My Top 5 Picks:
INDEX (stories follow)
Arabs only understand ‘somebody smacking them on the head,’ explains Israel lobbyist/archaeologist who lives in New Rochelle
- Afghan Militants Storm British Council Office, Killing Nine
- Dozens Killed in Pakistani Mosque Bombing
- United States, Europe Call on Syrian President to Step Down
- Stock Prices Continue to Fall Around the World
- Bank of America Considers Laying Off 10,000 Workers
- Thousands Wait in Line at Atlanta Job Fair, Several Lose Consciousness from Heat Stroke
- Obama Administration Announces Plans for Case-by-Case Deportation Reviews
- Presidential Hopeful Rick Perry Defends Creationism to Fourth Grader
- Michele Bachmann Says She Worked at IRS to Infiltrate the Agency
- Israel Bombs Gaza in Response to Deadly Attacks on Egyptian Border
- Radiation Found in Nearly Half of Japanese Children Near Stricken Nuclear Plant
- Egyptian Court Drops Charges Against Prominent Activist
- Elizabeth Warren Creating Exploratory Committee for Possible Senate Run
- Pipeline Rupture in Missouri River Basin Leaks Over 3,000 Barrels of Natural Gasoline
- Foreign Students in Exchange Program Walk Out of American Jobs amid Claims of Labor Exploitation
- Study Finds Black Scientists Less Likely to Receive Research Funding
This is exactly the sort of gift that Israeli rightists like Bibi Netanyahu love. Faced with a mounting internal crisis in the form of the J14 movement, Palestinian rejectionists have handed him his “Get Out of Political Crisis Free” card. Yesterday’s attack in Eilat has fueled an Israeli reaction that can be described as uncontrollable fury, which has killed 14 including three children. Today, an Israeli drone performed heroically for the fatherland by incinerating a car carrying a Palestinian doctor and his family. The doctor, his brother, and the doctor’s little boy were killed in the attack. Ynet announced: Oops, we missed. The drone was aiming for a terrorist cell traveling nearby.
Hamas has called off the ceasefire it had been honoring since the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Now, either we will have another war or somehow someone will patch things up so Israel and Palestine can continue to limp along like the cripples they are.
Egypt has pulled its ambassador in light of Israel’s killing of two Egyptian police officers yesterday on the Gaza border. If I were Israel I’d wake up and smell the fresh coffee brewing in Cairo. It’s no more Mr. Nice Guy in its relations with Egypt. If you break the china you’ll pay the price unlike under Israel’s pliant friend, Mubarak.
Unlike the Palestinian news agency Maan, Israeli media can’t seem to acknowledge readily Palestinians were killed today in Gaza. The Haaretz main headline is Rockets Hit Ashdod in Southern Israel and Ynet’s is Rocket Salvo Hits South. Only in the fourth paragraph of this story do you learn the IDF has killed 15 Palestinians.
“A spokesman for the group said that three of the commander’s assistants and a 3-year-old boy were also killed. The group later claimed responsibility for firing three rockets at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon in retaliation. No one was killed in the rocket attack.
Charred remains of bus attacked by Gaza terrorists (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
For anyone who hasn’t read Huck Finn, you must. Tonight calls to mind the harrowing section of that novel about the feud till death of the Hatfield and McCoys. In American parlance, since the publication of the book, the phrase has come to mean any sort of family feud. But go back and re-read it and you’ll see that this was anything but a mere feud. It was pure blood lust and vengeance ending with the decimation of two entire families along with all the dreams of even the most innocent and peaceful among them. That is what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calls to mind on this sorrowful day.
What can one say? That the Palestinian attack was atrocious (despite the fact that some of those attacked were Israeli soldiers–a distinction some of my Palestinian friends may make, but which feels especially hollow today)? That the Israeli revenge response was equally heinous since it killed two innocent children? Yes, to both of these.
One thing my friend Dena Shunra pointed out to me earlier today when we commiserated about the day’s events was Ehud Barak’s adoption of the language of the Jewish terror underground. He stated that today’s terror attack would merit a “price tag” (read, “blood vengeance”) response. For any who don’t know the phrase, it’s used by the most radical of the settlers and Hilltop Youth to denote their policy of pogrom-like attacks against Palestinian civilians whenever the Israeli government or Palestinians themselves commit an act which they feel threatens their hegemony over the Occupied Territories. This includes shooting elderly Palestinians, poisoning and burning their olive groves, killing their farm animals, beating up young Palestinian shepherds, poisoning water wells, and burning mosques.
This hooliganism is bad enough. But to think that the defense minister of the State of Israel is adopting the same language (and the same tactics apparently, writ large) is beyond horrifying. Every time I read something like this I think that these people don’t understand that there WILL be an accounting both for their language and deeds. ”Price tag” is, of course, collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. But it’s worse than that. Because “price tag” is deeply integrated into the Israeli consciousness as a strategy of the most odious, homicidal members of its society. So now, the defense minister has become the same as a masked settler gunmen trolling for Palestinians to whack. Is this what Zionism has come to for these people?
And at this point, lest the anti-Zionists among us cheer too loudly, I should make clear that this is blood lust Zionism, one that I reject in favor of a Zionism that rejects any violence as a way to resolve this conflict; a Zionism that says that two peoples can live together on this land without one dominating or murdering the other.
But finally, I think the only thing that one can say is that any Israeli government that refuses to negotiate a final end to this conflict on terms that just about everyone knows, will reap many more such attacks. Before some of my right-wing pro-Israel readers jump down my throat (they’re firing up their keyboards as they read these words), I am not condoning Palestinian terrorism (or “resistance” or whatever you wish to call it). I deplore it just as I deplore what amounts to Israeli terrorism in response. But it is a simple fact that the terror will never end until there is a settlement (no, not that kind of settlement!). And everyone except the Israeli far-right (within which I include Netanyahu and virtually his entire government) knows this or should know it.
I should add that at this point I’ve given up hope on the Israeli political system to produce an answer. Neither the far-right nor the center (Kadima, Labor) are capable of doing it. Peace can only be imposed from the outside. Not that I credit much hope that the world community will have the courage or vision to intervene. No, I’m afraid there will have to be more wars, more killings. The Hatfields and McCoys haven’t shed enough blood yet to move the world’s conscience. I’m afraid that one must almost commit genocide against the other before action is taken. I hope to God I’m wrong and my bleak vision is too pessimistic. Prove me wrong, that’s all I can ask of Obama, the EU, NATO or the Quartet: prove me wrong.
Israel claims to have killed the top leadership of the Armed Resistance Committees, the Gaza group which supposedly orchestrated the attack. I don’t know whether elements of this claim are true or not. I don’t know whether this group was responsible and I don’t know whether those killed were the authors of the crime. But one thing strikes me as strange. If you were a Gazan who planned a major terror attack would you hide out in the same house with the other top leaders of your group? It doesn’t sound plausible to me. If I were a terrorist (thank God, I’m not) I’d hightail it outa there to Egypt; or else I’d separate from my comrades and say: “it’s each man for himself.” Coming days will perhaps uncover some of these mysteries.
Netanyahu announced with smug satisfaction that the authors of the crime were no longer among the living. But how or why does this matter? Are terror attacks such specialized operations that they can’t be planned and executed by any reasonably intelligent individual or group? So what if you kill one or three or a battalion of terrorists. There will be 10 to take the place of every one you kill. And who knows, the one you kill may be replaced by someone truly brilliant at his job who will cause you ten times the suffering of the one you murdered. Such happened when Hassan Nasrallah took over from the Hezbollah leader Israel murdered.
Israel’s strategy seems to be to inflict so much pain upon the other side that eventually it will be forced to concede to superior numbers and power. But what the Syrian opposition and Palestinian resistance has shown for decades is that there is no threshold of pain beyond which they will yield. The same cannot be said for Israel, which has often withdrew from supposedly ironclad military positions in south Lebanon, Gaza, etc. But if there are any Palestinians who think they can win a war of attrition, they too are foolhardy because they may have to exhaust their entire supply of male fighters in order to finally wear Israel out. And what benefit is there in this if four out of every five (say) male Palestinians is dead? Would that be a victory?
Israel blames Hamas for the attack though pointedly it hasn’t yet struck specifically Hamas targets. It claims that there is virtually no difference between the Armed Resistance Committees and the Islamist movement. That may be true or it may not. But there is one intriguing recent development which may (or may not) have borne on the attack itself. Yesterday, the Egyptians announced they were at an impasse in the Gilad Shalit negotiations and that each side refused to budge from their positions in order to achieve compromise. Could it be that either Hamas saw this as an opportunity to punish Israel for failure of the negotiation; or the Armed Resistance Committees, without Hamas’ blessings, took advantage of the deadlock to strike its own blow for Palestinian resistance? Who knows.
To complicate matters even further, Al Jazeera relays a report by Egyptian state media that an IDF Apache attach helicopter purusing armed men from Egypt into Gaza fired on and killed two Egyptian policemen:
…Two Egyptian policemen were killed when the Israeli aircraft opened fire near the Rafah border town with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, the official MENA news agency quoted an Egyptian military official as saying.
“An Israeli plane was pursuing infiltrators on the other side of the border until they reached Rafah and fired at them. There were several Central Security members there and they were hit by the gunfire,” the official told MENA.
This could be why Israel has been extraordinarily careful in not ascribing blame to Egypt for the terror incident though it appears the Gazan attackers trekked through the Sinai from Gaza to Eilat to carry out their assault. In the light of the possible IDF cock-up and killing of Egyptian police, it wouldn’t take much to inflame Israeli-Egyptian relations, which are in a very delicate stage after the overthrow of Israel’s main-man, Hosni Mubarak.
The moral of the tale as far as this attack is concerned is that when there is stalemate it does not mean maintenance of the status quo. It means the gremlin-demons on each side take charge and make their own statements in blood. This happened after Rabin’s assassination when the Palestinian’s launched repeated terror attacks against Israel which torpedoed Shimon Peres’ chances of winning the elections. This in turn brought Bibi to power the first time.
So in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stasis doesn’t equal status quo, it equals death.
I’ve been keepin’ a list and checkin’ it twice to find out whose been especially naughty in joining the Aipac junket to Israel. 81 Congress members participated, marking the participation of an unprecedented 20% of the entire body in a single month’s worth of trips to the Holyland.
With the help of readers and other activists I’ve now identified 50 junket-goers with another 31 left to go. If you know of any new names please add them in the thread below.
Tonight, I especially wanted to focus on participation of the Congressional Black Caucus in the trip. At least six members went including Jesse Jackson Jr. One of them, Hank Johnson, ran against and defeated one of Aipac’s nemeses, Cynthia McKinney, largely with the help of funds from pro-Israel Jewish donors. You can be damn sure the only reason these people are on this trip is because they lust for the campaign cash that will be coming their way from donors affiliated with Aipac.
Jesse Jackson Jr. is richly repaying the $8,000 Aipac invested in his trip with this fawning pro-Israel op-edpublished in today’s Jerusalem Post. It’s so fulsome in its praise of the Jewish state that one even questions whether it could’ve been drafted for him by an Aipac staffer. I note that Jackson eschews terms like “junket” to describe his Israel visit. It was, instead, a “fact-finding trip.” I can tell him a few facts he missed: he never visited Gaza or spoke with anyone from Hamas. I seriously doubt he met with any Israeli-Palestinians either; or any leaders of the J14 social justice movement which has swept Israeli society of late. Can you imagine the son of one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders visits Israel and misses out on that country’s foremost social justice movement? How could Jackson let that happen?
The gist of the JPost piece is that the only way for the Palestinians to gain true success in their quest for justice is to swear off violence and embrace non-violence. Which is all well and good if you’re fighting for civil rights in Alabama in 1967, since the only weapons used against you were German shepherds and fire hoses (with the rare assassination thrown in for purposes of intimidation). Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson’s dad never had to face F-16 jets and Apache attack helicopters in their day. If they had, I’d guess they’d have had to adopt a different set of tactics to gain their freedom.
Jackson Jr. argues that the Palestinian aim of bringing its call for statehood to the United Nations will not only fail due to a U.S. veto (a particularly wrong-headed conclusion on his part), it will lead to violence, which can only harm the Palestinian cause. A funny thing though–I never heard Jesse Jackson offer any help, support or advice to the Palestinians before he took this little junket on Aipac’s dime.
Astonishingly, Jackson levels his gunsite at one of Fatah’s most significant leaders, Marwan Barghouti, singling him out for criticism because he has warned the U.S. it will be making a big mistake if it rejects Palestinian statehood (and we should keep in mind that a two-state solution is a centerpiece of U.S. policy). Further, Barghouti has the ultimate chutzpah of co-opting the rhetoric of the U.S. civil rights movement in calling for a “million man march” by Palestinians and their supporters against Israel after statehood is rejected.
Here is Jackson maligning the Fatah leader’s credibility in particularly hollow terms:
Does a convicted terrorist who has used violence in the past, and has not ruled out its use in the future, really have the moral authority and credibility to advocate a nonviolent march and be believable?
Jesse Jackson Jr. is certainly not an ironist. Were he, he’d notice that Marwan Barghouti is in a prison cell much like the one Martin Luther King sat in in Birmingham in 1962. And just as MLK and Jackson’s father faced persecution by the FBI and other bastions of white power in the south, so Palestinian leaders like Barghouti suffer fates even harsher. Besides, what does a Black politician from Chicago know about Palestine or Palestinians? The answer: he knows what he’s told to know. And you know who tells him what he knows? His rich pro-Israel Jewish friends in Chicago who are filling his campaign coffers.
An even deeper irony is this passage from the Black Congressmember’s op-ed, quoting one of Israel’s true heroes of the civil rights struggle:
…According to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the PA is preparing for unprecedented “bloodshed on a scale we haven’t yet seen.”
Since when does Jesse Jackson Jr. quote the Israeli equivalent of David Duke with a straight face? Does anyone find this as repulsive as I do? Not to mention, how the hell does Avigdor Lieberman know what will happen in September? How does he know whether the Palestinians will storm the Qalandiya checkpoint as he foretells?
The writer heralds the courage of Bibi Netanyahu’s going to extra mile for peace in this ‘touching’ passage:
In our meeting with Netanyahu – and remembering the risk for peace that Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin took, that Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat took – I asked him what he was willing to risk for peace. He said it would make his security very uncomfortable, but that he was willing to go to Ramallah to talk with Abbas.
What was Bibi willing to risk for peace? Return to 67 borders? Sharing Jerusalem? Right of Return? Nah. He was willing to take a ride to Ramallah to chew the fat with his good friend Mahmoud. That’s it. And Jackson believes this is–what? Serious? Apparently so, as he calls Bibi’s willingness to talk a “nonviolent step for peace.”
The sheer ignorance of the following passage will certainly drive Palestinian human rights activists around the bend:
…If the Palestinians abandoned violence, launched a nonviolent active resistance movement and established a demonstrated history of nonviolent struggle against their occupation, it would inevitability change the view of the Palestinian struggle in the court of world opinion, strengthen the cause of Palestinian statehood and speed up the day of its realization…
If they abandoned violence? What does he think the average Palestinian is doing? Sitting in his basement making IEDs? Has Jackson ever heard of Bilin? Why didn’t he take a trip to join their non-violent struggle against Israel’s Separation Wall? Where is this champion of human rights and dignity when you need him? Sitting in a fancy Tel Aviv conference room getting snowed by Bibi, that’s where.
When I read the phrase “speed up the day of its realization” it recalled the gradualists of the civil rights eras who urged Blacks to go slow, wait patiently for their betters to straighten things out on their behalf. Did Jesse Jackson Sr. or MLK stand for such bulls(^t? No, they rejected it out of hand. Yet Jesse Jackson Jr. gives Palestinians precisely such advice, and with a straight face.
Can you tell me where in this statement is there any recognition of the furious onslaught of the Israeli military machine against Palestinians:
Clearly the historical and ongoing bad experiences of African Americans in the US, and the past experiences and continuing occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza by Israel, are both wrong, but the path of hate, terrorism, rockets, missiles and even throwing rocks in hatred is not the path to a lasting peace or greater justice, or the path to statehood in the relatively near future.
Where is there any demand that the Israelis do anything for peace, let alone adopt non-violence? Can Jackson point me to a single statement he made asking the IDF to forswear its weapons of violence and hate used every day against Palestinians, many of them civilians?
All I can say is: Jesse Jackson Jr., you are an embarrassment to every principle held dear by your people for the past 60 years of struggle for human dignity. You are an example of the barrenness and bankruptcy of the leaders like you who’ve abandoned the dream in return for Aipac lucre. What do you stand for? How can you be so abysmally ignorant of the Palestinian cause and write such Aipac-scripted junk?
The following is the most up to date list I have of those participating in Aipac’s Israel junket:
Mo Brooks R-5 AL
Eric Cantor R-7 VA
Russ Carnahan D-3 MO
Tim Scott R-1 SC
Gus Bilirakis R-9 FL
Dennis A. Ross R-12 FL
Steve Chabot R-1 OH (went last month)
David Cicilline D-1 RI
Jeff Duncan R-3 SC
Stephen Fincher R-8 TN
Yvette Clarke D-11 NY
Mark Critz D- 12 PA
Scott DesJarlais R- 4 TN
Chuck Fleischman R-3 TN
John Garamendi D-10 CA
Ron Kind D-3 WI
Kay Granger R-12 TX
Michael Grimm NY-13
Janice Hahn D-36 CA
Jaime Herrera Buetler R-3 WA
Mazie Hirono D- 2 HI (unconfirmed)
Steny Hoyer D-5 MD
Jesse Jackson Jr. D-2 IL
Patrick Meehan D-7 PA
Kevin McCarthy CA-22
Gwen Moore D-4 WI
Bill Owens D-23 NY
Steven Palazzo R-4 MS
Ed Perlmutter D-7 CO
Tom Price R-6 GA
Peter Roskam R-6 IL
Loretta Sanchez D-47 CA
David Schweikert R-5 AZ
Adam Smith D-9 WA
Steve Southerland R-2 FLA
Betty Sutton D-13 OH
Scott Tipton R-3 CO
Allen West R-22 FL
Frederica Wilson D-17 FL
Kevin Yoder R-3 KS
Kathy Castor D-11 FL
Terri Sewell D-7 AL (not confirmed)
Anne Marie Buerkle R-25 NY
Judy Chu D-32 CA
Hank Johnson D-4 GA
Bob Dold R-10 IL (unconfirmed)
Blake Farenthold R-27 TX
Mike Fitzpatrick R-8 PA
Tom Reed R-29 NY
Kevin McCarthy R-22 CA
from ‘Just World News’ with Helena Cobban by Helena
As I have chronicled here and elsewhere many times, over the past decade the once-vibrant movement of Israelis actively working for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza had become increasingly moribund.
Yes, a small number of brave Jewish-Israeli souls participated in the weekly protests in Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, or (more recently) Sheikh Jarrah. A small number continued to undertake other conscience-driven acts to try to challenge the occupation. But the mass movement of anti-occupation activists that one saw in the 1980s and early 1990s dwindled throughout the late 1990s and was then effectively killed off by Ehud Barak in late 2000.
Since then, feeling much more secure behind their Wall (along with all the horrendous battery of associated population-control measures) and also completely insulated from bearing the financial costs of administering the occupation, since the EU and U.S. governments between them have been financing it non-stop since 1994, most of the Jewish-Israeli public seemed to retreat into a form of disengagement that was marked by apathy (at best) or outright anti-Palestinian racism, at worst.
But now, there is something new in the streets of Tel Aviv– and of Jerusalem and a score of other Israeli cities.Directly inspired by the Arab popular movements of Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, lower-income Israelis from a broad range of different “ethnic” sectors have taken to the streets in the ‘J14’ movement to demand affordable housing. And despite the attempts of some of J14’s early organizers to keep the agenda “non-political”, the Palestinian issue has now entered the heart of the movement in a most revealing way: not via any big endorsement by J14 participants of a slogan to “end the occupation” but by the endorsement by many of them of the principle of Palestinian-Jewish solidarity within Israel.
The sight of that huge, Tahrir Square-inspired, bilingual banner in downtown Tel Aviv is amazing! But the political implications of the J14 movement are also huge– and could become a lot huger.
- Odeh Bisharat, the first Arab to address the mass rallies, greeted the enormous audience before him and reminded them that the struggle for social justice has always been the struggle of the Arab community, which has suffered from inequality, discrimination, state-level racism and house demolitions in Ramle, Lod, Jaffa and Al-Araqib. Not only was this met with ovation from a huge crowd of well over a hundred thousand people, but the masses actually chanted: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” And later, in a short clip of interviews from protest camps across the country, Jews and Arabs spoke, and a number of them, including even one religious Jew, repeatedly said that “it’s time for this state to be a state for all its citizens.” A state for all its citizens. As a broad, popular demand. Who would have believed it.
“A state for all its citizens” has been, of course, a key organizing demand for that 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian indigenes, throughout the decades. It is, of course, a key principle of democracy anywhere. But until now, Israel’s leaders and far too many of its Jewish citizens have insisted that Israel should be, instead, “the state of the Jewish people”– including all Jewish people, anywhere in the world, any of whom is welcomed and supported to immigrate to Israel and is given citizenship immediately upon doing so.
The 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel (PCOI’s) are the descendants of the survivors of the widespread ethnic cleansings that the Jewish/Israeli forces undertook during the Nakba of 1947-48. They are a community has suffered numerous waves and forms of repression since then– including campaigns of expropriation of their lands and properties that continue to this day. The Israeli authorities (and too many of Israel’s acolytes in the western media) have tried to deny the PCOI’s Palestinian heritage, referring to them either in general terms as “Israeli Arabs” or segmenting them into “Israeli Bedouins”, “Israeli Druze”, etc. But by ethnicity and heritage they are as Palestinian as any other Palestinians. Indeed, they are the close cousins of the Palestinian refugees now scattered around the whole world, since by definition the vast majority those refugee families are descended from Palestinians who were expelled from the area that became Israel in 1948.
The PCOI’s and the Palestinian refugees have a lot more in common, too. In particular, at the political level, neither group ever had much love for the whole Oslo process– and they still, to this day, don’t have much love for the two-state outcome between Palestinians and Israelis. Both groups form “natural” constituencies for a one-state outcome. The PCOI’s, in addition, are distinct because they have lived alongside Jewish Israelis for the past 63 years. They know them very well–for good and ill. They constitute the largest community of non-Jewish speakers of Hebrew in the world, since the Israeli school system forces them to learn a lot of subjects in Hebrew (and also force-feeds them a lot of Jewish history, while requiring little study of the history of their own people in the region.) They thus form a natural spearhead for the movement to re-imagine and rebuild the political order in the region as one that sees a single, unitary and democratic state in the whole of Palestine/Israel: A state, moreover, that honors and protects the language and culture of both of its constituent peoples, equally. (Also, a state that finally allows the millions of exiled Palestinians to exercise their long-denied right of return.)
Of course, we do not know yet where this latest J14 movement in Israel will lead. It may fizzle out completely. It may (as some participants have warned) become “captured” by the forces of the Jewish ethnonationalist right wing in Israel. Or it may mark the beginning of a completely new kind of social movement in Israel that is marked by Palestinian-Jewish solidarity against the forces of the repressive, Likudist status quo.
There has been some speculation that Netnyahu and his cronies in government (Lieberman and Barak) may seek to distract attention from J14’s demands by launching a new military adventure. Already over recent days, Israeli warplanes have resumed their earlier patterns of terrorizing and bombing Gaza. (Read Eva Bartlett’s searing on-the-ground account of this, here.)
Lieberman has also been mouthing off some very escalatory warnings about “bloodshed ahead” if the PLO leaders take their case for an independent state to the UN in September.
But there are some signs, too, that Netanyahu may be trying another tactic to defuse the pressures coming from J14: Winning the release of five-year Israeli POW Gilad Shalit from Gaza. Netanyahu’s negotiator on this matter, Amos Gilead, arrived in Cairo on Sunday for talks.
Conclusion of a deal that wins Shalit’s release would almost certainly have some very interesting political fallout on the Palestinian side. Netanyahu’s essential negotiation is with Hamas, which has been holding Shalit since it took over Gaza completely in June 2007; and the terms would almost certainly include the release of several hundred of the 7,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails. This would strengthen Hamas politically, perhaps by a considerable amount. The Hamas-Fateh reconciliation process announced with some fanfare on May 3 has been moving ahead only very slowly and fitfully since then. Meanwhile, Fateh has continued to be riven by internal factionalism– most recently, when an internal movement commission of enquiryreported publicly that longtime Fateh strongman (and darling of the western governments) Mohamed Dahlan “had a hand” in the death by poisoning of movement icon Yasser Arafat, in 2004.
Fateh has been closely embraced and given generous financial support by the U.S. and its allies since 1994, and has come to play within the Palestinian national movement something like the role that Renamo played in Mozambique, UNITA in Angola, (or Inkatha in apartheid South Africa.) But it has been visible withering on the vine in recent years, for many reasons but most significantly because of the complete failure of its leaders’ strategy of relying wholly on the goodwill of Washington (rather than, for example, any mass-based organizing strategy) to achieve its goal of an independent Palestinian state, established alongside Israel in just 23% of historic Palestine.
A clear Hamas “victory” in the negotiations over Shalit might toll the death-bell for Fateh as an effective political force.
… But who knows what Netanyahu has in mind? All that is clear is that the J14 movement brings the potential for some real political change to both Jews and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.
from Mondoweiss by annie
I will never get used to this. I hear about these arrests but this is the first time I can recall watching an abduction of a minor with all the hallmarks of a hostile kidnapping.
According to Jaber’s testimony to B’Tselem, the undercover policemen forced him to lie on the floor of the vehicle and blindfolded him with a piece of cloth. He cried, out of fear and helplessness. While the vehicle was moving, the boy said, the undercover forces questioned him while slapping his face. Jaber was interrogated on suspicion of stone-throwing without having his parents present, nor was he given an opportunity to consult with a lawyer. He told B’Tselem that after he refused to sign a document written in Hebrew, the interrogators punched him and hit him with a club. He maintained his refusal and was released at the entrance to the Ma’ale Zeitim settlement, in Ras al-‘Amud, approximately an hour after he was taken. Members of his family had asked police representatives where he would be released and were waiting for him at the spot. Jaber’s father took him to the emergency room at Hadassah Hospital, Mt. Scopus, where he was found to be suffering from external bruising. Jaber told B’Tselem that since the incident, he has been waking up at night from nightmares.
Arabs only understand ‘somebody smacking them on the head,’ explains Israel lobbyist/archaeologist who lives in New Rochelle
from Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss
The Globe and Mail, Graeme Smith reporting. Alex Joffe is formerly of the David Project, and lives in New Rochelle, an archaeologist and historian:
In a prescient article, published little more than a week before the latest attacks, Alex Joffe at theInstitute for Jewish and Community Research warned that a “security vacuum” allowed more freedom for Islamists operating in the region….
Mr. Joffe now says the only solution will be for Egypt to re-establish the security apparatus that fell apart during the revolution.
“The pharaohs had the same problem in that region, and they would give you the same answer,” Mr. Joffe said. “The only thing they understand is somebody smacking them on the head.”
Eli Ungar-Sargon writes in The Electronic Intifada about a survey of Jewish Israeli racism and the video above:
We began our survey in February 2011 and completed it in early March. On the Israeli side, we interviewed a total of 250 Jewish Israelis in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Jerusalem and Beersheba. For this part of the survey I conducted the interviews myself from behind the camera in Hebrew. On the Palestinian side, we interviewed a total of 250 Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. (Despite multiple attempts, we were unable to procure permission to enter the Gaza Strip.) Here, we collaborated with local journalist Mohammad Jaradat who, using my questions, conducted the interviews in Arabic.
The questions we asked pertained to a number of sensitive political topics and the idea was to get people to talk long enough to detect if there was any racism at play in their answers. In sociological terms, we were engaged in qualitative analysis, but unlike typical qualitative interviews, we spent minutes, not hours with our subjects. Our survey is not exhaustive and our method was very simple. We went to public places and asked people to talk to us on camera. In designing the questions, I set out to distinguish actual racism from conflict-based animosity. That is, to allow for the possibility that Israelis might exhibit animosity towards Palestinians without being racist and to allow the same on the Palestinian side in reverse.
The very first question we asked of Jewish Israelis was the extremely broad “What do you think about Arabs?” It is only reasonable to expect that people who harbor anti-Arab sentiment would mask their feelings when answering such a direct question on camera. Most people responded to this question with some variation of “They are people,” although we were surprised that a sizable minority used the opportunity to launch into anti-Arab diatribes.
One of the most disturbing trends that we noticed was the strong correlation between age and anti-Arab sentiment. The majority of Israeli teenagers that we spoke to expressed unabashed and open racism towards Arabs. Statements like “I hate them,” or “they should all be killed” were common in this age group.
When looking over the data, we divided the respondents into three groups: those who were neutral about Arabs; those who were positive about them; and those who expressed negative attitudes. Amongst the responses, 60 percent were neutral, 25 percent negative and 15 percent positive.
Read the entire piece here.
from Mondoweiss by Lizzy Ratner
Congrats to Muhammad Barakei, Palestinian-Israeli Knesset Member from Hadash, who managed to sum up in just 12 words the sick spectacle of Israel’s Jewish political elite genuflecting to International Man of bigotry, Glenn Beck.
As quoted in the Jerusalem Post:
There are enough racists in Israel without importing them from the US.
Beck, of course, is in Jerusalem this week, seeding the soil for his big Restoring Hate — er, Courage, RestoringCourage — rally next Wednesday. The rally is being billed as an opportunity “to unite people around the world from all walks of life in standing with Israel, reminding us of the need to have faith, honor and courage in our own lives,” but even the most cursory knowledge of Beck and his army of the faithful suggests that their motives align far more closely with stirring conflict and sowing violence than hand-holding their way to the Age of Unity. Why else plan to hold the rally at the contested-to-the-point-of-combustible Southern Wall excavations — a point Barakei also makes.
The lessons from Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount apparently haven’t been learned. This event isn’t for building coexistence, but to spark fires in a sensitive location ahead of the United Nations vote on a Palestinian state in September.
There is a danger that the event will lead to people being harmed, and the police should have prevented it.
This should all be bluntly, eye-bleedingly obvious but so far only a handful of prominent public figures and politicians have had the courage, moral clarity, or simple honesty to state the obvious. The rest have pretty much used Beck’s visit as a chance to practice their best High Holiday full-body prostration.
Which reminds me: the runner-up best line of the day goes to Palestinian-Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi (UAL-Ta’al), who described Beck as “a bizarre, conservative, neo-fascist comedian who is motivated by a hatred of Islam.”
from Mondoweiss by Kiera Feldman
Kiera Feldman: How will the boycott law affect you personally? Are you changing your actions or speech in any way?
Omar Barghouti: We are all determined to carry on what we have been doing for years now: BDS. Far from deterring us, this law will only strengthen our resolve to continue to expose Israel’s occupation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid and to demand accountability for them in accordance with international law.
The Israeli establishment is increasingly, though unwittingly, helping our campaign to spread by revealing Israel’s true face as a rogue state that denies Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms with complicity from Western governments and international corporations. This law is among the very last veneers of democracy that Israel is now dropping, thus risking full exposure to, and dire consequences from international public opinion.
KF: As a prominent leader in the BDS movement, do you worry that you’ll be targeted?
OB: This is not about any individual activist; it is targeting the whole BDS movement as a global, Palestinian led campaign that raises the compelling slogan of freedom, justice and equality and that has broken through the barriers of the western mainstream, winning allies in trade unions, academia, cultural circles, faith groups, and, crucially, liberal Jewish groups. Israel’s nuclear weapons and massive military might are deemed largely ineffective in countering this morally-consistent, nonviolent movement that is anchored in international law and universal human rights.
We are all concerned about Israel’s intensifying repression, but we are determined to counter it with our own intensification of BDS, with the wonderful support of our principled, anti-colonial Israeli partners and our allies worldwide.
KF: What impact do you think the boycott law will have on BDS organizing within Israel? And outside of Israel?
OB: At first, BDS, like any Palestinian led resistance and international solidarity with it, is bound to enhance Israel’s already tribal, paranoid consensus in support of apartheid and settler colonialism. But Israel is not unique in this; all colonial regimes, from South African apartheid to the French colonial rule in Algeria, go through this initial phase of “circling the wagons” when faced with resilient, rights-based and effective resistance. But as soon as this resistance starts exacting a heavy price from the colonial community, cracks start appearing in the wall of complicity and dissent takes off. We are not there yet, but we are headed without doubt in that direction.
BDS is clearly growing at an impressive rate, raising the cost of Israel’s occupation and apartheid. The cultural boycott, in particular, has started biting in a very significant way, making more and more Israelis see their state’s naked image in the mirror, and it is an ugly scene of war crimes, siege, militarism, vile colonial hubris, and power drunkenness that many cannot bear. Many do not like it and are already questioning whether this is the future they would want for their children.
These tendencies have not yet translated into a flood of support for BDS in Israel, but they have been reflected in the encroaching process of mainstreaming the idea of boycott in Israeli society. Hundreds of leading cultural figures, academics, so-called “peace” groups, among others, have already adopted partial boycotts against colonies, for the first time ever. This is a slippery slope, though. They start with a selective boycott first, largely to “save Israel,” essentially as an apartheid state, but by doing so they inadvertently legitimate the tactic of boycott, thus opening the door for BDS to grow.
As the BDS campaign spreads steadily from Europe to Canada to the US to Asia, Latin America, Australia and Africa, we are witnessing a corresponding, gradual but steady erosion of Israel’s standing in world public opinion and in its impunity as a state above the law. It will increasingly be seen as a world pariah, and that will eventually repel investments, joint projects and visits. A South Africa moment is reaching Israel, gradually but surely. The establishment establishment is keenly aware of this and is panicking, as a result, as its weapons of choice — intimidation, vilification, racist incitement and blunt repression — prove pathetically inadequate in its fight against BDS.
Two main corporate targets of the global BDS campaign, Agrexco and Veolia, just to give a concrete example, have suffered massive losses lately. While both corporations are desperately trying to hide or dismiss the impact of BDS on their bottom line, there is absolutely no doubt that the billions of dollars wroth of contracts that Veolia has lost in the last couple of years and the closing of markets in Europe and elsewhere in the face of Agrexco were to a large extent, but not exclusively, a result of BDS campaigns. Other management and financial factors have played a role as well, clearly. This will be a lesson to many corporations that are still profiting from Israel’s occupation and apartheid. As in South Africa, when their profits start dwindling and their brands are sullied as partners in Israeli apartheid, these international profit-maximizing corporations will start abandoning ship much more rapidly.
KF: Within Israel, the boycott law has stirred up support for settlement boycotts among liberals. I wonder if it’s maybe less-than-helpful to have a renewed drive among liberal Zionists to keep fantasizing, “If only the Occupation were over, then everything would be better.” What do you make of this focus on settlement boycotts over the full call?
OB: This was mostly answered above but I’ll add we welcome every partial boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions, despite the intentions of some of its initiators. Those calling now for a boycott of colonial settlements, after decades of silence in the face of a brutal system of occupation and apartheid, are obviously doing so to undermine or circumvent the wider, more principled, and by far more morally consistent BDS campaign. Rather than weakening BDS, though, they are really contributing to making the ground more fertile for its future growth.
Soft Zionists have always tried to maintain a gate-keeping role in channeling solidarity with Palestinians, specifically with a small subset of Palestinian rights, while suppressing any attempt to develop an independent Palestinian resistance strategy based on self determination and justice.
With BDS, this Zionist gate-keeper hegemony is largely in tatters, and soft Zionists are taking it quite harshly, acting out and throwing media tantrums here and there, accusing Palestinian civil society of “betraying” them and hurting in the process its own interests. In their twisted, self-centered world view, typical of apologists for colonialism anywhere, they think that if they withdraw their support, Palestinians would lose their only hope for emancipation. This racist colonial discourse, though, has been largely discredited and soft Zionists have increasingly been revealed to many as a fraud, purely interested in egotistic self preservation and in safeguarding Israeli apartheid.
The litmus test for any Israeli group claiming to support human rights and a sustainable peace based on justice and international law is whether it is ready to support the most basic right to full equality for the indigenous Palestinians. If they do, this which would automatically translate to embracing the right of return for Palestinian refugees systematically and brutally ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and ever since. Calling for an end to the occupation alone, as if that would end Israel’s multi-tiered system of colonial oppression, ignores the basic human rights of two thirds of the indigenous people of Palestine. No conscientious human rights advocate can be so selective, hence racist.
KF: The rights-based approach is, of course, a hallmark of the BDS movement. In a recent speech, you noted, “It is not a Jewish issue. It’s an Israeli colonial apartheid issue, and it should remain within those parameters.” At the same time, American BDS supporters (e.g. Jewish Voice for Peace) often invoke Jewish values and traditions in their organizing. In the BDS movement, what are the positives and negatives of the mobilization of Jewish identity?
OB: There is no contradiction between evoking the best in Jewish heritage to support the Palestinian struggle for justice and self determination on the one hand and the statement that BDS and Palestinian resistance in general should not be reduced to a Jewish issue or an intra-Jewish debate, as J Street has consciously — yet abortively — tried to make BDS, most recently, on the other. Universal human rights should be upheld for all humans and by all humans, regardless of ethnic, religious, national or any other identity attribute. The Palestinian civil society leadership of the BDS campaign, the BDS National Committee (BNC), has strongly endorsed the JVP-led campaign to pressure TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that are complicit in Israel’s violations of international law. We see JVP as an important ally in the US. We also have partners in the US Jewish community that fully endorse BDS, such as such as the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, American Jews for a Just Peace, etc.
The fact the JVP, among other Jewish groups, resorts partially to the bright side of Jewish ethics is first up to them and second is something that they should be praised for. They do not attempt to privilege this dimension over human rights and international law. In other words, they do not endorse or try to impose what I call in this US context “Jewish privilege,” whereby you cannot criticize or act against Israel and its policies unless you are Jewish, for fear of being labelled as anti-Semitic. We respect diversity and context-sensitive strategizing by our allies and partners. Our main concern is respect for the three basic rights listed in the BDS Call: ending occupation and colonization of the 1967 territory; ending the system of racial discrimination within Israel by establishing full equality; and the right of return for our refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194. JVP endorses these rights, clarity of language or lack of it notwithstanding, and this is the main foundation of our strong and strengthening relationship with them.
By putting tribal allegiance to Israel over fundamental commitment to universal human rights, however, Zionist Jewish organizations in the US and the West in general consciously abet in propagating the racist, indeed anti-Semitic, myth that Israel speaks on behalf of the entire world Jewry and that it is entitled to do so. Reducing Jews to a monolithic group that thinks alike and that is automatically expected to ignore suffering by other humans when the oppressors are themselves Jewish is not only anti-semitic; it is categorically false and deceptive. There is rich diversity among Jews worldwide; many in the leadership of BDS groups in the West as well as in South Africa and elsewhere are Jewish. Many leading cultural figures that have endorsed and advocated BDS are Jewish. All these insist that their humanity comes first and that no oppressor state like Israel can appropriate their wills or speak on their behalf.
KF: A few Jewish Israeli BDS supporters have told me that the tent protests feel like a game changer—that there is a kind of revolutionary feeling in the air. What do you think the tent protests might mean for the BDS movement? Do the demands of the BDS call feel any closer at hand or any more attainable?
OB: My overall assessment of this new Israeli initiative is that it is little more than a creative whitewashing, copycat movement with shallow roots and shallower commitment to real social-political transformation which must be based on justice and human rights. This whole reformist effort is largely led by middle class Ashkenazi Jews who prefer to polish the chains of Israeli apartheid, to borrow from Desmond Tutu, rather than breaking them altogether.
Demanding lower rents and affordable housing is a legitimate and justified demand in any normal country; the problem is, Israel is anything but. Diverting attention from the huge elephant in the room, Israel’s occupation, colonialism and apartheid, to the narrow concerns of the Jewish-Israeli, colonial middle class cannot but be seen as an ill-conceived effort, at a minimum, or a downright racist and complicit effort that aims at perpetuating Israel’s regime of oppression against the indigenous Palestinians, whether in Israel, in the shatat (exile) or in the occupied Palestinian territory. A struggle to maintain colonial privileges for the Jewish population of Israel at the expense of basic justice for the Palestinians is immoral and colonial to the boot.
Even if we put moral and legal considerations aside, you would think that an honest and rational social movement (if we can even call this movement in Israel that) that is trying to imitate the spreading Arab Spring, would figure out that Israel’s military spending added to the overall cost of the occupation, the colonies, their infrastructure, the wall, etc. are the main reason behind the massive inequalities in Israel and the extremely unjust distribution of wealth (one of the highest in the developed world).
It is equivalent to Afrikaaners, say, demonstrating in Cape Town in the 1980s for better housing for the middle class (read: all white), while completely ignoring apartheid and its crimes. It would have been a joke then. It is a joke now–a nasty one. Most Arabs are watching this copycat Israeli attempt in amusement and a good deal of disgust. It is the epitome of hysterical denial of the colonial reality.
from Mondoweiss by Paul Mutter
A June editorial in +972 Magazine examined the (non-)utility of the argument “Who started it in 1948?” One thing that struck me about the points of the argument regarding the disposition of land in the British Mandate of Palestine was how similar the Zionist claim that the Jordan River Valley is an integral part of Israel sounds to arguments made centuries earlier over a different river valley that was once as contested as the Jordan River Valley is today: the Ohio River Valley in the United States.
In the 1760s and 1770s, the Ohio River Valley was a flashpoint that loomed large in foreign and American consciousnesses. Multiple wars were fought over it, military outposts were built throughout its boundaries, people argued that its seizure was tantamount to national survival, and officially sanctioned (by George Washington, no less) ethnic cleansing took place after the American Revolution as settlers and land speculators crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the region.
It all began when the British (doesn’t everything?) fought the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, largely to check French political ambitions in Europe. The colonies were a secondary combat theater, but the war had the bonus outcome of driving the French from the fertile Ohio River Valley, a prize sought by many colonials, from Virginia plantation owners (including George Washington) to New England merchants and farmers. Britain, however, did not think unregulated settlement was a good idea. The British thus issued the Proclamation of 1763 (without consulting any of the colonial legislatures), which severely restricted the expansion of colonial settlement westward and turned over most of the Ohio River Valley to allied Native Americans. British forts went up to enforce the boundary lines and British soldiers began evicting those American settlers and traders who were there illegally. Americans were furious.
At the heart of the colonists’ rage (the rebellion against the Crown wasn’t all about taxes, despite what you may hear from conservatives today) was the belief that the Native Americans, weren’t worthy of possessing the land they inhabited. They weren’t natives, they were transients (and savage ones at that). Even though the British did begin to chip away at Indian territories to appease the colonials, it was not enough for them.
Sound familiar? While the Arab invasions of (present-day) Israeli territory in 1948 may indeed have been the catalyst for the expulsion of Palestinians, the aforementioned perceptions about strangeness, inferiority and savagery were the precipitants for the Nakba – and Israel’s ensuing distorted claims that the former inhabitants now have no claims to the land).
The issue of legality is what made the Proclamation of 1763 especially galling: it implicitly recognized that the Native Americans were, well, Native Americans and legally entitled to the land they lived on, something a very vocal number of colonists (including most of the now-deified “Founding Fathers”) absolutely refused to accept. Here is how the mythmaking gets going: You couldn’t “give” these people ownership of the land. “Ownership” was alien to them (actually, it wasn’t, but subtleties like that didn’t matter). These people weren’t white (i.e., they were inherently inferior). They had no paperwork to denote land ownership (except sometimes they did – but like certain UN Security Council resolutions, the settlers selectively recognized them).
And, worst of all to American sensibilities, the natives didn’t even farm the land. All that “vacant land” going to waste! That the American continent was a wilderness before European settlement is an assumed historical fact.
And it is just that: assumed.
Americans have long failed to realize that the “wilderness” was actually one of the most intensive examples of arboriculture ever practiced in human history: rather than rely on fields, Native Americans managed the forests for game and crops (and often did practice farming, just not to the extent that the European colonists did). Theuntamed wilderness myth only got worse as time went on, because people moving west increasingly came upondepopulated landscapes. Just a few years before, these landscapes had been heavily managed by native populations, but they now lay fallow, rendered vacant by disease, warfare and ill tidings of the rapacious white man’s approach. The real (or imagined) vacancy of the land is necessary for any colonial enterprise to succeed: the land has to “belong” to those not even on it yet. Sometimes it helps to force the vacancies along.
Israeli assertions that Zionism has made the “desert bloom” and that the Arabs were incompetent farmers have taken on the same justificatory tone (both moralsitic and scientific) as the untamed wilderness myth in the U.S. The blooming dessert meme also explains why the present water situation in Israel has become a major environmental issue and the Israelis have had to destroy so many Palestinian orchards – to conserve water, perhaps?
But these orchard demolitions reveal an inherent problem with the wilderness narrative: the land is inhabited. The Founding Fathers, though unhappy with Indian land claims, recognized that the natives did live there (duh, that was the whole problem!) and, obviously, since they lived there in numbers, knew that they were able to feed themselves. The “wilderness” mythology is, in fact, a largely modern invention in both Israel and America.
So how does one end up glossing over this? The simplest solution is for the people at the time to have already gone and created a “wilderness” through scorched earth tactics, as the 1779 Sullivan Expedition to the Ohio demonstrated. Largely forgotten today, it was launched four years into the American War for Independence and was regarded as an extremely important military effort at the time. George Washington himself ordered it, making it comparable to David Ben-Gurion’s decision to launch the October 1948 invasion of Galilee.
Like the Galilee operation, the Sullivan Expedition had been given the same objective: secure the territory for future settlement by evicting the native population. Washington, who was known among the Iroquois as “The Devourer of Villages” ordered the expedition to:
“Lay waste all the [Indian] settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner; that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed.
“After you have very thoroughly completed the destruction of their settlements; if the Indians should shew a disposition for peace, I would have you to encourage it . . .”
Washington wasn’t sending an army out just to burn down a few dozen native tents – he was sending them to burn down dozens of native villages (comparable in size to the average colonial village) until the natives sued for peace.
Regarding that, though, he cautioned his officers over what “peace” in these circumstances meant:
“It is likely enough their fears, if they are unable to oppose us, will compel them to offers of peace, or policy may lead them to endeavour to amuse us in this way to gain time and succour for more effectual opposition. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us . . . and in the terror with which the severity of the chastizement they receive will inspire them. Peace without this would be fallacious and temporary.”
Ben-Gurion made the Israeli association (in tactics and justification) with this era in American history quite clear during the 1948 War of Independence. His biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar, says that Ben-Gurion told his head officers “the American Declaration of Independence . . . [has] no mention of the territorial limits. We are not obliged to state the limits of our State.”
Galilee was, like Ohio, supposed to remain in the hands of its native inhabitants (that was the UN plan). But, once the natives were cleared by the invaders (in Ohio’s case, by the Americans’ burning of Indian villages and their food stocks just before the onset of winter; in Galilee’s, this was achieved by forced evictions and massacres of Arabs that “encourage” a mass exodus), the now-“empty” land could be peopled by the settler. The narrative then became that the settlers had the virtue of divine providence; they were fighting for their lives; the natives didn’t think of themselves as natives until after they abandoned their land when a fight that they started turned sour for them, etc.
Over time, it becomes easier to forget about these actions and to go along with the post-victory narrative that the land was always “empty” and “uncultivated” (even though men like Washington and Ben-Gurion knew that this was not the case because they planned their campaigns on the premise that their forces were going to have to seize and destroy at least a few dozen native settlements in order to claim victory). This forgetting is less prevalent (relatively speaking) in Israel today because 1) it happened only sixty-odd years ago and 2) there are a lot more Palestinians than Native Americans alive today. But in any case, history is fickle, whether it spans half a dozen or two dozen decades. History, written by the victors, always tends to focus more on the eras of expansion that follow the eras of displacement.
Small wonder that both Israel and the U.S. rely on their selective memories to justify their actions and find common ground in their narratives of expansion (not narratives of dispossession, but of provident growth, of democracy and technology triumphing over feudalism). Israel serves a useful purpose from a military standpoint, true, for the U.S. but also serves a useful ideological one as a complement to the manufactured American historical narrative.
Selective memory is more or less how consensus is made in any society, particularly a colonialist one. In most Belgian historiography, you’d think that King Leopold II of Belgium was one of the best things to ever happen to the Congolese, or was at least no worse than any other colonizer (rationalization is always a form of justification). Japanese government officials and the media referred to “incidents” in China in the years leading to WWII rather than “battles” (a euphemism sometimes repeated in postwar history textbooks). “History is a series of lies on which we agree,” as Napoleon once said.
And, as we’ve already heard, the Israelis made the desert bloom and the U.S. tamed the virgin wilderness (the Arabs and Indians being footnotes and irritants in the blazing pace of progress set by kibbutz dwellers and homesteaders, respectively).
Two Manifest Destinies (yes, the Jewish National Fund uses that language), two peoples harnessing underutilized resources to better the whole world through economic and democratic beneficence. The expansionist “Age of Jackson” in America can be seen again in Israel – through a line of self-serving historiography extending from the Sullivan Expedition and the Trail of Tears to the Nakba and the Six Days War.
As Adam Hochschild puts it in King Leopold’s Ghost:
“And yet the world we live in – its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence – is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget.”
Update: The original version of this post included a quotation attributed to Ben-Gurion re the ethnic cleansing of the Galilee that is not supported by scholarly sources. Commenter Robert Werdine pointed out the error, which I regret.
Steve Walt at Foreign Policy, “Get ready for more stupid Mideast violence.” Some great points, beginning with the idea that when leaders kick the can down the road on a difficult problem, it becomes intractable/terrifying. Think, American slavery, 1830-1861… Or, a Palestinian state, promised in 1947, undelivered for 8 decades, amidst ethnic cleansing… Walt:
If memory serves, one of the lessons of Roger Fisher’s little book International Conflict for Beginners was “settle conflicts early and often.” This isn’t always possible, of course, but his basic insight was that unresolved conflicts are dangerous precisely because they provide opportunities that extremists can exploit, they harden perceptions and images on both sides, and most importantly, they can always get worse. ..
However one sees this situation, a key point to keep in mind is that this sort of thing isn’t going to stop as long as the occupation and the siege of Gaza persists, and as long as one people has a state of their own and the other does not. If the situation were magically reversed and a million-plus Israelis were being kept in the same condition as the Gazans, I’d be astonished if some of them didn’t try to take up arms against whomever was oppressing them. And I’ll bet Commentarymagazine would think that such actions would be perfectly okay. That thought-experiment doesn’t justify the murder of innocents, mind you, but it may help us understand where such deplorable actions come from.
from Mondoweiss by Yakov M. Rabkin
Rabbi Outcast. Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism, by Jack Ross. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2011, 233 pp.
Rabbi Elmer Berger was often seen as a heretic. A graduate of the Hebrew Union College and an enthusiastic adept of Classical Reform, he opposed Zionism naturally, as did, then, most of his peers. What distinguishes him from other Reform rabbis is that he remained loyal to his beliefs throughout his life.
A book about a heretic tells us just as much about those who condemned him as a heretic, as it does about him. After all, “we are what we hate”. But Berger’s kind of heresy is unusual: he is not a heretic who betrayed the basic tenets of his religion. Rather, he refused to join the majority as most Reform Jews gradually came to abandon these tenets and embrace Zionism. Berger tried to counter this trend, mainly through the American Council for Judaism, established during World War II to affirm the religious nature of Judaism. The Council went against the current at a moment when most American Jews were accepting the idea of establishing a separate Jewish state in Palestine. This is why this work is so valuable: it offers a broad view of the emergence of the centrality of Israel among American Jews in the last century.
Reform Judaism put emphasis on the spiritual component of Judaism and was thus very unlikely to abide Jewish nationalism. As early as 1841, at the dedication of the first permanent Reform congregation in North America, mostly German-born Jews proclaimed: “this house of worship is our Temple, this free city [Charleston, NC] our Jerusalem, this happy country our Palestine.” (p. 9) Almost a century later, an American Reform rabbi affirmed: “Jewish states may rise and fall, as they have risen and fallen in the past, but the people of Israel will continue to minister at the altar of the Most High God in all the lands in which they dwell” (p. 37).
Hardly an innovation, this idea has been a leitmotif of Jewish continuity for centuries. Similarly, Hasidic rebbes insisted “mach du eretz yisroel” (“make the Land of Israel here”), thus emphasizing the importance of pious thoughts and deeds wherever a Jew could be found. Traditionally Orthodox (Haredi) rabbis focused on living a Jewish life in their countries of residence, relating to Jerusalem as a spiritual, rather than a material, let alone a political, entity. Both Haredi and Classical Reform schools would teach Biblical and liturgical Hebrew and avoid the Israeli vernacular.
The author reminds us that the Reform movement almost instantly condemned the Balfour Declaration. In this rejection, it found itself in a solid and diverse majority of Jews. Edwin Montagu, the most prominent Jew in Britain’s governing circles at that time, attacked the declaration as an anti-Semitic act, denouncing Zionism as “a mischievous political creed, untenable by any patriotic citizen”. Labour unions with preponderant Jewish majorities, such as Hat Makers and Ladies’ Garment Workers, opposed endorsing the Zionist declaration by the labour federations in the United States.
By the mid-1930s most American Jews had slowly moved to accept Zionism. This reflected the worsening situation of Jews in Europe and the growing influence of the nationalistically minded East European immigrants in Jewish life in America. Many immigrants from Imperial Russia had developed a proto-national identity, abandoning Jewish tradition but, unlike German or French Jews, forced to remain insulated in their shtetls from the larger society. While most Zionist activists could claim Russian ancestry, none stemmed from the capital cities with their cosmopolitan population and atmosphere.
Political Zionism implies the existence of a separate Jewish nation and separate Jewish political interests. This is why Jewish anti-Zionists affirmed individualism, arguing that their rights would be better protected by governments in liberal democracies than by parochial self-serving ethnic organizations, let alone an ethnocratic state.
Similarly, they opposed the establishment of the World Jewish Congress, seeing in it a sign of “indirect acceptance of the racial philosophy of the Hitler regime”, and warning that these separate Jewish political organizations would produce “leaders speaking for us as a single unit” (p. 34). Berger was right to predict “the Zionist takeover of essentially all American Jewish organizational life” (p. 183). The book surveys approaches used to inculcate Zionist attitudes among American Jews and operate a “transplantation of Israeli culture into American Jewish life” (p. 97). Berger and several of his rabbinical mentors refused to follow suit, wary of the power of Zionism to “corrupt” Jewish life, as quite a few insiders and outsiders, such as Hannah Arendt and Mahatma Gandhi (p. 33), were warning at the time.
To abstain from, let alone oppose, Zionism was becoming more and more difficult. Those Jews who entertained doubts about Zionism were promptly branded “sick”, “self-hating” and “enemies of the people”. Soon after the end of World War II, Zionist opinion makers declared anti-Zionism to be a form of anti-Semitism, and this conflation has become a powerful weapon to stifle public debate about Israel. This method of enforcing Jewish unity made some Reform rabbis in the interwar period openly associate Zionism with totalitarianism: “There is too dangerous a parallel between the insistence of some Zionist spokesmen upon nationality and race and blood, and similar pronouncements by Fascist leaders in European dictatorships” (p. 37). “The totalitarian impulse of Zionist ideology to brand any opposition as illegitimate and intolerable is alive and well” (p. 167). A gentile scholar close to Berger saw Zionism as “a totalitarian menace that could only lead to catastrophe” (p. 131). Nowadays, quite a few Israelis decry the growth of fascist tendencies in their society as these manifest congenital, rather acquired, characteristics. To quote Vladimir Jabotinsky, an admirer of Mussolini, Jews must become a people of iron: “Iron, from which everything that the national machine requires should be made. Does it require a wheel? Here I am. A nail, a screw, a girder? Here I am. Police? Doctors? Actors? Water carriers? Here I am. I have no features, no feelings, no psychology, no name of my own. I am a servant of Zion, prepared for everything, bound to nothing”. Jabotinsky’s ideology has not only triumphed in Israeli society but has even produced more audacious offspring. Nobody recognized this congenital feature of Zionism better than Judah Magnes, an American Reform Jew who went to Israel to become one of the founders and leaders of the Hebrew University. Alongside with Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, he argued – in vain – in favour of establishing a binational democratic state. As Zionist ethnic cleansing proceeded in the wake of the 1947 UN Resolution to partition Palestine, he gave his last speech to the university with a heavy heart, observing that “myriads of Jews throughout the world, particularly in America” are led “to yield to that Zionist totalitarianism which seeks to subject to its discipline the entire Jewish people and every individual therein, and if necessary, by force and violence” (p. 81).
When British authorities later tipped off Magnes that his life was in danger he left for New York, mindful of previous acts of terror perpetrated by Zionist militias, starting with the assassination of Jacob De Haan, lawyer, poet and anti-Zionist activist, in 1924.
Magnes concluded that “the world was now irreversibly on an advance to barbarism, and in their assent to Zionism, the Jewish people would tragically prove themselves only the most eager to join” (p. 90). This eagerness and the resulting military prowess continue to earn Zionism and the state of Israel profound admiration on the part of ethnic nationalist and fascist circles currently mushrooming across Europe. Moreover, this meeting of the minds is not new: the author cites the case of a German-born American Jewish Zionist functionary who, in a treatise titled Wir Juden (We Jews) published in 1934, had celebrated Hitler’s ascent to power as “the death of liberalism”.
Ever since its embrace of Zionism, “the American Jewish leadership was far less critical of Israel than many important groups in Israel itself” (p. 122). When Forverts, originally a Socialist daily, was transformed into a pro-Israel voice, one of its former supporters bemoaned: “I have never read anything more crude and contrary to the principles of the freedom of the press” (p. 124). Fundraising for Israel came to be conducted in the spirit of responding to interminable “vital emergencies” and “existential threats”. The book graphically shows how constant the Zionist arsenal of rhetorical and political devices has been.
Rabbi Berger was open about his rejection of Jewish nationalism: “I oppose Zionism because I deny that Jews are a nation. … Jewish nationalism is a fabrication woven from the thinnest kind of threads and strengthened only in those areas of human history in which reaction has been dominant and anti-Semites in full cry” (p. 63). Later he wrote that “those who seek to identify political Zionism with religious Judaism work a profound and dangerous injustice to Americans of all faiths”, above all to American Jews (p. 89). A Reform rabbi supporting Berger argued in 1952: “Racism can never be a substitute for Judaism. … Nationalism is no substitute for Judaism. … ‘Jewish culture’ is no substitute to Judaism. Emptied of religious content, it is either a phrase or a fetish, dependent on kitchen recipes, musicians, painters, and story tellers, but not on God” (p. 103). In the wake of a trip to Israel, Berger acknowledged the industrial and agricultural progress of Israel but added that “this progress is not at issue” (p. 119).
It may appear illogical that Rabbi Berger, who would not associate American Jews with the Zionist project, tried to provide input to the Middle East policy-making in Washington. In fact, he was quite consistent since he opposed the Zionist nature of the state as an American citizen of Judaic faith. It is as part of his Jewish commitment to justice and equality that he expressed his concern about improving the lot of the Palestinians unfairly treated in his name. After a trip to the Middle East in 1959, Berger lamented that U.S. diplomats “run around the world talking about democracy an the right of people to self-determination, and consistently back off from the political decisions necessary to put legs under these ideas” (p. 133). His lament has since lost none of its poignancy.
The book reads well even though it would have gained in being more focused. For example, medical diagnoses of the protagonists seem superfluous and many names the author mentions beg to be explained and contextualized. In spite of these minor imperfections, the book certainly deserves attention. It is not hagiographic, and Rabbi Berger’s persona is presented in all its complexity. While his Judaic practices rooted in Classical Reform and those of members of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta who follow a strictly Orthodox tradition differ immensely, both vociferously claim that the essence of being Jewish is religious and that they are American, not Israelis. It is important to see Rabbi Berger’s anti-Zionism in a comparative Judaic perspective.
The book is a useful addition to the historiography of Jewish opposition to Zionism, a topic that acquires growing relevance as more and more Jews around the world, including Israel, become disaffected from Zionism. It is no less important for non-Jewish readers who all too often are fearful to subject Zionism to serious scrutiny, lest they be accused of anti-Semitism.
A Reform rabbi and an old friend of Berger’s exclaimed: “In the face of the brutalizing nationalism of our times, we must cry out the universal message of Israel. Not the blood cult, state cult, hate cult, war cult of nationalism, but one humanity on earth as there is one God in heaven” (p. 127). This cry would well summarize the world view to which Rabbi Elmer Berger remained loyal all his life. It takes courage to take this stand, and the book shows well the predicament of an active anti-Zionist in contemporary Jewish life.
Berger’s main concern was the future of the Jews. In 1972 he received a letter telling him that “within our lifetime we shall see the Jewish people recognize in you someone who stood between them and disaster” (p. 154). Rabbi Berger did not live to see this but, as this book shows, this prophecy may yet come true after all.
Nowadays, spirituality and a search for meaning, rather than political support for a state in Western Asia, attract young American Jews; many of them, brought up in a liberal tradition, cannot even relate to the concept of a Jewish state. The author quotes a prominent American Zionist writing in 1998: “After all these years, it seems to be the American Council for Judaism that has won the ideological argument that we are ‘members of the Mosaic persuasion’” (p. 178).
While Jews may give up on Zionism and Israel, the state of Israel need not worry: its main support base, Christian Zionists, grows by leaps and bounds. For the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell, the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 has been the most crucial event in history since the ascension of Jesus to heaven, and proof that the second coming of Jesus Christ is nigh: “We are so pro-Zionist, pro-Jewish, we are the only thing, the only one driving force in America that will not allow Washington to lift her hand of support from Israel” (p. 169). The book shows why pro-Israel circles have a vested interest in seeing the United States act as an aggressive and self-righteous empire rather than a benevolent republic acting with humility. “What has bound America and Israel together is their shared need for another Hitler to destroy” (p. 180). The book sheds light on the transformation of former Marxists and other leftists, such as Norman Podhoretz, into ardent neo-conservative Zionists. It is no accident that the Israeli mainstream views the internationalist left as an enemy. Support for Israel among non-Jews has become a class issue: it usually increases with personal income.
Identification of Israel with the political right in the United States is now complete. In a televised address to the annual meeting of Christians United for Israel in July 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “When you support Israel, you don’t have to choose between your interests and your values; you get both. … Our enemies think that we are you, and that you are us. And you know something? They are absolutely right.” Rabbi Berger would have welcomed these words as an official confirmation of his belief that Zionism had nothing to do with Jews and Judaism to begin with.
The author is Professor of History at the Université de Montréal. His book, A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism, has been nominated for Canada’s Governor General Award and Israel’s Hecht Prize for Studies of Zionism; it is currently available in twelve languages.