Sunday, July 31, 2011

Power + Exceptionalism = Disaster

After intensively studying Israel for some time now, I believe the problem that it presents to itself, to the Palestinians and to the world can be captured simply. Exceptionalism (the "we are different and superior" idea) combined with power is dangerous and if unchecked leads to disaster. What makes the case of Israel so instructive is that it is a tiny state that would normally be almost un-noticed in the affairs of the world but for the invincible shield of a super-power that is obedient to its wishes.

If you make special claims for your own, it can be harmless enough and it is certainly a human characteristic. In fact, it is a necessity. We all do this as individuals and with our families.

But when the group becomes larger, goes beyond the family to become tribal, then conflict begins with other groups and tribalism takes over. This has been seen in Europe for centuries and is seen in Africa and Asia today. It causes slaughter but the damage is contained unless it breaks out into catastrophes of opposing alliances as was the case in the world wars of the 20th century.

For the Jews, exceptionalism was reinforced by exceptionally strict containment with their numbers small and under constant threat from the larger non-Jewish populations in which they lived. In fact, it was very rugged exceptionalism that kept Judaism going after it stopped being a proselytizing religion with the advent of Christianity.

Jews had no choice but to withdraw when confronted. Exceptionalism was contained and reinforced by powerlessness.

Enter Zionism and the cataclysm of World War II.

Sympathy for the plight of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis is a consequence of centuries of prejudice and oppression. It provided the magic key to the establishment of a Jewish state and its perpetuation.

The worldwide sympathy for the Jews allowed Zionists to commit an appalling act of ethnic cleansing that continues today. People from foreign lands took the land away from those living in Palestine in a blatant act of aggression based only on a mythology that the invaders brought with them but, most importantly, shared with the Christian world. If not for this shared mythology, the Zionist project would have been seen for the preposterous thing it truly is. The Arab Palestinians, being an alien people to the West, the suspicious other to both Europeans and Americans had no standing from which to make a plea for justice.

Though Palestine was certainly not a land without a people, it might as well have been for Zionists and Christians.

The struggling Yishuv suddenly made a slam dunk.

Far from presenting the constraint of a competing tribe, the Arab Palestinians as a rural agricultural people provided no effective resistance against the Zionist project. The history of Israel shows exceptionalism with unrestricted power and in that sense is no different from the rise of National Socialism until it was checked by the allied response to the adventurism of Hitler.

People fail to realize that appeasement, a word that we now despise because of its connection to the British response to Nazi Germany, has been on display by the United States in regard to Israel for decades.

The results are the same - ever more audacious moves by the appeased as they become more confirmed in their superiority and right to do as they please. What we have to ask ourselves is how the inevitable tragedy will play out.

The world does not permit exceptionalism unlimited reach because it is offensive to the universal sense of justice and the now common acceptance of human equality.

Israel has been different only because it has been undertaken by a people toward whom the world has felt a debt. It has played this hand repeatedly holding high the club of anti-Semitism. This is why Israel has been allowed such a long historical leash without effective counteraction. Otherwise it is only the old story of a territorial grab, unusual only in that those doing the grabbing were dropped into their target area from distant places.

The question for the rest of the world is if there is any way to avoid tragedy for Israel. This is a question only America can answer, because it holds the key to change in the form of the transcontinental life support that keeps the Israeli pot of extremism on course to self-destruct. Will the U.S. extend the leash to Israel to the point where it destroys itself from both internal contradictions and an historic split within Judaism that will see a rejection of the country that claims to be its child?

Regardless of what the Palestinians do, this is only a matter of time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

the shrinking fishing grounds of Gaza

Here is an excerpt from an account of the unilateral reduction in the area within which Gaza fishermen can catch fish. The fishing restrictions are completely at the whim of Israel.
During the Oslo Accords, specifically under the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, representatives of Palestine agreed to 20 nautical miles for fishing access. In 2002 the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan empowered Catherine Bertini to negotiate with Israel on key issues regarding the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a 12 nautical mile fishing limit was agreed upon. In June 2006, following the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the crossing of Kerem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom), the navy imposed a complete sea blockade for several months. When the complete blockade was finally lifted, Palestinian fishermen found that a 6 nautical mile limit was being enforced. When Hamas gained political control of the Gaza Strip, the limit was reduced to 3 nautical miles. During the massive assault on the Strip in 2008-2009, a complete blockade was again declared. After Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army began imposing a 1.5 - 2 nautical miles (PCHR: 2010).
The fishing community is often similarly targeted as the farmers in the 'buffer zone' and the fishing limit is enforced with comparable aggression, with boats shot at or rammed as near as 2nm to the Gazan coast by Israeli gunboats.

Remember that this is only one aspect of Palestinian life that is subject to Israel's dictates. The Palestinians in the West Bank have no law but that of the Israeli Defense Forces and live in all respects subject to their occupiers. Those who live in Gaza are under siege and subject to military attack at any time with no defense against it - even as the United States pours more weapons and money into Israel for "the right to defend itself"

Sunday, July 17, 2011

where are the Methodists?

A few months ago I read about the resolution of the United Methodist Church at their general conference in the year 2000, formally calling for the end of the Israeli occupation.

This took me by surprise. In the eleven years since, though I have seen many synagogues with "We Stand with Israel" prominently on display for the public, I have yet to see any evidence whatsoever of the Methodist Church standing against the occupation. As we all know from hearing our current president, lofty words are easily spoken without any action to back them up.

Because I was raised in a Methodist family (my father was ordained and his career was in church administration), I thought I would take advantage of my background and investigate the situation locally.

First, I composed a letter to the largest Methodist congregation in the area. In my letter, I suggested that, in light of the national church position, even the smallest act of recognition of a great wrong would be positive - perhaps just mentioning the Palestinians from the pulpit.

A few weeks went by with no response. I called the church office and nobody had seen the letter.

So I sent the same letter in again, only this time addressing it to the pastor.

A few weeks went by with no response. I called the pastor and left a phone message asking if the letter had been received.

No response.

So, I put on my Sunday best and went to church for the first time in decades. I knew that it is traditional for the pastor to greet the congregation after the service and saw that as an opportunity to meet the pastor in person. During the service, I discovered that there is a junior pastor as well.

After the service I waited in line, greeted the pastor, mentioned my name and asked if my letter had been received. "Yes", he said, "I intended to write you back, but you didn't provide a return address." Though I was tempted to exclaim, "WHAT!!??", I didn't intend to put him on the spot, I simply handed him my card and thanked him for the sermon. He told me that he would get in touch with me.

Upon return home, I composed a cover letter to the junior pastor, attached a copy of my original letter and emailed them.

Now, a week later, months since I wrote my first letter, there has been no response by phone, mail or email. I suspect there will never be any.

Why did I do this? I know from my years of association with the Methodist Church, back in the tumultuous Vietnam period, that it is politically timid, but I thought that possibly my close connection with Methodism would put anyone at ease in responding. If so many Jews are working so hard for justice, I can't sit doing nothing. If Palestinians have suffered over 60 years, couldn't I at least write a letter on their behalf to "my own people"?

A major reason I left the church in my young adulthood was that I felt it was pointless to listen to anodyne weekly lectures only to spend one's life ignoring the whole philosophical foundation of the religion, if not actively going against it. There are many good things the church does, but the risk factor in all of them is essentially nil. I'm an atheist, but whether or not one believes the accounts in the Bible, one must admire the stories (in the old or new testament) of people staking life itself for a cause.

Given the lack of response to my mild letter, you can easily imagine the intimidating power the charge of anti-Semitism, which Zionists are wont to use, would have if even the mildest support for the Palestinians were attempted.

I will close on a positive note, minor as it is. At the church service I noted with pleasure that there is now a cantor, by that very title. Things do change, but oh so slowly and cautiously. There are people in boiling water around the world. They suffer as most of us wait for the water to become tepid before putting a toe in.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jews and the civil rights struggle

I've been reading the excellent series of books by Taylor Branch on the civil rights struggle, Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan's Edge

It's impossible not to draw parallels with the struggle of the Palestinians, particularly in the behavior of racist whites in the South and the majority of Israelis. Just recently, an excellent piece appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that spoke of this parallel. I recommend it highly.

In reading the comments about the Haaretz article, I came across the following comment with the title "one half of the pro-civil-rights "whites" were Jews". Significantly, it received 25 thumbs up and only 4 thumbs down votes from readers.
"The article is great and completely correct - but since we're talking about Israel, tell the whole truth - half or more of the white pro-civil rights activists were Jews; Rabbi Heschel is the rabbi in the photo with Dr. King at Selma, and he quoted scripture to amazing effect in support of the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War; two of the most famous whites killed in the struggle, Schwerner and Goodman, killed in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, were Jews - and there are tens of thousands more. Don't just write for Israelis about blacks and whites in the South; they'll say it has nothing to do with us. Tell the truth - the majority of American Jews supported the civil rights movement, and a completely disproportionate amount of the "white" activists were Jews whose historical consciousness of their identity made white racism abhorrent to them. There is nothing more Jewish than to oppose racist oppression - especially when it's our own people who are responsible for it."

Friday, July 8, 2011

an emergency for Americans

Here's a letter I've sent to everyone on my contact list...

Please bear with me and read what follows - I am frightened of the immediate danger of another war. You and every ordinary American are needed to act because in one critical area we have lost control of our Congress and because of this we may shortly be committed to a new war that Americans do not want.

Consider the following facts.

>Never in the history of the United States has there been any topic not open to debate in Congress until now - on one topic.

>Not one Democrat, not one Republican will raise any question on this topic. Even the Tea Party is silent. Senator Rand Paul made a single comment about the money involved and immediately went silent earlier this year.

>In a time of economic stress that questions even Social Security and Medicare, funding on this topic is off limits unless it is a vote to increase the amount granted.

>The NRA, AARP, agribusiness, the unions, the oil companies, the banking industry - the issues of all these groups are debated. On this one topic - no debate.

Standing alone, unquestioned, beyond debate, is Israel.

Yet, the height of irony, in the Israeli Knesset debate is completely open on policies that, once determined, the United States rubber-stamps without question.

The world's superpower is captive to the government of a tiny foreign country on the other side of the world. This is a recipe for disaster. You must act.

Not one of the 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in Congress will question any aspect of U.S. policy toward Israel. President Obama is extremely careful in what he says as well.

Instead, the Prime Minister of Israel dictates what he will and will not do - and U.S. support will be continued no matter what he does.

When Israel takes any action in foreign affairs that calls for debate, instead the U.S. House or Senate will within 24 hours have a resolution of support ready, often initiated by Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, with many eager co-sponsors not even needing to be asked to do so, because this is evidence at election time of support for Israel.

Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress. He could hardly get out a sentence without a standing ovation. Every member of Congress was eager to be seen cheering vigorously. The sight of this should have been disquieting at the least to anyone who loves democracy, as this was evidence that we the people are no longer running our Congress when it comes to Israel.

The funding that backers of Israel can put into election campaigns has muted all debate. Anyone who questions unlimited support for Israel knows he/she will be marked for defeat and the process is so effective that all are now silent and obedient. Standing always ready for use against legislators who raise questions is the accusation of anti-Semitism. Our legislators are completely intimidated.

In races for office, when the subject of Israel comes up there is a contest for who can speak more loudly in support of that tiny foreign country with a population about that of the Chicago area. In the last election for U.S. Representative from my district, Jan Schakowsky, a veteran supporter of Israel, was challenged by an even more fierce advocate, Joel Pollack. This is typical.

Israel is guaranteed over $3.5 billion minimum every year, the number one recipient of our foreign aide, yet a thriving economy. This is augmented by additional funds voted throughout the year by Congress. The base amount is pledged over ten year periods and has only increased each time it comes up for renewal. Our current economic crisis has had no effect on this. We can cut back spending on Americans but we can't do enough for Israelis.

This email is a plea to you to not maintain silence. Now is the time to make your voice heard for a very serious reason. In September the United Nations is likely to vote on a Palestinian state. Israel is determined, no matter what it takes, to defeat this effort.

There is good reason to believe that it may attack Iran to divert attention from the vote on Palestine, since it knows the U.S. would automatically come into the war on its side. Please read this excellent article for the evidence that this might happen.

Can we possibly get into another war just as we are eager to get out of Afghanistan? Yes, because of the subservience of Congress. Any impulsive act by Israel would automatically bring U.S. support. Congress has no idea how to act in relation to Israel other than in the robotic manner it does now. Israel has been continually threatening a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

It is imperative that you write your representatives and senators now. The Israel lobby relies on citizen indifference, ignorance and apathy so that the wealth and power of a relative few Americans can exert the control it does. You as an American citizen must make a showing of your independence and demand Congress do likewise. Let Congress know that you are watching them too. There is absolutely no topic that should be beyond debate in Congress. Most Americans never write (or email) their people in Congress. Please do so to demand that there must be debate and no automatic joining of an Israeli-initiated war with Iran.

Here are some useful links

Write your representative
Senators of the 112th Congress

Council for the National Interest (a group dedicated to freeing Congress from the Israel lobby - started by IL Rep Paul Findlay in the 1980's)
AIPAC - the unrivaled lobby (written by former AIPAC employee M.J. Rosenberg)
Jewish Voice for Peace (Jews who object to Israeli policies)
If Americans Knew (started by a reporter, Alison Weir, with the goal of informing Americans about what they are supporting in Israel)

Monday, July 4, 2011


We put humanity in top priority. Not my tribe, my race, or my people. That's why we went out against Zionism. A Zionist's values are all tribal, what's good for the Jews.

To this day, when people ask me about my identity, who are you? Are you this, are you that, are you brown, are you Moslem? I say I am a rootless cosmopolitan and very proud of the fact.

There used to be a saying - "Only dead fish float with the current. Live fish swim against it" When you swim against the current, you think for yourself. You don't accept what you are told.
These are quotes from three different people that you will hear in the remarkable Israeli-made one hour video, Matzpen, the story of the anti-Zionist group of that name that defied the overwhelming majority. Watch it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

the Jewish State - Avnery's view

I always read what Uri Avnery writes. This remarkable Israeli was around when the British were still in Palestine. He was raised on a kibbutz and served in the Knesset. He is well qualified to speak with knowledge of Israel and does so in regular "letters" that he writes.

In the letter that I reproduce below is historical information necessary for an understanding of the meaning of the phrase "the Jewish state". I learned several things I did not know and I hope you will too.

Uri Avnery
June 18, 2011
Deny! Deny!

I AM fed up with all this nonsense about recognizing Israel as the
“Jewish State”.

It is based on a collection of hollow phrases and vague definitions,
devoid of any real content. It serves many different purposes, almost
all of them malign.

Binyamin Netanyahu uses it as a trick to obstruct the establishment of
the Palestinian state. This week he declared that the conflict just has
no solution. Why? Because the Palestinians do not agree to recognize
etc. etc.

Four rightist Members of the Knesset have just submitted a bill
empowering the government to refuse to register new NGOs and to dissolve
existing ones if they “deny the Jewish character of the state”.

This new bill is only one of a series designed to curtail the civil
rights of Arab citizens, as well as those of leftists.

If the late Dr. Samuel Johnson were living in present-day Israel, he
would phrase his famous dictum about patriotism differently:
“Recognition of the Jewish Character of the state is the last refuge of
a scoundrel.”

IN ISRAELI parlance, denying the “Jewish Character” of the state is
tantamount to the worst of all political felonies: to claim that Israel
is a “State of all its Citizens”.

To a foreigner, this may sound a bit weird. In a democracy, the state
clearly belongs to all its citizens. Mention this in the United States,
and you are stating the obvious. Mention this in Israel, and you are
treading dangerously close to treason. (So much for our much-vaunted
“common” values”.)

As a matter of fact, Israel is indeed a state of all its citizens. All
adult Israeli citizens – and only they – have the right to vote for the
Knesset. The Knesset appoints the government and determines the laws. It
has enacted many laws declaring that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic
state”. In ten or in a hundred years, the Knesset could hoist the flag
of Catholicism, Buddhism or Islam. In a democracy, it is the citizens
who are sovereign, not a verbal formula.

WHAT FORMULA? - one may well ask.

The courts favor the words “Jewish and democratic state”. But that is
far from being the only definition around.

The most widely used is just “Jewish State”. But that is not enough for
Netanyahu and Co., who speak about “the nation-state of the Jewish
people”, which has a nice 19th century ring. The “state of the Jewish
people” is also quite popular.

The one thing that all these brand-names have in common is that they are
perfectly imprecise. What does “Jewish” mean? A nationality, a religion,
a tribe? Who are the “Jewish people”? Or, even more vague, the “Jewish
nation”? Does this include the Congressmen who enact the laws of the
United States? Or the cohorts of Jews who are in charge of US Middle
East policy? Which country does the Jewish ambassador of the UK in Tel
Aviv represent?

The courts have been wrestling with the question: where is the border
between “Jewish” and “democratic”? What does “democratic” mean in this
context? Can a “Jewish” state really be “democratic”, or, for that
matter, can a “democratic” state really be “Jewish”? All the answers
given by learned judges and renowned professors are contrived, or, as we
say in Hebrew, they “stand on chickens’ legs”.

LETS GO back to the beginning: the book written in German by Theodor
Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, and published in 1896. He called
it “Der Judenstaat”.

Unfortunately, this is a typical German word that is untranslatable. It
is generally rendered in English as “The Jewish State” or “The State of
the Jews”. Both are quite false. The nearest approximation would be “The

If this sounds slightly anti-Semitic, this is not by accident. It may
come as a shock to many, but the word was not invented by Herzl. It was
first used by a Prussian nobleman with an impressive name - Friedrich
August Ludwig von der Marwitz, - who died 23 years before Herzl was even
born. He was a dedicated anti-Semite long before another German invented
the term “anti-Semitism” as an expression of the healthy German spirit.

Marwitz, an ultra-conservative general, objected to the liberal reforms
proposed at the time. In 1811 he warned that these reforms would turn
Prussia into a “Judenstaat”, a Jewstate. He did not mean that Jews were
about to become a majority in Prussia, God forbid, but that moneylenders
and other shady Jewish dealers would corrupt the character of the
country and wipe out the good old Prussian virtues.

Herzl himself did not dream of a state that belongs to all the Jews in
the world. Quite the contrary - his vision was that all real Jews would
go to the Judenstaat (whether in Argentina or Palestine, he had not yet
decided). They – and only they - would thenceforth remain “Jews”. All
the others would become assimilated in their host nations and cease
altogether to be Jews.

Far, far indeed from the notion of a “nation-state of the Jewish people”
as envisioned by many of today’s Zionists, including those millions who
do not dream of immigrating to Israel.

WHEN I was a boy, I took part in dozens of demonstrations against the
British government of Palestine. In all of them, we chanted in unison
“Free immigration! Hebrew State!” I don’t remember a single
demonstration with the slogan “Jewish State”.

That was quite natural. Without anyone decreeing it, we made a clear
distinction between us Hebrew-speaking people in Palestine and the Jews
in the Diaspora. Some of us turned this into an ideology, but for most
people it was just a natural expression of reality: Hebrew agriculture
and Jewish tradition, Hebrew underground and Jewish Religion, Hebrew
kibbutz and Jewish Shtetl. Hebrew Yishuv (the new community in the
country) and Jewish Diaspora. To be called a “Diaspora Jew” was the
ultimate insult.

For us this was not anti-Zionist by any means. Quite the contrary:
Zionism wanted to create an old-new nation in Eretz Israel (as Palestine
is called in Hebrew), and this nation was of course quite distinct from
the Jews elsewhere. It was only the Holocaust, with its huge emotional
impact, which changed the verbal rules.

So how did the formula “Jewish State” creep in? In 1917, in the middle
of World War I, the British government issued the so-called Balfour
Declaration, which proclaimed that “His Majesty’s Government views with
favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish

Every word was carefully chosen, after months of negotiations with
Zionist leaders. One of the main British objects was to win American and
Russian Jews for the Allied cause. Revolutionary Russia was about to get
out of the war, and the entry of isolationist America was essential.

(By the way, the British rejected the words “the turning of Palestine
into a national home for the Jewish people”, insisting on “in Palestine”
– thus foreshadowing the partition of the country.)

IN 1947 the UN did decide to partition Palestine between its Arab and
Jewish populations. This said nothing about the character of the two
future states – it just used the current definitions of the two warring
parties. About 40% of the population in the territory allocated to the
“Jewish” state was Arab.

The advocates of the “Jewish state” make much of the sentence in the
“Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel” (generally
called the “Declaration of Independence”) which indeed includes the
words “Jewish State”. After quoting the UN resolution which called for a
Jewish and an Arab state, the declaration continues: “Accordingly we …
on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General
Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz
Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

This sentence says nothing at all about the character of the new state,
and the context is purely formal.

One of the paragraphs of the declaration (in its original Hebrew
version) speaks about the “Hebrew people”: “We extend our hands to all
neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good
neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and
mutual help with the independent Hebrew people in its land.” This
sentence is blatantly falsified in the official English translation,
which changed the last words into “the sovereign Jewish people settled
in its own land.”

As a matter of fact, it would have been quite impossible to reach
agreement on any ideological formula, since the declaration was signed
by the leaders of all factions, from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox to
the Moscow-oriented Communist Party.

ANY TALK about the Jewish State leads inevitably to the question: What
are the Jews – a nation or a religion?

Official Israeli doctrine says that “Jewish” is both a national and a
religious definition. The Jewish collective, unlike any other, is both
national and religious. With us, nation and religion are one and the same.

The only door of entry to this collective is religious. There is no
national door.

Hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russian immigrants have come to
Israel under the Law of Return with their Jewish relatives. This law is
very broad. In order to attract the Jews, it allows even distant
non-Jewish relatives to come with them, including the spouse of the
grandchild of a Jew. Many of these non-Jews want to be Jews in order to
be considered full Israelis, but have tried in vain to be accepted.
Under Israeli law, a Jew is a person “born to a Jewish mother or
converted, who has not adopted another religion”. This is a purely
religious definition. Jewish religious law says that for this purpose,
only the mother, not the father, counts.

It is extremely difficult to be converted in Israel. The rabbis demand
that the convert fulfill all 613 commandments of the Jewish religion –
which only very few recognized Israelis do. But one cannot become an
official member of the stipulated Jewish “nation” by any other door. One
becomes a part of the American nation by accepting US citizenship.
Nothing like that exists here.

We have an ongoing battle about this in Israel. Some of us want Israel
to be an Israeli state, belonging to the Israeli people, indeed a “State
of all its Citizens”. Some want to impose on us the religious law
supposedly fixed by God for all times on Mount Sinai some 3200 years
ago, and abolish all contrary laws of the democratically elected
Knesset. Many don’t want any change at all.

But how, in God’s name (sorry), does this concern the Palestinians? Or
the Icelanders, for that matter?

THE DEMAND that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “the Jewish State”
or as “the Nation-State of the Jewish people” is preposterous.

As the British would put it, it’s none of their bloody business. It
would be tantamount to an intervention in the internal affairs of
another country.

But a friend of mine has suggested a simple way out: the Knesset can
simply resolve to change the name of the state into something like “The
Jewish Republic of Israel”, so that any peace agreement between Israel
and the Arab State of Palestine will automatically include the demanded

This would also bring Israel into line with the state it most resembles:
“The Islamic Republic of Pakistan”, which came into being almost at the
same time, after the partition of India, after a gruesome mutual
massacre, after the creation of a huge refugee problem and with a
perpetual border war in Kashmir. And the nuclear bomb, of course.

Many Israelis would be shocked by the comparison. What, us? Similar to a
theocratic state? Are we getting closer to the Pakistani model and
further from the American one?

What the hell, let’s simply deny it!