Monday, December 17, 2012

On being critical as an ally

Returning to this interview of Abu Marzook:
As for the Protocols, “The Zionists wrote it, and they said, ‘No, we didn’t.‘ [It’s] linked to Zionists,” he said. 
Informed that the document was, in fact, a forgery, Abu Marzook appeared nonplussed. “Really? This is the first time I know [about this],” he said.
I was telling someone Saturday of how the Palestinians' allies fail to challenge them. Being an ally doesn't mean uncritical support and at times does mean challenging people. There are a great many asymmetries in the conflict, and this is but one, but I pointed to it as an important one that preserves the conflict. (Keep in mind that the Palestinians' allies are often in still more powerful positions compared with Jews or Israel.) How is it that the first Marzook heard that the Protocols were a forgery was in talking with the Forward?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bad reporting. Bad rhetoric.

Baroness Jenny Tonge, recently resigned from the Liberal Dems after she refused to apologize for her antisemitic remarks, has been invited by a group of English students at York University to speak on party processes and censorship in the British Parliament. I assume she will speak on the need for more Nazis in positions of power.

A google search -- unsurprisingly, the activities of student groups are often deemed less than newsworthy -- reveals very little about the talk. There's basically this nearly unreadable piece at the Jerusalem Post. The remarks over which Baroness Tonge was forced out of the Lib Dems, however, were widely reported. For instance, this piece, from the BBC. (A search for Tonge reveals similar coverage or worse from the Beeb.) The sub-headline reads:
A Lib Dem peer has resigned from the parliamentary party after saying Israel "is not going to be there forever".
A lovely photo of a smiling Tonge is captioned
Baroness Tonge said she was disappointed with [leader of the Lib Dems] Nick Clegg's response [asking for her apology]
Even a fairly careful reader would have difficulty understanding what the hubbub was about. It would certainly seem to suggest to many what Baroness Tonge had previously suggested:
The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips.
The BBC article doesn't mention this previous outburst (and also doesn't mention when she blamed global warming on the Israel lobby), though it does mention that she had previously not been asked to resign from the party:
...after she claimed Israeli troops sent to Haiti after the earthquake there were trafficking organs
...after she said she "might just consider becoming" a suicide bomber if she was a Palestinian.
Only later in the article are her most recent remarks reported more fully:
She added: "One day the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East - that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. It will not go on for ever. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown."
Reading the article, you wouldn't know that her figure of £70bn a year is off by over 2,300%. Or that the actual amount is a fractional percentage of the US budget that could hardly be a priority or even a tertiary concern for deficit hawks. Only a close reader would consider that she has implied that the American support for Israel is against the wishes of the American people and comes only because of the "financial grips" of all-powerful Jews. Unfortunately, the reported response from Nick Clegg clarifies absolutely nothing:
These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats. I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party. The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue. But we are crystal clear in our support for a two-state solution.
And so, it is no surprise in this miasma that the student group should publish this piece accusing Jews of being overly sensitive:
There is also a particular sensitivity in both the UK and the US regarding any comment that has the potential to be (mis)interpreted as anti-Semitic. While this is clearly an important concern, with obvious historical justification, there is a question mark over the extent to which this is also driven by the pressure to get re-elected. In the States, in particular, it is a commonplace that no President will be elected without the ‘Jewish vote’. While this is not so apparent in Britain, might there be a case for seeing the support of Israeli lobbyists in terms of election politics? That Tonge’s recent comment about the historical inevitability of political change in the Middle East was interpreted by some as anti-Semitic reveals the hyper-sensitivity regarding this – undoubtedly sensitive – issue. On the other hand, the current inflammatory situation in the Middle East means such comments are perhaps likely to risk mis- or over-interpretation, and this is something of which politicians should be aware.
This is lousy rhetoric, the sort for which York University should publicly flog its English students. It's also blatantly untrue that American presidents cannot be elected without the support of the Jewish vote. Every Republican president since Coolidge won without the Jewish vote.

Surely, some of my lines will have made some readers positively apoplectic. If I am being overly sensitive and falsehoods about the power of Jewish voters are merely "(mis)interpreted as anti-Semitic", then it is simply the voice of reason that demands an apology from me. But at the core -- poorly reported here by the august BBC, which should find it easier to report on politics in its home country, and shamefully repeated by our future rhetors -- is the same old conspiracy theory about Jewish power. It is, in fact, the idea which uncontested made the Nazi genocide inevitable. If neither the BBC nor the newest crop of English students at one of the world's best universities can even recognize the main points of contention in a debate, then the same ideas will remain uncontested.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, eleven members of the Israeli team were murdered. For forty years their families have asked the International Olympic Committee to observe a minute of silence, in their memory. Please help us by signing our petition.
I am the wife of Andrei Spitzer. My husband was killed at those Olympic Games in 1972.
I am asking for one minute of silence for the memory of the eleven Israeli athletes, coaches and referees murdered at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich. Just one minute — at the 2012 London Summer Olympics and at every Olympic Game, to promote peace.
These men were sons; fathers; uncles; brothers; friends; teammates; athletes. They came to Munich in 1972 to play as athletes in the Olympics; they came in peace and went home in coffins, killed in the Olympic Village and during hostage negotiations.
The families of the Munich 11 have worked for four decades to obtain recognition of the Munich massacre from the International Olympic Committee. We have requested a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics starting with the ’76 Montreal Games. Repeatedly, these requests have been turned down. The 11 murdered athletes were members of the Olympic family; we feel they should be remembered within the framework of the Olympic Games.
Please, read on and sign.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why "The only democracy"?

It's a phrase that's been criticized plenty, rarely as underestimating the rest of the ME, sometimes because of what Peter Beinart calls "non-democratic Israel," and often because Israel (limited to its actual citizens) often fails to live up to the ideals we have for democracy. Of course, so does every democracy come up short, and we should be careful about whether Israel is being singled out. (Particularly, when Israel is singled out for things it hasn't done. Israel is the only non-US nation I know of that regularly gets international press when a bill is merely introduced in the legislature!) But a peculiar charge is often used to justify increased attention: Israel is singled out precisely because it makes the claim of being "The Only Democracy in the Middle East." The charge is hypocrisy, which is somehow always worse than mere failure. It's absurd to me that hypocrisy should be judged so harshly, but that's certainly not unique to Israel. On the other hand, I've been thinking about how the position of Israel is unique. Created by the UN, Israel is the only state which owes its creation and continued existence in large part to international perception. Regimes in Iran or North Korea are pariahs, and the Korean peninsula might someday be unified, but this doesn't compare to the way people talk about the mere existence of Israel. To many, it is unjust. And Israel is in a position where it is forced to defend its very being rhetorically in order to support its physical defense. So we get TODitME. It's exaggerated, perhaps, but I don't think it's reasonable to force Israel to defend its existence and then criticize it for exaggerating.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Act of Valor

Early reports are that the film "Act of Valor" is pretty antisemitic. It's tough to get a handle on exactly what's going on (without, you know, seeing it), but I'll try to narrow ir down. Some far-right blogs (that I won't link to, but including Pamela Geller) have compared the film to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But even Time describes the portrayal of one of the bad guys as "the avaricious, hook-nosed Jew."

There are two bad guys. One is Muslim -- a Chechyen convert. (A convert from what? I don't know. Probably the film doesn't say.) The other is his Jewish childhood friend. So is it a greedy Jew behind Islamist terrorism aimed at the US? I don't trust the right-wing blogs enough to take their word on this interpretation. Other reviews indicate that he is not the primary bad guy, but a co-bad guy or perhaps a secondary bad guy. It seems just as likely to me that the filmmakers were worried about a potentially negative portrayal of a Muslim, so they added a second, horribly racist character for "balance."

One site with a review that's actually pretty interesting writes:
Somehow the scriptwriters, in an attempt to not alienate the countries known for actively supporting terrorism, managed to find excuses for the SEALs to fight against people in the Philippines, Mexico, West Africa, Russia, Chechnya, and some other ill defined country. The underlying message of the film seems to be “If you aren’t American you suck” and that message is delivered with bullets.
Apparently Jews don't make the cut as Americans.

In any case, please don't pay money to see it. It's getting pretty bad reviews, anyway.

(As more of an aside, though, it's a shame here to rely on right-wing blogs and a few references to mainstream or non-partisan blogs. One of the most significant ways that antisemitism is structured is by silence -- so that few people have a clue what it is or how serious it is -- which is the primary approach to antisemitism of the anti-racist blogs I would normally look to for better reviews. There have been numerous calls for the Left to take the cause of antisemitism back from the Right, which has seized it primarily because of the Left's negligence. Most of the Left only deals with antisemitism at all when it is getting in the way of their criticizing Jews for something else. However, even most of the Leftists calling for such a thing haven't actually done shit about it.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bananas and Lacunas

This post from Jeffrey Goldberg, in which he zeroes in on an incredibly remarkable passage in an interview:
Pierre Sauvage: The biggest lie is that we didn't know. It's possible, I suppose, for some rancher in Montana who wasn't reading the press or listening to the radio maybe not to know. But it was massively present. God, this question goes in so many directions. When you think of movies that come out, like Woody Allen's Radio Days. What is Woody Allen's Radio Days about? A happy childhood in Brooklyn, in a Jewish family, during the years of the Holocaust. Lost in Yonkers, which is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Neil Simon about nothing to do with the Holocaust. Wonderful play, by the way. It's like Hitler is totally removed from their frame of reference. This is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense. Woody Allen's parents--Woody may not realize it--but Woody Allen's parents were in their bedroom scared to death what was happening to their relatives in Europe. So, that is the biggest lie.
Go read the whole interview.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In a press

I pretty much agree with David here.
I've noted before that, my general affinity for J Street notwithstanding, one thing I do not like is their "mushiness" on anti-Semitism. They really seem either uninterested or incapable of taking a strong stand on the issue, and it is really alienating. I've written about the serious problems with the "dual loyalties" charge even on a conceptual level, but in a sense I'm even more concerned about Ben-Ami's demand that Jewish groups "tread lightly" in talking about anti-Semitism.
In fact, I find myself feeling increasingly alienated from the Left.

Jeremy Ben-Ami said that if Jews talk about antisemitism too much, "when they do need to use that word [antisemitism], people won’t take you seriously." So in order to be taken seriously regarding antisemitism, Jews must not talk about antisemitism. Catch-22.

I don't think many non-Jews understand how powerfully this acts on Jews or how it actually plays out. We must balance the fear of present antisemitism with the fear of more distant (but possibly worse antisemitism). We "save it up" for something really, really bad. But, of course, that strategy simply allows antisemitism to flourish until it's too late when we finally do speak out, doesn't it? In the meantime, the psychological pressure to talk/not talk really does a lot of work.

But all of us have somewhat different ideas of what's "really, really bad." Maybe some of us are more optimistic about the future, so we find it more important to fight the antisemitism right before us. Others, more anxious about the future, perhaps find it harder to speak out today. Maybe some of us laugh off strongly racialist antisemitism but find conspiracist antisemitism far scarier. There's too many complications to really try to analyze how we decide what's more important, but we can talk about the effects with more certainty. It's part of why certain conversations can get so heated so quickly.

And it's part of why non-Jews can manipulate the conversation so easily, by pitting some Jews against others. In contrast to the view some people have of antisemitism as sporadic violence, I see a system of levers that non-Jews use to colonize Jewish communities constantly, punctuated by massive violence. I find this mushiness absolutely frightening.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Persian Jewry

This story from Tablet is worth reading.
For centuries, Persian Jews marked the holiday of Purim by traveling to the shrine in Hamadan. There they were often joined by Christian and Muslim supplicants seeking divine cures to infertility and other human ailments.... The memories of Persian Jews born in Iran are increasingly all that remain of their heritage. The Hamadan shrine is not the only site at risk of destruction. In April 2008, for example, seven ancient synagogues in Tehran’s historically Jewish Oudlajan district were razed to make way for high-rise developments.