Tag Archives: Jewish state

Netanyahu and the fundamentals of peace

Under the title “Netanyahu the fundamentalist,” David Landau grimly predicted in a recent Ha’aretz column that “History will damn the Israeli prime minister’s obsessive demand for the Palestinians to commit heart and soul to the idea of Israel as the ‘Jewish State’ as a precondition for peace.” Needless to say, this was not the first Ha’aretz article opposing Netanyahu’s stance – and needless to say, blaming Israel in general and Binyamin Netanyahu in particular for the lack of peace is always a crowd pleaser for the audiences Ha’aretz caters to.

But Landau’s piece was so weak and contradictory that it only helps to make the case for Netanyahu’s demand.

At the beginning of his column, Landau notes that the “United Nations spoke of a Jewish state and an Arab state back in the 1940s. That was the accepted vocabulary ever since the principle of partition made its appearance in the 1930s. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, uses the same vocabulary today.”

If it was true that Abbas “uses the same vocabulary today,” it should hardly be a problem for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

However, Landau then goes on to explain that

“Abbas can never extend recognition to Israel as ‘the Jewish state,’ because there are close to 20 percent of Palestinians among Israel’s citizens and the recognition that Netanyahu demands of Israel as ‘the Jewish state’ would be considered, in Palestinian opinion, a betrayal of them.”

Landau probably knows all too well that the problem is not just “Palestinian opinion,” but rather the fact that the PLO claims to be “the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people” – which, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, includes Israel’s Arab citizens (irrespective of the question whether they regard themselves as Palestinians and want to be represented by the PLO). It is important to realize that Palestinian advocates have even used this claim to argue that a Palestinian state is not all that desirable since it could only represent its own citizens and not Palestinians who are citizens of other countries, including Israel. Similar notions about statehood requiring the Palestinians to give up on various claims and all sorts of imaginary “rights” are reflected in the views of many “one-state” proponents and in the vicious anti-Israel propaganda of sites like the Electronic Intifada.

Unfortunately for Landau, the fact that the Palestinians oppose the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state because they insist on representing Israel’s Arab citizens doesn’t really show that it is Netanyahu who is the “fundamentalist” here…

After all, there are plenty of states that define themselves in no uncertain terms as the nation state of a particular group, and as far as I know, nobody has yet thought of withholding recognition because there may also be minorities in this state that do not identify as part of the nation. Moreover, when we look around in the region, Israel is for sure the best place to live when you belong to a minority. Like minorities everywhere – including in Europe – Israel’s Arab citizens may have reason to complain about various disadvantages, but most are arguably better off than if they lived in a neighboring state as part of the Arab majority. In this context it’s also interesting to note that Palestinians don’t seem to have similar demands and claims towards Arab states with sizable Palestinian populations. Is it acceptable that Jordan is the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” when at least two thirds of its population is Palestinian? Well, maybe Jordan doesn’t count, since it has already a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian queen… And indeed, we do know that the Palestinians didn’t demand a state while the West Bank was annexed by Jordan and Gaza was administered by Egypt. One could almost think that the Palestinians only start to have problems when Jews are involved.

Given Landau’s reference to the fact that the “United Nations spoke of a Jewish state and an Arab state back in the 1940s,” we might also recall – as Israel’s UN Ambassodor Ron Prosor recently noted – that “General Assembly resolution 181 (II) dividing the British Mandate over Palestine referred to the creation of a Jewish State 25 times.” It didn’t mention a Palestinian state because at the time, only few had ever heard of a “Palestinian people.” Even today, official Palestinian documents insist that “Palestine is part of the large Arab World, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab Nation.”

Yet, Israel’s “fundamentalist” Prime Minister is willing to acknowledge that nowadays, the Palestinians regard themselves as a people that should have a state of their own. At a recent meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, Netanyahu said: “peace is premised on mutual recognition, of two states for two peoples, of the Palestinian state for the Palestinian people mirrored by the Jewish state for the Jewish people.” Admittedly, he also mentioned the f-word, adding: “I think that’s fundamental for any peace”…

But while Netanyahu probably can’t say anything that would cause his left-wing critics to let go of their convenient bogeyman, Haviv Rettig Gur has recently argued – rightly, in my view – that Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians make peace with Israel as the Jewish state must be understood in the context of the well-documented Palestinian demonization of Israel as fundamentally illegitimate and evil.

As it turns out, not even a veteran Israeli dove like Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin can argue on a Palestinian website in favor of the demand to recognize Israel as the Jewish state. Baskin writes that he can’t quite understand why the Palestinians would find it so difficult to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But it’s not so hard to explain: the two major components of Palestinian identity are the very recent secular one which depends almost exclusively on implacable hostility to Israel, and the religious one which is based on centuries of Islamic imperialism and supremacism. Acknowledging that an ancient people like the Jews have any rights in their historic homeland will inevitably undermine both the secular and the religious component of Palestinian identity.

Two states for two peoples is a nice-sounding formula, but unfortunately, it’s not clear that the Palestinians have a strong enough identity to really feel as a people that can pull together for the difficult task of building a functioning state. Of course, Gaza is already a statelet, and the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the rule of a Palestinian administration that is recognized by most UN members as representing the Palestinian state. The bizarre make-belief quality of this UN recognition may well carry over to any future “peace” agreement; yet, since it would mean the end of Israel as we know it – and the end of Israel as the Jewish state – to absorb the Palestinians on the West Bank as Israeli citizens, I’m all for a solution that would somehow resolve the problem of Palestinian statelessness.

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First published at my JPost blog on October 25, 2013

Arab hatred and Arab identity

A few weeks ago, the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat published an article on “The Israel We Do Not Know.” The author, Amal Al-Hazzani, an Associate Professor in King Saud University in Riyadh, argued that it was “sad to say that Israel – the invasive, oppressive, occupying state – lives amongst us but we still do not know it.”

While the article didn’t do much to mend this situation, it apparently generated a lot of negative feedback, and a week later, Al-Hazzani responded by doubling down with a second piece entitled “Know Your Enemy”:

“I would like to thank those who showered me with a torrent of angry correspondence about my previous article on Israel, who accused me of calling for a normalization of relations, promoting the Hebrew language, and glorifying Israeli liberalism.

This response was to be expected because I breached a taboo. However, I am sorry to say to those people, despite my appreciation of their opinions, that their outrage will not change the reality. Israel will remain as it is; a small state but stronger than the rest of the Arab world.”

It’s probably a safe bet to assume that once again, there were a lot of furious reactions.

What I found most striking in Al-Hazzani’s second article is his conclusion, where he writes:

“We must understand the Israelis to know how we compare. Wars cannot be won by sentiments of hatred alone; otherwise the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”

One can easily imagine the outcry if any non-Arab wrote in a western media outlet that if wars could be won by hatred alone, “the Arabs would have dominated the world long ago.”

Notice that this is no longer just about Israel.

Yet, it is of course first and foremost a problem for Israel that Arab hatred for the Jewish state – perceived as a western implant in the Arab-Muslim Middle East – is generally ignored by the media.  The conventional and “politically-correct” wisdom is that if only Israel behaved differently, the Arab world would willingly accept the Jewish state.

But every now and then, even media sites that relentlessly push this conventional wisdom provide a perhaps involuntary glimpse of the intensity of Arab hatred for Israel. That happened recently to Ha’aretz when Zvi Bar’el reported on an interview with the Egyptian writer and intellectual Ali Salem. Salem had been shunned by the Egyptian media ever since he traveled to Israel in 1994, but now, almost 20 years later,  Al-Ahram published an interview with him.

According to Bar’el, Salem’s interviewer, Al-Bahaa Hussein, prefaced his piece by stating:

“I cannot allow myself to express satisfaction with Salem’s visit to Israel. Despite the fact that I am impressed by his talents, I am not persuaded that the devils [Israelis] can be good brothers, that they want peace or that they are willing to pay for its price. Nonetheless, we interviewed him not from the standpoint of a judge, as the dust has already settled; instead, we sought to understand his motives.”

Bar’el’s own article begins with a quote from the Al-Ahram interviewer telling Salem:

“When I’m on my own, I still dream of our pushing Israel into the sea.”

Salem responds by dismissing this as an unrealistic and therefore “romantic” idea.

There is much more in Bar’el’s article, but let’s just stay with this for a moment and imagine that the shoe were on the other foot: that a reporter from a respected Israeli paper interviewed an Israeli dissident who presented a lone voice for peace, saying to him: “When I’m on my own, I still dream of our pushing the Palestinians into the sea” – and that the Israeli intellectual would calmly respond that this was an unrealistic and therefore “romantic” idea.

To be sure, Salem emphasizes that “there is no path other than negotiation,” and Bar’el describes him as a “fervent supporter of peace” who “has paid a high price for his ‘crazes’” – because of course among Egyptian intellectuals, you’ll be considered a crazed outcast if you support peace with Israel, while Israeli intellectuals would ostracize anyone who wasn’t a fervent supporter of peace with the Palestinians.

Bar’el explains that Salem “remains associated with a term loathed by Egyptian intellectuals: ‘normalization’.” He lists several recent examples illustrating that Egyptian elites remain obsessed with opposing any “normalization” with Israel, among them a resolution adopted in January by an Egyptian writers’ conference at Sharm el-Sheikh which declared:

“Egypt’s identity should be preserved, along with its diverse, enlightened cultural depth; and the principled, consistent position maintained by all Egyptian intellectuals and writers in favor of rejecting any form of normalization with the Zionist enemy should be upheld.”

Mind you: this is a statement from the elites of an Arab country with which we have a peace treaty for more than 30 years now. How long will it take Arab elites to realize that by opposing “normalization” with Israel, they are first and foremost preventing their own countries from becoming normal?

As Bar’el rightly notes:

“The revolution in Egypt has yet to change anything in the way most intellectuals in the country relate to Israel. Liberals, secularists, leftists and rightists − mostly figures seen as being hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and all religious-tempered political ideologies − view opposition to normalization as a fundamental pillar of their Arab identity ‏(Arab, as opposed to Egyptian‏). This identity still views the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which is sometimes described via slogans that had currency in the 1950s ‏(such as “A cancer in the body of the Arab nation”‏), as a political anchor.”

That is definitely noteworthy coming from the veteran Middle Eastern affairs analyst for Ha’aretz: “opposition to normalization” with the region’s most successful modern state is “a fundamental pillar of…Arab identity.”

Of course, the same Zvi Bar’el will usually ignore Arab mainstream hatred for Israel and instead focus on a few widely condemned incidents in Israel to claim spuriously that “A good Jew hates Arabs.”

While racism is present in every society, racist incidents in Israel will often get prominent global coverage. At the same time, the pervasive hatred for Israel in the Arab world that is even championed by the elites is usually politely ignored – which actually reveals the bigotry of the western media. There can be little doubt that it would trigger a veritable tsunami of news coverage and commentary if a gathering of Israeli intellectuals declared its abiding commitment to “the principled, consistent position maintained by all Israeli intellectuals and writers in favor of rejecting any form of normalization with the Arab enemy.”

But supposedly, Arab hatred of Israel is justified because of the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, who didn’t ask for, and weren’t offered, a state of their own when their Arab brethren were in control of Gaza and the West Bank. Of course, there are countless other examples that illustrate all too well that the Palestinian “cause” is worthwhile only when it can be used to bash Israel. Imagine for a moment how this recent New York Times report would read if Israel was involved:

“The Egyptian military is resorting to a pungent new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza: flooding them with sewage. Along with the stink, the approach is raising new questions about relations between Egypt’s new Islamist leaders and their ideological allies in Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.”

If it was not the Egyptian military but the IDF, nobody would dream of describing it rather light-heartedly as “a pungent new tactic.” If it was the IDF, it would be outrageous, indicative of Nazi-like racist contempt, a crime against humanity, a severe health risk, a threat to Gaza’s water supply, and on and on.

But when the Egyptians are doing it, it simply reflects their legitimate determination “to shut the tunnels to block the destabilizing flow of weapons and militants into Sinai from Gaza.”

It’s really something quite normal – and for Egypt’s elites, it’s probably not anything worth obsessing about like “normalization with the Zionist enemy.”

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First posted at my JPost blog and at the Polish magazine Racjonalista.

Shana Tova from Berlin’s Jewish Museum

Last Saturday evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin hosted a “debate” on a question that you could translate from German either as “Is Zionism part of Judaism?,” or, perhaps more sensibly, “Is Zionism part of Jewish identity/Jewishness?”

The answer of the museum’s guest of honor is well-known: the American academic Judith Butler – who, just a few days earlier, had received the Adorno Prize in Frankfurt in recognition of her work on gender, sexuality, critical theory and moral philosophy – has most recently published a book entitled “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.”

Butler is also a well-known supporter of the BDS-movement that targets Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions with the ultimate goal to delegitimize the Jewish state and pave the way for Israel’s dissolution in a bi-national “Isratine.”

As I have pointed out previously, Butler’s support for the BDS movement means in practice that her political statements can be found on a website frequently criticized for antisemitic content and that she would refuse to lecture at Tel Aviv University, but be perfectly happy to visit Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism and glorifying terrorism. Indeed, in the acknowledgements for her recent book, Butler mentions Birzeit University as one of the places where she “learned from students and faculty.” Hopefully, these students didn’t include those that attended a festive event on the university campus to honour the terrorists released last year in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

While Butler thus helps to make the case that BDS really stands for “Bigoted Double Standards,” there is no question that “anti-Zionists” everywhere appreciate her academic celebrity status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies – which was only reinforced by the Adorno Prize – as a great asset.

There is also no question that the Jewish Museum in Berlin was fully aware of the problematic political implications of Butler’s views. Yet, the organizers of the event apparently preferred a “debate” that excluded questions to which Butler obviously has no good answers.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post – which noted straightforwardly that this seems to have been “the first anti-Israel event held in the Jewish museum since its opening in 2001” – the organizers allowed only “written audience questions” and made clear that any questions on Butler’s widely criticized views about Hamas and Hezbollah would be ignored.

But judging from media reports about the event, the audience had anyway come to cheer Butler – as one German newspaper put it: “The audience was dominated by the typical ‘Butler-Groupies’: people with an academic education between 20 and 30.”

Butler’s debating partner, the liberal German Jewish professor Micha Brumlik, found apparently little favor with this audience, and his attempts to argue that Butler’s professed enthusiasm for a merely “cultural” Zionism were neither grounded in Jewish tradition nor realistic clearly made much less of an impression than Butler’s response that somebody had to stand up for utopian ideals. Indeed, several of the German language reports end by quoting Butler’s relevant remarks, and the Berliner Zeitung concludes by asserting that a utopian quality was after all an essential characteristic of philosophy.

If we “translate” what Butler is saying here (noting that her new book includes reflections on “Ethics, Politics, and the Task of Translation”), it turns out that she simply wants to have her cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, we are supposed to appreciate that it is the core business of a philosopher to come up with noble utopian ideals that are above mundane criticisms questioning how realistic they are; on the other hand, Butler clearly wants her political views to be taken serious and lends her prestige as a philosopher to one of the most controversial causes of our time.

The bottom line of Butler’s argument is that the most ethical resolution of the Arab conflict with Israel requires Jews to realize that Arabs and Muslims were right all along when they insisted that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Butler is obviously aware that with this view, she has a lot of really bad company, and she has taken to emphasizing her opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

In the controversy about her nomination for the Adorno Prize, she also tried hard to market herself as a fearless fighter against the popular straw-man argument that anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite.

But the “debate” hosted by Berlin’s Jewish Museum illustrated once again that in a climate where it is regarded as legitimate to assert that it would only be ethical to do away with the Jewish state, antisemitism is never far away.

Reporting on the event for the Jüdische Allgemeine, Fabian Wolff notes that the debate moderator Andreas Öhler limited himself mostly to telling a few stories about his Jewish and Israeli friends. At one point Öhler mentioned how amazed he was to realize that despite Israel’s policies, there were so many nice Israelis who were interested in culture and music…

Sounds somehow familiar? Well, it should: whether Öhler was aware of it or not, the staff of Berlin’s Jewish Museum can certainly be expected to realize that this remark unmistakably echoed the popular stories about Nazi or SS officers as lovers of classical music, which have become part of movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist.

Without this background, it is hard to explain why Öhler should have been so amazed to discover that there are many really nice Israelis who love culture and music.

It is noteworthy in this context that studies show that some “40% of Germans are critical of Israel in ways […] deemed anti-Semitic. The commission regarded anti-Israel critics as having crossed a line, for example, when they compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps. Among the […] findings cited in the report: More than 41% of Germans believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

In view of these findings, it is all the more dismaying that moderator Öhler reportedly opened the event with Judith Butler by declaring everyone’s resolve not to be frightened – meaning, presumably, not to be frightened of accusations of antisemitism in a “debate” intended to establish that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state violates crucial ethical norms. But in a country where some 40 percent of the population believes that, when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel’s Jews are the Nazis of our time, there is actually plenty of reason to be frightened when the Jewish Museum decides to give out the message that, done properly, it is intellectually and ethically noble to “criticize” Israel for the evil of existing as a Jewish state.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog; also posted on Harry’s Place.

Defending Judith Butler in the Ivory Tower

The controversy that erupted when it became known that the prominent American post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler will be awarded Frankfurt’s prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize has already resulted in a large volume of writings. The website of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East provides a long list of critical commentaries; if you’re looking for voices defending Butler, one place to go to is Mondoweiss – a site that, for good reason, has often been criticized for publishing antisemitic material and views. Yet, Judith Butler chose Mondoweiss to publish her first response to the critics of her Adorno award, and since then, the blog has been quoted by highly respected sites, including the publisher of Butler’s recent book, Columbia University Press (CUP). This illustrates in a nutshell some of the major problems that the defenders of Butler – prominently among them her fellow-academics – are trying to ignore or downplay.

Imagine for a moment that there was a controversy about a prominent academic who just published a book with CUP, and she would choose to respond to her critics on a site that is single-mindedly focused on the failings of the Muslim world and is known to often publish material that can be legitimately described as bigoted against Muslims. Would CUP happily link to the site?

Unfortunately, it seems fair to assume that Butler chose to have her response to her critics published on Mondoweiss because she knows the blog and agrees with its view that the world would be a better place if there was no Jewish state. Indeed, according to the advertisement for her new book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she “affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism.” Moreover, Butler also offers the “startling suggestion” that “Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.”

It’s indeed a “startling suggestion,” but of course Judith Butler is entitled to her own interpretation of Jewish ethics. At the same time, her critics must be entitled to point out that when Butler claims to merely “criticize” Israeli policies, she does so within the context of her view that Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.

While Butler seizes every possible opportunity to fight the popular straw-man argument that thanks to Israel’s mindless defenders, anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite, she ignores the very real problem that her views about the illegitimacy of a Jewish state are not only shared by the Mondoweiss crowd, but also by bizarre Jewish fringe groups like Neturei Karta, and of course by Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, whom Butler once described so controversially as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.”

To be sure, Butler makes her case for a “world without Zionism” in very different terms than the “anti-Zionist” Jew-haters in the Middle East and elsewhere, but she also seems strikingly unwilling to wrestle with the fact that she advocates a vision cheered and shared mostly by people who justify their views with blood-thirsty Muslim texts and ideas that reflect a Nazi-like demonization of Jews.

Given Butler’s apparent lack of concern about the motivations of those who will be thrilled that a prominent Jewish intellectual and academic lends her prestige to the cause of doing away with the world’s only Jewish state, there is little justification for Todd Gitlin’s view that in the controversy about the Adorno prize, Butler is a victim of the “gotcha habit of seeking the author’s clumsiest, least defensible moments and waving them in the air like chunks of raw meat.”

Indeed, when it comes to Judith Butler’s views on Israel, the real challenge is arguably not to find the least defensible moments, but to find defensible ones.

To pick just one of the many particularly indefensible “moments,” let’s consider some of the implications of the idea that Israel’s Jews should give up their state “in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.” It may not matter in the post-structuralist Ivory Tower inhabited by Judith Butler, but in the real world, the Middle East’s ancient sectarian and ethnic hatreds continue to make the region one of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world.

If this is not enough to illustrate the fact that the Middle East is not really a good place for minorities, let alone for a newly disempowered Jewish minority that has to play the guinea pig for some bi-national experiment in radical democracy, one could also consider the poisonous effects of the endless glorification of terrorism that has long been a regular feature of Palestinian political culture.

Since Butler will receive the Adorno prize on 9/11 – the birthday of Adorno – it is perhaps most appropriate to recall in this context the PEW surveys that monitored Muslim views of Osama bin Laden for several years, beginning in 2003. The specific survey question inquired “how much confidence you have in [X – from a list of named leaders] to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Throughout the surveys, it was the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank that expressed the highest confidence in bin Laden, starting with an astonishing 72 percent in 2003, and ending with a hardly less remarkable 34 percent in 2011. When bin Laden was killed, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the left-wing progressive social movement Hamas in Gaza, condemned “the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” adding: “We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”

A commentary in the German publication taz anticipated sorrowfully that the controversy about Judith Butler’s Adorno prize could ultimately mean that Butler will suffer the same fate as French philosopher Michel Foucault “after his undifferentiated jubilation about the Iranian revolution in 1979” – that is to say that Butler could no longer expect to be taken all that serious as a political thinker. As far as her views on Israel are concerned, that would certainly be a well-deserved fate.

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This article first appeared in The Algemeiner.

By way of an update, I would like to note that this evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is hosting a discussion with Judith Butler on the problematically formulated question: “Gehört der Zionismus zum Judentum?” – literally: Is Zionism part of Judaism? Obviously, this slants the playing field in favor of Butler, because it’s easy to argue that you can be a religiously observant Jew without being a Zionist.

According to a related post on the popular German blog Die Achse des Guten, the Jewish Museum will NOT allow questions about Butler’s views on Hamas and Hezbollah. Don’t ask, don’t tell, Judith-Butler-style, I suppose.

So here’s something that should cheer up Butler’s critics: The always very angry Angry Arab recently had a short post where he noted:

“A reader sent me a quotation by Adorno on Israel after the 1967 [war]. This brilliant man sounded like Abraham Foxman when he talked about Israel.”

And no, the very angry Angry Arab of course doesn’t mean that as a compliment – after all, in his calmer moments, he considers the director of the Anti-Defamation Leaguethe clown of the 20th century.”

Needless to say, the Angry Arab has a cozy place in the Ivory Tower.

Last but by no means least, anyone who wants to read up on the Butler controversy should check out the bibliography at the blog of Richard Landes.

 

Targeting the Jewish State: the kind of culture BDS loves

As part of London’s Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival, Israel’s Habima Theatre will perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew on Monday and Tuesday of this week. A Palestinian theatre company from Ramallah has already given a performance of Richard II.

Unfortunately, it seems that so-called pro-Palestinian activists didn’t have much time to take pride in the Palestinian performance, because they have been terribly busy with an unsuccessful campaign to pressure the Globe Theatre into cancelling the Habima performance.

This campaign is part of the broader BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) efforts that have targeted Israel for quite some time in the hope to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.

While BDS advocates usually like to present themselves as defenders of Palestinian rights who only oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, most of them actually oppose Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

A good example is anti-Israel activist Ben White, about whom I have already repeatedly written (there is also a recently posted list of some of his more openly antisemitic views at Harry’s Place).  In April, White penned a piece published in the New Statesman, where he attempted to explain “Why a cultural boycott of Israel is justified.”

White notes in this piece that “a common objection to cultural boycott (or BDS in general) is some version of ‘Why Israel’s musicians and not China’s?’” His response to this question is simple: “Boycott is a strategy, not a principle.”

So here we have it: BDS happens to be a “strategy” that singles out the Jewish State – supposedly because of the occupation of the West Bank, but in reality, as Ben White’s own writings illustrate so well, because activists like him want “a world without Zionism.”

While White himself may be too sophisticated to shout this out loud, many of his fellow-BDS activists are more outspoken.  Here is London BDS ranting about the upcoming Habima performance:

“Zionism is a murderous, parasitic political doctrine and what the apartheid Zionist state is doing to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is monstrous. Apartheid Israel is trying to whitewash their crimes by sending cultural representatives to these shores that include the Jerusalem Quartet (disrupted in London and Brighton), The Jerusalem Trio (picketed), the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (performance ‘enhanced’) and now – Habima.

The Palestinian people are undergoing a slow-motion genocide courtesy of Israel. Their land is being stolen, homes bulldozed and movement controlled. Palestinians who peacefully protest are met in force by Zionist soldiers and settlers who don’t hesitate to shoot on sight – and Israelis who maim or kill Palestinians are rarely punished. Not long ago, Palestinians who had no weapons other than their own bodies went on highly publicised hunger strikes to protest Zionist barbarity.

Zionists in turn are gnashing their teeth and wailing that any disruption is wrong and call those who take action, “cultural terrorists.” That is how the mind of the Zionist thinks; they accuse others of being racists and terrorists, but as their words and actions last Tuesday in support of racist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman prove, they themselves are the most hateful people imaginable.

[…]

Habima’s performance was supported by a few unenlightened has-beens seeking publicity, the most well-known being Maureen Lipman and Howard Jacobson. One has to ask if Lipman and Jacobson, along with their fellow do-gooders, would have supported the Nazi-sponsored Berlin Philharmonic’s concerts in pre-war London or embraced performances funded by the racist apartheid South African government.”

Is there any antisemite out there who wouldn’t whole-heartedly agree with this vicious rant?

 

The Nakba at Harvard

Already last week, Palestinian activists were gearing up to mark the Nakba by intensifying their efforts to prolong it: Sa’ed Atshan, a Harvard Ph.D. candidate who is a proponent of the so-called “one-state solution” that aims at Israel’s abolition in favor of a bi-national state, drew up a petition to organize “Palestinian-Americans, Palestinians living, working, and studying in the United States, and Americans in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle” in support of a demand for the resignation of Ziad Asali,  the widely respected president of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP). In Atshan’s view, Asali had betrayed the Palestinian cause by accepting an invitation to an event hosted by Israel’s US Ambassador Michael Oren to mark Israel’s Independence Day.

I have already devoted a post to this incident and quoted at length from Asali’s impressive response. But Atshan’s pathetic petition is also worth looking at in detail, because it provides such a good example of the kind of pompous and dishonest Nakba rhetoric that is designed to prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hope that this will lead to Israel’s delegitimization and its eventual absorption in a bi-national state.

In this context it is crucial to emphasize that, while Atshan likes to present himself as a Quaker-educated humanist and progressive, he is utterly opposed to Jewish self-determination in a Jewish state and has therefore no interest in Palestinian self-determination in a state that would exist alongside Israel. As a Harvard Ph.D. candidate with several prestigious fellowships and a lecturer in Peace and Justice Studies at Tufts University, he can be expected to know full well that the Nakba narrative he presents in his petition is nothing but crude propaganda designed to instill a Palestinian sense of grievance that cannot be assuaged unless the world’s only Jewish state is abolished:

“More than 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their historic homeland during the Nakba in 1947-48. These were our grandparents, our parents and their grandparents. Everything was stolen from them – from all of us. Our hearts have been carved out by this monumental crime that has never really ceased. The Nakba continues to this day with daily expulsions, home demolitions, and the constant death that rains on our people without mercy by a state with the most powerful military machine in the Middle East, the same state that Asali celebrated!

We are all baffled, stunned, and left feeling betrayed by the images of Asali posing with smiles in a suit next to Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. in what amounts to a celebration of the greatest wound in the Palestinian psyche – a boundless collective pain that we pass on from one generation to another in hope of redemption, of justice, and the restoration of our dignity as native sons and daughters of Palestine. […]

During this month of May, […] we grieve and remember the ongoing Israeli campaigns to extricate our roots from our homeland and erase our Palestinian Christian and Muslim heritage from the land; […] we renew our commitment to continue the good fight for justice and freedom; and […] we once again lift our hearts with hope and dreams of being at last acknowledged as human beings with entitlement to the full range of human rights accorded to the rest of humanity […]”

When Atshan addressed the One-State Conference at Harvard in early March, he emphasized that academics were able to draw on broad knowledge in their analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, Atshan of course knows full well that in its historic context, the Palestinian Nakba was a very minor “catastrophe” occurring at a time when many millions of refugees all over the world were displaced and dispossessed by war and the drawing of new borders. Atshan also knows full well that, except for the Palestinians, all these refugees found themselves thwarted if they attempted, like the Palestinians, to demand that the clock be turned back; and of course he also knows that while most refugees were eager to get on with their lives, Palestinian and Arab leaders rejected the opportunity to create a state for the Nakba refugees and cynically chose to maintain them as pawns that would play a useful part in the long-term efforts to undo the establishment of Israel.

Likewise, Atshan knows full well that the Arab League and its member states demonstrated that it was not just the Jews of Europe who needed a refuge, but also the Jews who had lived throughout the Middle East for some two millennia.  And while the Jews living in Arab countries were forced to flee their ancient communities decades ago, Atshan of course knows that up to this day, the fate of other minorities in the Arab Middle East is similarly precarious – as this unsettling account of the situation of Christians in the Muslim Middle East illustrates all too well. Atshan therefore must know that by advocating a “one-state solution”, he is advocating returning the Jews to the status of a vulnerable persecuted minority.

Given his quest to turn back the clock,  Atshan obviously perceives a committed proponent of a negotiated two-state solution like ATFP president Ziad Asali as a political opponent – and in true McCarthyist fashion, Atshan calls not just for Asali’s resignation from the ATFP, but for the “severance of all ties to Ziad Asali by ATFP and all Palestinian organizations.” [Emphasis original!]

Right, get the guy blacklisted, and if you succeed, call it a great (Harvard-style) progressive victory for the Nakba…

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

Quote of the day

“At a time when the prospects of a negotiated settlement to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine are dim, the desire of liberal Jews outside of Israel “to do something” is understandable. But the desire to do something cannot justify doing something wrong.

The Zionist left should focus on keeping the conditions for a two-state solution alive. But to do so, all the major obstacles on the road to peace need be addressed. The settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace but, as far as obstacles go, the settlements rank a distant fifth to Arab rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to any part of the land of Israel, to the systematic inflation of the number of Palestinians refugees, to the hawking of illusion of a “right of return” and to shameful Arab incitement.”

Einat Wilf in the Huffington Post, responding to Peter Beinart’s recent proposal for a boycott of Israeli settlements. The whole piece is worth reading, because Wilf shines a harsh spotlight on some of the most important but least talked about reasons why an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal has proven so elusive. Wilf is a Member of Knesset with a very impressive CV; additional information about her and her writings (including two books) as well as her political activities is available on her website.

Same message, different mufti: the rhetoric of the 1940s in 2012

When Sheik Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, who is the Palestinian Authority’s senior religious official, recently recited a traditional Islamic text urging Muslims to “fight and kill the Jews” during a ceremony celebrating the 47th anniversary of Fatah’s establishment, he unintentionally revealed how little the messages of Palestinian religious leaders have changed since the days of another Palestinian mufti by the name of Husseini.

This deplorable rhetorical continuity also serves as a timely reminder that words are usually spoken to inspire deeds. Palestinians, eagerly echoed by many of their world-wide supporters, like to claim that they had no part whatsoever in the Holocaust, and that they should indeed be seen as indirect victims of the Jews who fled Europe.

This “narrative,” which seems particularly popular among Germany’s progressive elites, requires that the historical record of Amin Al-Husseini – the predecessor of the current Palestinian mufti – is ignored. While both muftis call for killing the Jews, Husseini sought and seized the opportunity to contribute to the Nazi’s genocidal undertaking to kill as many Jews as possible.

In a review of a book by Klaus Gensicke about Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, John Rosenthal emphasized that the mufti did not only collaborate with the Nazis by contributing to propaganda activities aimed at Arab speakers and by organizing the Muslim SS division “Handzar” in Bosnia:

Indeed, perhaps the most shocking finding of Gensicke’s research concerns the repeated efforts of the mufti after 1943 to ensure that no European Jews should elude the camps […] Thus, for example, Bulgarian plans to permit some 4,000 Jewish children and 500 adult companions to immigrate to Palestine provoked a letter from the mufti to the Bulgarian foreign minister, pleading for the operation to be stopped. In the letter, dated May 6, 1943, Husseini invoked a “Jewish danger for the whole world and especially for the countries where Jews live.” […]

One week later, the mufti sent additional “protest letters” to both the Italian and German Foreign Ministries, appealing for them to intervene in the matter. The German Foreign Ministry promptly sent off a cable to the German ambassador in Sofia stressing “the common German-Arab interest in preventing the rescue operation.” Indeed, according to the post-War recollections of a Foreign Ministry official, “The Mufti turned up all over the place making protests: in the Minister’s office, in the waiting room of the Deputy Minister and in other sections: for example, Interior, the Press Office, the Broadcast service, and also the SS.” “The Mufti was a sworn enemy of the Jews,” the official concluded, “and he made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred to see them all killed.” […]

In late June, both the Romanian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers would be recipients of similar appeals from the mufti. The Romanian government had been planning to allow some 75,000 to 80,000 Jews to immigrate to the Middle East, and Hungary — which had become a refuge for Jews escaping persecution elsewhere in Europe — was reportedly preparing to allow some 900 Jewish children and their parents to immigrate as well. The mufti repeated his counsel that the Jews should be sent rather to Poland, where they could be kept under “active surveillance.” “It is especially monstrous,” Gensicke concludes, “that el-Husseini objected to even those few cases in which the National Socialists were prepared, for whatever reasons, to permit Jews to emigrate. . . . For him, only deportation to Poland was acceptable, since he knew fully well that there would be no escape for the Jews from there.”

Inevitably, some people will be inclined to argue that Husseini was only defending the national interest of the Palestinian Arabs when he tried to prevent any Jewish emigration from Europe. But as Gensicke has shown, Husseini was convinced that there was a “Jewish danger for the whole world and especially for the countries where Jews live,” and in May 1943, he also expressed this view in a letter.

Soon after Husseini had written these words, Arab regimes proceeded to demonstrate that they shared this view. The Arab League drafted Nuremberg-style laws designed to disenfranchise and dispossess Jews, and Arab states began to encourage the ethnic cleansing of the ancient Jewish communities that had existed for millenia all over the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of the Jews who had to flee from Arab countries found refuge in the fledgling Jewish state that the Arabs vowed, and tried, to wipe out.

Back then, the motives may have been rooted in Arab nationalism, but as the recent remarks by the Palestinian mufti illustrate, there is a long and – according to the mufti, “noble” – tradition of Jew-hatred in Islam that up to this day is regularly invoked to present the Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state as part of a fight against Jews that is an integral component of Muslim identity.

Nazi-like rhetoric about Jews is nowadays mostly expressed in Arabic and Farsi, and just like 70 years ago, there is widespread reluctance to confront this rhetoric and face the fact that it is meant as incitement to deadly deeds.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Reflections on the invention of peoples

When I recently challenged Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine about his response to Newt Gingrich’s controversial statement about the “invented” Palestinian people, he responded that his “semi-critique of nationalism is equal opportunity” and he suggested that I check out two of his relevant articles. (Twitter exchange Ibishblog – WarpedMirrorPMB December 10; the exchange began when I took issue with Ibish’s argument that “there was no Israel and no such thing as an ‘Israeli people’ before 1948. So the idea that Palestinians are ‘an invented people’ while Israelis somehow are not is historically indefensible and inaccurate;” in response, I pointed out that the “Land of Israel” as well as the “Israelites” are concepts dating back to biblical times.)

I have by now read several of the relevant articles written by Ibish, including the two he urged me to read. In my view, there is no doubt that Ibish’s thoughts on the subject are sophisticated and make for very worthwhile reading; but, for reasons I will explain below, I’m not convinced that his critique of nationalism is as even-handed as he claims.

The first article Ibish recommended to me is entitled “Fetishizing nationalism.” Living up to his claim of being an “equal opportunity”-critic of nationalism, Ibish argues right at the beginning of this piece: “All contemporary nationalisms are based on constructed and imagined narratives about history, geography, culture, ethnicity and religion.” In his concluding paragraph, Ibish again emphasizes:

“The analytical challenge is to recognize that while not all nationalist claims are necessarily equally valid (they may speak on behalf of very few people, for example, and not really have the constituency they claim), in some important senses they are, however, all equally invalid. Championing one’s own nationalism as self-evidently ‘authentic’ at the expense of a well-established, deeply-rooted and much-cherished rival identity is a particularly lowly form of self-delusion, chauvinism and fetishism.”

That last sentence has a seemingly solomonic quality, since it can be read as addressed to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Unfortunately, in the context of this particular article, it seems more likely that Ibish was admonishing those who subscribe to the “traditional Zionist narrative” that Ibish breezily summarizes in a previous paragraph.

The second article Ibish recommended is entitled “Mr. Mileikowsky and the ‘seal of Netanyahu’: the perilous encounter between modern nationalism and ancient history.” Again, at the outset of the piece, Ibish appears to be very much the “equal opportunity”-critic of nationalism he claims to be when he argues:

“the nationalist identities of Egypt or China are not more authentic or legitimate because they claim direct descent from ancient civilizations and kingdoms than is the American one which celebrates its non-ethnic, sui generis (at the time of its founding anyway), and ideological self-definition. All three are equally the products of a set of developments in global history that produced them in their present form at the current moment. The American version of nationalism based on adherence to political principles and a kind of US civic religion can’t be privileged over ethnic nationalisms either, and is also very much grounded in myth, legend and historical fantasy.”

Ibish then proceeds to take on the notion “that there is a hierarchy of legitimacy of nationalist claims and that the Israeli one is simply and obviously superior, older, more ‘authentic’ and more deeply rooted than the Palestinian one.” Continue reading

Gingrich and the Golden Rule

Once upon a time, Newt Gingrich was a professor of history, and since he is now competing to become the Republican presidential candidate, his record as a historian is being mined for clues about his political views. Needless to say, Gingrich’s professorial past doesn’t necessarily impress his critics – indeed, Gingrich has already been advised to “read a history book.” If he followed this advice, he could read one of the books he wrote

Unsurprisingly, Gingrich also got some history lessons in response to his recent observation that historically, “there was no Palestine as a state” and that the Palestinians are an “invented” people “who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community.”

Responding to Gingrich’s statement, Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine asserted that “there was no Israel and no such thing as an ‘Israeli people’ before 1948. So the idea that Palestinians are ‘an invented people’ while Israelis somehow are not is historically indefensible and inaccurate. Such statements seem to merely reflect deep historical ignorance and an irrational hostility towards Palestinian identity and nationalism.”

While Ibish conveniently ignores the fact that the “Land of Israel” as well as the “Israelites” are of course biblical concepts, he is not entirely wrong, because – as Walter Russell Mead demonstrates in an essay devoted to Gingrich’s statement – it is indeed easy to argue that national identity is often an “invented” construct. At the same time, Mead acknowledges that Gingrich’s statement “is not factually incorrect as far as it goes;” yet, he is also sharply critical of Gingrich, arguing that his “error isn’t to say that Palestinian identity is to some degree invented; his error is to use that fact to undercut the reality and legitimacy of the Palestinian national movement.”

Mead also emphasizes that “both the US and Israel need people who can make a sober and reasoned case for the legitimacy of the Jewish state and of America’s support for it in ways that reduce international misunderstanding of and opposition to the two countries. But unfortunately remarks like Mr. Gingrich’s (to be fair, a short aside in a longer interview) make that conversation harder, not easier to have.”

While I would largely agree with Mead’s post, I think it’s worthwhile contemplating the notion that there is still a need to “make a sober and reasoned case for the legitimacy of the Jewish state and of America’s support for it in ways that reduce international misunderstanding of and opposition to the two countries.”

Obviously, Mead believes that it is utterly counterproductive to respond to the prevalent questioning of the Jewish state’s legitimacy by Palestinians and the larger Arab and Muslim world by pointing out the fact that the case for a Palestinian state is not based on a long-established and historically-rooted Palestinian national identity.

But I’m not sure if this really true.

As Adam Levick points out on Cif Watch, the non-existent state of Palestine is already recognized by some 125 of the 193 UN member states – while Israel, more than six decades after its acceptance as a UN member state, is still not recognized by 36 UN members, including 30 Muslim majority countries. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence showing that the UN supports a veritable “infrastructure of anti-Israel propaganda” and devotes truly disproportionate resources and energies to censuring Israel.

So while Israel and its supporters are supposed to play by the rules of fairness and to strictly observe the dictates of political correctness, the rule for the supporters of Palestine seems to be “anything goes.”

But it turns out that when the Palestinians find themselves at the receiving end of even the slightest breach of political correctness, the result could most definitely be described as a “teachable moment.”

Consider some of the Palestinian reactions to Gingrich’s statement:

Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, characterized Gingrich’s statements as “despicable,” asserting that they not only reflected “the lowest point of thinking anyone can reach” but also contributed to “the cycle of violence.”

Hanan Ashrawi, another veteran Palestinian spokesperson, described Gingrich’s remarks as “very racist” and “an invitation to further conflict rather than any contribution to peace.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, asserted that Gingrich had made “grave comments that represented an incitement for ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.”

If all these Palestinian officials familiarized themselves with the “Golden Rule” that admonishes us to “do as you would be done by,” we can look forward to a bright future in which no Palestinian – and no Arab or Muslim – will ever think of denying Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

Crossposted from the JPost