Tag Archives: Europe

Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude

I came across this piece on English-language Germany news site TheLocal.de:

Family puts kids in charge for a month

A German author and his wife put themselves to the biggest test of their lives last year by handing over the family power to their two children for a month. The biggest challenge? Managing the budget. Continue reading Parents swap roles with kids, discover humiliation of parental attitude

Preparing to succeed

by Rocpoc, on Flickr

Sudbury and traditional schooling have something in common: they agree that young people leaving school should enter the world well-prepared for a successful life. For Sudbury schools too, this includes professional life – and that’s a good thing.

When talking about Sudbury schools, one point seems to get people a little worked up, at least in Europe. It’s not unusual for Sudburians to talk about students preparing themselves for a satisfying and successful life, including getting a good job. In progressive circles in Europe, a lot of people frown on this; “getting a good job” shouldn’t be so important to us, right?

I think this is all basically a misunderstanding. People don’t like to hear about school preparing children for the job market because traditional schools say they do that – but we don’t mean the same thing.

Continue reading Preparing to succeed

What has to be said – and who has to say it

Germans are entitled to opinions and to the choice of whether or not to voice them. We should welcome it when they do – even regarding Israel.

Günter Grass

This post is about the Günter Grass poem “What must be said”. If you haven’t read the poem yet, please do so before reading the rest of this post (German/English/Hebrew).

Lisa Goldman shared a NYT piece about how the poem has made more Germans speak up about Israel, sometimes even in ways that make Israeli lefties feel uncomfortable.1

One commenter on Lisa’s post responded: “the creators of Holocaust should keep their mouth shut for the sake of decency”. This would, in and of itself, be a reasonable comment, except that at this point in history, the people actually behind the Holocaust are for the most part dead – a fate far more pleasant than they deserve, as it were – and this kind of comment aims simply to silence all German criticism of Israel. Oddly enough, you don’t hear it when Germans voice opinions supportive of Israeli policy. Continue reading What has to be said – and who has to say it

Footnotes

  1. This is not to say that Israeli lefties are used to offensive comments about Israel – but that some of the comments Germans are making may be beyond what we accept as honest criticism. []

Semi-electives: a university paradox

For the BA degree in linguistics, me and my classmates are required to choose some courses from outside of the core linguistics curriculum. This is, in theory, a good thing – it gives undergraduate students a chance to see what’s going on in other departments, and particularly gets us acquainted with some fields related to our own. However, these semi-electives are simply the introductory modules that students in other programs take in their first semesters; this can cause a lot of frustration.

Over the past days, I spent several frustrating hours doing homework in such a course. I remember seeing what must have been the same frustration in students from outside of linguistics in the introductory courses I’ve taken and the one in which I tutored. I think this frustration is an indirect result of the Bologna Process, which creates a basis on which courses from different departments, universities, and countries, across Europe, are evaluated for accreditation. The problem, I think, is that it’s very hard to evaluate a course and the effort that goes into it outside of context. Continue reading Semi-electives: a university paradox

Anti-Germans as anti-Semites

United for global change!

I just got back from Leipzig’s #globalchange festival/demonstration. At one point, I noticed two guys holding up an Israeli flag, and went over to ask what that’s about. It was the only national flag present and I wasn’t sure what it was doing there. “We’re here to provoke,” said one of the guys. “This demonstration is structurally anti-Semitic.” The idea, of course, is that a demonstration with anti-elite, anti-banker sentiment is anti-Semitic, whether the demonstrators know it or not. I tried to argue against this odd rhetoric, but he quickly said he doesn’t want to discuss it.

These counter-demonstrators are, I gather, anti-Germans. This is a movement considered to be left-wing and anti-fascistic, with a commitment to unconditional solidarity with Israel. The paradox of the “provocation” I witnessed is that this was the only mention of the “banking=Jews” stereotype I could detect in today’s demonstration, or indeed in all of the Real Democracy Now activities that led up to it in the past half year. It seems to me like the anti-Germans were the only ones bringing anti-Semitism into the demonstration. It annoys me to no end that they weren’t open to discussion, and this post is my attempt to say what I would have told them if they were willing to listen.

I recently read a pamphlet titled “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere”, a fascinating guide to understanding and combatting anti-Semitism targeted at social change activists. It can be found online [PDF] and I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are involved in any kind of movement for social change. It makes the crucial point that anti-Semitism is:

“a divide-and-rule strategy that has served to maintain ruling classes, conceal who actually has power, and confuse us about the real systems of oppression that pit us against one another.”
(Chris Crass, Quoted on a now-defunct website hosting the pamphlet.)

Historically, rulers and ruling elites have used anti-Jewish sentiments to deflect the anger of the oppressed masses towards a relatively powerless group (Jews). In a way, it comes down to rulers explicitly or implicitly fostering the belief that the Jews, not the rulers themselves, are the problem.

What those anti-Germans were trying to do today was the same in reverse – delegitimizing an expression of legitimate grievance against the ruling class by claiming it’s an illegitimate expression of intolerance against Jews. This makes me pretty angry, I have to say. If I had detected any anti-Semitic sentiment or rhetoric from the demonstrators, I would go berserk. But I felt very comfortable at the demonstration, felt it was a matter of global solidarity, explicitly inclusive to me (with my irrelevant Jewish background) and to anyone else. The first thing that made me uncomfortable there was the anti-Germans with that big Israeli flag. How dare they insinuate that the German banking system is controlled by Jews? Where the heck did they get that idea?

You know what, I don’t actually know the names and backgrounds of any major German bankers. And I don’t need to. We were demonstrating against the absurd situation in which Europe and the world are in crisis yet the number of millionaires in Germany has only increased. We were demonstrating because we’re told things are going to get hard and we have to live in fear of economic collapse while those who were involved in creating this mess have nothing to fear and they continue to control much more wealth than the rest of us. Even if it so happened that 99% of German bank owners are Jewish, this wouldn’t have been an anti-Semitic demonstration.

Speaking out against someone who happens to be a Jew is not anti-Semitism. Speaking out against “the Jews” or attacking someone because they’re a Jew is anti-Semitism. Is those anti-Germans’ approach supposed to somehow protect Germany from a resurgence of anti-Semitism? Seems to me like at the very least, it muddies the waters and creates confusion about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, making it easier for real intolerance to fly in under the radar. Even worse, it can actually re-enforce anti-Semitism by suggesting that speaking out against the powers that be is speaking out against Jews – supporting the false equation that “(the) Jews” are responsible for the power structures we live within.

There. I think I got it out of my system now. Has anyone else encountered similar situations, where people meaning to fight intolerance end up implicitly encouraging it?

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Guest post: Our immoral economies (Bjarne Braunschweig)

For our second guest post in this discussion about economics, here’s my dear buddy Bjarne Braunschweig. He cites Klaus Werner-Lobo and Jesus of Nazareth as the main influences on his economic thinking, and everyone who knows him knows he cares a lot about Fair Trade. As always, comments below are open for your questions and comments.

Mattan and Michael both talked about the downside of planned economics and I agree with both of them. As Michael wrote, it would need an extremely smart, quick and moral observer standing above everything, but as history has shown, dictators who saw themselves as just that have failed to live up to their own ideologies.

Michael stated that systemic problems within existing systems ought to be recognized, and then we should try to figure out how these can be overcome. Mattan wrote something quite similar: “We should see how permissive we can get, how much we can let people run their own life – and then see where and if it fails and how can we fix it in the least disruptive way.” They described the “system” in different words: Mattan called it freedom for oneself, and Michael simply called it the system of the society we – at least in Germany – live in right now.

My problem is: We already have seen our system fail again and again and again.
If you’re looking at 2008 and the devastating “minus” on the stock-markets or if you look at how Greece is crumbling into little pieces of foreign policy-intruders, you can see it, feel it, sense it.

And what are we doing? Nothing but to curl up in our own little nests of comfort – built of money – which we want to keep as comfortable as possible, by any means necessary. We fail to look at the system itself or the big picture. When I am talking about “this system” or “our system” I am talking about the free market, which is run by enormous companies and governments cooperating with each other. This may not be true for all the markets and economics of every country, but we have infiltrated even the smallest and poorest countries with our “Diet Coke and Snickers” ideology and we are thereby undermining the free and less stable markets in a lot of African and South American states.

Our system is failing. Right now.
Freedom for us and the free market? How about freedom for everybody.

The situation in Germany is grand! We have public schools, for which we do not have to pay. We have a lot of universities at which we can study for free. We have a welfare system, which is failing in some cases to provide personal freedom and dignity, but provides money in exchange for sending a few letters of application per month. There is a serious problem, though. A so called “new lower class” is rising in Germany. What they lack most is not money, but education and perspective. But that is a topic, as Michael also said, that should be addressed in a different post. And seriously, we talk and cry, while we are standing above most of the worlds population in almost every way possible. Health care, schools, money, we have it.

And as much as I see the need of people in this country who try to get a job which does not leave them empty inside, perhaps even heartbroken, I also see people suffering on a much greater scale in so many parts of the world, such as east Africa or China.

We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of religion. We have the right to speak up against injustice.
An estimated 70 to 75% of the world’s population does not.

As Michael stated, we as the wealthy people – living among, beside or away from the poor – have certain responsibilities. We have power, in one of the few currencies power can come in: money. And with great power comes great responsibility. “We are all capitalists: we all agree that where the market works, it should remain, because we realize that free enterprise is a necessity for our freedom and that the free market, where it works, is the only moral way for people to interact in their skills, abilities, time, needs and wants”, said Mattan so passionately (emphasis mine).

The problem is: morality and economics often do not go together. Stephen J. Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics, says: “Morality, it could be argued, represents the way people would like the world to work – whereas economics represents how it actually does work.”

And that is, from my point of view, the problem which makes me so angry and lets our system fail so often in so many different ways. We fail to bring together decent moral standards we use in everyday life in our own (wealthy, democratic) countries – like equality – when we are exploiting workers in so many other countries. We fail on such an enormous scale to apply decent standards of morality to our economic system: Speculation on food prices, modern colonialism in the form of land-grabbing (where people from all over the world buy huge pieces of land in Africa and South America), and not enough money and no sign of ethically right treatment for the people who make our clothes and raise our food. That is exploitation and a new form of slavery. We made those people dependent on our money but we fail to pay them enough.

Our economics system itself is indeed corrupt and the only reason it still exists is because we do not want to see the evil we are doing. The longer we deny that, the longer we live a lie in our wealthy, comfortable homes.

Why are we responsible for children dying in Africa, while we are living in Germany? There are a lot of reasons, but sticking to economics, it’s because we exploit the farmers and manufacturers there and pay them hardly enough to survive on their own, let alone to support a family. Because we export our left-over food and milk and sell it for only a small fraction of what the food costs if it is produced in Senegal itself, for instance. Because we only look at our own well-being, our own freedom and our own human rights.

We don’t need thoroughly planned economics, because that would not work and is an insult to freedom itself. But maybe we should finally see where the system and the free market itself fails and that people should always matter more than money.

Some more thoughts on exclusion, BDS and the housing protests

I got two comments on yesterday’s post via Twitter:

If @ & #j14 won't distinguish between Ariel & "Israel proper," why should anyone? Full #BDS now more than ever. http://t.co/e3Ft9IG
@MaxBlumenthal
Max Blumenthal
@ @ Let's get things straight in name of Social Justice: Settlers are criminals.

I have some more thoughts on this.

I

The strategy of exclusion, of which BDS is one example, is a tricky thing. It is effective when the excluder is (potentially) stronger than the excluded, on some dimension. International BDS is an effective strategy because it can actually hurt Israel: it can deprive Israel of services (such as a European-made tram system), entertainment, and a general feeling of legitimacy and business-as-usual. Boycotting products of the settlements within Israel is the same thing again on a smaller scale: if many in the Israeli market boycott settlement products, Israeli factories in the West Bank move back into Israel, and it’s no more business-as-usual. For a European boycott of the settlements to have an effect you would hardly need a couple percent of the European market to adhere to it. But would the EU care if the settlers decided to boycott all European products? Even if all 300-odd thousand of them strictly adhered to the boycott, it would hardly register, never mind causing some shift in EU policy.

II

Although the housing protests are the strongest thing we’ve ever seen in Israel, garnering more support than any political party could ever dream of, it would be foolish to assume that this strength is of the same kind as the EU or US’s economic and political power, which makes BDS effective. The housing protest is strong only because it has managed so far not to step on anyone’s toes too hard. In Israel, that is an astounding achievement. If a prominent part of the protest movement1 should pick a fight with the people of Ariel for the sake of total BDS, the movement’s strength may very well dwindle rapidly. The movement may even splinter. The movement boycotting Ariel would quickly become meaningless because not all tent cities would accept the boycott and it would suddenly just be a few isolated left-leaning groups going on about the settlements as usual.

III

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. BDS is an impressive and important tool, but it is not the only tool, certainly not the only tool available to Israelis who have the time and energy for political activity. The housing protests have to navigate the many illogical and contradictory conceptions prevailing in Israeli societies, and despite a majority opposing the settlements (in polls, at least), it is also a mainstream idea that Ariel is practically part of Israel and here to stay. (This stems from people not bothering to look at maps [PDF] or thinking these things through. Ariel has absolutely got to go in a two-state solution.)

Total inclusiveness, even of ideological settlers, drunks and lunatics, is probably the only way this movement can survive.2

IV

The fact that some so-called “leaders” of the movement fail to speak out against the occupation does not mean the movement ignores the issue or enables it. Actual discussions in the tent cities often turn to the occupation, and this movement has given the Israeli left more sympathy and more people willing to listen than anything else since at least the mid-nineties. But this too is different from one tent city to another, and it’s very hard to tell what the movement as a whole thinks. I doubt the movement as a whole agrees on anything except that the cost of living and the inequalities within Israeli society are unacceptable.

V

This movement is surprisingly open to criticism. Simply finding excuses to write it off and attack all those who support it will not get your issue addressed. If you think the movement should take a stand regarding the settlements, you have to either go to its assemblies or at least write something that actually tries to convince them. As Max probably knows, it takes a lot of explaining to get typical Israelis to even begin to understand BDS. Don’t take it for granted and just attack this whole decentralized thing for not following the methods you support. Engage the people involved in action and decision-making. You might even convince j14.org.il to list settlements separately from Israel proper if you actually try.

VI

I should note that despite my disagreement with Max, I’m sick of exclusion being the only kosher leftist tactic, and will continue to consider him an all-round good guy (as I consider other opponents of the West Bank apartheid). I will also continue to follow his blog and Twitter feed and list him on this site’s list of links. (I’m doing this as a favor to myself; I know nobody really cares who I like, follow or link to.)

Footnotes

  1. j14.org.il is just a part of the movement – it is a decentralized uprising with no real center, leadership, or hierarchy, despite what the press may say []
  2. As far as I know, the only thing excluded is exclusionary messages: when extreme racist settlers showed up on Rothschild, they were eventually kicked out for having shirts reading “Tel-Aviv for Jews [only]” and other exclusionary slogans. The only thing that’s not tolerated is open intolerance. []