullah" speaker (Zeina Zaatari). That was her charge: to speak about the Shiite militia and social movement. So we heard "a message from a Hezbullah woman," who mourned the deaths of martyrs but vowed to continue resistance. Her womb could produce more. One might object: what's wrong with sharing the voice of this woman? Isn't there something to be gained in hearing a perspective? The problem is that this woman's voice was marshalled as part of a vigorous attempt to rehabilitate Hezbullah in the eyes of the audience. As Judith Butler later commented, "Hizbullah and Hamas are part of the global left." So the social service infrastructure of Hezbullah was rehearsed. They have hospitals and schools, all of which, our speaker claimed, were destroyed by Israel. Lest anyone look askance at the organization's finances, she detailed its sources of funding. Some funding, she was willingly to concede, came from Iran (she didn't mention Syria). But, she hastened to add, "They have businesses." It was a crowd that seemed pleased to mock the "mainstream media." So I doubt many will have noticed the recent Washington Post story that detailed just exactly what those "businesses" are.

I don't want to bore or offend anybody. And Asaf is right: group think is stupid, dangerous, and downright embarrassing. I, for one, agree with Butler's point that the line between soldier and civilian is less clear now than it was before the Lebanon War. I am deeply troubled by this. But I see it as part of a trend, a crisis in international politics to which Israel is indeed a party: what are the norms of warfare going to be in this new environment? I don't believe they've been sufficiently worked out yet. But I don't believe in Butler's Original Sin either.

Soldiers Admit to Beating Palestinian

Four Israeli soldiers received 63-day prison sentences after confessing to beating a Palestinian at a checkpoint near Nablus, in the West Bank, Ha'aretz reports. In this case, the victim was able to provide direct evidence of the attack; he used the camera on his mobile phone to photograph the crime. There is no doubt in my mind that the checkpoints save the lives of Israeli citizens under the present circumstances, by preventing terrorist attacks. But as long as there are such checkpoints, and as long as Israel maintains its presence in the West Bank, there will be cases of soldiers brutalizing Palestinian civilians. Even if punishment for criminals such as the perpetrators of this attack were increased ten-fold, and even if officers did their utmost to prevent such crimes from taking place, the current climate of war and occupation inexorably brutalizes Israelis and Palestinians. I think most people would agree that such a reality is intolerable. The problem of course is what a proper solution would require.



I'm at home, watching "Aravision 2006" on Israel's leading Channel 2. It's a word play on "Eurovision," the annual singing competition between all the European countries... and Israel.
Aravision, however, is much less global in scale. It features young Arab singers and dancers from Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and other cities in Israel.
An Aravision Contestant

The show also reminds me of Kochav Nolad ("A Star is Born" - the Israeli rip-off of "American Idol," in its fourth year). They've even brought Zvika Hadar, the annual host of Kochav Nolad, to speak to the competitors (in Arabic) and wish everyone good luck.
The subtitles translate Zvika Hadar's words as, "Music brings the two nations and the Jewish and Arabic culture closer together."
Although the show is entirely in Arabic, there are subtitles in Hebrew. The songs all seem to be love songs.

"Who am I going to cry and complain to now?" this contestant sings.

UC Berkeley Hearts Hizbullah

Judith Butler Spinning the Situation to Adoring Fans

The Berkeley Hizbullah love fest of Thursday, September 7 (see poster) was even worse than I expected. I am hoping to be able to give a more comprehensive report tomorrow. Judith Butler was in great form - you won't get sophistry finer than hers anywhere in the US - and as N anticipated, she played her Jewish card at the end too. The audience filled a large lecture room, with many people in the aisles and on the stage. Nothing brings them in like some good old Israel-bashing. Endless applause and canned laughter; intolerable smugness dripping down the walls. It was a truly sickening exercise in group-think. Most astounding statistic: Over a period of two hours, with five speakers and a dozen questions, the fact that Hizbullah fired rockets at Israeli cities was mentioned ONCE. In one of many propaganda pieces for Hizbullah through which we suffered that evening, Charles Hirschkind, a professor in the Anthropology Department at Cal, referred to the organization's "inaccurate but sometimes deadly missile attacks." And that was the only reference to the katyushas all evening.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fabulous New Guide to Tel Aviv

Anyone who is thinking of visiting Tel Aviv in the near or not-so-near future should consider checking out City Guide: Tel Aviv, produced in part by Lisa of Ontheface. The book will soon be available in American, Canadian, and British bookstores. Put it on your list! It would probably make for a great gift as well. If you really can't wait and need a copy before then, try contacting Dalit Nemirovsky, the publisher.

Overheard at Berkeley in the Department of X

#1: "I was reading this book by some liberal humanist, and four pages into the book, what do you know, he starts talking shit about Foucault."

#2: "Are there still liberal humanists?"

#1: "Yah, we call them neo-cons now."

Knesset Members Visit Damascus

Balad MK Jamal Zahalqah

Two current and two former members of the Israeli parliament have arrived in Damascus, where they will be meeting with high level Syrian government officials, journalists, and intellectuals. The Israeli delegates, Knesset members Jamal Zahalqah, Wasal Taha, and former MKs Muhamad Hasan Kna'an and Muhamad Me'ari, are all members of the Balad Party (National Democratic Alliance). MK Zahalqah called the visit "a realization of the right of the Arabs in Israel to maintain relations with the Arab nations," (see Ha'aretz). The trip is supposed to signal solidarity with the Lebanese people in particular, but Beirut is not on the itinerary.

In 2001, Balad chairman Azmi Bishara visited Damascus. In the wake of his trip, the Knesset passed a law banning MKs from visiting enemy states.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NDP Riding Association Calls Canadian Troops "Terrorists"

The preamble to an New Democratic Party (NDP) resolution expressing opposition to Canuck involvement in Afghanistan, which was set to be presented at the party's national convention in Quebec City this weekend, declared that
In such a situation, Canadian troops end up acting like terrorists, destroying communities, killing and maiming innocent people (Globe and Mail).
The bill, which was drafted by a Vancouver Island riding association, has since been amended. While the preamble has been removed, the resolution still demands that NDP Leader Jack Layton push for a new vote on Canada's role in Afghanistan. The NDP seems to be trying to capitalize on Canucks' dislike of Bush and resentment of Canadia's big, bad southern neighbor.

For those not so well-versed in the political traditions of Canadia, our home and native land: ridings are equivalent to American districts (I believe that is what they are called). Every riding elects one MP to represent it in the Canadian House of Commons.

Russians Laying Their Cards on the Table

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov

Ahead of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's trip to the Middle East, a journey which is to include Israel, Vladimir Trofimov, an official in the ministry's Middle East department called Lebanon a warm-up for a coming US-Iranian war:
If we look at Israeli and U.S. plans, they aim at removing the Hezbollah factor ahead of the forthcoming U.S. settling of accounts with Iran,"
he said. Trofimov criticized Israel's calls for Hizbullah's eradication and, implicitly, its past lobbying to have the group recognized as a terrorist organization. "Hezbollah is a part of the Shi'ite community in Lebanon," the diplomat told a Russian newspaper. Trofimov also reiterated Russia's opposition to the use of force against Iran (Reuters in Ha'aretz).

Canucks "Chompin' At the Bit" and Ready to Take It To Taliban

Canadians detain a suspected Taliban fighter

Canadian troops are involved in a major operation against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's Panjwaj district. Currently, the Canucks and their allies are trying to encircle a 700-strong Taliban foothold, southwest of Kandahar. The Canadians report that they may have captured a senior Taliban commander, trying to flee the stronghold. Captain Piers Pappin, a Canuck platoon commander, said that “the guys are chomping at the bit" as they wait for the attack to begin (Globe and Mail).

Unfortunately, Monday also saw another Canadian death and dozens of injuries due to friendly fire from a US warplane. This is not the first such incident, and it is likely to further raise the ire of the Canadian public, which is already distressed by the casualties in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Another Montreal Jewish School Firebombed

Berel Weiss, director of the Toldos Yakov Yosef of Skver
Yeshiva, inspects the damage to the school

A masked young man threw a molotov cocktail into the vestibule of a Hasidic boys' school in Outremont, on Saturday morning. A group of kids had left the building shortly before the attack
took place, so that no one was injured, thank God. The damages are estimated at more than $100,000. Police have been hesitant to call the attack a hate crime until now; they are waiting for more evidence. In April 2004, the United Talmud Torahs School in Montreal, not far from our parents' apartment, was burnt to the ground. Sleiman El-Merhebi, the teenage perpetrator of that attack, was released from prison in May 2005, after serving two thirds of a 40-month sentence for arson. His mother, Rouba El-Merhebi Faud, is about to go on trial on charges of being an accessory to the crime after the fact (see National Post for coverage) .

Montreal is home to one of Canada's largest Jewish communities, which includes a significant Hasidic segment. The response of the provincial government so far has been somewhat tepid. Quebec minister of immigration and cultural communities, Lise Theriault, said that the attack “should be treated as an isolated incident for the moment." Government officials were wary of calling it a hate crime, until further progress is made in the investigation; on Tuesday, police said that they had no new clues since the attack took place. Theriault explained that “nobody has found a note, there was no graffiti either.” She did add that “The act that was committed was reprehensible. The person who did it cannot go unpunished.... There’s no place for something like this in Quebec." She also said something that left a strange taste in my mouth : “It’s very unfortunate.... we know that the Jewish community, notably, is well-integrated” (Montreal Gazette).

Actually, the victims of this attack are not "well-integrated" - certainly not by the standards of most Quebecois. How exactly is that relevant? Yes, the Jewish community as a whole is well-integrated; but if it weren't, would the attack have been any less unfortunate? I am hoping she was simply misquoted or said this without thinking.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who serves on Montreal's Jewish community security council, said it is legimate

to wonder whether or not the gathering of 15,000 Quebecers under the flag of Hezbollah, unfortunately further legitimized by the presence of politicians, whether that creates an atmosphere where fanatics draw the conclusion that violence against Jews is somehow acceptable (National Post).

Rabbi Poupko was referring to a march held earlier this summer, during Israel's campaign against Hizbullah. The protest drew several prominent politicians, including Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the separatist Bloc Québécois Party. Anyone who listens to French-language broadcasts in the province of Quebec or reads the newspapers here, knows that this is not the friendliest of places to Jews.

In other news, MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the (now, former) Liberal associate foreign affairs critic, recently resigned after comments he made on a fact-finding mission to southern Lebanon. On his trip, organized by National Council on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR), he allegedly "called Israel a terrorist state and suggested Hezbollah be removed as a banned terrorist organization"; Wrzesnewskyj later denied making the latter of these statements (Canadian Jewish News).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Back to School

Having no children of my own, I have overlooked one aspect of the war: how it affected and is still affecting the kids of the North. After an unusual summer vacation, which will surely be remembered for the war, children in Israel returned to school on Sunday. In a Ha'aretz article titled "Shrapnel in the school yard," Vered Lee documents the first day back at an elementary school in Kiryat Yam, a Haifa suburb.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Antisemitic Attacks Surged in the UK and Elsewhere During Lebanon War

Jewish graves vandalized in Britain

Two British reports, one by the Community Security Trust and one set to be released by a multipartisan inquiry of the parliament on Thursday, confirm that, as MP Denis Mac Shane put it, "antisemitic attacks are a very real problem" in the UK (see Ha'aretz).

The chic of Israel Bashing

Bar Refa'eli makes French writer hot

Two days ago, I found myself in dire need of some divertissement on my long trans-Atlantic flight from Tel Aviv to Montreal via Paris. The first few hours of my flight went quite well. I passed the time enjoying my Air France dinner, watching another ridiculous movie ("Nacho Libre") and reading a stack of newspapers. Tired of Le Figaro and the Herald Tribune, I got up and went to the magazine stack where I picked up a copy of the weekly Le Point. Gracing the first page was a picture of none other than the somewhat controversial Israeli super-model, Bar Refa'eli. The piece accompanying the picture was a fluffy article by Patrick Besson about his summer vacation in Serbia. In addition to several patronizing and mocking remarks about Serbia’s transition to democracy, most of the one-page piece was devoted to an oh-so supercilious "analysis" of the Serbian "press", the focus being on the local version of Elle magazine. Refa’eli figured into the story because she happens to have been on the front cover of the magazine’s August edition and because her first name drew Besson’s attention. In a rather lame bit of French humour, Besson, who is exalted as a star of French satire on a French foreign ministry web site, writes that he could not help but be attracted by a woman whose first name is "Bar" (haha).

Besson, who turns out to be a real connoisseur of women’s magazines (perhaps he should write for Elle, rather than a news magazine that competes with L’Express), devotes an entire paragraph to Refa'eli. I personally don’t care much for Refa'eli, her Victoria’s Secret commercials or her acting. What caught my attention was the way in which Besson used Ref'aeli in his story as a cover for some hard core Israel bashing. Talking about Refa'eli’s newest project, Besson writes:
”Elle [Refa'eli] tourne son premier film en Afrique du Sud où il n'y a plus d’apartheid, ce qui risqué de la surprendre car dans son pays il y en a encore un.”

She is shooting her first film in South Africa where there is no longer any apartheid, something that might surprise her given that it still exists in her country
I don’t want to get into the injustice of the apartheid lie. Anyone who thinks that accusing Israel of being an apartheid state is a legitimate critique can look up my earlier post on the subject or look up a piece published in the Guardian last year by former South African anti-apartheid activist Benjamin Pogrund. What disgusts me in Besson's writing is the glibness with which he bashes Israel. For him, it's another colourful comment for his "pastiche". Besson feels no need to reflect about his words, because for him, bashing Israel is as banal and chic as putting down a super-model. To me, this article is another indication of Israel’s dire position. The apartheid myth is an attack on Israel's legitimacy and its use by Besson in a mainstream news magazine attests to the fact that it resonates with the French public. What makes the whole thing rather ominous is that I can think of very few other countries that would be so readily demonized by people like Besson, other than the United States. To many Europeans, Israel is already a pariah state. How much longer will it take until the first European governments begin to openly support a boycott of Israel?

War Art

This picture has been spray-painted onto a road of a small town in the Jezreel Valley.
During the war, the town was hit a couple of times by missiles, one of which struck a nursing home.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More Twisting and Turning

This is how Anarchorev responded to my comment on her blog:
If you look at usage of the term by antisemites
Anti-Semites do not use the term, and in fact argue that they are NOT anti-Semitic. Moreover, let us grant you the monopoly over that term. What does that prove? Does it prove that anti-Semitism is in a league of its own when it comes to racism? There have been many a genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated based on racial “profiling”. Anti-Semitism is not unique in that respect. In fact, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism and hatred, the vanguard of which is Israel, seem to be the norm these days. Sad to see that you would be more interested in holding monopoly over a term than in preventing another holocaust, the foundations of which seem to be in the process of being constructed, a construction that is proudly being led by none other than Israel.
Anarchorev's first statement is simply wrong. The historical record BEFORE 1945 is FULL of antisemites who proudly used the term to describe themselves. Read some German, French, Polish, Russian, or Romanian sources.

Further, Anarchorev completely misconstrues me. Where do I say anything about antisemitism being in a league of its own? I am well aware of the fact that there have been many other genocides in human history. She obviously did not read or understand my post.

I also don't understand why Anarchorev would say something like "let us grant you the monopoloy over that term." What does "you" mean here? You as in MOI? I certainly was not arguing for having any kind of personal monopoly over the word. Or did she mean "you" as in "the Jews"? That strikes me as even more insidious - why conflate me with the whole Jewish people? Perhaps Anarchorev thinks that there is one homogeneous Jewish collective that assumes monopolies over terms and histories?

The last bit about another Holocaust happening is simply outrageous. There is no genocidal campaign being waged against Muslims, except for in Darfur, where other Muslims are carrying it out on their co-religionists. I am all for fighting anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination and racism - in Israel, in the US, in Europe, and elsewhere in the world. But the accusations she makes are preposterous.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Twists and Turns of Contemporary Antisemitism and Antisemites

In the past few weeks, I've been reading a blog (Blogging the Middle East) by a fascinating Lebanese thinker (Anarchorev a.k.a. Anarchistian), who also happens to be a self-confessed former racist, antisemite and Holocaust denier (see her remarkable "Confessions of an Ex-Neo-Nazi"). Even though I disagree with almost everything this blogger writes as well as her manner of expressing herself (her contempt for those who disagree with her line is always palpable), I admire this writer's political engagement and energy. The members of her cheering section are a little less interesting. As you can imagine, her blog also attracts its share of hardcore Jew-haters. I'm talking about people with no real connection to the Middle East who are nevertheless filled with pathological hatred of Israel and Jews. Of course, they'll also be the first ones to condemn you for accusing them of antisemitism - before you have even done so. In this post, I try to look a little more closely at some of the rhetoric employed by crypto-antisemites.

Before I begin, however, let me point to a major change in the history of antisemitism. Few antisemites today want to be known as such. Unlike their predecessors, today's antisemites realize that publicly confessing to antisemitism - something which the inventors of the term did proudly - will delegitimize them to the point of no return, at least in the West. Furthermore, although there are still plenty of Holocaust deniers around, including presidents of certain countries, denial of the genocide of European Jewry is a taboo in most of the civilized world. This is an unfortunate situation for those who hate Jews and everything connected to them. Thus, antisemites have had to adjust to the new situation in which they found themselves after WWII.

One of the favorite devices of post-1945 antisemites has been to accuse Jews of conspiring to force the world to act according to the wishes of world Jewry by using the Holocaust as a sort of stick with which to beat non-Jews into submission. Thus, a few years ago, the German author, Martin Walser, referred to Jews as holding the "Auschwitz-Keule" (Auschwitz-club) over the heads of Germans. Thus, Jews are accused of exaggerating the genocide of European Jewry and manipulating the guilt complexes of non-Jews.

A related accusation to the one above is the charge that Jews deliberately minimize the suffering of others, sometimes in order to cover up their own horrendous crimes. This is a permutation of the classic anti-Jewish trope that accuses Jews of an especially heinous form of chauvinism because their religion includes the notion that they are the chosen people. Never mind that many other peoples entertain similar notions about themselves.

Another favorite device of contemporary antisemites is to accuse the Jews of being today's real Nazis. This is employed even by people who actually deny the Holocaust.

Let's look at some passages, which combine all the various devices. Here is an exchange on "Blogging the Middle East" between Anarchorev (formerly Anarchistian) and Chris Swift:

Swift writes:

What I would love to see is a naval and air blockade of Israel! How loud would they all scream and whine then?

(He likes to refer to "them" or "your kind" when speaking about Jews.)

Anarchorev responds:

What I would love to see is a naval and air blockade of Israel!
That would be the peak of anti-Semitism, wouldn’t it? …. :)

This really sets off the "discussion." Swift writes back:

Yes, it certainly must be. I mean, after all, to condemn the policies of Israel means you’re an anti-semite.

The problem with playing the “anti-semite” card (and I appreciate your sarcastic wit, Anarchorev) - the problem with this is that it is now…boring. They have sucked all the sympathy out of me that they’re going to get for the Holocaust. There have been so many tv specials and movies and newspaper articles, that I’ve now reached a saturation point. I am now anesthetized to it. I now officially do not care about the Holocaust. Of all the massacres and barbarian tragedies that have happened over time, it seems we are only allowed to “know” or “care” about the Jewish Holocaust (which affected untold numbers of non-Jews also [but we’re not supposed to know about that, are we?]). I do not care how many Jews died in WWII. It happened. Get over it. And stop using it as a weapon. It’s boring.

And although I’m not quite prepared to make the “Jews are the New Nazis” analogy (at least until George “where are our assassins when we need them” Bush starts selling Israel stocks of Zyclon-B), it is very interesting and curious how many direct comparisons can be made between official statements of Nazi officials and Israeli officials - justifying their actions. Curious, indeed. (I won’t delineate them here; I think we know what they are.)

It's funny that Swift first explains his indifference vis-a-vis the Holocaust as a product of anaesthesis through over-exposure. "They" no longer merit his sympathy, because "they" have been on TV too much already. Then, he shifts gears and suggests that the fact that "they" have received so much exposure is due to a conspiracy on "their" part to monopolize suffering. "They" are not letting him care about non-Jewish victims! Next, he jumps to a different register again - pure callousness. "It happened. Get over it." Or, "It's boring."

The second paragraph is "interesting and curious" in its own right. Well, not really. It's just dumb. He's not really prepared to make the analogy but then does so anyway.

At the risk of boring Kishkushim readers, I want to look at the trajectory that the discussion took from there. Tanya, another reader, expands on Swift's accusation that the Jews monopolize suffering. She accuses Jews, in somewhat veiled terms, of monopolizing the term antisemitism. Her comment is basically a version of a classic argument used by Arab antisemites and their apologists. The argument is that since Arabs "are Semites" (indeed, the claim is that they are the “real Semites,” unlike the fake Ashkenazi Jews), they cannot be antisemites. Here is Tanya's post:

it needs to be clarified where the term ‘ANTI-SEMITISM’ derives from: ‘SAMI’ the people who descended from ‘SAMI’, son of ‘NOAH’ in arabia. this applies to the arabs of the region who are ‘SAMI’ or ‘SEMI’, which includes jewish, muslim and christian arabs. this does not apply to

the word ‘SEMI’ has been taken out of context and manipulated to apply to only one religion, THIS IS WRONG, however, this has been done deliberately so serve a purpose.

Swift responds:

Yes, indeed. The term covers a wide range of peoples and, for some reason or other, seems to apply only to Jews now!? It’s basically a non-sequitur. What the heck happened there?

The term covers a wide range of peoples? It’s a non-sequitur? Obviously, the best solution to the whole antisemitism problem is to eliminate the term entirely. That way, one no longer has to worry about saying antisemitic things about “them.” The true crime is not antisemitism, but the attempts by Jews to deny the true meaning of the term. Never mind that the term antisemitism was invented by a proud German Jew-hater in the 1870s called Wilhelm Marr for whom Semite meant Jew (he coined the word to give German anti-Jewish prejudice a more “scientific” – i.e., racial – foundation). Never mind, that if one looks at usage of the term by antisemites since then, it has almost always been with reference to Jews and not to Arabs. Never mind that the Nazis’ avowed antisemitism did not prevent the Mufti Haj al Amin from becoming very friendly with them. Given the historical record, Tanya’s claim that “this does not apply to non-Arabs” is of course utter nonsense.

Tanya’s comment is deeply problematic for a host of other reasons. First of all, she really seems to believe that there is such a thing as a “Semitic” race or group of people. Yes, SHEM was one of the sons of Noah, but the terms “Semite” and “Semites” are products of the racist European imagination of the late 18th and 19th centuries. The designation only makes sense in linguistics, where we can speak of Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Amharic. There are no people called “Semites” unless you believe in racial science.

Finally, it is surely the height of chutzpah that Tanya and Swift blame JEWS for monopolizing the term antisemitism. As if Jews are responsible for the fact that antisemites have used the term “Semite” almost exclusively to mean Jews.

"What the heck happened there?"

UC Berkeley Getting Ready to Celebrate Hizbullah's Glorious Resistance

One of many such posters around my
department (click to enlarge)

Details to follow.