Documents recently unearthed that show early rifts among American & European Zionists. Divisions along many lines, including social, political and class. Einstein sided with the ardent Zionists. Fascinating read.
In 1921, Albert Einstein’s first trip to America triggered the kind of mass hysteria that would greet the Beatles four decades later. But as newly published documents show, it also tore a sharp rift between European Zionists and some of their fellow Jews across the Atlantic, men like Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter, who felt that the best way for Jews to get ahead was to assimilate, not agitate for a Jewish homeland.
by Walter Isaacson
How Einstein Divided America's Jews
Albert Einstein’s first tour of America was an extravaganza unique in the history of science, and indeed would have been remarkable for any realm: a grand two-month processional in the spring of 1921 that evoked the sort of mass frenzy and press adulation that would thrill a touring rock star. Einstein had recently burst into global stardom when observations performed during a total eclipse dramatically confirmed his theory of relativity by showing that the sun’s gravitational field bent a light beam to the degree that he had predicted. The New York Times trumpeted that triumph with a multideck headline:
Lights All Askew in the Heavens / Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations / EINSTEIN THEORY TRIUMPHS / Stars Not Where They Seemed or Were Calculated to Be, but Nobody Need Worry
So when he arrived in New York in April, he was greeted by adoring throngs as the world’s first scientific celebrity, one who also happened to be a gentle icon of humanist values and a living patron saint for Jews.
Newly published papers from that year, however, show a less joyful aspect to Einstein’s famous visit. He found himself caught in a battle between ardent European Zionists led by Chaim Weizmann, who was with Einstein on the trip, and the more polished and cautious potentates of American Jewry, including Louis D. Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and the denizens of established Wall Street banking firms. Among other things, the disputes about Zionism apparently caused Einstein not to be invited to lecture at Harvard and prompted many prominent Manhattan Jews to decline an invitation from him to discuss his pet project, the establishment of a university in Jerusalem.
The full extent of this controversy, which has been only touched upon in previous books (including a biography I wrote in 2007), is revealed in a volume of Einstein’s correspondence and papers for 1921 that was recently published by the Princeton University Press. None of the letters is newly discovered (all are available in public archives), but most have not been published before. The 600-page volume, the 12th compiled so far by the editors of the Einstein Papers Project, pulls all of the letters and related documents together in a way that allows us now to see, even more clearly than Einstein did at the time, the political and emotional struggle he stumbled into.
Einstein was raised in a secular German Jewish household, and (except for a brief fling with religious fervor as a child) he disdained religious faith and rituals. He did, however, proudly consider himself Jewish by heritage, and he felt a strong kinship with what he called his fellow tribesmen or clansmen. His outlook in 1921 can be seen in the brusque answer he sent early that year to the rabbis of Berlin, who had urged him to become a dues-paying member of the Jewish religious community there. “In your letter,” he responded, “I notice that the word Jew is ambiguous in that it refers (1) to nationality and origin, (2) to the faith. I am a Jew in the first sense, not in the second.”
German anti-Semitism was then on the rise. Many German Jews did everything they could, including converting to Christianity, in order to assimilate, and they urged Einstein to do the same. But Einstein took the opposite approach. He began to identify even more strongly with his Jewish heritage, and he embraced the Zionist goal of promoting a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
He had been recruited by the pioneering Zionist leader Kurt Blumenfeld, who paid a call on Einstein in Berlin in early 1919. “With extreme naïveté he asked questions,” Blumenfeld recalled. Among Einstein’s queries: With their intellectual gifts, why should Jews create a homeland that was primarily agricultural? Why did it have to be its own nation-state? Wasn’t nationalism the problem rather than the solution? Eventually, Einstein came around. “I am, as a human being, an opponent of nationalism,” he told Blumenfeld. “But as a Jew, I am from today a supporter of the Zionist effort.” He also became, more specifically, an advocate for the creation of a Jewish university in Jerusalem, which became Hebrew University.
Einstein had initially thought that his first visit to the United States, which he jokingly called “Dollaria,” might be a way to make some money in a stable currency. He and his first wife had gone through a bitter divorce, and they were still fighting over finances. Hamburg banker Max Warburg and his New York–based brother Paul tried to help Einstein line up lucrative lectures. They asked both Princeton and the University of Wisconsin for a fee of $15,000. In February of 1921, Max Warburg informed him, “The amount you wish is not possible.” Einstein was not terribly upset. “They found my demands too high,” he told his friend and fellow physicist Paul Ehrenfest. “I am glad not to have to go there; it really isn’t a pretty way to make money.” Instead, he made other plans: he would go to Brussels to present a paper at the Solvay Conference, the preeminent European gathering of physicists.
It was then that Blumenfeld came by Einstein’s apartment again, this time with an invitation—or perhaps an instruction—in the form of a telegram from the president of the World Zionist Organization, Chaim Weizmann. A brilliant biochemist who had emigrated from Russia to England, Weizmann asked Einstein to accompany him on a trip to America to raise funds to help settle Palestine and, in particular, create Hebrew University in Jerusalem. When Blumenfeld read the telegram to him, Einstein balked. He was not an orator, he said, and the idea of using his celebrity to draw crowds to the cause was “an unworthy one.” Blumenfeld did not argue. Instead, he simply read Weizmann’s telegram aloud again. “He is the president of our organization,” Blumenfeld said, “and if you take your conversion to Zionism seriously, then I have the right to ask you, in Dr. Weizmann’s name, to go with him to the United States.”
“What you say is right and convincing,” Einstein replied, to the “boundless astonishment” of Blumenfeld. “I realize that I myself am now part of the situation and that I must accept the invitation.” Weizmann was thrilled and somewhat surprised. “I wholeheartedly appreciate your readiness at such a decisive hour for the Jewish people,” he later cabled Einstein from London.
Einstein’s decision reflected a major transformation in his life. Until the completion of his general theory of relativity, he had dedicated himself almost totally to science. But the anti-Semitism that was oozing up around him in Berlin led him to reassert his identity as a Jew and to feel more committed to defending the culture and community of his people. “I am not keen on going to America, but am just doing it on behalf of the Zionists,” he wrote to his French publisher. “I must serve as famed bigwig and decoy-bird … I am doing whatever I can for my tribal brethren, who are being treated so vilely everywhere.”
And so Einstein and his new wife, Elsa, set sail in late March 1921 for their first visit to America. On the way over, Einstein tried to explain relativity to Weizmann. Asked upon their arrival whether he understood the theory, Weizmann gave a puckish reply: “Einstein explained his theory to me every day, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it.”
When the ship pulled up to the Battery in Lower Manhattan on the afternoon of April 2, Einstein was standing on the deck, wearing a black felt hat that concealed some but not all of his now-graying profusion of uncombed hair. One hand held a shiny briar pipe; the other clutched a worn violin case. “He looked like an artist,” The New York Times reported. “But underneath his shaggy locks was a scientific mind whose deductions have staggered the ablest intellects of Europe.”
Thousands of spectators, along with the fife-and-drum corps of the Jewish Legion, were waiting in Battery Park when the mayor and other dignitaries brought Einstein ashore on a police tugboat. The crowd, waving blue-and-white flags, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then the Zionist anthem, “Hatikvah.” The Einsteins and the Weizmanns intended to head directly for the Hotel Commodore, in Midtown. Instead, their motorcade wound through the Jewish neighborhoods of the Lower East Side late into the evening. “Every car had its horn, and every horn was put in action,” Weizmann recalled. “We reached the Commodore at about 11:30, tired, hungry, thirsty, and completely dazed.”
One group was missing at most of the subsequent welcoming ceremonies and celebrations: the leaders of the Zionist Organization of America. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who was its honorary president, did not even send pro forma official greetings or congratulations. Brandeis had traveled with Weizmann to Palestine in 1919, and the following year had gone to London to be with him at a Zionist convention. But shortly afterward they began to feud. Their fight partly stemmed from a few differences over policy; Brandeis wanted the Zionist organizations to focus on sending money to Jewish settlers in Palestine and not on agitating politically. It was also partly an old-fashioned power struggle; Brandeis wanted to install efficient managers and take power from Weizmann and his more ardent eastern European followers. But above all, it was a clash of personalities. Weizmann was born in Russia, emigrated to England, and shared Einstein’s disdain for Jews who tried too hard to assimilate. Brandeis was born in Louisville, Kentucky, graduated from Harvard Law School, prospered as a prominent Boston lawyer, and was appointed by President Wilson to be the first Jewish justice on the Supreme Court. His crowd tended to look down on unrefined and unassimilated Jews from Russia and eastern Europe. In a letter to his brother in 1921, Brandeis revealed the cultural and personal underpinnings of his rift with Weizmann:
The Zionist [clash] was inevitable. It was one resulting from differences in standards. The Easterners—like many Russian Jews in this country—don’t know what honesty is & we simply won’t entrust our money to them. Weizmann does know what honesty is—but weakly yields to his numerous Russian associates. Hence the split.
Brandeis was initially happy that Einstein was coming to America, even though he was accompanying Weizmann. “The Great Einstein is coming to America soon with Dr. Weizmann, our Zionist Chief,” he wrote to his mother-in-law.
Palestine may need something more than a new conception of the Universe or of several additional dimensions; but it is well to remind the Gentile world, when the wave of anti-Semitism is rising, that in the world of thought the conspicuous contributions are being made by Jews.
But two of Brandeis’s closest associates expressed misgivings. His protégé Felix Frankfurter, then a professor at Harvard Law School, and Judge Julian Mack, the person Brandeis had tapped to be president of the Zionist Organization of America, argued that it would be better if Einstein’s visit were cast primarily as a trip to lecture on physics, rather than one to raise money for Palestine.
Frankfurter and Mack sent Weizmann telegrams urging him to make sure that Einstein scheduled some physics lectures during his trip. But they quickly changed their minds when they were informed that Einstein had tried to extract large fees from various universities for such lectures, even though he was speaking about Zionism for free. That was even worse. So they sent another telegram, this one warning of the danger that Einstein would be seen as trying to “commercialize” his science. Such crassness would hurt his image and that of Jews, Frankfurter and Mack feared. Some of the physics lectures should be done for free. As Mack cabled to Weizmann: “Einstein situation extremely difficult expedient you explain us fully his exact negotiations … also awaiting you promised cable whether he accept your suggestioncouple university lectures free.” In one telegram, they went so far as to urge that Einstein’s trip be canceled. Another telegram made clear that there would be no lecture at the university where Frankfurter was an influential professor. “Harvard absolutely declines Einstein,” the telegram read. It did add that he would be welcome to come for an informal visit without a lecture or a lecture fee. When Einstein found out about the telegrams, he was furious. Mack defended himself and Frankfurter—and by extension Brandeis—in a letter to Einstein insisting that their only motive was “to protect you against unjust attacks and to protect the organization against the result of such unjust attacks.”
Brandeis and his cohorts at the Zionist Organization of America made matters worse, during Einstein’s visit, when they reacted to a deadly clash between Arab and Jewish rioters in Jaffa by reinforcing their desire that adequate “safeguards” be in place before money was raised for Hebrew University. Einstein confided that this attitude made him suspect that the Brandeis crowd was “committing sabotage” of his mission. When Brandeis’s friend and supporter Rabbi Judah Magnes proposed hosting a gathering in Manhattan for intellectuals to talk about the university, Einstein replied that he would come only if Magnes made the event a fund-raiser. “I did not have in mind a fund-raising meeting,” Magnes replied in a cold and curt letter. “Under the circumstances, it is probably better to forego the meeting.”
The resistance to Einstein’s mission came not only from the Brandeis camp of cautious and restrained American Zionists, but also from successful New York Reform Jews of German heritage, many of whom were opposed to Zionism. When Einstein invited 50 or so of New York’s most prominent Jews to a private meeting in his hotel, many of them declined. Paul Warburg, who had served as his agent soliciting lecture fees, wrote:
My presence would be of no use; on the contrary, I fear that, if at all, its effect would be rather to cool things down. As I already told you on another occasion, I personally have the greatest doubts relating to the Zionist plans and anticipate their consequences with genuine consternation.
Other rejections came from Arthur Hays Sulzberger of The New York Times; the politically connected financier Bernard Baruch; the lawyer Irving Lehman; the first Jewish Cabinet secretary, Oscar Straus; the philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim; and the former Congressman Jefferson Levy.
On the other hand, Einstein and Weizmann were wildly embraced by less assimilated and more enthusiastic Jews, the ones who tended to live in Brooklyn or on the Lower East Side rather than on Park Avenue. More than 20,000 showed up at one event, causing “a near riot,” The Times reported, when they “stormed the police lines.” After three weeks of lectures and receptions in New York, Einstein paid a visit to Washington. For reasons fathomable only to those who live in that city, the Senate decided to debate the theory of relativity. On the House side of the Capitol, Representative J. J. Kindred of New York proposed placing an explanation of Einstein’s theories in the Congressional Record. David Walsh of Massachusetts rose to object. Did Kindred understand the theory? “I have been earnestly busy with this theory for three weeks,” Kindred replied, “and am beginning to see some light.” But what relevance, he was asked, did it have to the business of Congress? “It may bear upon the legislation of the future as to general relations with the cosmos.”
Such discourse made it inevitable that when Einstein went with a group to the White House, President Warren G. Harding would be faced with the question of whether he understood relativity. As the group posed for the cameras, he smiled and confessed that he did not. The Washington Post carried a cartoon showing him puzzling over a paper titled “Theory of Relativity” while Einstein puzzled over one on the “Theory of Normalcy,” which was the name Harding had given to his governing philosophy. The New York Times ran a front-page headline: “Einstein Idea Puzzles Harding, He Admits.”
During the Washington visit, the noted journalist and power broker Walter Lippmann tried to set up a peace meeting between Weizmann and Brandeis. Negotiations between the camps of the two Zionist leaders broke down over a variety of issues, and the summit never occurred. Einstein, however, was happy to pay a call on Brandeis, even though Weizmann urged him not to. They hit it off well. Einstein told the friend who arranged the visit that he came away with an “utterly different” opinion of Brandeis than the one pushed on him by Weizmann. Brandeis was also pleased. “Prof. & Mrs. Einstein are simple lovely folk,” he wrote his wife the next day. “It proved impossible to avoid some discussion of the ‘break,’ though they are not in [it]. They specialize on the University.” The one day of personal harmony, however, ended up doing nothing to heal the rift between the Weizmann-Einstein camp and the Brandeis-Frankfurter one, which continued to worsen during the visit.
Einstein subsequently went to Princeton, where he delivered a weeklong series of scientific lectures and received an honorary degree “for voyaging through strange seas of thought.” He did not get the $15,000 fee he had originally requested, but he did receive a more modest one, plus a deal that Princeton would publish his lectures as a book and give him a 15 percent royalty. Einstein’s lectures were very technical. They included more than 125 complex equations that he scribbled on the blackboard while speaking in German. As one student admitted to a reporter, “I sat in the balcony, but he talked right over my head anyway.”
Einstein seemed to like Princeton. “Young and fresh,” he called it. “A pipe as yet unsmoked.” From a man who was invariably fondling new briar pipes, this was a compliment. It would not be a surprise, a dozen years hence, that he would decide to move there permanently.
Harvard, where Einstein went next, did not endear itself quite as well. Einstein graciously took a tour of the campus, dropping in on labs and commenting on students’ work, even though he had been explicitly not invited to give a formal lecture there. For the rest of his U.S. trip, he and Frankfurter engaged in an exchange of letters in which the Harvard professor tried to deflect the blame for the snub. People have “accused me of having wanted to prevent your appearance at Harvard,” Frankfurter wrote in a short note. “The accusation is absolutely untrue.” Einstein, however, knew of the telegrams that Frankfurter and Mack had sent objecting to Einstein’s request for lecture fees. “It now does seem plausible to me that you acted the way you did with honest, good intentions,” Einstein replied, not quite accepting Frankfurter’s denial. He added a humorous jab at Jews such as Frankfurter who were eager to avoid ruffling the refined sensibilities of non-Jews. “It would not even have been serious if all universities had withheld invitations,” he wrote, “although I certainly know that it is a Jewish weakness always anxiously to want to keep the Gentiles [Gojims] in a good mood.”
One of the final stops on the grand Einstein-Weizmann tour was Cleveland, where several thousands thronged the train depot to meet the visiting delegation. The parade included 200 honking and flag-draped cars. Einstein and Weizmann rode in an open car, preceded by a National Guard marching band and a cadre of Jewish war veterans in uniform. Admirers along the way grabbed onto Einstein’s car and jumped on the running board, while police tried to pull them away.
The Zionist Organization of America was about to meet in Cleveland for its annual convention, and the “downtown” Jews loyal to Weizmann were preparing for a showdown with the “uptown” Jews loyal to Brandeis. The convention turned out to be raucous indeed, with bitter speeches that included denunciations of the Brandeis camp for, among other sins, not showing enthusiasm for Einstein’s trip. Weizmann’s supporters, fortified by his presence, were able to block a vote of confidence endorsing the leadership of Brandeis and his point man, Julian Mack. Mack immediately resigned as president, Brandeis resigned as honorary president, and others in the Brandeis camp—including Felix Frankfurter and Stephen S. Wise—resigned from the executive committee. The deep rift in American Zionism would persist, and would undermine the movement, for almost a decade.
Einstein was not at the convention. He had already boarded a ship back to Europe, feeling somewhat baffled and amused by what he had seen in America. “It is more easily aroused to enthusiasm than other countries I have unsettled with my presence,” he wrote to his best friend, Michele Besso.
I had to let myself be shown around like a prize ox … It’s a miracle that I endured it. But now it’s finished and what remains is the fine feeling of having done something truly good and of having worked for the Jewish cause despite all the protests by Jews and non-Jews—most of our fellow tribesmen are smarter than they are courageous.
The opposition he encountered served only to deepen his support for the Zionist cause. “Zionism really offers a new Jewish ideal that can give the Jewish people joy in its own existence again,” he wrote Paul Ehrenfest right after the trip. In this regard, he was part of a trend that was reshaping Jewish identity, by choice and by imposition, in Europe.
“Until a generation ago, Jews in Germany did not consider themselves as members of the Jewish people,” he told a reporter on the day he was leaving America. “They merely considered themselves as members of a religious community.” But anti-Semitism changed that, and there was a silver lining to that cloud, he declared. “The undignified mania of trying to adapt and conform and assimilate, which happens among many of my social standing, has always been very repulsive to me.”
The fund-raising part of Einstein’s tour was only a modest success. Even though poorer Jews and recent immigrants had poured out to see him and donated with enthusiasm, few of the eminent and old-line Jews with great personal fortunes became part of the frenzy. Only $750,000 was collected for Hebrew University, far less than the $4 million that Einstein and Weizmann had hoped for. But that was a good enough start. “The university seems to be financially secured,” Einstein wrote Ehrenfest.
Four years later, the university did indeed open, on top of Mount Scopus, overlooking Jerusalem. In an ironic twist, some of the New York financiers who initially spurned Einstein ended up supporting it, and they insisted on installing as chancellor Rabbi Judah Magnes, the person who had clashed with Einstein in 1921 and canceled a reception when Einstein insisted on turning it into a fund-raiser. Einstein was so upset by the appointment of Magnes that he resigned from the board in protest. Nevertheless, he would eventually leave his papers and much of his estate to the university.
There was one other ironic footnote. In 1946, after he had emigrated to America, Einstein again became associated with fund-raising for a Jewish university. The organization was initially called the Albert Einstein Foundation for Higher Learning, and it acquired the campus of a dying university near Boston. But once again, Einstein clashed with some of the donors and their choices for administrators. When they asked whether they could name the university after him, Einstein refused. So the founders decided instead to honor their second choice, who had died five years earlier. They named the new university Brandeis.
Friday, December 25, 2009
How Einstein Divided America's Jews: On early rifts within Zionism; Einstein/Weizmann & Brandeis/Frankfurter Camps
Documents recently unearthed that show early rifts among American & European Zionists. Divisions along many lines, including social, political and class. Einstein sided with the ardent Zionists. Fascinating read.
Friday, December 11, 2009
A truly beautiful, and miraculous story.
Happy Hanukkah to all
A real miracle or the doing of extraordinary people?
It's been almost a year since St.-Sgt. Dvir Emanuelof became the first casualty of Operation Cast Lead, losing his life to Hamas mortar fire just as he entered Gaza early in the offensive. But sitting with his mother, Dalia, in her living room last week, I was struck not by loss, but by life. And not by grief, but by fervent belief. And by a more recent story about Dvir that simply needs to be told, especially now at Hanukka, our season of miracles.
This past summer, Dalia and some friends planned to go to Hutzot Hayotzer, the artists' colony constructed each summer outside Jerusalem's Old City walls. But Dalia's young daughter objected; she wanted to go a week later, so she could hear Meir Banai in concert.
Dalia consented. And so, a week later, she found herself in the bleachers, waiting with her daughter for the performance to begin. Suddenly, Dalia felt someone touch her shoulder. When she turned around, she saw a little boy, handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. A kindergarten teacher by profession, Dalia was immediately drawn to the boy, and as they began to speak, she asked him if he'd like to sit next to her.
By now, though, the boy's father had seen what was unfolding, and called over to him, "Eshel, why don't you come back and sit next to me and Dvir?" Stunned, Dalia turned around and saw the father holding a baby. "What did you say his name is?" she asked the father.
"Dvir," responded Benny.
"How old is he?" Dalia asked.
"Six months," was the reply.
"Forgive my asking," she continued, "was he born after Cast Lead, or before?"
Whereupon Dalia continued, "Please forgive my pressing, but can I ask why you named him Dvir?"
"Because," Benny explained to her, "the first soldier killed in Cast Lead was named Dvir. His story touched us, and we decided to name our son after him."
Almost unable to speak, Dalia paused, and said, "I'm that Dvir's mother."
Shiri, the baby's mother, had overheard the conversation, and wasn't certain that she believed her ears. "That can't be."
"What's your last name?"
"Where do you live?"
"It is you," Shiri said. "We meant to invite you to the brit, but we couldn't."
"It doesn't matter," Dalia assured her - "You see, I came anyway."
And then, Dalia told me, Shiri said something to her that she'll never forget - "Dvir is sending you a hug, through us."
At that point in our conversation, Shiri told me her story. She'd been pregnant, she said, in her 33rd or 34th week, and during an ultrasound test, a potentially serious problem with the baby was discovered. After consultations with medical experts, she was told that there was nothing to do. The baby would have to be born, and then the doctors would see what they could do. A day or two later, she was at home, alone, anxious and worried. She lit Hanukka candles, and turned on the news. The story was about Dvir Emanuelof, the first soldier killed in the operation. She saw, she said, the extraordinarily handsome young man, with his now famous smile, and she felt as though she were looking at an angel.
A short while later, Benny came home, and Shiri said to him, "Come sit next to me." When he'd seated himself down next to her, Shiri said to Benny, "A soldier was killed today."
"I heard," he said. "What do you say we name our baby after him?" Shiri asked.
"Okay," was Benny's reply.
They told no one about the name, and had planned to call Dalia once the baby was born, to invite her to the brit. But when Dvir was born, Shiri and Benny were busy with medical appointments, and it wasn't even clear when they would be able to have the brit. By the time the doctor gave them the okay to have the brit, it was no longer respectful to invite Dalia on such short notice, Shiri told me. So they didn't call her. Not then, and not the day after. Life took its course and they told no one about the origin of Dvir's name, for they hadn't yet asked Dalia's permission.
So no one knew, until that moment when a little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy - whom Dalia now calls "the messenger" - decided to tap Dalia on the shoulder. "Someone's looking out for us up there," Shiri said quietly, wiping a tear from her eye, "and this no doubt brings Him joy."
IT WAS now quiet in Dalia's living room, the three of us pondering this extraordinary sequence of events, wondering what to make of it. I was struck by the extraordinary bond between these two women, one religious and one traditional but not religious in the classic sense, one who's now lost a husband and a son and one who's busy raising two sons.
Unconnected in any way just a year ago, their lives are now inextricably interwoven. And I said to them both, almost whispering, "This is an Israeli story, par excellence."
As if they'd rehearsed the response, they responded in virtual unison, "No, it's a Jewish story."
They're right, of course. It is the quintessential Jewish story. It is a story of unspoken and inexplicable bonds. It is a story of shared destinies.
And as is true of this little country we call home, it's often impossible to know which part of the story is the real miracle, and which is the doing of extraordinary people. In the end, though, that doesn't really matter. When I light Hanukka candles this year, I'm going to be thinking of Dalia. Of Shiri. Of Dvir. And of Dvir.
I'm going to think of their sacrifice. Of their persistent belief. Of their extraordinary decency and goodness.
And as I move that shamash from one candle to the next, I will know that Shiri was right. These are not easy times. These are days when we really could use a miracle or two. So perhaps it really is no accident that now, when we need it most, Dvir is sending us all a hug from heaven above.
The writer is senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End (Wiley, 2009). He blogs at http://danielgordis.org.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Khaled Abu Toameh: Arab-Israeli-Palestinian-Muslim: What Being "Pro-Palestinian" Should Really Look Like
Khaled Abu Toameh is a truly independent thinker. He can be a harsh critic when it comes to Israeli civil rights issues, speaking out forcefully for a more equitable and just Israel. He is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and U.S. News & World Report, and has been the Palestinian affairs producer for NBC News since 1988. His articles have appeared in The Sunday Times, Daily Express and the New Republic.
Abu Toameh was born in the West Bank city of Tulkarem in 1963 to an Israeli Arab father and a Palestinian Arab mother from the West Bank. He has publicly stated that he'd rather be a 3rd class citizen in Israel (which he is clearly not) than a first class one in Damascus, Cairo or Riyadh.
He lives in eastern Jerusalem, in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood (if memory serves, it's Pisgat Ze'ev, next to French Hill). Of course, in today's warped international discussions on these matters, his neighborhood is considered "occupied territory."
It is time for the “pro-Palestinian” camp in the West to reconsider its policies and tactics. It is time for this camp to listen to the authentic voices of the Palestinians – those that are shouting day and night that the Palestinians want good leaders and an end to lawlessness, anarchy and financial corruption.
What Does "Pro-Palestinian" Really Mean? - Khaled Abu Toameh
In recent years there has been a significant rise in the number of non-Palestinians who describe themselves as "pro-Palestinian" activists. Many of these activists have never been to the Middle East. What these folks have not realized is that their actions and words often do little to advance the interests of the Palestinians, and in some instances are even counterproductive.
Being anti-Israel does not necessarily turn one into "pro-Palestinian." It is hard to see how organizing an "Israel Apartheid Week" on a university campus could help the cause of the Palestinians. Isn't there already enough anti-Israel incitement being spewed out of Arab and Islamic media outlets?
If anyone is entitled to be called "pro-Palestinian," it is those who are publicly campaigning against financial corruption and abuse of human rights by Fatah and Hamas. Those who are trying to change the system from within belong to the real "pro-Palestinian" camp. These are the brave people who are standing up to both Fatah and Hamas and calling on them to stop killing each other and start doing something that would improve the living conditions of their constituents.
Instead of investing money and efforts in organizing Israel Apartheid Week, for example, self-described "pro-Palestinians" could dispatch teachers to teach young Palestinians English. Or they could send a delegation to Gaza to monitor human rights violations by Hamas and help Palestinian women confront Muslim fundamentalists who are trying to limit their role to cooking, raising children and looking after the needs of their husbands.
Let's substitute Israel Apartheid Week with Palestine Democracy Week. Or is delegitimizing Israel and inciting against "Zionists" much more important than pushing for an end to financial corruption and violence in Palestinian society? It is time for the "pro-Palestinian" camp in the West to listen to the authentic voices of the Palestinians.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
"The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature," writes Emerson. "The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man." Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary.
Those who've followed my blog will remember several posts on this subject. Living Ahavas Yisroel: Why Identity Matters tackles the issue, quoting Professor Martin Jaffee, Natan Sharansky, and Rabbi David Wolpe. In short, the rush to love all as ourselves and to assume we're all the same, is a very dangerous proposition. Of course, on a fundamental, human level we are all the same. But only through understanding our differences, and appreciating our unique identities, can we ultimately live more harmoniously with our fellow travelers.
Note the date when this little essay was written. I won't yet divulge the author. Any guesses?
Monday, Aug. 15, 1983
Essay: Deep Down, We're All Alike, Right? Wrong
"As is evident just from the look on his face," observes The New Yorker in a recent reflection on the Lincoln Memorial, "[Lincoln] would have liked to live out a long life surrounded by old friends and good food." Good food? New Yorker readers have an interest in successful soufflés, but it is hard to recall the most melancholy and spiritual of Presidents giving them much thought. New Yorker editors no doubt dream of living out their days grazing in gourmet pastures. But did Lincoln really long to retire to a table at Lutéce?
Solipsism is the belief that the whole world is me, and as Mathematician Martin Gardner points out, its authentic version is not to be found outside mental institutions. What is to be found outside the asylum is its philosophic cousin, the belief that the whole world is like me. This species of solipsism—plural solipsism, if you like—is far more common because it is far less lonely. Indeed, it yields a very congenial world populated exclusively by creatures of one's own likeness, a world in which Lincoln pines for his dinner with André or, more consequentially, where KGB chiefs and Iranian ayatullahs are, well, folks just like us.
The mirror-image fantasy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in "common humanity," in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. It is a creed rarely fully embraced (it has a disquieting affinity with martyrdom), but in a culture tired of such ancient distinctions as that between children and adults (in contemporary movies the kids are, if anything, wiser than their parents) or men and women ("I was a better man as a woman with a woman than I've ever been as a man with a woman," says Tootsie), it can acquire considerable force.
Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same. American Anthropologist Samantha Smith was invited to Moscow by Yuri Andropov for firsthand confirmation of just that proposition (a rare Soviet concession to the principle of on-site inspection). After a well-photographed sojourn during which she took in a children's festival at a Young Pioneer camp (but was spared the paramilitary training), she got the message: "They're just . . . almost . . . just like us," she announced at her last Moscow press conference. Her mother, who is no longer eleven but makes up for it in open-mindedness, supplied the corollary: "They're just like us . . . they prefer to work at their jobs than to work at war."
That completes the syllogism. We all have "eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions." We are all "fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer." It follows, does it not, that we must all want the same things? According to Harvard Cardiologist Bernard Lown, president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, that's not just Shakespeare, it's a scientific fact: "Our aim is to promote the simple medical insight," he writes, "that Russian and American hearts are indistinguishable, that both ache for peace and survival."
Such breathtaking non sequiturs (cardiological or otherwise) are characteristic of plural solipsism. For it is more than just another happy vision. It is meant to have practical consequences. If people everywhere, from Savannah to Sevastopol, share the same hopes and dreams and fears and love of children (and good food), they should get along. And if they don't, then there must be some misunderstanding, some misperception, some problem of communication. As one news report of the recent conference of Soviet and American peace activists in Minneapolis put it, "The issue of human rights sparked a heated discussion . . . and provided participants with a firsthand view of the obstacles to communication which so often characterize U.S.-Soviet relations." (The sadistic sheriff in Cool Hand Luke was more succinct: pointing to the rebellious prisoner he had just brutalized, he explained, "What we've got here is failure to communicate.") It is the broken-telephone theory of international conflict, and it suggests a solution: repair service by the expert "facilitator," the Harvard negotiations professor. Hence the vogue for peace academies, the mania for mediators, the belief that the world's conundrums would yield to the right intermediary, the right presidential envoy, the right socialist international delegation. Yet Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Iran's Ayatullah Khomeini, to take just two candidates for the Roger Fisher School of Conflict Resolution, have perfectly adequate phone service. They need only an operator to make the connection. Their problem is that they have very little to say to each other.
There are other consequences. If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran is taken over, Americans are bewildered. What does the Ayatullah want? The U.S. Government sends envoys to find out what token or signal or symbolic gesture might satisfy Iran. It is impossible to believe that the Ayatullah wants exactly what he says he wants: the head of the Shah. Things are not done that way any more in the West (even the Soviet bloc has now taken to pensioning off deposed leaders). It took a long time for Americans to get the message.
Other messages from exotic cultures are never received at all. The more virulent pronouncements of Third World countries are dismissed as mere rhetoric. The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow, like Secretary Shultz's recent humiliation in Damascus. He persisted in going there despite the fact that President Assad had made it utterly plain that he rejected efforts by the U.S. (the "permanent enemy") to obtain withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Or consider the chronic American frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis consistently declare their refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East, a position so at variance with the Western view that it is simply discounted. Thus successive American Governments continue to count on Saudi support for U.S. peace plans, only to be rudely let down. When the Saudis finally make it unmistakably clear that they will support neither Camp David nor the Reagan plan nor the Lebanon accord, the U.S. reacts with consternation. It might have spared itself the surprise if it had not in the first place imagined that underneath those kaffiyehs are folks just like us, sharing our aims and views.
"The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature," writes Emerson. "The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man." Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese want it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan Administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.
And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.
From where does the idea of a world of likes come? In part from a belief in universal brotherhood (a belief that is parodied, however, when one pretends that the ideal already exists). In part from a trendy ecological pantheism with its misty notions of the oneness of those sharing this lonely planet. In part from the Enlightenment belief in a universal human nature, a slippery modern creation that for all its universality manages in every age to take on a decidedly middle-class look. For the mirror-image fantasy derives above all from the coziness of middle-class life. The more settled and ordered one's life—and in particular one's communal life—the easier it becomes for one's imagination to fail. In Scarsdale, destitution and desperation, cruelty and zeal are the stuff of headlines, not life. Thus a single murder can create a sensation; in Beirut it is a statistic. When the comfortable encounter the unimaginable, the result is not only emotional but cognitive rejection. Brutality and fanaticism beyond one's ken must be made to remain there; thus, for example, when evidence mounts of biological warfare in faraway places, the most fanciful theories may be produced to banish the possibility.
To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies and opposing cultures as sources of conflict is more than antipolitical. It is dangerous. Those who have long held a mirror to the world and seen only themselves are apt to be shocked and panicked when the mirror is removed, as inevitably it must be. On the other hand, to accept the reality of otherness is not to be condemned to a war of all against all. We are not then compelled to see in others the focus of evil in the world. We are still enjoined to love our neighbor as ourselves; only it no longer becomes an exercise in narcissism. But empathy that is more than self-love does not come easily. Particularly not to a culture so fixed on its own image that it can look at Lincoln, gaunt and grave, and see a man ready to join the queue at the pâté counter at Zabar's.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Two Important pieces: YK Halevi on 'Israelis Bracing for Next Missile Attack' & Feferman on 'Myth that Fuels Middle East Conflict'
Israel's enemies claim that the Jewish state was created at the expense of the Arabs of Palestine in order to ease the conscience of the world over the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust. The main spokesman for this myth is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who believes that if you deny the Holocaust, you can deny Israel its legitimate right to exist. It is this myth - that Israel was born in sin - which continues to fuel the fires of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In order to bring about peace, we must retell the story of Zionism to reaffirm Israel's legitimate right to exist.
Israelis Brace for the Next Missile Attack - Yossi Klein Halevi
The postcard from the IDF Home Front Command that recently arrived in my mailbox had a map of Israel divided by color into six regions. In each region, residents have a different amount of time to seek shelter from an impending missile attack. If you live along the Gaza border, you have 15 seconds after the siren sounds. Jerusalemites get a full three minutes. But as the regions move farther north, the time drops again, until finally, along the Lebanese and Syrian borders, the color red designates "immediate entry into a shelter." In other words, if you're not already inside a shelter don't bother looking for one.
American attempts to reassure the Israeli public of its commitment to Israel's security in the face of a possible Iranian nuclear attack on Tel Aviv have largely backfired. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent threat to "obliterate" Iran if it launched a nuclear attack against Israel only reinforced Israeli fears that the U.S. would prefer to contain a nuclear Iran rather than pre-empt it militarily.
The Iranian threat has seeped into daily life as a constant, if barely conscious anxiety. It emerges at unexpected moments, as black humor or an incongruous aside in casual conversation.
A recent cartoon in the newspaper Ma'ariv showed a drawing of a sukkah, the booth covered with palm branches that Jews build for the autumn festival of Tabernacles. A voice from inside the booth asked, "Will these palm branches protect us from Iranian missiles?"
Israelis still believe in their ability to protect themselves—and many believe too in the divine protection that is said to hover over the fragile booths. Both are expressions of faith from a people that fear they may once again face the unthinkable alone.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. (Wall Street Journal)
The Myth that Fuels the Mideast Conflict - Bob Feferman
Israel's enemies claim that the Jewish state was created at the expense of the Arabs of Palestine in order to ease the conscience of the world over the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust. The main spokesman for this myth is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who believes that if you deny the Holocaust, you can deny Israel its legitimate right to exist. It is this myth - that Israel was born in sin - which continues to fuel the fires of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In order to bring about peace, we must retell the story of Zionism to reaffirm Israel's legitimate right to exist.
In 1947, the UN Special Committee on Palestine, with representatives from 11 countries, found during their visit a well-organized Jewish community that had already created the institutions necessary for an independent state. As Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory University wrote, "The United Nations decided to partition Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state because of the realities on the ground, not because of collective emotions of guilt." During the 50 years of intense Zionist nation-building activity prior to 1947, the Jewish community of Palestine had created Hebrew-speaking schools, Hebrew newspapers, Hebrew theatre, agriculture, industry, a health care system and a Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Zionist organization was created in 1897 with the goal of creating a Jewish state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. Land was legally purchased from Arab landowners by the Jewish National Fund. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, and the Nazi Holocaust, the Jewish population of Palestine had already numbered 450,000. When the members of UNSCOP made their decision in 1947 to recommend the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, they were simply validating a reality that already existed.
In November 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to accept the partition of Palestine. On Dec. 1, the London Times published an editorial that supported the decision: "It is hard to see how the Arab world, still less the Arabs of Palestine, will suffer from what is mere recognition of an accomplished fact - the presence in Palestine of a compact, well-organized, and virtually autonomous Jewish community." The Jewish people earned the right to statehood through the hard labor and sweat of Jewish pioneers. Recognition of this fundamental truth will open the door to peace through the two-state solution.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
It’s been nearly eight years since Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Pakistan.In that time, his family and friends, along with many others, have built a powerful and effective organization dedicated to his memory, The Daniel Pearl Foundation.While it goes about its educational and journalistic work, the foundation has also successfully put together a month of worldwide music events that occur throughout October on an annual basis.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Borrowing from Jeffrey Goldberg's post of last Friday. Rabbi Wolpe's observation reminded me of Seattle Professor Martin Jaffee's eloquent take on why particularism must precede universalism. See also my blogpost on Natan Sharansky regarding the importance of identity from August of 2008, when he was here on his book (Defending Identity) tour.
How to Be Human
Rabbi David Wolpe:
Rabbi Shlomo Carelbach used to say that if he met a person who said "I'm a Catholic" he knew he was a Catholic. If he met a person who said "I'm a Protestant" he knew he was a Protestant. If he met a person who said "I'm a human being" he knew he was a Jew.
Jews have led some of the great universalist movements of the world. They did so under the illusion that if all people were just alike, the thorny problem of being different would disappear. It never did. It never should. Being a Jew is not a problem but a blessing and a destiny.
There is no such thing as a person in general. Each individual grows up with a certain family, land, heritage, language and culture. To deny it is to cast off a piece of oneself. Jewish is not opposed to being human; rather it is an ancient and beautiful way to be human.
In every age there are those who dream of homogenizing the world. It is an ignoble dream. When we honor difference we honor the One who created this diverse, multicolored pageant of a world.
Living Ahavas Yisroel
Martin Jaffee • JTNews Columnist
The k’lal (the universal) was always known only through the prat (the particular). The road to universal human fellow-feeling first wound its circuitous route through the tangled pathways of intense Jewish communal solidarity.Which may have something to do with my dad’s response when, years ago, I came home from college touting the prophecies of Rosa Luxemburg, about whom I’d learned in a political science course. Jews, I proclaimed (over a plate of borscht with sour cream), should lead humanity out of the darkness of its particularistic atavisms into the clear light of “world citizenship.” This time, Dad knew better than to argue. He just looked up to the Heavens, spread out his hands in the classic Zero Mostel-Tevye pose and mocked: “I love humanity; it’s the people I can’t stand!”It took me years to understand the depth of his insight and satire. How easy it is to love a concept, and how difficult to love reality in all its particular messiness! How easy to forget that, if humanity is a family, it begins with a real mother, a real father, real brothers and real sisters — those who speak your language, know the smells of your kitchen, share your nightmares, and, it must be said, hate your enemies and love your friends, because, after all is said and done, “you are our flesh and blood.”
Just this, I suppose, is what irritates so many “universalists” (Jewish and otherwise) about the centrality of the concept of ahavas Yisroel (“Jewish love for Jews”) in Jewish ethical thought. Why shouldn’t Jews love all humanity equally? Why focus on the insular, bounded “tribe” at the expense of the whole? Isn’t “tribalism” the root of all social evil? The simple answer is: You can’t love “humanity” unless you see in it some familiar faces. It’s through the love called forth by those faces that we learn to see in them something larger — “humanity” as a potential community — something that never really exists, although we strive to reach it. While love of the “tribe” can certainly descend to “tribalism,” it is also true that “humanity” is revealed most richly through the “tribe.” When we lose our “tribe,” we lose the very thing that enables us to find a wider place in the universally “human.”
Why Identity Matters: Natan Sharansky
blogpost from August 2008
On July 16th, former refusenik and living hero, Natan Sharansky spoke before about a hundred people at Seattle Town Hall, making the case that strong identities are the best bulwark against tyranny and fundamentalism. His new book, "Defending Identity" points the way towards reinvigorating the West in its struggle to maintain its freedoms and democracies in an increasingly intolerant world.Sharanksy begins with John Lennon's idealistic song "Imagine," where the future utopia will consist of a borderless world "and the world will live as one.
Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people,Living life in peace.
He contrasts this with the declaration by the spiritual leader of Al Qaeda that "we will win because the West loves life and we love death." Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said the same in an interview in 2004, after a prisoner swap (yes, another earlier one) between Israel and his group: "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death."
It would be a mistake though to assume that these Islamic fundamentalists are crazed martyrs who wish death upon themselves for its own sake. Rather, their identity is a powerful force that gives meaning and purpose to life beyond the physical and material. The jihadists hold beliefs--however horrifying and foreign to us--for which they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. And they see the West as divorced from any distinct sense of identity, unwilling to make sacrifices for any cause larger than the self. In short, they see us as having lost the will to fight, defend or die for our beliefs. And indeed, for many in the West, John Lennon's song has become an anthem of post-modern, post-nationalist universalism.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Michael Oren hits the nail exactly on the head. How can the world expect Israelis to make huge sacrifices for peace and reconciliation, risking their children's' lives, when the court of world opinion denies them the basic human right of self-defense and self-protection?
see also Alan Dershowitz and Ehud Barak below
G'mar chatimah tovah and a meaningful fast!
Ironically, the greatest victim of the UN report is not Israel’s ability to wage a moral war but its willingness to make an historic peace. If asked to take immense risks for peace, Israelis must be convinced of their internationally recognized right to self-defense should that peace be broken. Deprived of that right, even after being subjected to years of murderous rocket attacks, an Israeli electorate will understandably recoil from such risks.
UN Report a Victory for Terror - Michael Oren
Just as the U.S. entered Afghanistan in response to an unprovoked attack on American civilians in 2001, so, too, did Israel's intervention, which followed more than 7,000 Hamas rocket and mortar strikes on Israeli towns and villages since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Given the UN Human Rights Commission's silence in the face of this aggression, and Hamas' rejection of Israeli offers to renew a cease-fire, Israel exercised its unassailable right to defend its citizens.
The UN report is not about justice. Rather, it is the latest initiative designed to delegitimize Israel and deny its right to self-defense. The UN report not only endangers Israel. It bestows virtual immunity on terrorists and ties the hands of any nation to protect itself.
The writer is Israel's ambassador to the U.S. (Boston Globe)
Goldstone Report Is a Barrier to Peace - Alan Dershowitz
There are many things wrong with the Goldstone report, which accuses Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in order to punish the people of Gaza. First, its primary conclusions are entirely false as a matter of demonstrable fact. Second, it defames one of the most moral military forces in the world, along with one of the most responsive legal systems and one of the freest nations in the world when it comes to dissent. Third, it destroys the credibility of "international human rights," and proves that this honorable concept has been hijacked for political purposes directed primarily against one nation - Israel.
But fourth, and most important, it has set back prospects of peace by making it far more difficult for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. If Israel were to leave, rockets fired from the West Bank would endanger far more Israeli civilians and threaten to close Ben-Gurion Airport. Israel now knows that if it were to try to defend itself against such rockets, it would once again be condemned by the UN. (Hudson Institute New York)
At the UN, Terrorism Pays - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
The UN Human Rights Council produced a 600-page report alleging that Israel carried out war crimes in Gaza. Enduring eight years of ongoing rocket fire, thousands of Israeli children living in southern Israel had to study, play, eat and sleep while being preoccupied about the distance to the nearest bomb shelter. When I accompanied then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on his visit to the shelled city of Sderot, he said: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." When the Goldstone mission gathers testimony from local residents in Hamas-ruled Gaza, but forgets to ask them whether they happened to notice any armed Palestinians during the Israeli operation, or didn't realize that its impartially chosen witnesses happened to be known Hamas operatives according to Israeli intelligence, I begin to question the methodology of such a "fact-finding" effort.
The time has come for us to put an end to this calculated erosion of common sense. Democracies should be concentrating on defending themselves from extremism - not from accusations by kangaroo courts. (Wall Street Journal)
Friday, September 18, 2009
The Hypocrisy of the Goldstone Report: Asymmetric Warfare, Democracies & the Inalienable Right to Self-Defense
Just how would Richard Goldstone have liked Israel to respond to 8 years of unrelenting missile attacks on its civilian population? At what point does a democracy reserve the right to defend its citizenry from the sort of daily terror that gives children 15 seconds to find refugee in bomb shelters whenever a siren goes off?
In early June of 2006 (just weeks before Hamas' ambush of Israeli soldiers and kidnapping of Gilad Shalit) Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke to Media Fellows for The Israel Project in D.C.
He emphasized that there must be consequences for the side that rejects peace and the only way to move forward was for all parties to accept responsibility for their actions and inactions. That there must be accountability. He noted that it was completely unconscionable that Qassam rockets continued to rain down on southern Israel after a 100% withdrawal from that territory by the Israelis the previous summer. Yet the international community remained silent, when there needed to be unequivocal condemnation for those brazen attacks against a sovereign state and member of the United Nations. The 'international community' bears responsibility, along with Hamas, for allowing rocket terror attacks to continue unabated, increasing in frequency and intensity after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005.
Below, Ari Shavit points to the double-standard used against Israel. Other insightful articles follow.
Shana Tovah to all
UN Must Hold U.S. to Same Standard as Israel - Ari Shavit (Ha'aretz)
Two weeks ago American airplanes fired on two oil tankers in northern Afghanistan at the request of a German military officer, killing some 70 people. The U.S. and Germany are responsible for the attack, together with NATO members Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. If the international community is committed to international law and universal ethics, it should investigate the assault.
If the U.S., Germany and NATO refuse to cooperate with investigators, the UN should consider transferring the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It may be necessary to put the U.S. president and the German chancellor on trial for committing a severe war crime that did not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Absurd? Yes.
The U.S. has killed thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the last few months encouraged Pakistan to make an extremely brutal military move in its Swat Valley. The U.S. was not required to account for it because everyone understands that this is the price of the terrible war on terror.
Only Israel is required to uphold a moral standard no superpower or Middle Eastern state is required to uphold.
The Goldstone Report
President Peres: Goldstone Report Makes a Mockery of History - Roni Sofer
Israeli President Shimon Peres responded to the UN Goldstone Report saying that it "makes a mockery of history" and that "it does not distinguish between the aggressor and the defender." "War is crime and the attacker is the criminal. The defender has no choice. The Hamas terror organization is the one who started the war and also carried out other awful crimes. Hamas has used terrorism for years against Israeli children....The report gives de facto legitimacy to terrorist initiatives and ignores the obligation and right of every country to defend itself." (Ynet News) See also Justice in Gaza - Richard Goldstone (New York Times)
UN Investigation of Israel Discredits Itself and Undercuts Human Rights - Alan M. Dershowitz
The report commissioned by the notorious UN Human Rights Council is so filled with lies, distortions and blood libels that it could have been drafted by Hamas extremists. In effect, it actually was. Members were accompanied on their investigations in Gaza by Hamas activists who showed them only what they wanted them to see. The group was eager to find or manufacture "evidence" to support what the Human Rights Council itself had directed them to find, namely that Israel committed "grave violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the occupied Gaza Strip." This conclusion was reached before any investigation. The lowest blow and the worst canard is the claim that the Israeli judicial system "has major structural flaws that make the system inconsistent with international standards." This is a direct attack on the Israeli Supreme Court by a lawyer who knows full well that there is no country in the world that has a judicial system that demands more accountability than the Israeli system does. There is no judicial system in the world that takes more seriously its responsibility to bring its military into compliance with international law. The report is not intended to establish general principles of international law, applicable to all nations. It is directed at one nation and one nation only: the Jew among nations - Israel. (Hudson Institute New York)
IDF Judge-Advocate General: Israel Right Not to Cooperate with Goldstone - Yaakov Katz
The distorted and one-sided UN report proves that Israel had been right not to cooperate with the Goldstone mission, IDF Judge-Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit said Wednesday. "From an initial review of the report it is clear that it is biased, astonishingly extreme, lacks any basis in reality and is a sharp deviation from the mandate given to the mission." Mandelblit spoke of a new "legal front" that the IDF was facing and warned of attempts by numerous NGOs - and possibly European countries which support them - to deter Israel from launching future military operations by threatening its officers with legal action. Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF's code of ethics, noted that "this report was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that unfairly deals mostly with Israel. These are anti-Israel politics that contain a level of anti-Semitism in them." Kasher noted how the report opened with a detailed description of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. "It is as if this is how it all started," he said. "They did not bother to ask why there was a siege, which was done out of self-defense." (Jerusalem Post)
UN Smears Israeli Self-Defense as "War Crimes" - Gerald M. Steinberg
The tendentious and extremely biased report succeeded in angering Israelis from across the political spectrum. The report condemned every Israeli response to the 8,000 rockets fired by Hamas, but its recommendations did not include any steps to end this aggression. And while Israel is accused of committing acts of terror, the report never acknowledges that Hamas committed acts of terror, even though it is legally banned as a terrorist organization by the U.S and EU. The Goldstone report will increase Israeli cynicism regarding the viability of international institutions and guarantees of Israeli security and fair treatment. (Wall Street Journal Europe)
The Moral Inversion of the Goldstone Report - Melanie Phillips
The Goldstone report does worse than establish a moral equivalence between the instigators of genocidal violence and those who were attempting to defend themselves against it. It presents Israel, the victims of such aggression, as war criminals and the Palestinians, the actual instigators of terror, as its victims. This is not moral equivalence but moral inversion. Even worse, Goldstone presents the Palestinian aggressors as victims of Israel, requiring Israel to make reparation to those from whose houses and streets it was attacked. No reparations to Israel are required from any Palestinians, even though Goldstone accepts that Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by firing thousands of missiles at its civilians. This disreputable piece of work will embolden and empower Hamas and Palestinian terrorism, provide the jihadis of the UN and their accomplices with the means further to persecute Israel and endorse its genocidal attackers, and incite the Arab and Muslim world still further to aggression and to war. (Spectator-UK)
The Goldstone Report: 575 Pages of NGO "Cut and Paste"The 575-page Goldstone report is primarily based on NGO statements, publications, and submissions, in numerous cases simply copying false and unsubstantiated allegations. (NGO Monitor)
Will U.S. Now Let Goldstone into Afghanistan? - Amir Oren (Ha'aretz)
Friday, September 11, 2009
Also, Hirsh Goodman's eloquent statement of the obvious: Israel is not an Apartheid State. He should know; he came from one. It's abhorrent to compare the willful, racist atrocities committed against South Africa's Black majority and and Israel's security measures imposed on a Palestinian minority who Israel is endlessly negotiating with to make accommodations.
Back in Toronto, sane voices are demanding to be heard. "Several prominent members of the film industry have spoken out against these attempts to isolate and disparage Israel while ignoring films from countries such as China and Iran. They include Minnie Driver, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Ivan Reitman, Robert Lantos, Saul Rubinek and Simcha Jacobovici. Their quotes on the distasteful attack against Israeli artists and the deligitimization of Israel appear in a news release issued by UJA."
Please click on read more at the bottom of this post
The Boycott Revisited - Uri Avnery
When I receive a missive that is dripping with hatred of Israel, that portrays all Israelis (including myself, of course) as monsters, I fail to envision how the writer imagines peace. The view of Israel as a monolithic entity composed of racists and brutal oppressors is a caricature. Israel is a complex society, struggling with itself. Reading some of the messages sent to me, I get the feeling they are not so much about a boycott on Israel as about the very existence of Israel. Some proposals, like those for a "One State" solution, sound like euphemisms. If one believes that the State of Israel should be abolished and replaced by a State of Palestine or a State of Happiness - why not say so openly? Of course, that does not mean peace. Peace between Israel and Palestine presupposes that Israel is there. (Dissident)
Israel Is Not an Apartheid State - Hirsh Goodman
Since the first Durban Conference in August 2002, it has become fashionable to use the word "apartheid" as an adjective to Israel. We have the "apartheid wall" and "apartheid roads" and are regularly called an "apartheid state," as alluded to by former President Jimmy Carter in his recent book Peace not Apartheid. Israel is not an apartheid state. I know. I came from one. To compare Israel to apartheid South Africa demonstrates ignorance and, in many cases, malevolence. There is a clash of nationalisms over territory, not the imposition of economic and social slavery though a codex of laws aimed at discrimination for the benefit of a tiny minority of the country's population. Yes, in some places there are separate roads for Palestinians and the separation barrier is hideously ugly, but these are responses to security problems, not the imposition of a pre-meditated discriminatory system. Apartheid South Africa meant total economic exploitation by two million whites who enslaved and systematically discriminated against people ten times more numerous than them. Apartheid South Africa carried out more judicial hangings than any other country on earth. It was a place where people disappeared into the night never to be heard of again if they opposed the regime, including anti-apartheid activists from among the Jewish community. It was a dark, horrible regime of fear with no intention of ever making peace with the black people. Say what you may about Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, at least the sides are engaged in some form of conciliatory process, at least people on both sides can see a theoretical resolution of the problem. (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew, 9 Sep09)
The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) officially opens today amid a cloud of controversy created by a group that opposes TIFF's spotlight on movies from Tel Aviv. Group members say that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, even though Tel Aviv is celebrating its 100th anniversary and the city's first neighbourhood was founded in 1887, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. They also say that TIFF is participating in an Israeli propaganda campaign by highlighting Tel Aviv films. It would be hard to think of anything more insulting to Tel Aviv's talented film makers.
Now several prominent members of the film industry have spoken out against these attempts to isolate and disparage Israel while ignoring films from countries such as China and Iran. They include Minnie Driver, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Ivan Reitman, Robert Lantos, Saul Rubinek and Simcha Jacobovici. Their quotes on the distasteful attack against Israeli artists and the deligitimization of Israel appear in a news release issued by UJA.
The anti-Israel position taken by opponents of the TIFF City to City program has also received the cold shoulder from several newspaper editorials and writers. Please see below for editorials in the Globe and the Star, today's column by Star entertainment reporter Peter Howell and the powerful opinion piece in today's Globe written by Robert Lantos.
Tel Aviv tiff at TIFF
Artists for Censorship
Give these movies a chance
Theres justice and then theres propaganda
Since we last wrote to you and urged our community to purchase as many tickets as possible for the Israeli films featured at the festival, sales have been brisk and tickets were, for a time, sold out. A new block of tickets has opened up and we urge you, once again, to see as many Israeli films as possible in order to stand with Israel against untruthful and unwarranted attacks. Please contact the TIFF box office by clicking below. http://tiff.net/boxoffice
Thank you for your support and you can be assured UJA Federation will continue its intensive efforts, throughout the festival, to battle those who seek to boycott and damage Israel.
David Koschitzky,Chair, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto
below are the anti-israel signatories:
Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel; Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada; Richard Fung, video artist, Canada; John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada; Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada; Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada; Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada; b h Yael, film and video artist, CanadaEndorsed By:Ahmad Abdalla, Filmmaker, EgyptHany Abu-Assad, Filmmaker, PalestineMark Achbar, Filmmaker, CanadaZackie Achmat, AIDS activist, South AfricaRa'anan Alexandrowicz, Filmmaker, JerusalemAnthony Arnove, Publisher and Producer, USARuba Atiyeh, Documentary Director, LebanonJoslyn Barnes, Writer and Producer, USAHarry Belafonte, Musician/Actor, USAJohn Berger, Author, FranceDionne Brand, Poet/Writer, CanadaDaniel Boyarin, Professor, USAJudith Butler, Professor, USADavid Byrne, Musician, USANoam Chomsky, Professor, USAJulie Christie, Actor, USAGuy Davidi Director, IsraelNa-iem Dollie, Journalist/Writer, South AfricaIgor Drljaca, Filmmaker, CanadaEve Ensler, Playwright, Author, USAEyal Eithcowich, Director, IsraelLynne Fernie, Filmmaker and Programmer, CanadaSophie Fiennes, Filmmaker, UKPeter Fitting, Professor, CanadaJane Fonda, Actor and Author, USADanny Glover, Filmmaker and Actor, USANoam Gonick, Director, CanadaMalcolm Guy, Filmmaker, CanadaRawi Hage, Writer, CanadaAnne Henderson, Filmmaker, CanadaMike Hoolboom, Filmmaker, CanadaAnnemarie Jacir, Filmmaker, PalestineGordon Jackson, Jazz Musician, South AfricaFredric Jameson, Literary Critic, USAJuliano Mer Khamis, Filmmaker, Jenin/HaifaBonnie Sherr Klein Filmmaker, CanadaJoy Kogawa, Writer, CanadaPaul Laverty, Producer, UKMin Sook Lee, Filmmaker, CanadaPaul Lee, Filmmaker, CanadaYael Lerer, publisher, Tel AvivMark Levine, Professor, USAJack Lewis, Filmmaker, South AfricaKen Loach, Filmmaker, UKArab Lotfi, Filmmaker, Egypt/LebanonKyo Maclear, Author, TorontoMahmood Mamdani, Professor, USAFatima Mawas, Filmmaker, AustraliaAnne McClintock, Professor, USATessa McWatt, Author, Canada and UKViggo Mortensen, Actor, USACornelius Moore, Film Distributor, USAYousry Nasrallah, Director, EgyptJoan Nestle, Writer, USARebecca O'Brien, Producer, UKPratibha Parmar, Producer/Director, UKAnand Patwardhan, Documentary Film Maker, IndiaJeremy Pikser, Screenwriter, USAJohn Pilger, Filmmaker, UKShai Carmeli Pollak, Filmmaker, IsraelIan Iqbal Rashid, Filmmaker, CanadaJudy Rebick, Professor, CanadaDavid Reeb, Artist, Tel AvivB. Ruby Rich, Critic and Professor, USAWallace Shawn, Playwright, Actor, USAEyal Sivan, Filmmaker and Scholar, Paris/London/SderotElia Suleiman, Fimmlaker, Nazareth/Paris/New YorkEran Torbiner, Filmmaker, IsraelAlice Walker, Writer, USAThomas Waugh, Professor, CanadaChristian Wiener Freso, President – Union of Peruvian Filmmakers, PeruDebra Zimmerman, Executive Director Women Make Movies, USAHoward Zinn, Writer, USASlavoj Zizek, Professor, Slovenia Sent from my Verizon Wireless
A concert for tolerance and peace? For shame!
The National Post
Chris Selley: Posted: September 08, 2009, 10:30 AM by NP Editor
Something big is happening in Tel Aviv on Sept. 24, and it's making a lot of people very angry. Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) says, "This ill-conceived project ... is clearly intended to whitewash Israel's violations of international law and human rights." The Palestinian NGO Network believes it "legitimiz[es] the abnormal situation in Palestine, and especially in Gaza, where war crimes were committed by Israel a few months ago, and remain unpunished."
"If you had just emerged from three weeks of unfettered bombing from land, sea and air, with no place to hide and no place to run, your hospitals overwhelmed, sewage running in the streets and white phosphorous burning up your children, what would the news [of the event] say to you?" asked four British university professors in an open letter. "[It would tell the Palestinians] that their suffering doesn't matter."
The event, if you can believe it, is a concert by Leonard Cohen.
Leonard Cohen -- enemy of human rights, obstacle to peace, reminder of suffering. I consider myself pretty jaded, but these are astonishing smears. Cohen is a 74-year-old mensch of the first order, and author of some of the most universally appealing, enduring and, it must be said, all-but-completely apolitical popular songs ever written.
It's interesting to compare Cohen's upcoming trip to the Holy Land to the one Madonna recently undertook. Madge's latest world tour, which wrapped up last week in Tel Aviv, was called "Sticky and Sweet." All evidence suggests the proceeds went toward expanding her inestimable fortune. Cohen's upcoming gig is entitled "A Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace." Proceeds will go to a fund of the same name, established by Cohen, whose mission is "to provide financial support for organizations and individuals working to achieve reconciliation, tolerance and peace between Israelis and Palestinians and thereby advance the recognition and full expression of human rights in this region." Among the beneficiaries will be The Parents Circle -- Families Forum, which unites bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents, and generally promotes peace by arranging positive encounters between people who might otherwise have considered each other enemies.
On the PACBI website, disapproving references to Cohen's concert about reconciliation, tolerance and peace outnumber those to Madonna's concert about nothing by a score of 84-2. When Cohen decided he wanted to play a show in Ramallah as well, the boycotters' screeching only intensified. Under no circumstances should he play the West Bank, some insisted, while more charitable types thought the show acceptable on the condition he cancel the one in Israel. How can these people possibly claim to be working in the interests of peace? And as if this wasn't bad enough, Amnesty International shamefully bailed on administering the fund last month, claiming it wasn't the boycott but "the lack of support from Israeli and Palestinian NGOs" that changed its mind. The distinction is lost on me, I'm afraid.
Cohen's ongoing world tour, his first in 15 years, began as a moneymaking enterprise. While he was in repose at a Zen monastery on Mt. Baldy, near Los Angeles -- something I think very few people other than Cohen could pull off without seeming like a total wanker -- his former manager basically cleaned him out. But the shows soon took on a beautiful life of their own, as anyone who's seen one can attest. "I don't recommend losing everything as a spiritual discipline," Cohen told Maclean's Brian D. Johnson early in the tour. "But if it happens to you, there are some features that are quite surprising and quite nourishing."
I saw Cohen in Toronto last summer. It sends chills down my spine just thinking about it. Historically, it has sometimes fallen to other artists to rescue Cohen's songs from dubious, synthesizer-laden (if strangely endearing) album arrangements. But on this tour, Cohen and his band are laying down the definitive versions of many of his best songs -- notably a lush, rootsy, vocally gutsy take on Hallelujah. But it wasn't just the music --it might not even have been mostly the music. In review after rapturous review pouring in from around the world, you read of audiences that are profoundly appreciative of being in the presence of a uniquely brilliant, generous, gentlemanly soul.
For the record, I'm not saying Leonard Cohen can solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It's just enormously depressing to see people politicizing his manifestly apolitical efforts to do his part to help. Twin appearances in Tel Aviv and Ramallah could only have produced goodwill among those lucky enough to attend, while the boycotters danced with rage outside. It's a tragic, if ultimately minor, missed opportunity. It's tough to think of a song that more desperately needs playing on both sides of the security wall than Anthem:
Every heart, every heartto love will comebut like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ringForget your perfect offeringThere is a crack, a crack in everythingThat's how the light gets in.
We don’t feel like celebrating with Israel this year
The Globe and Mail
September 8, 2009
When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival was holding a celebratory “spotlight” on Tel Aviv I felt ashamed of my city. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women's-rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. “We had more hope during the attacks,” she told me, “at least then we believed things would change.”
Ms. Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as a hundred thousand on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. “People called it war crimes,” Ms. Al Shawa recalled. “We felt we were not alone in the world.” If Gazans could just survive them, it seemed these horrors would be the catalyst for change.
But today, Ms. Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory. The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths – as many as 1,400 – were not enough to bring justice. Indeed Israel is refusing to co-operate even with a toothless UN fact-finding mission, headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.
Last Spring, while Mr. Goldstone's mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was selecting movies for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed with the city's 100th birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel's desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and this week's glittering Toronto premieres. It's quite possible that Cameron Bailey, TIFF's co-director, believes it himself. He is wrong.
For more than a year, Israeli diplomats have been talking openly about their new strategy to counter growing global anger at Israel's defiance of international law. It's no longer enough, they argue, just to invoke Sderot every time someone raises Gaza. The task is also to change the subject to more pleasant areas: film, arts, gay rights – things that underline commonalities between Israel and places such as Paris and New York. After the Gaza attack, this strategy went into high gear. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits,” Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told The New York Times. “This way, you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Toronto got an early taste of all this. A year ago, Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, explained that a new “Brand Israel” campaign would include, according to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, “a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand.” Mr. Gissin pledged that, “I'm confident everything we plan to do will happen.” Indeed it has.
Let's be clear: No one is claiming the Israeli government is secretly running TIFF's Tel Aviv spotlight, whispering in Mr. Bailey's ear about which films to program. The point is that the festival's decision to give Israel pride of place, holding up Tel Aviv as a “young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity,” matches Israel's stated propaganda goals to a T.
It's ironic that TIFF's Tel Aviv programming is being called a spotlight because celebrating that city in isolation – without looking at Gaza, without looking at what is on the other side of the towering concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints – actually obscures far more than it illuminates. There are some wonderful Israeli films included in the program. They deserve to be shown as a regular part of the festival, liberated from this highly politicized frame.
This is the context in which a small group of us drafted The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration Under Occupation, which has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover and Ken Loach (we will be unveiling hundreds of new names on the first day of TIFF). Contrary to the many misrepresentations, the letter is not calling for a boycott of the festival. It is a simple message of solidarity that says: We don't feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to Mona Al Shawa and millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them, and we are still outraged.
Jon Voight Accuses Jane Fonda of "Aiding and Abetting Those Who Seek the Destruction of Israel"- Michael PosnerActor Jon Voight is accusing actress Jane Fonda - his co-star in the Oscar-winning anti-Vietnam war film Coming Home - of "aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel." In a letter released Tuesday, Voight said, "Jane Fonda is backing the wrong people again" by signing her name to a letter of protest against the Toronto International Film Festival's decision to shine a cinematic spotlight on Tel Aviv and ten Israeli filmmakers. Voight, 71, maintains that "people like Jane Fonda and all the names on that letter are assisting the Palestinian propagandists against the State of Israel....Jane Fonda's whole idea of the 'poor Palestinians,' and 'look how many Palestinians the Israelis killed in Gaza,' is misconstrued. Does she not remember what actually took place in Gaza? Did Israel not give the Palestinians of Gaza the hope that there could be peace? In response, did Hamas not launch rockets from Gaza into Israel, killing many innocent people?" "Time and again, [Israel] offered the Palestinians land. They always refused. They don't want a piece of the pie, they want the whole pie. They will not be happy until they see Israel in the sea." (Globe and Mail-Canada)