Israel

‘Israel is the home of all Jews,’ declares a right-wing official

4/18/14

Two news reports from that clueless Jewish democracy in the Middle East.  Is this kind of messaging really appealing to American Jews?

Danny Ayalon

Danny Ayalon

This morning, the deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, tweeted out a story about a Nigerian woman’s decision to move to Israel and serve in an Israeli uniform.

Reading the story of Tobi [Cohen] from Nigeria, it is once again clear for all to see: Israel is the home of all Jews,… http://t.co/wZtTF3mYK7

— Danny Ayalon (@DannyAyalon) April 18, 2014

I’m not sure that’s clear to all of them. Especially coming from a member of Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist party, who has endorsed the idea of a loyalty oath for non-Jews seeking to become citizens.

And this nugget is from Ambassador Ron Dermer’s Passover message, earlier this week. It suggests that Jews everywhere are safer because of having a state in Israel:

 As Prime Minister Netanyahu works to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state in the face of great challenges, Jewish people across the world are privileged this Passover, as they have been for the past 65 years, to celebrate the rebirth of a free, sovereign Jewish people in our ancestral homeland.

Mark Halperin excommunicates Rand Paul, over Israel

4/18/14

I found this demoralizing, as another register of where the Establishment is on the conflict. Last night on “Hardball,” at 7:30 or so, Joy Reid, sitting in for Chris Matthews, reads a report from Time that Sheldon Adelson will spend a lot of money to take down Kentucky senator Rand Paul if he tries to become the Republican nominee for president because of his views on Israel.

Reid says the pro-Israel community mistrusts Rand Paul, but that Paul has said he is “evolving” on Israel.

Mark Halperin interrupts her:

That guy could evolve from Passover to Easter to Christmas to every holiday in the world. He could spend his whole life evolving. He will never evolve enough for the pro Israel wing of the party. And that’s not an insignificant thing, not only against people in the nomination fight, but in the general election. That is an important part of the current view of foreign policy. He can evolve all he wants, I just don’t think he can get over that hurdle with a lot of people.

“A lot of people.” Meaning, the right people.

Former Republican chair Michael Steele gets in, “He’s the only one doing it right now.” Meaning, Paul is the only one taking on the neocons inside the Republican Party, and taking on Sheldon Adelson, who wants Obama to nuke Iran.

Again, I find this deeply demoralizing, including Joy Reid’s passivity– a smart person who knows a lot about minority rights. And yes, Halperin’s father is a bulwark of the Israel lobby. And Halperin’s book on the last election leaves the Israel factor completely out of the political equation, even as he swears to its importance on MSNBC. ”An important part of the current view of foreign policy” — trying to reinforce a dubious tenet by affirming it. Almost sounds like a papal bull.

Long ago, Bill Buckley and Woody Allen agreed on occupation

4/18/14

The weekend is four hours away, and a friend sent me this video from 1967 or early 1968, evidently from a TV show. At 5:30 a woman asks Woody Allen, then 32, whether Israel should “give back the land that they won from the Arabs” in the Six Day War. Allen quips:

No I don’t think so. I think they should sell it back.

The late William F. Buckley (then 42) then takes over and says that the occupation is hunky-dory: in time the situation will work itself out and the Arabs will accept Israel. Allen seems to go along with Buckley as Buckley says that wars do settle things. “It’s unfashionable to say that they do, but this war does situate Israeli claims in a more viable way.” He says Israel has accomplished something with it. Boy was he wrong.

Note that Allen begins the sketch (first minute) by saying that he invited Buckley on to the show to “counterbalance my views, which are desperately liberal and criminal at times.” Not so liberal here.

‘NYT’ abided by Israeli gag order even as ‘EI’ scooped it repeatedly

4/18/14
Ali Abunimah's new book is titled The Battle For Justice In Palestine.

Ali Abunimah

Last Saturday, Israel arrested Majd Kayyal, an Israeli Palestinian journalist who works for the human rights group Adalah, after he had visited Lebanon, then detained him incommunicado.

Matt Lee of the Associated Press brought up the journalist’s arrest at the State Department briefing on Monday, and Ali Abunimah reported on the case for several days running at Electronic Intifada, noting:

Israeli media are strictly prohibited from publishing any details about Kayyal’s detention under the terms of a Shin Bet gag order approved by the judge.

The Times reported on the case yesterday, when Kayyal was released to house arrest, and referred to the gag order in passing– “A court-imposed gag order on the case was lifted on Thursday.”

Now it turns out that the New York Times also abided by that gag order.

Today the Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, published an article about the gag order, stating that the Times bureau accepted it. Sullivan reports considerable confusion inside the Times about whether it does such things. The piece is highly embarrassing to the Times. As Abunimah summarizes the matter: “The New York Times agrees to be gagged by Israel.”

Sullivan quotes Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren saying that the Times wouldn’t have covered Kayyal’s arrest very much anyway: “We probably would have written a modest story or brief about this arrest earlier if there had not been a gag order.”

But Sullivan isn’t buying. It doesn’t matter how big the story was, “I find it troubling that The Times is in the position of waiting for government clearance before deciding to publish.” And in giving credit to EI, Sullivan makes clear how important a story this was for Palestinians:

Meanwhile, an online publication called The Electronic Intifada published a number of articles about Mr. Kayyal’s detention over the past several days.

The author of those articles, Ali Abunimah, said in an email that “readers have a right to know when NYT is complying with government-imposed censorship.”

And Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, wrote to me that this seems to go against journalistic principles: “It would seem to me that a story that a state specifically wants to prevent from seeing the light of day is something that should make a journalist’s mouth water. That’s what journalism is all about, isn’t it?”

Sullivan goes on to quote foreign editor Joseph Kahn questioning why readers weren’t informed of the gag order in the article yesterday.

Rudoren meets with American Jewish Committee group

Rudoren meets with American Jewish Committee group

Rudoren, shown above speaking to an American Jewish Committee group on its visit to Jerusalem this year, justified the policy in this manner to Sullivan:

The Times is “indeed, bound by gag orders,” Ms. Rudoren said. She said that the situation is analogous to abiding by traffic rules or any other laws of the land, and that two of her predecessors in the bureau chief position affirmed to her this week that The Times has been subject to gag orders in the past.

Is it really like a traffic light? No one could possibly object to a reporter obeying traffic rules.

Abunimah, the author of a new book, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” writes sensibly that the Times should have challenged the gag order by publishing news of Kayyal’s detention and risked getting tossed by Israel, an unlikely scenario indeed. It’s hard not to agree with his conclusion:

But that would take a very different kind of Times bureau – one prepared to challenge Israeli government actions rather than serve as Israel’s chief explainer and apologist. I’m not holding my breath.

(I believe this is yet more evidence of Israel-centrism at the New York Times. Lately Rudoren said she first visited Israel with United Synagogue Youth and “I come [to Jerusalem] knowledgeable about the Jewish American or Jewish Israeli side of this beat.”)

Reports of anti-Semitism in Ukraine and Hungary

4/18/14
Flyer from Donetsk

Flyer from Donetsk

Two news reports involve the recrudescence of anti-Semitic activity in eastern Europe.

The first involves those anti-Semitic fliers in Donetsk, the Ukraine, advising Jews to register with Russian-separatist authorities. John Kerry denounced the fliers, and the story was on the NBC Nightly News last night.

But several accounts question the authenticity of the fliers, and even Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has suggested that they are an act of provocation in a tumultuous situation. The Forward quotes Foxman:

“We have seen a series of cynical and politically manipulative uses and accusations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine over the past year,” said Mr. Foxman. “The perpetrators and their targets are opposing politicians and political movements, but the true victims are the Jewish communities. We strongly condemn the anti-Semitic content, but also all attempts to use anti-Semitism for political purposes.”

Earlier in this crisis, pro-western forces in Kyiv were shown to have anti-Semitic attitudes; this time it’s pro-Russian forces alleged to have them. The Jerusalem Post also casts doubts on the claim.

Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee said that the flyers appeared to be a provocation, but it was impossible to say who was responsible.

The local Jewish community “tried to find out who was behind this with no success. No one took responsibility,” he said. “We don’t have evidence.”

Rabbi Pinchas Vyshetsky, a resident of Donetsk, also called the flyers a provocation and theorized that it could be the work of “anti-Semites looking to hitch a ride on the current situation.”

John Kerry landed on the fliers as grotesque and frightful yesterday.

In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that. And unanimously, every party today joined in this condemnation of that kind of behavior.

Note: Kerry also cited threats to members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Even the Forward is a wee cynical:

[Kerry] was soon joined by human rights groups and politicians, including Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who said in a statement that the fliers were “a sad reminder of the ongoing importance and blessing of having a strong homeland for the Jewish people in the State of Israel.”

Remember, this is for fliers whose authenticity is still in doubt.

Far more concerning is a story the Forward posted two days ago on the situation facing Hungary’s Jews following recent elections that cemented the power of the mainstream chauvinist right and boosted the radical, explicitly-anti-Semitic right, to 20 percent of the vote.

With this election, [the party] Jobbik, whose leaders have depicted Hungarian Jews as a threat to national security, became Europe’s most successful ultranationalist faction. Its members will serve in a parliament dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leader of the conservative Fidesz party, who was re-elected for a third term. But Orban and his party, Fidesz, pose their own challenges to Hungary’s Jews.

The Forward has been covering the rise of anti-Semitic sentiment in Hungary, where 80 percent of the country’s Jewish population was exterminated during the Holocaust.

A friend challenges:

“This same story and others like it give me pause when reading your frequent talking point about the dysfunctional psychology of American Jews who insist on seeing themselves as victims and outsiders, in need of an Israel, when in fact they are truly privileged and at the center of power. True enough in America–but America is not the world. If I were a Hungarian Jew, I’d probably feel like the option of emigration to Israel is something I’d want in my back pocket, even if I was an Hungarian patriot fighting the good fight. And that would not be dysfunctional psychology.”

Here is something else worthy of note in the Forward piece. Reporter Daniella Cheslow describes what it is about the Hungarian right that gives it a fascist, not merely a right-wing color:

In a recent article in the Guardian, Princeton University political scientist Jan-Werner Mueller described Hungary under Orban as a “Russia-leaning rightwing government… that is inching ever closer to [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin’s ideal of governance.”
Like Russia, Hungary under Orban asserts the state’s responsibility for Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries, disquieting Romania and Slovakia, where they constitute a majority in several districts bordering Hungary. Twenty-five percent of Hungarians live outside the country, mostly in these districts, and for the recent election, Orban used his parliamentary supermajority to give these nonresident Hungarians the right to vote. They returned the favor by backing him heavily.

Meanwhile, the party’s 2009 slogan, “Hungary for Hungarians,” made ethnic minorities living in Hungary, including Jews and Roma, uneasy. Orban has made a point of not supporting Western sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea. And his anti-liberal policies on issues such as gay and lesbian rights also echo Russia’s posture more than Western Europe’s.

Well, “Like Russia,” yes. But what other country asserts that kind of jurisdiction, and not just over those in neighboring countries but, like, everywhere? The short answer to my friend’s challenge is that the best guarantee for safety is that minority rights everywhere must be protected, including the Roma and those Russian Orthodox Christians. I too might want a second passport if I were in Hungary. But, I’d hope, not to another intolerant society.

The Book of Exodus and the Book of Palestine

4/18/14

exodus

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Passover fragments – that’s what left of Jewish life. Whatever the state of Israel was meant to be, it hasn’t left us much.

The prophetic is alive and well, though. Is the prophetic, Passover’s fragment afterlife?

Perhaps fragments were the reality from the beginning. From the moment ancient Israel entered the Promised Land, the promise started unraveling. Even before Israel’s entry, Moses saw it clearly. His last instructions to the Israelites were quite grim, funereal really. Whatever you have to say about Moses, he wasn’t Israel’s cheerleader.

The Biblical prophets are sent by God within the unraveling of the initial promise. What was the promise that involved the land but went beyond it? Many years ago Norman Gottwald, a Biblical scholar, put the promise succinctly. God freed Israel from Egypt with the command that Israel create a new kind of society – a socially egalitarian decentralized tribal confederacy.

Quite a modernist mouthful but Gottwald got it right. Liberated from empire, Israel was to create a society without empire. A difficult mandate to be sure – has it ever been accomplished? God’s command comported with Israel’s experience of slavery. Why escape one empire to build another?

We know the story of Israel’s failure well but if you noticed it isn’t recounted in the Passover story. Passover looks forward – ancient Israel is moving toward glory. Freedom! Next Year in Jerusalem!

What happened to the Israelites in the land – what happened to others in the land when Israel came and conquered – that is left for another time, a time we never seem to reach.

Even now, at least by our Constantinian Jewish establishment, Israel is recounted as a dream foretold. The devastating details of the dream achieved are missing.

Like Easter Sunday liturgies without a discussion of Christian history after. Upside without the downside. Convenient.

At least the Hebrew Bible details the downside. Credit where credit is due. The New Testament lacks courage. If the New Testament covered roughly the same amount of time as the Hebrew Bible does, the New Testament would stretch from Jesus to Auschwitz. So much for the Jewish God of vengeance versus the Christian God of love.

Imagine a Christian liturgical reading from Auschwitz on Easter Sunday. Let’s call it a historical gospel – the Gospel of Auschwitz. Other possibilities abound. Try reading the Gospel of 1492 and the Gospel of Colonialism as a compliment to the resurrection theme. See where that goes.

Scriptures should evolve to include what is done in God’s name after the forming of faith communities. Expand the Passover story to include the modern state of Israel. Shall we call it the Book of Palestine? Or we could recite both histories together – the Book of Exodus and the Book of Palestine.

On the Jewish side of the Book of Palestine are plenty of authors up for the task of narration. Think of Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe, Josh Ruebner and Max Blumenthal combining their expertise and insights. On the Palestinian side, think of Edward Said, Nur Masala and Joseph Massad.

History has to be our guide. Whatever religion can say after history is in place – proceed. What religion can’t say after history, religion has to leave behind.

When religion has to take the history challenge only fragments survive.

Along with the traditional story, in the last few days of Passover begin reading the Book of Palestine. Now read it out loud with other Jews.

Hear who we have become.

As you raise the matzah to your lips note the sound of Star of David helicopter gunships in the air.

You’ve asked the four traditional Passover questions for years. Now ask the fifth.

Palestinian youth say the talks with Israel are futile

4/17/14
Palestinian security forces blocked youth protesters from accessing the Muqataa and beat them with batons at a demonstration against negotiations with Israel, 2013. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Palestinian security forces blocked youth protesters from accessing the Muqataa and beat them with batons at a demonstration against negotiations with Israel, 2013. (Photo: Allison Deger)

Last summer when negotiations resumed between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, hundreds of Palestinian youth took to the streets of Ramallah to protest the Palestinian Authority decrying the talks. In fact August 2013 saw a string of protests from the city center to the Muqataa, the seat of the Palestinian government. And each protest ended the same: the youth were beaten and arrested, undercover agents moved through the crowds, and some dissidents were even taken into police custody from hospital beds.

Today, the April 29th deadline to produce a U.S. engineered framework looms and talks teeter toward collapse. Israeli and Palestinian officials have skirted their limited commitments. Israel is refusing, or delaying, releasing the last round of Palestinian prisoners while the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed 15 letters of accession to United Nations treaties.

At the same time, the youth movement in Ramallah has also retracted. In a series of interviews I did last week, the once-vocal protesters said they do not believe their representatives will listen to their grievances . Since 2011, under the banner of various groups—the March 15th Coalition, a now defunct group that called for reconciliation between Palestinian political factions and Palestinians for Dignity, an also defunct association that sought the end of the Oslo Accords and its economic sister, the Paris Protocols-- these activists have protested the PA without getting any concessions, they said.

Below is a compilation of interviews with young people living or working in Ramallah. Two are activists, one is not. While I spoke with others, some were fearful of the repercussions of talking with a journalist and would not agree to an on-record interview. Attending any gathering of more than ten people is illegal under Israel’s military code over the West Bank, and Palestinian police have arrested and harassed some of the demonstrators.

Bassel, 30, al-Walaja—”without an occupation, or a woman, ha!”

“Things weren’t really planned,” reflected Bassel, 30, an activist from al-Walaja a village outside of Bethlehem, involved with the summer demonstrations. “The idea was to try and step up the struggle against the PA and stop the negotiations.”

‘ I always knew and believed that the PA was an arm of the occupation. But you can’t just have those thoughts, you need to go through the full experience of the confrontation and practice to demonstrate your thoughts.’

Bassel’s political awakening dates to childhood, “My aunt she’s the first one who started to invest in my education about Palestine. Then in 1995 they [the Israeli army] came and took our lands near our house to make a road for settlers.” In 2006 more land was grabbed from al-Walaja to construct the separation barrier around the settlement of Har Gilo. What remained of the village’s agricultural land, excluding an orchard with the oldest known tree in the world, was expropriated in 2013 for an Israeli national park [PDF] nestled over the Green Line.

“So when I was just ten years I was in my first clash with Israelis and I started to feel the direct confrontation and oppression,” said Bassel. By the time he was in high school, four of his classmates had become suicide bombers and three were at the start of life-sentences in Israeli prisons. Was that atypical, to have so many classmates involved in Palestinian armed groups during the second Intifada? “Yes it was unusual,” responded Bassel.

Later Bassel was active protesting the PA in the March 15th Coalition. “The two-year period of the youth activities, it did its partial goal of asking those existential questions about common values. Who are we as a people and what role should we take?

But now he said, “the whole conditions of the period have shifted.” The first period “was to get to the people and try to raise awareness.” Bassel hoped their movement would show the PA was not going to bring Palestinians anything other than “cultural annihilation of society from within.” The second period, where Bassel locates the current moment, in which negotiations may fall off the map or potentially usher in “Oslo II,” (“Personally, there is no difference if it collapses or succeeds”) is one of “building a fall-back mechanism for the people, building a supportive community for the people.”

He concluded, “It’s all about the facts on the ground and the Zionist project is going underway as it always has—successfully.”

In this understanding, the youth protests against negotiations were not over just the rescoring of an old ballad between two peoples in one American-constructed parlor. “Its deeper than that because we are not objecting to just the negotiations and their failures and their success,” he said. “We’re against the whole thing: recognizing Israel, the two-state solution. We’re against all of it in principle. Because we are against the existence of Israel in principle.”

Saja Kisha, 20, Ramallah, student

“We are a hopeless people. Seriously, we just want to live our lives not about Israel or Palestine, just a real regular life,” said Saja Kisha, 20, a Birzeit University student.

If the talks fail, as most analysts are predicting and even the State Department is hinting, there will be “no consequence” said Saja. She bemoaned that her leaders, “They are out of touch,” including President Mahmoud Abbas who has managed to extend his tenure by postponing elections for five years.

Yet Saja feels Palestinians “have in their minds” what they want: an end to Israel’s occupation and an honoring of the UN sanctioned right of return for some seven million Palestinian refugees and their heirs. Polls still reflect around 50 percent of Palestinians back a two-state solution, yet there is an expanding discourse on the one-state solution with around 30 percent hopeful for a bi-national state based on equal rights between the Jordanian River and the Mediterranean Sea.

“But they don’t talk” said Saja “because they are afraid of talking. That’s us, we just hide.”

“Mona,” 30s, Ramallah, human rights worker

“Mona,” (a pseudonym) was also active in the March 15th Coalition and has continued by protesting the PA through Palestinians for Dignity and with the youth movement against talks with Israel. “I’m not in support of negotiations as a principle,” she said.

Mona finds Palestinians are trapped by “overblown expectations of a third intifada,” yet they are exhausted by the trauma of the last intifada that ended in 2002. “There are no political mobilizations happening from anything coming from below, meaning grassroots groups coming together,” she says, aside from a handful of villages engaging in weekly Friday demonstrations against the wall and settlements built on their grounds. Bil’in, Nabi Saleh, Ni’lin—they make the rounds for activist vacations, but they are not the norm. Most villages simply do not have the energy to protest.

Fatigue has set in, Mona continued, “in light of the fact that there has been an increase of Palestinian citizens being killed since the start of negotiations.”

Indeed, three were killed during the talk’s kickoff last summer in a morning raid in Qalandia refugee camp. The reverberation prompted the first of five youth marches against negotiations, the last when Abbas met with 300 Israeli students at the Muqataa in February. Those deaths–which we reported here–spurred the Palestinian negotiating team to announce that they would cancel its next meeting with Israel’s. But the meeting did take place and Palestinian activists were outraged at the absence of backbone in the PA.

“People are nostalgic for a third intifada inspired by the first intifada,” Mona said, but “it’s not going to happen because the conditions that led to the first intifada do not exist anymore.” Those conditions were: the engagement of nearly every sector of society carried out through unions. In Egypt, unions were a driving force behind the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

But for youth activists like Mona, she is old enough to have a childhood before Qalandia checkpoint and to have a green, West Bank-only identification cards. As a girl, she could cross freely to Israel, go to the sea. The closure of the West Bank to the remainder of historic Palestine dates back only to 2000– or 2006 if passengers were willing to take a roundabout route. This idea of a separate Palestinian state therefore represents a surreal loss of mobility and a concocted notion that two peoples must be divided, with one of those peoples living behind a cement wall, she says.

If you told Israelis this, the hawks would point out that only a small portion of the separation barrier is concrete, most consists of fences and barbed wire with a 60 ft. wide no-man’s land. The doves would suggest that although the wall is an ugly stain on Israeli democracy, it prevents suicide bombing (and most would brush over the fact that the wall is not built on the June 1967 line, rather inside the West Bank often between Palestinian villages).

“I still remember the time when [Qalandia] checkpoint wasn’t in existence and our journeys between Jerusalem and Ramallah didn’t take over 10 minutes by car,” says Jalal Abukhater, 19, a blogger at the Electronic IntifadaAt first the crossing “consisted of fences and some plastic barriers,” said Jalal.

“No one thought this checkpoint was going to be a permanent checkpoint and that it will last long. There was another checkpoint only five minutes after it by car; people thought Qalandia was just extra provocation that will soon be removed.”

Of course it was never removed. Instead Qalandia’s panopticon was replicated at places like Shufat refugee camp, situated inside of Jerusalem, and at Qaqilya where private security mans the walk-through.

After coming of age under swelling limitations to freedom of movement, then years of a declining youth activism, Mona lamented, “The confrontation [with the PA] has led us to the belief that it is not the real confrontation we need to have and the real confrontation is hiding in Beit El [an Israeli settlement].” To her, protests had become “futile.”

Twenty years of disenfranchisement 

The Oslo Accords fashioned Palestinian political life into a West Bank-centered game. They broke Gaza from the West Bank in practical ways, like banning direct trade and requiring traveling permits. Its legacy lasts to this day. Just last week a Palestinian Olympian was denied a permit to run in a Bethlehem marathon that was billed a “freedom of movement” race—that’s Oslo in action. And inside the West Bank, the region was rendered a jigsaw of Area A, B, and C (Area A: under Palestinian security and civil control; Area B: under Israel security and Palestinian civil control; and Area C under Israel security and civil control).

Although if Palestinian fragmentation weren’t enshrined by geographic stoppage, then surely it would have come with the new order of pacification and prolonged peace talks. In the late nineties, the West Bank was rumbling with violent attacks on Israel and then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested Arafat quell the outbursts. He did. The newly formed Palestinian Preventative Security broke up demonstrations against Israeli forces, militant groups were arrested at the behest of Israeli authorities. At that time, Arafat, a populist champion, was also criticized as an oligarch in a liberator’s clothes. A “statement by 20 intellectuals” was penned in 1999 as the first notable open denunciation:

More lands are robbed while settlements expand. The conspiracy against the refugees accelerates behind the scenes. Palestinian jails close their doors to our own sons and daughters. Jerusalem has not returned and Singapore has not arrived. The people are divided into two groups: that of the select who rule and steal, and that of the majority which complains and searches for someone to save it.

That seminal year, eight of the letter’s drafters were jailed and three placed under house arrest. Publicly speaking against the reign of the PA was grounds for banishment in a jail cell purgatory. In 2000 when an editor of a Hebron newspaper criticized Arafat, he was given an ultimatum: write favorable somethings about the government, or else. He was summoned by Palestinian police and later turned over to Israeli police, where he was questioned about the same PA-negative article. For his part, Bassel mentioned the 1999 letter from 20 intellectuals against Arafat. He views his activism on a continuum from that time forward. To him the period from the March 15th Coalition to the negotiations protests is only the most recent tension in managing to rebuild after Oslo’s “cultural annihilation of society from within.”

Stephen Walt: publishing ‘Israel lobby’ ended any thought of serving in US gov’t

4/17/14
Stephen M. Walt

Stephen M. Walt

At Haaretz, Chemi Shalev has posted a long, hostile, and fascinating interview with Stephen Walt that raises the question of why Walt has never been offered such a platform in the U.S. to expound on his views.

Under a redbaiting headline– “I’m not anti-Israel” says the author of the “notorious” book on the Israel lobby – it includes one great moment, when Shalev asks the question I’ve always want to ask Walt, about the cost of taking on the Israel lobby, and the Harvard professor answers sincerely that he had to rule out service in government, and higher academic appointment, too.

[I]t’s made it impossible for me to serve in the U.S. government, because it would be just too politically controversial. Even if someone wanted me, say, to work on U.S. policy in Asia, it would just be not worth it. I’m not so valuable that a president or a secretary of state would want to deal with the political fallout. It has probably had some impact on my upward mobility in academia – if I wanted to be a dean or something like that.

So a black ball at Harvard, too.

Shalev is openly angry at Walt for even identifying the lobby as a problem, and his piece rehashes familiar criticisms of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis from years ago. When he says that Walt makes the lobby out to be an octopus with tentacles, he displays his ignorance of recent and sharper criticisms of the lobby in this country. Tom Friedman has said that Congress is “bought and paid for by the lobby” and that George W. Bush courted the lobby because his father had taken it on and lost the presidency in ’92 (and just two days ago: “the Israel lobby in Washington has effectively shut down any pressure from the White House or Congress”). John Judis writes in his new book that Zionist lobbyists with racist views of Arabs overcame Truman’s instincts to oppose a Jewish state and oppose Israel’s landgrabs in ’48 — a pattern repeated, Judis says, when Obama declared that settlements should stop and promptly caved to the lobby.

Shalev’s response to Walt is frankly emotional; the book “upset” him, he needed to beat Walt up lest readers say he was too “cozy” with him. Walt triggers Shalev’s anxiety about Jewish safety in the west. Thus the bizarre epiphany at the end, when Shalev says he had just spent time with an anti-Semite who pretended not to be one:

On my way back to New York, I suddenly remembered my mother, of blessed memory, who grew up in the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia, before World War II in a very small Jewish community in a German-speaking town. In those circumstances, she would say, Jews developed a sixth sense that allowed them to detect both Jews and anti-Semites who may have been pretending to be something else. It is a shame, I thought, that I have not inherited her gift.

This is reminiscent of Dana Milbank of the Washington Post saying 8 years ago that Walt was blue-eyed and had a Germanic name (it’s actually Danish).

Here are some other excerpts from the piece.

Shalev keeps going after Walt’s conclusion that without the neoconservatives, there wouldn’t have been an Iraq war:

Walt: “We documented pretty carefully that AIPAC quietly supported going to war, and the [executive director] of AIPAC, Howard Kohr, said as much. That that was one of his major accomplishments in 2002. This is in the period where I think Bush has already made the decision, right? But he’s got to get public support for it, he wants to get congressional approval, and the interesting question is what if all these [Israel lobby] organizations had been completely neutral? Or, God forbid, what if a few of them had opposed the war?”

There still would have been a war.

“Not so sure.”

Not so sure is one thing, writing a book is another.

“I have to pound this into your head: We do not say the Israel lobby was solely responsible for the Iraq war. We say it would not have happened if the lobby had not existed and had not pushed forth.”

That’s very close.

“No, excuse me. If 9/11 had not happened, I don’t think we would have invaded Iraq. If we’d had more trouble when we went into Afghanistan, if that campaign had gone badly from the beginning or if we’d had the kind of trouble we had later in Afghanistan, I think Iraq would have been put off. Major decisions like this involve a whole series of things coming together….”

There’s this exchange about whether Israel lobbyists can work inside.

“Paul Wolfowitz, four days after 9/11, at Camp David, said that our first response should be to overthrow Saddam Hussein. So the idea is put in front of – “

But Paul Wolfowitz is part of the administration. He’s the deputy secretary of defense. Why is this the Israel lobby?

“Wolfowitz is part of the Israel lobby. It’s been clear throughout his career.”

Here I would note that there were several Zionist lobbyists inside the Truman administration, per Judis. And Louis Brandeis was lobbying for President Wilson to endorse the Balfour Declaration when he was on the Supreme Court. And Dennis Ross is co-chair of the pro-Israel Jewish People Policy Institute and has served in countless administrations, including Obama’s, as Israel’s lawyer.

There is some Israel-centric provincialism in Shalev’s comments. This is amusing:

“I would make American support for Israel much more conditional on an end to settlement construction. A more serious willingness to engage with the Palestinians before it’s too late to actually get a peace deal.”

But the Israeli people may have chosen a government that is not amenable to those demands.

“Countries don’t always have the same interests, and if our interests are in [there being] a two-state solution, and if Israel decides it wants to go a different way, so be it. That’s Israel’s choice, and they can do that. But then the United States should be able to make its own choices, too.”

Shalev has to check Walt’s visa:

Do you support the two-state solution?

“Yes. Which unfortunately means that I’m now a supporter of something that I think is less and less likely. And I don’t know quite what to do with that.”

This is the best part. How has writing this affected Walt’s life?

“It was literally going to bed one night and getting up the next morning in a rather different world. I didn’t fully anticipate that.

“How has it affected my life? I think it has altered the trajectory I might have had. I think it’s made it impossible for me to serve in the U.S. government, because it would be just too politically controversial. Even if someone wanted me, say, to work on U.S. policy in Asia, it would just be not worth it. I’m not so valuable that a president or a secretary of state would want to deal with the political fallout. It has probably had some impact on my upward mobility in academia – if I wanted to be a dean or something like that.

“But it has not a major impact on my friendships or my relations with other scholars.”

This is also a good exchange. Does it bother you that people call you an anti-Semite?

“Nobody should like being accused of being an anti-Semite, so I don’t enjoy that aspect, but I know it’s false, so I’m sorry that people have a mistaken view of my attitudes. That’s all I can do. I can’t correct them. I’ve said what I’ve said, and if they have an erroneous view of what my character is really like, that’s unfortunate.”

Good honest bracing answer. We don’t control our reputations, that’s a basic law of a democratic discourse; and anyone who takes this issue on must accept the risk that he or she will be labeled an anti-Semite at some point. That was always the courage of these endowed profs for me: they accepted that risk out of a larger understanding of civic and global duty.

The excellence of Shalev’s interview is that he comes off as petty and Walt seems big. You get to hear a highly-intelligent man who has obviously been deeply wounded but doesn’t take it personally; it hasn’t made him bitter. No, he is out there willing to make his case to doubters in a forceful but polite and good-natured manner. Read his comments on the Ukraine. Very in tune with Stephen Cohen’s.

So: When is the American press going to give him such a platform? When will Americans get to reckon the loss of Walt’s service as another cost of the special relationship?

Resurrecting Passover?

4/17/14
Charlton Heston as Moses

Charlton Heston as Moses

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Does Passover have an afterlife – life after permanently oppressing another people?

I doubt it.

If we aren’t play acting Passover – fried artichoke hearts, gefilte fish, vintage wine and alike – and if the Passover inversion as a biting indictment of Israeli empowerment and Jewish enablement of injustice is simply too much for Passover gatherers to bear, perhaps its best to simply abandon Passover. Why not eat leavened bread galore and enjoy the fruits of Israeli and American power with a clear conscience?

Like everyone else Jews want our power and our innocence, too. Thus our glossy invites to the endless and empty interfaith gatherings that offer mutual self-congratulation as the hors d’oeuvres. The main course that follows is equally self-congratulatory.

Isn’t it swell that Christians finally learned that Jesus’ love offers a mutual embrace rather enslavement and ethnic cleansing! Congratulations Christians!

No doubt when the permanent ghettoization of the Palestinians is signed and delivered, Jews will likewise relish the innocence that other conquerors find so pleasing to claim. Congratulations Jews!

I doubt it will be so easy for Jews in the long run. Christians rest easy in their salvation – at least that is their public claim. Christians solved the instability Jews – and the Jewish God – represent. Salvation (conveniently) ends the prophetic. Justice becomes an item on the Christian bucket-list.

With Easter on the Passover horizon, I know the dispute within the Christian community via liberation theology continues. But as some Christians have noticed, liberation theology is based on the Exodus story, the primordial prophetic stirrings of ancient Israel. If Christians adopt the Passover as their origins, fine and good. Whatever the Christian spin, welcome back to the (Jewish) fold.

Here’s the irony: Jews need Passover today like Christians need salvation – to be diverted from the injustice we are enabling. Has Passover become our (Christian) salvation? A faux prophetic trope to banish the unstable Jewish prophetic?

Using Passover as our salvation doesn’t work. Too many Jews work through the hypocrisy represented in the slave narratives as we raise our wine glasses when others are being enslaved by us – at this very moment!

The Passover Seder as we know it was formulated when Jews were the down-and-outs of Christian empire. It’s only in the post-Holocaust era that Jews, as a collective, have been empowered as we recall the Exodus story. Getting tipsy at Passover is supposed to be struggling for liberation. It isn’t about forgetting who we have become.

Like the difference of Christians believing in salvation when they were being persecuted and when they are empire leaders, the Passover power-equation means everything. Maybe we Jews no longer deserve the Passover story. Or do we simply need to learn its real meaning again – from others?

The prospects of resurrecting Passover seem dim. Mostly Passover will continue to exist in the Constantinian Jewish halls of economic and political power, in our Holocaust sanctuaries and in our narrow-minded Hillel’s. For Jews of Conscience only Passover fragments will remain.

To be found alongside the Eucharistic fragments that were born in Occupied Palestine so long ago?

Passover afterlife. Even an Easter resurrection won’t do.