Saturday, May 26, 2012

Montreal Protests

These are now about more than tuition. They have become a cry for social solidarity and against the whole neo-liberal agenda.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beinart Is Not Wrong
But the Emphasis is Twisted

Today I heard Peter Beinart and Daniel Gordis interviewed on the CBC radio show "The Current." (You can listen to it yourself here.) The topic was whether or not Israel's illiberal policies are alienating young North American Jews. This may have been an appropriate discussion to have at my synagogue, but the fact that the CBC chose to air this particular topic on its premier national news magazine is odd, to say the least. Here is a comment I submitted to The Current.
I just heard your interview with Peter Beinart and Daniel Gordis on how anti-liberal values will or will not alienate Diaspora Jews from a connection with Israel. As a synagogue going Canadian Jew (and also an Israeli citizen who has served in the Israeli military) I was fascinated by the discussion, but surprised that this, of all things, is the aspect of Israel/Palestine conflict that CBC chose to discuss on air.

Surely, for most Canadians, the crux of the Israel/Palestinian issue is not – and should not be - how Israeli policy will affect Jewish continuity in the Diaspora, but rather how it will or will not bring peace and justice – most specifically how the injustices of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and the daily suffering it bring to the Palestinians, can be ended.

Peter Beinart correctly pointed out that Israel’s policy in the West Bank are odious and undemocratic. As he alluded to in the on air interview, and states more specifically in his book, Beinart calls the occupied terrifies “undemocratic Israel.” He correctly points out that Israel is a democracy for only half of the people under its control – maintaining a 45 year long military occupation of several million Palestinians: one that privileges Jewish settlers over indigenous Palestinians in dozens of ways, most significantly in granting Jews the vote while denying it to Palestinians in neighbouring villages and neighbourhoods. Yet Beinart’s major problem with this is not that it is simply unjust unfair and the cause of huge suffering to the Palestinians, but rather that such actions will alienate young Jews in North America. Such narcissism is sadly too common in the current Jewish community – which not so long ago was more known for its commitment to universal justice, and progressive values.
Finally I would point out that Beinart says toward the end of the interview – and I am paraphrasing here – that he opposes those that want Israel to become a “secular bi-national state” that loses it’s legally binding Jewish character. But isn’t that exactly the kind of state that Canada claims to be – founded on bi-nationalism, secular (with no privileging of religion), and multi-cultural: where all ethnic religious groups can survive and thrive: develop their cultures and practice their religions together. If it’s good enough for Canada – and, I might point out, most Canadian Jews strongly support this multi-cultural vision of Canada – why isn’t it appropriate for Israel?

On the other hand voicing any criticism of Israel on CBC is so rare that I guess I shouldn't complain. But its just odd that they need the cover of it being a conversation about whats good for the Jews to make the topic kosher for broadcasting.

Friday, May 04, 2012

When Does Anti-Israel Activity become Anti-Semitism?

Paul Donnachie
When do anti Israel actions become anti-semtism?

Unfortunately this questions will become more and more pressing in the coming years, as the Israeli occupation becomes more and more entrenched and as the world gets more and more fed up with it. Many "anti-Israel" activists will in fact cross the line into anti-semitism and many Jews will consider any anti-Israel expression to be, ipso-facto, anti-semitism . This does not have to be the case, and it behooves all Jews and all progressives to clearly understand the difference.

A recent legal case in Scotland, may be a case in point.  According to an article in Haaretz:
"Pro-Palestinian activists are planning to take a year-long legal battle which has brought into question the connection between anti-Israel protest and anti-Semitism to the European Court of Human Rights. The Scottish High Court refused to take into account the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories when upholding on Tuesday a previous ruling that an attack on a Jewish student's room last year was racially-motivated. 
The appeal was over the case of an American exchange student from Yeshiva University, Chanan Reitblat, who was studying for one term at St Andrews University in eastern Scotland. Last March, two fellow students entered Reitblat's room to visit a friend of theirs who had shared the room and passed out drunk. They noticed a large flag of Israel that Reitblat had on his wall, and one of them, opened his trouser, rubbed his hands over his genitals and then rubbed them over the flag. Reitblat claimed that they had called him a terrorist and one of them urinated in the sink. 
Five months later, a local Sheriff's Court convicted one of the students, Paul Donnachie, of a racist "breach of the peace" and sentenced him to a 300 pound fine and 150 hours of community service. ...."
Unfortunately, though the court may have come to the right conclusion, it did not publish its reasons, and therefore the dividing line between legitimate protest and racism is still not clearly drawn.
"But Donnachie did not accept the Sheriff's ruling saying, "This is a ridiculous conviction. I'm a member of anti-racism campaigns, and I am devastated that as someone who was fought against racism I have been tarnished in this way." ...
... Donnachie appealed to the Scottish High Court of Criminal Appeal, claiming that while his behavior towards Reitblat was personally unacceptable, his conduct had not been racist or anti-Semitic, but rather a legitimate political protest against Israeli policies, ... [claiming] that there had been a miscarriage of justice when the Sheriff refused to hear ... the conditions in Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Tuesday, the three judges of the High Court in Edinburgh refused to overturn the verdict and sentence ....
The ruling has been hailed by Jewish organizations in Britain.... “The Jewish Community and Jewish Student Community welcome today’s definitive court ruling that abusing a Jewish student due to his identification with Israel is criminal and racialist in nature. Interest in or identification with Israel and support for its legitimate welfare and right to exist is an integral part of Jewish identity of the mainstream Jewish community.” ... 
The head of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Mick Napier, said following the High Court ruling that "we will continue to pursue this case through every possible legal avenue, including the European Court of Human Rights. The initial conviction was absurd, all the hostilities by Donnachie were against Israeli state symbol." 
Napier insisted there was nothing anti-Semitic about the attack. .... 'A national flag is a political symbol and an Israeli flag is provocation to people who see it as a symbol of a terrorist state.' " 
So who is right? When does political protest become racism? Is the official British Jewish Community response correct when they say: "Interest in or identification with Israel and support for its legitimate welfare and right to exist is an integral part of Jewish identity of the mainstream Jewish community.” and therefore it should be immune from criticism or acts of protest? Or is the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign correct when they say "A national flag is a political symbol and an Israeli flag is provocation to people who see it as a symbol of a terrorist state", and therefore is a legitimate target for protest?

* * *

Actually that is a trick question. As is usual in such cases, the statements issued by the parties are meant by each side to frame the issue so as to put their own point of view in the best light. Attacking a flag is NOT racism, and just because most Jews believe something or even view it as part of their religion (sic) does not make it immune from criticism.

Yet Mr. Donnachie is nevertheless guilty of performing an anti-semitic act. He did this, in my opinion, not when he "opened his trouser, rubbed his hands over his genitals and then rubbed them over the flag." That is legitimate (though tasteless and stupid) political protest. (The fact it was in a private room and involved genitals may have made him guilty of some other crimes, but certainly not racism or anti-semitism.) Where Donnachie crossed the line into racism, was when he conflated Israel and a particular Jew, when - according to Reitblat - Donacchie and his friend "called him a terrorist and one of them urinated in the sink."  (For the record, Donacchie denies calling Reitblat a terrorist. See here.) Imagine if a Zionist student leader had done the same to a Palestinian student in his dorm room?

I wish the court had published its reasons. It seems to me that that would have helped clarify the line between legitimate anti-Israel protest and anti-semitism. Attacking state symbols is not racism. Attacking individuals by attributing to them [supposed] characteristics of the state, and then acting on that attribution to abuse those people - that crosses the line into anti-semitism.

Perhaps if the court had published its reasons we could have been spared the following: an all too typical,  school yard taunt issued by the Israel Embassy re this incident.
The Israeli Embassy in London said following the ruling that "it means that a man who rubs his genitals and waves them around cannot be considered taking part in political protest. It is doubtful that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can conform to this new level of political discourse.""
As is often the case lately, the Israeli foreign ministry misses the point and just makes itself look ridiculous. At least Donnachie had the excuse of being drunk.