This excellent TED talk goes along the lines of what I’ve been thinking lately regarding Israeli politics and Israel/Palestine politics. Talking to the other sides is crucial in all conflicts, on whatever scale, internal or external — in a school, in a town, in a state, or between states. “Otherizing”, as Lesser calls it, is the seed of continued conflict and violence.
I’ve been following the situation in Egypt with fascination and hope. It’s amazing to see people hitting the streets to stand up for their rights and tell a tyrant they outright refuse his rule. It’s priceless to see a tyrant losing control, sending his family away, losing grasp as the people take back the cities. It gives me hope that even when things are bad, they can get better.1
A lot of Israeli coverage on the topic has been less enthusiastic of the prospect of change. Mubarak may be a tyrant, but he’s an American-backed tyrant who cooperates with the Israeli government (even actively taking part in the siege of Gaza). Whatever leadership arises from this revolution will almost certainly be less pro-Israeli.
The potential threat of a hostile Egypt, especially an Egypt friendly with Hamas and/or Iran, is a very scary prospect. The revolution appears to have taken the Israeli security establishment totally by surprise, and I hope our leaders are capable of managing whatever threat has arisen or will arise in the days to come.
Over on +972 Magazine, Lara Friedman says more or less what I’ve been thinking (except more eloquently): what’s happening in Egypt is scary for Israel, but it’s basically a good thing, and trying to delegitimize it for selfish reasons is not right.
This morning, I signed this petition (in Hebrew and English):
Israelis Support Freedom in Egypt
We, Israeli civil society activists and ordinary citizens, watch with awe at the bravery of Egyptian citizens fighting for freedom. All who support justice, and certainly every democracy must support the just demands of the Egyptian demonstrators.
We reject any claim that an anti-democratic regime is in our interest, whether it be for the sake of stability or the continuation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Such interests cannot justify an undemocratic Egypt.
Not many have signed it so far, but I think it’s truly important to show at least some of us Israelis can sympathize with the people of Egypt and view their revolution as fundamentally positive. I’d like the new regime that come out of this, whatever it is, to know Israelis looked their way not only with fear, but with hope and solidarity too.
- The many deaths, the looting, the general chaos, the violence — these are all a bit harder to watch. But there have been worse (attempted) revolutions, and a tyrant rarely gives up without resorting to violence first. I won’t try to figure out if it’s “worth it”; it’s what’s happening, and there’s both horror and beauty in it. [↩]
There’s an excellent essay by Geoffrey K. Pullum over at Language Log, in which he explains — in a way that anyone can understand if they try — what a passive construction in English is.
Our grumbling about how these people don’t know their passive from a hole in the ground, we have received mail from many people who want a clear and simple explanation of what a passive clause is. In this post I respond to those many requests. I’ll make it as clear and simple as I can, but it will be a 2500-word essay. I can’t make it simpler than it is.
Pullum and others at the Log rightly ridicule overzealous application of the “grammar rule” that the passive should be avoided at all times. I actually find the “rule” useful, and this is not incompatible with my agreeing with Pullum’s post. The passive is often used for blurring agentivity (even as it can be used for the exact opposite) or for sounding official/smart. As long as common sense (i.e. a native speaker’s intuition) comes first, I find I can actually make my writing simpler, more direct, and a better read by eliminating passives that only snuck in because part of me thought they sound smarter or something.
Also, when writing for EUDEC, I often find myself tempted to say something like “the wug1 was selected because…”, in order to glaze over the fact that the ones doing the choosing were, in fact, the Council I’m writing for. (I happen to always be a bit uncomfortable with our role as elected representatives, and I wish EUDEC were more of a direct democracy.) But having written something like, and being aware of the tempting perils of the passive, I often correct it to “we chose the wug because…”, which is both more honest and, I think, easier to read.
Anyway, Pullum’s essay will surely be a long-lasting contribution to the Internet war between descriptivists and prescriptivists, and is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to find out, in just 2500 words and without needing a linguistic background, what the passive is. It’s also a neat example of the kind of thing linguists look into. So check it out.
It’s not so surprising that Israeli democracy is going down the drain so quickly. Israel has never taken democracy, equality, or the rule of law as seriously as it takes security.
It sounds like the right attitude for a state in Israel’s situation — until you think about it a little more. The point is supposed to be keeping the people of Israel safe. So supposedly, the state should use any means, including violence, and by whatever process, even one that bypasses the safeguards of democracy, in order to get in the way of attempts to harm the state or its citizens.
The thing is the point of democracy is keeping people safe, too. Continue reading Democracy with a catch
2011 started with some difficult days for Israeli democracy. Starting Saturday morning, the IDF has been scrambling to explain away the death of Jawahar Abu-Rahmah of Bil’in, who in all likelihood died as a result of IDF tear gas (and probably not hyper-rapid leukemia or the common cold.) On Monday, Ma’ariv gave us reason to believe that Netanyahu’s call for direct talks with the Palestinians on the core issues is less than honest; their sources indicate quite simply that this government is captive to its most extreme elements and unable to serve the majority. In its 2010 annual summary, the GSS (Shabak) describes the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah, Ni’lin, Bil’in, and Nabi Saleh, as “clashing against the security forces.” And speaking of the GSS, the High Court of Justice denied, Tuesday, a petition requesting information on how many detainees the GSS has kept from seeing an attorney (on the grounds that this would “potentially harm state security.”)
It’s been one damned thing after another. And yesterday, the Knesset managed to top it all. I spent the evening trying not to think about it, but today I can think of nothing else. Continue reading The Delegitimizers
Israel’s democracy has been showing worrying signs of decay for a while now. Ha-Hem’s “Slippery Slope” blog (Hebrew) has been documenting this decay step by step for a few months now. I’ve been following with horrified fascination.
I brought up the Holocaust in my post on Sunday. The Third Reich, or at least what I know about it, is often on my mind — and growing up in Israel doesn’t help, nor does living in Germany. For many Israelis the Holocaust is the formative national myth. For years now, I’ve been more interested in what came before it — the process of a formally democratic state collapsing into vile jingoistic totalitarianism. The lesson is not “look what those bastards did to our families” but rather “look at what a society considered the height of civilization can turn into, and how”. And this is a lesson applicable to any society. Naturally, I apply it to the society I grew up in.
And there are two very worrying things quite possibly about to be done to Israel by its current right-leaning government and parliament. Exhibit A: a loyalty oath to Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state” may be introduced as a requirement for non-Jews receiving citizenship (summary of details and call to action, by the NIF); Exhibit B: a new “Terror Law” would give the Minister of Defense the authority to announce any organization as a terrorist organization, as well as the authority to strip individuals of their rights (see analysis by Gurvitz).
This may be selfish, but the Terror Bill terrifies me more than the Loyalty Oath. Don’t get me wrong, this Loyalty Oath would connect citizenship with accepting the dominant ideology (and associated religion), making it basically impossible to even call Israel a democracy anymore. But the Terror Bill makes me wonder whether it’s worth the risk of even setting foot in my homeland again. I love visiting, I miss my family and friends, but if this law passes, a visit could potentially turn permanent if some politician’s whim decides I have too many rights. Not to mention I’m worried for my family in Jerusalem — my parents and siblings routinely take part in protests and political activity which may make them “terror suspects” under the new law.
I remember conversations with my mother, years ago, about how being in a country slipping into fascism must be like a frog in a pot full of water. The water is cold at first, gets warm, and the frog must be wondering whether (and when) it’s going to get so hot it has to jump out. For many Jews in Germany before WWII, this was what it was like. Once it was clear they had to jump out, they weren’t allowed to anymore (my paternal grandmother was one of a tiny handful that managed to get out after it was too late; most of her siblings were not so fortunate).
I think as soon as the Knesset gives the Minister of Defense the power to strip you of your right to leave, that’s exactly when it’s time to jump out. Wait any longer, and maybe you won’t be able to anymore.
Comments are open, and I’d love someone to convince me all of this isn’t really all that bad.
- Telegraph: “Israel’s ‘loyalty oath’ sets a vile precedent”
- Ha’aretz: “ANALYSIS / Lieberman’s loyalty oath isn’t unconstitutional, it’s unwise”
(There’s very little coverage of the Terror Bill to be found.)
Many people my age are uninterested in politics. They don’t vote, they don’t take part in social and political movements, they just don’t care. I wouldn’t call it selfishness; sometimes it’s jadedness. And the reasons are probably not simple. But I think one reason is the way we relate to authority.
Like any social structure in which a small group holds all authority, traditional state schools create a dynamic by which students learn to see authority figures as distant, unreasonable, and often malignant. As a result, students disengage. The individuals involved are not to blame, it’s the system that is broken. But that broken system teaches the students the wrong lessons, and twists the way they see authority. I think this might have far-reaching consequences for society and for democracy. Continue reading Problems with authority
In Germany, I have often heard that maintaining state control of the school system and its curriculum is important for maintaining democracy. This argument is used against the idea of private schools and homeschooling: if people can teach children whatever they want, the argument goes, religious fundamentalists of all kinds will raise the next generation for intolerance.
In Israel, this argument has now been turned on its head: Ha’aretz reports that “The Education Ministry has cut most of its budget for the intensive civics classes for 11th and 12th grades, and the regular civics classes for 10th grade, and will invest the sum in the teaching of Jewish studies.” Who needs to teach democracy, equality and civil rights when instead you can push a religion that is now being used by popular religious racists to promote and support the practice of killing children?1
The good news for Israel is that it has a larger proportion of democratic schools than any other country in the world. 2 These schools will be far less affected by these cuts, and moreover, students in democratic schools finish high school with years of first-hand experience in democracy. The bad news is that a major reason it’s so easy to start a democratic school in Israel is that the system is designed to let in religious schools with essentially no requirement that any particular topic be or not be in their curriculum. There are many more religious schools than democratic schools, and I’m willing to bet few, if not none of them, use that freedom to promote democracy and fight intolerance.
Totalitarianism cannot rise without having a firm control over education in some way or another. The governments of Germany — ridden with national guilt as they have been for the past 60 years — use their tight grip on education to promote democracy; but having such central control makes it possible for shifts in the opposite direction, like the one we are seeing in Israel right now. Wherever intolerance is fostered we must speak out against it and fight it. But a democratic state is always at risk of electing intolerant leaders, and in case that ever happens, we had better make sure those leaders don’t have the power to indoctrinate the young generation. As we say in EUDEC, democratic education is a sensible choice for democratic states.
- I certainly do not mean to equate Judaism with this sort of racism. My family is full of terrific people who happen to be religiously Jewish and are at least as disgusted by this racism as I am. However, the mainstream in Israel does seem to support a rather nationalistic view of the religion, and the linked article reveals some very disturbing things. [↩]
- I did not have the time to find a source to cite for this datum (a quick google search was not enough). I have, however, heard it many times; specifically, I recall Ya’acov Hecht saying that by sheer number of students in democratic schools, Israel has more than any other country in the world — even much bigger ones. There are about 30 democratic schools in Israel, which has a population of about 7 million. I know of no comparable situation in any other country today; the Netherlands had a similar proportion of sociocratic schools (which are a similar thing) but I understand that their numbers have gone down drastically in the past five years. [↩]
The term “democratic school” has always seemed problematic to me. It’s problematic because democracy isn’t really the point. Democracy is a tool for creating something else: a community where free learning is possible, as much as such a community is possible. All democratic schools should be run by a democracy, but not every school that is run democratically is automatically a democratic school.
A democratic school is a place where students are responsible for how they use their own time. It is a school which does not try to encourage students, explicitly or implicitly, to take classes and tests. It is a place where people are treated with respect, and know they can expect justice to be served when someone disrespects the community or an individual.
It just so happens that certain styles of democracy serve as excellent tools for upholding freedom and respect. However, it’s very easy to get it wrong, which is why Sudbury schools are very insistent on getting it right. These schools set up very well-defined democracies, because democracy is only good so long as it does not overreach — it has to be there to protect students’ freedom in the present, without presuming to know what choices are better for their future, or infringing on the privacy of their feelings.
Incidentally, the word “republic” comes from the Latin res publica, meaning “public matter”. This hints at a very important idea: the polity (the state, the city, the school) is a public institution, and is something you keep separate from private things.
Sudbury schools use a Judicial Committee which focusses on whether school laws were broken (not on why, or what the individual is going through personally). Some in the free school movement express uneasiness about this seemingly severe approach to justice. However, anyone who has spent some time in such a school knows it is a good thing. Judicial Committee deals with the public aspect of disputes — disrespect of community decisions in such a way that bothered someone enough that they fill out a complaint. This process ignores the personal aspects completely and intentionally.
However, it leaves plenty of room for individuals to address these aspects on a truly personal level. And these are things that come across better when they’re truly and sincerely personal (like talking about problems at home, or about issues one is having with the school or with people there). The judicial process may not directly address the problems that lead people to break community decisions, but it does help others see the problem, which allows them to deal with it. And on the upside, it respects people’s privacy — sometimes you don’t feel like telling just anyone about how you feel.
There are other benefits to separation of the public and the personal. When the community has accustomed itself to this habit, democratic meetings work better — being warned by the Chair is a technical issue, not a personal thing you have to get annoyed about; you can argue strongly against a friend’s motion without them taking it as an insult; every member of the community can apply their thinking to the process as much as they’d like without constantly worrying about the conclusions being taken the wrong way.
When a democracy protects the community’s interests and the individuals’ interests while keeping them separate, that democracy can create a democratic school. It can create a place where students develop freely and learn to direct their own learning and gauge their own success. It empowers students to determine their own direction and participate vigorously in community life.
None of these things are automatic, and protecting them is half the secret of success for those democratic schools that have succeeded.
A friend posted this video to Facebook: YouTube Link
(WARNING: Viewers who don’t strongly identify with the Israeli state may experience nausea!)
The music is quite good, but the words are more problematic. I couldn’t find the lyrics in English, but they can be found in German.
Back on Facebook, I commented on the video, and for a reason I don’t know yet and might never understand, my comment was deleted. Luckily, I saved a copy of it, so I decided to repost it here where people can respond to it freely: Continue reading Doing It Wrong: "Only Israel"