March 13th, 2013 § § permalink
From a very interesting article by Shlomi Eldar on Al-Monitor, which is a very useful source of information if you follow what’s going on in the Middle East:
“Reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is stuck, because right now the United States has left Hamas on its list of terrorist organizations,” he said. Marzouk said that because his movement continues to be included on the list of “pariah organizations,” at least as far as the US is concerned, Abu Mazen finds himself in the shadow of an American threat. Should the Palestinian Authority take any steps measures to advance reconciliation with Hamas, the United States would turn off all financial aid, which now stands at $450 million per annum. “That’s a lot of money,” Marzouk added. “Abu Mazen can’t allow that.”
While it is questionable whether the United States is really threatening Abu Mazen, senior members of the Palestinian Authority have expressed an interest in advancing reconciliation with the Hamas government. They claim that as long as Hamas remains on the terror list, Israel has a solid alibi to avoid any diplomatic efforts to advance negotiations.
It is quite obvious that in the foreseeable future, the United States will not remove Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations. What Hamas is depending on, however is the more distant future, when its removal from the list could be considered, at least as far as the Americans are concerned, in exchange for some noteworthy move, such as Hamas recognizing Israel. Such steps would advance the diplomatic process in the Middle East.
But beyond this practical consideration, what is distinct about Hamas’ latest move is its underlying intent. This is yet another indication that the movement’s leader are serious about transforming Hamas from a terrorist group that controls a piece of land (which is how it is perceived today) into a serious and responsible movement that is fit to run a state. The most recent move can then be seen as the direct continuation of an interview given a month and a half ago to the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq. As Al-Monitor published back then, the Saudi newspaper reported that Meshaal authorized King Abdullah of Jordan to relay a message to Obama, stating that Hamas is prepared to accept the principle of a two-state solution, or to state it even more clearly, Hamas agrees to the 1967 borders. This lies in stark contrast to the familiar ideology proclaimed by Hamas, or at least it seemed that way until now.
If Hamas really is considering recognition of Israel, that’s a development that needs to be taken seriously. The complexities of figuring out how it would actually happen, however – what, for example, would be required for Israel to accept such recognition? – are a whole other question. In any event, the whole article is worth reading, as is the entire Al-Monitor site.
October 7th, 2011 § § permalink
When I was in yeshiva, our tenth grade gemara teacher was Rabbi Wehl, and he would often take time in class to talk to us about Israel and how important it was to the Jewish people, how miraculous its very existence was, given the world’s hostility to the Jews and how it was absolutely a sign of God’s will at work in the world that Israel’s Arab neighbors had been unable “to push the Jews into the Mediterranean” – or whatever paraphrase he used of that phrase, which originated with the PLO (if I remember correctly). Moreover, he would insist, the way God protected the land of his chosen people should be absolute proof for us that one day the land of Israel, the literal geographical space, would be revealed as the richest place on earth. “I guarantee you,” he would say. “The day will come when scientists discover that Israel rests on oil reserves that will make the Arabs blush with shame!”
I haven’t thought about those speeches of Rabbi Wehl’s in years, but then yesterday I was read this in an article by Joshua Hammer in Fast Company called “The Land of Oil and Money:”
How much crude could there be here? Bartov and I drive from the Valley of Elah to a wheat field at the edge of a road near the town of Kiryat Gat. This is the site of one of seven exploratory holes that IEI has drilled over the past two years. The rock samples were analyzed by IEI chemists at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva and at Weatherford Labs in Houston. Bartov says their estimates matched the company’s “highest expectations”; if so, the equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil may lie beneath this wheat field. “What you see here would supply Israel’s needs for five years,” he says. And that’s just a tiny percentage of the territory controlled by IEI. According to Bartov and other IEI geologists, oil-shale deposits in Israel could produce as much as 250 billion barrels of crude. That’s roughly equal to the total reserves of Saudi Arabia.
IEI stands for Israel Energy Initiatives and the oil-shale deposits are rich in kerogen, which can be converted into oil if the shale is heated to a high enough temperature. The entire article is worth reading for the science of it, and it’s interesting to read some of the rest of the press about this (here, here, here and here’s a blog post that goes into quite a bit of detail). Clearly there are serious implications for Israel’s future, the future of the Middle East in general and even for the world if Israel does become a major energy supplier, but for me the most lasting impression of this news will be the moment when I was reading Hammer’s article and all I could think was, “Holy shit! Rabbi Wehl was right.“
January 2nd, 2011 § § permalink
I am not quite up to typing a full-fledged post yet, though I will be soon. Still, I couldn’t resist posting a link to this piece on The Lede, by Robert Mackey.
Greek Bishop Equates Zionism to ‘Satanism’ — NYTimes.com:
The bishop, known as Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, said during an interview on Greek television on Monday that Jews “control the international banking system.” He added: “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.”
In response to the outrage his statements caused, the bishop issued a statement, which Mackey quotes in full:
December 23, 2010
On the occasion of the concerns raised by the European Jewish Congress with regard to my interview with the MEGA television channel on December 20, I have to say the following:
1. The things I said during my television appearance on the show “Society Hour Mega” are strictly my personal views and opinions, which I have repeatedly expressed… verbally and in writing.
2. I respect, revere and love the Jewish people like any other people of our world according to the teaching of the incarnated Son of God and the true Messiah the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer, who was heralded by all the Prophets and was incarnated through the Jewish nation.
3. My public vehement opposition against International Zionism refers to the organ that is the successor of the “Sanhedrin” which altered the faith of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Jewish nation through the Talmud, the Rabbinical writings and the Kabbalah into Satanism, and always strives vigorously toward an economic empire set up throughout the world with headquarters in the great land beyond the Atlantic for the prevalence of world government and pan-religion.
4. I consider like any sane person on the planet the Nazi régime and the paranoid dictator Adolf Hitler as horrible criminals against humanity and take a stand with all honor and respect against the Jewish Holocaust and any other heinous genocide such as that of the Pontic Greek and Armenian people. Besides, the Greek nation mourns thousands of martyrs from the criminal Nazi atrocities.
+ The Metropolitan of Piraeus, Seraphim
On the one hand, I am not surprised; on the other hand, the whole thing leaves me speechless.
November 7th, 2010 § § permalink
I took my wife and my son for their birthdays, which are a day apart later this month, to see the Iranian-American comic Maz Jobrani last night at Town Hall. He is very talented and very funny. One of the things he does to great effect is bring the audience into dialogue with him as part of his show, and so – since part of this agenda is quite explicitly political, i.e., to use comedy as a way of calling out and breaking down stereotypes and other kinds of barriers between different kinds of people – he asks members of different groups to identify themselves in the audience: Iranians (obviously), white people, Arabs (making sure to specify which country they come from, to make the point, you know, that the Arab Middle East is not all one country), Jews, Latinos, etc. Perhaps my favorite joke of the evening resulted from this – not that it was the funniest, but it was my favorite.
He was talking to some Palestinian women sitting in the front and then – I don’t remember exactly who said what – identified some Jewish people sitting in the same row, more or less, but across the aisle. He asked them to wave at each other, which they did, and made the predictable joke about the peace process starting right there as part of the Maz Jobrani show. There followed some other patter and then he said, addressing himself to someone else in the audience, saying something like, “See, now, we need to start with a wave. Can’t go too far too soon; there’s just too much distrust.” Then he turned to the Palestinians and said, “Please, now, don’t go throwing anything at them; I don’t know what you brought with you, but don’t throw it. Not tonight.” And then he turned to the Jews and said, “And don’t you go taking her seat; it’s her seat. Okay?”
The audience exploded with laughter. It was not his funniest joke of the evening, but it was in some ways his most pointedly political, and he carried it off so lightly, so well, I was clapping as much in admiration as I was in laughter. It made me wonder what he would have done with us had we been sitting close enough: a Jewish American man, a Muslim Iranian woman and our son. It also reminded me, for some reason, of one of my favorite poems by the 12th century Iranian poet Saadi. Here it is in my tranlsation:
Everyone thinks his own thinking is perfect and that his child is the most beautiful.
I watched a Muslim and a Jew debate
and shook with laughter at their childishness.
The Muslim swore, “If what I’ve done is wrong,
may God cause me to die a Jew.” The Jew
swore as well, “If what I’ve said is false,
I swear by the holy Torah that I will die
a Muslim, like you.” If tomorrow the earth
fell suddenly void of all wisdom
no one would admit that it was gone.
June 8th, 2010 § § permalink
I am not a Zionist. For the first half of my life and then some, the idea that a Jewish man or woman could say those words and mean them was almost as far-fetched as the idea that Jews had horns. Israel – it had been drilled into me from the moment I was old enough to understand there was a place called Israel – was a categorical imperative of Jewish existence. To suggest the Jews were not a nation was not just to be in league with all those who had tried to wipe us out, not just to deny a central truth of how we’d managed to survive in spite of those attempts, but also to cut yourself off from your own people, to make yourself like a limb severed from its body, and what kind of existence was that? Despite the fact that I’d never been there, that I had no intention of making aliyah, Israel was my country too, without ambiguity, but not without ambivalence.
Having two countries that I could call my home – Israel and the United States – brought with it the question of divided loyalties: Are you a Jewish-American or an American-Jew? If the United States and Israel went to war, on whose side would you fight? I remember thinking, when one of my Hebrew school teachers asked the latter question – and if I was in Hebrew school, then I was still in elementary school – that it would depend on which side I thought was right, but I also remember being afraid to give that answer, since I knew I would be told that I was wrong. The United States might be a good place for us to live as Jews for now, but not only did we have to remember that it–meaning the Holocaust – could happen here too, and so Israel, the Jewish State, the place we could all flee to if we had to, was the only place we could really call home; the very fact that Israel was a Jewish state, founded in the blood of Jewish heroes, on the land that had been the kingdom ruled by David, our ancient God-given homeland, meant that it could claim, that we owed it, a commitment transcending the accident of our place-of-birth.
Mine, in other words, was not entirely a secular Zionism. God’s hand could be seen everywhere in the story of Israel’s founding, most especially in its victory over the surrounding Arab nations when they invaded in 1948 after Israel declared its independence. Contemporary Israeli historians have been questioning the traditional narrative of that war – i.e., that the Arabs invaded to prevent Israel’s founding – but even if the alternative narratives that some of those historians have proposed are indeed closer to the truth than what I was taught, I doubt it would have changed significantly the conclusion to which I was supposed to come: that God wanted to give Israel back to the Jews and that it was his right as the creator of the world to do so. The fact of Israel’s existence was all the proof anyone should need.
It wouldn’t have mattered, in other words, that Israel’s provisional government could have avoided the 1948 war – at least according to Simha Flapan in his book The Birth Of Israel: Myths and Realities–by accepting, as the Arabs had already done, an American proposal for a three month truce (cited here) and that this truce might conceivably have led to a peaceful declaration of Israeli statehood. My teachers, especially once I’d entered yeshiva, would still, I believe, have quoted to me the commentary given by Rashi on the very first word of the Torah, b’reisheet, which is usually translated as “In the beginning,” but which is more accurately rendered as “at the beginning of.” Rashi quotes Rabbi Isaac, who points out that since the Torah’s main purpose is to teach the commandments Jews are expected to follow, it was not necessary to begin the Torah with the creation of the world. So why did God begin at the beginning?
For if the nations of the world should say to Israel: “You are robbers, because you have seized by force the lands of the seven nations” [of Canaan], they [Israel] could say to them, “The entire world belongs to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, He created it and gave it to whomever it was right in his eyes. Of His own will He gave it to them and of His own will He took it from them and gave it to us.”
I read those words now and it’s hard for me to believe I actually believed them; and I also, as I read, remember very clearly when my belief started to unweave itself. I was an undergraduate arguing with another student in my dorm about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – which was then known as the Arab-Israeli conflict – and I was citing chapter and verse of every argument I had been taught to justify both Israel’s presence in the world and its treatment of the Palestinians, including the horribly racist canard of Palestinian mothers breeding their sons to become terrorists, which was repeated as common knowledge in the circles where I got my initial Jewish education.
I don’t remember exactly how I said it, but when I uttered whatever words I uttered, my dormmate’s lower jaw dropped, and he looked at me with a mixture of speechless pity and absolute disbelief. “Do you really think,” he asked me, “that Palestinian mothers are any different from your mother or mine? Do you really think they want for their sons anything other” – and here he began to count off on his fingers – “than a long and full and happy and productive life?” He went on to say some other things as well, but I don’t remember what they were because I had stopped paying attention. It was my turn to stare, slack jawed and filled with disbelief. How could it never have occurred to me that Palestinian mothers and their sons were actual human beings?
» Read the rest of this entry «
June 8th, 2010 § § permalink
To me, the point was obvious. Basing the Jewish claim to the land of Israel on the Jews’ own reading of the Hebrew Bible was asking the overwhelmingly non-Jewish world to accept as objective and incontrovertible the truth that Judaism claimed as its own, never mind the implication that the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians was somehow the will of the monotheistic god. To assert that line of reasoning as an argument for Israel’s right to exist, I suggested, was self-defeating at the very least – even if, as a believing Jew, it was a cornerstone of your faith.
“I never took you for an SHJ,” said one the colleagues with whom I was talking.
“A self-hating Jew.”
The other agreed. “My husband,” she said, “would say you were an antisemitic Jew.”
I stared at my colleagues across a sudden gap of estrangement I did not know how to bridge. I had never been called self-hating before, but I understood it meant that, in their eyes, I’d revealed myself as a Jew who accepted an antisemitic definition of Jewishness. It was a logic I had heard often when I was in yeshiva, though my teachers always used it to explain the antisemitism of non-Jews who were critical of Israel: To suggest that there might be a perspective from which Israel’s existence as a Jewish state was not self-evidently valid, my rebbes would say, in many different ways, over and over again, was to suggest that the Jews had no right to claim such a state in the first place, which was also to imply that the Jews as a people ought not even to be.
» Read the rest of this entry «
June 8th, 2010 § § permalink
I have no idea what it is like for an African-American boy or girl to come fully to the realization that it was not so long ago in this country that they would have been someone’s property, or for a girl consciously to experience her body for the first time through the knowledge of her own sexual objectification in a patriarchal society, or for someone who is gay or lesbian to understand that it is the content of their desire, in all of its complexity, as much as, if not more than, what they do sexually with their bodies for which this society so reviles them. The list, of course, could include many more groups – Native Americans, for example, or transgendered people, or disabled people – but I imagine that, for members of each group, the moment of awareness I am talking about is similar to what I felt when I really understood for the first time that you could draw a direct line from, say, the experiences of Jewish money lenders in the Middle Ages to what I experienced when my third grade classmates threw pennies at me, or that the silence of my teacher in fifth grade, not to mention that of the town government in the face of the graffiti on the library wall, or that of my “friends” who stood by while the antisemitic kids in the neighborhood threw rocks at me, was really not so different from the silence of the people and the governments who stood by while the Holocaust was being perpetrated. The world was, or at least was for me, a dangerous place to be Jewish. If I had been born in Germany twenty years earlier, or if Hitler had won…well, you can imagine where that train of thought leads.
Not that I thought for one moment my situation was as bad as the Jews had it in Nazi Germany or medieval Europe or, to take what would have been a contemporary example at the time, the former Soviet Union, where Jews were being pretty openly persecuted just for being Jews. That it could get that bad pretty quickly and easily, however, was more than apparent to me, and so the Jewish education I received, in both the Conservative synagogue where I went to Hebrew School until I was in 8th grade and the orthodox yeshiva I attended from 8th through 11th grades, which focused pretty extensively on constructing Jewish history as one long and coherent narrative of persecution and martyrdom, until the formation of the State of Israel, was one that I felt the rightness of with a physical sense of things “clicking” into place. The personal – and I am, of course, very explicitly invoking feminist consciousness raising as a parallel – was becoming the political; and it was, absolutely, an embodied politics. My body – because no matter how you cut it, it was ultimately about my body – was, to paraphrase June Jordan’s “Poem About My Rights” the wrong body, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. (And if you don’t know the poem I am referring to, you should put this post aside right now and go read it; it is that important.)
On the one hand, of course, as I mentioned in part one of this series, my physical safety was threatened. I remember once being backed up against the brick wall of a building across the street from the schoolyard where John Bartow and I had our fight – I was in high school at the time – by four or five kids, one of them swinging a chain, all of whom were trying to goad me into throwing the first punch so they would have a self-defense rationale for having attacked me. (They had, all or most of them, been in trouble with the police and did not want the trouble that hitting me first would bring down on their heads.) Not a single person who walked by stopped to help. » Read the rest of this entry «
June 8th, 2010 § § permalink
Antisemitism has been a tangible and, to varying degrees, violent presence in my life since at least third grade, which would have been in 1970 or so, when John W – it’s amazing that I remember his name – having learned the day before that I was Jewish, came up to me in the playground while we were choosing sides for dodgeball and said, “My father told me I’m not allowed to play with Jews.” I can’t recall whether or not I was permitted to be part of the game that day, but I can see very clearly the one and only fistfight I have ever had, which happened later that year. I don’t know why John B and I ended up in the middle of the schoolyard circle of boys pushing us towards each other, trying to get one of us to throw the first punch, but I do know that John W was not the only voice I heard reassuring John that I was “only a Jew” and therefore “weak and easy to take.” In the end, the first and only punch was mine. I landed one right on John’s chin and he started bleeding and the sight of his blood frightened us all into running wherever it was that we ran to. I was scared because I thought I’d really hurt him, but I found out later I’d only broken a scab on his face. For the next couple of years at least, no one called me a “weak Jew” again.
Next came the pennies. Still in third grade, my classmates started throwing pennies at me in the schoolyard. At the time, I did not know the antisemitic canard of the cheap Jew, and so I did not at first understand why they thought it was so funny when I picked the pennies up. Since I would often end up with as much as twenty cents – an amount that meant something to a third grader back then – I laughed at them for being so stupid that they were giving me free money; I wasn’t even curious about why they were also laughing at me. Eventually, someone explained to me just what the pennies were supposed to signify – I wish I could remember who it was – but I continued picking them up anyway, since it still seemed to me that my classmates were the ones making idiots of themselves. Then, in fifth grade – which means people had been throwing pennies on and off for two years – someone started one day to throw pennies at me in the classroom; someone else actually handed me an entire roll of pennies; and then a group started chanting “Jew! Jew! Jew! Jew!” My teacher stood by and did nothing, and even after he’d calmed the class down and got us all back in our seats, he did nothing to acknowledge the antisemitic nature of what had just happened. And I was one of his favorite students!
Then there was the music teacher, who made a point of embarrassing me in front of the entire class for not knowing a reference in a Christmas song – “Don’t you Jews know anything?” – and who was mortified when I asked if we could learn to sing a Chanuka song, and who once almost refused to let me go the fifteen minutes early I had permission for so that I could get to my Hebrew School class on time because “Jews were always asking for special favors,” and why should I get out of singing the Christmas songs that everyone ought to know? In sixth grade, in my graduation signature book, Jim wrote on the very first page, “Rose are red, violets are blue/I never met a nicer Jew.” Evan: “To the Jew, Have a penny good time in 7th grade.” Andy: “Of all the pushy Jews, you top them all.”
» Read the rest of this entry «
January 18th, 2010 § § permalink
Oy! So I was, with mild interest, reading over at Alas the conversation that was beginning to develop around the post written by Julie about J Street opening local chapters. I say “mild interest” because I find so much of the politics surrounding the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians – which also means the conflicts between and among all the various groups who have an interest in how that conflict is, or is not, resolved – not only tiresome, but also, all too often, childish. It’s not that I think the issues are not profoundly, world-changingly important; it’s just that I no longer have the patience that I once had for sifting through the partisan nitpicking and political opportunism, not to mention the outright hatred, into which so many discussions of those issues inevitably devolve. Still, the little bit that I have heard about J Street has suggested to me that they are trying to be adults by, at the very least, broadening the conversation both in terms of content and in terms of who gets to participate, and that is refreshing, even though I don’t know enough about most of their positions to say how much I support them beyond the statement I have just made.
What caught my interest about the conversation Julie’s post started was that it concerned literature, the role of literature in political movements, the stance political movements should take towards individual works of literature, what it means to write politically engaged literature and what it means to engage literature politically. The first part of the conversation is about the play Seven Jewish Children, written in 2009 by Caryl Churchill in response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. The play consists of a series of simple imperative sentences, each beginning with “Tell her” or “Don’t tell her”–her being a female of indeterminate age, though she is probably pretty young. Collectively, these imperatives represent some of the positions that Jews, as groups and as individuals, Israeli and not, have taken in response to both the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Israel’s existence. In my own opinion, the play, which I have not read as carefully as I might, and so I am willing to be convinced otherwise, walks a fine line between exposing and critiquing, but also humanizing, the denial and hypocrisy of many who support Israel’s policies out of fear for their own and the Jewish community’s survival, and propagandizing that position as a tool to demonize both Jews and Israel. Ultimately, I don’t think the play crosses the line into propaganda, though I can see how others might reasonably say that it does. Moreover, since it is a play, I suppose that what really matters in terms of this question is how the play is produced, not simply how it reads on the page.
The first comment on Julie’s post is by Sebastian, who says:
I do not remember seeing any discussion of J Street [on Alas]. Before you rush and support them, check at least the Wiki entry… and maybe look into how mainstream Israel supporters feel about them. Maybe also read Seven Jewish Children and remember that J Street endorses the play.
Chingona then points out that J Street did not “endorse” the play. Rather, the organization asserted that the play is not necessarily antisemitic and they defended the theater company that put the play on. Sebastian then admits not that he’d misread J Street’s position on the play, but that he hadn’t even bothered to read the original statement; he also explains that he thinks “it’s worth reading and discussing [Seven Jewish Children], but staging it according to the terms of the author is taking a stance with which I most certainly do not agree.” Presumably, since he does not specify, the part of the terms of performance that Sebastian objects to is the text in boldface below:
The play can be read or performed anywhere, by any number of people. Anyone who wishes to do it should contact the author’s agent (details below), who will license performances free of charge provided that no admission fee is charged and that a collection is taken at each performance for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), 33a Islington Park Street, London N1 1QB, tel +44 (0)20 7226 4114, e-mail email@example.com, web www.map-uk.org.
Certainly, Sebastian is within his right to disagree with these terms, and he is within his right not to attend any performance of the play and to try to convince others not to attend; he also would be within his rights to organize a boycott of the play in his community were someone trying to put it on there. What I am interested in, however, is that the disagreement he expresses is not with the text of the play itself, which he thinks is worth reading and discussing, but with people putting the play to political use, to serve a practical purpose in the world, one that involves human being, human bodies and the relationships between and among them. Some might argue that medical aid is not political, or at least that it ought to be beyond politicization. In principle, I agree, if by politicization you mean the kind of partisanship that is more about who wins and who loses than about finding solutions; but it’s not just that there is nothing about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is not already, always, political and politicized; it’s that medicine is itself, wherever and however it is practiced, is already, always, political simply because it is about human being and human bodies; and to suggest that literature ought not to be used to make medical care available to people who need it, regardless of the politics of the organizations involved, is to suggest that literature needs to be controlled, hemmed in, fenced in, to be kept safe from those who would corrupt it, to protect its purity, so that it can be read and discussed, for example, without the taint of an overt political agenda. Or maybe it is to suggest that it’s us who need to be kept safe from literature, because literature has the power to move people to act, not just to think and to feel.
However one understands the impulse to keep literature out of the material reality of people’s lives, that impulse at its core is the impulse to censor, to control meaning and thereby to control people’s imaginations. Let me be clear, though: I am not accusing Sebastian of censorship or of wanting to censor anyone. He is neither making nor advocating policy in his comments on Alas; and let me be clear about something else as well: I am talking in this post about literature, works that aspire to the level of art, the purpose of which is to explore human being and feeling, not – as propaganda attempts, and is designed, to do – dictate it. I can imagine, for example, a production of Seven Jewish Children that might qualify as propaganda, one in which, say, the characters were all wearing Nazi uniforms and in which there was no irony to make that costuming decision anything other than a simple equating of Israel with Nazi Germany. I would not argue that such a production should be censored, but it is unambiguously a production neither I nor anyone I know would support, no matter how worthy the goal of fund raising for Medical Aid for Palestinians might be – and from what I can tell that is a worthy goal. What if, though, the director of the play, the one who made the choice to put Nazi uniforms on the actors, was Jewish, and let’s say he or she was making in this production a serious attempt to use that costuming in an ironic way, as a reference to the fact that the Jews – and I am assuming that the characters in Seven Jewish Children are Jewish – who were the victims in the Holocaust, are now, in Israel, in the position of being an occupying oppressor, of victimizing the Palestinians.[1. I wish I didn’t feel the need to add this footnote, but I do: To make this reference is, of course, not to deny that the Palestinians have also been guilty of victimizing Israelis.] The point of the comparison, in other words, is not to say that Israel – and, by extension, the Jews – are no different from the Nazis, that the Israelis are committing what is tantamount to genocide against the Palestinians, but rather to illuminate the dynamic by which violence begets violence, all too often turning those who were victims of violence into perpetrators of the kinds of violence they suffered. Further, imagine that the program notes for this imaginary production make clear that it is intended to explore what it means that the violence done by the Israelis to the Palestinians has become part of Jewish identity, in the sense that if one is Jewish, one must be accountable in some way for one’s responses to that violence. Moreover, let’s even say that there is a note in the program explaining that the choice of Nazi uniforms was because the Holocaust, more than any other persecution the Jews have suffered, can stand for all the persecutions through which the Jews have lived. The comparison to the Holocaust per se, in other words, is not even the point. » Read the rest of this entry «
January 1st, 2010 § § permalink
Writing in the January issue of Harper’s Magazine, Joshua Cohen wrote this at the end of his review of Laor’s book:
It often seems that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just […] a textual problem. If so, then the muddle of meaning that must be analyzed lies in parsing not Palestinian from Israeli, but “Israeli” from “Jew.” Only once those epithets have been dissevered can some sort of dialogue begin, between two political entities and not between two (or three) religions or Peoples. Until then, “Israel” will continue to be vilified as a word that means something other than what it should, while all critics of Israel will be accused of anti-Semitism.
It is not clear to me from the review how much of this is Cohen, how much of this is Laor and how much of it is Cohen putting into his own words what he agrees with in Laor’s book, but any book that leads to this kind of thinking, to asking these kinds of questions, whether I ultimately agree with the book or not, is a book worth reading. Now, if there were only 36 hours or more in a day. Sigh.