Cal Tzedek: 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

On comparison, and the incident with the violinist

"If I had not taken a vow never to compare what is happening here with what happened there, in those terrible times and places, this time I might have made the comparison. It's hard to be silent, so I will quote from Akiva Eldar's report: "As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, [Herman-Peled] was bothered more than anything else by the demand that a Palestinian play music for a Jewish soldier.""

Yossi Sarid, in Haaretz



Orientalism is alive and well (in case you were wondering)

I am fortunate to be able to keep up with the latest in "pro-Israel" propaganda, courtesy of a family member who likes to forward such things. The latest such example, reprints an article from the Jewish World Review that reports a horrific occurrence; that a Palestinian woman was murdered by her mother after having been raped and impregnated by her brothers.

And what is the message we are to draw from this horrific event? The preface to the article, by one Naomi Ragen , informs us that this is "For all those who think that Palestinians have a "culture" that needs expression."

How disgusting would it be if someone were to comment that some of the recent atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers (e.g. mutilating dead bodies) meant that Jews do not have a culture worth expressing, or even a "culture"?



Thursday, November 25, 2004

David and Goliath

Columbia University has buckled to the Goliath that is the David Project. A Haaretz article gives the details. According to the article:

"Columbia University president Lee Bollinger plans "specific steps" soon in response to allegations that professors and lecturers at the Ivy League university made vitriolic and malicious comments against Israel in classes."

"Professors" means Joseph Massad, who seems to have been the main target of " Columbia Unbecoming," a "film" "documenting" anti-Israel invective and anti-Semitism in the university's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture.

Here is a Jewish Week article which seems to genuinely seek out both sides of the story, and Massad's case certainly seems stronger. The comically named Congressman Anthony Weiner would like Massad fired, reportedly based only on "word of the project." (Columbia, it is important to remember, is a Federal University, and thus is accountable to members of the House.)

And here is Massad's rebuttal. He provides a link to a book review he wrote for Israel Shahak's Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel in which he is sharply critical of perceived anti-Semitic imagery and themes within it. Though I have not read Shahak's book, I tend to think the man is a jerk, and the points Massad brings up (and surely this is why he would include such a link here) seem to confirm the sincerity with which he repudiates anti-Semitism. Furthermore, that Shahak (and the other Israel Sh--, Israel Shamir) is adored by some (NOT all) anti-Zionists makes this criticism seem more courageous and more rooted in his personal convictions than in some sort of manipulative demagoguery.

And there's the rest of his rebuttal, which is rather eloquent, at least compared to some of the shrill accusations launched at him.

Now, the truth is that I don't know Massad, I haven't seen the film in question, etc.

What I do know is that I have now had three instructors who have all had extremely damaging accusations launched at them, and that no experiences that I have had with any of them have given the slightest bit of credibility to those claims.

The nature of these claims varied. One was relatively mild and commonplace. "So and so was completely one-sided. He said that Israel was a colonial project, but never, not once, mentioned terrorism. I was personally offended by much of what he said." I wasn't. The speaker of this paraphrased quote was an AIPAC member and prominent Hasbara activist. Indeed, an incident of intimidation by some party or another was once seemingly directed at him.

When our Israeli Graduate Student Instructor got an anonymous e-mail which said "I find it odd that ONLY the Zionist got an A [on a midterm]," the Professor in question condemned it in the strongest possible language and was visibly angry and disturbed. The e-mail was extremely offensive not so much because of what it suggested about the student (and the Professor made very clear that this was the lowest form of discourse), but because it clearly made assumptions about the G.S.I. and his academic scruples because he was Israeli. The bottom line is that, as much as the student might have disagreed with the Professor's historical narrative, there was nothing to intimidate him from expressing his opposing views and succeeding in the class.

The other two instructors have had their names smeared more prominently. One, was unsuccessfully "exposed" as a purveyor of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by a Dafka member. The Department of Near Eastern Studies, Hillel, and --according to a prominent Jewish professor on campus-- the Anti-Defamation League, all concluded that these accusations were unfounded. When this failed, the student tried what never fails: announcing to the Internet that this instructor had "fought for Saddam." In fact, he had fought against Saddam, and this is pretty well known as he is frequently called on as a consultant and contributor to prominent media outlets. Not once did I --with an incredibly Israeli name-- receive the slightest vibe of intimidation or contempt from him.

The third instructor might be the most infamous of all. He has more or less been accused not only of anti-Semitism, but also of treason and incitement to genocide. I have rejected the smear campaign against him based on my past experiences, my experiences with him, and a consideration of who benefits from and sustains this infamy. It's not pro-Israel groups, necessarily. The Israel Action Committee, as much as I mock their hasbara campaigns, tends to realize that it should not bite off more than it can chew, especially on a campus where the instructors in question enjoy considerable support. Rather, these smears come from those who seek to broaden semi-fascism into all walks of life: our friends at Little Green Footballs, Campus Watch, Front Page Magazine, Students for Academic Freedom, Fox News, and Protest Warrior. When any sort of idea is posited by these six organizations, it has zero credibility.

So what kind of organization is The David Project?

"We do not claim to have the solution to this tragic situation, but we believe that the path to peace begins with a fair and honest understanding of the conflict."

Good! I can support any group that recognizes the tragedy of the conflict and believes that justice and honesty are necessary in diffusing it. So I'm assuming they would concede that both sides have committed violence, both sides have acted in bad faith, both sides have failed their own people.

Not quite. Here's some of their "education."


-Distorted Frame: Israel “oppressing” the Palestinians.

-Reframe: Israel humanely defending itself from terror. Palestinians suffering because Arab leaders keep them in refugee camps and encourage them to become terrorists.

That explains it all! Phew! For awhile, I was worried that by occupying land and criminalizing mundane aspects of daily life like movement so that we can defend settlements that we don't need, we were harming Palestinians. Now I can rest.

Some more:

Distorted Frame: Israel’s imperfections singled out and magnified.

Reframe: Apply one standard of morality to all people. Israel is an oasis of freedom in human rights desert filled with despots — who fuel the Middle East conflict and global terror.

Okay, maybe I agree that so many countries other than Israel do so many things that are so much worse. I agree with this. I'm saying it. So those participating in the David Project have every right to be skeptical about people who criticize Israel, to question their motivation, etc. But when these criticisms come from Palestinians whose lives have been affected by Israeli policies, or Israelis who are expected to support those policies, then it is downright arrogant to demand that they "apply one standard of morality to all people," since, in this case, that clearly means "in a manner which obscures Israel's imperfections." Joseph Massad is a Palestinian. He has every right to "single out and magnify" what are pretty damn significant imperfections. No, one's ethnic background does not give one an inherent right or obligation to criticize or to praise something. But one's personal experiences do, to some extent, and they weaken the "Well Everyone Else Is Doing It" argument which the David Project is putting forward.

Plus, it amuses me how novel and original they think their approach is. Surely no one has ever brought up these points before! They call 'em like they see 'em! It's like they're saying what we're all thinking!

Finally, there are two maps: one of them is a close-up of Israel and the territories. This, we learn, is a "distorted frame," because it makes Israel look like some sort of Dinosaur eating the West Bank. The truth, we are informed, is that Israel is surrounded by 22 big bad Arab countries plus Iran, and they want to eat it!!!!!!!!

As campus activist and Visionary Scientist Chris Cantor pointed out, however, the same people who remind us of this at every opportunity are also the ones who remind us that "Egypt made peace, and Israel made painful concessions for that. Jordan made peace, and now Israel co-operates with Jordan. Israel is prepared to do anything for peace when its neighbors are willing and ready. Egypt and Jordan did it. Why can't the Palestinians?"

And why can't Syria? Israel's been extending an olive branch to President Assad for the past 56 years, and all he's been doing is turning up his nose at it...



Confirm this

Doron Rosenblum of Haaretz has a nice piece about the self-delusion the Israeli public has with respect to the Occupation which allows "Captain R" or whatever his name is to be charged with such crimes as "behavior unbecoming of an officer," but not with murder or even manslaughter.

("Commander R" or whatever his name is "confirmed the killing" of a thirteen year old Gazan girl with about a dozen bullets).



Monday, November 15, 2004

Pop Quiz

Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s nominee for attorney general, is the author of
"a memo that described certain legal protections in the Geneva Conventions for captured enemy soldiers as "quaint" and "obsolete”"Clearly, therefore, the key obstacle to his confirmation will be. . . .

A. The Forces of Reason
C. Right wingers who oppose his views on abortion and affirmative action as too moderate
D. Fluffy Bunnies

In other news, British newspaper says it has records of ‘torture flights’

London Sunday Times reported yesterday that the United States government has a special plane devoted to the extradition of suspects in the war on terrorism to countries where they are likely to be interrogated using torture.”



Monday, November 08, 2004

The Hasbara Prophets Present, Volume I

The Israel Action Committee proactively promoted Israel today. It is very important that the majority of students who don't care about Israel or Palestine love Israel so that they appreciate the Context(TM) behind the conflict. The most successful Hasbara campaigns promote a positive image of Israel well before Hasbara activists would otherwise be put on the defensive by pro-Palestinian activists.

It seems like this week's campaign revolves around "Civil Liberties."

A small leaflet discusses "All for Peace," a Jerusalem radio station which "broadcasts a message of peace to both Israeli and Palestinian listeners." And though I'd not heard of this before, learning of things like this indeed make me happy.

But behind this fascinating and genuinely moving fact, there seem to be horrible logical inconsistencies in this flyer:

"In May, 60,000 Israelis gathered in Gaza to protest the disengagement plan; 100,000 gathered in Tel Aviv in support. This is democracy in action."

Awww, yeah! Take it to the streets, baby! Power to the people! Democracy in action! But wait, what would it be called if 60,000 Palestinians were to protest --or support-- something in Gaza? Does the IAC miss the sheer irony of lauding the fact that 60,000 Israelis have "full freedom of speech and protest" in Gaza? Furthermore, if 60,000 Iranians were to demonstrate --nonviolently, let's assume-- for something similar to what the anti-disengagement people are demonstrating for, or 60,000 Saudis, or 60,000 Palestinians, if any of these peoples had a mass gathering glorifying theocracy, violent resistance, and demonization of another people, would Hasbara activists call it a beacon of the democratic process? Probably not. I'd imagine it would be called "totalitarianism" or "being kept down by their oppressive leaders" or something.

In all fairness, many --possibly most-- Israelis are not huge fans of the settler fringe, and some of their incitment has been put under investigation. But that's more nuanced than the simplistic "Democracydemocracyfreedomhope" message the IAC uses to whitewash Israel's bad characteristics. And this is a shame because, as a result, their hilighting of Israel's many good characteristics --found more in its people than in its government-- seems superficial, manipulative, and ultimately unconvincing.

When Students for Justice in Palestine holds a showy rally, many Hasbara people tend to get concerned that SJP is presenting things out-of-context to an unsuspecting uninformed majority. And it's fine that they feel this way, because it might be true. But it's ridiculous for these same activists not to realize that they are doing exactly the same thing.
For instance:

Since Israel's establishment in 1948, the number of trees has increased from 5 million to 200 million. This effort is spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund."

This juicy nugget has been popular in the last year or two. This is because vast woodlands prove to all Reasonable Critical Thinkers that only Arafat has squandered opportunities for peace. Reasonable Critical Thinkers would all reach the same conclusion if only they knew The Facts. But wait! Where is the "context" about what else the JNF did starting in 1948? I guess it's unimportant, since the woes of semi-privatized land-administration are uninteresting to the silent majority of Cal Forestry Majors. Treeeeees!

Also present was a poster that showed a close-up of a handsome young Israeli man, with the words "What You Don't See on the News" at the bottom. Because critics who talk of "East Jerusalem" or "Checkpoint humiliations" are missing the more important point: Israelis are hot! I wish that promoting an appreciation for Israel (in itself a worthy endeavor) did not serve mostly to whitewash the occupation, but even moreso, I wish that what was out there was not so banal.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Are we all Israelis now?

Mark LeVine has an interesting piece up at Juan Cole's blog, titled "We're all Israelis Now."

"Three years ago, as the pungent odor of what was left of the World Trade Center slowly pervaded my neighborhood, I wrote a piece called “We’re all Israelis Now.” I didn’t invent the idea; in the hours since the attacks I had heard several commentators say essentially the same thing, although our meanings were in fact diametrically opposed."
"For me, however, the attacks suggested a more troubling scenario: That like Israelis, Americans would never face the causes of the extreme violence perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have supported and even enforced, and engage in the honest introspection of what our role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns commuter jets into cruise missiles"
"This situation reveals something dark, even frightening about America’s collective character. Making the situation worse are the reasons why people voted for President Bush: the belief that he better represents America’s “moral values,” along with the faith that he, not Kerry, will fight a “better and more efficient war on terror.” What kind of moral values the occupation of Iraq represents no one dares say. "

Go read it now. (and while you're there, check out the rest of Cole's blog, which also currently includes information on the campaign of intimidation being waged against a pro-Palestinian professor at Columbia University).



Saturday, November 06, 2004

Post-election message

Like many folks around here, I've been rather despondent since the election results came in. Now that it looks like Bush will be back in the White House for the next four years, the half of the electorate who did NOT vote for that man has two big tasks over the next four years.
1. massive resistance. We may not be able to stop Bush and Co.'s plans to wage unnecessary wars in the interest of remaking the world in their own image, or their plans to shelve Americans' civil liberties, but we sure can slow them down, if enough people show their opposition.
2. organizing to remove Republicans in office in 2006 and 2008. There's been a lot of talk recently about how the Republicans won it on the basis of "moral values." What's that you say? There are some BIG moral issues out there right now? Torture is a moral issue? Disregard for the lives of innocent civilians in wartime is a moral issue? Honesty is a moral issue? The use of dishonorable tactics to disenfranchise voters is a moral issue? Damn straight.

Still feeling despondent? Get your war on has some words for you.



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