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Reading, Misc. III

Another weekly installment of interesting reading around the web. Feel free to share your thoughts.

  1. “[That] Iran can… retaliate is more myth than fact.”
  2. Egypt v. Hezbollah.
  3. We’re registered at Macy’s and… the bank.
  4. Israeli liberal arts.
  5. The opportunity cost of investing in human capital.
  6. Bottom is not here yet.
  7. No rice, no beans – whose idea was that?
  8. Being a diaspora Jew in Israel.
  9. Presidential Seder – pandering or genuine?
  10. Food of the gods in NY – reviews will follow.

Happy Festival of Liberty!

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?

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.

Reading, Misc. II

  1. The Arab Lobby.
  2. Gordis: “Is it actually the secular community’s own business how little their children know about Jewish tradition?”
  3. Charismatic Gujarati.
  4. There is no direct relationship between the elected members and the electors.”
  5. A new world currency?
  6. Who’s the racist?
  7. ER is over.
  8. Only one aspect of traveling in India.
  9. The ineptitude of Hamas.
  10. It’s scary being a student sometimes.

The fact that there is an ongoing PR war for Israel on campuses is no secret. A multitude of speakers, social events, editorials, student groups on both sides – all devoted to protecting or harming Israel’s reputation on campus in the West.

Much less known is how tarnished the image of Israel is in Israel itself. During Operation Cast Lead large demonstrations were held in places like the University of Haifa and Hebrew University, waving enemy flags and accusing Israel of committing massacres in Gaza.

If it were simple that then it would not be so alarming. Freedom of speech is an important value, and protesters, comprised of a minority group of enemy sympathizers, will only anger the Zionist majority, thereby undermining their own cause. However, these sentiments are not checked at the door to the lecture hall.

A recent study by Im Tirtzu* illustrates a worrisome picture of higher education in Israel. The study is not short, and is important for the understanding some of the reasons behind the abandonment of Zionism in favor of pseudo-universalism. However, the most important findings concern materials assigned in classes that deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Six well known, and relatively well-represented, scholars were chosen and syllabi from classes at Israeli universities were examined to see which of these scholars’ work was assigned, and how many times. These scholars are, on one side, Baruch Kimmerling (read Benny Morris review, destorying Kimmerling’s book), Uri Ram (proudly “post-Zionist”), and Edward Said (need I say more?). On the other side, are Amnon Rubinstein (legal scholar, former Meretz MK, who has written widely on Zionism), Ruth Gavison (law professor who has also written on the dilemma of Jewish-Democratic state), and Shlomo Avineri (written widely on political philosophy, as well as Zionism).

Of these scholars, Kimmerling’s work was assigned 23 times, Uri Ram’s 10 times and Edward Said – four times. Ruth Gavison, Amnon Rubinstein and Shlomo Avineri’s work, combined, was only assigned seven times.

The study also looked at academic publications by the political science departments of universities, and found that, overall, nearly 80% of studies published are either anti-Zionist or anti-nationalist in general.

Academic freedom is important. Very important. Repressing that freedom is bad. However, if Zionism stands on solid grounds, and is based on historical facts (and it does), then Israel’s students are being taught by professors who harbor more than just a bias against Israel. They are misleading, at best, and at worst – lying.

In any case, the question must be raised – how is it, that in Israel, of all places, this is happening practically unnoticed?

*The link does not work now, because Im Tirtzu’s website is temporarily (I hope) down.

Reading, Misc.

I know I have not written in a while, and I hope to return to a somewhat regular blogging schedule in the near future.

In the mean time, I am starting a ‘feature,’ the idea for which, I hope Alex Stein does not mind I borrow. Over the past few weeks Alex Stein at False Dichotomies, has been posting a weekly “Abbreviated Read.” It is “the Top 10 interesting things [he’s] read online during the week,” yet “[m]aking it onto the list doesn’t necessarily mean [he] endorse[s] the message.”

The same will be true in “Reading, Misc.” Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

  1. Khaled Abu Toameh on his speaking tour in the US: “[W]e should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.”
  2. Religious Soldiers walk out of an official event, to avoid hearing a female singer
  3. Judea Pearl: Anti-Zionism might not be antisemitism, but is it worse?
  4. Jeffrey Goldberg argues with the JCC’s Theater J director of Seven Jewish Children
  5. J-Street, Redefining “Pro-Israel”
  6. The American Thinker on the “Two State Solution” (H/T CiJ)
  7. Baghdad Today
  8. Root: מז”ג
  9. A Team of Zionists
  10. The Facebook Haggadah

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.”