Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Facebook Intifada

If you are plugged into the Jewish web, or have friends that are, you likely got an email (or 2 or 3) recently urging you to write to Facebook to have it remove a page dedicated to calling for a third Palestinian intifada. The ones I got warned that this Facebook page advocated violence, murder of Jews, and even genocide. The ADL and even the Israeli government joined in calling for Facebook to remove the page. Today Haaretz reported that Facebook has agreed to take down this page (though another with the same name has popped up.) Haaretz reported that:

On the original page, Palestinians are urged to take to the streets after Friday prayers on May 15 and begin an uprising in the vein of the first two popular uprisings. "Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews," reads the call. The page had more than 340,000 fans.

The page was in Arabic, so until recently it was impossible for me to judge for myself. Today I found two sites with translations of the text. They mostly agree, so I am assuming they are accurate. I don't see the offensive quote reported by Haaretz, nor do I see an explicit call for violence. Though the language is hyperbolic and certainly anti-Israel it once again shows how hysterical and unreliable some of our "pro Israel" groups can be.

You can read the a full translation of the text at The Camel's Nose, and an extract that matches very closely at the Christian Broadcasting Network site.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Here We Go Again

"Bomb explodes in central Jerusalem; 1 dead, at least 30 hurt" says the headline in Ha'aretz this Wednesday morning.
Whether this the work of Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, or some other group, it was likely - at least in its immediate cause - a response to Israel's bombing on Monday of Gaza, its killing of 8 and wounding of 17. And, on Tuesday evening, Israeli forces carried out a targeted assassination of a senior Hamas operative in Gaza.
This in turn was a response to Hamas' launching of 50 Qassam's and 4 Grad rockets into Israel last week. One Israeli was wounded in those attacks
And that was in response to Israeli air force raids against a Hamas base at the old Israeli settlement of Netzarim, in which two Gazan's were killed and one injured.
And that was in response to a single Qassam launched from Gaza, and which landed in an empty field. (See here.) A previously unknown group took "credit" for that attack.
(Score since March 16th, if I haven't missed anything: Israelis 1 killed 31 wounded, Palestinians 11 killed, 18 wounded.)
Israeli Cabinet Minister Limat Livnor said today that it may be time for "Cast Lead 2" - a reprise of Israel's War on Gaza in 2008/2009. Somewhere Palestinian militants are saying it is time for a Third Intifada.
All this is a result of the lack of any progress in the "Peace Process." Nature abhors a vacuum, and human beings abhor injustice and misery without end.
So an escalation of violence was more or less predictable based on Netanyahu's "success" in stymieing the peace talks, in continuing Israeli construction in the West Bank, in continuing the blockade of Gaza, in continuing to prove the PA's path of negotiations useless, in continuing to crush the Palestinian non-violent protest movement in towns and neighborhoods such as Nilin, Bilin, Nebi Salah, etc., in continuing the suck the hope out of any significant change to the lives of Palestinians. It was also predictable based on increased diplomatic pressure being placed on Israel, increased traction of the BDS movement, and the pending threat of the PA unilaterally declaring a state before the end of 2011.
Still it is saddening and shocking to see how fast and lethally a minor incident just over a week ago has escalated so far.
Lest anyone think I am condoning the violence by either side. I am not. I am just trying to give it context. In this regard, Amira Hass has a good article (though very badly translated) condemning those who try to defend Palestinians use of violence against Israeli civilians. The Magnes Zionist has a good article in the same vein.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Liberal Judaism Needs To Be More Assertive

Liberal Judaism, especially in Israel, needs to be more assertive. This is the gist of an article in Ha'aretz by Alex Sinclair, director of programs in Israel Education for the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Some of his main points are:
The pluralist agenda of the liberal Jewish movements, while admirable in principle, can sometimes lead us to be less vocal about why we differ from Orthodox Judaism, and why that difference is important.

Liberal Judaism makes a powerful claim, and the claim is that Orthodox Judaism is, at its core, wrong. ...

[One] reason that we allow the orthodox narrative to hold center stage is our own fear of Jewish disunity. We tread on eggshells for fear of saying that others’ opinions might be “wrong” or “false”. We nod our heads when we hear absurd and historically ridiculous statements spouted by orthodox friends, because we believe in everyone’s right to their own opinion, and because we want to be nice. We think it’s important to be united as a people, so we swallow our pride and allow the orthodox narrative to become the default Jewish position.

Ironically, it is Orthodox Judaism that is the main force leading to the destruction of the Jewish people’s unity. Liberal Jews are like, l’havdil, abused spouses. For decades, orthodox Jews have ignored our concerns, discriminated against our converts, insulted our rabbis, and used our money against us; yet we still smile weakly at them and cling to the hope that they’ll make nice. No. This is not about the unity of the Jewish people any more; it’s about the vision of the Jewish people. No longer can we allow that vision to be sacrificed on the altar of unity.

... pluralism, dialogue, and mutual learning must no longer be allowed to obscure the genuine disputes about history and ideology that separate us, and we liberal Jews must be more prepared to dispute the fundamentalist orthodox position ...

A new world Jewish movement is needed: a movement of Jews who are no longer prepared to remain quiet and cede Jewishness to a fundamentalist, incorrect orthodox narrative. This orthodox narrative must be confronted, challenged, refuted: vocally, diligently, persistently. May this be the first step.
You can read the full article here.

Just What The Canadian Jewish Community Needs:
More Tunnel Vision, Less Democracy

A major reorganization of the Canadian Jewish Community is in the works. Under the plan, the Canadian Jewish Congress will be absorbed into a single Canadian Jewish advocacy organization with "greater focus on Israel". In addition CJC's current (albeit somewhat token) grass roots representatives and its semi-democracy will be replaced by a board made up entirely of big donors. Major staff cuts are also anticipated.

This is exactly the opposite of what Canadian Jewry needs if it is to survive and - dare we dream - thrive. We need more Jewish focus on social justice and human rights issues. We need more focus in Jewish education. We need more focus on local Jewish culture and local Jewish politics. Instead, the powers that be continue to identify Judaism with support of Israel to the exclusion of all else. This is a recipe for the alienation of most young Jews over the coming years. As is the planned complete replacement of democratic control of Jewish institutions with the unmitigated and unashamed rule of the rich.

A very thorough story on this pending re-organization appears in the Forward. As to why this story has not been covered as thoroughly in the Canadian Jewish News - well read above about the who rules.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Netanyahu revives the "No Partner" mantra

The recent murders of five members of the Fogel family at Itamar, a settlement in the West Bank, are truly horrid and deserved to be condemned by all people everywhere. And that is what Mahmud Abbas, in the name of the Palestinian Authority, did earlier this week. But the Netanyahu government seems intent in using the Itamar slayings to whip up hysteria against all Palestinians - especially the PA - and to harden its position on settlement building in the occupied territories. (It ordered 500 new units built as a response to the killings.)

M.J. Rosenberg, writing at Al Jazeera, does a good job of explaining how and why this is taking place now: in short, to deflect increasing pressure for Israel to make concessions and allow for renewed peace talks - especially in light of Israel's increasing isolation, the PA's "threat" to unilaterally declare a state late this year, the first rustling of a raproachment between the PA and Hamas, and the general democratic ferment in the Arab world.

In light of all this Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies at AIPAC, seem to be gearing up to once again label all Palestinians as terrorists or supporters, and to fend off increasing world pressure with the mantra "We have no partner to talk to."

You can read Rosenberg's excellent analysis here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Islamophobia Rising In France

Jews may or may not have invented multiculturalism, but we have certainly benefited from it. In fact some level of multiculturalism has been essential for the thriving Jewish existence in the West since - well since there has been a thriving Jewish existence in the West, which is to say since WWII at least. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, argued quite consistently, from the 19-teens through his last book in 1970, for the multi-national state and the multi-state nation - multiculturalism writ large - as the key to an ethical nationalism.
So we have much to worry about when multiculturalism is under attack as it is in Europe, the U.S. and even parts of Canada - a country that since the 1980s is officially defined as multicultural. Leading the way in this reactionary movement is France. In an article in the Georgia Straight, Gwyn Dyer writes:
From the beginning of next month, it will be illegal for a Muslim woman in France to wear a full-face veil (niqab) in any public place. An opinion poll last week suggested that Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the far-right National Front, could win the first round of next year’s presidential elections in France. These two facts are not unconnected.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is in a panic as the National Front gains in the polls, for his own core vote is also on the right. He has responded by ordering a nationwide debate on Islam’s place in secular France, and he has made it quite clear which side he is on: he wants no minarets in France, he tells journalists, and no halal food in school canteens.
... The right is in the ascendant in French politics, and this has unleashed a wave of panic-mongering over “multiculturalism”. ...
Whoever can more convincingly claim to have the solution for [the multicultural] problem wins the right-wing vote, and the National Front is drawing ahead of Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front came second in the 2002 presidential election; under the leadership of his daughter Marine Le Pen it could do even better.
The recent opinion poll commissioned by Le Parisien newspaper gave her 23 percent of the vote, while Sarkozy’s party and the Socialists got 21 percent each. She has ditched the National Front’s neo-fascist and racist rhetoric in favour of a low-key, “common-sense” style that is having a real political impact. ...
The full article is worth a read.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is That Jewish News?

The front page headline in the current issue of the Canadian Jewish News reads "New IDF defence system protects tank." My son, who is not a regular reader of the Jewish press, came home to visit, saw the CJN headline and asked incredulously, "Is that Jewish News? Is that the most important Jewish story they had to report on this week?" Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see the absurdity of a situation.

Of course there were many more important Jewish stories to report on. And there are dozens of general stories of Jewish interest more important than this (Lybia anyone?) And there are even plenty of Israel-centric stories more import and interesting than this one. But the CJN headline exemplifies how the Jewish Community has been reduced to an Israel cheer leading club - and a simplistic and militaristic one at that. Cheering on Israel has become the Community's primary mission, its primary content, and its primary message. Is it any wonder that we are losing the younger generation?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bibi Appoints Jack D. Ripper as Senior Security Advisor:
Amidror's Position On Peace Mirrors Netanyahu's

Major General Jack D. Ripper was the ubber-hawk, paranoid head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command in Stanley Kubrick's satirical "Dr Stranglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." He was not so loosely based on the real head of SAC, General Curtis LeMay. LeMay was the man who invented the term MAD - Mutual Assured Destruction - though in fact he always stove to assure that the U.S. could destroy the Soviets totally in a nuclear war, while suffering only "acceptable" damages at home. The basis of LeMay's strategic thinking was that the Soviets had no interest at all in peace or accommodation with America - any moves on their part in that direction were just tactical feints - that the only language they understood was force or the threat of force, and that any negotiations with them were dangerous illusions designed only to weaken American resolve.
Therefore, it is fair to say that Bibi Netanyahu's newly appointed National Security Advisor, Major General Yaakov Amidror, is the second coming of Curtis LeMay - but this time with a kippa. In an article earlier this month in the Israeli Daily Hayom, titled "Security is Better Than Peace", Amidror wrote,
" ... negotiations with the Palestinians and even an agreement with the Palestinians (…) will not benefit Israel in any way…"
According to analyst Ori Nir,
[Amidror's] approach to Israel’s national security attributes little value to political accords between Israel and its neighbors. In Amidror’s view, Israel’s chief national security asset in its relations with its neighbors is deterrence…Amidror wrote that…the Arab world “does not accept the very presence of a sovereign and independent Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East and will do its best to annihilate it.” Any other basic assumption, Amidror wrote, is “self deception.” Amidror repeated…that Israel’s goal should not be to change the minds and hearts of its Arab neighbors – such attempts would be in vain – but to deter them by force. “The processes taking place in the Middle East are leading it toward becoming more fundamentalist, less tolerant and less democratic.”
This is the kind of advice Bibi has chosen to receive on a daily basis. This is the man who will approve or not any plans to withdraw from parts of the West Bank to allow for a Palestinian State; who will approve or not loosening of the blockade on Gaza; and who will approve or not any peace plan with Syria. I think it is as a safe bet that the "not" option, in all cases, will win out.
But what moves Amidror from Curtis LeMay territory to Jack D. Ripper territory are some of his other recent comments. According to the Tikun Olam blog:
Amidror…told a conference last year that soldiers should kill anyone who gets in the way of completing their mission – and that soldiers who refuse ... should be shot,
…When journalist Haim Yavin, a fellow panelist, noted the army’s orders during the first Lebanon war were to “fight carefully,” Amidror responded: “That’s a totally illegal order. What should be said is ‘kill more of the bastards on the other side, so that we’ll win.’ Period.”
It would be satire if it were a movie. But its real, and therefore its just sad, scary and dangerous.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Is Obama Trying To Outdo Bush?

George W Bush is generally considered the worst president the United States has had in the last 80 years - and many would argue even longer than that.

But Barak Obama, it seems, is trying to outdo him - at least in foreign policy. Bush needlessly started the Iraq war, did nothing re Israel/Palestine, and saddled the U.S. with the human rights abuses of "the war of terror" and Guantanamo Bay. True, Obama has drawn down the troops in Iraq. (There are still 100,000 U.S. boots on the ground there, and regular terror attacks, so lets not get too excited about that achievement.) But he single handedly ramped up the war in Afghanistan so that it will soon rival Iraq as a quagmire - no possible victory and no easy way out. And though he started out with brave words re Israel/Palestine but has since completely folded: obviously not willing to invest any more political capital in pressuring Israel to agree to any concessions at all. And now the coup de grace of shame - he has not only reversed his previous stance re closing Guantanamo, he has done Bush one better in the injustice game.

U.S. President Barack Obama has cleared the way for future Guantanamo military trials and sanctioned the continued detention of terrorism suspects considered too problematic to prosecute, but too dangerous to release.
Even Bush never sanctioned perpetual incarceration without trial. But now Obama is saying that if the administration can't guarantee a guilty verdict - even in highly prejudicial military tribunals - then they can just hold people, deemed "too dangerous" to let go, forever without trial.

While the numbers - 172 prisoners remain in Guantanamo - don't match Stalin's numbers, the methods exceed Joe's. Stalin at least insisted on show trials. Are the lives of 172 people not worth dues process. Are the Americans so sure that everyone of them is guilty - even if they can't prove it to their own hand picked military judges? Is justice so easily scorned; human rights so easily trampled; due process and legality so mocked? What exactly is the difference between Guantanamo and Gulag?

How can America claim to "lead the free world" when it can't bring itself to do what's right as soon as it feels threatened, or as soon as the President decides it not popular to pursue justice and human rights. In January 2009, speaking of his executive order to close Gitmo, Obama said:
"This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."
Was he lying then, or did he just lose his nerve (and his conscience) over the past two years? Actually it makes no difference. Obama is now competing to be one of the weakest and most ineffective most conservative (and therefore bad!) Presidents on record, at least on foreign policy and human rights.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Occupation Has Its Price

No one should doubt that Israel is militarily and economically able to hold on to the occupied territories for years into the foreseeable future - to maintain the status quo or even to increase the settlement enterprise. But nevertheless the occupation has its price. It is internally corrosive - slowly eating away at the the cohesiveness of Israeli society and what is left of its western democratic values. It decreases Israel's standing in the world, slowly isolating it more and more each year. And it has, and will, provoke outbreaks of violence against Israel and Israelis.
Of course, Israel can withstand all of this if it chooses to. North Korea has been an international pariah for 60 years - even the Chinese, once their ally, can't stand them any more - but still no one can predict when that regime will change its ways. It could hang on for many decades yet.
But then again even the strongest rock is eventually worn away by relentless waters - even if they are just a trickle. The best guarantee of the long existence of any group or country is to live in harmony with its neighbors and its environment. In Israel's case this involves actively seeking a path that provides a modicum of justice, respect, and equality for the Palestinians.

Two of todays headlines:
are just two signs of things to come unless their is progress to equality and justice for Palestinians under Israeli control.

Drip ...

* * *
(Perhaps I was particularly struck by Roger Waters support for a boycott, because "The Wall" was the unofficial theme song of my platoon in basic training in the Israeli army (1982.) Perfect song to sing under your breath on a forced march, and generally expressed our attitude to the whole experience.)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

If you had any doubts ...

If you had any doubts that Obama is more of the same old same old, and getting more so every day, read this and weep.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is devising a new Middle East strategy in face of ongoing Arab world turmoil, preferring stability over democracy for key allies in the region.
"New" ???
Well da! Isn't "preferring stability over democracy for key allies" exactly what the U.S. has done for the past 60 years?!
According to the Journal:
... the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait.

Instead of pushing for immediate regime change—as it did to varying degrees in Egypt and now Libya—the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling "regime alteration."

The approach has emerged amid furious lobbying of the administration by Arab governments, who were alarmed that President Barack Obama had abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and worried that, if the U.S. did the same to the beleaguered king of Bahrain, a chain of revolts could sweep them from power, too, and further upend the region's stability.

Bahrain has a restive Shiite majority that has long felt cut off from the opportunities available to the country's Sunni royal family and social elite.

The country is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Some at the Pentagon feared that Shiite-led Iran might try to hijack the protest movement in Bahrain and back installation of an anti-American government.

Though skeptical of Bahraini claims that Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, were instigating Shiite protests, U.S. and European officials fear the crisis could benefit Tehran. The Mideast turmoil has driven up oil prices, helping Tehran refill its coffers and withstand international sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

[These concerns] found a particularly receptive ear in the Pentagon ... [and] were shared by Israel.
According to the Journal, this new policy will be applied from "Bahrain to Morocco" - though Lybia is and will continue "to be an exception." (sic: Since Gaddaffi is hardly a loyal ally of the U.S. I don't see how this is an exception)
So though the Bahraini King(! - how's that for democracy) has also called out his military to shoot civilian demonstrators, don't expect the kind of U.S. (or Western) response as we are seeing in Lybia. And - it seems - the autocrats in Yemen also do not have to worry about U.S support for local democracy demonstrators.
The middle east may or may not change for the better as a result of the "Arab Revolt" of these few months, but one thing that is not changing at its core is U.S. foreign policy. We have Obama to thanks for that.
"Change we can believe in", anyone?