Monday, June 30, 2008
Our Palestinian managing editor, the Jerusalem-born Leila Dabdoub, is a personal victim of this policy. She has lived in Santiago Chile with her Chilean born-Palestinian husband for over five years, to try to gain a Chilean passport to protect her ability to live in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this may also not guarantee her ability to return and stay in Jerusalem, because a foreign passport requires a renewed visa every three months, which will be difficult to obtain.
There is a clear Israeli policy to try to "dilute" the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, which is not working, but it does create serious harassment and complications for individual Palestinians. — Hillel Schenker (co-editor, PIJ)
This is Zeina Ashrawi Hutchinson, Hanan Ashrawi's daughter, telling her story:
Denied the Right to go Home (June 21, 2008)
I am Palestinian – born and raised – and my Palestinian roots go back centuries. No one can change that even if they tell me that Jerusalem , my birth place, is not Palestine, even if they tell me that Palestine doesn't exist, even if they take away all my papers and deny me entry to my own home, even if they humiliate me and take away my rights. I AM PALESTINIAN.
Name: Zeina Emile Sam'an Ashrawi; Date of Birth: July 30, 1981; Ethnicity: Arab. This is what was written on my Jerusalem ID card. An ID card to a Palestinian is much more than just a piece of paper; it is my only legal documented relationship to Palestine . Born in Jerusalem , I was given a Jerusalem ID card (the blue ID), an Israeli Travel Document and a Jordanian Passport stamped Palestinian (I have no legal rights in Jordan ). I do not have an Israeli Passport, a Palestinian Passport or an American Passport.
Here is my story:
I came to the United States as a 17 year old to finish high school in Pennsylvania and went on to college and graduate school and subsequently got married and we are currently living in Northern Virginia. I have gone home every year at least once to see my parents, my family and my friends and to renew my Travel Document as I was only able to extend its validity once a year from Washington DC . My father and I would stand in line at the Israeli Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem , along with many other Palestinians, from 4:30 in the morning to try our luck at making it through the revolving metal doors of the Ministry before noon – when the Ministry closed its doors - to try and renew the Travel Document. We did that year after year. As a people living under an occupation, being faced with constant humiliation by an occupier was the norm but we did what we had to do to insure our identity was not stolen from us.
In August of 2007 I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC to try and extend my travel document and get the usual "Returning Resident" VISA that the Israelis issue to Palestinians holding an Israeli Travel Document. After watching a few Americans and others being told that their visas would be ready in a couple of weeks my turn came. I walked up to the bulletproof glass window shielding the lady working behind it and under a massive picture of the Dome of the Rock and the Walls of Jerusalem that hangs on the wall in the Israeli consulate, I handed her my papers through a little slot at the bottom of the window.
"Shalom" she said with a smile. "Hi" I responded, apprehensive and scared. As soon as she saw my Travel Document her demeanor immediately changed. The smile was no longer there and there was very little small talk between us, as usual. After sifting through the paperwork I gave her she said: "where is your American Passport?" I explained to her that I did not have one and that my only Travel Document is the one she has in her hands. She was quiet for a few seconds and then said: "you don't have an American Passport?" suspicious that I was hiding information from her. "No!" I said. She was quiet for a little longer and then said: "Well, I am not sure we'll be able to extend your Travel Document." I felt the blood rushing to my head as this is my only means to get home! I asked her what she meant by that and she went on to tell me that since I had been living in the US and because I had a Green Card they would not extend my Travel Document. After taking a deep breath to try and control my temper I explained to her that a Green Card is not a Passport and I cannot use it to travel outside the US . My voice was shaky and I was getting more and more upset (and a mini shouting match ensued) so I asked her to explain to me what I needed to do. She told me to leave my paperwork and we would see what happens.
A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from the lady telling me that she was able to extended my Travel Document but I would no longer be getting the "Returning Resident" VISA. Instead, I was given a 3 month tourist VISA. Initially I was happy to hear that the Travel Document was extended but then I realized that she said "tourist VISA". Why am I getting a tourist VISA to go home? Not wanting to argue with her about the 3 month VISA at the time so as not to jeopardize the extension of my Travel Document, I simply put that bit of information on the back burner and went on to explain to her that I wasn't going home in the next 3 months. She instructed me to come back and apply for another VISA when I did intend on going. She didn't add much and just told me that it was ready for pick-up. So I went to the Embassy and got my Travel Document and the tourist VISA that was stamped in it. My husband, my son and I were planning on going home to Palestine this summer. So a month before we were set to leave (July 8, 2008) I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC , papers in hand, to ask for a VISA to go home. I, again, stood in line and watched others get VISAs to go to my home. When my turn came I walked up to the window; "Shalom" she said with a smile on her face, "Hi" I replied. I slipped the paperwork in the little slot under the bulletproof glass and waited for the usual reaction. I told her that I needed a returning resident VISA to go home. She took the paperwork and I gave her a check for the amount she requested and left the Embassy without incident.
A few days ago I got a phone call from Dina at the Israeli Embassy telling me that she needed the expiration date of my Jordanian Passport and my Green Card. I had given them all the paperwork they needed time and time again and I thought it was a good way on their part to waste time so that I didn't get my VISA in time. Regardless, I called over and over again only to get their voice mail. I left a message with the information they needed but kept called every 10 minutes hoping to speak to someone to make sure that they received the information in an effort to expedite the tedious process. I finally got a hold of someone. I told her that I wanted to make sure they received the information I left on their voice mail and that I wanted to make sure that my paperwork was in order. She said, after consulting with someone in the background (I assume it was Dina), that I needed to fax copies of both my Jordanian Passport and my Green Card and that giving them the information over the phone wasn't acceptable. So I immediately made copies and faxed them to Dina. A few hours later my cell phone rang. "Zeina?" she said. "Yes" I replied, knowing exactly who it was and immediately asked her if she received the fax I sent. She said: "ehhh, I was not looking at your file when you called earlier but your Visa was denied and your ID and Travel Document are no longer valid."
"Excuse me?" I said in disbelief. "Sorry, I cannot give you a visa and your ID and Travel Document are no longer valid. This decision came from Israel not from me."
I cannot describe the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach. "Why?" I asked and Dina went on to tell me that it was because I had a Green Card. I tried to reason with Dina and to explain to her that they could not do that as this is my only means of travel home and that I wanted to see my parents, but to no avail. Dina held her ground and told me that I wouldn't be given the VISA and then said: "Let the Americans give you a Travel Document".
I have always been a strong person and not one to show weakness but at that moment I lost all control and started crying while Dina was on the other end of the line holding my only legal documents linking me to my home. I began to plead with her to try and get the VISA and not revoke my documents; "put yourself in my shoes, what would you do? You want to go see your family and someone is telling you that you can't! What would you do? Forget that you're Israeli and that I'm Palestinian and think about this for a minute!" "Sorry" she said,"I know but I can't do anything, the decision came from Israel ". I tried to explain to her over and over again that I could not travel without my Travel Document and that they could not do that – knowing that they could, and they had!
This has been happening to many Palestinians who have a Jerusalem ID card. The Israeli government has been practicing and perfecting the art of ethnic cleansing since 1948 right under the nose of the world and no one has the power or the guts to do anything about it. Where else in the world does one have to beg to go to one's own home? Where else in the world does one have to give up their identity for the sole reason of living somewhere else for a period of time? Imagine if an American living in Spain for a few years wanted to go home only to be told by the American government that their American Passport was revoked and that they wouldn't be able to come back! If I were a Jew living anywhere around the world and had no ties to the area and had never set foot there, I would have the right to go any time I wanted and get an Israeli Passport. In fact, the Israelis encourage that. I however, am not Jewish but I was born and raised there, my parents, family and friends still live there and I cannot go back! I am neither a criminal nor a threat to one of the most power countries in the world, yet I am alienated and expelled from my own home.
As it stands right now, I will be unable to go home – I am one of many.
Note to the above, a communication from Prof. Naomi Chazan, a former Meretz Member of Knesset: Zehava Galon [a current Meretz MK] has been working on Zeina's case for the past week, as well as others of this sort. It is crucial to get a campaign going with broad public impact.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
There was also a CBS evening news story under the headline, "Israel Prodding U.S. To Attack Iran." Michael Oren, the well-known Israeli historian, is now also a CBS news consultant. He indicates:
Israel is said to be operating under the assumption that Iran can have an operational nuclear weapon by some time next year, while the US military sees such a development as several years off.
"The Israelis have been assured by the Bush administration that the Bush administration will not allow Iran to nuclearize," Oren said. "Israelis are uncertain about what would be the policies of the next administration vis-à-vis Iran."
Israel's message is simple: If you don't, we will. ...but military analysts say Israel can not do it alone.
"Keep in mind that Israel does not have strategic bombers," Oren said. "The Israeli Air Force is not the American Air Force. Israel can not eliminate Iran's nuclear program."
All this is scary from a number of angles, and both the prospect of Iran going nuclear and of Israel and/or the United States attacking to prevent this, appear hazardous in the extreme. The new Meretz party chair, Chaim Oron, advised caution in a conference call with Meretz USA: "The Iranian issue is serious and real, and it's one that Israel needs to face alongside the international community. Israel is part of this community, but it shouldn't try to handle this alone."
I often joust in email and online with people who are hostile to Israel. The Iraq war has been unjustly blamed on Israel and the so-called "Israel Lobby." Sadly, war with Iran would be largely about Israel, but I see this as mostly because of Iran’s religiously-inspired hatred.
The people of Israel have been repeatedly subject to the rantings of President Ahmadinejad about how the Holocaust is a "theory" and that Israel will soon disappear. At the same time, Iran is eager to develop nuclear power and has resisted international inspections that would certify what it claims is not an arms program. Moreover, Iran has long-range missiles that they boast have the capability of hitting Israel.
Israel's fears are based upon adding two plus two. Iran can easily allay these fears by allowing international inspections and curtailing its hostile rhetoric.
Would I want to see less provocative rhetoric from Israel and the US? Of course. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz’s statement that an attack on Iran is "inevitable" didn’t help. This was posturing by a politician contending for the leadership of his Kadima party and for the job of prime minister (God help us).
But Israel is far more vulnerable than Iran (being so much smaller) and it's Iran that started this game with its hostility.
I do not believe that Israel should attack Iran (this is not likely to destroy Iran's nuclear program and it promises untold pain for all), but I don’t blame Israel in the least for feeling threatened. Ahmadinejad's provocations are as clear as day.
It is argued by apologists for Ahmadinejad that he has been misquoted, that he is musing philosophically about the end of Israel’s current ("Zionist") form of government. One such speaker of Farsi, whom I’ve dialogued with, quotes Ahmadinejad as saying: "the regime that occupies Jerusalem should be wiped clean from the pages of history." To me this sounds exactly like advocating Israel's destruction.
There is a ray of hope and a possible model in the deal just announced with North Korea, which is publicly dismantling facilities and the US, in return, is taking it off the State Department list of terrorist states and pledging its peaceful intent.
Iran, Israel and the US all need to cool their rhetoric. But since it’s Iran that has brought about this crisis, it needs either to go first, or to secretly engage in diplomacy in an effort to step away from the brink.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Prof. Halbertal is part of an unusual breed, that of a religiously Orthodox individual who is also politically liberal. Sadly, like most dovishly inclined Israelis, he has soured on the likelihood of Israel reaching an agreement with the Palestinians on a two-state solution that he favors. He commented on the irony that at roughly the same point that a majority of Israelis decided upon a curtailment of settlements and a withdrawal from most of the occupied territories, the Palestinians elected the rejectionist Hamas as its governing party.
I understand Halbertal’s pessimism on this point, but I see the newly evolved Israeli majority that no longer believes in the likelihood of an agreement with the Palestinians as engaging in a self-fulfilling prophesy.
There was no controversy at YIVO that evening at Halbertal’s premise that a "Jewish state" is fundamentally a good thing; by a "Jewish state" he does not mean either a theocratic or an exclusively Jewish state. He mentioned in passing a notion that I fully share, that Israel is justly a "Jewish state" on the basis of a kind of affirmative action granted by the world community as a result of historic antisemitism and the Holocaust.
Halbertal postulated that Israel’s population consists of five "tribes": the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), the mostly secular Ashkenazi Jews, moderately religious oriental Jews (Mizrahim) whom he lumps together with the modern Orthodox, the immigrant population from the former Soviet Union (the "Russians") and Israeli Arabs. He said that it’s not "an accident" that the Arab and Haredi "tribes" are not conscripted into the armed forces, because (unlike the other three) neither officially recognizes the Zionist character of the state.
In this connection, he indicated that about one quarter of the combat soldiers in the IDF are currently from the recent wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, a population that tends to be patriotic and leans toward the nationalist right in the political spectrum.
These are Halbertal’s thoughts about the four legitimate purposes of a "Jewish state," while also endorsing the protection of the legitimate rights of non-Jewish citizens:
- It enables the Jewish people to work for its political interests.
- The Law of Return is a form of "affirmative action for the Jews," allowing a historically persecuted and vulnerable people to have a refuge.
- A Jewish state should cultivate the Hebrew language, the Jewish calendar and other symbolic and cultural expressions of Jewishness.
- The state is committed to reproducing Jewish cultures — in the plural because there is more than one Jewish culture.
But Prof. Halbertal sees it as important that the state be no more "Jewish" than the above. He (like the late politically left-wing Orthodox thinker, Yeshayahu Leibovitz) warns against the use of the coercive power of the state to enforce Jewish religious observances; both see this as bad for the country and for Judaism. For one thing, if the state expends money and resources for religious purposes, this turns off secular Jews to the practice of Judaism. And Halbertal argues for as broad a definition of Jewish identity as possible to include protection for all who may be persecuted as Jews.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
More from the Meretz USA Web site:
A right-wing activist on Tuesday poured boiling water on MKs belonging to the Meretz party during a tour of the West Bank city of Hebron.
The incident occurred while Hebron setters clashed with the MKs and other members of a tour led by "Breaking The Silence," an organization of demobilized Israel Defense Forces soldiers who document alleged harassment of Palestinians in the territories.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
If one looks at the blue state-red state voting patterns east of the Mississippi River, one notices that the blue states roughly correspond to those states that voted Republican in 1856 and 1860 and the red states correspond to those that voted Democrat. The switch of the northeastern and north-central states from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party can be readily explained by the fact that the antebellum Republicans inherited the economic policy of the Whigs (being protectionist), as well as being concerned about racial justice. There was a heavy evangelical Protestant strain of those denominations that wanted to better society through social reforms.
Today these values are present in the Democratic Party. The antebellum Democrats were in favor of free trade, the military and an activist foreign policy. These are the values of today’s Republicans. Phillips was one of the strategists who pioneered Nixon’s "southern strategy" in the late 1960s.
By taking these larger demographic historic voting patterns and then making adjustments for income levels and religious attendance, political voting analysts can make fairly rough predictions about voting behavior and election outcomes. I believe that a similar analysis is possible for Israeli politics. But, of course, one would have to use different criteria and refer to different historic turning points.
Because the secular sector is so much larger among Israeli Jews than among Americans, and because Judaism lacks the large number of religious denominations that are present in Protestant America, one would have to rely more on ideological indicators such as youth group affiliation, membership on a kibbutz or moshav, etc. There are definitely ethnic voting patterns in Israel that are roughly similar to those in the United States. For instance, Mizrahi Jews tend to vote for certain parties such as the Likud and Shas, while sabra Ashkenazi Jews tend to vote for Labor and Meretz. Russians are beginning to establish a similar fixed pattern. With some careful examination one might be able to identify a group of "Netanyahu Laborites" who voted for Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996 similar to the Reagan Democrats of 1980.
Why is this important? When voting behavior is analyzed on a demographic basis, certain patterns emerged that can then be explained in terms of party ideology or image. Focus groups can explain why these groups tend to vote for a particular party. While a party probably does not want to change its core ideology that is crucial to its identity, it can target issues that are crucial to certain demographic groups that it wants to target and then adjust its positions and image accordingly. Labor desperately needs to undertake such an analysis in order to determine what groups it can attract on economic issues and how it needs to adjust its image. Such an analysis might allow Labor to win back certain groups of Mizrahi or Russian voters who have grown disillusioned with their treatment from the Likud.
Meretz would be advised to undertake a similar analysis. It might discover that it has a good chance of appealing to Muslim professionals working in Jewish cities who can be appealed to on the basis of Meretz’s peace and civil rights agenda. Attracting new voters goes much further than simply translating one’s election leaflets or broadcasts into Russian or Arabic or attracting a few faces from a particular community, important as those steps may be. It goes to the image of a particular party and how that coincides with the values of a particular ethno-religious community.
The political realist knows that one cannot implement policy if one loses the election. Although it may be harder to measure winners and losers under Israel’s proportional representation system than under America’s system, certain trends are unmistakable. Labor and Meretz have both lost more than half of their electoral strength since 1992 when Rabin was elected prime minister. A thorough analysis of historic demographic voting trends in Israel might be the place to begin to turn this around.
Thomas Mitchell, Ph.D., is a graduate of Hebrew University and the doctoral program in international relations at the University of Southern California. He specializes in research on deeply divided societies – particularly Arab-Palestine, Northern Ireland, and 19th century America.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
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. In fact, Nakba Day reinforces the most regressive tendencies among the Palestinians, for their observance of the day represents a continuing rejection of Israel and the United Nations resolution which established it. It is also an assertion of a Palestinian victimhood which is only rivaled by some of their Israeli interlocutors, who also seem to revel in a counter-productive narrative of unrelieved oppression.
As a historian, I have often argued in other contexts that even the most oppressed people have "agency," the ability, even within restricted circumstances, to act to alter their situations. That is, even given the reality of superior Israeli power, the Palestinians have had choices and they have too often made the wrong ones. On Nakba Day they might reexamine some of these choices and choose not just to mourn their past but to analyze their failures and move in more creative directions. [In my view, their most grievous error was in violently rejecting the UN partition plan in 1947, attempting by war to achieve one Arab state in all of Palestine, rather than accepting the existence of a predominantly Jewish state as a neighbor; the nakba resulted from their defeat in a war that they started in an ill-advised effort to destroy the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine.– R. Seliger]
Professor Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American who teaches at Columbia, has pointed out some of their past failures, which include: the PLO equivocation on accepting two states, their support of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, opting for armed conflict in the second intifadah leading to the collapse of Palestinian society, and their continuing recourse to the rhetoric of armed struggle. I would add to Khalidi’s list the manipulation of the Palestinian refugee situation, the terrible corruption in the ranks of Fatah and the encouragement, or acquiescence, in terrorism.
One could, of course, greatly extend this list but a few examples will have to suffice in order to indicate that the Palestinians have not just been powerless victims of catastrophe but have also co-authored the narrative of their current tragedy. I have no intention of excusing Israel for its settlement building, theft of Arab lands, checkpoints, unnecessary violence and the like but the Palestinians also made choices over these sixty years and they have most often been the wrong ones.
Nakba Day is the wrong choice. It sends a chilling message to every Israeli that the continuing Jewish presence is not only unjust but unwelcome. The Palestinians need to deliver different messages – first, that they accept Israel and earnestly desire a two state solution and second, that even while they will continue to denounce Israeli excesses, they will respond not with arms but with militant, non-violent resistance. The Palestinians must choose between more years of commemorating the Nakba or looking forward to celebrating the birth of a Palestinian state.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Meretz is a party that has always held aloft the banner of good governance, its statement of principles affirming that it will work to, "protect the rule of law ... implant values of proper administration and governmental transparency, while guarding moral integrity and eliminating the scourge of corruption".
It would seem only natural, therefore, that Meretz would now be using all means possible to remove an Israeli Prime Minister who has been the subject of five separate criminal investigations, and who, we have recently learned, has made a habit of receiving (and failing to document) fat, cash-filled envelopes from American "associate", Morris Talansky.
On the other hand, Meretz is a peace party - indeed, the backbone of Israel's peace camp - and it is fundamentally committed to the cause of de-occupation and coexistence. Cognizant of the albatross that is Israel's control of the territories, Meretz promises its constituency to help, "end the occupation, evacuate the settlers and the IDF from the territories, and put Israel back on the right track".
This being the case, how could Meretz possibly think of toppling a government which, despite its unconscionable support for new settlement construction, has reignited peace talks with the Palestinians (not to mention the Syrians) and has held out the hope of a breakthrough framework agreement by the end of the year? How could Meretz do so when new elections will likely usher in a Netanyahu government that will nip these processes in the bud?
Over the last several months, Meretz has consistently sought the middle ground, advocating that Olmert resign in favor of a colleague from his Kadima party who could hold together the existing government coalition and continue the all-important negotiations. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has not been stained by accusations of malfeasance, would be the leading candidate to fill Olmert's shoes.
Unfortunately, this ‘third way' has become increasingly untenable in recent weeks. Though the accusations against Olmert have become more withering and his public support nil, the Prime Minister has stood his ground, insisting that he's "not a crook" and that he would not resign unless a criminal indictment is filed. According to most analysts, Olmert has been counting on the support of the parties of the center and left, who, he hopes, would be willing to swallow an ostensibly corrupt Prime Minister in order to forestall something worse.
Caught between conflicting values and between its values and the constraints imposed by the rules of politics, Meretz has struggled with the question of whether the peace process can be sanctified above all else.
Now, Meretz seems to have indicated that it cannot. In a decision reached by the Meretz faction in the Knesset, the party's MKs declared that, "if, during the month of June, Kadima does not set a reasonable date for its party primaries [to select a new party leader], Meretz will bring its proposal to disperse the Knesset to a vote," in Israel's parliament.
Or perhaps the party has simply decided to call Olmert's bluff? In the "game of chicken" so characteristic of Israeli political wrangling, the Prime Minister has been counting on Meretz (and others) to flinch first. Meretz is now saying that it won't.
Olmert's Kadima party might have gotten the message. Apparently unwilling to go down in a sinking ship with Olmert, Kadima's leaders are showing signs that they're ready to throw their captain overboard, in the hope that a new leader can keep them afloat and repair the hull. Kadima seems likely to prefer a new leader to new elections.
Let's hope that they follow through in this direction, and that a new and untarnished Kadima leader will stop the growth of settlements, redouble efforts toward peace, and lead the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Obama later backpedaled, but the Jewish Voice for Peace has seized upon Obama’s misstep to issue an online petition, as follows:
Dear Senators Obama and McCain,Although not all bad, this is definitely not our kind of petition! It isn't entirely a question of respecting "internationally recognized Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem" – a slightly inflated notion – but that this issue needs to be decided in negotiations that consider the interests and claims of both sides.
We were disturbed by your remarks at the AIPAC conference. We implore you to respect internationally recognized Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem, to hold not just Hamas but also Israel accountable for its use of weapons against civilian populations, and to support including Hamas in negotiations. We believe that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live in safe and secure societies. Please commit to working for justice and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
We also can't equate the explicit targeting of civilians by Hamas with the collateral deaths of civilians when the IDF targets Palestinian fighters. (This doesn’t mean that Israel’s use of force is always wise, correct or just, but it’s on a different moral plane than that of Hamas and other such groups that make war on civilians as a matter of course.)
And Hamas does not have standing under the internationally recognized agreements in place (mainly, Oslo II) to be part of the final-status negotiations, which is between the head of the Palestinian Authority (actually by virtue of his being the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization) and Israel. I have no quarrel with the last two sentences, however.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The premise of the Zohan is that the greatest Israeli soldier of all time is tired of fighting terrorists and wants to move to America to avoid embarrassment in fulfilling his life long dream of becoming a hair dresser. He ends up working in a part of New York City that is split between Israelis and Palestinians. Going along with the current trend of globalization, a New York business guru wants to buy the area that the Israelis and Palestinians reside in so that he can build a mega mall.
However, neither side will budge and he has to devise a scheme in order to make them leave. To do this he hires some local thugs to dress up like Haredim and Arab's and sends them out to vandalize the respected parties properties. Thinking that the other side did it, this ignites a hostile environment that only adds to the already present resentment. Like all great hero's, the Zohan foils the plan and shows the people of his area that corporate America was at the heart of their problems. Realizing that he is right both sides reconcile and we end the movie knowing that the two sides created a warm peace between themselves.
If one takes a minute to explore how everything was made good again, it is realized that the problems found in this movie in terms of why the New Yorker Israelis and Palestinians were fighting, are in fact not that different for why America is in an on going battle with many countries in the Middle East. We allow corporate America to do whatever it wants at the expense of whoever it wants. And as a result hostile environments, significantly more severe then was portrayed in the Zohan, are created and maintained. Who knew that there would be such a nice lesson to be learned from such a ridiculous movie, that lesson being to respect the people around you and their traditions.
Ms. Wolf fascinated me when she first became something of a celebrity in the 1980s as a Yale-educated feminist writer. She was a strikingly beautiful and articulate 20-something. In 2000, she got some negative media attention for advising Al Gore on how to look the part of “an alpha male,” by wearing “earth tones.” Maybe her advise was more consequential than that, but she was an unwitting source of ridicule for Gore, with a news media focused upon such trivia as more important than seriously evaluating the relative merits of his candidacy versus that of George W. Bush. We’ve been living with the results ever since.
I attended a talk by Naomi Wolf about two years ago at the Manhattan JCC. Like during this recent taping, she engaged with her audience, then about the nature of Jewish identity. She sees Jewishness as a matter of high ethical consciousness, moral behavior and idealistic aspirations. I think these expectations, while worthwhile, are too much to expect of what is mostly a cultural and biological inheritance. Think for a minute: do Irish people have to conform to a set of high ideals in order to fully express their Irishness? I think that people should do right because it’s right, but (aside from the fact that knowing what's right is not always simple) Jews should not be saddled with an obligation to do so simply because they are Jews.
The other week, Ms. Wolf made much, in a light-hearted way, of her Jewishness, and clearly, she’s no Neo-con. This Jewish thinker draws inspiration from an older woman she calls her “mentor,” who was a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor. “It was just like this [in the beginning] with Hitler,” this woman has told her.
To me, the biggest flaw in her argument that there are compelling parallels between us and 1930s Germany is that there is no clear fascist party to seize power in this country the way that there was with Mussolini and Hitler, or a nominally left-wing party that became the terrorist instrument of a totalitarian police state under Stalin. It’s a stretch to me that this would be the Republican party today. The GOP has currently nominated a maverick senator with moderate social views as its standard bearer, and is falling all over itself not to be sucked into the maelstrom of popular rejection summoned by their incumbent president. There is also an energetic minority of Republicans rallying to the libertarian anti-war banners of Ron Paul, Bob Bahr and Pat Buchanan.
But I left with some profoundly unsettling bits that, if true, are cause for concern. One is that the Patriot Act apparently empowers the President of the United States to declare any one of us “an enemy combatant” and to incarcerate us, virtually without recourse to a legal defense. There is also supposedly a “list” of security suspects – writers with sharp pens, ACLU lawyers and others who stick in the craw of the powers that be – who are subject to travel delays and other forms of harassment. Ms. Wolf says that she is on the “list” and that its length is growing precipitously, to over 700,000 names today. At the same time, there are supposed to be a large number of detention camps under construction under contract with everybody’s favorite Haliberton subsidiary, KBR. Moreover, there is supposedly a domestic contract with Blackwater, the private security contractor of Iraq infamy, to provide security for these camps and who knows what else.
Ms. Wolf paints Blackwater as the equivalent of Mussolini’s Blackshirts or Hitler’s Brownshirts. Another such parallel were the mobs of Republican activists (she claims that they were dressed identically) demanding that the Florida recount in 2000 be stopped.
Finally, she claims that there is a Presidential executive order ready to be acted upon which would dissolve Congress and the courts in the event of a major national emergency. On this, as on the matter of the “list,” I am ignorant, but I’d like to see some good dispassionate research to establish the existence of these phenomena. If any of these things are out there, Naomi Wolf is right that they need to be exposed.
Friday, June 06, 2008
In part of my parent’s epic three-month journey, they crossed into Iraq from Turkey directly into the custody of mounted Iraqi border guards. "Yahud?" [Jew] they guessed as three bedraggled Jews made it across the river. The Iraqi police were actually helpful in readily granting them transit visas and even in hiring a car and driver to take them to the train station in Baghdad. The driver was so afraid of the police commander, who had carefully instructed him on exactly how many dinars to charge, that he would not accept US dollars, the currency my parents and Tante Elsa were mainly traveling with. He insisted that my father go to the bazaar to find a Jewish money changer to get dinars.
Having finished their business in Baghdad, they took the train to Basra, Iraq’s major port. My father reported that the conductors were all Jews with whom he conversed in Hebrew. In Basra, they wangled passage on a British troop ship that had brought reinforcements to put down the pro-Axis Iraqi rebellion, while shipping off German and Italian prisoners of war down in the hold. So my parents made it to Karachi -- then British India, now Pakistan -- from whence they took a British cruise ship to Bombay where they boarded the American liner, the President Harrison, as it steamed to Cape Town, Port-of-Spain (Trinidad) and Hoboken.
My father recalled that this was a very tense time in Iraq. In fact, the pro-Nazi Iraqi rebels were being directly organized by Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, the exiled Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who was an active ally of Hitler during the war. They knew enough not to dawdle in Baghdad. During the first week of June, 1941, exactly 67 years ago, over 130 Iraqi Jews were murdered in a major pogrom when the remnants of the defeated rebels vented their rage on the Jews before the British managed to restore order.
Finally, in the June 1 issue of the New York Times, there is something in the mainstream media on Iraq’s once thriving Jewish community of over 130,000, now moribund. It feels spooky to me that in discussing Iraq’s genuine mosaic of multiple ethnic and religious communities there is no mention or recognition that this ancient Jewish presence has disappeared practically without a trace.
Iraq’s not-so-ancient enmity toward Israel is concretized in a main drag in Baghdad called Haifa Street. We may also recall that a favorite haunt for Saddam-era foreign correspondents was the Palestine Hotel. Even though Iraq has no border with Israel and was not threatened by it in any real way, Iraqi troops were dispatched against Israel in three wars: 1948, 1967 and 1973. And in 1991, even though Israel was not part of the coalition assembled by George H. W. Bush against Saddam Hussein, the latter sent 38 missiles crashing into Israeli soil.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
This past week, I attended the AIPAC Policy Conference held in our nation's capital. It was an interesting event, one that was attended by many different types of Jews with many different perspectives and interests. However, this is not the focus of my article. I want to share with you what I believe was a missed opportunity by AIPAC.
With such a large forum of Jews in one place-- over 6,000-- AIPAC has the opportunity to educate and influence. Every morning of the conference participants have the chance of seeing some high-profile politician guest speaker, this year's highlights being Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, and Senator McCain, which are followed by classes known as 'breakout sessions'. These break out sessions, along with the speeches given by the politicians, are focused on many different topics and issues, obviously all relating to Israel; most of them had one common theme, Israel in the international sphere. As important as these discussions are, I found troubling the lack of discussions centered around domestic problems in Israel.
AIPAC's strategy is to convince people that Israel must be strengthened in order to survive in its hostile neighborhood; however, they are missing that this process of strengthening must start from within.
As with any lobby group, there were major attempts at fund-raising, usually under the banner of defense from the Palestinians and Iranians, both justifiable and honorable causes, however far from the only ones. These are very mainstream issues, ones that don't require lots of research to learn about, and definitely ones that do not lack an abundance of funding. Which brings me to the question, what about the daily lives of the average Israeli citizen? Over 790,000 of the country’s 2.3 million children (approximately 35%) were living below the poverty line at the end of 2006, according to the Youth Renewal Fund. This is almost seven times more people then the entire population of Ashkelon, a city that has been frequently hit by rocket attacks. Surely these children are just as important as the children of Ashkelon. Is their hardship not as great of an uphill battle? The difference is that people are more sympathetic to causes that are constant victims of violence. This is not to say that the people of Ashkelon should not be helped, I just believe that Israeli society has much deeper issues, ones that will have a much larger lasting impact on the nation should they not be addressed in a proper fashion.
Enter AIPAC. With hardly a lift of the finger, AIPAC could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions for these "other causes." But the fact of the matter is they don't, and though they are helping the limited number of victims of rocket fire, they are ignoring the large segments of the population who are at the low end of the totem pole socially. Next time you get a chance to speak with an AIPAC representative, I encourage you to press them on this issue, and explain to them that they could be helping the Jewish world as well as Israel in a more efficient and broader range then they already are.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
First, Gavri indicated that kibbutzim are recovering from economic and social crises that threatened their demise just a few years ago. In 2000, when he assumed office, more than half of kibbutzim faced financial bankruptcy and almost all were losing their young generation. But today, kibbutzim are experiencing a net gain of members, including a returning young generation; only about 30 of 272 kibbutz communities are still in economic trouble.
Then, he methodically laid out the changes that kibbutz life have undergone in recent years to continue their existence as viable collective entities. These reforms include: the professional management of kibbutz enterprises, the charging of members’ consumption of kibbutz food and electricity resources against family budgets, the beginnings of a system for allocating equity and pensions for a member’s career on kibbutz, the ability to take outside jobs (an opportunity availed by 30 percent of kibbutzniks), and the development of a system of modest economic incentives (differential wages) dependent upon the level of responsibility or skills required in a member’s job. Gavri also cited statistics that show that the 1.6 percent of Israel’s population on kibbutz today (about 120,000 people) produce about seven percent of the country’s GDP.
Some people see these changes in economic and social structure as negating the meaning of kibbutz, but Gavri disagrees. He argues that the progressive internal income tax insures fairness, although not complete equality. He says that about 180 member kibbutzim have so far adopted the principle of differential income but that the income distribution is still relatively flat (with the gap from highest to lowest no larger than two to one) and with internal tax revenue supplementing state programs to insure a safety net for poorer members.
Monday, June 02, 2008
I should explain. I grew up identifying as Jewish and, thus, felt that I had a natural connection to Israel, but I never knew what that meant: my family was not part of the Jewish community and Israel was never a topic that was raised during family discussions; nor did I ever take classes on the history of Israel or Zionism.
As a result, prior to Meretz USA, my principal understanding of Zionism came from my college semester abroad, which I spent in Jordan. Prior to arriving in Jordan, I never considered how living in an Arab country would affect my sense of Judaism and my understanding of Israel. And although living there made me feel more proud of my Jewish identity, I also became heavily influenced by the Arab narrative, which viewed Zionism as inherently immoral. Returning from my semester, I did not realize that any other conception of Zionism existed.
Meretz USA began to help me redefine Zionism even before I started working here. I was intrigued by the job advertisement because of it focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And when I began to poke around on the website, I found – I admit, to my surprise – that I shared each of the organization's values.
My understanding of Zionism has continued to evolve, and my time at Meretz USA has confirmed to me that I can be a part of the progressive Jewish community. Organizations like Meretz USA, which envision a democratic, equal, and peaceful Israel, succeed where Jewish organizations which focus solely on Israel's need for security fail. They reach Jews like me, who desire a connection to Israel, but not a connection that overlooks the state's internal flaws and human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.
As I came to know more fully the principles on which Meretz USA stands, and as I came to interact with the people involved in Meretz USA, I also came to understand what I didn't before: that Zionism doesn't equal aggression or oppression. That there are Zionists out there who believe, as I do, that it is in Israel's best interest to give up its control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that it is necessary for Israel to take risks in order to reach peace with its neighbors.
Perhaps the most significant opportunity that Meretz USA provided me was the ability to participate in the "Peace, Pluralism, and Social Justice" Birthright trip run by the Union of Progressive Zionists last summer as well as the chance to organize and lead a subsequent trip into the West Bank. My experiences on these trips revealed to me sides of Israel that I had not seen before. I came to know Israelis and to better understand the fear that exists when a group lives so close to many who would do them harm. But I also saw the grave human rights abuses perpetrated on the Palestinian people in the name of Israeli security. These encounters hid neither reality.
The complexity and confusion that comes from acknowledging the rights and wrongs on both sides of the conflict, is what I believe organizations like Meretz USA stand for and what progressive Zionism is about. I see as Meretz USA's role to reach out to the Jewish community, specifically to those who don't know about or choose to ignore Israel's share of responsibility for the continuing conflict, and to those (like me, two years ago) who don't realize that many Israelis and Zionists are committed to its peaceful and just resolution.
My experiences at Meretz USA made me realize the importance of understanding other perspectives in resolving conflict. As a result, I am leaving Meretz USA to go on to a doctorate in international education and hope to make a career of educating to that end. As for Meretz USA, I wish the organization success as it helps to redefine the American Zionist discourse, bringing a more balanced and nuanced perspective to a conflict that defies simplistic explanations.