Monday, June 30, 2008

Paper Clips, meh

Saw the documentary Paper Clips. (Googling "paperclips bring up several sites related to the movie right at the top. Wonder if that reflects the significance of the film or the mundaneness of paperclips.) It depicts a middle schools efforts to learn about the Holocaust.

Through Holocaust survivors who visited the school, and probably other means, it's clear the students came to feel for and sympathize with Jews and also learned about the process of racism. What's less clear is whether they were able to see these Jews as more than victims. For the film's audience; however, Jews remain essentially victims. Moreover, the tone is triumphant, reinforcing the idea that antisemitism is a thing of the past. Rather than combating antisemitism, the film is likely to reinforce Jews' status as the other, still with screwy issues of agency.

Moral equivalence

Israel has released Samir Kuntar in exchange for the bodies of the two soldiers Hezbollah had kidnapped just before the Israeli assault on Lebanon.
Mr. Kuntar was part of a cell that in 1979 raided the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, fatally shooting a civilian, Danny Haran, while his daughter Einat, 4, watched, then smashing the girl’s head, killing her as well. Mr. Haran’s wife, Smadar, hid with their 2-year-old daughter, accidentally suffocating her in an effort to stop her from crying out.

Mr. Kuntar has said he regrets nothing, and he will receive a hero’s welcome when he returns, part of the cause for hesitation in Israel’s security establishment, with many of its members recommending the deal’s rejection.
I've got nothing to say about the value of the swap (my condolences to the Goldwasser and Regev families), but this certainly makes me want to get engaged in the "moral equivalence" debates I usually avoid. Or, better stated, it makes me want to say something about the failure of moral equivalence debates. Yes, Israel does things wrong, and specific Israelis can be awful people (like in any country). But to even talk about moral equivalence erases the specifics and degrades everyone. Kuntar is happy to be a vicious and sadistic murderer. There is nothing equivalent to that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On New York Immigrants

From WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show:
A groundbreaking study examines how well recent immigrants and their children are becoming part of society in metropolitan New York. Philip Kasinitz and John Mollenkopf are two of the co-authors of the new book Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age.
I've known a few children of immigrants to New York myself.

Just War Theory in the Fog of War

Haim Watzman responds to his coblogger, Gershom Gorenberg.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Let's not make comparisons of tragedies

I've seen a lot in just the past few days on the history of Mizrahi Jews in Muslim countries. See here, here (which comes to me via here), and of course this dedicated site.
Israel is perhaps the least efficient "ethnic cleanser" in the history of mankind, calumnies to the contrary notwithstanding.

In 1947 some 740,000 Palestinians lived in the British Mandate for Palestine. Today, the Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza, together with Arab citizens of Israel, comprise a total of over five million Palestinians (altogether over nine million people worldwide refer to themselves as Palestinian.)

Using a popular population growth rate equation, the Palestinian growth rate has been calculated as close to double that of Asia and Africa over a comparable period of time.

Drazen Petrovic defines ethnic cleansing as "a well-defined policy of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate another group from a given territory." By this definition, only one type of ethnic cleansing has occurred in the Arab-Israeli conflict - that of the Jews of Asia and North Africa. Whereas before 1948 there were nearly 900,000 Jews living in Arab lands, by 2001 only 6,500 remained.
There are two very important points here. First, Israel's evilness is greatly exaggerated. Second, Jewish refugees from Arab and Mulsim countries suffered greatly and deserve to have their stories heard. However, I do have a problem with the way these two points are made together. It's true that many Palestinian supporters are hypocrites incapable of recognizing Jewish suffering except through token insincerities, but it seems the rhetoric is to undermine sympathy for the Palestinians by saying, "We had it worse."

It is possible and necessary to recognize the suffering of all parties without diminishing the suffering of any.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Not promising

Ha'aretz reports:
Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that the Islamist group would not stop smuggling activities in the territory.
Of course, arms smuggling would break the ceasefire agreement, but Israel will be blamed. Israel will be the first to use actual violence, most likely as a justified and carefully staged police action. Then Hamas will commit acts of terrorism claiming Israel is to blame for breaking the ceasefire. Westerners will probably line up according to their pre-existing sympathies without concern for nuance. Or am I just being cynical today?

Update: Unsurprisingly, Islamic Jihad is launching Qassams from Gaza. Palestinian supporters will claim any attempt to stop it is a violation of truce. Is it any wonder Israel's supporters often claim Israel is denied any right to self defense?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jews and Power festival: Video online

Video from the Nextbook Festival of Ideas on Jews and Power is now available. I just watched the video on sexuality and the Holocaust. Among other things, it's a fascinating tale of how the story has been retold by non-Jews to conform to a non-Jewish agenda.

(I wrote a bit about it already, here.)

Stephen Scheinberg on Nakba Day

At Meretz USA:
Those of you who have heard my editorials know that I have often expressed my sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people and have criticized Israel for not being as vigorous in the pursuit of peace as she is in settlement construction. However, my sympathy does not extend to the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba [catastrophe] Day which has become an annual, mass cry of anguish blaming only Israel and her allies for the Palestinian catastrophe. The occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary was used by many writers and groups, while certainly not all, to assess her progress and reflect on where Israel is heading; important questions were raised such as whether Israel would endure as both a Jewish and democratic state.

I have seen no evidence that the Palestinians have undertaken a similarly, perhaps painful, self-assessment on Nakba day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Longer Obama on Jerusalem

Gershom Gorenberg has a scoop on Obama's Jerusalem promise.
An adviser to the Obama campaign has responded to my criticism of O’s statement to Aipac, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” The adviser, remaining anonymous, says that that the candidate really means physically undivided: Obama “has said before that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the parties, but that two principles that should guide any outcome is that it will remain Israel’s capital and it should never be redivided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was from 1948-67.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Truth about AIPAC

Dan Fleshler has a good post on AIPAC:
Dismissing AIPAC as nothing but a support group or cheering section for Dick Cheney and Richard Perle feeds the hunger of those on the far left and far right for a bogeyman, an organization that can serve, along with Israel itself, as a kind of totemic hate object, a repository of all that is wrong. I am trying to write a book about the conventional Israel lobby and my task would be much easier if AIPAC could be summed up so glibly. But I’m afraid it can’t.

The inconvenient truth is that many of its members and board members are centrist Democrats; they are politically moderate, at least by American standards. They want the U.S. to keep Israel strong by giving it a qualitative military edge because they believe Israel’s neighbors still want to destroy it. They are deeply worried about Iran and the dangers they believe it poses to Israel and to the U.S., especially to American troops in Iraq, But they are not irresponsibly trigger happy. Even Philip Weiss, a hero of the cabal-watchers, was initially a bit perplexed when, in the first policy conference he attended, he found himself rubbing shoulders with attendees and listening to speakers who were moderate, temperate and as desirious of peace as he is (although they don’t care as much about Palestinian suffering or Palestinian rights as he does).

Between bored kids and crazy people, it's a wonder we're still here

"I think it's just bored kids who know it's bad to vandalize," said Drew, the owner of a vandalized white Kia Spectra who did not give his last name.
Of course, Drew. It's always bored kids. Unless it's crazy people. But what's missing from that analysis?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

far right candidates in elections

Via Hatewatch

Lakes Wales, Florida has a new city commissioner, a former Grand Dragon for the KKK. Residents aren't, apparently, certain if his views on race have changed, but everyone wonders how no one noticed.

In Indiana's 2nd Congressional District, Tony Zirkle was defeated. Soundly. He came in third with 16% of the vote. How does a candidate attend a birthday party for Hitler to talk about the "porn dragon" and "porn mule womb slaughter," and then get 16% of the vote?

In other news, David Duke and others on the far right have endorsed Obama. Sort of. They think an Obama presidency might provoke a white backlash and race war.

Israel and Eurovision

Do read What Eurovision Teaches Us About Israel at Jewcy.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Gaza Fulbright blog

Via a worthwhile post by Mira Vogel at Engage, filled with links, there is a blog for the Gazan students denied exit visas to take advantage of Fulbright scholarships. Four have so far been allowed to go, though subjected to humiliation under the guise of security checks.

Zohan, peace, and representations of Diaspora sexuality

Zeynab at Muslimah Media Watch has a review.
Okay, now to what really mattered: how were Muslim women treated in the film? Answer: like every other woman in the film. As passive slabs of meat.
Representations of sexuality for Jews and Arabs are different. I think both stem from Orientalist notions (remember that Jews were, for many European Orientalists, the Orientals at hand), but male Jews have generally been represented as emasculated, especially in Diaspora. Remember in Knocked Up:
If any of us get laid tonight, it's because of Eric Bana in Munich.
Phoebe Maltz says this about Sex in the City:
And where to begin with Charlotte's Jewish husband, a constant reminder (more so in the show than in the movie) that Jews are quirky, crass, rich, and grotesque, but do they ever make good husbands!
Or just consider any Woody Allen movie. The emasculated Jew is still with us, deeply institutionalized and internalized. Like with depictions of sexuality in Harold and Kumar, I think it's worth noting that there may be a good story to tell about this movie and a bad one to tell, both true.

But that leaves a big question unanswered. Some of the reviews I've seen, probably too optimistically paying attention to those, have emphasized the intended message. Even the mode of production has included large numbers of Jews and Arabs, often having heated but productive conversations. See here or here, and especially here.
"We Jews and Arabs ate together at the same 'peace table' and really became good friends," Mosseri said. "After the film wrapped, we all went on a 'creative' trip to Las Vegas."
Has anyone told PACBI about this? Anyway, Zeynab writes:
Second, it really bothered me that the only semi-positive message of interfaith unity in the movie occurred because of the U.S. context; interfaith dialogue (and dating) seemed to be possible only because the two main characters were in the U.S., treating the Israel/Palestine situation like it was a lost cause.
Maybe I'm still being overly optimistic, but all told, that doesn't sound half bad to me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

philly hate crimes

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The latest in a series of wicked acts of vandalism - one aimed to harm toddlers at play outside a synagogue - has rallied neighbors in the city's Mount Airy section to step forward.

Rachel Gross, executive director of the Germantown Jewish Center, stood in a toddlers' playground at the synagogue at Lincoln Drive and West Ellet Street, and pointed to a half-dozen foot-wide holes dug in the sand.

Shards of glass had been hidden inside.

"Glass was buried all over," said Gross. "It was clearly intentional. There is no other conclusion than someone did it on purpose, and they did it to hurt children."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Does Obama Really Have a Jewish Problem?

The Forward asks the question.
Statistics show that Jews are one of Obama’s strongest white constituencies — a key base the Illinois senator is working overtime to shore up, rather than a uniquely problematic weak spot.
No, it's just an antisemitic press that likes to focus on the Jewish vote.

David Cronenberg comes out at Cannes

For the 2007 short film anthology, To Each His Own Cinema, Cronenberg created At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World. Watch here. And read a bit here.
My parents were secular. I was never bar mitzvahed. At a very early age, I decided I was an atheist, and I still am. I don’t feel the need to involve myself with the traditions of Judaism. In fact, I’m rather anti-religious. . . . I wasn’t hiding my Jewishness. It just never seemed to be an issue. But when I started to make this little short, suddenly, it was. It was provoked by what’s going on in the world right now. The pronouncements of various Islamic leaders about how nice it would be to kill all the Jews in the world—you know, like the Hezbollah leader. I thought, “Well, what if that would happen? How would that happen?”
So, do we reread Videodrome in a context of assimilation?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Gershom Gorenberg on Hagee


"The Tzvi Yehudah tape" - that’s the name my son immediately gave the recording of John Hagee explaining the Holocaust as God’s way of forcing the Jews to return. He was referring to Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the spiritual father of the Gush Emunim movement.

Tzvi Yehudah Kook was the teacher of many of the rabbis who have continued to created the theology of the religious right in Israel - a theology in which all political developments point to approaching redemption and in which Jewish possession of the entire Land of Israel has been transformed into the supreme commandment. He is the central figure in propagating a radical, theologized nationalism as Judaism.

And my son is right: Tzvi Yehudah Kook gave practically the same theological explanation of the Holocaust as Hagee does: It was God’s way of forcing the Jews to return to their land in order to speed final redemption.