Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I wish it was easy for me to sort out the issues raised by the recently released UN report on alleged war crimes in Gaza. Judge Richard Goldstone, a Jew, a Zionist, a respected South African jurist who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, headed the UN investigation into crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. He insisted that the crimes of Hamas must also be investigated but, as some critics have noted, this was not incorporated into the original terms of reference, meaning that the infamous UN Human Rights Committee presently headed by Libya may choose to ignore all criticisms of Hamas in the report.
The Goldstone report has been released and it condemned both Hamas for its indiscriminate missile attacks on Israel which created a climate of fear and psychological trauma, as well as the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and condemned the IDF for its use of white phosphorus and attacks on innocent civilians. The expected reactions have come in from both sides: Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star (Sept. 20) used the report solely to bash Israel and to let Hamas totally off the hook, not a very credible approach. On the other extreme, Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith-Canada’s head, labeled the report a “whitewash” of “Islamist terrorism,” of course discounting any criticism of Israel.
It is so easy to fit the report into a ready-made matrix instead of giving it some thought. The problem for those who believe that Israel can do no wrong, is that Goldstone’s critique follows on the heels of at least three other reports from, in my opinion, respectable sources – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the testimony of IDF soldiers represented by Breaking the Silence. The Israeli response has been to shoot the messengers by attacking these respected groups. Amnesty is supposedly leftist dominated, HRW raised some funds in Saudi Arabia, Breaking the Silence gets financial support from European nations, and a member of Goldstone’s commission had previously signed a letter critical of Israel’s conduct of Operation Cast Lead. Going on the attack is an old technique, which Israel has used successfully in the past, but it absolutely lacks credibility when applied to each and every critic of the IDF.
The IDF’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi defends his troops as the most ethical army in the world. We know that even the ethical armies of democratic nations have committed war crimes and that these nations are all the better, for having faced up to them. During the Vietnam War, the United States had to deal with the massacre at My Lai and more recently with the torture at Abu Ghraib. Canada had to dissolve its airborne regiment after its 1993 crimes in Somalia were made public. A democratic nation is strengthened when it faces up to the crimes committed under its own banner.
The disparity in Israeli and Palestinian fatalities makes me think that there was something inherently wrong in an action in which only nine Israeli soldiers lost their lives, four of those by friendly fire, and three Israeli civilians were killed in the south by Hamas rockets. On the other side the estimated fatalities range from about 1200 to 1450 of these perhaps 774 were civilians including 320 minors.
The disparity is too great for us to be complacent. On the first day of Israel’s attack, General Yoav Galant, commander of the Southern Front, declared that the objective was to “send Gaza decades into the past,” and to achieve “the maximum number of enemy casualties,” while “keeping Israel Defense Forces casualties at a minimum.” Professor Zeev Sternhell sharply criticized this new moral doctrine, which he attributed to Prof. Asa Kasher and General Amos Yadlin as “Zero casualties for our troops,” and a “license to kill” Palestinian civilians. If this is indeed the case, then the issue of war crimes goes far beyond the particular orders of some captains or lieutenants in the field and on up to the very top of the IDF.
It follows then, that while the particular war crimes accusations made by Goldstone as well as others should be thoroughly investigated, by Israel itself, the major issue relating to the deaths of Palestinian civilians is the moral doctrine of the IDF. Judge Goldstone cannot be of help here. There is an on-going debate in the pages of the New York Review of Books that began last May with an important article by Professors Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer, in which they take vigorous exception to an ethical doctrine which places too high a value on the security of the troops vis a vis the lives of innocent civilians.
The United States in Afghanistan is also reexamining its position on civilian deaths, or to use that awful euphemism, collateral damage. The new American command has ordered that air attacks which endanger civilian lives must be halted. This is not only, a new ethical standard. It is a practical recognition that the needless killing of Afghan civilians is the surest means of losing a conflict. Similarly, every Palestinian civilian death breeds more hatred and more resistance.
Israel and her defenders ought to carefully study the Goldstone report, rethink current Israeli military doctrine, which places the greatest emphasis on preserving its own soldier’s lives and even consider the possible guilt of members and officers of the IDF. Yes, Israel and a narrowing circle of die hard supporters can circle the wagons and withstand another barrage of criticism, but it is much more important that they open their eyes and their minds when a long-time friend like Richard Goldstone offers criticism of their actions.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Leonard Cohen sings of love and peace
Three days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when everything comes to a halt in Israel, Leonard Cohen sang:
Repent, Repent … I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible, I've seen the nations rise and fall, I've heard their stories, heard them all, but love's the only engine of survival.
The national football stadium in the Ramat Gan suburb of Tel Aviv has been the scene of many agonising defeats in recent times, but Cohen's performance, with a background of signs saying "Shalom, Salaam, Peace," was a triumph of the will. Or as Cohen put it:
Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.
"How many roads must a man walk down, before they can call him a man?" asked his fellow troubadour, so many years ago when they both began to build their tower of song and enter into the consciousness of my generation. For Cohen to be able to reach the point of saying "I'm your man", he had to overcome the theft of millions of dollars by his former manager, bouts of depression, transformations of identity, a fainting spell in one of his recent performances and a call that he should boycott Israel as a show of solidarity with the Palestinians.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The national healthcare debate, if one can call this bloody political feeding frenzy a debate, has been largely reduced to the battle over the future of the Obama presidency and all that the Republican Party thinks it - the Obama Presidency - stands for: you know, such wildly fanatical notions as “socialism” or “government takeovers.” Just what the Republican Party stands for is entirely another question: after Reagan and brat Bush, it surely isn’t fiscal conservatism, nor is it limited government, nor is it restraint in foreign policy, nor any of the other classical conceits of twentieth century Republicanism.
What this battle is about is who rules this country, not solving its problems. It is the cultural/ethnic/ideological war being played out against the backdrop of a demographic trend often discussed but not yet fully acknowledged by the liberal intelligentsia, or else, deliberately spoken, sotto voce, in order not to fully arouse this already stirring beast. Put simply, many white Americans are awakening to the fact that what they think is their privileged status and dominance is now threatened by the expanding “ethnic” communities which are about to become a permanent majority. I agree with President Obama that this is not about race, but it is about something very close to it.
To compress the rest, it’s pretty clear that the fight over national health care is the nexus at which this larger conflict is being joined. But how does this relate to the Arab-Israeli conflict? After all, is not support for Israel one of the remaining, deeply embedded, national consensus issues? Yes, but...
The problem is that Israel and its supporters have been eating too many carbohydrates; they have become comfortable on the corn-rich diet of American support and approval which have made them politically and morally obese, unable to distinguish what is cause and effect in their protracted conflict with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Enter, then, an American president who understands that both Israelis and Arabs must go on a political and psychological diet, putting aside the comfort foods of self-righteousness and obstinacy which have characterized both sides. Now, they must get down to the very difficult task of isolating the avaricious, fanatical and extremist devils which sit upon their shoulders, stuffing unspeakable conditions down the throats of their respective bodies politic. Given the rightist politics of the Netanyahu government and the stark political realignment of the Israeli polity, it is clear that neither he nor they are ready to confront the extreme distrust that shapes their politics.
American Jewry has been eating at this table as well, although it has never fully gorged itself on the notion that Israeli settlements are nutritious and healthy. But, on the Israeli side, if there is no serious movement to restrict its appetite for land and control, there will be no credibility with the Arab world. And while neither Israelis nor American Jews are inclined to take the Arab world seriously - even more so after Clinton’s false start and Bush’s self-indulgent policies – many, if not most, American Jews understand that coddling the settlers is giving in to a self-destructive impulse that wildly distorts the Israeli national soul and image with, as yet, ill-defined but inevitable negative consequences.
American support for Israel, as I noted - and as everyone knows - rests on a broad national consensus. It is not just the President who walks on the bed of coals laid down by American Jewish fervor for Israel. Congress does, and so do many in the wide spectrum of foreign policy influentials, including most mainstream pundits. Challenging the consensus, even with the best of motives, even in a way that poses the possibility of severing the Gordian knot of the conflict, risks arousing the anxieties (and the appetite for red meat) of so many of those who sit at the consensual table.
And if you accept the underlying logic of what is happening in the national battle over health care - that it is existential politics of the crudest sort - then the same may very well apply to the potential debate over American Middle East policy, when the issue is finally plated and served.
And here’s what worries me: I have no doubt where the Republican members of Congress will stand -- with Israel, with American Jewry, with the State of Israel and its leader -- and against the President of the United States. Again, it will not be what or whom they are for; it will really be what and whom they are against. Still, they are in the minority, at least for another year; hence their appeasement of Netanyahu’s policies shouldn’t be the critical factor. But how, then, should we regard the Democrats, classically fractional and fractious: Will they support the President on an Arab-Israeli initiative? Not likely if he fails at health care, because Congressional elections are just around the corner, and self-preservation is, after all, the highest law of politics.
Come Yom Kippur, we are expected to apologize to those whom we think we may have harmed, spoken ill of, or held a misplaced grudge against. I hope those of my friends who are Republicans will not only find a way to say an “al heit,” but then do something about it by publicly expressing their concern about where their party is taking them. I will apologize to them for thinking so badly of them. But that is not enough, because the burden now rests on the fickle shoulders of the Democratic Party. There is no less an obligation to educate them to the benefits that can be achieved in supporting the President and the global risks that inhere in withholding support – on both health care and the Middle East
Still, as I look this over, I think: Maybe it’s really best not to say any of this out loud. What does it help to draw this connection? Will it move any Blue Dog Democrats closer to the President? Will it give the Republicans one more whip to flay at the President and arouse the electorate? I’m not sanguine about the answers to these questions, but I know that we must do more than be right in our hearts. We must write, call, and speak up. The election of Barak Obama was not the end of the wayward drift of our country and our national soul, but the beginning of the very real battle we must fight to assure its survival.
Happy New Year, everybody. Happy New Year, world.
At the same time, Friedman thinks it's a good idea that Iran also feel threatened by a possible Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. Like myself, Friedman opposes such military action, but he reasons that if this is seen as a real possibility, it may also influence Iran to back down. This may seem like thin gruel, but this dual approach may deter Iran from becoming a radical mullah-driven nuclear power (an unsettling thought) and Israel from triggering a conflagration by attempting to preempt Iran (another nightmare).
Interestingly, this scenario suggests that Americans for Peace Now and J Street both take a different tact regarding sanctions. Neither of these leading dovish pro-Israel groups have joined the current mainstream consensus of the American Jewish community in urging harsh sanctions on Iran. I believe that their dissent is tactical rather than a principled opposition to economic and diplomatic pressures on Iran, but they might consider rethinking this posture.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
So the harshness of the findings of the Goldstone Report came as a surprise.
It’s hard to discredit Judge Goldstone himself, since he is a declared Zionist, member of the Hebrew University's board of governors, has a daughter who lived here for years, etc. It's much easier to discredit the UN, the Human Rights Council, etc., which have frequently shown bias towards Israel.
Nine years ago he appeared at the Yakar Center for Social Concern, run by Palestine-Israel Journal's editorial board member, Benjamin Pogrund. According to a report in Haaretz, Goldstone was introduced by Israeli Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who described him as "a dear friend" with "very deep ties to Israel." Goldstone, in turn, said Barak was his hero and inspiration (see Goldstone: Holocaust shaped view on war crimes - Haaretz - Israel News).
As Goldstone himself noted, both Israel and Hamas have a "dismal record" (his words) when it comes to investigating their own forces, and his report accuses both sides of possible war crimes (see Op-Ed Contributor - Justice in Gaza - NYTimes.com).
Clearly, the Israeli government should have cooperated with Goldstone's commission, and it should have authorized an independent commission of inquiry, like it did after Sabra and Shatila, and after October 2000 when it established the Orr Commission. And it may yet do so. It was never enough to have the IDF investigate itself.
The official U.S. reaction to the report wasn’t a total rejection, “just” a criticism. That reaction was strongly attacked by Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as being too mild, and he clearly reflects Israeli government thinking on this. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has said that the Human Rights Council, which the U.S. recently rejoined, and not the U.N. Security Council, is the appropriate venue for a serious discussion of the report and its implications.
My main concern is that the Israeli government will not use the Goldstone Report to avoid its responsibilities connected to the peace process. The key remains President Obama and his envoy Senator George Mitchell, and how they will deal with things. The fact that Obama managed to convene a triangular summit meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas in New York is grounds for cautious hope.
For a good appraisal of the Goldstone Report and its implications, I strongly recommend reading the piece by Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation in the Guardian, which calls upon the Israeli government to mandate an independent commission of inquiry, and to end the use of disproportionate force and collective punishment -- Israel must now heal itself | Daniel Levy | Comment is free ....
It is to be hoped that one of the lessons that the Israeli government will learn from the experience of the Goldstone Report is the old slogan used by the anti-war demonstrators in Chicago back in 1968 – "The whole world is watching" - and hopefully that realization will temper their actions in the future.
Monday, September 21, 2009
South Africa's Judge Richard Goldstone identifies himself as a Jew and a Zionist. His daughter spoke fluent Hebrew when interviewed on Israeli radio about his father. Yet even the dovish former US diplomat Daniel Kurtzer (in an appearance at the Manhattan JCC on Sept. 17), was "troubled" by the Goldstone report, characterizing it as "not a fair summary" and "perverse" for placing Israeli actions in a similar category to the genocidal events in Darfur.
This op-ed in Saturday's NY Times, by David Landau, the former editor of the dovish Haaretz daily newspaper, discusses "The Gaza Report's Wasted Opportunity," in intelligent terms:
ISRAEL intentionally went after civilians in Gaza — and wrapped its intention in lies.
That chilling — and misguided — accusation is the key conclusion of the United Nations investigation, led by Richard Goldstone, into the three-week war last winter. “While the Israeli government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercises of its right to self-defense,” the report said, “the mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.” ...
The report stunned even seasoned Israeli diplomats who expected no quarter from an inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which they believe to be deeply biased against Israel. They expected the military operation to be condemned as grossly disproportionate. They expected Israel to be lambasted for not taking sufficient care to avoid civilian casualties. But they never imagined that the report would accuse the Jewish state of intentionally aiming at civilians.
Israelis believe that their army did not deliberately kill the hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including children, who died during “Operation Cast Lead.” They believe, therefore, that Israel is not culpable, morally or criminally, for these civilian deaths, which were collateral to the true aim of the operation — killing Hamas gunmen. ...
[But] When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?
But that is the point — and it should have been the focus of the investigation. Judge Goldstone’s real mandate was, or should have been, to bring Israel to confront this fundamental question, a question inherent in the waging of war by all civilized societies against irregular armed groups. Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance? Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law? ...
But Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began. [The entire article is online here.]
Friday, September 18, 2009
Her story is at once unique and familiar. She grew up in the south of Israel to a Modern Orthodox family. Judaism was a huge part of her life and identity. And it was through her commitment to Judaism that she forged her way as a feminist and peace activist. The principles that she stood by were those of social responsibility, equality, and peace. Her adult life has been committed to teaching these values to the youth of Israel through a variety of programs and university courses.
As a secular Jew with left-wing politics, I hold the values of social responsibility, equality, and peace very close to my heart, and they are often the guiding principles for the choices I make, and the people/campaigns I choose to support. Yet, even as a person in her young 20s, I can say that it has been a long time since I divorced these principles from my religion which taught me them. It is so easy to look at the situation facing Israel and blame it all on the religious right. Even as an activist working for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the more I become involved in peace efforts, the more alienated I become from my own religion -- feeling at times disgraced by it, because of the things that happen in its name and for the sake of a Jewish homeland.
It's an argument that works for the Israeli and the Palestinian side of the argument. And because of this, it is easy to want to start disassociating from the religion that identifies you with fanatics, chauvinists and war-mongers. Even Leah expressed that she identified with this feeling, but to her it was only a challenge: to disassociate was to give up on, or let Judaism and the Jewish State be represented by, or taken over by, manipulators of her religion -- one that speaks of peace, justice and equality for all.
As an activist, Leah has worked tirelessly to call out the Israeli government and military on their actions that are less than acceptable. During the Gaza war in January, she protested in Be'er Sheva against the violence on both sides of the conflict. She carried a sign that read, "Palestinian and Israeli children deserve to live." There are strict rules about public protesting and free speech in Israel that are designed to protect protesters. And even though Leah did not break any of the rules, she was arrested and put under house arrest for five days.
While this was an extreme case and an attack on her right to free speech, it also epitomizes what Leah spoke of as being her hardest challenge, and that is: "How do you criticize the choices that Israel's government and military are making without equating yourself as a sympathizer for the enemy (e.g. anti-Zionist or pro-Hamas)?"
Leah Shakdiel is the first person I have heard speak who has challenged this argument head-on. She was quick to criticize the religious right for being insensitive to the 'other', but in a way that resonated for me on a very personal level, she criticized secular Jews for abandoning their religion and only using it and/or identifying with it when it was convenient for them.
She related this to the Jewish education that young Israelis get in Israel -- which is mainly focused on the Holocaust. If kids grow up relating to Judaism as a source of victim-hood, then they will want to disassociate themselves from Judaism because they want to be strong and victims are weak; and they will be eager to prove that they are strong – lending to the popularity of militarism in Israel’s culture.
For Leah, religion is a huge part of her life and it reaffirms her belief in a Jewish state, as well as giving her reason to hold Israel to even higher expectations than just what would be minimally acceptable to international political standards. And she asks us, as Jews, to redefine Judaism and Zionism and represent Judaism and Zionism though actions of peace, social responsibility, and equality.
This means "pro-active Zionist humanism" -- striving for equality, peace, and justice for all people and challenging the Jewish State to be the model state for all society.
When writer/director Garson Kanin came across Anne Frank's actual words from her diary as transmitted by Meyer Levin in his initial draft script of the play to be made from her story, he reportedly dismissed them as Jewish "special pleading" that had to go. Lillian Hellman also weighed in heavily against Levin's version; she was regarded by many as a Stalinist who did not want to showcase "Jewish" issues, and this is how she was identified by Cynthia Ozick in a panel at Lower Manhattan's Museum of Jewish Heritage, following a Sept. 14 staging of the radio play by Levin (originally broadcast by CBS in 1952). It was a mere half hour in length, a distillation from the young girl's diary.
Toward the end of the Levin play, shortly before the Nazis find their attic hideout and cart them off to their deaths (only Anne Frank's father, Otto, survived the camps), Anne Frank engages in a monologue (taken from her diary) that speaks of Jewish suffering through the ages and asks if somehow there's a purpose to it. She also indicts all of humanity for going along with the wars and hateful schemes of their leaders. This passage, in contradiction, also includes her famous declaration that in the end, she sees "all people as good at heart." But it does not culminate with this statement.
Kanin and Hellman de-Judaized Anne Frank's own words and made her statement about "people being good at heart" into her bottom-line pronouncement. And her words on the ongoing suffering of the Jewish people were replaced with an utterance on how at various times, many peoples suffered persecution at the hands of others.
This editorial distortion fueled Meyer Levin's multi-year struggle, culminating in a libel trial. Levin's attorney happened to be in the audience Monday night and discussed the circumstances of the case during the Q & A. The jury found in favor of Levin, but the judge set aside the monetary damages awarded him for some "technical" reason(s).
During the panel discussion, Cynthia Ozick, a brilliant writer with perhaps an overly sharp sensibility, noted that the universalized production of Anne Frank's story was a great success when staged in West Germany, about ten years after the war had ended. Ozick remarked that it was the first time that Germans felt sympathy for victims who were not German; oddly, she then denounced this circumstance because the Germans were reacting to the version of the play that was "a lie."
This all comes down to the issue of universalism versus Jewish particularism. I am a liberal who believes in universalist ideals, but there's too much of a dichotomy between Ozick's fierce Jewish particularism and the high-minded but intolerant and peremptory universalism of Kanin and Hellman. It seems to me that a truer kind of universalism accepts, or is at least sensitive toward, the specific sensibilities and concerns of particular groups of people. Why can't the particular suffering of the Jews throughout history serve universalist principles as a case study and a warning against the persecution and demonization of minorities?
May our readers & friends have a sweet & good new year. Shana Tova
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Two developments in particular have caught the attention of the media and the blogosphere of late:
- On August 20, in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Neve Gordon - a Jewish-Israeli professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, announced his support for the BDS movement.
- On September 2, a group of filmmakers, actors, writers, musicians, academics and other public figures sent an open letter of protest to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The letter condemned TIFF's decision to focus its "City to City" program this year on Tel Aviv, which - according to the protest - made the Festival, "intentionally or not ... complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine".
Although not technically a call to boycott the Festival, the anti-TIFF protest has been led by activists in the BDS movement. It also bears the distinctive BDS characteristic of framing the Israel-Palestine conflict as a Manichean struggle between "Good" (the ‘indigenous Palestinians') and "Evil" (the ‘Western-imperialist Zionists').
Not every BDS initiative is identical of course; the movement is far from monolithic. Prof. Gordon, for example, is an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict; a man who cares deeply about his country; a true activist who has been engaged for decades in on-the-ground efforts to foster dialogue, reconciliation and peace, and who remains a supporter of the two-state solution. The same cannot be said for many on the star-studded list of signatories on the TIFF protest letter.
Nonetheless, with the BDS campaign gaining prominence of late, it is important to restate five of the reasons behind Meretz USA's position that BDS is an incorrect approach to ending Israel's occupation.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Bush confirms the vitality of secular Jewish identity in Israel:
Secularism has a potent Zionist history as well, embodied by, among others, Hashomer Hatzair.... With 40 to 50 percent of Jews in Israel identifying as secular, however, Israeli secularists generally seem to feel little need to organize themselves in educational or activist groupings. ... The Israeli education system provides Israeli secularists with the Jewish identity-building information that American secularists might seek in a shule, and the line between religious and secular Jewish practice in Israel can be fuzzy. According to a 2008 survey, for example, close to 40 percent of Israeli secular Jews keep kosher most or all of the time, and many if not most Israeli secularists "observe” the Sabbath with family get-togethers, as much of the public square shuts down.
Bush also notes the establishment of a “secular Yeshiva” in Tel Aviv in 2007. There is also a “Judaism as culture” movement (Meitar: the College of Judaism as Culture is headquartered in Jerusalem ) and a parallel trend for secular Israelis to study the original Jewish texts as an effort to reclaim our tradition without embracing the strictures of religion.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
A very disturbing example of the breakdown of civility is in the United States, where we have recently witnessed protestors referring to their President as a Hitler, who is preparing to introduce death panels in a new health care system. These are disturbing sights and sounds, very similar to the super-charged atmosphere in Israel before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Whether these protests are the product of real anger and frustration or manipulated by the political opposition, they represent a potentially dangerous phenomenon, as they did in Israel.
I presume that there are very few American Jews among the health-care red necks but incivility is unfortunately not uncommon in our Jewish world. A JTA report on the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival brought out one such instance. The festival board, I think correctly, decided to show the film “Rachel” dealing with the tragic death of pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer. Corrie has become an icon for the anti-Israel left, and for the right, a victim of her own friends in the International Solidarity Movement.
In an attempt to defuse opposition to the showing the festival board invited a pro-Israel activist to provide an introduction. Some of the leftists in the audience could not restrain themselves and hissed when Dr. Michael Harris called Corrie’s death an accident and reminded the audience that eight young Israeli Rachels had been killed by suicide bombers. There were those who screamed out “lies” and called on Harris to “get off” the stage. In the discussion at the end of the film, those who defended Israel’s government and army were given more of the same treatment.
The JTA report did not mention similar discourtesies from the pro-Israel side but perhaps that was because they were in an uncomfortable minority at the event. Nevertheless I salute those who can suffer through a film and discussion antagonistic to their values and nonetheless restrain their passions.
Our newspapers also give witness to the rise of incivility. The Globe & Mail often has to close its comments from readers after running an opinion piece on the Middle East because the contributors descend into ad hominem attacks on the writer or one another. Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston is forced to publish his rules for commentators in order to restrain them, denying access to those who write in an abusive manner.
We are all certainly entitled to be passionate on a variety of subjects but passion and commitment should not conflict with civility and good manners. Our opponents are not “self-hating Jews” on the one hand or “racist imperialists” on the other, not a “virus” which must be eliminated from the body politic or a “religious fanatic” to be excluded from intelligent debate.
In pre-WWII Poland the political lines in the Jewish community were sharply etched and no quarter given in their internal battles. But in the Warsaw Ghetto Bundists, Communists, Betarniks of the right and Hashomerniks on the left came together. [Betar actually had a separate fighting organization, so even they were not immune to discord--RS] Their ability to transcend ideology should remind us that community is a higher value than transient political attachments. Barack Obama stated it so well in his eulogy for Ted Kennedy: “His causes became deeply personal, his disagreements never did.” We can all aspire to that Kennedy standard of behavior.
This is Prof. Stephen Scheinberg for Radio Shalom [Canada].
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
I published a column in the Washington Post on Saturday criticising Yale University Press for their decision to withdraw the Danish cartoons and all images of Prophet Mohammed from a book they're publishing on the cartoon crisis.
I expected strong reactions and I got them. But when Masrway.com, an Egyptian portal, published an inciteful article based on my oped, their comments section filled up with threats against me and someone wrote me an email threatening to kill me. I've never received a death threat before.
I've reported it to law enforcement and the high tech crime unit have traced the email to Giza, Egypt, which confirms my suspicion that it was incited by the article that Masrawy.com published. Police are also looking at the Masrawy.com article.
As unsettling as it is to hear someone tell you they want to kill you, I believe the sender of the email is just an angry person who'll (hopefully) not follow through on his threat. It hasn't changed my opinion of Yale University Press' decision.
Feel free to share feedback via email, on my blog, Facebook or Twitter.
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Yale's Misguided Retreat
By Mona Eltahawy
Saturday, August 29, 2009
In deciding to omit the images from a book it is publishing about the controversy sparked by Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Yale University Press has handed a victory to extremists. Both Yale and the extremists distorting this issue should be ashamed. I say this as a Muslim who supported the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten's right to publish the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in late 2005 and as someone who also understands the offense taken at those cartoons by many Muslims, including my mother. After a while, she and I agreed to stop talking about them because the subject always made us argue.
Click here to read the rest of Mona Eltahawy's Washington Post column, "Yale's Misguided Retreat"