Pres. Trump and the Jews [ssba]

Pres. Trump and the Jews

The following is being published in French in “Cahiers Bernard Lazare,” the publication of Le Circle Bernard Lazare, a French affiliate of the World Union of Meretz:

The astounding victory of Donald Trump is the most significant of a wave of recent electoral upsets that have been riling the world — beginning with Netanyahu’s triumph in 2015 and continuing in the past year with the British “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, the rejection of a peace deal in Colombia, and the election of the murderous maverick Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines.  These results mostly contradicted the polls and confounded widespread expectations. 

Like the other disturbances, Trump’s election reflected deeply-felt anxiety, anger and unhappiness with the status quo.  And they all targeted scapegoats against whom to vent these feelings. 

Most American Jews are uneasy about what to expect.  Hillary Clinton earned a clear majority of Jewish votes (about 70%) that usually goes to the Democratic nominee.  Neoconservatives, the heavily Jewish Republican-aligned movement of hawkish internationalists and social moderates, deserted the Republican nominee en masse, with most either voting for Clinton, a third party candidate or with a write-in protest ballot. 

Trump’s explicit scapegoats were Muslims and illegal immigrants (mostly Hispanics), but antisemitism also showed its face during this campaign in vicious attacks on social media (especially Twitter), by some of his supporters, against Jewish journalists who dared to criticize — or simply honestly report on — Trump’s record as an individual and the conduct of his campaign.  Neoconservative views on Trump especially angered his supporters.  A report of the Anti-Defamation League counts 2.6 million tweets “containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech” from August 2015 to June 2016.  These include more than 19,000 “overly anti-Semitic” tweets directed against 800 journalists. Read More »

How Shimon Peres blew Israel’s best chance for peace [ssba]

How Shimon Peres blew Israel’s best chance for peace

41KT5GEO7fL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve long shared the same perspective as my friend Hillel Schenker, the Israeli co-editor of The Palestine-Israel Journal, on the tragic and bloody half-year tenure of Shimon Peres as prime minister following Yitzhak Rabin’s murder in Nov. ’95. It’s not commonly shared or discussed in mainstream media, but a few days ago, Hillel sent along a Washington Post article by Dan Ephron, the author of the recently published, Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel,  that explains in concise detail how Peres messed up a golden opportunity for peacemaking in early ’96.  (Hillel even questions the headline’s characterization of Peres as “most fervent peacemaker.”)

In short, the long-time rivalry between Peres and Rabin cast its shadow from beyond the latter’s grave.  Peres did not announce a snap election shortly after Rabin’s death, which he would have won by a landslide, because he wanted to win on his own record and not Rabin’s.  Then he okayed the Shin Bet assassination of Yihya Ayyash, the notorious Hamas bombmaker known as “the engineer.”  This precipitated a retaliatory wave of deadly suicide bombings during the election campaign that suddenly made Bibi Netanyahu’s candidacy competitive, and eventually won him his first term in office.

Ephron did not mention two other factors in the disastrous electoral result of May 29, 1996: Read More »

Chanukah, Trump and Refugees (Syrians and Jews) [ssba]

Chanukah, Trump and Refugees (Syrians and Jews)

Chanukah seems like a good time to reflect upon things that have been in the news lately — including phenomena that parallel Jewish experiences.  Whereas the Joseph story in this week’s Torah reading (Parshat Miketz) is clouded in Biblical legend — because its historical accuracy is unknown — Chanukah is based on real historical events; the Maccabees’ revolt against the Syrian-Greek Seleucid dynasty did happen.

But while we like to think of it as a struggle for freedom and religious liberty, this is only partly true. It was a national revolt that eventually created the Kingdom of Judea under the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty.  It was also a “clash of civilizations,” with traditional Jews triumphing over the Hellenists (Jews and Syrians) who ruled in Jerusalem; and so it was likewise a civil war among Jews. Read More »

Avnery & Burg on terror; Israelis as ‘migrants into power’ [ssba]

Avnery & Burg on terror; Israelis as ‘migrants into power’

My thanks to Lilly Rivlin for sharing two interesting pieces (by Uri Avnery and Avraham Burg) on the current waves of terror hitting Europe and Israel. I begin with Avnery’s “The Reign of Absurdiocy.”

As usual, Avnery combines elements of sharp insight with some oversimplification and insensitivity.  Obviously, he is correct in criticizing the tendency of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli’s right-wing to equate Palestinian attacks with the forces of international terror, but Avnery exaggerates the extent to which all resistance movements use terror tactics.  Mandela’s African National Conference engaged in sabotage, but was not known for attacking civilians.  The Irgun — mostly, but not entirely — targeted military personnel and the physical infrastructure of British rule.  Even the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel fits this pattern, because it was used as an administrative center for the British Mandate, and Menachem Begin always claimed that a warning was made by phone in advance (although incompetently delivered, because it was in Hebrew).

While I don’t condone them, Irgun terror attacks on Palestinian Arabs were mainly tit-for-tat responses to Arab attacks on Jews.  And the atrocities committed at Deir Yassin, although deplorable and criminal, were committed during and in the wake of battle.  Islamic-inspired terrorist movements attack people more broadly and with cold-blooded intent.  While Palestinian terrorists are generally motivated to resist oppression and foreign domination, ISIS combines the conventional military threat of a state (now with far-flung “provinces,” such as in Libya — as reported in the NY Times – and remote corners of western Africa) with an ideology of Jihad that lures recruits from around the world to join its cause on the ground, or to commit terror attacks in the cities of the West where they reside.  Avnery makes light of their ability to paralyze Brussels without firing a shot, but this is no joke.

Burg is somewhat overly harsh, especially at the end — because Israelis really are threatened as individuals — but he’s mostly on target; his “migrants into power” image seems very valid. This is from his article in Haaretz: “Very undemocratic, very non-Jewish – very Israeli“:

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Slavoj Žižek’s views on Zionism and EU’s refugee crisis [ssba]

Slavoj Žižek’s views on Zionism and EU’s refugee crisis

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, an itinerant academic and an author of a number of books.  He writes frequently for In These Times, initially founded in the 1970s as a democratic socialist news magazine and now more generically left wing.

I’m usually not very receptive toward his ideas.  His opinions are ponderous and his views on Israel are hard to take — not entirely wrong, but not well-informed about the internal dynamics of Zionism and Israel, as illustrated in “Whither Zionism,” dated March 2, 2015 (an article that cherry picks extreme quotes as emblematic of Zionism).  Nevertheless, a long ITT web article, posted Nov. 16, is insightful and brave for questioning left-wing shibboleths. This is from his penultimate paragraph:

When Angela Merkel made her famous public appeal inviting hundreds of thousands into Germany, which was her democratic legitimization? What gave her the right to bring such a radical change to German life without democratic consultation? My point here, of course, is not to support anti-immigrant populists, but to clearly point out the limits of democratic legitimization. The same goes for those who advocate radical opening of the borders: Are they aware that, since our [European–RS] democracies are nation-state democracies, their demand equals suspension of—in effect imposing a gigantic change in a country’s status quo without democratic consultation of its population?

I agree that it’s only prudent for Europe to reinvigorate border controls, both for the sake of security screening and to manage an orderly processing of asylum seekers; the Europeans need to decide if it’s to be done on an individual national basis, as is increasingly happening. The United States, because of the relatively small numbers involved, faces much less of a risk of culture clash than Europe. (Click here for a post on the elaborate US vetting of asylum seekers today, and the historical parallel with Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.) 

Returning to Žižek, he refers to a film by Udi Aloni, the filmmaker son of the late human rights champion and Meretz founder Shulamit Aloni: Read More »

Phil Weiss following Paris terror: ‘Zionism’ root of all evil (along with Bibi’s spin and Salaita’s latest screed) [ssba]

Phil Weiss following Paris terror: ‘Zionism’ root of all evil (along with Bibi’s spin and Salaita’s latest screed)

Phil Weiss writes on Nov. 15 in his Mondoweiss online publication, responding to the attacks on Paris, that “The way for Americans to take on the Islamic state is to end support for Jewish nationalism.”  Weirdly, this Harvard-educated and seasoned journalist/polemicist interprets American-Jewish political theorist Michael Walzer (a supporter of the Zionist peace camp) as promoting a religious conviction, rather than making a reasonable analytical point on the evolution of Jewish political thought in the following passage:

Its point of departure is always the Hebrew bible…. [Its] big issues [are] election or ‘chosenness’, the holiness of the Land of Israel, the experience of exile, and the hope for redemption….That tradition begins with God’s authority, with divine rule and divine revelations. Exactly how much room there is for human authority and decision making is always a question.

Quips Weiss, revealing his ignorance along with his sarcasm: “And you’re worried about Christian evangelists? But Walzer is a leading authority on Israel in allegedly secular publications like the New York Review of Books!”

Yet of course Jewish political traditions (including Zionism) draw inspiration from the Hebrew Bible — not simply a religious tract, but a central artifact of traditional Jewish culture.  Anyone who knows Prof. Walzer also knows that he’s very secular.  Weiss then quotes without context a sentence attributed to Todd Gitlin, a new PPI board member, to employ the theological concept of “Chosenness” in Rabbinic Judaism in a further attack on Jews and Zionism.

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‘Censored Voices’ — Anti-Israel or Anti-War? [ssba]

‘Censored Voices’ — Anti-Israel or Anti-War?

This film, “Censored Voices,” begins its commercial run in the US, Friday, November 20.  What follows is approximately the first third of my review at the Jewish Currents website:

The Seventh Day bookcoverFOR ANYONE who cares about Israel, this is a very hard film to watch. About a week after the Six-Day War in June 1967, Avraham Shapira started recording interviews with kibbutzniks who had just returned from serving in the Israel Defense Forces. The English-language version of the book that resulted was titled, The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six-Day War. But 70 percent of his recordings were censored by the IDF

. . . The action, such as it is, consists of these war veterans as old men, listening to their voices as recorded forty-eight years earlier.  The most prominent is the writer and peace activist Amos Oz, who appears in the opening scene (pictured above) and reappears periodically as one of more than a half-dozen filmed individually, and repeatedly, listening to the tapes.  The content of what they say is matched by vintage newsreel footage, including the on-scene reporting of an ABC television news correspondent. Read More »

Syrian Kurds’ Anarcho-Feminism resembles early Israeli socialism [ssba]

Syrian Kurds’ Anarcho-Feminism resembles early Israeli socialism
Dilar Dirik

Dilar Dirik

On Oct. 22, New York’s New School hosted a fascinating talk, sponsored by Dissent magazine, between the writer, feminist and left-wing activist Meredith Tax and Kurdish activist Dilar Dirik, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England. (Ms. Dirik’s writings can be found on her blog.)  For more background, read Ms. Tax’s April 2015 Dissent article on “Rojava” (as the Kurdish region of northern Syria is known); click on its title: “The Revolution in Rojava.”

Tax informed readers that it was Syrian Kurdish fighters who crossed into Iraq to rescue the 50,000 Yazidis cornered on a mountain by ISIS. Also news to me is that although most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, the Yazidis are Kurds who practice a religion that predates Islam.

There are about 40 million Kurds divided among Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.  The largest group are Turkish Kurds, of whom Dirik is one.  The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, which Dirik disdains as capitalistic and corrupt, is conducting an economic blockade of Rojava.

The dominant political influence among the Syrian Kurds, according to Tax and Dirik, is the radical Kurdish movement in Turkey, the PKK.  Its long-imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has undergone an ideological transformation from Marxist-Leninism to a kind of communitarian anarchism inspired by the writings of American anarchist Murray Bookchin, “world systems theorists” Immanuel Wallerstein and Fernand Braudel, and social scientist Benedict Anderson.

What Dirik described as happening on the ground in the autonomous Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria, with women’s empowerment, cooperative enterprises and decisions made via community-wide voting, reminded me of Israeli kibbutzim, moshavim and worker-owned cooperatives — especially during the most experimental times in the pre-State Yishuv.  Israeli socialism was closer to anarcho-syndicalism than state socialism, but David Ben-Gurion was very much a “statist,” perhaps out of necessity, and Israel has developed very differently than the “one big kibbutz” or confederation of autonomous communities as envisioned by some early left-Zionist theorists. Today, most kibbutzim and moshavim are pleasant communities that have been basically absorbed into a corporate economic culture, with mere remnants remaining of their original collectivist ethos.  And the degree to which Israeli women actually were empowered was very limited, to say the least.

Tax elaborated in her article on the theoretical basis for the Rojava “revolution”: Read More »

‘Rabin in His Own Words’ [ssba]

‘Rabin in His Own Words’

I saw the new Israeli TV documentary on Rabin at the Manhattan JCC last week.  It was a remarkably candid and sensitive portrait of the man, just about entirely in his own words–all the more remarkable for his well-known reticence and gruffness–supplemented with home movies, news footage and stills illustrating his life and times.  We saw the wry humor and even charm beneath his gruff exterior. Yet we were not spared scenes of carnage occasioned by terror attacks during Rabin’s term that cost scores of Israeli lives, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad attackers (no doubt acting out personal revenge scenarios for the Goldstein massacre in Hebron and other Israeli misdeeds) did their best to destroy the peace process from the Arab side, and inspired Jews to oppose it from the Israeli side.

We can’t know for certain that peace would have come had he survived in office, but I believe it would have.  The important thing is to see what mistakes were made before and after his death, and to rebut the cynical pessimism that motivates right wingers to say it can never happen, and self-professed centrists to say it must happen, but not now because the Palestinians still don’t accept us.

During the post-screening Q & A, a questioner said as much, citing Barak as “giving them so much” (a paraphrase) at Camp David yet resulting in the Second Intifada (an obvious conclusion, but based on a very superficial knowledge of the facts).  And to my surprise and frustration, Clyde Haberman, the post-screening expert–based upon his time as the NY Times bureau chief in Israel during Rabin’s 1990s tenure–wasn’t able to respond effectively.  There was a surprising lack of appreciation for pivotal events: for example, with J Street colleague Gil Kulick sagely noting that Rabin missed the opportunity to remove the militant settlers from Hebron and Kiryat Arba following the Goldstein massacre.  And Haberman didn’t connect the terrorist wave that ultimately doomed Peres and elected Netanyahu in ’96, to Peres’s ill-advised decision to have the Hamas bomb-maker Ayyash killed during a time of quiet.

My understanding is that Rabin had earlier nixed a Shin Bet hit on Ayyash, because he was at a family wedding, and this would have cost too many innocent lives.  Unlike Peres, Rabin, as the original “Mr. Security,” did not have to act tough to buttress his security credentials.   Read More »

‘Canada the good’ returns; Jews divided [ssba]

‘Canada the good’ returns; Jews divided

I had posted on Sept. 2nd, “Canada’s Socialists vie for power; Israel divides Jews,” on what then was a close three-way Canadian election campaign, with the democratic socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) holding a narrow lead.  The Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, was understood to be making significant inroads into the Jewish vote on the basis of a loud pro-Netanyahu, “pro-Israel” appeal.

In the end, on Oct. 19th, the Liberal party won a surprisingly strong majority mandate, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, and the NDP fell back to its usual distant third place nationally.  I asked Stephen Scheinberg, a retired history prof living in Montreal, whom I know as a supporter of Peace Now and from having participated in a Meretz USA Israel Symposium years ago, if the NDP lost because its leader, Tom Mulcaire, inexplicably tacked right on economics, by advocating a balanced budget, while Trudeau tacked left by embracing deficit spending on public works to expand the economy; and if most of the Jewish community supported Harper this time.

Scheinberg responded as follows:
I would agree that Mulcair tacked right but it was explicable.  The party  managers felt that they could win but feared tory attacks which would label them “tax and spend”.  Therefore they dressed M. in gray suits, told him to tone down his rhetoric so there would be no sign of “angry Tom” and felt Trudeau  was not the competition.  The Liberals skilfully went “left” showing a willingness to run deficits and promote infrastructure programmes.    The Jewish vote was more divided this time.  Montreal’s Mt. Royal stayed Liberal but Thornhill stayed Conservative, in Toronto.  I did not see exit polls on the Jewish vote but heard much favorable Trudeau comment.
I think Canadian foreign policy in the ME will be much more even handed now.  Dion the new foreign minister will probably be much more sympathetic to a two state approach.

Canada the good may have returned.

Read More »

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