An excellent TED talk about the major shifts in international politics the world is going through.
Tag Archives: United States
[Video] Elizabeth Lesser: Take “the Other” to lunch
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.
Israel and the Enlightenment
The Enlightenment achieved many things, some good, some bad. About a year ago, in a conversation, I realized that one of the good things was eliminating the role of religion in public discourse and policy in Europe. One of the bad things, perhaps, is stigmatizing spirituality in the personal sphere, an unfortunate side-effect of its elimination from the public sphere.
You see, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people having faith in something supernatural, so long as they know their belief is their own business. In Israel, the Jewish religious establishment tied in with the state has never internalized the Enlightenment. The establishment, and the mainstream Judaism to which the secular majority belongs (together with some of the orthodox minorities) rejects the Enlightenment outright, denouncing it as “Hellenizing” and foreign.1
This is no accident, of course, as religion provides some of the classic arguments for the Zionist project and the resulting existence of the state. And indeed, when one views Israel through a naive Judeochristian lens, it’s really pretty amazing that a Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem exists today. This fact, particularly in isolation, has tremendous emotional power, and the state clearly cannot afford to shut up about that kind of thing.
The problem is that religion-oriented political discourse has been losing currency in the developed world for a couple of centuries now. In most of Europe it’s a thing of wacky backwards foreigners and the crazy past. That the United States re-elected George W. Bush seven years ago is evidence that in America this is still a divisive issue.
Israel is swimming backwards in this current. Where the founding generation’s Judaism was a secular nationalism with some religious symbols, religion has been creeping into politics for decades. In recent months it’s been getting positively scary. As such, it’s probably too much to hope that Israel will realize sometime soon that in today’s world, you sound like a crazy person when you claim the Bible as an authority in your favor in a dispute over land.2
And as long as hasbara goes back and forth from sounding like an attempt to change the subject to sounding like the politics of a time predating the invention of the airplane, Israel will not convince the world of anything.
I remember there used to be a load of public outcry amongst the Israeli secular and reform regarding religious coercion (kfiya datit). What ever happened to that? Is that simply a battle we’ve already lost?
- Ironically, certain well-known European fascists called the Enlightenment a Jewish plot. All nationalist projects need an outside force to associate universalism and humanism with, so that they may be rejected. One cannot see all human beings as equal and at the same time consider one’s own nation especially important. [↩]
- Consciously or not, this is using an excuse that has little direct bearing on most people’s current reality but is used to justify gross injustice towards large groups of people. As such, it is morally reprehensible and should be rejected outright. [↩]
Hopeful for Egypt, scared of the future
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. [↩]
Addicted to insecurity
I handwrote the following post on the train to Dresden on December 24th. I had to edit it less than I thought I would. I apologize for the very sparse sources. If any particular fact seems dubious to you, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to track down some links.
Many people have pointed out how society is addicted to the concept of security — in the US, in Israel, in the UK, really everywhere in the developed world. This can lead to some paradoxical situations. For example, as Roi Maor points out, the wave of xenophobia in Israel is far more dangerous to the African refugees than they are to the Israeli public. The primal fear of the Other plays a central role here, as does the government’s utter failure to address the needs of the poor neighborhoods and of the foreigners that gravitate towards them.1
I think another factor is the Israeli addiction to insecurity — the inseparable flipside of our addiction to security, as well as a bit of residue from Diaspora. You could call it chronic societal paranoia. Continue reading Addicted to insecurity
Problems with authority
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