I’ll be back next week.
A graduate of Brandeis University reflects on the recent student protest against the invitation of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to be the commencement speaker:
I am not unfamiliar with the community behind these recriminations: I was once part of it. At the height of the Second Intifada, I was a regular attendant of teach-ins and peace rallies in support of the Palestinian cause. I attended vigils for Palestinians (they were never held for dead Israelis) killed during Israeli military operations and read Rashid Khalidi with Prof. Gordon Fellman (PAX). I was a consummate progressive Jewish Brandeisian. I thought Fran Fanon had a right to take up arms but Vladimir Jabotinsky did not and cited as often as I could that Brandeis, though built on Jewish values, “was not a Jewish school.” When I found out my first-year roommate was Indian, I was relieved.
My familiarity with this community allows me to understand that the debate over the Oren selection is not out of spite but that it stems from the close relationship that exists between Brandeis, its students and Judaism. Brandeis is where a number of Jews are exposed to substantive critiques of Israeli policy for the first time. Armed only with mediocre day-school defenses of the Jewish state, this soon spirals out of control. The debate is no longer about Israeli policy. It is about identity.
How are students supposed to react when their intellectual development takes place in an environment in which professors insist that all identity is a social construct? Torah school memories of Herzl’s “If you will it, it is no legend” fail in the face of Weber or Adorno. Many Jewish Brandesians lack the vocabulary to defend Jewish sovereignty. Add to this the global aversion to Zionism, and some of us don’t stand a chance. Pretty soon, a school founded on Jewish values is protesting the invitation of an official from the only true democracy in the Middle East. No such debate took place when Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal spoke in 2006.
Though masquerading as a statement against Israeli policy, this debate is the predictable (yet surreal) culmination of an intellectual atmosphere which scorns particularism, deconstructs all elements of identity and which is nauseated by the notion of Jewish power. We are all implicated in this as alumni, students, faculty and administrators.
Steven Lupet, a law professor at Northwestern University, recounts [pdf] his surprise when a French student asked if she could write a paper on the Rosenberg atomic spy case—a topic, he suspected, few of his American students knew about.
Lupet was even more surprised when the student told him that the Rosenberg case is part of the curriculum in French secondary schools.
Why did they study the Rosenberg case in high school? “In France,” the student said, “we had the Dreyfus case, and the Rosenbergs were the American equivalent.” Or so she had been taught.
The not-so-subtle message: “Hey kids, don’t beat yourself up over French anti-semitism and Alfred Dreyfus. Even the ostensibly ‘enlightened’ Americans were guilty of travesties of justice motivated by anti-semitism.”
Lupet points out the flaws underlying this lesson:
There are of course some passing similarities between the 1894 court martial of Alfred Dreyfus and the 1951 Rosenberg trial. In both cases, Jews were accused of betraying their country to a foreign power; both prosecutions were accompanied by a good deal of xenophobic hysteria; and both cases eventually inspired popular demonstrations and international protests in support of the accused. But the resemblance really stops there.
Alfred Dreyfus suffered a terrible injustice and an awful ordeal, but no one today doubts his innocence. Nor does anyone question Dreyfus’s unshakeable devotion to France. The Rosenbergs, in contrast, were devoted members of the American Communist Party. Julius Rosenberg – perhaps with Ethel’s assistance or perhaps only with her assent – recruited others to the Party, and illegally provided sensitive military and industrial information to the Soviet Union both during and after World War II.
It is easy to understand why the French would want to equate the Dreyfus affair with the Rosenberg case. The comparison makes France look good. Not only can they point to a purported anti- Semitic frenzy in the United States, but they can also claim that the French response was ultimately superior. Although it took over a decade, Dreyfus received justice and, more importantly, anti- Semitism was unmasked and discredited.
The Rosenbergs were treated far differently in the United States. Despite international calls for clemency – from Pope Pius XII, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Einstein, among others – President Eisenhower refused to commute their death sentences (even after receiving Ethel’s heartbreaking plea for mercy on behalf of her two small children).
Thus, it could be claimed – as my student did – that both France and the United States had grappled with anti-Semitism in their judicial systems, and that France had dealt with the issue more fairly and forthrightly.
Any time a group of Jewish-Americans announces plans to lobby against Israel, that’s considered news. But, when Egyptian-Americans plan to lobby against Egypt…eh, not so much.
According to this report in the Egyptian magazine Al Masry Al Youm:
A group of Egyptians in the United States are hoping to work together to push for democratic reform in their home country. The Alliance of Egyptian-Americans held a meeting in New York this week, titled “The Future of Democracy in Egypt,” to discuss the path to reform.
The alliance condemned Egypt’s extension of its state of emergency and described U.S. President Barack Obama’s position on the renewal of the law as “unclear,” expressing deep concern over what they considered a lukewarm response to the Emergency Law from the White House. The Emergency Law has been in force for almost 30 years and gives the government sweeping powers of arrest.
Members of the alliance said the Emergency Law goes against American values, human rights, and the aspirations of Egyptians. The alliance urged President Obama to fulfill pledges he has made to support the right of nations to introduce change.
The current state of affairs in Egypt will eventually harm the strategic and national interests of the US, participants in the meeting said.
Mokhtar Kamel, vice president of the Coalition of Egyptian Organizations in North America, said the alliance is launching a wide-scale campaign to raise funds from expatriate Egyptians in the U.S. to support candidates for the Congressional elections. This effort, he added, is intended to help Egyptian expatriates become involved in the American political process with a view to forming an Egyptian lobby…that would allow expatriate Egyptians to pressure on members of the American Congress to take decisions in favor of democracy in Egypt.
To date, I haven’t seen any other news outlet reporting on this development—which is a shame, since this news comes at a time when the Obama administration offered only a minor rebuke to President Mubarak, who is extending the state of emergency law despite a 2005 promise to end it. Meanwhile, the State Department is preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over a Cairo proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment.
A few weeks back, I blogged about a letter sent by the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt (a group that includes prominent neoconservatives like Robert Kagan and representatives of Human Rights Watch.) Here’s their latest letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
In our last letter to you, dated April 7, 2010, we outlined the importance of democracy in Egypt to the region, the United States, and the world in general, and we recommended a set of action items. In light of the renewal of the state of emergency, we are more convinced than ever of the importance of U.S. engagement. We urge you to persuade President Mubarak to lift the state of emergency now, as the critical elections period begins, and to release detainees held under the emergency law for clearly political offenses, while bringing all cases within a legitimate legal framework.
Madame Secretary, this is a bipartisan issue, and we strongly encourage you to act quickly and effectively. The renewal of the state of emergency heightens our concern that the administration’s practice of quiet diplomacy is not bearing fruit. As a major aid contributor to and strategic partner of Egypt, the United States is uniquely positioned to engage the Egyptian government and civil society and encourage them along a path toward reform. The time to use that leverage is now.
As usual, the proponents of democracy and a “just foreign policy” in the Middle East seem to be AWOL on this. Not a word from Andrew Sullivan, who repeatedly decries how Israel gets to do whatever it wants–despite U.S. foreign assistance–because of the all-powerful Israel Lobby.
And, somehow, I’m not predicting any “Egyptian Democracy Awareness Weeks” on college campuses anytime soon.
Persian Letters reports that a conservative Iranian blog has a new computer game available for downloading: “Fighting The Leaders Of Sedition” allows players to shoot at targets that look like opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi, Mehdi Karrubi and Mohammad Khatami.
The blog calls upon web users “to destroy” regime critics “with the weapons of insight and intelligence”–which, in this case, seem to be Gatling guns.
H+ is an online magazine devoted to “transhumanism”—a creepy-sounding term that sounds like something coined by Scientologists. But, essentially, it’s a techno-utopian ideology. Wikpiedia defines transhumanism as “an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes.”
An article in the latest edition of H+ surveys Israel’s contributions to robotics, artificial intelligence, stem cell research and eco-technology. And further, the essay makes the case that Israel’s perennial struggle for survival–coupled with a hope for a better future–have combined to create a mindset that seeks to overcome our limitations:
Israel (like South Korea) will be a tiny giant in the world of the future. Both nations have risen triumphantly from near-nothingness in the last sixty years. Although Israel is miniscule and threatened by opposition, it has used this challenge as motivation for advancement. Israel’s diminutive size and gargantuan progress is reminiscent of the small vibrant city states of history, such as classical Athens (rivaled by Sparta, Thebes and Corinth), medieval Florence (opposed by Venice, Milan, Genoa, Pisa and Siena), the Warring States of China (forward leaps in philosophy, metallurgy, government, law and military strategy), Swahili seaports (Mombasa, Malindi, Kilwa, Sofala, Zanzibar, and Mogadishu competed economically as their cosmopolitan cultures blossomed), plus myriad other mighty dwarfs that performed phenomenally under pressure.
Not all of Israel’s futurists are quite so bullish. Tzvi Bisk–author of Futurizing the Jews and The Optimistic Jew — recently remarked “you may have noticed from media reports we in the Middle East have not yet gotten the humanist thing right yet, let alone the transhumanist thing.”
The conspiracy theorists are disappointing me.
A month has passed since the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, precipitating the Gulf Coast oil spill. And still, nobody has found a way to pin the blame on the Jews. I’ve searched the Internet in vain: no reports of “false flag” Mossad operations, no news of Israel testing an underwater secret weapon to use on Iran, nada.
I mean, the oil rig exploded on Israeli Independence Day….and the conspiracy nuts couldn’t even make use of that? Shameful.
I confess that, whenever a major event occurs, I play my own version of the Kevin Bacon Game: How many steps will it take for these nutjobs to connect the event to the World Zionist Conspiracy? (Usually no more than two steps–since, ya know, we control and own everything.)
Anyway, I’ve seen some websites challenging readers to come up with the most creative oil spill conspiracy theory. Here’s mine:
The first question we must always ask is, who benefits? Who could possibly hope to gain from this environmental disaster?
The clear answer: Israel.
Why? Because Israel is a global leader in “clean technology.” In fact, according to this report: “Israel, the ‘Silicon Valley’ of water technology, is fast becoming the cleantech incubator to the world…..Israel certainly isn’t the world’s biggest cleantech market, but it might just be one of the world’s most important centers of cleantech innovation and R&D.”
And, according to Dr. Yom Tov Samia, president of IC Green Energy:
“Clean technology is the future. Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the former Saudi Arabian oil minister, has said: ‘The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.’ Going green is not just about being green or global warming. It is a part of national security. It will be one of the top three sectors over the next ten years, if not the biggest. When it comes to the exporting of clean technologies, the Israeli market could become as big as China and India.”
And then, these statistics:
400: Israeli clean-tech companies in 2009
$1.4bn: estimated value of Israel’s water technology export industry
$2.5bn: amount of water technology Israel expects to export annually by 2011
And, one of those companies is BioPetroClean, which makes use of bacteria to fight oil spills. According to BioPetroClean CEO David Amir, they can clean everything from oil storage facilities and bilges of tankers to oil spills at sea; they take on challenges such as cleaning oil pipelines which until now were almost impossible to do.
So, do you see it now??? Israel blew-up the oil rig, creating a massive environmental catastrophe–thereby causing sufficient public outrage to hasten the world’s movement away from a petroleum-based economy…thereby crippling the economies of the Zionists’ oil-producing enemies in the Middle East and Venezuela. Meanwhile, Israel stands to reap billions of dollars by providing the technology necessary to clean-up the oil spill, and encouraging further billions worth of foreign direct investment into its clean technology sector.
Now, how hard was that?
So yeah, former TNR editor Peter Beinart has published an article about the slow death of liberal Zionism in America—and it seems that everyone with a keyboard is writing or blogging about it. (For a good round-up of commentaries, visit Tablet.)
My honest initial reaction? I think I’m suffering from EDF (Existential Debate Fatigue). Seriously, I welcome yet another Big Debate About Jewish Identity and the Future of Zionism™ as much as the Titanic would have welcomed another iceberg.
One problem with these discussions is the lack of data, which means everyone is bandying about suppositions. Beinart argues that American Jewish organizations have been unsuccessful in cultivating any sense of connection between young, secular American Jews and Israel. Moreover, their approach to “pro-Israel” politics ignores liberal Zionist tradition, further turning off young Jews and exacerbating a generational and sectarian divide. The result is that Zionism is increasingly becoming the province of Orthodox right-wing youth and right-wing Christian evangelicals—especially since the Orthodox have lots of kids while relatively secular Jews skew toward 0.65 children.
But, Beinart bases his conclusions largely on anecdotal evidence and a poll conducted by Frank Luntz in 2003. The problem here is that we have lots of polls to draw upon–and each, in its own way, is open to controversy and multiple interpretations. Put simply, I don’t think we really know the full picture.
– A 2010 poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) found that 74 percent of U.S. Jews feel either “very close” or “fairly close” to Israel; yet only 10 percent of the respondents identified themselves as “Orthodox.”
– A 2005 AJC poll (again with only 10 percent identifying themselves as Orthodox) found that 78 percent of American Jews believe the Arabs’ goal is not securing the return of territories lost in war, but rather Israel’s destruction. Yet 56 percent of respondents said they favor the establishment of a Palestinian state. “American Jews are schizophrenic,” AJC Executive Director David Harris commented. “Our polls year after year after year show the very same thing: On the one hand, on the peace process options, a majority of American Jews support - let’s call it the ‘liberal option.’ At the very same time, a clear majority of American Jews in the next breath say the real goal of the Arabs is to destroy Israel.” In other words, most American Jews believe Israel should try for peace with the Palestinians, but don’t necessarily believe the Palestinians are serious.
– A study commissioned by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies in 2007, showed that only 48 percent of the non-Orthodox respondents under the age of 35 agreed that “Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy.” Moreover, just 54 percent are “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish State.”
– A 2009 J Street Poll found that 75 percent of American Jews supported Israel’s military action in Gaza; 72 percent oppose the expansion of settlements.
– The 2009 J Street Poll also asked: “If Avigdor Lieberman becomes a senior member of the Israeli cabinet and refuses to change his positions on Arab citizens of Israel, how would this affect your feelings toward Israel?” 58 percent of Jews said it would have no impact; 56 percent of Jews under 30 said the same thing.
Do you see a clear picture emerging here? I don’t. And, there are dozens of other variables to consider: If there is a decline in support for Israel among young American Jews, does that reflect a broader disengagement from a Jewish identity? Do young American Jews become more attached to Israel as they get older? To what extent is emotional attachment to Israel affected by perceptions that Israel faces a genuine, immediate threat? (For instance, at the height of the suicide bombings, the proportion of American Jews who felt “very close to Israel” jumped from 29 to 48 percent.) Do liberal Jews have different perceptions of what constitutes acceptable actions on Israel’s part, based upon the unique threats Israel faces and specific circumstances? (For instance, 77 percent of American Jews opposed the U.S. war in Iraq, but 75 percent felt Operation Cast Lead was legitimate self-defense.)
I’m not citing these statistics to attack Peter Beinart, who I believe is making an argument in good faith. But, is it too much to ask that, before we engage in the next Big Debate About Jewish Identity and the Future of Zionism™, we at least acknowledge that we don’t have all the facts?
Religion Dispatches magazine has commissioned Dan Archer–a “comix journalist and instructor” at Stanford University–to produce a comic book guide to the “Israel Lobby.”
No cliche is left untouched, including the sinister networking of Jewish organizations, and praise for Norm Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, described as those “who dared to speak out against Israel and AIPAC.”
And so, we have illustrations such as this:
A kippah-wearing cabal gathered at a conference table, handing their “orders” directly to the White House. How very Protocols…
And, of course, Archer fails to note that the “monolithic” Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations includes such groups as Americans for Peace Now and the Labor Zionist Alliance. But, I guess that would take too long to draw.
A debate between two leading Iranian intellectuals was held in Amirkabir University this week. The Israel-based Intelligence & Terrorism Resource Center noted that “it offered a fascinating glimpse into concerns brought up since the 90s on the periphery of Iranian intellectual debate on the country’s policy towards Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as into the tension between revolutionary ideological views and national political interests in Iran’s foreign policy.”
The debate was widely covered by the Iranian media. Professor Sadegh Zibakalam, one of the leading reformist intellectuals and political commentators, and a lecturer on political science in Tehran University, had this to say:
Zibakalam brought up a fundamental issue: should Iran support Palestinian and Lebanese radical groups just because they are Muslim and/or Shi’ite, or should it formulate its policy towards them based only on national interests? He questioned Iran’s stated commitment to the struggle of Muslims worldwide, claiming that, in fact, Iran does not assist Muslims struggling in China or in Chechnya due to its commitment to national interests involving its relations with those countries. The implication is that Iran acts according to its national interests, and that it must therefore consider its policy of supporting the Palestinians and Lebanon on the basis of those interests. If there ever comes a day when that policy does not coincide with Iran’s national interests, it will have to reassess its policy.
Zibakalam expressed his opinion that Iran’s considerable investment in Lebanon and Palestine does not serve Iran’s interests. Many believe, he pointed out, that this investment is designed to support Iran’s offensive strategy in its struggle against Israel, and to let it take the initiative. According to Zibakalam, he accepts the principle saying that if Israel is a strategic enemy, efforts must be made to move the confrontation with it to its borders by supporting Palestinian and Lebanese radical groups. He wondered, however, whether Iran’s view of Israel as a strategic enemy and its desire to eliminate it were justified. In that, he said, Iran’s stance is “more Palestinian than the Palestinians”. If the Palestinians themselves recognize Israel and its legitimacy, Iran cannot take a contradicting view and call for the destruction of Israel. The slogan calling for the destruction of the State of Israel—while the major discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focuses on the need to establish two independent countries—is wrong and detrimental to Iran’s national interests.
The leading reformist intellectual added that the ongoing analysis in Iran of the roots of the establishment of the State of Israel is fundamentally flawed, since it is based on the assumption that the establishment of Israel only has to do with the interests of Western countries, ignoring the fact that Israel is the product of a centuries-old historical struggle of the Jewish people. Zibakalam shortly went over the history of the Jewish people and the Zionist movement, arguing that the establishment of Israel cannot be understood without understanding the history of the Jews in the past two thousand years, particularly since the 19th century. In that context, Zibakalam referred to the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust as a historical fact.
The sad thing is that–among Western anti-imperialist “intellectuals”–Zibakalam’s comments would qualify him as a “Zionist apologist.”