Thursday, April 29, 2010

Seen In Williamsburg

Oh those witty Hassidim!

source: The Village Voice via

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Deconstruct This

What was he thinking?

The video shows the opening of a speech by General Jim Jones - U.S. National Security Advisor - to a recent meeting of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Was he just trying to break the ice? Or is there some deeper significance here?

By the way, in response to complaints by the ADL that the joke was anti Semitic, and by the Forward that it was in bad taste, General Jones apologized.

Still, jokes often tell us something serious about the attitudes of those that tell them and those that laugh at them. Trouble is I have no idea what exactly that something deeper is, in this case. Any ideas?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm Back: But Even on Vacation ...

I haven't blogged for a while because I was away on vacation. We spent two weeks travelling around northern New Mexico and Arizona. But even on vacation, we couldn't get away from the Jewish/Israeli thing. Three incidents were particularly interesting.

First, we spent four days in Santa Fe - a very cool town IMO. One of the major sites to see in Santa Fe is the Mission of San Miguel (see photo above), the oldest still functioning church in the U.S. (dating from 1610.) San Miguel Mission was one of the first buildings built when the Spanish established Santa Fe. It has lots of interesting artifacts inside and an interesting and well explained history. As part of the tour, we were given a booklet that describes the history of the mission and of the Spanish settlement of New Mexico. Its opening lines were:
San Miguel Mission: 1598
They came in search of a new life in a distant and rugged land. Some where secretly Jews hiding from the edicts of the Spanish crown, while others ...
Jews!! There everywhere! While I new that some conversos had made it to the New World, I didn't realize that this was front and centre in the history (or at least popular historiography) of New Mexico. Later, in the history museums, in both Sante Fe and Albuquerque, we ran across at least 6 different books on the history of Jews in New Mexico, featured prominently in the museum bookstores.

Is this merely a reflection of the objective historical facts? Or are Jews big spenders and significant tourists? Or is this just another sign that Jews are now cool, and "in" in the U.S: the emblematic success story of the American dream?

Our second Jewish encounter was when we saw an ad in the local Santa Fe "hipster" weekly, for a film entitled "Voices From The Inside: Israelis Speak". It was playing at the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts (CCE), and was to be followed by a discussion on "the Middle East." We decided to attend, not knowing what to expect.

The first thing we noticed was that the hall was packed. I don't mean full. I mean packed: people sitting in the aisles; SRO. I estimate that there were 500 people. Second, the film was not bad (except for the unnecessary and overbearing text and narration that strung the interviews together.) It was mostly interviews with Israeli leftists of various stripes: some well known (Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avneri, Jeff Halper) and some less well known. They mostly represented organizations working in the ground in anti-occupation or civil rights: ICAHD, Tayush, B'Tselem, Machsom Watch, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence. Their main point- that what is being done in the territories is a "shande" and - in addition to what it is doing to the Palestinians - is a moral cancer on Israeli society itself.

The discussion afterwards was surprisingly civil. Most of the audience was sympathetic to the films point of view, though there were a few traditional "pro- Israel" voices. On woman, who informed us that she had "Jewish blood" (in her veins, presumably, not on her hands) was particularly viscous and outspoken in her anti-Israel rhetoric, but she was politely ignored by most of the audience who seemed to view her as an embarrassment. The tone was set by about a dozen Israeli and Arab high-school students from a local international school, many of whom said they were moved by this film, that it showed fact and a point of view they never heard in their home countries, and it that would spur them to work for peace and reconciliation when they returned home.

One of the comments came from a local leader of Another Jewish Voice, a local Jewish anti-occupation group. He invited people to join, and he explained that they were currently raising money for a water treatment plant in Gaza (to replace the one bombed by Israel in the recent war). We gave him $20.

Our third Jewish encounter, occurred on the last day of our trip. We went to see the Miss Indian World competition, part of the week long Gathering of the Nations in Albuquerque. Far from being a beauty contest, this turned out to be more like a mass Bat-Mitzvah (though the participants were 18-22, not 12-13.) The young women, each in their turn, demonstrated their mastery of some aspect of their particular native culture: whether it was quilting, cooking, dancing, or history. In addition, the introductory remarks, which emphasized the struggle of Indians to retain the best of their native cultures while adapting to the best of North American culture, reminded me of the Reconstructionist credo of trying to "Live in Two Civilizations."

But the real Jewish angle was in the "half time" entertainment. It was Tamara Podemski! We know Tamara. She went to summer camp with our children. Her grandfather was in Hashomer Hatzair with my mother in Poland in the 1930s! Tamara is half Indian half Jewish. Her mother is Ojibwa, and her father Israeli. She was introduced as "representing the Ojibwa and Hebrew tribes", and indeed one of her songs was sung in Hebrew, English and Ojibwa.

Talk about living in two civilizations !

Friday, April 09, 2010

Heavy Hand Smacks Down Those Those That Expose IDF Crimes

The Israeli court's gag order on the Anat Kamm affair has been lifted. (See my previous postings on this here.)

Anat Kamm the 23 year old who leaked documents incriminating senior IDF officers of approving targeted assassinations of Palestinians, in violation of Israeli law, is being charged with “serious espionage” – for “gathering” and “divulging” classified information "out of ideological motivations and with the intent to damage the security of the state.” The prosecution is said to be asking for a 20 year sentence. Kamm has been under house arrest since December.

Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, currently in London, who received the documents and broke the story in Haaretz, is formally being sought for questioning. Informally he claims he has been told that as soon as he sets foot in Israel, he to will be charged with "crimes related to espionage"

This is a travesty. Think Daniel Ellsberg. Kamm and Blau should be given prizes for exposing the military's crimes and lies. The Israeli justice officials should be investigating the IDF generals (including the current chief of staff) who gave the illegal orders. But instead they are willing tools of the IDF and are helping to strengthen growing anti-democratic tendencies in Israel.

Right wing members of the governing coalition have called for both Kamm and Blau to be charged with treason (maximum penalty life in prison) and for patriotic citizens to boycott Haaretz.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Can Non-Violence Work When Nobody Gives a Damn?

Israeli authorities are doing every they can to shut down the growing "Third Intefada" - unarmed mass demonstrations and boycotts by the Palestinians and their (few) Israeli and foreign allies. And everything includes: arbitrary arrests, militarily enforced "closed areas", and where neccessary increased state violence up to and including the killing of demonstrators.

This appeared in an AP story from April 6:

... the Israeli military said late Monday its two investigations found wrongdoing by soldiers in the killing of four Palestinians in the West Bank last month.

One probe looked into a March 20 incident in which two Palestinians were shot dead. Troops claimed they fired rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration, but the investigation said they were "apparently" live rounds, terming the incident unnecessary" and saying it will be investigated further.

The following day in the same area, troops killed two men they believed were trying to attack them. The military said it was weighing disciplinary steps in that case.
Unnecessary? Disciplinary action? Why did this story not get picked up by the MSM, in Israel or around the world?

Why not bring manslaughter of murder charges?

Imagine if significant numbers of the American population (albiet in the "North") had not been moved and outraged by the killing of Medger Evers, of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Imagine if the Federal Government had not sent in (outside) FBI agents to investigate (using federal civil rights laws, not state murder laws.) Imagine if Bull Conners' Birmingham Police Department had been left alone to "protect the rights" of blacks and to investigate all the lynchings, murders, and bombings against black people (many of those committed by the police themselves.) Finally, recall that the famous march from Selma to Montgomery was initially blocked by State Troopers, and it was only when President Johnson - backed by the outrage of "northern liberals" at the State Troopers' violence, sent Federal troops to protect the marchers, that the march succeeded.

But in Israel (and around the world) not too many of the powerful or privileged are outraged by the killing of Palestinean demonstrators.

Can a strategy of non-violence work when people in power care nothing about injustice, or when influencial segments of public opinion are moved by neither blatent discrimination, violent repression, nor even murder?

You couldn't have had a Martin Luther King without sympathic northern liberals, or without sympathetic, activist, and powerful Federal institutions.

Support the Sheikh Jarrah Activists

I am re-posting the following verbatim and in full. The original appeared here.

An Urgent Appeal for Donations from the Sheikh Jarrah Activists

The small struggle for the rights of the Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem is quickly turning into a veritable social movement. Each Friday, hundreds of protesters from all over Israel congregate in the small neighborhood, standing shoulder to shoulder with the local Palestinians. On March 6th, more than 4,000 people descended on the neighborhood for one of the largest and most inspiring Israeli-Palestinian rallies in recent history. Due to the growing momentum of these protests, Israelis can no longer turn a blind eye to their government’s irrational and immoral policy of “Judaizing” East Jerusalem, and the international community, led by the White House, is finally taking a resolute stance on this key issue. Many commentators in Israel and around the world view what came to be known as the Sheikh Jarrah Movement as the new promise for the Israeli peace camp (examples here, here, here, here, and here).

Unsurprisingly, Israeli authorities have not remained silent in the face of this burgeoning movement. More than a hundred activists have been arrested since December 2009 and the Jerusalem Police is now beginning to press charges against dozens of them on the pretext of “illegal assembly”. The crackdown had recently escalated when policemen arrived at the doorstep of one of the activists during the Shabbat dinner, taking the activist into custody without legal warrant.

Even though the legality of the Sheikh Jarrah protests had been repeatedly reaffirmed by all three instances of the Israeli court, the police are unyielding in their attempt to crush them. And, while we are confident that the court will continue to uphold our right to protest against the intolerable injustice of the occupation, the Jerusalem Police’s politically motivated war of legal attrition against the Sheikh Jarrah movement is taking its toll on the activists.

Legal costs are mounting. The much appreciated voluntary work of a few dedicated lawyers is no longer sufficient to counter the upcoming wave of indictments or to enable the activists to appeal against Police persecution. And so, while we have been able to launch and maintain this struggle without funds or institutional support, we must turn to you for help at this crucial moment. We are in desperate need of a legal fund in order to defray the costs of supplying more than 100 activists with the appropriate legal defense, and to continue our string of legal victories against an overly politicized Police.

Donations to the Sheikh Jarrah movement are processed by the New Mexico based Taos Peace House, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and maintained by Grassroots Jerusalem a registered Israeli nonprofit organization.

Please visit the donate page on our website to make your contribution today.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Exception That Proves The Rule:
Israel allows clothes, shoes into Gaza for first time since Hamas takeover

According to a story in today's Haaretz:
Israel allowed a shipment of clothes and shoes to be delivered to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday for the first time in its almost three-year-old blockade of the Hamas-controlled enclave.
And this small exception just proves how cruel and illegal the blockade is.

Israel bans the shipment of most goods to Gaza on the grounds that Hamas could use them for military purposes. But its list of controlled goods includes items that have no apparent military value, such as children's crayons and books, shoes and clothing, cement, plumbing supplies, and nails, etc. - virtually everything except food and medicine (and even these are allowed in only limited amounts.)

Gaza has been getting most of its consumer goods via tunnels from neighbouring Egypt operated by smugglers who add on hefty surcharges. But of course, these are the very same tunnels that Israel bombs periodically - claiming they are used to smuggle weapons.

Israel claims that it imposed the blockade to prevent Hamas from attaining weapons and other material to be used in attacking Israel. But the blockade itself is now itself a causus belli as far as Hamas is concerned. And they have international law on their side. Remember that Israel attacked first in the Six Day War, because Egypt threatened to blockade the Straights of Tiran and stop ships headed for the Israeli port of Eilat. (It was only a threat and never applied. Israel, despite some voices to the contrary, attacked Egypt before any ship arrived at Tiran and actually tested Egyptian resolve.)

In contrast to Egypt's threatened partial blockade, Israel has maintained a near total blockade of Gaza for three years now. More than a year after the destruction of the Gaza War, virtually nothing has been rebuilt, since the cement and other materials needed to rebuild are not available. Malnutrition is on the rise in Gaza. Unemployment stands at approx 80% !!!

The real reason that Israel originally imposed such a broad and total blockade was to topple the Hamas government. It hoped that these extreme sanctions would prompt the Gazan people to rise up and overthrow the Hamas regime. This clearly is not working, and it will not work.

In general, sanctions may help move an enlightened leadership to think twice and compromise on the issue at at hand - think South Africa - but it also builds popular solidarity behind the leadership - think Rhodesia or Cuba - and in non democratic regimes the very lack of generally available resources increases the power of the rulers, since they personally and institutionally are assured access to what is available, and also control the rationing and/or distribution of these resources to the masses - think Zimbabwe or Cuba. (BTW there is also a lesson here for those who advocate sanctions against Iran, as well as those promoting BDS against Israel - success is not guaranteed)

The Israeli government long ago understood that the blockade will not lead to Hamas overthrow by the people. So at this point, the goal of such a total blockade seems mere cruelty and retribution - to punish the Gazan people for not opposing Hamas.

* * *

Meanwhile, the Free Gaza Movement has announced a coalition to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. It also announced the purchase of a 1200 tonne cargo ship, the forth in its fleet of planned blockade runners. The ship has been renamed the Rachel Corrie, in memory of the 23-year-old solidarity activist crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza.

I see a Palestinian version of the movie "Exodus" in the offing.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Don't Mess with the IDF:
Israeli Journalist in Hiding

Related to my previous posting about the secret arrest and trial of Israeli journalist Anat Kam, it now turns out that another journalist, Haaretz senior correspondent Uri Blau, is in hiding in London fearing that he too will be arrested and held in camera if he returns to Israel.

According to the Independent (and thanks to the Promised Land blog for the lead):
An Israeli journalist is in hiding in Britain, The Independent can reveal, over fears that he may face charges in the Jewish state in connection with his investigation into the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank.

Uri Blau, a reporter at Israel's liberal newspaper, Haaretz, left town three months ago for Asia and is now in London. Haaretz is understood to be negotiating the terms of his return to Israel with prosecutors, according to an Israeli source, who declined to be identified, because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The news of Mr Blau's extended absence comes just days after it emerged that another Israeli journalist, Anat Kam, has been held under house arrest for the last three months on charges that she leaked classified documents to the press while completing her military service.

Although no media outlet or journalist has been specifically named as the recipient of the classified information, there is speculation on Israeli blogs that Ms Kam gave documents to Mr Blau that formed the basis of a story he wrote in November 2008.
Why the heavy handed and Kafkaesque crack down? The Independent continues:
In his article for Haaretz, Mr Blau reported that one or two Islamic Jihad militants killed in Jenin in June 2007 had been targeted for assassination in apparent violation of a ruling issued six months earlier by Israel's supreme court.
The story alleged that the order to assassinate Ziad Malisha was given by General Yair Naveh and approved and modified slightly by Gen Moti Ashkenazi (photo above), now chief of staff of the IDF. If true, both these generals would be liable for criminal charges in Israel (though the likelihood of any Israeli prosecutor attempting this are close to zero.) More to the point, they would be open to a civil suit in Israel, and possible criminal charged in various international courts.

And IDF generals don't like having their ethics challenged and more importantly having to worry about travel to Europe. Look at how hard they have resisted the Goldstone Report's call for an open and independent investigation into the Gaza War. (The Israeli press indicated that both the PM's office and the Israeli Foreign Ministry were inclined to agree to one, in light of strong international pressure, but it was vetoed by the IDF with strong backing from Defense Minister - and former IDF Chief Of Staff - Barak.)

Secret arrests and trials are rare in Israel, and have never (as far as we know) been used against journalists. I guess the generals are getting particularly testy, and in Israel the military brass usually gets what they want.

I am sure the lesson will not been lost on other Israeli journalists. The "free press" better not mess with the IDF.