November 25, 2009
Despite mounting pressure to withdraw from the light rail project in Jerusalem designed to serve the needs of Israel's illegal settlements, the French transportation giant Veolia is set to be highly involved in the project for the next five years. The company needs to support its new Israeli partner, the Dan Bus Company, which lacks the experience to operate the light rail.
As the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 23 October, Dan has bought a 49 percent share in Veolia's contract with the City Pass Consortium to operate the light rail in Jerusalem, which connects the city to illegal Israeli settlements built on seized Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. After it runs the light rail for five years, Dan will buy out Veolia's 51 percent share in the 30-year contract, as well as Veolia's five percent share in the City Pass Consortium.
The City Pass Consortium consists of four Israeli companies and the French companies Connex, a subsidiary of Veolia Transport, and Alstom. Dan will need the full support of Veolia to successfully run the light rail for the next five years because of Dan's lack of experience in this area. As a major shareholder, Veolia will provide the crucial expertise to Dan and continue to be a key player in the light rail project.
Veolia has been pressured to end its involvement in the Jerusalem light rail project by several financial institutions concerned with socially responsible investing, because the rail will normalize the illegal annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem, considered part of the West Bank under international law. Some European politicians have also criticized the company because the project infringes on Palestinian human rights. After four years of silence, Veolia recently attempted to pacify concerns and protests by expressing the company's commitment to operate the Jerusalem light rail on "a clear, non-discriminatory policy based on free access for all parts of the population." The company promised to reconsider its involvement in the light rail if application of the non-discrimination policy turns out to be impossible.
However, statements made by a City Pass spokesperson reveal that Veolia is aware that the light rail service will be discriminatory. In a 23 April 2009 interview with Belgian masters student Karolien van Dyck, City Pass spokesperson Ammon Elian explained how Palestinians and Jews are segregated in Jerusalem, and that the first planned rail line is designed to serve the needs of the secular Jewish population (with one stop in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shufat), and a second line is planned to serve the Orthodox Jewish population. "If Palestinians would want to make use of the light rail, both groups will not meet on the train, because of their different life patterns," Elian explained. The interview appeared in a Dutch-language report entitled "Public Transport and Political Control: an empirical study into the City Pass project on the West Bank" ("Openbaar vervoer en politieke controle: een empirische studie van het City Pass project op de Westelijke Jordaanoever"). Elian further justified the discriminatory service by claiming that since Palestinians are served by a network of buses, integration in the light rail would be redundant.
Considering its own past, it is hard to imagine that the Dan Bus Company management will take Veolia's non-discrimination policy seriously. On its English-language website, Dan states that "the Jewish battle of Jewish settlements for survival, from the pre-statehood 'Incidents' to the present day, has been an inseparable part of the Israeli experience. It is only natural that the Dan Cooperative has always been a central element in the struggle for the security of Israel, at all periods and in all circumstances." Not only serving Israel's civilian population, Israeli military forces use Dan's bus fleet "in times of peace as well as of war."
Meanwhile, legal action in France by the Association France Palestine Solidarity (AFPS) and the Palestine Liberation Organization against Alstom and Alstom Transport continues. The French companies have appealed a court decision to go ahead with the legal case. On 15 April 2009, the Nanterre tribunal ruled that the AFPS complaint aimed at ending Veolia, Alstom and Alstom Transport's participation in the light rail fell within its jurisdiction. Alstom and Alstom Transport appealed the judgment in a hearing at the Versailles Court of Appeals on 9 November. While Veolia did not appeal the ruling, a lawyer representing the company attended the hearing as an observer. The judgment is expected on 17 December 2009.
Coteret - November 23, 2009
[T]his post is on something you can read about in Haaretz. I do add some analysis and access to additional materials, but the primary reason for the divergence is emotional. Not only is this a story of extraordinary injustice, it is also about the family of a friend and colleague, Mary Koussa.
You can read the entire saga of the Shaya family in this Haaretz article, but the gist is fairly simple. In the 1920’s, Salim Khoury Shaya, head of Jaffa’s once prosperous Greek Orthodox Palestinian community, built a house for his family. He had seven children. In 1948, a census was taken of the remnants of Jaffa’s Palestinian community. Empty houses were taken over by the State of Israel, according to the Absentee Property Law (more about that at the bottom of this post). The Shaya house was a unique case. Three of the siblings were absent (in Lebanon), but four were present. So the State proclaimed itself “partner” and legally took over 40% of the house.
Decades passed and, except for a number of failed attempts in the 50’s and 60’s, to sue for full property rights, the Shaya family didn’t hear much from the government. Their area of Jaffa (near Ajami) was a slum no one was really interested in. That all changed about four years ago. The Jaffa coast went through accelerated gentrification and property prices skyrocketed. Amidar, the government owned housing company that administrates most Absentee Properties, saw an opportunity for a windfall. Contrary to popular perception, most of the Palestinians living in the area are not descendants of the pre-1948 residents, but descendants of refugees displaced during the war from other parts of the country, and are now tenants of Amidar. Therefore, their eviction, on a variety of pretexts, was relatively simple. In 2007-2008 alone, Amidar issued at least 400 eviction notices in the Ajami neighborhood.
The few Palestinian owners were more of a problem. But in 2007, some bureaucrat looking through old case files discovered the Shaya family’s vulnerability and hatched a plan — slap them with an exorbitant demand for years of back rent for the 40% of the house “owned” by the government and then demand that the “partnership” be dissolved through sale of the house to a third party. The Shayas don’t want to leave their ancestral home, but their attempts to buy out the State were rebuffed, and now Amidar and the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) have taken them to court. They want them out.
Even from the perspective of Lieberman’s Jewish-Nationalist school of thought there is much that is wrong with this story. As a devil’s advocate, I would ask his disciples in the government, why persecute “good Arabs?” The Shaya’s are fully integrated in Israeli society. One of the second generation siblings worked at the Tel-Aviv municipality for his entire life. An uncle was the first Palestinian policeman recruited in Jaffa by the Israeli government in 1949. A visitor at the Sunday family gatherings hears a mix of Arabic and Hebrew. Why is Israel taking them back to the Nakba that it wants to force them to forget through legislation?
For Israelis who still believe in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for genuinely “pro-Israel” Jews abroad, this kind of reopening of 1948, which is also happening in Jerusalem and Haifa, is no less than suicidal. It severely undermines the premise of 1967 as the starting point for a diplomatic solution, with its implications regarding the 1948 refugees.For all Jews, or at least those that see Judaism as a culture and a moral code, rather than an ethnic filter, the story of the persecution of the Shaya family presents a grave injustice for which we, as a collective, are responsible. It often seems to me that the apparatus of our government has lost any sense of justice and morality.
November 22, 2009
by Yaniv Reich on November 21, 2009
Beitar Jerusalem captain Aviram Baruchyan met Thursday evening with fans belonging to the “La Familia” organization and apologized for saying that he would like to see an Arab play in the football team.
The fans told him they were hurt by the remark he made about 10 days ago at an anti-violence conference.
Baruchyan said at the end of Thursday’s meeting, “The most painful thing is that I unfortunately hurt Beitar’s fans, and I understood that I hurt them very much. It’s important for me that the players know and that everyone knows that I am with them through thick and thin, and I don’t care what other people think or write.
“However,” he added, “it’s important for me to stress that I’m not the one who decides on these things, but if at the moment the fans don’t want it, there won’t be an Arab player in Beitar.”
A useful contrast can be found in European football’s effort to stamp out racist chanting by some fans at competitions. This incident says much, of course, not just about the racist fans “hurt by the remark”, but also about the institutional environment of professional sports, civic life, and Israeli attitudes that allow occupation to continue almost entirely unchallenged.
November 19, 2009
|The PA leadership in Ramallah is leading the Palestinian movement of independence to a dead end with its proposed unilateral call for Palestinian statehood. (Thaer Ganaim/MaanImages)|
From a rumor, to a rising murmur, the proposal floated by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) Ramallah leadership to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally has suddenly hit center stage. The European Union, the United States and others have rejected it as "premature," but endorsements are coming from all directions: journalists, academics, nongovernmental organization activists, Israeli right-wing leaders (more on that later). The catalyst appears to be a final expression of disgust and simple exhaustion with the fraudulent "peace process" and the argument goes something like this: if we can't get a state through negotiations, we will simply declare statehood and let Israel deal with the consequences.
But it's no exaggeration to propose that this idea, although well-meant by some, raises the clearest danger to the Palestinian national movement in its entire history, threatening to wall Palestinian aspirations into a political cul-de-sac from which it may never emerge. The irony is indeed that, through this maneuver, the PA is seizing -- even declaring as a right -- precisely the same dead-end formula that the African National Congress (ANC) fought so bitterly for decades because the ANC leadership rightly saw it as disastrous. That formula can be summed up in one word: Bantustan.
It has become increasingly dangerous for the Palestinian national movement that the South African Bantustans remain so dimly understood. If Palestinians know about the Bantustans at all, most imagine them as territorial enclaves in which black South Africans were forced to reside yet lacked political rights and lived miserably. This partial vision is suggested by Mustafa Barghouthi's recent comments at the Wattan Media Centre in Ramallah, when he cautioned that Israel wanted to confine the Palestinians into "Bantustans" but then argued for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood within the 1967 boundaries -- although nominal "states" without genuine sovereignty are precisely what the Bantustans were designed to be.
Apartheid South Africa's Bantustans were not simply sealed territorial enclaves for black people. They were the ultimate "grand" formula by which the apartheid regime hoped to survive: that is, independent states for black South Africans who -- as white apartheid strategists themselves keenly understood and pointed out -- would forever resist the permanent denial of equal rights and political voice in South Africa that white supremacy required. As designed by apartheid architects, the ten Bantustans were designed to correspond roughly to some of the historical territories associated with the various black "peoples" so that they could claim the term "Homelands." This official term indicated their ideological purpose: to manifest as national territories and ultimately independent states for the various black African "peoples" (defined by the regime) and so secure a happy future for white supremacy in the "white" Homeland (the rest of South Africa). So the goal of forcibly transferring millions of black people into these Homelands was glossed over as progressive: 11 states living peacefully side by side (sound familiar?). The idea was first to grant "self-government" to the Homelands as they gained institutional capacity and then reward that process by declaring/granting independent statehood.
The challenge for the apartheid government was then to persuade "self-governing" black elites to accept independent statehood in these territorial fictions and so permanently absolve the white government of any responsibility for black political rights. Toward this end, the apartheid regime hand-picked and seeded "leaders" into the Homelands, where they immediately sprouted into a nice crop of crony elites (the usual political climbers and carpet-baggers) that embedded into lucrative niches of financial privileges and patronage networks that the white government thoughtfully cultivated (this should sound familiar too).
It didn't matter that the actual territories of the Homelands were fragmented into myriad pieces and lacked the essential resources to avoid becoming impoverished labor cesspools. Indeed, the Homelands' territorial fragmentation, although crippling, was irrelevant to Grand Apartheid. Once all these "nations" were living securely in independent states, apartheid ideologists argued to the world, tensions would relax, trade and development would flower, blacks would be enfranchised and happy, and white supremacy would thus become permanent and safe.
The thorn in this plan was to get even thoroughly co-opted black Homeland elites to declare independent statehood within "national" territories that transparently lacked any meaningful sovereignty over borders, natural resources, trade, security, foreign policy, water -- again, sound familiar? Only four Homeland elites did so, through combinations of bribery, threats and other "incentives." Otherwise, black South Africans didn't buy it and the ANC and the world rejected the plot whole cloth. (The only state to recognize the Homelands was fellow-traveler Israel.) But the Homelands did serve one purpose -- they distorted and divided black politics, created terrible internal divisions, and cost thousands of lives as the ANC and other factions fought it out. The last fierce battles of the anti-apartheid struggle were in the Homelands, leaving a legacy of bitterness to this day.
Hence the supreme irony for Palestinians today is that the most urgent mission of apartheid South Africa -- getting the indigenous people to declare statehood in non-sovereign enclaves -- finally collapsed with mass black revolt and took apartheid down with it, yet the Palestinian leadership now is not only walking right into that same trap but actually making a claim on it.
The reasons that the PA-Ramallah leadership and others want to walk into this trap are fuzzy. Maybe it could help the "peace talks" if they are redefined as negotiations between two states instead of preconditions for a state. Declaring statehood could redefine Israel's occupation as invasion and legitimize resistance as well as trigger different and more effective United Nations intervention. Maybe it will give Palestinians greater political leverage on the world stage -- or at least preserve the PA's existence for another (miserable) year.
Why these fuzzy visions are not swiftly defeated by short attention to the South African Bantustan experience may stem partly from two key differences that confuse the comparison, for Israel has indeed sidestepped two infamous fatal errors that helped sink South Africa's Homeland strategy. First, Israel did not make South Africa's initial mistake of appointing "leaders" to run the Palestinian "interim self-governing" Homeland. In South Africa, this founding error made it too obvious that the Homelands were puppet regimes and exposed the illegitimacy of the black "national" territories themselves as contrived racial enclaves. Having watched the South Africans bungle this, and having learned from its own past failures with the Village Leagues and the like, Israel instead worked with the United States to design the Oslo process not only to restore the exiled leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its then Chairman Yasser Arafat to the territories but also to provide for "elections" (under occupation) to grant a thrilling gloss of legitimacy to the Palestinian "interim self-governing authority." It's one of the saddest tragedies of the present scenario that Israel so deftly turned Palestinians' noble commitment to democracy against them in this way -- granting them the illusion of genuinely democratic self-government in what everyone now realizes was always secretly intended to be a Homeland.
Only now has Israel found a way to avoid South Africa's second fatal error, which was to declare black Homelands to be "independent states" in non-sovereign territory. In South Africa, this ploy manifested to the world as transparently racist and was universally disparaged. It must be obvious that, if Israel had stood up in the international stage and said "as you are, you are now a state" that Palestinians and everyone else would have rejected the claim out of hand as a cruel farce. Yet getting the Palestinians to declare statehood themselves allows Israel precisely the outcome that eluded the apartheid South African regime: voluntary native acceptance of "independence" in a non-sovereign territory with no political capacity to alter its territorial boundaries or other essential terms of existence -- the political death capsule that apartheid South Africa could not get the ANC to swallow.
Responses from Israel have been mixed. The government does seem jumpy and has broadcast its "alarm," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened unilateral retaliation (unspecified) and government representatives have flown to various capitals securing international rejection. But Israeli protests could also be disingenuous. One tactic could be persuading worried Palestinian patriots that a unilateral declaration of statehood might not be in Israel's interest in order to allay that very suspicion. Another is appeasing protest from that part of Likud's purblind right-wing electorate that finds the term "Palestinian state" ideologically anathema. A more honest reaction could be the endorsement of Kadima party elder Shaul Mofaz, a hardliner who can't remotely be imagined to value a stable and prosperous Palestinian future. Right-wing Israeli journalists are also pitching in with disparaging but also comforting essays arguing that unilateral statehood won't matter because it won't change anything (close to the truth). For example, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened unilaterally to annex the West Bank settlement blocs if the PA declares statehood, but Israel was going to do that anyway.
In the liberal-Zionist camp, Yossi Sarid has warmly endorsed the plan and Yossi Alpher has cautiously done so. Their writings suggest the same terminal frustration with the "peace process" but also recognition that this may be the only way to save the increasingly fragile dream that a nice liberal democratic Jewish state can survive as such. It also sounds like something that might please Palestinians -- at least enough to finally get their guilt-infusing story of expulsion and statelessness off the liberal-Zionist conscience. Well-meaning white liberals in apartheid South Africa -- yes, there were some of those, too -- held the same earnest candle burning for the black Homelands system.
Some otherwise smart journalists are also pitching in to endorse unilateral statehood, raising odd ill-drawn comparisons -- Georgia, Kosovo, Israel itself -- as "evidence" that it's a good idea. But Georgia, Kosovo and Israel had entirely different profiles in international politics and entirely different histories from Palestine and attempts to draw these comparisons are intellectually lazy. The obvious comparison is elsewhere and the lessons run in the opposite direction: for a politically weak and isolated people, who have never had a separate state and lack any powerful international ally, to declare or accept "independence" in non-contiguous and non-sovereign enclaves encircled and controlled by a hostile nuclear power can only seal their fate.
In fact, the briefest consideration should instantly reveal that a unilateral declaration of statehood will confirm the Palestinians' presently impossible situation as permanent. As Mofaz predicted, a unilateral declaration will allow "final status" talks to continue. What he did not spell out is that those talks will become truly pointless because Palestinian leverage will be reduced to nothing. As Middle East historian Juan Cole recently pointed out, the last card the Palestinians can play -- their real claim on the world's conscience, the only real threat they can raise to Israel's status quo of occupation and settlement -- is their statelessness. The PA-Ramallah leadership has thrown away all the other cards. It has stifled popular dissent, suppressed armed resistance, handed over authority over vital matters like water to "joint committees" where Israel holds veto power, savagely attacked Hamas which insisted on threatening Israel's prerogatives, and generally done everything it can to sweeten the occupier's mood, preserve international patronage (money and protection), and solicit promised benefits (talks?) that never come. It's increasingly obvious to everyone watching from outside this scenario -- and many inside it -- that this was always a farce. For one thing, the Western powers do not work like the Arab regimes: when you do everything the West requires of you, you will wait in vain for favors, for the Western power then loses any benefit from dealing more with you and simply walks away.
But more importantly, the South African comparison helps illuminate why the ambitious projects of pacification, "institution building" and economic development that the Ramallah PA and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have whole-heartedly embarked upon are not actually exercises in "state-building." Rather, they emulate with frightening closeness and consistency South Africa's policies and stages in building the Bantustan/Homelands. Indeed, Fayyad's project to achieve political stability through economic development is the same process that was openly formalized in the South African Homeland policy under the slogan "separate development." That under such vulnerable conditions no government can exercise real power and "separate development" must equate with permanent extreme dependency, vulnerability and dysfunctionality was the South African lesson that has, dangerously, not yet been learned in Palestine -- although all the signals are there, as Fayyad himself has occasionally admitted in growing frustration. But declaring independence will not solve the problem of Palestinian weakness; it will only concretize it.
Still, when "separate development" flounders in the West Bank, as it must, Israel will face a Palestinian insurrection. So Israel needs to anchor one last linchpin to secure Jewish statehood before that happens: declare a Palestinian "state" and so reduce the "Palestinian problem" to a bickering border dispute between putative equals. In the back halls of the Knesset, Kadima political architects and Zionist liberals alike must now be waiting with bated breath, when they are not composing the stream of back-channel messages that is doubtless flowing to Ramallah encouraging this step and promising friendship, insider talks and vast benefits. For they all know what's at stake, what every major media opinion page and academic blog has been saying lately: that the two-state solution is dead and Israel will imminently face an anti-apartheid struggle that will inevitably destroy Jewish statehood. So a unilateral declaration by the PA that creates a two-state solution despite its obvious Bantustan absurdities is now the only way to preserve Jewish statehood, because it's the only way to derail the anti-apartheid movement that spells Israel's doom.
This is why it is so dangerous that the South African Bantustan comparison has been neglected until now, treated as a side issue, even an exotic academic fascination, to those battling to relieve starvation in Gaza and soften the cruel system of walls and barricades to get medicine to the dying. The Ramallah PA's suddenly serious initiative to declare an independent Palestinian state in non-sovereign territory must surely force fresh collective realization that this is a terribly pragmatic question. It's time to bring closer attention to what "Bantustan" actually means. The Palestinian national movement can only hope someone in its ranks undertakes that project as seriously as Israel has undertaken it before it's too late.
Virginia Tilley is a former professor of political science and international relations and since 2006 has served as Chief Research Specialist at the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. She is author of The One-State Solution (U of Michigan Press, 2005) and numerous articles and essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based in Cape Town, she writes here in her personal capacity and can be reached at vtilley A T mweb D O T co D O T za.
November 04, 2009
Was the recently held J Street conference the herald of an incipient peace treaty in Israel-Palestine? The supporters of the new lobby group hope so.
For decades, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has had a cloaked but powerful grip on American discussion of Israel. If politicians were to criticize its policies, or to discuss trimming aid or re-evaluating American support for Israel, they would likely incur a cost that few were willing to pay: the use of AIPAC's influence to destroy any hope for re-election.
AIPAC was recently shoved unceremoniously out of the closet by scholars Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, with their broadside against the role of the "Israel Lobby" in distorting the functioning of US foreign policy.
Enter J Street, its name is a riff on K Street, the real Washington, DC address of many powerful lobbying firms. With a staff of 30 and a budget of millions, it has set itself up as the liberal alternative to AIPAC.
Last month, J Street held its inaugural conference in Washington, attracting more than 1,500 individuals who gathered to listen to such liberal Zionist luminaries as Katrina vanden Heuvel, Bernard Avishai, J.J. Goldberg and Akiva Eldar, and a keynote address by Obama Administration National Security Advisor General James Jones. Several members of Congress attended and spoke, and more than 100 were listed as honorary hosts.
The attendees were an eclectic bunch -- Brit Tzedek-ers, college students, aging hippies, rabbis, ambivalent Zionists, human rights activists, organizers -- among them many supporters of Judge Richard Goldstone's landmark fact-finding report on war crimes in Gaza.
Any organization to the left of AIPAC that could in turn marginalize the latter is a good thing and a good start. Bravo. But being merely more progressive than AIPAC is not enough, because to be more progressive than AIPAC is to be drier than the sea.
Looking more closely at the nature of J Street on its own terms, in its own words, reveals many problems. According to its mission statement, the organization is a group for people "who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own." It supports sanctions on Iran, although it prefers a diplomatic process, and it supports the maintenance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in the context of mutual land-swaps. On aid, J Street claims that "American assistance to Israel, including maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge," will be maintained.
J Street's executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, in a widely-circulated interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, argued against using the threat of reducing US military aid as a means to pressure Israel.
J Street's view of Israel, at its core, is fundamentally sympathetic. It is a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby, not a "pro-peace, pro-justice" lobby. It is, then, not at all shocking that J Street supported a modified version of House Resolution 867, which condemns the Goldstone report, referring to it as a "one-sided and biased action in the United Nations when it comes to Israel." From J Street's perspective Israel's attack on Gaza last winter was understandable, even "justified," as Ben-Ami put it.
At the conference, J Street's general tenor was for critical support for Israel, with minor harmonics here and there -- for example, serious and frequently-voiced concerns that soon, a two-state solution would be no longer viable because of Israeli settlement policy. In turn, there was much introspection about Israel's future as a democracy if it continued ruling over Palestinians. At the outer limits, journalist Michelle Goldberg observed that it is currently possible to be a liberal Zionist. From this perspective, Israel has not yet crossed the threshold that would make that position problematic, if not untenable, but it's close. Many statements were prefaced by pronouncements of the speakers' "great love" for Israel, "support for Israel" and the need for a "strong Israel," all purportedly compatible with the desire for a safe and secure Palestine.
Israeli irredentism and the nature of Israeli society were taboo topics amongst the vast majority of the officially-sanctioned panelists and speakers. The overwhelming support for the Gaza attacks amongst the Israeli populace, even among doves like David Grossman, went unmentioned. It is not for nothing that Israeli dissident Michel Warchawski refers to Israeli society as heading towards an "open tomb," or that sniper units wore t-shirts depicting two-for-the-price-of-one -- a pregnant Palestinian woman and her unborn baby for one bullet. Israel may have many of the formal procedural mechanisms that connote "democracy," but it has an array of mechanisms that prevent it from being a democracy for those who aren't Jewish. This, too, went unmentioned, but is at the core of what makes Israel a Jewish state, and an ethnically stratified democracy.
This brings us to the crux of the issue. J Street's policy positions reflect the assumption that the correct amount of strategically-targeted pressure, consisting of the right mix of harsh words and blandishments, can compel Israel to change its policies. The trump card of aid-cessation has been ruled out. American diplomats and statesmen are fond of the language of carrots and sticks, but there is to be no carrot for Israel and no stick, just the vague threat of the inevitable end of the two-state solution if a negotiated settlement is not arrived at by the end of Obama's term in office, and the accompanying end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
This vision is based upon a fantastical vision of Israel: a flawed democracy, not a scarily aggressive state harboring dangerously genocidal sentiments, with a messianic military believing in its divine right to sovereignty over another people's land. J Street does not recognize these facts. It's attempting to walk a path that's unwalkable, and when one wishes to trod a path that can't be trod upon, it helps to be able to dream. The dream is that Israel is a beleaguered democracy, struggling to defend itself. Emphasis on defense: the Zionist warrior ethos, manifested as security through the gun, may be somewhat beguiling to segments of an American Jewish population swearing that we never again will be helplessly slaughtered. There's no doubt about that.
But another segment of American Jewry was at that conference, too. Maybe we were a large plurality of the attendees, perhaps not -- certainly the participants at the conference were far to the left of the speakers. That segment knows far too much to any more countenance Israeli policy, and increasingly sees little reason to call itself "pro-Israel," when Israel has become a stand-in for unspeakable crimes. Perhaps most importantly, that segment trends young. The J Street University Student Board has stated "To us being pro-Israel is intertwined with being pro-Palestine," and is letting individual university chapters decide whether or not to include the "pro-Israel" slogan on its individual messaging. Otherwise, they worry, no one would join.
Whether that segment can exercise discernible influence on J Street in the next six months or one or two years, enough to make the lobby something better than it is now, enough to change its unacceptable policy positions, is not clear, and I'm betting against it. But it's possible. Furthermore, that segment will not be shushed by accusations of anti-Semitism, not anymore, never again. That segment may not be able to save Israel as a Jewish democratic state, and for many, that's fine too, and makes it that much easier to unite with other dissident sectors that don't see Israel as a Jewish issue but the conflict as a human issue, and see a Jewish democratic state not as a dream, but as an impossibility, the product of feverish fantasy.
Modern Zionism is an addiction for American Jewry, and withdrawal goes in stages. J Street was step one. Let's take it for what it is, and keep working.
Max Ajl blogs on Israel-Palestine at www.maxajl.com, and is an organizer with the Gaza Freedom March.
November 03, 2009
There can be few supporters of the Palestinians, still less anti-Zionists, who haven't, at some time or another, been accused of "anti-Semitism." Accusations that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism have become little more than a ritual exercise in defamation. The danger in making such accusations is, to quote the former Director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, Antony Lerman, that it "drains the word antisemitism of any useful meaning." Moreover, its purpose is to discourage criticism of Israel and support of the Palestinians or risk being labeled as anti-Semitic. As I wrote two years ago, "If you cry wolf long and loud enough, when anti-Semitism does raise its head no one will bat an eyelid."
The European political establishment, like its American counterpart, has taken to the idea that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are indistinguishable. According to the European Union's Working Definition, anti-Semitism includes: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor), drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, and holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel. It is ironic that the EU's definition of anti-Semitism is itself anti-Semitic!
But the idea that "Jewish people" wherever they live, form a nation separate from the people they live amongst, because that is the meaning of self-determination, is itself an anti-Semitic concept. What is really being stated is that Jews form a race, not a nation.
Moreover, if drawing comparisons between Israeli policies and the Nazis is anti-Semitic, then the late Marek Edelman, the Commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, must have been an anti-Semite. In 2002, Edelman stated publicly that Palestinian resistance fighters in the second intifada were the inheritors of the Jewish Fighting Organization of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Similarly, since holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli state is indeed anti-Semitic, what then is one to make of the actions of the Board of Deputies of British Jews? On 9 January 2009 the Board of Deputies held a rally under the title "Community to Show Support for Israel at Trafalgar Square Rally."
Zionism held that Jews were strangers in other peoples' lands and that anti-Semitism was the natural, if not justifiable, reaction to an alien presence among them. It was but a short step from this to an acceptance that anti-Semitic characteristics and caricatures of Jews were essentially correct. Indeed, the conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism is yet another irony, as historically, it was non-Jewish support of Zionism that was seen by Jews as anti-Semitic. What anti-Semites and leading Zionists said about Jews were almost indistinguishable. As A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel's foremost novelists, stated in a lecture to the Union of Jewish Students: "Even today, in a perverse way, a real anti-Semite must be a Zionist." And from Pinhas Felix Rosenbluth, a leading German Zionist, to Arthur Ruppin, head of the Jewish Agency, Zionists have not hesitated to employ anti-Semitic rhetoric to further their cause.
This is not so strange, because what one is talking about are in reality two entirely different forms of political philosophy with the same name -- anti-Semitism. Contrary to received opinion, there is nothing in common between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Certainly the Zionist movement has deliberately confused the two, but the former is a form of anti-racism whereas the latter is a form of racism. There can be no blurring at the edges or overlap. One is either an anti-Semite or an anti-Zionist. One cannot be both.
Therefore, it is not surprising that today, with the growth of far right and neo-fascist parties in Europe, that almost without exception they are pro-Israel. Thus, the very people who criticize anti-Zionists and Palestinian supporters as anti-Semitic are rushing to hold the hands of Zionism's far-right supporters.
For example Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom Ron Prossor was more than happy to share a platform at the Conservative Friends of Israel with Michal Kaminski of the Polish Justice and Freedom Party. Kaminski is notorious in Poland for openly opposing the call for an official apology for the 1941 massacre of hundreds of Jews in the Polish village of Jedwabne.
Last month, Israel's Ambassador to the European Union, Ran Curiel, paid the first visit by an ambassador to the Kaminski-chaired European Conservatives & Reform (ECR) Group in the European Parliament. As quoted in a 13 October news post on ECR's website, Curiel told the assembled audience that "'After years of "megaphone diplomacy" between Israel and Europe, an open dialogue is the best thing we can do now.'" Furthermore, "He highly appreciated the support of the ECR Group for the two-state solution to the 'peace process' which would fully ensure the security of the State of Israel and respect the border of national states."
Curiel's visit followed an earlier visit by Kaminski to Israel with the European Friends of Israel organization. It was Kaminski's first visit to a non-EU country as Chairman of the ECR. According to a 25 September post on the Conservative Friends of Israel's website, at a dinner held by the organization Kaminski explained that Israel was deliberately chosen as his first trip so that he could "'deliver the message that there is a group in the European Parliament that will be a true friend of Israel.'"
Similarly in the UK, Kaminski's Zionist allies rushed to his defense last month. As the Jewish Chronicle reported on 15 October, several members of the Jewish Leadership Council were outraged when Board of Deputies President Vivian Wineman wrote a letter to David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, questioning the Tory alliance with Kaminski and his far-right Justice and Freedom Party in the European Parliament. Andrew Gilbert, one of a number of deputies who believe the letter to Cameron ill-judged, stated that "'Nobody in the Jewish or political community did enough research either to say that Michal Kaminski or Roberts Zile have suspect views, which means we should shun them, or to clear them.'"
Nor is the Conservative party alone in embracing Israel's fascist allies. The British National Party is a growing party, with more than 50 local councilors and two members of the European Parliament. On 22 October 2009, its leader, Nick Griffin, appeared on the BBC's premier program Question Time, to a wave of protests. How did he explain away his anti-Semitism and support for holocaust denial? By explaining that though he might not be too fond of Jews, he was a strong supporter of Israel, stating that "there are Nazis in Britain and they loathe me because I have brought the BNP from being frankly an anti-Semitic and racist organization into being the only political party which in the clashes between Israel and Gaza stood full-square behind Israel's right to deal with Hamas terrorists."
As the Guardian reported in April 2008, Board of Deputies spokesperson Ruth Smeed let readers know that "The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web -- it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel."
But Kaminski and Roberts Zile, of the Waffen-SS supporting Latvian Freedom and Fatherland Party, are not the exceptions. Dutch far-right anti-Islam politician and Member of Parliament Geert Wilders is another figure who combines virulent racism with Zionism. As reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz on 18 June, Wilders claimed that "Israel is only the first line of defense for the West. Now it's Israel but we are next. That's why beyond solidarity, it is in Europe's interest to stand by Israel."
Wilders is facing criminal charges for inciting hate by comparing the Quran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. After winning five seats in June parliamentary elections, Wilders's Party of Freedom is now the second largest political party in the country. Wilders has also found common cause with the right-wing openly racist political party of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, Wilders explained that "'Our parties may not be identical, but there are certainly more similarities than dissimilarities, and I am proud of that,'" (Haaretz, 18 June 2009). He added that "'Lieberman's an intelligent, strong and clever politician and I understand why his party grew in popularity.'"
Indeed, the only far-right party that I could find whose anti-Semitism is disguised as anti-Zionism is Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, a descendant of the pro-Nazi Nyilas. During World War II, Nyilas was responsible for the deaths of some 50,000 mainly Budapest Jews. Leaders of the party were executed by the Hungarian state after liberation. This is the party that the BNP, which "opposes anti-Semitism," is joined with in the European Parliament.
Therefore, when Israel's Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz claims that Judge Richard Goldstone is an "anti-Semite" and that it is possible for a Jew to be an anti-Semite, he is right: the history of Zionism is indeed full of such examples!
Tony Greenstein is a trade union activist, a member of UNISON, Brighton & Hove Trades Council and Secretary of Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, where he works as an employment adviser. He runs a socialist, anti-Zionist blog, www.azvsas.blogspot.com.
October 26, 2009
Israel has been the best performing residential real estate property market in 2009. Exclusively Jewish developments have been fueled by Israeli government tax breaks and ultra-low interest rates set by the Bank of Israel.
The Jerusalem Post reports (emphasis mine):
Mortgage rates are about 2%, according to Mortgage Israel, the country's largest home-loan brokerage. The average rate for the past five years was about 5 percent. [...]New legislation passed by the Knesset may cause the pace of construction to accelerate, pushing down property prices, Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias said October 8. The Knesset on August 3 approved a law proposed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to free up publicly owned land for private development and make it easier and cheaper to buy and build homes.
"A bubble began to emerge this year, fueled by the Bank of Israel," said Shlomo Maoz, chief economist at Excellence Investments. "The bank is now beginning to raise rates again to fight inflation."
Ayelet Nir, chief economist at IBI said "though mortgages became cheap, credit was never widely available in Israel." [...]
Some neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya are also shielded from a collapse by constant demand from Jews from the US, France and the UK, said Bernard Raskin, regional director of Re/Max Israel, the country's largest property broker.
Groups of private investors in Tel Aviv have replaced contractors and real-estate companies as the biggest purchasers of land in Israel this year, according to the Israel Lands Administration. The companies are given tax breaks by the government that allow them to pay more, inflating property prices, Maoz said.
A closer examination of the Israeli mortgage industry reveals Western financial industry connections. Shunpiking Magazine describes the process:
Political economy of recent Zionist colonisation and war
* The alternative compromise was to replace direct economic foreign aid with loan guarantees, enabling Israel to lower its borrowing costs by using the US guarantee to obtain a favourable rate of interest in the finance capital markets. For example, the Trans-Israel Highway  is a multinational consortium of consortia: in Canada - Derech Eretz Highways (1997) Ltd. comprises Canadian Highways International Corporation (CHIC), builder of the toll turnpikes in Ontario and Nova Scotia, control of which was acquired by the U.S. financial conglomerate CIT Group in 1999; in Israel - Africa Israel Investment Ltd. of Tel Aviv and 36 other firms; in France - Société Générale d'Entreprises of Paris; and in the United States - Hughes Transportation Management Systems and Raytheon Corp., the weapons manufacturer which supplied the billion-dollar, dysfunctional Patriot missile system to Israel. The para-military highway project itself was constructed from a US$3-billion contract, with 80 per cent of any potential losses guaranteed ...by the Israeli government. In a word: the mutual fleecing of each lesser predator by a bigger predator-partner goes 'round and around and it comes out here... in these long-term loan guarantees floated on international financial markets. For their part, business interests based in Israel acquire access to capital by means of free-trade agreements and most-favoured-nation status annexing their market to the financial houses of Wall Street [United States], London and Frankfurt [the European Union] and Bay Street [Canada].
* The first cries of pain in the business press of Israel after Hamas' election to office in the Palestine Legislative Council elections of 25 January 2006 were over the need to get the US to extend the loan guarantees ... even though only about half the facility had been used up [the data in the Ynet article below discloses that US$4.9 of US$9.0 billion has been used]. The electoral verdict created great anxiety in Tel Aviv among those sections of Israeli business and industry living off the avails of the loan guarantees. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which won the majority and the democratic right to form the government, was not (and still is not) committed to recognising the Zionist colonies of the West Bank as Israeli territory. This non-recognition gravely jeopardises the entire house-of-cards just elaborated.
a. Israel borrows in the money market at a highly preferred rate.
b. The Zionist magnates of the construction and real estate industry - a sector through which the Sharon family enriched itself, and intimately linked with the Jewish National Fund which holds virtually 100 per cent of the land "in trust" (and its parent, the World Zionist Council, composed of Anglo-American finance capitalists) - then borrow from the Israeli government at a slightly higher rate, but still below the mortgage market rate within Israel.
c. Finally, the numerous settlers borrow from the tiny handful of banks and-or fat-cat settlement developers at the prevailing mortgage market rate.
October 25, 2009
by Adam Horowitz on October 24, 2009
Ali Abunimah responds to Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Jeremy Ben-Ami:
Here, Jeremy Ben-Ami describes a one-state solution as a "nightmare":
JG: But they’re by no means Zionists. Helena Cobban, who is going to be speaking on this blogger panel, is close to a one-stater, as far as I can tell.
JB: J Street officially will not use the term "One-State Solution." That is an oxymoron because it is a one-state nightmare. That is the thing we are most opposed to — moving in a one-state direction.
JG: A nightmare for practical reasons or a nightmare for moral reasons?
JB: A nightmare for the Jewish people. There would be no more Israel. One state is not a solution, one state is a dissolution.
Look at his words, it’s really amazing. He could be a white supremacist in the south contemplating the end of Jim Crow, or an Afrikaner talking about the end of apartheid. All this is apparently so unremarkable however when it comes to Zionists contemplating the end of Jewish supremacy. This, as well as J Street’s other recent actions, convince me more than ever that this organization will not be part of the solution. It is at best Kadima to AIPAC’s Likud/Yisrael Beitenu. Which means in effect no difference at all. I think there are some sincere people who may have been attracted to J Street, but ultimately there’s no Zionist solution to the Zionist problem, just like there’s no racist solution to the problem of racism.
Netanyahu stressed that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state in order to end their conflict.
"That's right," Netanyahu told The Washington Post when asked if such recognition was needed.
"Israel is not a bi-national state," AFP quoted Netanyahu as saying on Saturday. "It has non-Jews who live here with full, equal rights, but it has two things that assure its special character."
"It's the homeland of any Jew. And there is a very broad consensus in Israel that the Palestinian refugee problem should be resolved outside Israel's borders," he added.
Netanyahu said Palestinians will have to make a final peace deal with "the Jewish state of Israel."
"Jews come here and Palestinians will go there. So choose. That's the basis of a solution," Netanyahu concluded.
October 18, 2009
by Philip Weiss on October 17, 2009
Of all the events I’ve covered surrounding Jewish identity and Israel in the last year, none has given me so much pleasure as the lecture last night by Shlomo Sand at NYU on the Invention of the Jewish People. Most events I go to are grinding, awful, heartrending, often with lamentations and pictures of mutilated children. This one was pure intellectual deviltry of the highest order by a Pavarotti of the lecture hall. And while it was fiercely anti-Zionist and included references to the mutilated children, it left me in just an incredibly elated mood. For I saw real light at the end of the tunnel, and not the horrifying dimness that surrounds almost all other events that deal with Israel politics here– for instance with the neoconservative Weekly Standard’s disgusting pursuit of J Street.
This pleasure was entirely Shlomo Sand’s achievement. He walked by me going down to the lectern and I noticed his physical vanity at once. He had expensive shoes on, designer jeans or cords, a zipup black jacket and a black shirt under that unbuttoned to the sternum. He is lean and mid-60sish, and behaves like a player. His beard is cut in an interesting manner, he wears designer glasses. I wondered if he dyed his hair. All glorious devil.
Sand has an excitable, self-referential style, and he began the lecture by breaking his guitar. “Jewish history is not my field.” No, but once he had discovered that the story of the connection of the Jewish people to the Holy Land was a myth, he decided that he would secretly explore the history but not publish until he got tenure for doing other work. Because if he published this first, “there would not be any chance of being a full professor. Not only in Tel Aviv. But at NYU too.”
Everyone laughed, but Sand said, “That is not a joke. I must write the book after I see that no one could touch me really.” More devil. Though Sand is right. This is no joke.
Sand studies European history, but Israel has a separate department in every school for Jewish history, and Zionists run these departments. “I have not a right to write about Jewishness.” The Zionist history holds that the Jews have an ancient connection biblically to the land, and were exiled from the Middle East in 70 AD, in what became the Diaspora. The Jews of New York and Warsaw. Sand began to question this story when he saw archaeologists’ work about the early Christian times and also when he saw scientific data. The exile is absurd. The Romans persecuted the Jews. They didn’t exile them.
At this point came the first interruption by a Zionist. A bald man in the third row or so called out, “What about Bar Kochba?” And: the Jews weren’t exiled because they were killed.
Sand seemed to live for this interruption. He walked up to the audience with his eyes gleaming, and congratulated the man for his knowledge of the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 AD, after the Second Temple destruction, and agreed with him, but also dismissed him. Yes many Jews were killed. And for the rest of the lecture Sand would dance toward this man and tease him that he was Jewish—he was—and urge him to buy the book to discover the gaps in his knowledge, or by the end of the lecture, say that he would buy the book for him himself, to improve him. More deviltry.
Back to the exile myth. The expelled diasporic Jews went in a straight line north to Europe, made a right into the land between the Caspian and the Black Seas, Kazaria, and also north to Russia and Poland; and when they got there in the 1800s they made a u-turn and started back to Palestine. The absurdity of the myth is that there were always Jews in the Middle East. The Jews were peasants and mingled with other populations. The Jews were not passive actors. They were at times a majority in the Holy Land and conquerors of the Arabian peninsula before the Arabs, and of North Africa too. For a time, they did not have a bar against proselytization. The Maccabees were the first to undertake forced conversion. In the 8th century the Jews and the Muslim Berbers were likely the invaders of Spain.
Sand offered very little by way of evidence. You will find that in his “boring” book, he said. This was an aria not a chalktalk. The Jews of the Middle East made several kingdoms over the years. One in Yemen, another in Babylon, another in North Africa, where they fought the Arabs. Sand said he loves the curly hair of the Yemenite Jews. More deviltry, with some concupiscence thrown in.
The Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe originated in Kazaria. They were hugely successful and founded a great city, Kiev. We can claim to have founded Kiev, but not Jerusalem, he said. Because the Jews who lived in the Holy Land stayed in the Holy Land. Many of the people we now call Palestinians were originally Jews. The chance that someone who lives in Hebron today and speaks Arabic is a direct descendant of a Jew in ancient times is 1000 times greater than the possibility that I am descended from a Jew, Shlomo Sand declared.
Let’s move on from the mythology to the issue of national identity. Identity is formed by many many associations. “I don’t deny Jewish identity. I’m not fighting against someone’s identity. There is identity of homosexuals. They are not a people. We are composed of a lot of identities.” Two Catholic share a religious identity, but again, that is not a national identity with a tie to land.
Nationalism took root in human political development in the 1800s. The Germans and French began the project by inventing the idea of a German and French people. The French history books declared outright in the first sentence that the Gauls were their ancestors. It was a way to valorize the nation state, which was an essential part of modernity.
What is a people? A people generally shares a way of life, a language, a food, a geography. There is no Jewish language. Shlomo Sand stumbles proudly in English, while of course many of the people in the audience were Jews speaking English. Food the Israelis have–stolen from the Palestinians—and still you must say that there is an Israeli people. But they are not the Jewish people. They are Israeli people, and the Palestinians are Palestinian people. Both made by Zionism.
The Zionist project began inventing the idea of a Jewish people in the 1870s as a reflection of other nationalisms. The Zionists turned to the Bible for the foundational myth. The biblical myths are taught in Israeli schools from before children are taught mathematics and language–taught about the biblical associations of Jews to this land. But the Exodus is a complete myth. “As a historian, I try and predict the past. I’m not a prophet.” And what are the true predictions of the past: at the supposed time of the Exodus, the Egyptians also controlled Canaan. The kingdom of David and Solomon was not a kingdom at all, but a small settlement around Jerusalem.
Sand had run over his 45 minutes. In the Question and Answer period, his passion and intellectual majesty announced themselves. He sought to engage with the Zionists in the crowd, and did so out of moral fervor. When Sand said that Israel was not a democracy, and a Zionist called out, “It is a flawed democracy,” Sand bellowed. No: a democracy is founded on the idea that the people are the sovereign, that the people own the state. That is the first principle of a republic going back to Rousseau. Liberalism and civil rights are not the core. Yes, Israel is a liberal society. It tolerates Shlomo Sand’s heresy, for instance, and puts him on TV. But it is a liberal ethnocracy.
Down the row from me were two Arabs. I recognized the man from other events I have been to. I noticed how fulfilled they were by the talk, how quietly approving, and it was in this connection that we saw Sand’s passion: on behalf of the Palestinians. This part of the lecture brought tears to my eyes, it was so forceful and unapologetic. The idea that Joe Lieberman has a right to move to Israel tomorrow and a Palestinian whose ancestors have lived there for centuries cannot is an outrage, Sand said. But for 50 years the Palestinian Israelis were afraid to speak out.
“They were afraid because of the Nakba. They were afraid because of the military regime. Today this is a generation of young Palestinian Israelis that stop to be afraid. They become more anti-Israel in their politics the more they become Israelis.”
Sand said that Gaza was just an intimation of the violence that might come when the Palestinians declare that they want a genuine democracy, a state of their own citizens in Palestinian-dominated Galilee. These are young Palestinian Israelis who don’t want to be part of the West Bank or of Gaza. They will be like the Kosovars of Serbia, who when the Serbs started to make an ethnic regime of the former Yugoslavia, did not want to be part of Albania, with whom they share religious connections, no they wanted to be their own country. (And got it, by the way, 60 years after the world falsely promised the Palestinians that they could have a state.) “They will build in Galilee a state of their citizens. That will start to be the end of Israel. Israel won’t let Galilee become a state of its citizens. It will be a mass murder, I’m afraid.”
Don’t we want to get past the idea of the nation-state? Of course we do, Sand said, but that is the era we are in. And tell that to the Palestinians. They want a state. Sand is for the two-state solution because the Palestinians ought to get a state after being denied it forever. As soon as the occupation, which has denied these Palestinians any civil or human rights for 42 years—more fire!—is ended, that is the day we throw ourselves into the project of making a confederation of Israel with Palestine and Jordan. The one-state solution is a utopia. “Utopia has to direct politics. Not replace politics. It’s too dangerous.” (Something like Hussein Ibish’s new book in that.)
When Sand spoke to Palestinian professors at Al Quds University, they told him to speak Hebrew, because they had all learned Hebrew in Israeli jails. And he told them that just because Israel had begun with a great crime did not mean that it had not begun. “Even a child that was born from a rape has a right to live. ’48 was a rape. But something happened in history. We have to correct and repair a lot of things.” The next day the Palestinian papers had his rape line in big headlines.
You have not talked about anti-Semitism, or self-hatred, said another Zionist, with a cap on. “I am anti-racist. And an anti-anti-semite,” he said. “But look at me, do you think I hate the Jewish?” More devil eyes flashing. “I don’t hate myself… I hate the Jewish people? But that doesn’t exist. How can I hate something that doesn’t exist?”
More Zionist claptrap from the claque: You say that a Jew can’t marry non-Jews in Israel, but two men can’t marry each other in this country! Sand laughed. Men should be able to marry each other here if they want to, and anyone should be able to marry anyone else in Israel. Why won’t the state recognize such marriages? Not because of the orthodox. No: the secular Jews gave the rabbis the power over marriage when they founded the Jewish state in ’48. They did so because “they were not sure of their identity, and needed religious criteria.”
What do you think of Israel Shahak, whose work says that ethnocentrism and chauvinism are built into the Jewish religion? Sand said that Shahak was a chemist and a man of tremendous moral force, but he didn’t know the material. (I say he’s right about this; all religious doctrines are interlarded with racism.)
Why are you not on Charlie Rose? asked a man with a beard. The man said, I watch Charlie Rose every night and I’m up to here with the Zionism on the show. He held his hand at his neck. Not just the Israelis, the American journalists who imbibe Zionism. Sand didn’t seem to know who Charlie Rose was. He has been on lots of Israeli TV shows. And been 19 weeks on the bestseller list in Israel. “Also in France.”
I thought, Why has Yivo not asked Sand to debate Michael Walzer? Two years back at Yivo/the Center for Jewish History, Walzer declared that the Jews are a people, a people like no other, without national borders. They have maintained a political community for 2000 years without geographical sovereignty, through a religious-legal structure. Interesting ideas. And it would be a fabulous debate. Where are you chickenshit Yivo, when these great ideas are bursting forth from the Jews who hate what Israel is doing to our identity?
I hope I am conveying something of the power of this event, and its incredible optimism and second sight. Sand challenged every Jew in the room to reimagine the future. “Most of the Jews [in the world today] are a product of conversion… I see the shame. And it is a shame. If you are born in the 20th century, and we were all born in the 20th century– to base your identity on biology.”
I thought as always of the American Jewish project: to end the Israel lobby and to end the myth of Jewish outsiderness. Sand had addressed this too. “The destiny of Israel. And the destiny of the Middle East depnds a lot on you, Americans.” This was a subject for its own lecture. But it was necessary for the Americans now to “save us from ourselves. I’m not joking about this.”
Do you fear for your life? someone asked.
“I’m worried in New York. Not in Tel Aviv. It’s not a joke. Really, I’m not joking.”
October 16, 2009
I decided I needed to do a refresher on basic Old Testament material. I reread the entire books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I doubt if many folks have read these two documents, but they are in the Bible, so they must be worthy of our attention.
The material is not unfamiliar to me, but I was jarred anew at the absurdity and the violence, that are contained in the two books. The Ten Commandments and commands to love God and neighbor are found in these writings, but they are not the central themes of the two books.
The first portion of Leviticus lays out detailed instructions about the slaying and burning of animals to appease and please God. Not exactly a topic of current interest.
If a sacrifice was properly executed, sins were forgiven and the odor of the burnt meat was pleasing to the nostrils of God. Other portions of Leviticus describe how priests practiced health care and what a woman must do to become “clean” after giving birth to a child.
The last chapters are known as “The Holiness Code” and describe the details of the life that is acceptable to God. Blasphemy is out. Sabbath keeping is in. Permanent ownership of land is out. Keeping feast days is in.
Slavery is in. Men lying with men is out. Adultery is out, as is incest. Loving your neighbor is in. Cloth woven with two different kinds of yarn is out. Tithing is demanded. Loaning money for interest is out. Eating pork is out.
Even the most ardent Fundamentalist picks and chooses what to embrace and what to reject from these ancient rules written hundreds of years after Moses and hundred of years before Jesus.
Deuteronomy has a different character. The book is a retelling of the basic Moses/Law story with an emphasis on the blessings of obedience to God’s law and the consequences of disobedience.
The Ten Commandments are repeated and the details of the righteous life are spelled out. Some items are redundant to Leviticus. Obedience to God’s laws is a big concern, and long passages lay out the consequences of disobedience.
In the 14th chapter the unbending nature of God’s law and the severity of punishment for disobedience are made plain.
“If your brother, or your son, or your daughter, or your wife, or your friend, who is as your own soul, entices you by saying ‘let us go and serve other Gods,’ you shall not yield to him or listen to him, but you shall kill him.
“You shall take the lead and the hand of all the people shall join you. You shall stone him to death because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God.”
This is dangerous material in the hands of a religious Fundamentalist. And another example:
In the retelling of the story of the Israelites, the Deuteronomy writer reports that the conquering Israelites entered Palestine from the south, in obedience to the instructions of Jehovah God.
They “captured all the cities and utterly destroyed them and all men, women, and children. We left none remaining.”
This report of violent destruction is repeated and the violence was justified each time because they were taking land that had been given to them by God. Never mind that people had been living there for centuries.
As I read about the strange rituals of Leviticus and the harsh, seemingly senseless injustice and violence of Deuteronomy, I reacted strongly. This does not describe the moral and ethical life that I embrace as a follower of Jesus from Nazareth. [...]
In 2009, I have become wary of saying “The Lord’s Prayer” too many times, of singing “The Star Spangled Banner” too many times, of reciting creeds and confessions of faith too many times, of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance too many times.
I believe they deaden the very senses that are needed to make me a better Christian, a better American and a better contributor to a more just world. I cannot believe building a bigger, more effective military, that can lose fewer of us and kill more of them, is the answer to a safer world.
What should I read next? Revelation?The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 15, 2009
Palestinian-American journalist and Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah discusses the notion of a binational state in Palestine/Israel with Palestinian politician Ghassan Khatib on the Riz Khan Show. Abunimah reiterates an important point early on which advocates of the two-state solution continue to ignore: if the two-state solution has failed to cement the so-called “peace process” after nearly two decades of failed “negotiations,” then isn’t it time to consider a more realistic, practical possibility? Or is the “peace process” just a show, rather than an actual quest for a viable solution to this conflict?
For PULSE contributing editor Robin Yassin-Kassab’s comments on Abunimah’s brilliant book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, click here.
October 14, 2009
October 14, 2009
Interior Minister and Shas Party chairman Eli Yishai plans "to muster all of Shas' political power on the issue of the foreign workers," he told Haaretz on Tuesday.
During a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Yishai warned that if the cabinet rejects his demand that children of foreign workers not be given residency or citizenship in Israel, he will abdicate responsibility for the Immigration Authority, which is currently in his ministry's purview, to the Prime Minister's Office, and foment a coalition crisis to boot.
He also reminded Netanyahu of a similar case in 1986, when then-Shas chairman and interior minister Yitzhak Peretz resigned from the cabinet after the High Court of Justice ordered the ministry to register people who underwent Reform conversions overseas as Jews.
Yishai does not object to Monday's decision to postpone deporting the children and their parents until the end of the school year, saying this was for "humanitarian reasons." But he stressed that he will not agree to any further postponements and will vehemently oppose granting the children citizenship or residency.
Allowing these children to stay in Israel "is liable to damage the state's Jewish identity, constitute a demographic threat and increase the danger of assimilation," he said.
October 13, 2009
We’ve all wondered when NPR would investigate the bigotry underlying the Occupation and ever-growing colonization of Palestine. Yesterday, Morning Edition finally announced a piece on how groups of Israeli men roam streets, intimidating Palestinian and Jewish people who date each other. I looked forward to an expose’ of the thugs’ intolerance. Sadly, NPR spit out the opposite: a paean to the racism of those Israelis. Renee Montagne opens with the "news" that, "There is a new enemy for some Israelis: romance between Jewish women and Arab men, and vigilantes have banded together to fight it. The vigilante groups are walking the streets and towns across Israel. The largest and most notorious is in the Jewish settlements that have sprung up in and around traditionally Arab East Jerusalem."
What does Montagne mean, "Jewish settlements" "have sprung up" amid "traditionally Arab" East Jerusalem? Montagne misleads listeners from the outset, declining to mention either the illegal Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands or its continual theft and violence toward the people of Palestine. Just yesterday, the Israeli government demolished yet more Palestinian-owned buildings in East Jerusalem, without a peep from NPR.
Montagne reveals that "Sheera Frenkel joined one of the groups on patrol." Montagne makes Frenkel’s participation sound like camaraderie–the same phrase one would use if Frenkel actually became a vigilante herself. Montagne’s only critical word is her label "vigilante" for people who are in fact vigilantes.Sheera Frenkel tells us that these vigilantes object to "Arab men dating Jewish girls." Frenkel’s terms treat her subject unequally in two ways: she opposes an ethnicity, "Arab," to a religion, "Jewish"– a racist formulation, for, unbelievably, Frenkel never once mentions the boys’ true identity: "Palestinian." Meanwhile, Frenkel’s whole approach is sexist, heightening the supposed "danger" posed by "Arab men" to "Jewish girls." If Frenkel were fair, she would describe the couples as "men and women," or, because they are "underaged," as "boys and girls."
Frenkel says that "’David’–who doesn’t want his name used" has a "mission" to "patrol," searching to "find Arab-Jewish couples and break up their dates." Frenkel shows no revulsion toward David’s interference. David avows: "My heart hurts every time I see a Jewish girl with an Arab. It’s extremely upsetting. I ask myself, ‘How did we get to this situation? How did we descend to this level?’ It is a serious step backwards in our eyes." Frenkel neglects to condemn or even question David about his hunger for segregation. She lets pass David’s bigoted claim that he and his ilk exist on a plane inherently "above" Palestinians and would be degraded by "falling" in love with them–literally plunging both down and behind.
Frenkel grants the vigilantes legitimacy: "In groups named ‘Fire for Judaism’ and ‘Love of Youth,’ 30 to 40 men…patrol the streets each night," without questioning their monikers or motives. "Officially, they’re on the lookout for any mixed couples," but a driver called "TS" "says the problem lies solely with Arab men dating Jewish girls." In other words, another layer of prejudice applies: the gangs aren’t just looking for any "mixed couples." Frenkel refrains from asking the vigilantes why Palestinian men in love with Jewish women is a bigger threat to their prejudices than Palestinian women with Jewish men.
TS says that the "Arab" men entice the girls with gifts: "These men approach the girl in a nice way. They buy her things. They build trust with the woman so that, given some time, the girls just blindly follow them. And–with time–one friend follows another, and soon enough, you have a commune made up of these types of girls." Horrors: a "commune," no less. How is such a conglomeration different from a kibbutz? Frenkel does not interrogate the self-appointed posse about its assumption that the Jewish women are saps–bribed into myopia. Instead, Frenkel tells us–without a glimmer of disapproval–that such Jewish persecution of Palestinian men dating Jewish women has actually become the official policy of one local government: "In…an industrial city in Israel’s center," the "municipality has formed a special division" for dealing with the "what it sees as the problem of underage Arab-Jewish couples."
Frenkel comments, "the couplings are an unforeseen bi-product of the growing number of Jewish settlements that have been built across largely Arab East Jerusalem." "Couplings"?–sounds as if Frenkel’s chatting about the matting habits of animals, rather than serious human beings capable of great devotion. "[U]nforeseen bi-product"?–naive inadvertence to the consequences of stealing others’ property and moving in next door, not a calculated exponential expansion. "[G]rowing number"?–an innocent increase devoid of larceny. "Jewish settlements"?–Jewish pioneers taming uninhabited land, instead of colonies pinched by invaders. "[T]hat have been built"?–simple construction on mysteriously bulldozed ruins, rather than obliterating others’ homes . "[A]cross largely Arab East Jerusalem"?–accidental spread throughout territory once inhabited by Arabs, never purloining the legal inheritance of Palestinians or dominating those who so tenuously remain. Frenkel conceals the Israeli breaches of International Law in its ethnic cleansing, revealing instead a sense of Palestinians as sub-human. Frenkel, like Montagne, condemns listeners to ignorance of the bloody Occupation and its ends by hiding every relevant fact.
Frenkel informs us that "Alona Levy, a 16-year-old Jewish teenager, says that she gets approached by Arab men every day," twisting the tale into the threat posed by lascivious aliens to virtuous damsels. Alona portrays her problem as predatory Arabs: "a group of Arab boys drove by and were yelling at us, ‘Hey, hot girls!,’ and we didn’t pay them any attention. We aren’t interested in them. This happens to us almost three times a day at least." Frenkel doesn’t question but rather validates Alona Levy’s bias about Palestinian boys, announcing, "But she [Alona] and her friends understand why some girls decide to defy local norms and date Arab men." Alona claims that "There are a lot of girls that go out with Arab men, because Arab boys are wild, they’re bad boys." Alona drives home her point, "I think they [the Palestinian boys] like us, because Arab girls are all conservative and wear the covering on their hair, and we dress normally." Frenkel doesn’t investigate Alona’s caricatures by actually interviewing either Palestinian boys or girls.
Frenkel reverts to David, for whom "mixed couples" are "a growing epidemic." Frenkel refrains from condemning David’s portrayal of romance among Palestinians and Jews. Frenkel doesn’t query David’s fear, let alone her own mischaracterization of such couples as "mixed." What has happened to our American press if an NPR "reporter" frankly implies that Palestinian-Israeli couples are mesalliances or miscegenation? What sort of paranoia sees intimacy among Palestinians and Israelis as a plague the way David does? What kind of "journalist" concurs with his categories of abuse? Frenkel instead announces that David and his fellow vigilantes target girls who are "known problem cases." Frenkel recounts David’s story of accosting one Jewish girl who refused to get out of a car with Palestinians, taking his word that the car sped off–after first hitting David’s leg–after which David chased the car for 30 minutes, quitting only after filing a police report.
David announces that: "Our goal is to talk to the girls and convince them that their place is with the Jewish nation, not with our enemies." Nowhere does Frenkel utter even a yip about so barbarous a belief: that Jews belong only "with the Jewish nation" and that Palestinians are inviolable "enemies." David brags that he and his group have "saved" four girls, declaiming that, "Even if we have rescued only one girl," "we have done a good deed, and we thank God for it." Frenkel remains mum about such fundamentalist zealotry. Frenkel instead affirms in her closing lines that "’David,"–the man who hides behind a pseudonym–wants publicly to humiliate his target: "He hopes that drawing attention to the incident will embarrass the girl and force her to leave her boyfriend. He says it’s one more girl he might save."
What a terrible end to a biased report. Frenkel shuts down her biased "story" of maniacal busy-bodies–mobs, even–with the fiction that David actually cares to "save" a girl. He merely wants to harass a person better than he is–or at least more open-minded. "David" craves nothing but hate, pursuing an eternal war based only on his own lethal animosity.
Sheera Frenkel never criticizes the racism of the vigilantes or compares it to traditional U.S. values of equality and kinship for all. We can’t excuse Frenkel’s omissions by the traditional alibi of "objectivity," for there’s nothing "fair" about her approach. Frenkel interviews no Palestinians who love Jewish people or Jews who love Palestinian people. Worse, Frenkel valorizes the vigilantes’ mania. Sheera Frenkel refuses to depict the affection among these young couples as the gift that it really is. The couples’ connection across a lethal Occupation is a hopeful, good sign that peace–amity–harmony are not only possible, but are truly happening right now.
October 01, 2009
Over the last three years, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has been gaining stride. Individuals around the world have been joining this call, from organizing actions in supermarkets in France and Great Britain protesting Israeli products made in settlements, to filmmakers withdrawing movies from film festivals, to prominent Israelis making a public stand with the BDS movement. Only recently, a multi-billion dollar Norwegian wealth fund divested from the Israeli arms company Elbit, while other companies, like Veolia, a French conglomerate involved in building and managing the Jerusalem light-rail, have suffered setbacks due to the bad publicity the boycott movement has generated.
The list of successful BDS actions has now become too long to list, yet, there are still many out there who do not believe in this movement and have reservations on a number of grounds, offering two main concerns that are rarely tackled, and when they are it is only cursory. The first is the criticism of why a boycott movement against Israel and not countries like China, Sudan or the US. This claim often gets tagged on with the idea that this is due to an inherent anti-Semitism. The second concerns the argument that boycott is against dialogue, which often comes along with accusations that it promotes censorship and is a form of collective punishment.
Boycotting other countries
Two recent open statements on boycott over the summer, by Naomi Klein and Neve Gordon, both anticipated the first criticism, but neither went far enough in explaining why it is necessary to boycott Israel and why we don't boycott other countries. Gordon asked the question only to almost completely ignore it, while Klein has provided two explanations that when combined begin to form a coherent response. In her article published by The Nation on 8 January 2009, in response to the question of why we do not boycott other western countries that are also human rights abusers, Klein wrote that "Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work." While this is true it does not fully respond to the critics.
There are several other reasons why we do not boycott some of the other countries mentioned above. By far the most important of these, outlined by Klein in an interview with Cecille Surasky on 1 September 2009, is that individuals around the world are not boycotting, but rather, they are responding to a call for boycott coming from Palestinian civil society. Klein is not the first to say this; veterans of the South Africa anti-apartheid campaign who led a successful boycott have also stressed the need to stand with indigenous communities. Boycott is a move to heed the voice of an oppressed group and follow its lead. The idea is that there are no movements out of Tibet, in the case of Chinese oppression, or Iraq in the case of the American occupation, that are calling for boycott and for the international community to respond to that call. This is important! The BDS movement comes from within Palestinian society and it is this factor that makes it so powerful and effective. If there were calls for the boycott of places like the US, China or North Korea coming from those the governments oppress, then it would be worthwhile to listen to such calls.
Naomi Klein's original comment that BDS is not dogmatic but tactical is crucial, in that the movement does not claim that BDS can successfully be used in fighting all oppression wherever it is, but that in certain cases of apartheid and colonial oppression, this tool is highly effective. The case of Israel proves very salient here because it receives an almost surreal amount of aid and foreign investment from around the world, most notably the US, with which it enjoys a special status. This makes the daily operations of the Israeli state and its institutions far more accountable to the international community than a place like Sudan, frequently brought up by boycott critics because of the violence in Darfur. It also means, in the case of economic boycott and divestment, that the international community is withdrawing its gifts and support, rather than allowing it to enjoy its special status -- hardly a punishment. It is the high level of support that Israel enjoys that makes it susceptible to BDS, whereas in some of the other countries that are often promoted in debates for boycott, as Klein says, "there are [already] very clear state sanctions against these countries."
In the same September article, Yael Lerer, an Israeli publisher interviewed alongside Klein, echoed this position: "these countries don't have these film festivals and Madonna is not going to have a concert in North Korea. The problem here is that the international community treats Israel like it was a normal, European, Western state. And this is the basis of the boycott call: the special relationship that Israeli universities have with European universities and with universities in the United States, which universities in Zimbabwe don't have. I do believe that Israel could not continue the occupation for one single day without the support of the United States and the European Union."
Critics of BDS must keep in mind the tactical aspect of the movement. We cannot boycott all countries in the world, but this does not mean that BDS against Israel cannot be applied as a tool to force a restructuring of relations between Palestinians and Israelis. This leads into the next criticism regarding boycott as being anti-dialogue.
Boycott is dialogue
Since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1994, many have walked down the path of dialogue -- I tried it for several years -- and found this to be a strategy to stall for time while the Israeli government was building facts on the ground. We saw dialogue become the slogan for former criminals to clean their bloody hands and appear as peaceful while they continued their strategies of oppression; Israeli President Shimon Peres has been the master of such tactics. I found on college campuses in the US where I studied that dialogue was a way to neutralize confrontation and sanitize a dirty conflict. But avoiding confrontation favors the status quo, and the status quo has been, until BDS, in favor of occupation.
The boycott movement is, to be sure, against this dialogue, but not dialogue in an absolute sense. In fact, at its very core, BDS is a movement that is premised on dialogue and of re-appropriating the meaning of dialogue to its rightful place -- one that sees a communication between two equal partners and not one where the occupier can force demands and dictate terms to the occupied. BDS is supposed to foster dialogue by locating those who are committed to real and consistent struggle against Zionism -- and this is most appropriately seen not in economic forms of boycott but in cultural and academic boycott where artists, musicians, filmmakers, academics and other cultural figures are able to come together, converse and build networks in the face of oppressive institutions that are the real target of these boycotts. Where economic boycott creates economic pressure, cultural boycott fosters dialogue and communication precisely because it shames and shuns those that directly collaborate with the Israeli government and its institutions.
The power of all these forms of BDS is in their recognition that true justice can only be achieved when Israelis and Palestinians work together for a common cause, when they realize that their struggle is shared, and when Israelis understand that they must sacrifice alongside Palestinians if they want true peace. The power of BDS is that it offers an alternative to the national struggles of Hamas and Fatah, and calls on Israelis to join Palestinians in their struggle, and to move beyond the comfort zone of preaching peace, and into the realm of action that requires a "no business as usual" attitude. Indeed, BDS provides the means to generate a new movement that can respond to the main Palestinian political parties that have made a mockery of a people's right to resist, despite their achievements of the past. A significant part of this is that BDS enables a discourse that moves beyond "ending the occupation" to place demands for the right of return and equal rights for Palestinians in Israel as top priorities.
If Israelis and Palestinians can build a movement together, can struggle together, then this movement will embody the world they wish to create, one that is shared. Thus, BDS is not a tactic for a national movement; as it gains strength it will prove to have foes on both sides of the nationalist divide. Its power as a tactic lies in its ability to foster a movement that challenges nationalist discourse. It can create the conditions to make possible a movement that recognizes that while national self-determination remains a central element in a world ruled by antagonistic nationalisms, it should not be constrained by traditional notions of nationalism based on superiority and ethnic exclusion, or by the force of current political parties. In this way, BDS is not anti-dialogue, on the contrary, it is a call out to Israelis to be partners in struggle. It is a call out to Israelis to take a step forward towards envisioning collectively an alternative relationship in the land of Israel-Palestine.
It is time to step out of our comfort zones, to confront, to not be satisfied in talking about tolerance and dialogue for the sake of dialogue. It is time to realize that people already recognize the humanity of the other, but that politics intervene to ensure "we" do not grant "them" this humanity. It is time to realize that it is not the Israeli who is targeted by BDS, but the Israeli government and Israeli institutions that collaborate in the occupation of the Palestinians, and degrade and demonize them. Finally, it is time to realize that BDS is a winnable, nonviolent strategy precisely because it works on slowly changing attitudes and building bridges towards a common vision of justice and equality, and because it creates a real feeling of loss, therefore real pressure, on Israeli governments and institutions, that go beyond the lip service of the "peace process."
Sami Hermez is a doctoral candidate of anthropology at Princeton University working on questions of violence and nonviolence.