Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Israel Must Stop..."

Ali Abunimah, founder of Electronic Intifada and go-to Palestinian when the New York Times needs a Palestinian-perspective op-ed, responds via Twitter to the cold-blooded execution-style murder of four Jews earlier this evening, two of them women and one pregnant:
Civilian deaths are always tragic. Israel must stop using civilian settlers as human shields for the land it is stealing
Pernicious, isn't it. Nauseating. Read it repeatedly, and think through what he's saying.

Before Bibi Left

Once upon a time when I was at university I did some research which required the perusal of lots of old newspapers from the 1950s. I was startled to see how many of the events trumpeted with large fonts on front pages I'd never heard of. Not only local news, even reports on international diplomatic events, proclamations, and programs. Some of this was my ignorance, of course, but some was the newspapers' fundamental need to portray the moment's events as important, and the editors' natural inability to know in advance what might have lasting significance (not much) and what would be forgotten by the following week.

So while the media and blogosphere have been full of reports on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which are re-starting this week, I've mostly been silent. I expect they'll fail, I'd wish they'd succeed, and don't have much to tell that you won't find elsewhere, and it's not very serious over there, either.

I can add one very small tidbit however. It has to do with Bibi Netanyahu's relationship with his father, 100-year-old Benzion Netanyahu. Much has been written about this, recently for example by Jeffrey Goldberg in his interesting report on the possibility Israel will bomb Iran's nuclear program. The theory is that Bibi can't moderate his hawkish positions for fear of angering his father. How much truth there is to this idea I cannot say - nor can anyone else except Bibi, and he ain't telling. However, it might interest you to know that early this morning, before setting out to the airport on his way to Washington, Netanyahu made a visit to his father, who lives around the corner from here, and his security escorts blocked the street. I find it slightly touching that our prime minister comes to get his father's blessing (I'm assuming) before setting out on a potentially important trip.

Monday, August 30, 2010

That Was Then...

It's been a while since I did a Daf Yomi post. Partly this was because the Shavuot tractate was unusually complicated and rather remote, and frankly I didn't enjoy crossing it. Now we're in Avoda Zara, however, which is one of my favorites. Avoda Zara means paganism, but mostly the tractate deals with the relations of Jews and their surrounding societies.

The first two layers of the Talmud, I remind you, are the Mishna and Mishnaic literature, created in Hebrew in Erez Yisrael roughly between 30-200 CE, and the Gemara, mostly in Aramaic with lots of Hebrew, mostly in Babylonia, Bavel, (present day Iraq), between about 200-500 CE. Then there are the medieval layers, written mostly in Hebrew, sort of, with quite a bit of Aramaic interspersed. The whole edifice assumes its students know the entire Bible (Old Testament) by heart, so the Biblical texts are all over but rarely written except in three-word snippets which everyone recognizes in context, obviously. Additional layers are still being created to this very day, but the first two are the heart of the project.

The Mishna was created under a mostly antagonistic Roman Empire, sometimes genocidal. The Gemara was created under the Sassinids, a Persian dynasty. While life for the Jews in Erez Yisrael got steadily worse (with some exceptions) from 30CE for many centuries, life in Bavel generally got better, at least until the 6th century by which time the Gemara was mostly completed.

If you're studying the relations with the surrounding society, as the Avoda Zara tractate does, you're going to find expressions of these differing contexts. As for example when the Mishna forbids Jews to sell various things to heathens.
Rav Ada ben Ahava says: it is forbidden to sell them sheets of iron.Why? Lest they beat them into weapons.

The Gemara asks: If so, it should be forbidden to sell them even hoes and shovels [which they might also beat into weapons]?

Rav Zvid explains: Iron sheets from India are forbidden, because they serve only for weapons [but hoes and shovels may be sold].

The Gemara: But we do, today, we sell even Indian sheet iron to the heathens?
Rav Ashi explains: we sell [Indian sheet iron] only to the Persians, who protect us.
Avoda Zara 16a
[This thread began and is explained here]

Update: Joe in Australia, in the comments below, adds some fascinating context:
Wow! You know what they're talking about? The iron that came from India was the famous "Wootz". The secret of its manufacture has been lost, but it's both hard and flexible, and it was used to produce quite beautiful patterned blades. In this form it's called Damascene (i.e., "from Damascus") steel. It would only have been used for weapons, as the Talmud says, because it was enormously expensive.

So, this sugya tells us that Jews were the ones who imported the billets of wootz from India to Persian Babylon! I wonder if this is generally known?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Response to Lauren Booth

Lauren Booth is an anti-Zionist journalist based in London; people who follow such matters seem to think she's even worse than the rest of the pack. I mentioned her a while back, here.

This week she published a chirpy letter to the Israelis, in which, so she claims, she set aside her house chores in order to write us a personal letter. Oddly, she posted it on the website of an ex-Israeli who dislikes us intensely, the last place you'd expect if someone wishes to catch our attention and engage us in conversation; even curiouser, the website doesn't offer the possibility of leaving visible comments. So I'm sending them notice that I've responded, and perhaps they'll forward it to her; I encourage the rest of you to think where else Ms. Booth can be found and to leave her a message. She's made such an effort to reach out, it wouldn't be polite not to reciprocate.

Dear Ms. Booth,

I was touched by your concern for us as described in your "Mom to mom" letter of August 22 2010, in which you tried to inform us about all the bad things happening in our name. I'm a dad, not a mom, but I'll give a stab at reassuring you.

First thing, right up front: nothing's being done "in our name". Whatever it is, it's we who are doing it ourselves. I personally spent three years in the IDF as a young man, and another three over the following twenty-some as a reservist. About the time I was given a pen and retired from service, my first son was serving in the second Intifada, and last year my youngest fought in Gaza with his tank brigade. Ever since high-school I have been well informed about events, as is expected of a voter in a democracy. There's nothing particularly unusual about me, I'm a mainstream fellow with a standard story. For better or worse, what "Israel" does is done by the flesh and blood Israelis, not "in their names". Is this different in your country?

There is no need to carefully broach the matter of looting by IDF troops and nasty graffiti. We've been at war for a very long time, and bad things happen in war; we don't pretend otherwise. Innocent Palestinians have repeatedly died at our hands, which is far worse than looted credit cards, serious though that may be. So we can agree that innocent Palestinians have suffered at Israeli hands. They have. Some still do. Others will, as far into the future as the Palestinian nation refuses to accept the right of the Jewish nation to a homeland in part of the tiny little country they both call home.

The crux of our very substantial disagreement is when you write about your friends in the Free Gaza Movement:
They are to a man (and to a woman) kind, concerned citizens of the world. People, who simply cannot go about their normal daily lives whilst your state, your army, your settlers torment other human beings. Every minute of every day. Of every month. Of every year.
For sixty two years.
Where to begin?

First, you've got your chronology wrong. The first time Palestinian leaders incited a mob to murder Jews for the crime of Zionism was in 1920, then again in 1921. There have been ups and downs ever since, but the Jewish-Palestinian war has been raging for 90 years, not 62.

Second, since it's war we're discussing, I really think we should focus on the worst aspect, loss of life. The true numbers are fiendishly hard to estimate and frankly impossible to know with much accuracy, but the total number of Palestinians killed in their war with Israel is below 35,000, and that includes soldiers, children, suicide murderers and innocent women. In almost a century. Care to look at some other numbers about the 65 years since the end of WW2? Here are some of the big ones:

Late 1940s. Partition of India and Pakistan: At least 500,000 dead. Chinese civil war: Perhaps 2.5 million dead.

1950s. Korean war: Millions of dead. Chinese domination of Tibet: 600,000 dead Tibetans. After the 1950s the numbers continued to grow.

1960s. The various wars in Vietnam lasted decades, but let's list them here. Millions of people died in them. Also in the same decade, remember the time when Nigeria abolished Biafra, and for a while starving Biafran children were the top international metaphor of suffering? Something like a million people died in that conflict.

1970s. More than a million people died when the West Pakistanis massacred East Pakistanis. Millions were murdered in Cambodia. This was the decade when the wars in Ethiopia began; hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and there was a famine which was exacerbated by war in which about a million people died.

1980s. There was the Soviet war in Afghanistan in which more than a million people died. The Iranians and Iraqis fought a war in which about a million people died. The war in South Sudan (distinct from Darfur) began in the early 1980s and eventually killed about two million people.

The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) is too minor to be mentioned in this list, but more than 100,000 people died in the parts of it that had nothing to do with Israel.

1990s. About 800,000 murdered in Rwanda. Hundreds of thousands killed in Europe, in the Balkans.

2000s. Darfur, hundreds of thousands murdered. The killings in the Congo go on, in the bloodiest conflict since WW2. More than 5,000,000 dead so far.

You're British, Ms. Booth, so you must be aware of the British participation in some of these conflicts. Still, allow me to point out the single worst Post-WW2 chapter, the Mau Mau war in Kenya, in the 1950s. Your soldiers killed more Kenyans, in those eight years, many of them civilians, than Israel has killed Palestinians in a century - and in defense of what, exactly? Need I mention the war against the Islamists, raging as we talk, in which the numbers of dead civilians at the hands of Coalition forces are larger than the numbers of dead Palestinians, probably significantly larger but no-one gives all the numbers?

Don't these numbers rather indicate that Israel is not anywhere near the list of large killers? In spite of its being continually at war for a century? And since it isn't, might this actually indicate that it restrains its use of power and makes an effort not to kill people at random? If you can read these numbers differently, I'm listening, but I warn that I've given the matter much serious thought all my life, and am comfortable saying that we do try to wage our wars morally. Actually, you might be interested in a description I once wrote of how this is done in practice. Ask yourself, while you do those house chores, if you can even imagine the moral challenge we face, and if you'd face it better.

In your letter you name 26 members of the Al Samouni family who were killed when our artillery mistakenly shelled their home. Indeed, the death of each innocent is tragic, but I'm wondering if you can name any of the Afghani children killed by your forces this year? Last year? The year before? Any Kenyans? Anyway, it is precisely because we do know the names of most of the dead, that the Israeli authorities are so sure that most of the casualties in Gaza last year were anything but innocent bystanders. The painstaking listing of names and checking of identities has demonstrated that most of the people we killed (not all) were people we intended to kill, because they were at war with us. No apologies.

One more point, and then a question. Had you stated that you object, say, to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we could have discussed the merits of your case. You didn't. Instead, you explicitly said your problem is with Israel's existence (that's the 62-year code). In other words, your mom-to-mom letter is a demand that we Jews renounce our national claim even while the Brits, the Azeris and the Nicaraguans have theirs. This is puzzling, and raises the obvious question. If you're angrier at us for our limited wars than with anyone else for their mass slaughters, while demanding of us that we, alone among hundreds of nations forgo national expression, and this even as you agitate for Palestinian nationalism, and yet you insist you're not an antisemite: then what, pray tell, are you?

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick,

PS. Since you wrote about names of innocent victims, you might be interested in these two links. The first is where we list all of our dead, this past century. The second is a list I spent about ten years working on, trying to collect names of our dead in another case. When I left the project we were still only about halfway through.

America's Zionists

Tablet Magazine cites a new report whereby America's Jews support as part of their life-cycle: the older they get, the more they support. This apparently contradicts the Peter Beinart thesis of a few months ago, whereby younger Jews are disillusioned.

The part of the story which apparently isn't open to interpretation is that the largest and most active group of Israel's supporters aren't Jews at all. They're Christian. Here's a story about the Christian AIPAC, CUFI, which wasn't even around five years ago.

On a different matter, Martin Indyk explains in the NYT why, contrary to common wisdom, the time actually is ripe for successful Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. It seems to me he doesn't deal with any the substantial issues, but hope springs eternal, and I'm willing to hope too. Then again, here's a fellow who has been reading the NYT all his life but has decided it's no longer worth his time. (h/t Brumsky).

Who Killed the Soviet Economy?

Once upon a time I used to read lots of literature.Then I moved to history books, and then to current affairs. Nowadays I find that the limited time I have for book reading goes mostly into business books, which may or may not be useful, but are not much to write home about. One upshot is that this blog offers fewer book reviews than I intended. This week however, I came across an absolutely glowing review of Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. The book isn't even on sale yet in the US, though it should be any day.

You heard it here first.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Laws and Politics

Isabel Kershner of the NYT has an article about the Bedouin village of Al Araqib (that's the spelling she uses). Interesting how she notices the polygamy of the villagers, without ever noticing it. Might the willingness to flout the law on the matter of marriage (polygamy is illegal, with no ifs or buts) have anything to do with a story about a clash of tradition and law on property issues? I'd think so, but the NYT apparently doesn't.

Taking a broader perspective, the way I see it there are three conceptual models for understanding stories with tensions between laws and rights. One is to adhere to the supremacy of all laws, always, whether it be about Bedouins vs property laws, migrants vs immigration and citizenship laws, settlers vs international laws of occupation, and so on. Another is to recognize that laws are simply one important tool in the toolbox society draws upon to deal with its areas of conflict, while accepting that the political process at times will prefer other tools, or a combination of them. A third position is to distinguish between the laws of a sovereign democratic state, and international laws with no ultimate sovereign.

So far as I can see, no matter which model one prefers, the public discourse about these matters is not consistent. It's inconsistent to talk about illegal Israeli settlements while refraining from the same terminology on the story of this Bedouin village. You can't maintain that a (murky) principle of international law supersedes common sense regarding Israel's relationship to Gaza, but also insist that Israel's relationship to illegal migrants be informed primarily by morality rather than laws.

I am firmly in the camp that honors law as an important measure society uses to administer its matters, along with others measures. (And I'm not impressed with international law in its current public expression). So far as I can see, many of our detractors are simply hypocrites on these issues, and use whichever line of argumentation serves best to bash Israel on whatever particular point.

Sloppy Thinking

Didi Remez wasn't amused by my mentioning him yesterday. I don't always manage to follow his train of thought or argument, but in an e-mail he sent me he seems to be claiming I'm afraid to repeat publicly what I said privately about neocons. So here, I'm saying publicly:

Whatever the term neocon may have meant in the past, say in the way it was used at Commentary Magazine in the 1980s, it has long since ceased to mean. These days,"neocon" is a sloppy, imprecise, undefined epithet used mostly by publicists from the political left to mean either (or both) of two things:
1. Folks we really don't like whose opinions of the War That Has No Name are abhorrent to us.
2. Jews who stand behind the hawks, and often manipulate them into actions of war they would not otherwise engage in.

This sort of term has a long and dishonorable pedigree in political discourse. Previous empty phrases that served in similar ways were Cosmopolitans, Rootless internationalists; Trotskyites, and others. Fascists, too, nowadays: that's also a term which has lost any explanatory meaning and serves mostly as a goad, not an argument.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Things You Can See in the Desert

The other day I drove down to Sdeh Boker, about 170 km south of Jerusalem, deep in the Negev. David and Paula Ben Gurion are buried out there, which is a fascinating story and a spot of breathtaking beauty. Nearby there's a cluster of research centers, and I went to talk to some fellows there. Driving down there gave insights into various issues.

The roads. I am very very old, so I can remember days when there was only one four-lane road in all of Israel (two in each direction, not four in one direction, or sixteen, like on your way into New York). The road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem had two lanes, except for a section to the west of Ramle where there were three (yep. Perfect for playing chicken).

These days things are different, of course, with six- and eight-laned roads backed up for miles with traffic. Sigh. Of course you can go all the way to Beer Sheva, and even around the city without having to drive through it, on modern 4-lane highways. South of Beer Sheva the highways are currently pushing south, with the section all the way out to Mashavei Sadeh under intensive construction in the blistering heat. It looks like the government has money to spend on infrastructure.

On either side of that section of road you can see ramshackle Bedouin settlements. In 1949 there were about 15,000 Bedouins in Israel; now there are 200,000. They take up a lot more space than they used to, and many of them now live on dusty hilltops that had nothing on them a few decades ago, and very little on them ten or 15 years ago. I'm not saying anything about who owns what land, since I'm not versed in the subject, nor am I making a value statement at all. I'm reporting on things you can see. That, and hoping the new road, which will serve those Bedouin, will prove useful in integrating them in the advancing economy and social fabric.

Further south, where it's too dry for most anything, you finally reach the area of Sde Boker- which is green, blooming with trees and other crops. Apparently, I was told, in spite of the lack of precipitation, there's actually no lack of water. The entire area, for many hundreds of miles, sits on an ocean of fossil water. It's a bit brackish, but that's what scientific research is for: to find solutions. Which are being worked on, and some are already operative: look at all those trees.

Why Isn't There Peace

The Economist has a calm and reasoned discussion of the state of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. I defy you to find any trace in the description of Palestinian responsibility for the lack of peace or its unlikely emergence anytime soon. The Economist, for crying out loud, not Andrew Sullivan or Juan Cole.

Bones of Long-Dead Folks

Remember the stories of medieval relics? Any time a town or principality needed some positive PR, someone would dig up some old bones and proclaim them the long lost wrist or shin of some very dead saint; the visionaries went further and proclaimed they'd found the hip of some venerable Jew from the days of Jesus. The Venetians, never shy or reticent, went so far as to claim they had all of St.Mark, stolen in his entirety from Alexandria, if I'm not mistaken.

Then modernity came along and we grew out of such antics. Nobody would engage in such capers today. Would they.

Amnesty International Scum Bags

Frank Johansson, head of Amnesty International in Finland, has written that Israel is a scum state, and when asked has stood by what he wrote and refused to retract it. When asked further if there are other scum states in the world he was unable to offer any, though he did say that some Russian officials are scummy. Russia, just to note, is next to Finland and has a history of, how to put it, regrettable relations with Finland, so Johanssen isn't really looking that far away, unlike, say, Israel.

Meanwhile, at the international headquarters of AI, in London, a spokesperson quibbled:
Flood said that Johansson used the phrase “creep state” to describe Israel, rather than “scum,” as the initial English translation of the Finnish word found. Native Finnish speakers from Tundra Tabloids said the Finnish term used by Johansson to denigrate Israel is a “highly derogatory term,” and is frequently translated as “scum,” “scum bag” or “douche bag.”
Asked if he was an antisemite Johanssen said that of course he isn't, and cited his admiration of the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence as proof.

The founder of Breaking the Silence, Yehuda Shaul, is a neighbor of mine, and I happen to know that he doesn't say what Johanssen admires him so for saying, but that's a matter I'll have to discuss with Shaul. He makes statements in internal Israeli discussions which flatly aren't what international critics of Israel say he's saying, but he lets their comments stand because he doesn't care about the external discussion, only the internal Israeli one. I suppose this makes him marginally better than, say, Didi Remez and the Coteret gang, but only marginally.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sanctimonious Irish

Cliona Campbell has an unlikely story. She's a student in Ireland who loves Israel (rare), and showed it by coming to work for two months on an IDF volunteer program, Sar El (Very rare for the Irish). After she went home she wrote a fine article about the experience.

So far so nice. Lots of her peers come on Anti-Israeli junkets, and are then lauded and celebrated when they get home, so it's nice to hear the opposite story. Opposite, also post-factum. As Ben Cohen tells, ever since she'd written about her experience she has been harassed by sanctimonious Irishmen who's hatred for Israel is greater than the the civility they were taught at home.

I once wrote that anti-Zionism in our time is more bistro than bierkeller - it is a phenomenon which manifests primarily among intellectual elites who see themselves as progressive thought leaders. I think that remains true; what is also true is that the boundaries between these two worlds overlap more and more, at the same time that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is endowed with an almost metaphysical power. That is why, when all is said and done, you are left with the spectacle of a young woman who visited just one of the hundreds of conflicts across the world returning home to a villain's welcome.

I am certain that many of Israel's forthright opponents would disavow the treatment meted out to Cliona Campbell. Good enough, yet not enough. This sorry affair illustrates that the western debate over Israel has gone way beyond concern with Palestinian rights into the realm of the irrational. The thugs picking on Cliona may be responsible for acting out the script, but they didn't write it.

(H/t Goeffrey)

Self-Annointed Arbiters

No long ago I noted that the purity brigades were gunning for Alvaro Uribe, especially as he's now on a panel investigating Israel. Well, Benjamin Birnbaum now has a long article looking into the matter. His finding, in a nutshel: Uribe did a terrific job on what was most important, he was far from perfect, and he had some rather ugly allies. And also, on page 3 of the article, there's this:

Inter-American Dialogue (IAD) President Michael Shifter, who sits on Human Rights Watch's Americas advisory committee, said that while the scandals tarnish the former president's legacy, he thinks human rights groups have at times suffered from tunnel vision with regard to Mr. Uribe, whom he called "a net plus" for Colombia. "The problem with the criticism is not that it's not accurate or carefully done," Mr. Shifter said. "It's just that it's a partial view of a more complex situation."

Then there's this months darling of the so-called human-rights brigade, Jullian Assange of Wikileaks. Abu Muqawama notices that Julian doesn't want anyone to know who his backers are: transparency has to have some limits, after all.

That Cluelessness...

My previous post about the Manhattan Muslim center and the Carmelite analogy seems to have touched a nerve, with conflicting responses from readers who rarely comment (and some anonymous ones I can't know about). RK's comment is right-on:
If you do a quick Google search you'll find tons of people discussing the Carmelite convent analogy -- pro and anti. If you haven't seen any of this, it's because it's the analogue of the cluelessness about Israeli issues you write about all the time.
That's part of what I said: seen from here (i.e. far away from there), it really is hard to figure out what's going on. In spite of the fact that English is one of my mother tongues, that I'm (also) an American citizen, that I've lived in America and visit Manhattan regularly, that I spend time almost every day imbibing American media, that some of my best friends are Americans (some relatives, too): I'm as qualified as any incidental outside observer to figure out what's going on. But I haven't yet. Tons of folks are making the Carmelite analogy? Fact: I hadn't heard them. This is the same situation, by the way, as back when Americans were all agog about Obamacare, and to general incredulity I explained a number of times that I couldn't figure out what the discussion was really about.

This is not to say that external observers cannot possibly figure out what's going on somewhere. The entire conceit of the field of history, for example, is that if we try hard enough we can reach a reasonable understanding of a society which ceased to exist long before we were born. Indeed, historians at their best (and others, too), can sometimes achieve clarity the insiders never had. But there's the rub: it's hard work. It can't be done by osmosis, which is how the original locals did it. It can't be done without the language. It demands a long-term commitment, and sincere curiosity. If you know the answer in advance, you'll never know it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Religious Center at the Wrong Place?

I continue not to express an opinion on the matter of the Muslim center in southern Manhattan. The debate is clearly not about laws, which can be tricky enough on their own, but rather about values, and from the distance of seven time zones I admit I can't see what's really going on. You'd think that everyone could agree to the right to build a mosque or a community center, but you wouldn't think that almost two thirds of Americans - if the polls can be trusted - are bigots or emerging antisemites. It doesn't make sense.

This letter to the Economist gave me a perspective I hadn't thought of, nor have I seen anyone mentioning it:

SIR – Lexington (August 7th) was correct about the planned building of a mosque near to the Ground Zero site from a legal standpoint: any attempt to stop its construction would be defeated in the courts, but his conclusions are wrong. The issue is not one of law or even morality, but of raw emotion. It is similar to an incident in the 1990s when the Catholic church in Poland wished to build a Carmelite convent near the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Jewish community objected to it because they felt that building a convent near where so many of their friends and relations had died was an act of incredible insensitivity. The matter was brought to Pope John Paul II who withdrew the plans as he did not want its presence to be a source of pain for the Jewish people. How decent of him. How sensitive to the feelings of others.

Those who wish to erect the Cordoba House mosque could learn from the pope’s decision and tell the people of New York that, after reflection, they realise that building a community centre will not foster understanding but is likely to have the opposite effect, and they do not wish it to be the cause of any further anguish to those who lost loved ones at that place on that terrible day.

Derek E. Barrett
Long Beach, New York

Gaza Will Be Israel's Fault, Even if Nothing's Wrong

Elder of Zion has the story: They used to blame Israel for the starvation in Gaza, until it became too obvious there wasn't any starvation, so now they're blaming Israel for insensitivity. Or something like that.


There's a big public kerfuffle here the past week or so about an Im Tirzu call to boycott Ben Gurion University until it does something about the department of government studies, if I'm not mistaken, which is staffed by a group of anti-Zionist professors.

I think boycotts of universities are bad things, period. What I'm less clear is who's the McCarthy camp in this story.

Earlier today I had a long business meeting with a professor at BGU. Not a young lecturer, rather a scarred old-hand at university politics. On our national political spectrum he's moderate left, or Zionist left. Before we got down to the business matters, I asked for his take on his university being under attack etc etc. In response he gave me a 15-minute lecture: Oh, there's McCarthyism at the university all right and it's been happening for a number of years already, but it's not from Im Tirzu. It's McCarthyism of a cabal of lecturers who are carefully and purposefully doing their best that their students hear only one interpretation of their materials, who do their best to block anyone who doesn't agree with them, and who are making certain only the members of their own group get promoted. He suggested I look at the syllabi of their courses and judge for myself if they are being broad-minded and encouraging intellectual investigation, or if they're inculcating ideology. He told of a case a few years back when he invited one of the top anti-Zionists to a conference he was arranging, to the tremendous astonishment of the fellow:
- You're inviting me to your conference? Even though you know my positions?
- Of course we're inviting you. Once you're there we'll probably tear your thesis apart, but it's part of the spectrum and needs to be presented, even though you'd never invite any of us to a conference of yours.

Well, is just so happens that when I got home this evening I saw the editorial in Haaretz, calling on the president of Tel Aviv University (not BGU) not to examine the syllabi of course at TAU because that would be McCarthyism of the worst sort.

The 72-Hour Expert

P.J.O'Rourke, in typical P.J.O'Rourkian fashion, shows how real professionals know all about a place in 72 hours, so as to impart their wisdom to us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Barbarism by its Right Name

Susie Linfield writing at Dissent doesn't know what America's policy about Afghanistan should be - it's very complicated, after all - but she can recognize barbarism when she sees it. Lots of well educated folks can't, as she depressingly documents. (h/t Norm).
And it is conscience, I think—or, rather, conflicting claims on our conscience—that is at the heart of this debate. One can argue that it is right to leave Afghanistan, and wrong to ask more Americans to die there. One can argue that the civilian casualties rates of the NATO troops are indefensible, or that the war in Afghanistan is simply too costly for our downwardly-mobile country to pay for. (On the Nation’s Media Fix blog, Greg Mitchell proposed showing photographs of “workers streaming into a newly re-opened factory,” “a returning soldier embraced by his wife and two kids,” and “solar panels being erected on a huge office building” to illustrate “What Happens If We LEAVE Afghanistan.”) But it is bad faith of the worst sort to argue that withdrawal would somehow help the women of Afghanistan; or would rescue them from lives of almost unimaginable pariahdom, misery, poverty, physical pain, poor health, ignorance, and degradation; or would not take away even the minimal gains that have been made. Equally bad, I think, is the pretense that a “deal” with the Taliban won’t somehow come at women’s (and children’s) expense. Let’s at least call barbarism by its right name—which is just what the Time photograph did.

Inflamatory Mundane Matters

What happens when a government tries to force people off land they've been squatting on for decades? It depends. In England the squatters demonstrate but probably end up leaving, and no-one but the locals cares anyway. In Israel the squatters return again and again, backed by lots of outsiders who couldn't care what the law says, if it's Arabs they've got to be right and Israel has got to be wrong.

On a similar note, the French are deporting Gypsies (Roma) to Romania, even though both countries are in the EU so their citizens may live where they wish. In Israel such policies are cast as despicable.

Arafat at the Holocaust Museum

Aaron Miller revisits the idea of inviting Arafat to visit the USHMM, the Holocaust museum in Washington:
How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me. Yes, the museum was a living memorial to combating racism, hatred and genocide. But did I fully grasp that I was using hallowed memory and narrative for purposes that could affront the very people I was trying to persuade? For millions, the museum was a positive and powerful symbol of not forgetting -- just as, for so many, Arafat was a symbol of anti-Semitism, violence and insensitivity. The potential conflict and misunderstanding overwhelmed any opportunity for dialogue and understanding.

And even if the visit had taken place, what would Arafat have said afterward? That he better understood the Israeli and Jewish sensibility but that they would have to understood Palestinian dispossession and suffering, too? That Israelis were perpetuating a genocide against Palestinians and demand equal time and space? The possibilities for disaster were too numerous to identify.

At the time he saw none of these obstacles. Full of best intentions, he and his bosses ran headlong into a fiasco. Not because they were stupid, but because the world is a complicated place. Making predictions is always hard, but especially about the future.

No Vacuum in Diplomacy

A friend who just returned from a vacation in Greece told that he was surprised that wherever he and his wife went, the local villagers were eager to tell of their support for Israel. Since he'd never been there before, he couldn't say if this was new, a sign of support for Turkey's new enemy.

One of the many advantages of having a nation state is that you play on the field of cynical national interests. Turkey doesn't like Israel these days? That's just fine with the Greeks. Should the Turks change tack, the Greeks will cool off.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Thesis on Jerusalem

Here's a thesis which I may expound on eventually.

Between 1967 and the early 1970s, Israel sincerely intended on making Jerusalem a united city in the full meaning of the term. Sometime in the early 1970s, as the cost of pulling backward East Jerusalem up to West Jerusalem's level dawned on Israeli officialdom, while the international community hardened its determination not to enable Israel to maintain its control of the entire city, the budgets for the effort dwindled, and the socio-economic gaps never narrowed. Then, sometime after 2000, when it became clear that peace wouldn't happen, and the division was no more than a hypothetical but non-applicable idea, the officials began to move back towards pulling the East up to par. This, however, is totally unacceptable internationally, creating a situation which cannot be resolved in either direction. Systematic Israeli investments are forbidden, but damning Israel for their absence is fine. This, however, doesn't help the local Palestinians in the city.

There is ample documentation to demonstrate this thesis, though no one has ever tried, so far as I am aware.

Links Without Much Comment

If this was what Amnesty International spent most of their time and effort on, as originally intended back when they were founded, they'd be a very important organization.

The NIF seems to be reconsidering some of their policies, and may be a bit more careful about whom they support. Good. The Guardian, meanwhile, has no second thoughts, and continues to spread hatred of Israel with a gusto.

Noah Pollak says it's time for the US to leave the UN Human Rights Council; meanwhile, in a story worth following, the UN notes that Hamas is not cooperating with the followup of the Goldstone Report, while Israel is. Time will tell what this means. Also in the realm of diplomacy,Gal Beckerman says that Michael Oren seems finally to be learning his job. Most jobs take a while to learn. Even journalism.

Finally, over in the reflective corner, pascal Bruckner ruminates about Europe's guilty conscience, and Yoram Hazony describes how this makes the Europeans dislike Israel (there has always been some reason, these past millennia since the Europeans climbed down from their trees).

Protest the Zionist BBC Conspiracy!

Poor folks at the BBC. They invest so much time and effort in slanting the news against Israel, that when every now and then the facts are so stark that they can't, furious protests are launched against them for being pro-Israel. They recently had a program on the Mavi Marmara (Goldblog linked to it here) that wasn't condemnatory of Israel, and now the juice is flowing. I found this complaint particularly delicious:
Blackwell also suggested that the time of the screening was unfair. “Scheduling the broadcast during the evening in the first week of Ramadan, when many Muslim viewers were unlikely to be watching because they would be breaking their fast, [was unfair],” she said.
An astonishing lack of Muslim sensitivities, don't you agree?

Five Years Since Disengagement from Gaza

Jeff Jacoby sums it up (via Martin Kramer):
“What will we have gained by destroying thriving communities, dividing Israeli society, and embittering some of our most idealistic citizens?’’ one thoughtful Israeli commentator, Yossi Klein Halevi, wrote at the time in The Jerusalem Post. “The most obvious . . . gain is what we will lose: We will be freeing ourselves from more than a million Palestinians.’’ Many Israelis — and many supporters of Israel internationally — bought this argument, persuaded, perhaps, by the Sharon government’s sweeping vision of the blessings that would flow from so radical an act of ethnic self-cleansing. “It will be good for us and will be good for the Palestinians,’’ forecast then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who would succeed Sharon a few months later. “It will bring more security, greater safety, much more prosperity, and a lot of joy for all the people that live in the Middle East.’’ Olmert prayed that with disengagement, “a new morning of great hope will emerge in our part of the world,’’ and that Israelis and Palestinians together would make the Middle East “what it was destined to be from the outset, a paradise for all the world.’’
It didn't really work, did it. I especially like the part where Israelis - myself included, obviously - expected the dismantling of settlements and the evacuation of all military forces to have some impact on Israel's international standing, some recognition of Israel's good intentions. I can't say why I expected this outcome, since recent history had resoundingly disproved the thesis that Israeli actions might convince Israel's detractors to hate it less, but there it is. I thought this time would be different. Ha ha.
The fruit of disengagement was not the “new morning of great hope’’ that Sharon and Olmert — and their countless enablers in the West — envisioned. Instead, it was an erosion of respect for Israeli strength and deterrence. It was the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and the Israel-Hamas war that began at the end of 2008. It was the entrenchment of Iran, through its clients Hamas and Hezbollah, on Israel’s northern and southern borders. It was the burning of Gaza’s synagogues and the trashing of its famous greenhouses. It was the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, who has been a hostage in Gaza now for more than four years. It was the further blackening of Israel’s international reputation. It was the immiseration of Gaza’s Palestinians under a fundamentalist Hamas dictatorship.
I disagree with Jacoby, however, when near the end of his column he explains that most Israelis have learned the lesson, and won't be getting caught in any more wishful thinking. They will. I will, too. Whenever anyone offers us a plausible way to reduce the chances for additional wars, to diminish our domination of the Palestinians, and to gain approval of the international community, we'll take it. That's human nature, to rationalize that past bad experiences won't apply to a promising new opportunity.

I also specifically disagree with him that the disengagement from Gaza was such a bad thing. It wasn't. In spite of what many fools say, we don't occupy Gaza; 1.5 million Gazans are no longer part of the demographic balance of people under Israeli rule that was slowly tilting against the Jews; there's a clear and recognized border between Israel and Gaza, which is mostly closed; and since everyone knew that someday we'd have to pull the settlers out of there and it would be painful, at least now it's already done.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Rational Discourse Even Possible?

This afternoon Michael Totten and I met the head of Jerusalem's water company, who told of some of the challenges of giving service in some of the Arab sections of town. The reason we went to meet him is that he has devised an interesting way to surmount some of the problems, a solution you'll never ever find reported in any media outlet. I'll let Michael tell the tale, but part of the solution is to work closely with the local Palestinian figures. Then we went to one of the neighborhoods and watched a meeting of the water boss, some of his staff (Arabs and Jews), some local officials, and some local non-official power-brokers (all Arabs, of course. The meeting was in three languages). After that meeting the staff took us on a short tour of the area, and showed us where they're laying sewage lines, and how the cooperation is happening, in spite of the fact that at least some of the participants in the meeting we'd just been in could have been saying they were unaware of the matter.

Is rational discussion even possible when people can't even agree upon dry facts such as is someone laying pipes or not?

Also this afternoon I had a brief spat with one of our more vocal lefty activists. The fellow was bandying around the appellate "neocon", so I sent him a short message:
Use of the moniker neocon is proof of sloppy rhetoric and intellectual laziness. It's also often a euphemism for Jew-hatred.
You'd think an intelligent and educated person might pause for a moment, or at least explain that while he's aware of the various precedents of tarring ideological adversaries with shorthand designation that don't actually mean anything, his use actually is serious and meaningful. Alas, no, and this is what our discussion looked like:
(He): In this case it is not a moniker, but a description of an ideology
(Me): Think so? What's neo, and what's con about it, for starters?
(He): Allow me to introduce you to Google. Now leave me alone. Ludicrous.
I'm not sure I understand how being introduced to Google is supposed to offer me an answer to my comments, but that's the point: If this fellow and I can't even agree on the legitimate usage of a loaded term, why expect that a roomful of Jews and Arabs discussing water projects in Jerusalem will agree on what's happening? And if that can't happen, how does anyone expect Jerusalem can be amicably divided in a way that will ensure peace comity and brotherhood?

Infecting the Enemy

A professor friend was telling me yesterday about a thesis he and a colleague are trying to promote. It is that democracy is not necessarily a source of social and political strength, as we democrats like to tell ourselves. At any rate, not inevitably. It is also a source of weakness, of doubt, of self-loathing, of self-criticism gone wild to an extent that approaches suicidal. (Have I mentioned societies which don't have children?).

If that's the case - I admit, counter intuitive to my Jeffersonian or Churchillian mindset - then what we need to be doing is infecting the Muslim world with the virus. Not so as to make them wish to be like us and join in a universal frolicking, but rather to level the battle ground of ideas, to have their universities spew doubt and self-loathing of their own, their media to sap their resolve, their intellectuals endlessly to apologize for whatever we do.

Apparently no respectable academic journal is willing to touch their article.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Human Rights of Palestinians

The parliament in Lebanon has just tweaked the laws so that the legal status of descendants of Palestinians in Lebanon has improved from outrageous to slightly less outrageous. The people we're talking about were born in Lebanon; the youngest among them are probably 4th-generation natives.There are no Palestinians under Israeli occupation (which means, in the West Bank) whose legal status is remotely as bad as of these hundreds of thousands of people.

Coincidentally, Elder of Zion has a story about the unfortunate legal status of the Palestinians in Egypt. I admit I hadn't been aware there even were any of them, but apparently there are, about 50,000 people, who have been there for decades but don't enjoy citizenship or many of its advantages. Elder has a second link to the matter, here.

Meanwhile, back under the brutal Israeli occupation, as it's often referred to, the Palestinians are busy building their state. Two of them, even. Of course, they aren't the kind of state any of you would wish to live in, but no, Israel actually isn't to blame. Certainly not in Gaza, where there's no Israeli governing authority at all, but also not on the West Bank, where the Israeli presence doesn't interfere with how the Palestinians rule themselves. Even The Economist doesn't manage to find a way to blame Israel.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Consistency, Please

I haven't had anything to say about the matter of the Mosque in southern Manhattan, nor am I going to say anything now. I do however wonder if there may not be an inversion of positions, whereby people who support construction of the Mosque in Manhattan in the name of freedom of religion, rather overlap with the people who dislike construction of Jewish institutions or even homes in parts of Jerusalem.

Very Sneaky Professors

A gaggle of professors conned some allocator of research funds to pay for their summer vacation. Some people have very hard lives.

Stuff About Israel's Foes

Hadar Sela has been reading the Guardian, poor soul.

Asher Fredman has been reading HRW reports and other such, poor chap.

Israel's Economic Success Bolsters BDS

The other day the BDS community worldwide gave a gasp of anticipation when for a moment it looked like Harvard had suddenly divested from Israel. Then somebody thought to ask the relevant fellow at Harvard, rather than speculate, and no. Since Israel has recently been re-designated from developing economy to developed one, it appears in a different part of the Harvard portfolio. (Goldberg's got the beginning and end of the story).

Am I allowed a moment of Schadenfreude? Like this?Or perhaps, slightly less fun, like this one, in which Guy Rolnick says that no, we're not yet Switzerland? (Who is, pray tell?).

Plumbing of Israeli Democracy: An Acceptable McCarthyite Law?

According to Haaretz, Israel continues its descent into McCarthyite authoritarianism or worse:

A bill that would require Israeli nongovernmental organizations to report every donation they receive from foreign governments, or from any source mostly funded by a foreign government, was approved for first reading by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday. The bill, which would subject NGOs that fail to report such donations to a NIS 30,000 fine, has been branded "McCarthyist" by left-wing and civil rights groups....

Leftist parties, calling the bill "McCarthyist," said it infringes on freedom of association and seeks to intimidate legitimate NGOs whose positions are opposed to the coalition's. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel charged that the bill would exploit transparency regulations to undermine the legitimate activity of NGOs based on their political opinions."Freedom of association is not subject to political horse-trading; it is the preserve of anyone who wants to organize to advance civil causes, whether a given party or political majority at any given time likes it or not," an ACRI spokesman said.

Sounds ominous, doesn't it. Except that the same article also tells that:

But it is not clear whether the wording approved on Monday would actually bar Israeli NGOs from helping international investigative committees like the Goldstone panel, as its sponsors had sought. The bill does not require exposing private donors' identities, probably because academic institutions objected to disclosing anonymous donors. A former government registrar of nonprofit organizations, Yaron Keidar, said yesterday the bill was merely a "bureaucratic nuisance" and contributes nothing to the existing system supervising NGOs. "NGOs are already obliged to give a detailed report of any foreign donation, anyway," he said in a legal opinion he prepared ahead of the debate.
So which is it? the end of civilization as we know it, or merely another onerous bit of red tape?

I am very busy these days, as the light blogging demonstrates. Still, I did send out e-mails to various folks I know in various lefty organizations ("some of my best friends...") requesting a bit of clarification. Alas, the clarification wasn't forthcoming, but I did manage to acquire a copy of an e-mail sent out by Hagai El-Ad, the boss of ACRI, who was in the Knesset yesterday. He doesn't much like the proposed law, though he admits that as it moves through the legislative process it's getting better, even to the extent that he and his organization may end up supporting it:

In the hearing yesterday, the draft Bill (in its scaled-back version) was approved (the coalition has an automatic majority). The Bill will now advance to a first vote (after the Knesset returns from the summer recess, in October) where it will certainly be approved. After that stage, and before being brought to the final 2nd and 3rd votes, there will be an opportunity for further amendments to the law.

During the hearing (ACRI's chief legal counsel, attorney Dan Yakir, was one of those that testified at the hearing, backed by ACRI's Director of Policy Advocacy and myself) a lot of attention was given to the position (that was also expressed in ACRI's letter to the Committee) that transparency should be applied equally, across the board. MK David Rotem, the committee's chairperson, made the surprising promise, that he will not advance the Bill to 2nd and 3rd votes unless it will include language so that the reporting requirements will indeed apply with regard to any funding from a foreign source. If the bill will be amended in this fashion – ACRI will support it. We hope that indeed MK Rotem will stand up to this promise. [bold in the original]

Lest his colleagues wonder if he's losing it, he hastens to add that of course

In any case, the undoing of Israeli democracy continues, one step at a time. The Elkin Bill is just one example of the anti-democratic winds blowing in Israel, from the Knesset and throughout.
But how can be it an example, if you may end up supporting it? [Note to my friends at ACRI: the leak was so very roundabout you need not worry about a spy in your ranks. I have no secret admirers among you].

An a related matter. Those of you who read Hebrew are welcome to visit this site, at which a group of our lefties seem to be saying that anyone who disagrees with them is antidemocratic and is a thug. It's a very odd place, our far left.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Taki and the Acceptable Lies

Back in 2001, I think it was, Conrad Black publicly reprimanded Taki Theodoracopulos for being an antisemitic bigot. At the time Black was the publisher of the Spectator, and Taki wrote a column. Black has had an unfortunate decade since then, which is not relevant to the topic of this post, British antisemitism. Anyway, Black explained the case quite well, here.

Taki, it seems, wasn't listening, and has remained a repulsive fellow - see this article about him from 2003 (thanks, Geoffrey). On most days of the week I'd say that anyone with a record like his need not be taken seriously. Except that he continues to write in The Spectator. Over the past few days a number of readers have drawn my attention to a column he published there this week (my link is to the version on his personal website). Forget the odious author: the newspaper is a respectable media outlet.
Mind you, I’d take Ford anytime before Gaza. At Ford you can have medical help, water and a good night’s sleep. Not in Gaza. B’Tselem is an Israeli human rights organization which courageously points out the outrages perpetrated daily by (mostly) American zealot settlers against local Palestinians. The latter live wretched lives as water and other basic human needs are denied them by the settlers. Hebron is a verdant place where the settlers have decided to drive out the Palestinians through hardship. The settlers have water piped in while the Palestinians collect rainwater. The settlers plant trees and gardens, the Palestinians don’t have enough water to drink while they tend their sheep and camels. Meanwhile the settlements continue to grow.

And it gets worse. An even larger share of the Israeli army’s officer corps now comes from the Orthodox or settler group. These are people who see the Palestinians as subhuman, however unpleasant the word may sound to a Jew. Avigdor Liberman, the foreign minister, is a prime example. A Russian thug with blood on his hands he would like to see the last Palestinian driven across the Jordan River, and the 43 year occupation become permanent.

The old fashioned antisemites of yore used to start from the accurate fact that there were a few Jewish bankers and claim the banks were all controlled by Jews; the presence of Jews among the Soviet leadership to prove Bolshevism was a Jewish invention; the Jews who owned the NYT to convince that Jews controlled all the media. Antisemites always find some kernel of truth somewhere upon which to construct their edifice of lies and deceit. So also Taki: indeed, Avigdor Lieberman really is Russian, sort of. And there is an Israeli organization called B'Tselem.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Links to Stuff

Jonathan Cristol guestblogging at Walter Russel Mead discusses the impossibility of criticizing the BDS movement without making its purveyors feel they're important:

So an article or incident that is in favor of BDS is proof that BDS is gaining steam; and an article or incident against BDS proves that it is gaining steam so quickly that the writer or publication is nervous about it. A victory is a victory and a loss is a victory. If the writer calls it anti-Semitic then that is an even greater victory as the writer is “resorting to ad hominem attacks.”

If I do write a long post or series of posts I will be handing a victory to the BDS movement. If, in that post, I write about the anti-Semitism that creeps into the BDS movement then I have handed out a huge victory. But if I am scared into not writing about BDS for fear I will be helping the BDS crazies, then that is certainly a victory for BDS. If I write about writing about BDS, I still haven’t avoided handing a victory to my opponents on this issue. So I must apologize to supporters of Israel for handing yet another victory to this small, inconsequential, but very loud movement.

CiFWatch has dug up a letter written 40 years ago by Stanley Goldfoot that could have been written yesterday.

The Israel Museum has just re-opened its renovated gates. Matthew Fishbane visited and liked the architecture, but the exhibits not so much.

Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian, bemoans that journalists only care about Palestinian woes if they were caused by Israel. Self inflicted or other-inflicted: no story.

Finally, Edmund Case bemoans that too many Jews weren't overjoyed by the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding arrangements. His thesis is that if Jews would be nice to folks, folks might like Jews. I admit this seems unconvincing to me. People decide about their identity for various reasons, but cuddly feelings aren't among them - and if they are, it's probably an affectation, not an identity.

If This Isn't It, What Would Be?

Juan Cole is a professor at a respectable university (Michigan). His politics are a bit odd, but so what. Today, however, he launches a screed against Corporal Goldberg and also a gang of evil people he calls the Neocons. Its title is "An Israeli attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a one-term president". You need to read the whole thing to see how truly weird it is, but the thesis is that the Rightwing-Zionist-inspired-Neocons need a war every five years, and an Israeli attack on Iran would give it to them:
The Neoconservative faction is in the political wilderness in the United States. Eager to play the role in Iran that the enormous floods have played in Pakistan, of paralyzing and destroying much of a thriving country, eager to reduce the shining city of Isfahan to rubble and displace its population into massive tent cities, they find their path blocked at every turn...

The Neocons’ life experience, then, is that aggressive warfare is never really off the table. Even a liberal internationalist like Obama can be pressured, and if he will not yield, be weakened and wounded and the way paved for a leader more pliable to their plans. A war that they pine for the way a teenager pines for a first love, a mass grave they dream of the way a retiree dreams of a Hawaiian resort, an orgy of destruction visited on ancient wonders that they dream of the way a world-class architect dreams of constructing a new city– all these things are really at most just 5 years away if the right political moves are made. They have more assets than is visible on the surface. They have perhaps half of America’s 400 billionaires on their side. They have the enormous military-industrial complex on their side. They have the Yahoo complex of besieged lower middle class White America on their side. They have the Israel lobbies on their side. They have important segments of the Oil and Gas lobbies on their side. They have the whole American tradition of permanent war on their side. They should not be underestimated.
And so on.

Let's postulate for a moment that Prof. Cole is not an antisemite, and that this screed isn't antisemitic. If that's the case, what would someone have to say in order to be one? If yearning for the destruction of cities and people isn't, what is?

Friday, August 13, 2010

See? No Antisemitism!

A few weeks ago I had a fascinating discussion with a young German historian from Berlin, who studies antisemitism in the Arab world. As a mark of his seriousness, he speaks Arabic, mostly Egyptian Arabic, and has spent lots of time in Cairo. As he sees it, hatred of Jews in Egypt is all-pervasive, very extreme, and worthy of comparison to Nazi Germany. Interestingly, however, he noted that many of the Germans who live in Cairo - German teachers, journalists, those sort of people - don't see it. When he points it out to them, they still can't see it.

He was troubled by the extent of the hate, and puzzled by the ability of Germans (Germans!) to be totally oblivious to it.

There are no Jews in Egypt, by the way, nor have there ever been large numbers of them since Hellenic times. So it's safe to say that effectively 100% of Egyptians have never met a Jew, nor have their forebears dozens of generations back. At least Poles who hate Jews can lean on the memories of their grandparents; not so the Egyptians.

Lest you think it's only silly Germans who can't see the elephant in the room, however, it occurs to me that Richard Cohen's criticism of The Economist (linked yesterday) was overly gentle. A few weeks back The Economist had a full-blown, ten-chapter special report on Egypt. Probably 20-30,000 words, I'd say, some of them quite interesting, some mildly aggravating. In the entire report the word antisemitism doesn't appear one single time. Nor is it hinted at in any way. Islamism does get one of the ten chapters, but is described as a spent force, and anyway there's no discussion of its content.

Des this mean The Economist are themselves antisemitic? No. But it does prove they're fools.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Light Summer Reading

Various links of interest:

Jeffrey Goldberg's big piece about Israel bombing Iran or not, is of course the big story of the moment. Over at his blog, however, Jeffrey warns that:
I really do suggest that you subscribe to the magazine and read these sorts of stories in print, and not only because reading long articles on the Intertubes causes leprosy, while reading stories in print increases your chances of winning Powerball.
Now it just so happens that I've got a subscription to The Atlantic, so I actually probably will wait a few days and read the article on paper; I'd rather not take the chance with the leprosey. So I'm linking, but have nothing intelligent to say.

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post disapproves of The Economist's ability not to see antisemitism. Ouch.

George Will, also of the Washington Post, compares Obama unfavorably with Netanyahu. Also ouch.
Netanyahu, his focus firmly on Iran, honors Churchill because he did not flinch from facts about gathering storms. Obama returned to the British Embassy in Washington the bust of Churchill that was in the Oval Office when he got there.
Finally for the moment, David Horovitz has a new website, with a faintly ridiculous picture of Tony Blair. Ouch.


I'm back. Upon return I found a large backlog, an even larger forelog (is there such a word?), and not much time for any of them. So blogging may be a bit slow.

We spent part of the week at an upscale place of great beauty and - by harsh Israeli standards - some tranquility. The kind of place people only come to if they're seeking to be quite off the grid.

It turns out that given the right conditions, lots of people still read books. Who knew? (I mean the kind made of paper, with no hyperlinks and probably mostly no pictures).

Not being accustomed to reading books anymore, I looked around a lot. It occurred to me that the languages spoken in various corners of Israel can be informative. The staff of the hotel, for example, seemed to speak an almost interchangeable mix of Arabic and Hebrew. The guests spoke Hebrew, French (those would be tourists), some English (but not too much; English speakers apparently aren't attracted to calm); and rather a lot of Russian: these are the almost penniless but highly qualified immigrants of 20 years ago who have climbed into the upper middle class and can afford to pay for tranquility.

A month or two ago I was at a large conference of hi-tech entrepreneurs in Jerusalem. The booths set up by the local banks had materials in Hebrew. The ones set up by start-up companies were all in English. The folks wandering the halls spoke Hebrew, and English, and various accents of Asian English. The sessions were all in English. The electronic announcement boards were in English and Chinese.

Israelis who work in hi-tech, by the way, never write e-mails in Hebrew. I've got colleagues with whom I speak only Hebrew, always, but we e-mail back and forth only in English, always.

At the swimming pool I try to go to as often as possible, deep in West Jerusalem, the most common language, obviously, is Hebrew. Yet contrary to what you might think, the follow-up languages are not English or French, but Arabic.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I'm shutting down for most of the week. Bye.

The Propelling Force of Nazism

Sergio in the comments called my attention to the fact that Michael Wildt's important book about the central cadre of the SS is now available in English: An Uncompromising Generation: The Nazi Leadership of the Reich Security Main Office (George L. Mosse Series). Wildt is one of the most important historians of Nazism. This book, probably his most important so far though the others are, too, is about the 300 or so young men (only one woman among them) who formed the single most important group you've never heard of: the people who made Nazism into what it was.

Soon after the book was published in German I wrote a longish review of it for Yad Vashem Studies, an important journal even if I'm biased in saying so. Apparently I wrote the review in Hebrew (YVS is bi-lingual), so the English review is a translation. Still, it's 14 pages, not 592, so if I can't talk you into reading Wildt's book you might be interested in my summary of it. (The top of the first page is in Hebrew but the article is in English).

On Deporting Illegal Immigrants

What with it's never being boring around here, Israelis are all roiled up these days about the intention to deport hundreds of foreign workers who don't have permits to be here but have children below age five (the government has determined that if there are children in school already, i.e. older than five, they and their families get to stay here permanently and acquire citizenship).

It's a complex subject which I'll look at in depth someday. Today I'd simply like to quote The Economist on a totally different matter:
At bottom the argument between Arizona and its critics is political. The stated aim of 1070 is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants, mainly by enforcing federal laws which local politicians accuse the federal government of neglecting. Although Mr Obama is in fact deporting more illegals (a total of about 400,000 a year) than George Bush did, that cuts little ice in Arizona because people know his eventual hope (or at least the one he dangles in front of Hispanic voters) is to give illegals a pathway to citizenship, not kick out as many as possible. Mr Obama’s policy was also Mr Bush’s, and is probably the only humane way forward. But in Arizona “amnesty” has been turned into a dirty word. [my italics]
Obama's administration is deporting 400,000, that's four hundred thousand illegal immigrants a year, and the Israelis are agonizing, correctly or not, about deporting fewer than one thousand. Interesting, isn't it.

The Damage the Peace Process Wrought

AP has an item about how elderly Gazans remember Israel fondly, while young ones who have never been there and never worked with Israelis have only hate. [I can't say why Haaretz chose to publish this piece from AP - after all, even interns at Haaretz know more about the subject than AP].

The article, predictably, mostly blames Israel, nothing to get worked up about. The reason I'm linking is because the phenomenon is true and important, even if the explanation is wrong. Prior to the First Intifada, between 1967-1987, Palestinians roamed freely throughout Israel, and large numbers of them worked in Israel. It wasn't an idyll, indeed, those 20 years set the stage for the next generation of violence, but at the time most Israelis and most Palestinians personally knew people from the other side. In Jerusalem this is still true, but in many other places on both sides it no longer is. The First Intifada began a process of mutual disengagement, and the so-called Peace Process dramatically accelerated it. Had it succeeded in creating two peaceful states alongside one another, it might not have mattered. The reality, however, has been that Israelis and Palestinians are physically separating, and the result is ever less familiarity, which enables ever more demonization. Talk about unintended consequences.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tony Judt, RIP

Tony Judt has died.

We never met, he and I, though over the years we had a few civil e-mail exchanges, even at the height of his quarrel with Israel. A few months ago I sort of reviewed his magnificent Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. Afterwords we had a last brief e-mail exchange, which was surprisingly warm and personal.

His last 18 months have been hell, yet by all accounts he endured them with fortitude and courage.

In 1983, when Gershom Scholem died, David Hartman suggested we all read at least one thing he'd written to honor his memory. Some of the short and polemic things Judt wrote over the past decade or so need not be read nor remembered. His books, however, were another matter, and Postwar above them all. If you can find the time, you'll not be disappointed, and you'll find yourself spending the time with a very fine historian.