Monthly Archives: July 2005

Orientalism and the Pull-Out

If Orientalism, in its crudest most accusatory sense, means infantilizing the people of the East and assuming that only the Modern Western-oriented person can truly be a political player, the New York Times has gone Orientalist. In an editorial, the NYTimes blames Israel for the state of the Palestinian security forces. Not once does it ask what the Palestinians could do, or should do, to better the situation.
For godsakes, the United State of America is on the Palestinian Authority side in this matter, not to mention the UN, all of Europe, Asia. Hell, everyone. And, if the US really thought that all it would take for the PA to function is more arms and ammo, it would happen. But I suspect the US does not really believe that these logistical improvements will do much–especially since all of the arms and armor that has gone to the PA has essentially gone to waste due to Arafat’s duplicity–as the NYTimes itself reported–and most of the newly acquired arms would, probably, be funneled to the gangs that now rule much of the PA’s territory.
In other words, it is up to the Palestinians themselves to prove that they can control their already existing forces, and only then will in make sense to invest in them. Can they do it? Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, isn’t sure. But at least he suggests what should be done…by the Palestinians.


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The State of Gaza

Israeli Y-Net reports that Abu-Mazen, speaking in the United Arab Emirates, declared his intention to keep Gaza and the West Bank united as One Palestine Complete. I don’t think it will happen–and I’m not so sure that having two states wouldn’t be a bad idea.
This has nothing at all to do with Israel and what is good for it. Frankly, Israel will have to deal with whatever is best for the Palestinians when it comes to their domestic political decisions, including whether they want to stay united or not. (by disengaging and thereby ending the occupation, Israel would allow the Palestinians to start figuring that part out). And, from my experience with West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, there isn’t the unity that some would expect.
One part of the lack of unity is due to perceptions. While I realize that generalizations always miss some of the truth, there is something to the fact that many West Bank Palestinians look down on the Gazans, thinking they are provincial and of a lower class, while Gazans think the West Bankers are haughty and elitist.
Another reason for the lack of unity has to do with the possible routes to development. Gaza–with access to the Mediterranean–could potentially become a city-state on the sea, strengthening its independence by building economic ties with countries along the sea. The West Bank, on the other-hand, will be increasingly dependent on the Jordanians and Israelis for access to trade and international contacts–and will therefore be better suited to hi-tech and non-heavy goods production.
The convergence of these two aspects of the West Bank/Gaza future leads me to think that it could be better for the Gazans not to unite with the West Bank. And I think that, after the disengagement eases the half-grip the corrupt Palestinian Authority has on the population, much of the Gazan street will think the same. In other words, I wouldn’t hold Abu Mazen to his words.

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Selling Israel

Jonathan Tobin writes in the Jerusalem Post today about the organized Jewish world’s quest to sell Israel and how bias, especially in the Academy, has contributed to the increasing anti-Zionism amongst graduate students. His conclusion is interesting:

To say this is not to counsel inaction, or even rejection of Luntz’s proposal, if directed at the right target audience. But as we ponder these proposed media fixes we ought not to forget that America is more than the sum of its elite grad students.

There is some truth to that, but I have a few objections: First, I don’t think Israel needs to be sold. Israel is not a product or a president to be elected. It is a country, a representation of a nation, who should be granted the same legitimacy as any other nation–and criticized in the same vein as any other nation. The fact that this doesn’t happen–that Israel is somehow different–is the critical problem, because it denotes a measure of prejudice. And in these cases Israel’s right to existence should be justified and reaffirmed.
Second, I think that elite Universities are the crux of the problem. Not only does a great majority of the policy establishment come out of these institutions, but also the leadership in the journalistic and business worlds. And, not to mention, the leadership of the professorship, which will go on and teach across the country, spreading their ideas as they go. So, truly wrestling with what is causing so many people to single out Israel for delegitimization is crucial.
Third and last, Israel should be called to act in a moral manner–one that Jews can be proud of associating with. True, not all Jews will agree, ever, about anything, but that does not absolve the Jewish community from holding itself up to the standards set forth by our prophets and Sages. But this means that there needs to be a clearer understanding within the community what criticism stems from love, and what criticism stems from hate. In other words, criticism that accepts the fundamental right of the Jewish people to define themselves as a people–but calls them to task to act morally when they can–should be supported and included. But criticism that rejects the right of the Jewish collective to live under its own determination should be alienated from the community and cut off.
By re-understanding the issue, re-targeting the efforts, and re-setting the ground rules, I think Israel activism can start down the path towards what should be the ultimate goal: the end of having to be outwardly pro-Israel and the birth of just being Israel.

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Judaism Lost

Alasdair McIntyre starts his book, After Virtue, with the following metaphor:

Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. Nonetheless all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.
In such a culture men would use expressions such as ‘neutrino’, ‘mass’, ‘specific gravity’, ‘atomic weight’ in systematic and often interrelated ways which would resemble in lesser or greater degrees the ways in which such expressions had been used in earlier times before scientific knowledge had been so largely lost. But many of the beliefs presupposed by the use of these expressions would have been lost and there would appear to be an element of arbitrariness and even of choice in their application which would appear very surprising to us. What would appear to be rival and competing premises for which no further argument could be given would abound. Subjectivist theories of science would appear and would be criticized by those who held that the notion of truth embodied in what they took to be science was incompatible with subjectivism.

I’d argue that Judaism seems to be in this same state of subjectivism.

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Seeing Terrorism Sideways

Walter Laqueuer’s review of Robert Pape’s Dying to Win and Mia Bloom’s Dying to Kill in the Washington Post brings up a few good points and the best is that terrorism, simply, is no more than a weapon.
The importance of that sentence is usually lost at first glance, as it was on me, but here it is again in another form: suicide bombing is no different than air-to-ground bombing is no different than stabbing. Each are no more than a ways to a means.
This is important because, by focusing on terrorism, and trying to draw conclusions from cases of violence whose only shared characteristic is the method used (i.e. suicide bombing), one looses the forest for the trees. Pape’s thesis, that suicide bombing is strictly a political act for political ends, falls apart when one differentiates the acts of violence based upon their aim and not their means. In other words, the attacks of 9/11 or 3/11 or 7/7 might have suicide bombing in common with, say, the Tamil Tigers–but that is where the commonality ends. And any effort to draw generalizable conclusions from grouping these all together obscures more than it makes clear.

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Minorities and Terrorism

Zvi Bar’el writes in Ha’aretz about the incitement case involving Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, the leader of the Islamic movement in Israel, and contrasts the way Israel’s dealt with him to how Blair has been dealing with the fallout from the 7/7 attacks in London.
On one hand, he’s right–people certainly should not be indicted for voicing equivocal statements regarding suicide bombing. But the evidence he uses is worse than flawed: it’s dishonest. In trying to compare the way London’s Islamic community views England and terrorism to the way the Israeli Arab-Palestinian community views Israel, he leaves out two crucial facts: First, the Islamic Movement in England does not seek to join in solidarity with, say, Ireland. Second, and more importantly, the united British Muslim community issued a ruling (fatwa) explicitly forbidding suicide bombing, no exceptions.
There is no question that Israel bears a lot of blame as to the socio-economic conditions of Israeli-Arab/Palestinians. But the Islamic Movement bears responsibility too–and a first step towards trust could be to adopt the resolution passed by their British brethren.

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Sudan Genocide Information

The New Republic is hosting a weeklong crash-course on Darfur, taught by Smith College Professor Eric Reeves. Reeves also has his own website with comprehensive information on the conflict in Sudan.
Here in Israel–where I am for the summer–there has not been as much news on the genocide as I would like (especially for a country of a people who know genocide and the sin of silence well), but there has been some–including a show with snippets from a movie made by an Israeli documenting problems there. Horrid stuff. I am proud TNR is taking on the task of educating the public and hope someone in power, somewhere, starts taking this on more seriously. Send in the ground troops.

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