Tag Archives: Racism

A modest proposal: debate arguments, not motives

Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere.  So let’s just not.

In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion.  In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.

I propose we all try to avoid this trap, for everyone’s sake.  To make that possible, let’s take a quick look at what it is, and how to avoid it. Continue reading A modest proposal: debate arguments, not motives

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. []

Words cannot express this shame

I have been wavering between the brink of rage and the verge of tears since I got up this morning. Basic details on Ynet; more info on +972.

May each of the 37 “parliamentarians” who voted for this thing die slowly, and alone. Preferably of thirst, in the desert.1

 

Footnotes

  1. Note: I am strongly opposed to any action intended to cause any person to die in such a manner, and this is not to be interpreted as incitement to murder. It is merely that I would find it a fitting fate if they were to suffer that way, especially if they had nobody to blame for it but themselves. []

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. []

A response to Max Blumenthal: Social justice for all, even settlers, is a good start

A neighbourhood in Ariel.
As much as settlements may remind of us of evil death robots, they are nonetheless home to human beings, many of whom are victims as well as criminals. (Image via Wikipedia)

Max Blumenthal has been raging against the official inclusion of the massive, strategically placed settlement of Ariel in the #J14 housing protest movement. (See Max’s Sunday post and Twitter stream.) I have to strongly disagree with his position, and I would argue that social justice for all, even the settlers, is a good goal and a good start.

I should preface this by saying that I’ve been following Max’s blog for months and this is the first time I ever strongly disagree with him; I think Max is an excellent journalist and activist and I believe we share many core values. I also agree with his assessment that the settlements, Ariel in particular, are unacceptable on multiple levels: they are built on stolen land, make people’s lives miserable (to put it mildly), and have done much to intensify and prolong the conflict.

However, the fact that the residents of Ariel are part of a horrendous crime does not mean they are not the victims of the Israeli socio-economic and political system along with the rest of us. No doubt, any person who knowingly makes the choice to move there is making themselves part of the occupation. But the fact that the settlements have grown so slowly despite massive government support, and the fact that only about a third of the West Bank settlers are ideological, tells me that the West Bank is hardly anyone’s first choice for location. Since stolen land tends to be the cheapest kind, especially when it’s also subsidized, there has always been a strong economic incentive to move to the settlements. The people who end up making that choice are people who, like the rest of us, were not able to achieve the standard of living they aspired towards, but made a dubious choice (one supported by many vocal members of society and government.)

Let me be clear: nothing can justify the choice to be part of the colossal crime of the settlements. But making that wrong choice does not make a person or their family less of a victim.1

But making this about the wrongs perpetrated or perpetuated by different parts of Israeli society is the wrong way to go. I’d say it plays right into Netanyahu’s hands, and goes along perfectly with the economic and social system of Israel, pitting sectors of the populations against one another. If Netanyahu had his way, J14 would exclude the settlers (alienating big parts of the right), it would exclude non-Jews (alienating big parts of the left) and it would be almost entirely a movement of spoiled young Ashkenazis whose parents and grandparents were part of the old elite (alienating almost everyone else). With that kind of movement, Netanyahu could just sit tight and wait for it to blow over.

But since the movement is radically inclusive – going both against mainstream prejudice (e.g. that the Arabs are not part of this society) and the prejudice of many activists (e.g. that all settlers are the enemy) – it is able to actually achieve something, and so far has not made an enemy of any major sector of society. Only the government and some far-right nationalists seem strongly against the whole thing. And this openness is undermining vital underpinnings of the occupation – whether J14 acknowledges the connection or not.

How? First and foremost, it has ended the prevailing apathy in much of society and made it possible to discuss almost anything. People are very publicly talking about racism, the division of resources, even the use of “security” to silence social movements, and many people are actually listening. This won’t end the occupation tomorrow or in a month, but then nothing else could, either. In the longer run, it sets the stage for major changes to happen, and we may find many more people willing to listen than we did before. The movement  seems to be redefining “left” and “right” so that for many people, being a “leftie” isn’t the absolute worst possible thing ever anymore.

Moreover, the movement’s focus on the division of resources will make it very difficult for future governments to act as if the settlements are the only part of the country worth their attention (as this government sometimes has). The movement may well work against the interests of the settlement movement while at the same time working in the interests of individual settlers. These interests are not identical.

Finally, with general welfare now at the center of the public agenda, and general disillusionment about the government’s narrative, many people will be reminded of how peace is in their own interest and refuse to buy excuses for maintaining the current line of policy.

I think it is unrealistic to expect immediate solutions from J14 – whether for social issues or political ones. There’s a lot of work ahead and absolutely nobody can predict how things will go. But looking for excuses to distance oneself from J14 plays only into the hands of the status quo.2

Footnotes

  1. In the same way, the generation that started this country was both victim and perpetrator, and the two do not cancel each other out — the victimhood does not cancel out the atrocities as the right would have it, and the atrocities do not cancel out the victimhood as some in the far left would have it. []
  2. And anyone who doesn’t see their position or background represented in the movement should stop whining, go out and make their voice heard. The only thing stopping you is you! []

Links: Harry Potter and Terrorism, Apes and Englishes, and more

I’m in Jerusalem with my family right now, and we’ve just returned from the annual extended-family vacation. I used the past days on the seaside to catch up on my feed reader, and I have a bunch of goodness to share which might help tide an eager reader over until I actually write something again.

PEACE: Harry Potter and the Politics and Terror

Dan Nexon over at The Duck of Minerva took two stabs at analyzing the last installments of the Harry Potter series. Both are an amusing and interesting read:

The Duck also points to a piece on Foreign Policy about the post-conflict reconstruction that must be done after the fall of Voldemort.

On the lighter side, there’s a trailer for Harry Potter as a teen comedy and the plot of the series in a 99 second song (both on TastefullyOffensive, both via Dubi Kanengisser).

LANGUAGE: Pullum on apes and (possible) racists

Over at Language Log, Geoffrey K. Pullum has two excellent and characteristically sharp posts:

Other fine links

  • Charlie Brooker makes some necessary comments regarding the commenting on the Norway right-wing terrorist attacks (Comment is Free, via Dubi)
  • John Oliver spreads the word about the Florida couple that foreclosed on Bank of America (Daily Show, via Yuval Pinter)

The wonderful world of Guy Bechor

Guy Bechor, while exemplifying the legitimate fears of Israelis and Jews, writes a confused mess, seemingly sent from some mythical world invented by 20th-century European fascists.

Deep breaths. I just finished reading an article on Ynet, by Guy Bechor, titled “A Middle Eastern lesson“; it was shared by Peace Now on Facebook to “give insight to Israeli fears”. That it does. It also gives insight into a romantic populist world-view, forged of myth and nationalism, in which countries are populated not by people, but by peoples (German: Völker), embodied by their leaders (German: Führer). And while writing this imaginative nonsense, he manages to call those who would strive for peace “gullible”. Deep breaths.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Fable

Bechor begins with a fable of Aesop’s… Something about wolves and sheep and dogs. This is a good way to start, as it puts the reader in exactly the mindset needed to believe Bechor’s hysteria. There are three kinds of players in Bechor’s world: the wolves, who are really bad, the sheep, who are just helpless, and the dogs, who are not wolves and no simple sheep, but can at least defend themselves.

(BTW, is this fable the original version of the allegory in Team America, where it’s “assholes”, “pussies” and “dicks”, respectively, in exactly those roles?)

Genius

Having set the stage, we now go on to discuss the actual complex realities of one of the most politically difficult regions currently to be found on our planet. Except there are no complex realities, since Bechor is so much more intelligent than us morons.

Allow the genius to teach us the ways of the Middle East: it boils down to Arabs being brutal and violent, and Jews and Christians having to create heavily-armed nation-states to defend themselves. I kid you not, ladies and gentlemen! At last, Bechor has revealed to us the simplicity of the Middle East, and there it is, in one sentence! Thank me later.

Facts, of course, are irrelevant. In Bechor’s world, things are simpler, and more fantastic. In Bechor’s world, Christians are being “butchered” in post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt (citation needed). In Bechor’s world, what’s happening in Syria is about Arabs killing minorities. There is no context, there are no politics to speak of, just a people being evil.

Sin

What Bechor does here is, to me, an immense sin. Like certain Führers of times gone by, Bechor sees the world as composed of peoples, acting as united wholes. There are Arabs, there are Christians, there are Jews. Wolves, sheep, and dogs (his words, not mine). Never mind that someone can be an Arab and Christian at the same time, that kind of complexity is incompatible with this simple, simple world. It is divided into nations, these nations are in some kind of eternal struggle, and, hence, they need armies. End of story.

What’s worse, when it comes down to choosing who represents these nations, again Bechor sides with evil. It is the Assads and the Mubaraks and the Ghaddafis and the Ben Alis, and their paid thugs, who show Bechor’s “true Middle East” — not the masses of people, oppressed by those asshats for decades, who finally take to the streets, put their lives on the line, and demand their freedom. Not the soldiers and officers who defect or desert when ordered to fire on civilians. No, the Führer is the nation, and the people must follow.

Excuse me while I throw up.

Morality

But if all that weren’t enough, of course Bechor must also paint the Left as a dangerous enemy.1

[…] outside elements – and to my regret domestic elements as well – try to weaken the IDF via needless commissions of inquiry, incitement and criticism, propaganda, and an effort to taint the army’s moral prestige.

I don’t know, Guy, don’t you think the army’s moral prestige might also be tainted by soldiers trashing houses, systematically humiliating civilians and prisoners as a kind of sport then (sometimes) posting photos on Facebook, or firing white phosphorous on residential neighborhoods? Don’t you think that being put in the position of policing an occupied, largely civilian population, with mainly just combat training as preparation, might be having some ill effects on the army’s morality as well? Don’t you think commissions of inquiry might help make sure soldiers stick to the IDF’s moral code, and incidentally increase its moral prestige by proving it can take scrutiny? And most of all, is a reputation for morality really more important than actual moral behavior?

I don’t know, man.

Truth

The Middle East is a difficult place to be. Bechor is right in that the dictators’ response to the Arab Spring is revealing. It reveals the dictators’ true colors to anyone who had a doubt.

Yet the revolutions themselves are revealing a reality that should have been clear, but is clearly lost on Bechor and his ilk: the Führer ist not the Volk. The people under dictatorship are not represented by their so-called “leaders” — they are their victims.

Rivers of blood flow through the Middle East, as usual. This is a difficult time, and even more difficult is to guess what comes next.

But the basic and obvious reality — one which I’ve incidentally heard from at least two Arabs I’ve spoken with here in Germany — is that peace is in everyone’s best interest. Most Israelis know it, on some level. Most Arabs know it on some level. And finally, we may just see some governments in the Middle East which strive for everyone’s best interest, and not just the interests of the dictators and the elites behind them.

Footnotes

  1. Fun fact: Dachau, the first German concentration camp, was built just weeks after Hitler took power, and its first inmates were German lefties, imprisoned for being in the opposition. []

Burning racism: Eden Abergil, at it again


Via Room 404 / Ido Kenan

Remember Eden Abergil, the young Israeli woman who became an instant Internet meme after posting photos from her army days in which she poses with bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees? (If not, Google her.)

Ido Kenan over at Room 404 brings us some news from the famous Facebook profile. The Itamar massacre has prompted her to re-post one of the most memorable photos from, as the album was called, “the most beautiful time in her life” and spew some fresh unreflected racist hatred into the net.

Seen on the right, we have, from top to bottom, a video of (reportedly) soldiers abusing bound detainees, with the charming caption “death to the Arabssssssss”; then the picture that made Abergil famous with the caption of, roughly, “fuck you, stinking Arabs!!!”; and finally a video of images from the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar with the caption “let’ssssss do a Holocaust for the Arabs nowwww and immediatelyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!”.

Kenan reports that when a friend half-jokingly warned Abergil this all might wind up on TV, she replied “Death to the Arabsssss!!!! Let it show up!!!”

It’s worth noting that back after her “beautiful” pictures originally surfaced, she apologized.

H/t to Itamar Sha’altiel. This post is not a direct translation of Ido Kenan’s post, but still  mainly reproduces the information he posted, in English. Credit is due to him, I just thought this worth sharing in a way accessible to non Hebrew-speakers.

The stranger in the locker room

The locker room at my local swimming pool was unusually crowded on Saturday morning and the old-timers were looking for someone to blame. Someone said it was because of “those people from the university” – apparently their pool was closed for repairs and they invaded ours. Someone else said “how dare they,” until a third woman tried to make peace, declaring: “The pool belongs to everyone, whether new or old.”  Even though I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 21 years and am a heavy user of our sports facilities, I still wasn’t sure where I fit in: I am not part of the gaggle of elderly ladies who seem to go back together many decades; I only know a few faces and fewer names, and rarely exchange more than a polite hello and a smile. I wondered if they considered me “new” or “old.” I think they weren’t sure either, and the test was whether I would express solidarity with their group. While I was changing into my bathing suit I stayed out of it, but when I came back after a refreshing swim I discovered passions were even higher.

It was even more crowded. Some of the population had changed while some of the same ladies were still working on their hair and nails, but now there was a new common cause. It started innocently: “She’s been in there for a long time, hasn’t she. What’s going on there?” one woman asked nobody in particular. “I know. She’s been showering for 20 minutes or something. We would never take a shower for more than three or four minutes.” There was collective agreement. “We” would never do such a thing. “She must be a foreigner,” said another. “If she were one of us she would know better.” A discussion began over which water-rich country this water guzzler was from; surely if she were “one of us” she would know Israel is suffering from a water shortage and not wasting water is one of the highest forms of patriotism.

The tone of conversation was rising to an angry panic, until someone couldn’t stand it anymore and went to the shower stall and called through the curtain: “What kind of long shower is that? Enough already.” The stunned addressee called back sheepishly, “Oh, is somebody waiting?” And was answered with a curt: “No, nobody’s waiting, but you can’t take such a long shower. You’re wasting water.”

Then the vanguard came back and reported: “She’s a foreigner. She looks Japanese.” I knew this meant “she has Asian features but I have no idea what ethnic group she’s from,” but in today’s isolated, xenophobic Israel you can still sound like you are in the U.S. in the 1960’s, before cultural sensitivity and political correctness. It is also completely acceptable to make racial slurs openly in a crowd of people, without anyone pointing out that as a descendant of Jews who suffered for generations because of their minority status you should know better.

A woman getting dressed next to me tried to enlist me: “You can tell she’s a foreigner. One of us would never take such a long shower and waste Israel’s water.” Undoubtedly, there is a plot underway by foreigners to use up our country’s water, she implied, waiting for my approval. I couldn’t help noticing that these high-minded environmentalists, so concerned about our natural resources, are the same people who in the summer insist the windows of the gym stay open while the air conditioner runs even when it’s 40 degrees centigrade outside, “so it won’t be stuffy.” While toweling myself off I tried to de-escalate. “If she’s a foreigner she might not know about our local rules and problems,” I tried, “but I’m sure she’ll learn.” My neighbor gave me a dirty look and turned away, but I saw another young woman flash me a smile of support. I was definitely “new.”

It was still a few minutes until the “Japanese” lady got out of the shower, during which the women could talk about nothing else but her impertinent wastefulness. Out of nowhere sprung a consensus that she be reported to the management and barred from using the pool. When she did emerge, the woman was showered with scorn. I wanted to go up to her and offer some compassion, but was relieved to see someone else talking to her gently in the corner, explaining what the uproar was about. I wasn’t sure if those were tears in her eyes or just redness from the pool. But I felt deeply disturbed by the ease at which a random group of people who happened to show up at the swimming pool at the same time turned into a lynch mob. All the rules of “in” and “out” group psychology kicked in instantly, from the presumed superiority of the in group to the shared hostility towards anyone outside of it.

On my way out I passed two of the defenders of the pool and Israel’s honor, complaining to the receptionist about the foreigner who was trying to use up Israel’s water. In that context it didn’t matter that the receptionist was an Arab; as an employee of the pool he was still “one of ours.” As long as he doesn’t try to rent an apartment in our neighborhood or date one of our daughters.

The dangers of state-controlled education

Schoolklas begin jaren '50 / Dutch classroom a...
Image by Nationaal Archief via Flickr

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.

Footnotes

  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []