A selection of news and comment.
Ignoblus on Yoav Shamir’s film Defamation.
Via Bob From Brockley: Contentious Centrist surfaces some under-reported news of a separation wall built by Hesbollah and Syria which isolates a Lebanese border region mostly populated by Christians and Druze, and home demolitions by Hamas; the revolution will not be Tel Aviv’ed – gingerly linking to Spiked to give you Natalie Rothschild; Martin in the Margins on Chomsky refused; Michael J. Totten’s interview with Paul Berman about his book Flight of the Intellectuals.
Off-topic for this blog (but kind of on-topic because I came to it via a Labour parliamentary candidate who, nonetheless worryingly though she was unsuccessful, apparently believes that problematising Zionism will pay off in British politics) Peter Beinhart considers some long-term trends in Israeli society and trends in the attitudes to Israel of Jews outside Israel, calling for an uncomfortable Zionism as alternative to anti-Zionism, a lethargic non-Zionism, or an exclusive and aggressive kind of Zionism.
The Turin Book Fair was targeted by boycotters again this year, but they were rebuffed, and Israeli author Amos Oz won the readers’ prize. Umberto Eco was again (scroll to the L’Espresso translation, 2008) one of those who spoke against boycott. Here is something good from him back then :
“I understand very well what certain friends of the extreme left (who only need to turn 360 degrees to come dangerously close to the extreme right) are thinking when they demand such a thing: we have to direct people’s attention to the ominous politics of the Israeli government, so we can kick off a scandal that will hit the headlines in all the papers. It is true that politicians and advertising companies work like this (and Berlusconi has mastered the art), but what is happening in Turin right now is a bit like the Blue Telephone trying to draw attention to the abuse of children by having some of them whipped in public.”
May 23, 2010 at 8:29 am
The article about trends in US Jewry was interesting but left out one imprtant aspect. Liberal Zionists may not be reproducing their own viewpoints but their children and grandchildren will not be Jewish in any meaningful way. In fact they are likely in one or two generations to have assimialted and intermarried to the extent that they are not identifiable as Jews. Since this group has no meaningful connection to Judaism they are unlikely to have a connection to Israel but I don’t see how this is anything to worry about. These ‘missing’ Jews will not be the mainstream Jewish community distinct from Orthodox Jews; they will not be Jews.
Contemporary attitudes amongst secular/reform/liberal Jewish youth is a reflection of a poor Jewish education. If they fail to make a connection between contemporary anti-Zionism and historical antisemitism it is a factor of their knowledge base. If you grow up with a minimal connection to Judaism and with minimal or no connection to Jewish history then its unsurprising that you pick up the story as reported by much of the world. There is undoubtedly a stain of anti-semitism in contemporary discourse about Israel and Zionism yet why would we expect those brought up in an identical way to non-Jews to notice this any more than non-Jews do.
The irony is that regardless of opinion, all of us who today identify as Jewish do so because 150 years ago we had orthodox ancestors; ancestors who suffered intense persecution and yet in the face of this remained faithful to Judaism. Why is it that throughout history so many preferred suffering, torture or even death rather than abandoning their religion? And what says it of the current generation who think not to at least investigate Judaism in advance of rejecting it?
May 24, 2010 at 7:53 pm
It’s certainly not true that all of our ancestors were Orthodox 150 years ago. But it’s definitely a popular myth, popularized by old photos of poor Chasidim in Poland and Romania.
Moreover, it is not a connection to some faraway country that will retain the interest of young Diaspora Jews. Nor an attachment that somehow demands fealty to an entity that has nothing to do with Judaism, but is rather a political entity (a state) with its own interests and policies. Policies that have no connection to Jewish history or religion except by reference to a mythology or set of shared fears or via the fact that the ultra-Orthodox hold some influence over bus schedules, marriage certificates and parking lot opening hours.
Young diaspora Jews are interested in their own history, their own families and their own religion and ethical beliefs. Subsuming everything to an interest in the State of Israel is a fast road to nowhere.
May 25, 2010 at 11:49 am
In case you’re interested, Mira, the ever-excellent Yaacov Lozowick usefully critiques Beinhart’s NYT piece in two recent postings over at his blog: ‘A Growing Rift in the Jewish World?’ (yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2010/05/growing-rift-in-jewish-world.html) and ‘Inventing Netanyahu’s Past (yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2010/05/inventing-netanyahus-past.html).
In particular, in the former, he says:
“Israelis who read the foreign press often have a surreal feeling: the reports purport to be about us, but there’s nothing in them that seems even remotely familiar. So also with Peter Beinart’s recent article in the New York Review of Books…He’s got a number of themes, but his main argument…is that Israel is splitting into two warring camps, one of which is ghastly but slowly winning; that young American Jews (unless they’re orthodox) can no longer reconcile their liberalism with Israel’s actions and thus are drifting away; and that this is a colossal failure of the leadership of American Jewry (AIPAC et. al.) who fail to confront Israel, allowing it to continue it’s downward spiral and alienating America’s young Jews.”
And he makes several factual comments countering Beinhart:
“1. According to all polls and every electoral result since the 1990s, a majority of Israelis would love to have a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel. Not that you’d ever know it from this [Beinhart’s] article.
2. Prof. Beinart seems to think that if AIPAC et. al would confront Israelis about their anti-humanistic ways, the Israelis would change. I disagree that America’s Jews have much to teach Israelis on these matters; most of us understand them in their full complexity in ways America’s Jews never will.
3. It’s also puzzling that he seems to think most Israelis would listen. I doubt they would. Israelis are sovereign, and make their own decisions, right and wrong. Distant Jews (two meanings) aren’t really part of the discussion…”
As Lozowick puts it in the second posting:
“Beinart and most of his respondents are arguing vehemently about an Israel which doesn’t exist, or at most exists in the feverish minds of a tiny number of Israelis so far to the left that they can’t even be seen from where normal people live.”
Particularly egregious is Beinhart’s false claim that Netanyahu in 1996 rejected Oslo. As Lozowick (who, by the way, voted against Netanyahu in 1996, 1999, and 2009) puts it:
“Once he [Netanyahu] won [the 1996 election] he never (never: not once) rejected the Oslo process. He slowed it down, he added conditions, he did all sorts of things. But the leader of Likud was elected in 1996 on a platform that explicitly accepted the principle of partition…14 years later – that’s all – a noticeable voice in American Jewry can glibly invent a story about Israel that contradicts the facts, and no-one calls him out on it because no-one knows any better, or if they do they join him in preferring to imagine a fantasy world rather than face reality.”
May 25, 2010 at 9:09 pm
Lozowick’s “critiques” are a load of nonsense.
1) Beinart’s piece is mostly about American Jews, not about Israel.
2) Regardless of whether the Israeli social circles to which Lozowick refers get a “surreal feeling” when they read the foreign press, the fact is that Israel is making a pretty bad impression (and it’s only the Far Right that would claim this is because of antisemitism). In any case, the Israel secular middle class is in a state of surreal denial, as new Western secular immigrants to Israel (and many older ones) will all tell you.
3) Lozowick’s statement that “Beinart and most of his respondents are arguing vehemently about an Israel which doesn’t exist, or at most exists in the feverish minds of a tiny number of Israelis so far to the left that they can’t even be seen from where normal people live” is evidence of precisely that.
4) The whitewash attempt on Netanyahu is utterly laughable.
5) For a better critique of why Beinart’s piece is wishful thinking, I would suggest the following:
May 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm
Interesting, isn’t it, that David references a writer who thinks that the future of liberal Zionism lies with those who will think like Chomsky, Judt & Finklestein. As Haber says, at the end of his comment:
“In the next generation, if you are a pro-Israeli who stands for human rights, you will reject the chauvinistic center of Israel and ally with the next generations of Chomskys and Finkelsteins and Judts. You will see that their anti-Israel sentiments are against that chauvinistic center, not against a more progressive Israel. Beinart doesn’t see this now.”
As David says: “For a better critique of why Beinart’s piece is wishful thinking, I would suggest the following:”
Now I _really_ know where David is coming from and why he was so rude to me all those months ago.
May 25, 2010 at 11:55 pm
Interesting, isn’t it, that you are just completely unable to prevent yourself from yet another personal attack?
I said the critique was a better one, which it is without a doubt. I didn’t say that I agreed with every piece of it.
May 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm
“I didn’t say that I agreed with every piece of it.”
Maybe you didn’t, but linking without comment , plus your (final) defence of Lerman a 14 months ago says all that needs to be said. Anyone who links, without comment, to an article that believes that the next generation of Chomskys, Judts and Finkelsteins are models of the defence of human rights as far as Israel is concerned has to lay themselves open to just such comments.
Anyway, in case you had forgotten – or had hoped others had forgotten – you were the one who started with the personal attacks, and then got all upset when the attacks came back in spades. Should you need reminding of the order of events, I am more than prepared to remind you, with the indulgence of the moderator.
You are hardly an examplar of the “let he who is blameless” school of thought, David.
May 27, 2010 at 12:13 am
No, actually you started it with a series of really unpleasant nasty and completely personal attacks on Lerman. I don’t care whether you agree with him or not, your consistent cheap ad hominem attacks are the sign of a lack of persuasive or legitimate argument.
I know that your feathers were severely ruffled when I pointed out that someone who pontificates at length on the subject of Jewish history and historiography in a self-righteous and insulting manner to others, yet has not even heard of what is probably the most famous and important book of modern Jewish history might be open to doubt as a reliable source (and I said it more rudely, since you had been especially rude in your personal attack on Lerman). But I doubt anyone else other than you remembers or cares, so I certainly don’t need to “hope that others have forgotten” (An utterly ridiculous statement if ever I heard one).
You have stalked me ever since, and have responded to every posting I have made with yet more personal attacks. I am not “upset” at all, in fact I think your childish vendetta makes a fool of you. However, it is mildly irritating to have every thread in which I (occasionally) post hijacked shortly thereafter with your latest flame.
Most online forums ban so-called “flamers” who pursue other posters with whom they have some perceived “beef” in order to attack and insult them personally. I would request that the moderators do the same here.
May 27, 2010 at 9:51 pm
Let’s get the chronology straight (with the indulgence of the moderator). Way back in February or March of 2009, someone provided a link to an article by Anthony Lerman, twice Director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (JPR). In this article, Lerman reproduced a Salo Baron quote about “lachrymose Jews”, with no reference, page citations, etc. Lerman then repeated his (even by then common) mantra that if only Jews would stop supporting Israel, then antisemitism would decline. I noted that he was, yet again, blaming the victimes. I also asked who was Salo Baron: as a sociologist, I had never heard of him. Had I been a historian, this would have been an egregious fault in me. This was, by the way, far from the first time I (and many others) had so accused Lerman.
Your response to that was ” “Who on earth was Salo Baron?” I presume you are joking…if not as someone who has chosen to make something of the fact that you are a sociologist, you have just demonstrated a level of ignorance for which you should be thoroughly embarassed. At the very least, you have made it clear your academic position qualifications have absolutely no bearing on the significance or relevance to your comments on anything Jewish.” Note that at no time has David offered _his_ qualifications for pontificating on matters Jewish – but let that pass.
To say the least, this was rude, insulting, an attempt at character assassination and a vicious ad hominem attack on me. It took a number of further comments by you before you revealed that you were upset by (actually, a quite factual and reasonable) attack on Lerman – you clearly couldn’t be bothered to make this clear from the outset. All the while, you complained that all sorts of people were making ad hominem attacks on you – pot, kettle and black are the words that make sense here.
As to your comment above that “Most online forums ban so-called “flamers” who pursue other posters with whom they have some perceived “beef” in order to attack and insult them personally”, well, anyone reading your first comment on my comment on Lerman would probably regard you as the “flamer”.
In fact, far from it being the case that, as you allege, “No, actually you started it with a series of really unpleasant nasty and completely personal attacks on Lerman”, all I did was to make a perfectly (intellectually) reasonable attack on him, to be be attacked by you on an “unpleasant nasty and completely personal” level.
As to claiming that “You (ie Brian) have stalked me ever since”, well, that is a load of poppycock, as anyone who read the original exchange would know. Actually, given the nature of many of the comments that you make, I’m quite surprised that you don’t complain about an awful lot of other posters here.
Why do I bother to keep picking away at your contributions? Because you prefer to attempt to undermine, demean and make ad hominem attacks on those yoiu disagree with rather than engage with them at an intellectual level. And you show this in your original response to me, by failing to argue why my reading of your reasons for linking to Haber might be wrong. You just assert that I’m pursuing you.
Actually, I pursue all those who fail to make a proper intellectual case, just like most of those who comment here do.
May 26, 2010 at 10:57 am
Intersting and worrying about how a debate about Israel has now moved to a debate about Jews in another country, in which one group of Jews are portrayed as “good” and the others “not good”.
A potentially “logical” consequence is that the actions mooted to be taken against Israel/Israelis could well be taken against the increasingly used euphemitic “supporters of Israel” either formally or informally.
May 26, 2010 at 1:23 pm
The series of interviews Jeffrey Goldberg did with Beinart over at his Goldblog on The Atlantic are very much worth a read.
Here’s a sample from the final interview in the series:
Jeffrey Goldberg: One of the critiques I’ve read of my questions, as opposed to your answers, is that I’m obsessing about the threat from Hezbollah and Hamas, and not focusing on your concerns, the moral corruption that grows from occupation. One reason I’m focused on Hezbollah and the rejectionist front is that we actually agree that settlements are a disaster for Israel, and what’s the fun of agreeing in a blog conversation? But the other reason I’m focused on these threats is that I think you’ve decontextualized Israel’s challenge. If Hamas and Hezbollah and Syria and Iran weren’t posing active threats to Israel, I would agree with you that Israel is dragging its feet on the issue of territorial compromise. But how can you actually claim that an Israeli pullback from the West Bank, either a unilateral pullback, or one negotiated with a weak Palestinian Authority, won’t lead to more bloodshed? The rejectionist front facing down Israel has seen every Israeli pullback as a victory not for the principle of compromise, but a victory in their campaign to eradicate Israel. I’m not sure you have the sequencing right: Perhaps the Iranian-sponsored threats have to be neutralized before the Israeli public will agree to potentially dangerous territorial withdrawals. And perhaps these threats have to be neutralized so that they pose no danger to the moderates of the P.A., which is the mortal enemy of Hamas. My point is, this situation is more than just an Upper West Side morality play. There are forces at work here that are impervious to the charms of political compromise.
Peter Beinart: I bet you’re right that stopping Iran from going nuclear would give the U.S. more leverage on the Palestinian question, and perhaps shift Israeli public opinion a bit. (Though you’d still have a government that is basically pro-settlement and a settler movement that controls chunks of the Israeli bureaucracy, no matter what the public or elected officials want). So yes, we should do everything we can to stop Iran from getting a nuke–though I’m pessimistic we’ll succeed. And I think military action will have its own dangerous consequences, including leading to Hezbollah attacks, so war isn’t likely to promote the peace process. I’m also not as convinced as you that Israeli withdrawals lead to greater violence. There were far more Hezbollah attacks into northern Israel before the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon than after, though they still occur, which is terrible. And I really think Israel and the U.S. botched the Hamas election victory–i think they should have supported, not torpedoed, a Palestinian national unity government even if it fudged acceptance of past agreements a bit (after all, Israeli governments haven’t respected all past agreements–Netanyahu said explicitly that he rejected Oslo when he was elected in 1996), and then dealt with the non-Hamas ministers as we do with the Hezbollah presence in the Lebanese government. That might have created an opportunity for calm, economic growth, and perhaps eventually new negotiations with a strong Palestinian government able to marginalize the rejectionists politically and impose control on the ground. The problem I have with the Gaza War is less that I think Israel used disproportionate force: it may well have, but war is always hell. It’s more that I think just wars must be last resorts, you have to exhaust the alternatives, and I think the Israelis and the Americans really didn’t. That’s not to excuse Hamas–which is a nasty movement–but it’s a way of saying that with a group like Hamas, which has deep roots in the Palestinian society, you can’t eliminate it through military force alone. You have to moderate at least elements of it by bringing them into the political process and investing them in non-violence paths to statehood. I think that was possible, or at least that more of an effort could have been made. Besides, think how much more leverage it would give Fayyad if he could show Palestinians that he got Israel to really stop settlement growth (as opposed to this sham “partial freeze,” which hasn’t really stopped actual construction at all), or even withdraw some far out settlements. If you hate Hamas, nothing would hurt them more politically.
Jeffrey Goldberg: Jon Chait writes that you cut intellectual corners when you are angry, and he provides the following example: “For instance: Peter asserts, his ‘basic point, which is that Human Rights Watch is no tougher on the Israeli government than are a host of Israeli human rights organizations.’ Not true. HRW celebrated the Goldstone Report, but as the New York Times reported in January: “[V]irtually no one in Israel, including the leaders of Breaking the Silence and the human rights group B’Tselem, thinks that the Goldstone accusation of an assault on civilians is correct. ‘I do not accept the Goldstone conclusion of a systematic attack on civilian infrastructure,’ said Yael Stein, research director of B’Tselem.”
How do you respond to this? And do you in fact believe that Human Rights Watch and other monitoring groups apply a single-standard to their reporting about the Middle East?