Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are Palestinian Building a State?

For several years now, it has been widely reported that Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, has been hard at work building up the institutions of a Palestinian state. Respected proponents of Palestinian statehood, such as Hussein Ibish, have argued that this institution-building program has the potential to generate its own dynamics that contribute to Palestinian statehood within a year's time, irrespective even a final peace settlement with Israel.

It has long been a challenge for me to square away the inconsistency of an ostensibly credible state-building program, greeted with enthusiasm by the international community, and the pervasive cynicism, even hostility, among Palestinians that I know towards Fayyad's efforts - which they variously equate with authoritarianism, elitism (in that most of the institutions are staffed by party apparatchiks driving new BMWs) and collaboration with Israel.

In a Foreign Policy article that summarizes his conclusions in a Carnegie Endowment Report, Nathan Brown brings context and clarity to these affairs:
First, it is simply not true that his cabinet is building institutions on the West Bank. Instead, it is improving the functioning of some existing institutions in some areas -- and failing in others. [...] The legal system is operating more smoothly in some areas (courts are more efficient and are handling non-political cases better), but it is also politicized, bypassed by the security services, and hamstrung by internal rivalries. The education system is merely holding together (which is credit to Fayyad's cabinet), but it is hardly improving. [...] For all his admirable qualities, what Fayyad has managed to do is to maintain many of the institutions built earlier and make a few of them more efficient. [...]

Palestinian democracy has died, and Fayyad could not operate the way he does (and would probably not be prime minister at all) if it were still alive. The president's term has expired, the parliament's term is also expired, no new elections are in sight, elected local officials have been selectively dismissed, and local elections have been cancelled. Opposition supporters have been ousted from the civil service and municipal government and their organizations have been shuttered. Activists are detained without charges; court orders have been ignored; and the broader citizenry is increasingly administered according to laws that are drafted by bureaucrats out of public view. This is not the "rule of law" if the phrase is to have any meaning. [...]

Fayyad is not building a state, he's holding down the fort until the next crisis. And when that crisis comes, Fayyad's cabinet has no democratic legitimacy or even an organized constituency to fall back on. What he does have -- contrary to those who laud him for not relying on outsiders -- is an irreplaceable reservoir of international respectability. The message of "Fayyadism" is clear, and it is personal: if Salam Fayyad is prime minister, wealthy international donors will keep the PA solvent, pay salaries to its employees, fund its infrastructural development, and even put gentle pressure on Israel to ease up its tight restrictions on movement and access.
Let's remember that this basket case of a state-building process, which exposes the deep contradictions and weaknesses of Palestinian polity and society, is proceeding under an Israeli security blanket and unprecedented financial support by the US and EU. Even under optimal conditions then, is anything short of creating an authoritarian-style Arab state conceivable in the timeline offered by ongoing peace efforts? Are the Palestinians self-organizing towards this outcome out of short term instability or long term socio-political necessity? In other words, hanging in the balance, will Palestinians choose to emulate the pluralistic democracy to their west, or the stifling autocracies to their north, east and south? Perhaps even more glumly, which of these two outcomes is more likely to make and enforce a peace with Israel?

Drawing a Straight Line from Concessions to Peace

The following is part of a conversation I'm having with KFJ, over at Jewschool. It's out of context, but if you follow the link you can read what I'm responding to, as well as his positions. I'm posting this more for myself, as it encapsulates many of the ideas I've been contemplating and attempting to express this week on the peace process and settlements. Perhaps my eclectic readership can find some use in my remarks as well.
I agree with you. Netanyahu doesn’t want a Palestinian state, but you can’t expect him to want it more than the Palestinians themselves. I don’t think there are many Israelis who think of a Palestinian state as a positive outcome, even if it is a necessary one. That’s what separates the Israeli leadership and the Israeli people from the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. Under the right convergence of factors, a threshold reached multiple times in the past decade alone, the Israelis are willing to make the concessions demanded of them.

Is this true for the Palestinians? Have they ever faced the kind of international pressure necessary to break, once and for all, the myth of “return of refugees”? Will the people abide by such political decisions without a boot on their neck? Is their civil society preparing the population for the eventuality of self-rule and an end to all claims?

You talk about changing specific Israeli policies - Gaza, settlements - but getting bogged down in the minutia of these is counterproductive, as the Jordanian King recently made clear, when these policies can be made irrelevant under the shadow of a final deal, which deals with borders, refugees, Jerusalem, an end to hostilities and all other outstanding issues.

When the chips are down, which party is willing to bite the bullet and sign, and which party isn’t? President Obama is starting to get it. Are you?

I know you’re an optimistic guy. I know you want peace, passionately, and you work for it. But at some point you have to be able to draw a line between where you are and where you want to be. So far, all you’re concluding is that Israel should be forced to concede unilaterally what it has already determined to concede under the terms of a final deal. Is that progress? Is Israel going to impose peace on itself? Or are you preparing the ground for a repeat of Gaza?

Without holding the Palestinians accountable for their obligations, no Israeli concessions will suffice. You know that. And precisely because Palestinians concessions are in the realm of the conceptual and intellectual - claims, narrative, rights, etc. - they must begin to make down-payments now by preparing their leadership and people psychologically. Instead, you parrot their excuses and give credibility to their obfuscations. Your demands on Israel absolve the Palestinians of having to come to terms with their responsibilities, for why should they sacrifice their claims and narrative when Israel is willing to give it to them for nothing.

There are some who think that Israel must withdraw from all territories regardless of what the Palestinians do. If Iran and Hamas want a second rocket pad in Ramallah then so be it. Israel will just have to learn to live with rockets raining down on its cities, because the occupation is uniquely evil and must be ended, even at the cost of national suicide. I don’t think you believe that. I think you’re pragmatic enough to understand how reckless Israeli concessions can lead to a war, a real war the likes of which the Palestinians have never seen, and whose brunt they will bear.

You don’t have to explain it to me, or to anyone else, but make sure that you can draw that straight line from where you are to where we all want to be.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Setting Peter Beinart Straight on Settlements and Peace

The following quote by Peter Beinart is making the rounds, and deserves a response:
So let’s get this straight. When Netanyahu agrees to a settlement moratorium, it’s a sign of his commitment to peace. And now that he has let the moratorium end? It’s still a sign of his commitment to peace because, as AIPAC now insists, negotiations must proceed without preconditions. It’s back to “the problem isn’t settlements.” To be labeled a champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out, a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime minister of Israel.”
I'll be happy to clarify it for you, Peter. When Netanyahu agreed to a settlement moratorium, it was a sign of his commitment to the US-Israeli relationship, not to peace. Netanyahu understood, early on, that President Obama's demand that Israel freeze growth in the settlements would not be conducive to peace efforts, but would embolden the Palestinians into even making more extreme demands. It was only out of a desire to preserve Israel's special relationship with the United States, and to deliver President Obama a "win" which he could leverage with the Arab states to begin normalizing relations with Israel, that a limited moratorium was agreed upon.

Instead of seizing what was a remarkable, unilateral concession by Israel to immediately begin final negotiations, the Palestinians spent nine of the ten months of the building freeze bemoaning how the Americans had pushed them into extremist demands from which it was politically impossible to withdraw. Under heavy American and European pressure, they then proceeded to do what they had earlier claimed was politically impossible and joined negotiations, knowing full well that the looming expiration of the building freeze would provide a justification to derail diplomacy and avoid making compromises on final status issues. Perhaps, too, they were (and are) hoping to force another showdown between Israel and the US over a resurgent settlement issue.

It is not AIPAC, but the Obama Administration itself which is now growing increasingly irritated with Palestinian demands, and is forcefully urging that negotiations continue with or without a settlement freeze. None of this, the last two years of conflict and failure, would have been necessary had Obama insisted on direct negotiations at the outset of his presidency, instead of focusing on the symbolic non-issue of Jewish settlements. That Netanyahu foresaw these developments, and acted to insulate the US-Israeli relationship from naive American diplomacy, confident that the Palestinians would drive the Americans back into Israel's corner, speaks to his leadership.

It is becoming increasingly clear that eliciting unilateral concessions from Israel - concessions that Israel has already accepted upon itself under the terms of a final settlement - accomplishes little for the prospects of peace. At Camp David, Annapolis and now under Obama's stewardship, successive Israeli Prime Ministers, and the Israeli people, have committed themselves to the internationally recognized parameters of peace. These parameters, while obligating Israel to relinquish territory, also require the Palestinians to renounce all claims against the Jewish state, and compromise on Jerusalem and refugees. In each cycle of negotiations, American and European pressure is brought to bear on Israel, and Israel reiterates and accepts its obligations. To date, however, and under a variety of excuses, Palestinian obligations under the parameters of peace are met with diversions, obfuscations and rejection by both the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. In the interest of a final settlement, it is time that the full weight of American and European pressure is brought to bear against those Palestinian demands which are incompatible with the parameters of peace. Only then, when the Palestinian government and people accept their responsibilities, will progress towards a final peace be achieved.

Andrew Sullivan Defies President Obama on Settlements

Andrew Sullivan's angry crusade to "save Israel from itself" continues. His moody exhortations that final status negotiations must be predicated on a complete freeze in construction in Jewish communities of Shomron and Yehudah, and Jerusalem, have now been publicly rebuffed by his own President, whose administration now insists that negotiations continue regardless. Indeed, we have since learned - from none other than Jordan's King Abdullah - that such single-minded focus on the settlements runs counter to concluding a final status peace agreement.

Perhaps it is indicative of a general problem in Andrew's perception and motivation that when all the leaders involved in direct negotiations are saying that focusing on the settlements is corrosive to diplomacy and delays peace, he doesn’t believe them. Instead, he continues the very process which these leaders have now experientially rejected and explicitly warned against, of emboldening irreconcilable radicals and violent extremists by continuing to make the issue of settlements a liability to peace.

We are left to wonder why Andrew Sullivan, intellectually orphaned on the subject though he may be, would wish to continue undermining President Obama's urgent push towards negotiations and peace in the Middle East. Perhaps it is Andrew who needs to be saved, from himself.

The Settlements are a Non-Issue

Jordan's King Abdullah, interviewed by Jon Stewart:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
King Abdullah II of Jordan
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3:25 Abdullah: We all got painted into a corner on the issue of settlements, unfortunately, and where we should have concentrated was on territories and the borders of a future Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. And so now we've got this unfortunate issue of the 30th of September, and there are people waiting in the wings for us to fail. And we, I think, as the moderates, are becoming definitely the minority and we're losing our voices. And what people will say as we go beyond the 30th is, look, we've been telling you for years now that the moderates - having dialogue with Israel is not the way to go. Violence is the only way. And then we run out of an ability of being able to answer the extremists in our region. So, I think, we're at the defining crossroads of whether we're going to go down the abyss or not.

For the last and final time, let it be known - from the lips of an Arab leader privy to the highest levels of peace diplomacy - that Jewish communities in Shomron and Yehudah are not an obstacle to peace. What is an obstacle to peace, now proven through experience, is the very attempt to make the settlements an obstacle to peace. Such actions, undertaken first by President Obama, and joined by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations, the Palestinians and Arab League states, and, notably, Jeffrey Goldberg and JStreet, have emboldened violent extremists and irreconcilable radicals, while weakening the moderates. As the King makes clear, targeting the settlements as an obstacle to the process created an obstacle to the process, delaying the onset of substantive negotiations on final status issues, whose successful resolution would nullify whatever concerns exist about the settlements now. To this day, despite dramatic Israeli flexibility, the early focus on settlements continues to poison the public discourse and diplomatic atmospherics, now threatening to derail the Palestinian commitment to negotiations.

As a side note, it is curious that Abdullah deliberately refers to peace between the "Muslims and the Israelis" and "Arabs and the Israelis", but not between the Muslims or Arabs and the Jews. Such rhetoric continues an odd obsession among prominent Arab leaders and intellectuals, to confuse and distort the root of the conflict - the nine decade old, violent Arab Muslim challenge to the Jewish right to self-determination in the Levant - thus impairing its speedy resolution. Efforts to deny legitimacy to natural, inalienable Jewish national aspirations, far from the complete end of all outstanding claims that peace demands, can only be seen as an attempt to retain sufficient justification for future belligerency and violence against the Jews of Israel, aborting the premise and promise of peace.

(h/t Shalom Rav, who doesn't allow facts to interfere with his ideology)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Fog of Jewish Settlement

Jefferey Goldberg linked up to an "absolutely fascinating piece" by Bradley Burston in Haaretz today, entitled "Breaking Israel to fix it - rightists rethink holding the West Bank". The article asserts, paradoxically, that the settlement movement - an enterprise authorized, planned and executed with the endorsement from the highest levels of the Israeli government and civil society over some four decades - is revolutionary in nature, and that the revolution is on the wane.

Indeed, Burston catalogs the seeming convergence of Israeli and American Jewish public opinion, international pressure, security strategy and peace diplomacy in driving forward the end goal of withdrawal from Jewish communities in Shomron and Yehudah. Key to this process, argues the columnist, is the Prime Minister himself, "Netanyahu remains the linchpin to any move to alter the status of the West Bank."

How is it possible that an American Jew half Burston's age, whose last trip to Israel was in 2005, knows more about the Israeli settlement movement than an esteemed Israeli journalist, laboring at the flagship newspaper of record in Israel? To simply go through this article and negate the nonsense would entail more time than I care to expend, so I'll focus on one of the most frustrating, and oft-repeated assertions: The Yesha Council is "the effective government of the settlement movement".

I can see why uninformed people would think this to be the case. The "Yesha Council" is a phrase composed of two words, "Yesha" - an acronym standing for the territories Israel liberated in the '67 War - and "Council", projecting the concept of an authoritative, deliberative body. However, as a friend who actually advocates for Jewish communities in the Shomron at a high level put it to me:
I don't think that there are too many who actually understand what role the Yesha council plays. Basically the yesha council is a small band that has control of certain funding so they position themselves as representing the settlers. They are not a democratically per-say elected representation nor are they grass roots. They are just there, that's about it.
In other words, the Yesha Council represents the Yesha Council. Decisions made by the Yesha Council are binding on the individual members of the Yesha Council. Declarations made by the Yesha Council, many of them the mind-boggling epitome of counter-productive public relations, are often picked up by an Israeli media that doesn't know very much about the political structure and public representation of Jewish communities in Yesha.

There is no single coordinating body advocating for Jewish communities in Shomron and Yehudah. This has made the communities easy picking for a media eager to reinforce the negative image of settlements by finding the most angry, ignorant, scary, insane and probably drunk settler they can, and giving him just enough column space to hang himself. Thankfully, in recent years, particularly since Disengagement from Gaza and the growing realization that the Government of Israel cannot be expected to stand by all its citizens in the face of international pressure, a new generation of leaders in the Jewish communities have risen to develop a public relations effort from the ground up. Fledgling though their efforts have been, the results are bearing fruit.

I am no insider in the settlement movement - as there is no such thing, per se, but rather the independent desires and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people - but I have been asked for my friendly opinion and ideas, from time to time, as opinion pieces are published, as projects are launched, as opportunities materialize. It should tell you something about the youth and inexperience of advocacy efforts to date, that a 27 year old across the Atlantic is being sent media interviews for post-op performance review and analysis. With that said, my meager understanding and experience puts Bradley Burston's assertions about the strength of the communities, and their future, to shame.

Indeed, the picture that emerges from my contact with representatives and residents of the communities is not at all compatible with that espoused by the liberal columnists at Haaretz. There are massive challenges, to be sure, in countering decades of vilification in Israeli and international media, in holding Israeli leaders accountable for their promises, in crafting domestic and international consensus around an alternative, pragmatic vision of coexistence with the Arab communities, but they are not insurmountable. What's more, tangible progress, even over the last 10 months of the settlement freeze, has been made, particularly in monopolizing information flows - the foundation of sensible public relations efforts - and expanding support outside the traditional ideological base, to include pockets of Israel's pragmatic center left.

Even as Bradley Burston waxes triumphantly about the final whimpers of the settlement "revolution", his colleague Yossi Sarid is running defense to protect the left's sensitive centrist core from infiltration, indeed, conversion, by the winds of reality and sensibility finally penetrating the elitist bubble from the communities. In my discussions with settlers on public relations, I advise only one thing - embellish nothing, just tell the simple reality of your existence. The vilification and dehumanization of Jewish communities in Yesha is so complete - Sarid's piece is entitled, incredulously, "The settlers are human"! - that simply pointing out that these are normal human beings is a shock to the ideological framework the media, particularly the Israeli media, has built around the issue. It turns out the settlers are not all evil, bucktoothed monsters, murdering Arab children for sport and hellbent on dragging Israel into international isolation and opprobrium. Indeed, unlike much of Israel's hyperventilating left, the settlers are effectively working to undo the damage to Israel's international image first wrought by adherents to leftist institutions and ideologies.

In contrast to Burston, the convergence of forces I perceive is quite different. The coming fizzle of the peace process, owing to the inability of Palestinian negotiators to craft a consensus among their own people, even within the West Bank itself, the American and even Palestinian acceptance that the status quo is sustainable for decades and better than the alternative of the Resistance Block (Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, etc.) assuming power, the cementing of the Palestinian political divide between the West Bank and Gaza, a maturity over the peace process among Israelis who no longer expect miracles, people like Tzipi Hotovely who are developing the first real plans for fully integrating the Jewish communities into Israel and finding equitable and pragmatic solutions for the Palestinians, all these create an atmosphere in which the objectives of the settlement movement - a future of growth, prosperity and freedom for all the peoples of the Shomron and Yehudah - are increasingly within reach.

Which vision will bear out amid this fog, one of Israeli withdrawal and retrenchment, or confident, pragmatic growth and assertion of national sovereignty, remains to be seen. I would advise Burston, and the like-minded, to not count their chickens just yet. As for the rest of us, there is no better time to get involved in securing the future of Jewish communities, whose success and growth hold the key to peace for the Jews of Israel, the Palestinians and the Arabs of the region.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The End of Guilt: Yom Kippur and Teshuvah

It is a common misconception, perhaps derived from the wider Christian culture, that Yom Kippur - the Jewish "Day of Atonement" - is predicated on guilt. Teshuvah, the act of penitence for transgression, which is the foundation for atonement received on Yom Kippur, is not about guilt. In Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuvah (the laws of Teshuvah, one among the many volumes of his Mishneh Torah) he writes the text of the essential confessional prayer: I implore You, G-d, I sinned, I transgressed, I committed iniquity before You by doing the following. [List sins] Behold, I regret and am embarrassed for my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again.

This is the gold standard of verbal confession and articulation of sins before G-d, which is a positive command.

Guilt and remorse are very different concepts. Guilt is selfish, “I feel bad because X”. The focus is within, on “I”, on me. If “I” didn’t feel bad, there would be no problem, nothing to fix or apologize for. In contrast, remorse looks externally, at the consequences our actions have - it’s not about “me”, about how "I" feel about my actions at any given point, but understanding the negative impact my actions created. Even if “I” don’t feel particularly bad about something, I can become more sensitive to the damage my actions caused and seek a way of rectifying that damage, and preventing myself from repeating that mistake in the future.

Teshuvah is not about imposing something alien on ourselves, beating ourselves up for the theater of satisfying some vain emotional need for a positive self-image. It is a substantive return to our essence, to our spiritual core and mission, which persist, independent of and untainted by our actions. Teshuvah is not about guilt, it is about repair, a release of the burden holding our future hostage to our past, a coming home to our true self. In so doing, teshuvah offers a path of transforming past transgressions into future merits.

Yom Kippur and Communal Atonement

A favorite Rabbi of mine, observing the trend of increased attendance, and bemoaning the lack of similar participation throughout the rest of the year, once quipped that Yom Kippur is the one day in the Jewish calendar on which it is not necessary for a Jew to be in shul. You see, Yom Kippur is not merely a day of communal supplication; the day's passing itself atones for an individual's sins. One simply needs to adequately prepare and make sure they do not interfere with this process, which otherwise runs of its own accord. So, while many believe that attendance in shul on this one day is mandatory, being optional throughout the rest of the year, the opposite is true. A Jew should come to shul every day to elicit their daily portion of spiritual and physical sustenance, which is dependent on their daily supplication. On Yom Kippur, however, the one day on which everyone runs to shul, this isn't strictly necessary because the day itself atones.

None of this is to dilute the importance of communal prayer and supplication, including on Yom Kippur, but even more vitally every other day of the year. It is merely a recognition that on Yom Kippur, a single tear or thought of repentance is sufficient for the day to atone, while throughout the rest of the year, atonement requires greater individual struggle, and benefits from communal effort.

I was long fond of this narrative, but have become more appreciative of the desire of communal supplication on Yom Kippur. Reading through the day's liturgy, one is liable to notice that many of the supplications are written in the plural "we" form. Indeed, the standard daily prayer of supplication - the Tachanun - employs "we", as in, "We have transgressed, we have acted perfidiously, we have robbed, we have slandered", etc.

Why "we", and not "I"? There are various explanations. One is that the supplication on Yom Kippur is loudly vocalized, and we do not wish anyone to be embarrassed who is atoning for the specific sins in question. If one person is chanting, individually, "I have robbed, I have slandered", the rest of the community might reasonably demand to find out who it was they robbed and slandered. I should point out that part of an individual's repentance is to rectify their wrongs, in our example, returning what they robbed (with interest) and discrediting the slander. Once that is performed, their public penitence, confessed in plural form so as not to draw unnecessary attention, is accepted.

Another explanation, popular today among "tikkun olam" progressives, is that no individual act of transgression is performed in a vacuum. Indeed, every action an individual takes can be attributed, at least in part, to societal conditioning and socio-economic or political circumstances beyond the individual's control. Therefore, the community must share responsibility for the actions of its members, including atoning for them. Complementary to this notion is the idea that there are certain decisions which a community makes together and must atone for together - social and foreign policies are favorite examples. All these reasons necessitate the use of the plural pronoun "we" in communal supplications.

Never an admirer of collectivism, which often trends toward coercion, I prefer a more individualistic explanation. Communal atonement is about recognizing that no one individual's repentance is complete without all our individual repentance being complete. It's almost as if we're standing with each individual as they complete their particular obstacle course. Only through their individual effort will the task be completed, but the community stands at the ready, providing strength and encouragement. As each successive individual completes the obstacle course and is purified of their transgressions, we reestablish the perfect unity among the souls of Israel, which emanate from one root. So purified and unified, we can present ourselves to the heavenly court, certain of a decree for good.

It is true that communal attendance at a Yom Kippur service isn't strictly necessary, and it is certainly no substitute for praying at shul on a daily basis. However, there is something quite special and redeeming about the desire of Jews, largely unaffiliated through the year, to stand up and be counted among the Jewish people on this one day, to accept the community's support as they progress through their own obstacle course of repentance, and to help others in kind.

The Throngs of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the quintessential Jewish "High Holiday", is the one day of the year that Jews you never met and never knew existed suddenly appear at shul, scan the room as if to make sure no one seeks to deny them entry, clutch a Machzor, open it to a random page until directed otherwise, and take the furthest available seat from the Aron Kodesh.

There are other such days, of course, and in a Chabad shul, the exception is the norm: Pesach, when the Israeli population of your city appears to quadruple overnight, sharing stories of travels and livelihood between cups of wine, promising all the while to come next Shabbos and vanishing without a trace day after; Chanukah, when chance shoppers happen upon the annual public menorah lighting at the local mall and stare, even as their friends move along, and maybe get sufganiyot after finally connecting with someone they know in the crowd. Yet, Yom Kippur is different - a day of supplication and introspection, of physical and spiritual exertion that does not easily lend itself to the boisterous enthusiasm with which newcomers can expect to be greeted on any other day. Still, they come.

There's the odd handful of college students, many raised reform or conservative, some exploring their faith, others reminiscing of simpler times with the family at their synagogue back home, or honoring a promise they made to their mother or bubby to be someplace Jewish on this day. Here and there doctors, lawyers, and engineers sit; professionals with intellects too rigorously trained to contemplate seriously a truth beyond their capacity to prove or disprove, and yet drawn in by the soft whisper of self-doubt, a desire for meaning and, if nothing else, nostalgia. Businessmen, still donning the conspicuous satin kippas they picked up at some bar mitzvah years ago, perhaps even their own. Working class families with children old enough to ask who they are. Seniors too infirm to bother, except when it matters. Travelers who just happened to be in town. Single, divorced, married, intermarried, tall, short, fat, thin, bald, hairy, white, black, pink, brown, gay, bi, curious and even straight, on occasion, on Yom Kippur they come. For Kol Nidre, for the morning, for a lunch break, for Yizkor, for Neilah, for the break fast, and maybe for all of it, of all the days in the year, on this day they come.

Computer Models Confirm G-d's Fluid Dynamics Calculations

Secular atheist? Practicing Catholic? Whatever your beliefs about the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, budge not an inch, for science has proven you right!
The account in the Book of Exodus describes how the waters of the [Sea of Reeds] parted, allowing the Israelites to flee their Egyptian pursuers. Simulations by US scientists show how the movement of wind could have opened up a land bridge at one location. This would have enabled people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety.

The researchers show that a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.

"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," said the study's lead author Carl Drews, from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Video simulation. The only reason research like this is done is to pay for research that no one will ever hear of or care about. Still, I'm confounded by the notion that some wish to explain the parting of the sea through natural phenomena. What would be the point of such a venture? Is it mere fascination, obsession even, with the Biblical account? Does such research derive from a desire to affirm or disprove the recorded narrative, or the aspect of divine intervention, specifically?

After all, if it is a natural phenomenon, one could ostensibly do away with the necessity for the supernatural. On the other hand, what's the probability of such a natural event occurring simultaneously with the equally improbable mass liberation and flight of two million slaves (give or take), whose very survival was contingent on the very same fortuitous atmospherics.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Andrew Sullivan Watch

It's a dirty, dirty job, but someone has to do it. In the solid tradition of NGO Watch, CiF Watch and HuffPo Monitor, I'm announcing my blog's candidacy for "Andrew Sullivan Watch" (shortened moniker suggestions are welcome).

No, I won't change the name of this blog, nor obsess over Andrew's every obnoxious Palin twitch - there goes half my potential readership. I will, however, document and fight back when he egregiously crosses the line in unjustly defaming and vilifying the sovereign state of the Jewish people, and not incidentally, her Jewish people. It is not an everyday occurrence, yet, but I believe that amassing his work product on this subject in one place will, perhaps, help him understand the deep disappointment and increasing dismay with which his Israel-related posts are now greeted by wide swaths of his readership.

I once held Andrew Sullivan and his social commentary in high regard. To a large extent, it was his introspective writings that helped me understand the perspective of a homosexual man in a heterosexual society. His once passionate, and long since atoned for alignment with Bush's vision for combating Islamic extremism by promoting democratic freedom for all the peoples of the Middle East was downright thrilling, if nothing else than for its prose.

Fundamentally, and I believe this is a quality shared by the sites I referenced earlier, a "watchdog" site is a labor of love. It is, essentially, an appeal to a basic decency and moral fiber which the site being watched - and its author(s) - are believed to have betrayed. Inherent in this venture is the hope that all is not lost, that truth, with patience and perseverance, will find a way to pierce the shell of ignorance and prejudice which have so clouded judgment as to impair reason. It is only worth starting "watchdog" sites where such hope exists, and with Andrew, I believe it does. The time has come to help save Andrew Sullivan from himself, as it were.

You may follow "Andrew Sullivan Watch" through a new label on this blog: Andrew Sullivan Watch. I have added the label to all my prior posts critical of Sullivan's past anti-Israel remarks, including the Israeli Rape-by-Deception story, which continues.

Andrew Sullivan Declares "Mission Accomplished", vows to "Stay the Course"

One week and two days after new information was released in the Israeli Rape-by-Deception Case, which debunked the basis of Andrew Sullivan's irrational, embarrassing tirade against the Jewish State some two months ago, I've yet to see a correction or apology on his Atlantic blog. Granted, it isn't easy to back down from the heights of petulant arrogance that Sullivan reached:
But it's the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It's about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It's about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It's a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.
Of course, we have since learned that such grotesque, deliberate linkage of Israel's justice system with the racial Jim Crow laws runs contrary to the facts of the case on which the connection was made. Yet, Sullivan refuses to accept that his vile characterization of a society he knows little to nothing about has been mugged by reality.

Andrew's stubborn, blind, deaf and dumb efforts at ignoring the story, which is now entering mainstream news sites and simply refuses to die, reflects poorly on his professional credibility, capacity for intellectual honesty and genuine self-reflection. And so, while Andrew, through his silence, declares "Mission Accomplished" and retires below deck of his sinking aircraft carrier, content that his continuing, bizarre dual efforts to defame the Jewish state and prove that Trig is not Sarah Palin's baby are bearing fruit, those of us still firmly rooted in reality and decency shake our heads and press on in the pursuit of truth and accountability.

The latest contribution comes from Cathy Young at Real Clear Politics: An Unusual Legal Case in Israel. Below are my comments on the piece, which I have communicated during an email exchange with the author. For reasons that I make obvious in the first sentence of my email to her, I strongly urge you to read the piece in full.
Hello Cathy,

You've written perhaps the best, most balanced summation of the case, the initial reaction of the media and the recent blogger backlash that I've seen. I think, for many of us outside Israel who support the Jewish state, it is often exasperating to be on the receiving end of stories like this. We imagine ourselves handling the situation - this situation and others - differently, employing foresight to preempt international scrutiny: " Did no one pause to think that even appearing to send an Arab to prison for sex with a consenting Jewish woman was a public relations disaster?" Amen.

Yet, what local district attorney in Kansas City, Calgary, Manchester or Hamburg is asked to wake up each morning and perform his normal functions with an eye to how every plea bargain, any plea bargain, may be misinterpreted, on the basis of insufficient information, ignorance or cultural differences halfway around the world? We should challenge the intellectual and emotional basis for the self-asserted right to selective scrutiny and rush to opprobrium for one nation among two hundred. The contemptuous, chauvinistic attitude adopted towards Israel by those like Andrew Sullivan, which seemingly entitles them to disparage a nation of seven million people on the basis of ignorant misappraisals on the routine goings-on of a sovereign, democratic country is unacceptable - it is offensive to reason and conscience.

Anyway, thank you for your article.

Best regards,
-Victor Shikhman

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Islamic Center near Ground Zero and Muslim-American Public Relations

Last week, prior to Rosh Hashanah (may you all have a sweet new year!), I had the latest of a running exchange with Hussein Ibish of the ATFP, this time about the Islamic center project near Ground Zero. The issue has received sufficient attention in the media that it requires little setup. Personally, I've found the media's analysis to be lacking, and had been working on a post examining what I see as a true point of interest - the decrepit state of Muslim-American public relations - when I discovered that Hussein Ibish addressed the matter, albeit less directly than I would have.

Here, then, is what I had thought to publish prior to my conversation with Dr. Ibish.
Most everyone has now had something to say about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy. I wouldn't want to disappoint the many millions who are waiting in desperate anticipation for my opinion on the drama, so let's get that out of the way first: I don't really care.

Yes, of course, building the Islamic complex so close to Ground Zero - hallowed American ground if ever there were - is a provocation. For a culture and faith so steeped in symbolism, and so insistent that others respect their symbols, it would be delusional to pretend that the planners did not anticipate a reaction from erecting a symbol of Islam beside the most horrific act of Islamist terror on American soil. Whether the organizers involved are extremists or not, they intentionally poked a stick in the raw public nerve center of America to demonstrate they could.

The Islamic center planners have acted perfectly withing their rights. Should they meet the requirements of the building permit process, no law can or should constrain them. Everyone involved knows this, and no one that I've read has seriously suggested applying the laws in a manner discriminatory to Muslims. The two forces driving this debate are a peaking public anger at the arrogance and unrepentant insensitivity of the Islamic center's planners, and the populist mobilization of that anger by political actors - both Republicans and Democrats - for November's elections.

Given that media attention appears to be moving on, leaving the issue on a slow simmer among the many who care - I not among them - I thought it timely to examine the performance of national (Arab/)Muslim-American institutions during what, in the Jewish community, would be called a period of crisis.

Indeed, it is only by looking through the experience of the organized Jewish community that we can appreciate the dismal state of (Arab/)Muslim-American public relations. The two communities - American Jews and Muslims - are of roughly equal size, concentrated in highly urban environments, well educated and generally not impoverished.

However, the responses of these two communities to similar events is remarkably different. In my hometown of Milwaukee, I know of two situations in which Jewish community construction projects were opposed. One involved an Ohr HaTorah modern orthodox shul; the other a Hillel building serving Jewish students at a local university campus. Unlike the Islamic center near Ground Zero, where mere public concern has been voiced, both Jewish community projects faced structural opposition with potential to derail the construction.

In the case of Ohr HaTorah, I'm not privy to all the details, but the main issue as I understand it was that neighbors claimed they did not want additional foot and car traffic in a residential area. The new Hillel building was to be constructed in place of two 60-70 year old homes, which had already been purchased. Late in the planning process, nearby residents decided that the homes in question had historical value and applied with the city to preserve the homes as historic building sites.

These may seem like minor issues compared to the Islamic center at Ground Zero, but again, they constituted structural impediments that had to be overcome before construction could begin. Nothing of this gravity is holding back the Islamic center project from moving forward.

To cut this short, I then detailed how the two cases in Milwaukee were resolved by the Jewish community - essentially though a mediated consensus that addressed the concerns of those opposed to construction, to the extent those concerns were amiable to reason and compromise. The orthodox shul was built after legal and community consultation, without major changes to the original plan, while the Hillel House was moved to a nearby parking lot, preserving the historic buildings which had so animated neighborhood opposition.

Needless to say, both cases contrast starkly with the public relations approach of the Islamic center builders. It is here that my conversation with Dr. Ibish is joined. As is my custom, I will publish my comments to him, and will paraphrase his remarks in turn without quoting them directly, as I did not seek permission from him to publish our dialogue.
As a sidenote, your article on the Islamic complex near Ground Zero was right on the mark. You left off not sure how to remedy the situation. I don't know how familiar you are with the Jewish community Federation system. You were involved with ADC for many years, but from what I know of ADC, it has very informal, volunteer chapters. You'd do well to call a Jewish Community Relations Council at a prominent local Federation (Boston, Chicago, etc.) and wargame a parallel scenario. Jewish community projects get blocked all the time, on more firm grounds - zoning, permits, neighborhood character, etc. - than the Islamic center, opposition to which is not even structural, but purely public sentiment.

If a JCRC fumbled its job as badly as whoever is running public affairs for the Islamic center project (if anyone is?) they'd be out on their butts (and they often are). The Jewish community is great at understanding that it's operating within a larger community, whose acceptance and acquiescence are important for the Jewish community's future. The entire approach to this has been, we have the permits, we don't need anyone's permission. That's exactly right, you already won, no one can stop you from building it. So why spend the rest of your public affairs dollars taking a confrontational tone that feeds controversy and negatively affects your community's image? If the project were structurally blocked, that would be one thing, but it's not, you won, it's over. Now fix your community's public image.

The charge of Islamophobia is right on - much of the public is afraid of Islam. Have the people in charge of PR for the project done anything except reinforce those fears over the past few weeks, with knock on effects around the country? Are they approaching this based on what's effective and best for their community in the long run? I think Arab-Muslim organizations take the wrong lessons from the "anti-semitism" charge. Spending your resources trying to prove that 70% of Americans are Islamophobic is ineffective - it's not offensive or hurtful, and it won't silence anyone, it's descriptive.

The anti-semitism charge works because anti-semitism is widely considered irrational, baseless hatred. It wasn't always that way. Christian communities in the middle ages considered it perfectly rational to hate Jews; they had a list of reasons why hating Jews was the most natural thing. Calling them "anti-semites" at the time would have met with bobbing heads: "Yes, we are, so what?" In fact, the phrase was coined by anti-semites who were proud of their Jew hatred. Anti-semitism is considered irrational today because each of the reasons was proven (to most reasonable people) to be baseless and illogical, leaving only irrational hatred. Very few people - and even fewer Americans - are willing to be hateful for its own sake.

Islamophobia today is more like anti-semitism was in the middle ages - people feel they have a rational basis to fear Islam. The Islamic community - or whoever represents sections of it - needs to stop trying to prove that 70% Americans are bigoted and normalize its image in the public mind by addressing the reasons for Islamophobia in a calm, methodical way.

In his response, Dr. Ibish strongly affirmed my remarks, expressed outrage at the damage the Islamic center builders are doing to the Arab/Muslim-American community and honed my Middle-Ages anti-semitism analogy, proffering instead the age of political Anti-Semitism (proper noun) of the 18th and 19th century. In other words, he suggested that public concern, however rational or otherwise, could soon translate into electoral potential and political power, which could manifest Islamophobia through punitive measures of state, such as were used against the Jews of Europe and the Middle East - discriminatory laws, ordinances, etc.

I'm not sure we're there yet, or that America could ever be such a place - at least not without substantial public trauma resulting from ongoing, bloody acts of Islamist terrorism - but were I a Muslim I would be erring on the side of apprehensive caution also. The question I have is whether the larger Muslim community - diffused and fragmented as it may be - is drawing the right lessons from this experience and acting wisely to diffuse tensions and improve its public image. To date, what I have seen amounts to an aggressive assertion of legal rights, idiotically juxtaposing those rights against what has become a broad-based public sentiment. This is not an intelligent way to sustainably navigate a minority community's welfare within American society.

Is there a point at which the Jewish community and other minority groups must get involved to prevent the erosion of public and political respect for minority group rights as a whole? Yes, but we're not there yet, and bailing the Muslim community out now would be disastrous. There is a learning curve to peacefully coexisting in American society, rather than appearing to run roughshod over it, and Muslim-American organizations must meet the challenge to their community with self-sufficiency, humility and realism, as all other groups have, without special treatment or protected status.

As an immigrant and a visibly observant Jew, I can attest that America, beyond merely tolerant, is welcoming and highly encouraging of diversity. It is quite a feat to turn a plurality of this country around, against its nature and core principles, to embrace anxiety and xenophobia. The present Muslim-American leadership must be held to account for their disgraceful disservice to their community. Dr. Ibish is right to characterize Arab and Muslim Americans as "passive" and "unorganized", not for their docility in the face of rising Islamophobia, but rather for their silence and acquiescence at the mismanagement of their communities.

Israeli Rape By Deception Case: One Week Later

It has now been more than a week since information was released which shattered the international media narrative on the two month old Israeli "rape by deception" story. As one of the first bloggers to identify and comment on this story in English - making use of Elizabeth Tsurkov's translation - I've been humbled by the many others who picked up on my insignificant ramblings and shared the message with tens of thousands of their readers. It was my first time in the middle of a story worth linking to, and the blogosphere did not disappoint.

To Yaakov Lozowick, Solomonia, Martin Kramer, Volokh, Bruce S. Levine, Elder of Zion, Backspin, Judeopundit, HuffPo Monitor, CiF Watch, SoccerDad, Yourish, Rungholt, Ben Smith of Politico, Eli Lake of the Washington Times many others... thank you!

Also, thank you to the dozens if not hundreds of you who cross-posted the story to your Twitter and Facebook feeds, left comments on DailyKos and a dozen forums and bulletin boards, emailed it to your friends and sent letters to the editors of news sites demanding retractions. Some of you CC'ed me on those emails, and I read them, even if I didn't respond. Silke seems to have sprinkled my name throughout the internet, including on German language sites, and it was quite a treasure hunt keeping up with her in the traffic stats. Vielen Dank, Silke! Sie sind auch mein Lieber ;)

As many of you know, despite a full week of being bombarded with emails, tweets and links, during which he had ample opportunity to correct the record in light of factual updates to the story, which any responsible blogger would have done, Andrew Sullivan has not retracted his odious remarks, made infamous on this blog:
But it's the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It's about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It's about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It's a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.
Yes, it really is the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. What would a reputable blogger - "of no party or creed" - have to gain by continuing to distort the public record and lying to his hundreds of thousands of daily readers, when a simple one line clarification would settle the matter? Do these remarks fit into a pattern of Sullivan's portrayal, reporting and commentary on the Jewish state? What does it say about the man that he cannot accept to have been wrong in his exceptional, vitriolic denunciation of a society he knows so very little about?

In the days and weeks and months and years to come, we will explore these and many other questions pertaining to Andrew Sullivan, for there is nothing so conducive to stiff-necked resolve as the indecent obduracy to reason.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Israeli Rape By Deception Case: Responsible Blogging

David Bernstein at Volokh:
I didn’t express outrage that Sullivan repeated the story even though it was incorrect, I expressed outrage that he drew larger inferences from the story, inferences that would have been questionable even if it had been true, but seem downright embarrassing now. It’s one thing to repeat a “here’s an interesting and somewhat weird Israeli case,” and then discuss some relevant legal observations, as Eugene did, and another to repeat “here’s an interesting and somewhat weird Israeli case,” and then infer that this shows what a sick racist society Israel is. Even then, I pointed out that sometimes we all fall victim to the temptation to draw unsupported inferences from newspaper stories that we haven’t verified, but that a reputable blogger will issue a retraction or correction later. So far, nothing from Sullivan, Cole, et al.

Staying Focused: Israeli Rape By Deception Case Ctd.

The usually thoughtful Ron Kampeas of JTA has chosen to wade into the Israeli rape by deception case. Mr. Kampeas appears to have spent about as much time learning about the issue as did Andrew Sullivan, whose now infamous, off-the-cuff defamation proclamation was made famous in my initial post:
But it’s the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It’s about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It’s about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It’s a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.
Parroting Sullivan, Ron insists that:
...a judge and a prosecutor conspired to make miscegenation an acceptable crime.
Conspired? Miscegenation? Where do these unwarranted bludgeons for words come from? Surely not from the evidence of the case, which has now been revealed to the public as a simple pleading down of forced rape charges due to the prosecution's concerns over the raped woman's mental health and credibility. What does it mean when highly intelligent people, whose job it is to remain informed on such issues, continue to distort the public record and insinuate a sinister, state-sponsored racial tinge to this case, where none exists?

Ron, you may push and peddle this in any direction you like. You may feel comfortable asking us to, "Listen to the victim. Take her in and care for her. Not an inappropriate Elul message." If so, you've missed the point entirely. This is not a story about a rape, just as the original story, reported in dozens of international media outlets wasn't about the obscure details of a rape in a remote corner of the world.

I feel for the suffering of the victim, and the public record must be set straight for her sake alone, but her well-being and obtaining the justice that she so deserves are the responsibility of the State of Israel, not American bloggers. What's driving me and so many others to push this matter back into the public eye is a desire to end the pattern of vilification and ugly obsession that so many in the global media have for the Jewish state, which leads them to publish poorly sourced, ideologically driven stories with relish and impunity. As I've written in the past:
This story became global news because of what was read into the verdict handed down to an Arab man in an Israeli court, what the truth of state-sanctioned racism would have meant for Israel's Jewry, for the notion of Jewish statehood, for the Jewish soul itself.
This is about confronting a pattern of behavior inconsistent with journalistic credibility and professional integrity.
Without that element, that "visceral emotional core" that allowed Andrew to believe that a Jewish state and its people were predisposed to systematic racist prejudice, it would have been just another unfortunate, messy case of "he said - she said" rape between two less-than-upstanding citizens that every criminal system in the world must tackle on a daily basis. How many women were raped on the same day, in ways more and less brutal, all around the world? Why did THIS story break international headlines when none other did? What does that say about the state of the news media, in Israel and abroad, in the way they have conditioned themselves to accept the most vile insinuations about Israel and Israeli Jews without the minimum critical thought demanded by journalistic standards? Why, even after the truth has been made known, have retractions and apologies not been published?
It's not the State of Israel that is victimized by this assault on journalistic integrity, but the readership these news outlets claim to serve. I won't ask that you retract your wanting analysis of this story, Ron, merely that you step aside and allow Andrew Sullivan to regain some credibility by retracting his.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Staying Focused: Israeli Rape By Deception Case

Several commentators on my blog and others have tried to make an issue out of different ways to read into the facts of the case (Israeli Rape By Deception Case, Now With More Rape, Less Deception). Some are parsing the victim's testimony in the context of her deteriorated mental state. Others are busy dissecting the timeline of events, or questioning the motives of Israeli prosecutors. Such meandering is really what Lisa Goldman's post is all about.

That's all fine and good, and irrelevant. Whatever the "true" story may be, whether it was hard rape or soft rape that this poor woman with a wretched past experienced, whatever precise crimes the Arab Israeli man committed, and however it was handled by the prosecutor and public defender, all that is for the justice system of the State of Israel to decide. What made this story international news were not the particulars, but the purely invented racial aspects of the case, which were purposefully manufactured to distort reality for ideological gain.

This story became global news because of what was read into the verdict handed down to an Arab man in an Israeli court, what the truth of state-sanctioned racism would have meant for Israel's Jewry, for the notion of Jewish statehood, for the Jewish soul itself. Once again, Andrew Sullivan's brilliant writing style, marinated in sewage, is case in point:
But it's the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It's about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It's about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It's a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.
Without that element, that "visceral emotional core" that allowed Andrew to believe that a Jewish state and its people were predisposed to systematic racist prejudice, it would have been just another unfortunate, messy case of "he said - she said" rape between two less-than-upstanding citizens that every criminal system in the world must tackle on a daily basis. How many women were raped on the same day, in ways more and less brutal, all around the world? Why did THIS story break international headlines when none other did? What does that say about the state of the news media, in Israel and abroad, in the way they have conditioned themselves to accept the most vile insinuations about Israel and Israeli Jews without the minimum critical thought demanded by journalistic standards? Why, even after the truth has been made known, have retractions and apologies not been published?

The illegitimate attacks on Israeli Jews as ethno-religious racists, protected in their bigotry by an unjust court system, are empty of substance, discriminatory in nature, intolerable and must be confronted, beyond the exact particulars of this case.

Update: Israeli Rape-By-Deception Case: Letter to Andrew Sullivan

If you are new to this story, read THIS first.

Andrew,

Your sources were wrong. The Israeli Arab DID rape the Jewish woman. It was not consensual, and nothing to do with racism came up during trial. The charge was lowered from forced rape to rape-by-deception because the victim's prior history as an abused woman, past prostitute with a fragile mental state (but not physical evidence which confirmed the rape!) caused the Prosecution to accept a plea bargain with the Defense, on condition that the man serve jail time. The Prosecution was prevented from revealing the man's culpability in the forced rape due to secrecy laws surrounding the victim's testimony and associated evidence, because they had already signed off on the plea bargain. Meanwhile, the man was freed while the case was appealed, and spoke to media that "she wanted it" and invented this story about being imprisoned for impersonating a Jew. Gideon Levy ran with it, and you followed lock stock and two smoking barrels.

The details have been published in Hebrew, but not in English.

Here is a translation.

Based on this new information, you need to fully retract your remarks, which in light of new evidence are unfounded and vicious:
But it's the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It's about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It's about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It's a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.
Some humility and self-reflection over your disgusting statement is in order.

-Victor

P.S. I lay out the full story on my blog, with a demand that those, like you, who ran with the "racism" angle retract their remarks.

Israeli Rape-By-Deception Case, Now With More Rape, Less Deception

It was a story heard around the world. As was originally reported in Haaretz, an Israeli Arab man had consensual sex with an Israeli Jewish woman under the pretext that he was a Jew. After intercourse, she discovered that he wasn't a Jew after all, and filed "rape by deception" charges. An Israeli court upheld the rape charges, sentencing the Israeli Arab to 18 months in jail. Here was a clear, incontrovertible case of Jewish racism against Arabs, legally upheld by an Israeli court! Needless to say, the media went spinning into overdrive.

Perhaps none was more eloquent than Gideon Levy of Haaretz: "He Impersonated a Human".
Sabbar Kashur wanted to be a person, a person like everybody else. But as luck would have it, he was born Palestinian. It happens. His chances of being accepted as a human being in Israel are nil. [...] He knew that he had no chance with the Jews, so he adopted another name for himself, Dudu.

Two years ago he met a woman by chance. Nice to meet you, my name is Dudu. He claims that she came on to him, but let's leave the details aside. Soon enough they went where they went and what happened happened, all by consent of the parties concerned. One fine day, a month and a half after an afternoon quickie, he was summoned to the police on suspicion of rape.

His temporary lover discovered that her Dudu wasn't a Dudu after all, that the Jew is (gasp! ) an Arab, and so she filed a complaint against the impostor. Her body was violated by an Arab. From then on Kashur was placed under house arrest for two years, an electronic cuff on his ankle. This week his sentence was pronounced: 18 months in jail.
Are you ready for the finale? You have to appreciate it in full. Take a deep breath.
It was no coincidence that this verdict attracted the attention of foreign correspondents in Israel, temporary visitors who see every blemish. Yes, in German or Afrikaans this disgraceful verdict would have sounded much worse.
Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut, und Afrikaans spreche ich nicht. English I speak quite well, and searching google for "rape-by-deception" articles from two months back was not particularly difficult.

BBC:
An Arab man convicted in Israel of rape because he pretended he was a Jew when he had consensual sex with a Jewish woman has called the verdict racist.
The Forward:
An Israeli judge this week convicted Sabbar Kashur, a 30-year-old Jerusalem man, of rape and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. But his real crime was lying. The woman was outraged when Kashur immediately dressed and left her, and even more upset when she found out he was an Arab, and filed her complaint against him. He was charged with rape and indecent assault.
Andrew Sullivan:
But it's the visceral emotional core of this that is so offensive. It's about racism, religion and the risk of miscegenation. It's about the deep disgust of some Israeli Jews toward Arabs, upheld by the courts. It's a variant of the racial sexual panics of the Jim Crow South.

And it goes on, and on, and on.

CNN, Guardian, NYTimes, ABC News.

It is only now, some two months after Israel's image has been blackened, after its courts have been compared to those of the Jim Crow South, and its Jewish population tarnished as ethno-religious racists, that the truth begins to poke its unwelcome head, AND ONLY IN HEBREW!!!

Haaretz:

Based on the incomplete facts published thus far in the case, Kashur’s [the Arab Israeli's] role as a victim became established over the past month and a half, and rightfully so. However, according to the testimony of the complainant, the full story appears to be much more complex, and the victim is the one Kashur left naked in the staircase of the building on 13 Ben Hillel Street (publishing her name is forbidden and she will be called here B.). The new details shed completely new light on this case, and haven’t been published until today because they were first revealed in B.’s testimony in court, which was classified as it was said in a trial behind closed doors. Following the request of “HaIr” [local newspaper in Jerusalem – E], the court recently declassified the testimony and paved the way for its publication. The testimony details in 100 pages B.’s tragic life story and her version of the events that happened on that afternoon two years ago, and is exposed here for the first time.

The article's full translation, by Elizabeth Tsurkov, can be found here. The gist of it is as follows. A woman was raped. She was no angel - sexually abused by her father, a history of working as a prostitute. The victim's prior history of abuse and prostitution left her with a fragile mental state that came out under the duress of cross-examination. Concerned about her credibility, despite the physical evidence which confirmed the rape, the Prosecution chose to accept a plea bargain with the Defense, on condition that the defendant serve jail time.

The defendant was temporarily freed while the case was under appeal, and began to give media interviews, where he outlined his version of the story - that "she wanted it", etc. The media pounced on the sensational, and utterly unfounded, element of racism, based on the information that was released to them - which was that a rape-by-deception case between an Arab man and a Jewish woman "who wanted it" resulted in jail time. Meanwhile, the Prosecution was caught in a double bind - it had signed off on reducing the charges to rape-by-deception, and was bound by secrecy to not reveal that the original charge of rape had the weight of evidence.

The only indication of all this you will find in the English version of Haaretz (at time of writing) is not an apology by Gideon Levy, but an apologetic, feminist appeal for women to trust one another when a case of rape is alleged, even when racism is claimed. Unless you are already fully informed on the updated story, you wouldn't know what to think, because no new details of the case which explain this apology are provided. I was left to dig for the story on my own, to find the sole source on the internet who had translated this dramatic case into English.

I'm at a loss for words. Having followed this unseemly story back in July, having read all that smug, self-righteous drivel about Israel's descent to barbarism, I can't avoid a creeping sense of betrayal and anger. The news items on this subject that circulated the world, casting Israel as a racist country... the editorials... the blogosphere... How do you turn that clock back? This is another Jenin, another al Dura, another baseless smear, so quickly and eagerly accepted by the media, so deliciously relished by the punditry that we could hear their lips smacking from across our computer screens.

I'm going to focus on Drudge, who ran with the story, and Andrew Sullivan, whose disgusting bile on the subject - "the risk of miscegenation" (!!!) - I will personally force him to stuff back into his filthy mouth. Perhaps if he had spent less time stroking his perverse Palin Obsession and more time vetting his sources, he would not have misled tens of thousands of his readers off the cliff with Gideon Levy.

Update: One Week Later

Further Update: You may continue to follow this story, in particular the Andrew Sullivan angle, here: Andrew Sullivan Watch.

Lieberman Strikes Again

As the first real push-back against the newly launched Peace Process™ coming from within Israel's political system, it's interesting how Lieberman's recent remarks about the improbability of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians in the near term are being reported. In all reportage, little emphasis is being put on Lieberman's stated desire for an interim agreement in the absence of a permanent settlement.

Haaretz spills little ink on his actual comments, juxtaposing them against Netanyahu's public statements and international commitments. As a consequence, Lieberman is positioned as an insolent, out of control Peace Process™ spoiler.

In contrast, JPost, while quoting Lieberman more extensively, provides some context of the political calculus that went into these remarks. Explaining that Lieberman is attempting to attract disaffected Likud voters, and perhaps even ministers to Yisrael Beteinu, JPost also reports Netanyahu's unchallenged position within Likud. The negotiations are so sensitive that Bibi refuses to even discuss them with his own party, and the party doesn't so much as peep in revolt.

Finally, Ynet wastes little time on context or editorializing, publishing numerous and lengthy comments by Lieberman, including the following gem:
Turning his attention to the possibility that the settlement freeze will continue, Lieberman said that he sees "no good reason to continue the settlement freeze. The Israeli government declared the freeze unilaterally, and all it got us was accusations from the Palestinians, who called it 'a scam.'

"They have been stalling for nine months, and in the last month, they have all of a sudden recognized the 'bargain' for what it is and are pressuring for the 'scam' to continue.
I mean, really, have you heard a single other politician, anywhere, get to the nut of the issue with such flair?

Whatever the fate of the Peace Process™, it is quite obvious that Netanyahu has promised Obama a good effort, and a magnificent show, if nothing else. After all, the appearance of diplomatic progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all that the Americans are really asking for, eager as they are for the slightest leverage on half a dozen burning regional issues. So far, judging by the surprisingly positive coverage here in the states, Netanyahu has delivered on oratory and theater, without publicly compromising anything substantive.

As for Lieberman, like him or hate him, such are dangers of a coalition government where the Foreign Minister - even one as distanced from top-tier diplomacy as Lieberman has been - is the head of hungry young party, eager to eat up right wing support from Likud. A better statesman, a team player, would have had the wisdom to take Israel's entire, delicate diplomatic scene into account before seeking electoral gain at the country's expense.

On the other hand, perhaps this is symbolic of the maturation - if not the maturity - of Israel's political system. Gone is the founding generation, which felt intimately the fragility of what they had built, and knew to close ranks in public, at least on occasion, at least on matters of diplomatic importance. Lieberman's open remarks negating the sensitive diplomatic maneuvering of his own coalition partner certainly come off as irresponsible, but they also reflect a confidence that all of Israel's political system need not line up and shudder each time America blows. So long as the country's survival is not at stake, and it isn't, one can not well criticize Lieberman for practicing the very political pluralism that is expected of any free, democratic Western state.

Update: Interestingly, Yossi Beilin, the embodiment of the unlikely intersection between Israel's far left wing and some semblance of reality, co-founder of the Geneva Initiative, echoes Lieberman in supporting an interim agreement now, rather than a comprehensive peace agreement that won't happen. Naturally, he blames Netanyahu for the inability to sign a final deal. Reading through his piece, one might think that the Palestinians are all waiting with outstretched arms for a bold Israeli partner (like Yossi Beilin) to offer them peace, instead of recently throwing each other off roof tops, but I digress.

Update: Ynet: Lieberman explains and expands his remarks.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Promoting Intense Debate

I've implemented a new comment system on this blog, offered by IntenseDebate. It offers improved admin controls (spam, etc.), greater comment "portability" using your Twitter, Wordpress and OpenID accounts, comment rating and easy comment tracking features.

My first new bicycle in the US was a Pacific USA Conquest that my father bought for my 11th birthday. At some $220, it represented a substantial investment in my mobility, at a time when my parents were not all that secure in their employment. I'll never forget my father's instruction to ride the bike that summer until my feet fell off, so that if anything broke off it, we could make use of the three month warranty it came with.

Below is my grandfather on my mother's side, Yefim (Chaim ben Nechama), in his early 80s, caught red handed riding that very bike in ice cold weather last winter. I was both proud and profoundly embarrassed, but not sufficiently so to prevent me from snapping a photo and yelling at him that he is asking to catch a cold.

There is no warranty "assumed or implied" with the IntenseDebate comment system, but I encourage you to "bike until your feet fall off" to put the comment system through its paces, so that if any problems arise I can fix them. With any luck, the comment system will hold up at least well as that all-steel construction, which hasn't taken so much as a dent in 16 years. For my part, I've had a busy summer, but I hope to start offering some content worth commenting about.

The Radical Challenge to Social Justice

In the recent past, the slogans of "peace" and "justice" have become sacrosanct in the activist community, and have been taken at face value in the media and public mainstream. Yet, particularly among those focused on the Israeli-Arab conflict, a growing number of activists who proclaim themselves to be striving for peace and working for justice are increasingly deploying tactics and heralding outcomes which appear to be add odds with the noble sentiments they espouse.

From "human rights" flotillas provoking violent armed struggle on the open seas to "peace" activists delegitimizing negotiators involved in conflict resolution, to crusaders for "justice" courting bloodshed in advocating the destruction of a member state in the United Nations, the divorce between slogans and actions is glaring for all but the most casual observers.

While the slogans are well synchronized with the humanist ideals of Western civilization, the confrontational tactics, an absolutist attitude that disparages compromise, and extremist goals of these campaigners are reminiscent more of violent European Marxist-socialist radicals in the 60's and 70's than the American social justice peacenik culture.

Indeed, it is the gentle passivity and welcoming inclusiveness of the American peace movement which has enabled it to be so thoroughly infiltrated by the the European-style Marxist radicals. The radicals undermine the prospects of peace by introducing inflexibility into the negotiating process, scuppering efforts at coexistence in favor of polarizing confrontation and leveraging the politics of bloodshed over building brotherhood, among others. Such actions have so undermined the credibility of the American social justice movement and its international peace efforts, that many now question whether the movement has itself become a party to the very conflict it once sought to diffuse!

There are good people working in the American peace movement to bridge deadlocks and overcome mutual suspicions that prevent the implementation of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Their ability to remain credible brokers and rally public support in times of necessity are held hostage to the radicals in their midst. It is only by recognizing extremist sympathies, purging their ranks of nonconstructive attitudes, and focusing on the core mission of building a more peaceful, just and tolerant world that our confidence in their otherwise tireless and good efforts will be restored.
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