Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

A conversation of sorts, took place tonight between A.B. Yehoshua and Leon Wieseltier, at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Hearing him introduced as “A.B. Yehoshua” grated on my ears a bit. Even when reading his name in English, I always heard it in my head as “Aleph Bet Yehoshua.” I don’t think a Hebrew writer’s name should be anglicized, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of Israel’s most celebrated writers, Yehoshua has authored a good number of novels, including The Lover, a masterpiece I have recently had the pleasure of reading. Yehoshua, however, is perhaps just as famous in Israel as a political figure. He is not a player in the traditional sense, but a pundit of sorts, a champion of the Israeli left.

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Wieseltier and Yehoshua

Speaking here a few years ago, Yehoshua caused an uproar in the Jewish world by (rightly) accusing diaspora Jews of “changing countries like changing jackets,” and saying it is common sense that “Jewish life in Israel is more total than anywhere outside Israel.” This time, trying to avoid a second controversy, much of the talk focused on literature. Nevertheless, Israeli literature is more than just ink on paper, and a variety of issues pertaining to Israel were addressed.

His father was a Near East scholar, and so Yehoshua said he grew up with Arabs and Arabic, and so the stranger was not all that strange to him. He says, therefore that guilt, over Jewish actions committed to Arabs, does not figure into his politics, and that he holds them responsible as he does his own people. Presuming that Israel’s interest is near and dear to him, I cannot but help ascribe his political views to extreme naivete. His support for the Geneva Initiative, whether or not it is a just solution, assumes the conflict is simply over land. And that instating Arab sovereignty over parts of the land will bring about a peaceful end to the conflict.

The author also put down the Arab reverence of land. He may be right that the Arab citizens of Israel would be better off in seeking industrial, and other, development (uttering what has practically become a magic word – “Hi-Tech”). Nevertheless, by ignoring the importance of land to many, in and of itself, he is just sticking his head in the sand. The Hebrew language, with an abundance of agricultural words, serves a testament to the importance of land in Jewish history. Perhaps if more Jews understood the importance of that small piece of earth, Israel would cease trying to be the political version of a luftmensch.

Still on the topic of Israeli-Arabs, he was right that while they may accept Israel’s existence as fact, they do not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. There is no easy solution, but that is precisely the problem. A very serious problem, that we will need to face sooner, rather than later.

Another interesting revelation was that Open Heart (The Return From India in Hebrew), written shortly after Oslo, was a break from politics. Politics were deliberately avoided, the misleading quiet of those years granted Yehoshua the liberty to leave that topic out of the story.

Yehoshua expressed some unease when discussing the next generation of Israeli writers, calling them the generation of the Six Day War, who are critical, perhaps overly so, of the state. While criticism and self-examination can be healthy, many of the writers of this generation lack a basic love for the homeland. There is no true struggle with the basics, he said, and their critique is beyond the general criticism. A certain level of patriotism and concern for the safety of the state is missing, alienation taking its place, along with questioning the necessity of Israel.

Michael Oren was in attendance in the audience, and asked about the prominent place of writers in the public discourse in Israel, often sought after by the press to comment on national affairs. Yehoshua was pessimistic regarding the future of the Israel public’s reliance of literary figures, but was also rather arrogant, saying that “they (the public) need our moral judgment.” I am not sure if this is more of a statement about the public or about Israel’s writers, but as mentioned in the talk, the Jewish nation has long turned to writers for leadership. Herzl was a playwright, and Yehoshua quipped that “perhaps, if he would [have been] more successful with his plays maybe we would have no Zionism [today].”

Of course, in light of the outrage directed at him last time he spoke in Washington, Yehoshua is most intriguing when sharing his thoughts on Israel-Diaspora relations. On the one hand, he said that Zionism succeeded “because the Zionists did not ask permission of the Jewish people.” On the other hand, his political bias showed when he reached out to American Jewish criticism of Israel, calling on American Jews to “be a partner in our discussion… [if you do not make aliyah] at least be a partner from the outside.”

On this last point he is wrong. He was wrong when he expressly said to the American Jewish community “you have legitimacy” to speak out. They do not. Every Jew can have this right, but this is not an absolute right – it must be realized. Until such time as diaspora Jews will decide their fortunes are truly with the Jewish people, at home, in Israel – criticism is a privilege they has not yet earned. Fighting for that right is not euphemism, and the experience of wearing an IDF uniform is what grants one the right to be heard.

Unfortunately, he went further, and when responding to a question about what he would ask Obama were they to meet,  Yehoshua said he would ask for American assistance to solve Israel’s conflict with her neighbors. “We cannot do it ourselves today… you (Obama)must help us.”

When it did come to the topic of aliyah, his true political colors showed. He rightly complained that only a few thousand Jews move to Israel from American each year, but he continued, saying that they are only Haredim who move to settlements, in order to exploit Israel’s social security system. He is simply wrong. Haredim do not make up anywhere near the majority of American olim, nor do Haredim generally associate with Yehoshua’s loathed ‘settler movement.’ Yet it was Wieseltier, the product of an Orthodox education himself, who glibly added that only a few thousand Jews make aliyah – “the wrong Jews.”

Still, unlike Wieseltier, Yehoshua is an actual Zionist, and unfortunately that fact alone places him head and shoulders above most Jews. Yet Jewish sovereignty and independence should rely on no outside sources. Furthermore, if American Jews want to have a place at the table, that place is theirs and waiting for them – in Israel.

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It’s no secret that antisemitism around the world is on an upswing. While the entrenched antisemitism in the Muslim world is disturbing, it is no surprise, and appears to be going nowhere. Over the past few decades, however, it was believed by many that antisemitism in the West was on its way out. From the unbridled antisemism of the torturers and murderers of Ilan Halimi, in the country of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” in 2006, on the one hand, to poorly masked antisemitism at anti-Israel demonstrations, on the other, it is clear the Jews are very far from being “accord[ed] everything… as individuals.”

Even though organizations in the UK have been reporting an upswing even in things like mistreatment of Jewish schoolchildren by their classmates, overt acts of antisemitism seem, for the time being, to be out of the mainstream. Nevertheless, as Howard Jacobson writes in The New Republic, “in the spirit of the national conversation about Israel, in the slow seepage of familiar anti-Semitic calumnies into the conversation–there, it seems to me, one can find growing reason for English Jews to be concerned.” The British media has been adding to this concern, serving as a mouthpiece for what columnists who refer to Israeli “bloodlust” and compare Gazans to Jews in Auschwitz.

Yet it is not only on that side of the pond that the media is inching in a worrying direction. Roger Cohen of the overly esteemed New York Times, in a series of columns inexplicably intended to exculpate Iran and ward off an attack against the nascent nuclear theocracy, claims that the very presence of Jews of in Iran undermines the vision of Iran as “an apocalyptic regime.” This sounds like a grander version of the “some of my best friends are Jews” argument, offered in defense of Iran.

Jacobson rightly mentions Caryl Churchill as “accusing Jews of the same addiction to blood-spilling” in her libelous play, Seven Jewish Children. Her surprise at the invocation of blood libels in reference to her play “only demonstrates how unquestioningly integral to English leftist thinking the bloodlust of the Israeli has become.”

With regards to the future, Israel will continue to defend itself. That cannot, and should not, stop. Jews, the world over, will continue to bear some of the brunt of the anger against the Jewish state. And the latest increase in simple Jew-hatred will probably not dissipate anytime soon, ebbing and flowing in a seemingly eternal rhythm.

Modern Zionism came about as a response to the modern dangers, and the everpresent threat to the Jewish people. Over the past few decades, Jewish organizations, at least in the US, have chosen to focus on the danger of assimilation, “killing the Jews with love,” as some have quipped. The age-old dangers, however, are back.

Zionism, however, is more than simply a reaction – it is the independent expression of Jewish independence, by the Jewish people, subject to no one else. The legend, of the father of modern Zionism sparked to action by the French antisemitism exhibited in the Dreyfus trial, may or may not be accurate. In any case, antisemitism did play a big part in bringing about modern Jewish sovereignty.

No one enjoys being unwanted, persecuted, and worse. The popularity of Jews AS JEWS is not going to go up overnight. The obvious first answer, therefore, is Israel. But Jewish flight is not a positive image, and do we really want Jews to simply pick up and flee their current homes? On its face, maybe not. However, if antisemitism did finally help restore national independence last century, then perhaps that is the answer, the appropriate next step. Mass emigration from the Arab world, and the Soviet Union have happened. Is Western Aliyah next? However the question to be asked is not whence, but whither? Will en masse immigration to Israel, in effect, create a large ghetto in the Middle East – or will it be the next step, in what a friend of mine calls Jewish Renaissance?

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I’m probably paraphrasing badly, but someone once told me that the true sign of a liberal is that will stand for anyone’s belief – as long they agree they should have it. In other words, freedom of expression does not apply for those who differ from you. I would hope that is not true for all (who claim to be) proponents of civil liberties and freedom of speech, but it certainly seems to be the case when it comes to the criticism of religious soldiers in the IDF.

A few weeks ago, in an event marking the brigade’s performance in Operation Cast Lead, a group of religious, observant paratroopers left the event, in order to avoid listening to a woman singer. This was not out of protest, but because their belief is that halacha forbids for men to listen to a woman singing.

In response, the IDF chief education officer, Brigadier-General (tat-aluf) Gen. Eli Shermeister, “called the incident a ‘worrisome phenomenon’ that ‘should not be accorded continued legitimacy.'” Why should religious practices be delegitimized, according to an officer in the army of the Jewish state? Because allowing participants to leave an event “designed to foster group cohesion” would “defeat the purpose” of such an event. I don’t understand, if group cohesion is so important, wouldn’t an event acceptable to all members of the group be best suited to achieve such a goal?

Mordechai Keidar, in an opinion piece in Ynet, hits the nail on the head, “In a liberal state with free media, I would expect open and innovative thinking that would show tolerance to different people.” Where is this is tolerance?

Dr. Esther Herzog does not agree (Hebrew). She attributes “gross and ugly contempt exhibited by [Keidar’s] column towards the secular culture and educational system, that points more to ignorance and close-mindedness than to openness and cultural-social sensitivity.” How is she able to say that with a straight face? The only ones who exhibited a lack of sensitivity and close-mindedness here are those who dare to say that religious soldiers should not be permitted to practice religion.

Herzog continues, in essence calling Judaism chauvinistic, mischaracterizing the soldiers’ actions as “boycotting women.” She claims that accusing the secular community of a lack of values is a smokescreen for “discrimination, deprivation, and exploitation of women.” The differences between the religious and secular communities are much more than gender-based, and by characterizing everything she does not like as sexual discrimination, Herzog is crying wolf, and badly.

Keidar’s accusation that “a cultural vacuum [has been] imparted to a whole generation of young people by the secular education system” because of its “drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and the club culture,” is one that needs to be addressed, not deflected. It needs to be examined, for secular need not mean value-less, and should not mean anti-religious, either. And if Israel is really the “liberal state” it claims to be, then freedoms need to be accorded even to those with whom IDF event planners disagree.

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To Boycott or Not to Boycott, That Is the Question No it’s not. Stanley Fish, law professor, and NY Times blogger, appears reasonable in debating whether or not an academic boycott of Israel is a good idea. However reasonable, though, he does not come to a concrete conclusion about such a boycott until the very end where he briefly mentions that “those actions, [the boycott of South Africa].. were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them.”

What he does is attempt to rebut arguments of opponents of the boycott. One such argument is that such a narrow focus on Israel is dishonest and hypocritical. The claim presents the question: Where are the calls for boycott of, and divestment from Sudan and China, not to mention Saudi Arabia and Iran? Picking Israel is dangerously close to antisemitism (if not more dangerous).

Yet Fish says, “If you supported the boycott of South Africa and the disinvestment by universities from companies doing business in or with that country, you are obligated, by your own history, to support the boycott of Israeli academics.”

“Anti-boycotters” do not (nor should not) argue what Fish paraphrases. Such an argument is moot, if not harmful in the end, since South Africa was clearly apartheid.Israel, on the other hand, has, by and large, acted justly (if not a bit meekly).

Fish misses the point entirely. Whether or not the theoretical boycott of a criminal state may be an interesting philosophical question, but is irrelevant with regards to Israel. Fish’s starting point seems to be that Israel is wrong and has committed crimes – and that the problem at hand is how to address these crimes.

I should expect more from a law professor. I don’t, but I should. Over 2,000 words, and not one actually deals with the question of Israel’s culpability. Fish’s implies that whether or not Israeli academics are responsible, the Israeli government is wrong, and is criminal. Indeed, his starting point is that Israel’s actions today are as wrong as apartheid South Africa’s were.

Nowhere does he look at Israeli actions in Gaza this past December/January, actual attacks, what preceded them, Israeli aid to Gaza, whether there was a causus belli, Israel’s jus ad bellum and jus in bello, and examine them in light of relevant international law – the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions, treaties to which Israel is a signatory. He just decides that 2009 Israel = 1948 South Africa. This is one academic that has definitely not performed “the tools of argument, fact and historical research.”

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Antisemitic plays in the guise of legitimate criticism of Israel are nothing new. In 2005, there was the British polemic about the “activist” Rachel Corrie. The most recent of these artistic expressions of racism, Seven Jewish Children, does not even make an honest attempt to mask its antisemitism.

Antisemitism will probably persist as long as the sun rises in the east, but what I learned from the NY Times today has truly managed to shock me. The JCC in Washington, DC is serving as a mouthpiece to this modern blood libel. This is not the first time the JCC has promoted “progressive causes,” and pretty crudely, too. This past September, Sandra Bernhard warned “Sarah Palin not to come into Manhattan lest she get gang-raped by some of Sandra’s big black brothers.”

This, however, is a new low. This is the JEWISH community center. On their blog, Theater J, run by the Washington DC JCC, Ari Roth, director of this trash, says “[t]he play is this year’s My Name is Rachel Corrie.” Of course it is. But is he really implying that is something positive?

He says the play is “problematic… [for] suggesting that there is a Jewish ownership—not merely an Israeli military’s responsibility—for the recent violence in Gaza.” I don’t even know where to start. Never mind that diaspora Jewish communities do not even come close to taking an active role in the welfare of the Jewish state, thinking that throwing money at “their brothers” is sufficient. Forget that those who Israel targeted were, and still are, trying to effect a genocide upon the Jews. But no, the play is only “controversial.”

Next time your local Jewish Community Center asks you for a donation – ask them if they, too, promote antisemitism.

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Roger Cohen is either a racist, a fool, or suicidal. His utterly stupid column this week has been parsed by plenty of others, and I have no desire to rehash his drivel.

Cohen doubts that “Hamas is sincere in its calls for Israel’s disappearance.” That must mean that the recent poll conducted in the P.A. shows that a majority Palestinian society actively seeks peace (Hebrew Ynet). How else can one explain that if elections were held today, genocidal Hamas, led by Haniyeh would win 47% v. Fatah, led by Holocaust denier Abbas.

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The NY Times came out today with yet another backwards analysis of the Middle East and what needs to be done. How has the West and the the Obama administration (and the NY Times is a fairly accurate representative of the administration) not yet learned that more often than not that the blind pursuit of peace at all costs will result not in peace, but endless war?

Former President George W. Bush made a serious mistake by shunning Syria, pushing it further into Iran’s arms. Coaxing Syria away from Tehran would benefit Washington, deepening Iran’s isolation on the nuclear issue and encouraging Syrian cooperation in stabilizing Iraq. It would benefit Israel, giving Syria greater incentives to cut off arms flows to Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it would benefit Syria, by providing the wider diplomatic and economic opening Damascus has been seeking.

Bush made plenty of mistakes. Shunning Syria was not one of them. Not placing enough effective pressure on Iran was. Creating an environment in which Iran is truly an outcast, even to Russia (and North Korea? maybe not), would leave Syria with no patron. Sometimes the sticks work without carrots.

Negotiating with Syria will not “benefit Israel” in any way. It will do nothing but endanger Israel further. Syria has never done anything for Israel. It has nothing to truly offer Israel. It needs to submit. As cliche as it may sound to liberal ears, giving up the Golan will only embolden Israel’s enemies, and Israel has no real incentive to do so.

The Times continues by rewriting history, blaming “widespread civilian suffering in January” on Israel (Operation Cast Lead), and accusing Israel of “damag[ing] Mr. Abbas’s credibility as an effective defender of Palestinian interests.” That one is fine with me. However, since when is it a country’s responsibility to help the credibility of their enemy’s leader?

The rest of the editorial is just as ridiculous, and calls for Hillary Clinton to undertake more stupid ventures in an area of the world that is not under American jurisdiction.

I think that the NY Times editorial board needs to spend some time in Gaza or Iran as ordinary citizens, and then editorialize about how benevolent they think these societies are.

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