Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 28, 2011

Israeli film maker threatened with death

Filed under: middle east,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:10 am

NY Times January 27, 2011, 5:40 pm

Israeli Journalist Reports Death Threats Over Gaza War Film


Israeli soldiers expressed regrets over their conduct in Gaza in a new documentary.

Nurit Kedar, an Israeli documentary filmmaker, told Channel 4 News of Britain on Thursday that she had received death threats following the broadcast of her latest film, a report on Israeli soldiers who expressed regrets over their own conduct during the war in Gaza two years ago.

The 13-minute documentary, made for Channel 4 News, was posted online on Wednesday. In response, Ms. Kedar said: “I have had phone calls saying, ‘You should be hanged,’ and calling me a traitor. People have sent me messages calling for me to be expelled from Israel, saying I am a traitor to my mother and father.”

The Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday that a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London had complained about the film. Among the embassy’s objections was the weight Ms. Kedar’s film gave to the use of the word “cleanse,” by a young tank commander she interviewed. The commander said that before his unit went into Gaza, the soldiers were told: “We needed to cleanse the neighborhoods, the buildings, the area. It sounds really terrible to say ‘cleanse,’ but those were the orders.”

According to The Chronicle, the Israeli spokesman said the word was mistranslated, that it was “used by soldiers to describe when they are not under threat during a search, the nearest equivalent being ‘clear.’ ”

Before the film was broadcast, the embassy gave this statement to Channel 4 News:

Unlike much of the region, the open society within Israel allows for all allegations such as these to be aired and investigated. Israel has already authorized over 100 separate investigations into the operation and five broader investigations, and close to 50 criminal investigations are also taking place.

All this in the context of having to respond to over 12,000 missiles raining on our citizens — such an operation could unfortunately never be flawless given these circumstances.

Our judicial process is renowned across the world for its independence. This is a country, after all, which holds even the very top of society to account, as has been proven in recent days. This is Israel in the 21st century, a flourishing democracy, thriving amongst a desert of tyranny in the Middle East.

September 28, 2010


Filed under: Film,middle east — louisproyect @ 9:59 pm

From October 8-14, the Anthology Film Archives in New York will be screening “Rachel“, a documentary about the martyrdom of Rachel Corrie. This is a perfect time to be honoring her memory since it finally appears that the tide is turning in her favor. Her sacrifice, along with those made by the Mavi Marmara martyrs, has finally begun to persuade powerful forces worldwide, including the trade union movement, to take a stand against Israel.

Simone Bitton, who was born in Morocco in 1955 and considers herself an Arab Jew, directed the film. She interviews both the International Solidarity Activists who worked alongside Rachel as well as the IDF soldiers responsible for her death. Bitton’s last film was “Wall“, a powerful indictment of one of the primary institutions of the Israeli version of apartheid.

Serving as a narrative thread that holds this powerful movie together, we hear young women reading from her letters. These are the very same letters that formed the basis of Alan Rickman’s “My Name is Rachel Corrie” that was staged originally in London’s Royal Court Theater in 2005. When an attempt was made to present it at the New York Theatre Workshop in March 2006, the theater’s director took it upon himself to poll Jewish groups whether this might offend them. Whether he did this because he got phone calls from people threatening to cut off his funding is impossible to say. But I have a feeling that there would be much more openness to it today, especially in light of the decision by Hollywood’s elite, including many Jews, to support a boycott of performances at a theater in a West Bank settlement.

Throughout the movie, I could not help but think of Ben Linder, an American engineer who was murdered by Nicaraguan contras in 1987. Like him, Rachel Corrie came from a comfortable and privileged family in Olympia, Washington just as Ben came from in Oregon. No matter how many times the mainstream media tells young well-educated people such as these that the Nicaraguans or Palestinians are threats to American interests, they will find a way to make a connection with them, even at the risk of death.

Bitton takes the audience to Rafah, where eyewitnesses from the ISM recreate the day’s events of March 13, 2003 when an armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozer pushed hundreds of pounds of dirt over her, leading to her death by suffocation. The IDF maintained that the driver could not see her despite the fact that it admitted that the activists were driving them to distraction in the Gaza Strip. Speaking to these cynical terrorists in their native Hebrew, Bitton challenges their official version of what happened every step of the way. Since Israel controlled the autopsy, against the express wishes or her parents, it assumed that they could spin things the way it wanted, just as was the case with the Mavi Marmara. Unfortunately for the Zionists, these lies no longer have the effect they once did.

The documentary has moving interviews with Ghassan Andoni, a Palestinian physicist and one of the three co-founders of the ISM, and Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist with the group whose emails I have been receiving for well over five years. Pollak is a totally engaging personality who says that his activism was inherited from his Communist grandparents and other members of his family. Ideologically, he describes himself as an anarchist and as such puts the best foot forward for the latest manifestation of this 150-year-old movement. The wiki on Pollak states:

Pollak was injured numerous times, including a head injury on April 3, 2005. An Israeli soldier shot Pollak in the head with a teargas canister from an M-16, from a distance of approximately thirty meters at a protest against the Wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in. This left him with two internal brain hemorrhages and a wound requiring 23 stitches.[1]  Jonathan was arrested dozens of times and convicted together with 10 others for blocking a road in front of the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on the day the International Court of Justice in The Hague  began its proceeding on the legality of the wall. He was also acquitted of a rioting charge together with another AAW activist, Kobi Snitz. They were both arrested at a demonstration against the wall in the village of Budrus.[2]

When the time comes for Israeli apartheid to be buried in the ashcan of history, just as the Afrikaner system that preceded it, people like Rachel Corrie and countless Palestinians will be seen as the Stephen Biko’s who paved the way for its demise through their example. In that sense, their memory will last forever since they have entered the realm of the immortals of peace and social justice.

September 11, 2010

Bard College, Martin Peretz and the Hasbara counter-offensive

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 6:43 pm

Martin Peretz

A few days ago I spotted a reference on the Mondoweiss blog to an upcoming talk by Martin Peretz sponsored by Bard College. It is titled “The Demonization of Israel: Its History and Politics” and will be held on September 16th at 6:15 at the school’s Globalization and International Affairs offices at 36 West 44th St. The talk is part of The James Clarke Chace Memorial Speaker Series. Chase was a professor at Bard who died in 2004 and could best be described as an inside-the-beltway master of realpolitik, just the sort of person who would thrive at Bard College.

Our friends at Mondoweiss were resourceful enough to dig up a post from Peretz’s blog at The New Republic Magazine (TNR) bought with his wife’s money (she was an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune) back in 1975. It is as toxic as his usual offerings and cut from the same cloth as the NY Post, Fox News or the WSJ editorial page.

Mondoweiss singles out these gems:

The State of New York has no need for more mosques, since there are plenty of them. Furthermore, Muslims living in New York do not frequent their mosques on a daily basis; usually they go to them either on Saturdays or on Sundays, due to the nature of their work. Therefore, there is no real need for the building of the Cordoba Mosque; especially as the project has already provoked the sentiments of Americans, by reminding them of the attacks on 9 September, 2001, the Islamic conquest of Spain, as well as the tragic consequences of Islamic imperialism in general.

In my view, the really modest struggle against the mosque is probably the closest thing we’ve had to a genuinely grass roots effort against the casual and elitist First Amendment fundamentalists.

The fact that Bard would give a platform for this kind of rant must be explained. When Leon Botstein told me back in 1987 that the appointment of Martin Peretz to the Bard College board of trustees must not be subjected to a litmus test (I had written him a letter complaining about Peretz’s advocacy of contra funding), it dawned on me years later that he was applying a litmus test. That litmus test consisted of support for Israel obviously and more generally for the right of US imperialism to rule the world.

Some background on Peretz is in order. Back in the 1960s, he was still something of a leftist, enough so that he dipped into his wife’s trust fund and came up with much of the money for a conference organized by the National Conference for New Politics, a group led by left-liberals and “old school” SDS’ers like Paul Booth. In Jacob Heilbrunn’s “They Knew they were Right: the rise of the Neocons”, we learn that Peretz was also a major funder of Ramparts Magazine as well. He had studied with Herbert Marcuse as a Brandeis University undergrad and was not above writing angry letters to the NY Times denouncing the military dictatorship in Brazil.

But something happened at the conference that he had financed with his wife’s grandfather’s hard-earned money that made him turn his back on the left. The conference adopted a motion critical of Israel that had been put forward by Black Nationalists. This made Peretz a raving rightwinger practically overnight, the first manifestations of which was an article titled “Israel and the American Left” that appeared in the November 1967 issue of Commentary Magazine. Seven years later when he took over the New Republic, he would turn the magazine into an outlet for Zionist propaganda and neoliberal social and economic policies associated with the Democratic Leadership Council. When he joined Bard College, he clearly intended to do as much as he could to put the school on a collision course with Palestinian rights even if this was sometimes at odds with more “reasonable” minds in the Bard College power structure.

While George Soros was never a board member (his ex-wife Susan was), he certainly had just as much money to throw around as Peretz and—logically—just as much power to determine the school’s destiny. Soros is somewhat to the left of Peretz, especially on the Middle East, and therefore got on his wrong side. In 2007, Peretz wrote a TNR article titled Tyran-a-Soros that accused Soros of being what amounts to a “self-hating” Jew:

Soros is ostentatiously indifferent to his own Jewishness. He is not a believer. He has no Jewish communal ties. He certainly isn’t a Zionist. He told Connie Bruck in The New Yorker–testily, she recounted–that “I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence–but I don’t want to be part of it.” But he has involved himself in the founding of an anti-AIPAC, more dovish Israel lobby. Suddenly, he wants to influence the character of a Jewish state about which he loudly cares nothing. Once again, he bears no responsibility. Perhaps his sense of his own purity also underwrites his heartlessness in business. As a big currency player in the world markets, Soros was at least partially responsible for the decline in the British pound.

The article also makes the case that Soros collaborated with the Nazis in prewar Hungary, something that appears borne out by a Sixty Minutes interview conducted by Steve Kroft:

Kroft: “And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.” Soros: “Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.”

Kroft: “In what way?”

Soros: “That one should think ahead. One should understand that–and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a– a very personal threat of evil.”

Kroft: “My understanding is that you went … went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.”

Soros: “Yes, that’s right. Yes.”

Leaving aside the question of complicity with the Nazis, which hardly seems to be Soros’s worst attribute, one might assume that Bard’s decision to develop a kind of paternalistic tie to Al-Quds University in Jerusalem reflects much more of Soros’s thinking than Peretz’s, especially since he is a major donor of this neocolonial initiative. Peretz would probably favor dropping white phosphorus bombs on the school while Soros would vote for turning the school into a training ground for accommodationists, thus mirroring the largely fictitious split in Israeli politics between hawks and doves.

Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds, is just the kind of quisling figure that would recommend himself to Bard College. In 2005, the Palestinian Teachers Union called for his dismissal from that post—probably something that cinched his eligibility for a partnership with Bard. The Electronic Intifada reported:

A Palestinian teachers union has called for the dismissal of Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh for “normalising ties with Israel” and “serving Israeli propaganda interests”.

A statement by the Palestinian Union of University Teachers and Employees (PUUTE), published on the front page of the Ramallah-based daily Al-Ayyam, on Monday accused Nusseibeh of “normalising relations with the Sharon government” despite the Israeli prime minister’s policy of “bullying the Palestinians and stealing their land”.

“This constitutes a strong blow to the Palestinian national consensus against normalisation with Israel,” said the statement.

“We call on all concerned parties within the Palestinian Authority, including President Mahmoud Abbas and the Higher Education Council, to take the necessary measures to put an end to this behaviour, which doesn’t represent the position of the Palestinian university teachers and employees, and dismiss the president of the Al-Quds University.”

The statement also accused Nusseibeh of acting against a recent decision by Britain’s Association of University Teachers to boycott Israel’s Haifa and Bar Ilan universities.

One would imagine that a hawk like Martin Peretz might have also been a bit unhappy with the honorary degree bestowed on novelist Margaret Atwood at the 2010 Commencement ceremonies. This writer, after all, did write this on her blog:

None of this changes the core nature of the reality, which is that the concept of Israel as a humane and democratic state is in serious trouble. Once a country starts refusing entry to the likes of Noam Chomsky, shutting down the rights of its citizens to use words like “Nakba,” and labelling as “anti-Israel” anyone who tries to tell them what they need to know, a police-state clampdown looms. Will it be a betrayal of age-old humane Jewish traditions and the rule of just law, or a turn towards reconciliation and a truly open society?

Time is running out. Opinion in Israel may be hardening, but in the United States things are moving in the opposite direction. Campus activity is increasing; many young Jewish Americans don’t want Israel speaking for them. America, snarled in two chaotic wars and facing increasing international anger over Palestine, may well be starting to see Israel not as an asset but as a liability.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But action counts for a lot more than words in politics. Just a month before these words were written, Atwood accepted a cash prize of a half-million dollars in Tel Aviv over the objections of boycott organizers. She claimed that it was an issue of “free speech” and offered up this bromide about how the conflict in the Middle East might be resolved:

I sympathize with the very bad conditions the people of Gaza are living through due to the blockade, the military actions, and the Egyptian and Israeli walls. Everyone in the world hopes that the two sides involved will give up their inflexible positions and sit down at the negotiating table immediately and work out a settlement that would help the ordinary people who are suffering. The world wants to see fair play and humane behaviour, and it wants that more the longer the present situation continues and the worse the conditions become.

In my version of Dante’s Inferno, I picture people like Botstein and Atwood living in Gaza-like conditions for all eternity, but then again I confess to being a materialist.

It is difficult to predict where Bard will be going as a willing participant in the Hasbara counter-offensive. Yale University had a conference on anti-Semitism recently that was very much in line with the Peretz speech scheduled for September 16. Once again I recommend the Mondoweiss report on this Hasbara con artistry:

This is disturbing. A Yale University center that purports to study anti-Semitism is holding a three-day conference on “the crisis” of global anti-Semitism (ending tomorrow) that is dedicated to the idea that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

The flotilla raid, anti-Semitic. Helen Thomas, anti-Semitic. The very idea of Palestinian identity, anti-Semitic.

That last claim–“The Central Role of Palestinian Antisemitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity”–was put forward Monday, shockingly, by Itamar Marcus, a leader of the settler movement in the occupied West Bank. Marcus has connections to the Central Fund of Israel, which raises money here for the settlers, including their “urgent security needs.”

Perhaps the best way to describe Bard’s approach is one of a multidimensional Hasbara. For the people who listen to NPR, there’s the Bard College that forms a partnership with Al-Quds and presents Margaret Atwood with an honorary degree. For the readers of TNR and donors to AIPAC, there’s the Bard College that gives Martin Peretz a platform to spew his racist filth or that allows its Chaplain Bruce Chilton to go on WABC hate radio to support IDF war crimes. In either case, we are not dealing with a college that puts the human rights of Palestinians first and foremost.

For Joel Kovel’s take on Bard College and Zionism, check this interview I conducted with him in July:


NY Times September 11, 2010

Is This America?


For a glimpse of how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become, consider a blog post in The New Republic this month. Written by Martin Peretz, the magazine’s editor in chief, it asserted: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.”

Mr. Peretz added: “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Thus a prominent American commentator, in a magazine long associated with tolerance, ponders whether Muslims should be afforded constitutional freedoms. Is it possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? How do America’s nearly seven million American Muslims feel when their faith is denounced as barbaric?

This is one of those times that test our values, a bit like the shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.

It would have been natural for this test to have come right after 9/11, but it was forestalled because President George W. Bush pushed back at his conservative ranks and repeatedly warned Americans not to confuse Al Qaeda with Islam.

Now that Mr. Bush is no longer in the White House, nativists are back on the warpath. Some opponents of President Obama are circulating bald-faced lies about him that are also scurrilous attacks on Islam itself. One e-mail bouncing around falsely accuses Mr. Obama of lying and adds, “His Muslim faith says it’s okay to lie.”

Or there’s the e-mail I received the other day from a relative, declaring: “President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to remember and honor the Eid Muslim holiday season with a new commemorative 44 cent first class holiday postage stamp.” In fact, it was President Bush’s administration that first issued the Eid stamp in 2001 and that issued new versions after that.

Astonishingly, a Newsweek poll finds that 52 percent of Republicans believe that it is “definitely true” or “probably true” that “Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” So a majority of Republicans think that our president wants to impose Islamic law worldwide.

That kind of extremism undermines our democracy, risks violence and empowers jihadis.

Newsweek quoted a Taliban operative, Zabihullah, about opposition to the mosque near ground zero: “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor. It’s providing us with more recruits, donations and popular support.” Mr. Zabihullah added, “The more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get.”

In America, bigoted comments about Islam often seem to come from people who have never visited a mosque and know few if any Muslims. In their ignorance, they mirror the anti-Semitism that I hear in Muslim countries from people who have never met a Jew.

One American university professor wrote to me that “every Muslim in the world” believes that the proposed Manhattan Islamic center would symbolize triumph over America. That reminded me of Pakistanis who used to tell me that “every Jew” knew of 9/11 in advance, so that none died in the World Trade Center.

It is perfectly reasonable for critics to point to the shortcomings of Islam or any other religion. There should be more outrage, for example, about the mistreatment of women in many Islamic countries, or the oppression of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis in Pakistan.

Europe is alarmed that Muslim immigrants have not assimilated well, resulting in tolerance of intolerance, and pockets of wife-beating, forced marriage, homophobia and female genital mutilation. Those are legitimate concerns, but sweeping denunciations of any religious group constitute dangerous bigotry.

If this is a testing time, then some have passed with flying colors. Hats off to a rabbinical student in Massachusetts, Rachel Barenblat, who raised money to replace prayer rugs that a drunken intruder had urinated on at a mosque. She told me that she quickly raised more than $1,100 from Jews and Christians alike.

Above all, bravo to those Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who jointly denounced what they called “the anti-Muslim frenzy.”

“We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “It cannot happen here in America in 2010.”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put it this way: “This is not America. America was not built on hate.”

“Shame on you,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading evangelical Christian, said to those castigating Islam. “You bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbor.”


I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos videos and follow me on Twitter.



Brandeis Repudiates Racist Alum, Martin Peretz
By M.J. Rosenberg – September 11, 2010, 5:15PM

He’s a little old to lose his BA from Brandeis. Nonetheless, it is still good that Brandeis students are organizing against the most prominent Brandeis-associated racist.

Brandeis, where Eleanor Roosevelt was both a trustee and a faculty member and which was the national headquarters for the 1970 student mobilization against the Viet war is a Jewish-sponsored university, proud of is liberalism and its Jewish values (you know real Jewish values, the ones from the Prophets not the neocons).

In lining up against Peretz, Brandeis students of today indicate that they are at one with their traditions.

Too bad Brandeis grad, Abbie Hoffmann, is not around. He would both do a great job organizing this effort and smearing Peretz with an ephitet Peretz has earned a hundred times over: shanda fur de goyim.

That is what Hoffman shouted from the defendants’ dock at the judge conducting the trial of the Chicago 7 antiwar protesters. The phrase refers to a Jew who makes other Jews cringe and delights anti-Semites everywhere.

That’s Peretz.

Text of Brandeis response follows:

Marty Peretz is a famous Brandeis Alum, and the editor-in-chief of the New Republic. He recently wrote a column with this disturbing conclusion:

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

This is the collective response of the Brandeis community

Please co-sign the letter if you are a Brandeis community member:

From the Brandeis Community:

Dear Marty Peretz ’59,

Your recent remarks are appalling, and do not reflect the values of the broader Brandeis community.

Recently, in your September 4th column, you claimed that Muslims don’t value human life, that they are soft on terrorism, and that you wish to strip them of their First Amendment Rights.

That was unacceptable, irresponsible, and wrong.

Mr. Peretz, your name and likeness is used in our admissions materials, the University lists you among its most prestigious alumni, and not two years ago you accepted a Distinguished Alumni award from us. For better or worse, your actions reflect on us.

Brandeis University stands for love, not hate. Brandeis stands for respecting the truth. Brandeis stands for recognizing the humanity in others. We value our Muslim community members here; they are part of our broad family.

If nothing else, this University was founded to fight back against discrimination, bigotry, and fear of minorities.

Attacking people’s First Amendment rights is un-American, un-Brandeisian, and unethical. You’re hurting us. You’re hurting our Islamic community members, our pride in you, and our good name.

We, the united Brandeis community, respectfully and firmly demand you apologize.

August 24, 2010

Defamation is on Youtube

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 7:32 pm

This first-rate documentary that I reviewed at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/defamation/ can now be seen online in its entirety. It is basically a profile on Norman Finkelstein and Abraham Foxman. Despite the fact that the director is Israeli, he is more sympathetic to Finkelstein.

August 9, 2010

Tony Judt: an appreciation

Filed under: antiwar,cruise missile left,middle east,swans — louisproyect @ 1:07 pm

(Swans – August 9, 2010)   Tony Judt, a courageous and principled social democratic intellectual, died on August 6th after a two year struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Despite being almost totally paralyzed in his last few months of life, he continued to write about his illness and political beliefs, which had been growing more and more critical of American capitalism and the Zionism of his youth.

In his next to last essay that appeared in the New York Review, Judt referred to the final stages of his paralysis that would effectively rob him of his ability to communicate with the world — his voice:

I am more conscious of these considerations now than at any time in the past. In the grip of a neurological disorder, I am fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them. They still form with impeccable discipline and unreduced range in the silence of my thoughts — the view from inside is as rich as ever — but I can no longer convey them with ease. Vowel sounds and sibilant consonants slide out of my mouth, shapeless and inchoate even to my close collaborator. The vocal muscle, for sixty years my reliable alter ego, is failing.

Now that he is gone it is appropriate to assess the legacy of “the view from inside” that Judt externalized over a lifetime of writing.

Judt came of age intellectually as a Cold War intellectual after the fashion of Albert Camus, a natural outcome of his scholarly concentration on French radical politics. As has often been the case, identification with Albert Camus has gone hand in hand with “humanitarian interventions” of the kind supported by other self-styled Camus disciples such as Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens. In a New York Review piece on Ronald Steel’s Temptations of a Superpower, Judt made the case for war in the Balkans, comparing the Serbs to pre-WWII fascists:

In the Thirties this was preceded by the effective end of the League of Nations on the occasion of its inability to punish or even inhibit Mussolini from his brutal occupation of Abyssinia; today the death toll of the United Nations has perhaps already been rung in Srebrenica and Zepa, where the UN forces first promised security to thousands of refugees, then betrayed them to the Serb forces.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/lproy63.html

August 2, 2010

Olympia rabbi supports boycott against Israel

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 7:14 pm

August 1, 2010

Isaiah at the Wall

Filed under: literature,middle east — louisproyect @ 6:17 pm

Daniel Marlin is a poet, artist and scholar of the Yiddish language who lives in Berkeley for whom I have the greatest admiration. He has just published his latest work, a collection of poems titled Isaiah at the Wall: Palestine Poems that according to the acknowledgments is the result of a trip to the Middle East in 2008 and of decades of thought and activism which preceded it. He singles out some people who have deepened his understanding of the occupation: the poet Mahmoud Darwish, the human rights activist Israel Shahak, the lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh, and the scholar Sarah Roy. On the book’s back cover, he describes how his thinking has evolved on the Middle East, reminding me of my own experience and just about every other Jewish anti-Zionist, whose numbers are growing by the day:

As a child, I absorbed idealistic narratives of American and Jewish history. I learned about the Holocaust at an early age but knew nothing of the Palestinian Nakba. Understanding history, like understanding ourselves, requires a peeling away of myths, habits, fears, the sacred masks of self-image, and their furious defenses. The ideals of freedom and justice led me to oppose the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and to travel to Palestine and Israel in the summer of 2008. These poems grew out of that journey.

I have to confess that my poetry (and novel) reading days are mostly behind me but Daniel’s latest book reminds me of the value of political poetry, especially when it is written by a master of language and imagery. When I was involved with the Vietnam antiwar movement, I looked to Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg for the artistic corollary of the demonstrations I helped to organize. And when I was involved with Central American solidarity, I got the same kind of lift from Carolyn Forché. And when it comes to the Middle East, we have another such voice in Daniel Marlin.

Here are a couple of poems from Isaiah at the Wall that will surely convince you to buy this wonderfully inspired book without delay.

Checkpoint Fantasy

“Where are you going?” the soldier asks.

“To Jerusalem,
with black dates
for the angel’s courtyard.”

“The angel of dance,
or of atonement?”

“The blind angel
who sees with her fingers.”

“The angel of judgment
or of condolence?”

“The black angel
whose brow turns silver at dawn.”

“The angel of rivers
or of mist?”

“The seamstress angel
who threads the dream with desire.”

“The angel of dogs
or of wanderers?”

“She who invents
the language of pity.”

“Then go in Peace”
the soldier says,

“but first, look into my eyes.
What do you see?”

“I see gallows in one eye,
a candle in the other.”

Instructions for Isaiah at the Wall
Qalandia Checkpoint

You must remove the bracelets from your wrist,
rings from your fingers,
the furious tongue from your mouth,
and place them on the
table for inspection.

Erase impatience from your gaze,
the visions behind your eyes.
Silence the omens in your throat
before facing the camera.

Do not step forward until directed.

If you find this demeaning
go outside and
traverse the wall by other means.

Become the rich, bitter
tea of field fire smoke
drifting over the rampart
on the breath of the western wind.

Grow a pair of grasshopper legs
and leap its height
in a high-jumper’s arc.

Glide above its twisted wire on the
hawk’s amber wings

Make the passage
underground—as a black
silken mole,
or in a caravan of ants.

If all else fails
find a ram’s horn
like Joshua used.
Blow into it until the wall
comes crashing down.

When you reach the other side,

O prophet,
they will be waiting
with shackles and
burning air to make you weep.

Daniel’s book can be ordered through Paypal, as well as another collection called Heart of Ardor that I reviewed here. You can now purchase that book as well, now that Dan has entered the brave new world of electronic commerce!

Isaiah at the Wall costs twelve dollars, including postage and handling.

July 28, 2010

Israel, South Africa and the single state non-solution

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

Ali Abunimah

For well over five years, there has been a steady stream of articles in the liberal and radical press—both online and in print—for a “one state” solution in the Middle East. In contrast to the revolutionary socialist call for a democratic and secular Palestine, this one-state solution grants either implicitly or explicitly the Jewish character of the state and the participation of Palestinians in the occupied territories as citizens with the same rights as those now living in Israel proper. More recently, these advocates of what amounts to a Greater Israel have been encouraged by support for a single state solution by rightist politicians, seeing this as analogous to De Klerk coming around to the idea of ending apartheid. Do these ideas have any merit? I don’t think so.

One of the more prominent spokesmen for this approach is Tony Judt, who has evolved into a target of the Israel lobby. Judt, like many other American Jewish intellectuals, has understandably become appalled by the realities of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the punishment of Gaza. He expressed his hopes for an end to this nightmare for the Palestinian people in a 2003 New York Review article titled Israel: the Alternative.

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

Perhaps I haven’t been paying attention carefully, but the world has not moved on when it comes to individual rights and open frontiers, especially during a period of declining economic indicators. Judt seems to have pinned his hopes on an outcome that is virtually excluded in an epoch that is generating the same kind of xenophobia that victimized the Jews in the 1930s.

The London Review of Books, a journal inspired by the New York Review but with politics more closely aligned with the left, hosted a like-minded article by Virginia Tilley that appeared in late 2003 as well. Tilley is an American professor who has contributed to the New Left Review and is now working for a progressive think tank based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Titled One State Solution, Tilley reprises Judt’s argument and provides some policy recommendations that would make the new state more equitable:

The long-established role of the Jewish Agency, which administers Jewish national resources and privileges in Israel, would have to be re-examined. Electoral politics and Knesset representation would also be transformed, to permit legislative debate on the basis of equal ethnic standing. Alterations to the Basic Laws, or the creation of a secular constitution, could ensure that Israel continues to safeguard Jewish lives and rights, providing the sanctuary which many Jews in Israel and abroad remain anxious to preserve. But the same basic law would have to ensure Muslim, Christian and, indeed, agnostic/ atheist rights, and eliminate – at least juridically – any institutionalised hierarchy on ethnic or religious lines. Such a transition would require years of debate and struggle – and a political will now glaringly absent. Truth commissions and/or a general amnesty might eventually surmount the legacy of violence and hatred, but as in all such aftermaths, the process will take generations.

While these changes in and of themselves are not objectionable, they do not address the fundamental cause of inequality in the region, namely the ethnic cleansing that robbed Palestinians of their land and houses, in some cases owned by families for hundreds of years. It would be analogous to a post-Civil War Reconstruction in the USA that failed to grant land to the former slaves.

Perhaps the highest profile on the left for the single state solution is Ali Abunimah who wrote One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse in 2007, a book that can be read on Google Books, with the customary omissions, including all of chapter four “Learning from South Africa”.

Fortunately, we can look elsewhere to understand the basis for his comparison. In 2006, Abunimah wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune titled South Africa as a model for one state in Palestine that argued:

Allister Sparks, the legendary editor of the anti-apartheid Rand Daily Mail newspaper, observed that the conflict in South Africa most resembled those in Northern Ireland and Palestine-Israel, because each involved “two ethno-nationalisms” in a seemingly irreconcilable rivalry for the “same piece of territory.” If the prospect of “one secular country shared by all” seems “unthinkable” in Palestine-Israel today, then it is possible to appreciate how unlikely such a solution once seemed in South Africa. But “that is what we did,” Sparks says, “without any foreign negotiator [and] no handshakes on the White House lawn.”

Now, four years later, Abunimah finds events moving slowly but perhaps inexorably in the direction of a post-apartheid Israel:

By the mid-1980s, whites overwhelmingly understood that the apartheid status quo was untenable and they began to consider “reform” proposals that fell very far short of the African National Congress’ demands for a universal franchise — one-person, one-vote in a nonracial South Africa. The reforms began with the 1984 introduction of a tricameral parliament with separate chambers for whites, coloreds and Indians (none for blacks), with whites retaining overall control.

The fact that it is elements of the Israeli hard right like Moshe Arens who are raising the possibility of a one-state solution rather than the Labor Zionists convinces Abunimah that Israel might be on the same track:

That proposals for a single state are coming from the Israeli right should not be so surprising in light of experiences in comparable situations. In South Africa, it was not the traditional white liberal critics of apartheid who oversaw the system’s dismantling, but the National Party which had built apartheid in the first place. In Northern Ireland, it was not “moderate” unionists and nationalists like David Trimble and John Hume who finally made power-sharing under the 1998 Belfast Agreement function, but the long-time rejectionists of Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, and the nationalist Sinn Fein, whose leaders had close ties the IRA.

Am I the only person troubled by such analogies? If there is anything that can be learned from the South African and Northern Ireland experience, it is that the oppressed nationality gained very little except for formal democratic rights. If South African blacks, except for a privileged and decadent minority, still lack property, what good is the right to vote? Furthermore, being part of the “peace process” in Northern Ireland is not very reassuring when it comes to the role of one David Trimble, named to the committee established by Israel to whitewash the murder of 9 peace activists on the Mavi Marmara.

Trimble was a leader of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland who amounted to the Irish De Klerk. Since being named to the panel, Trimble got involved with another project:

Initiated and led by Spain’s former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, a group of international leaders is to meet in Paris on Monday night to launch the “Friends of Israel Initiative,” a new project in defense of Israel’s right to exist.

The leaders – who include the Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, Peru’s former president Alejandro Toledo, Italian philosopher Marcelo Pear, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts – say they seek to counter the attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to live in peace within safe and defensible borders.

Their launch meeting Monday will be addressed by the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold. On Tuesday, they will release a formal manifesto at a press conference in the French capital.

The initiative is being launched now, its sponsors said in a statement, because of their outrage and concern about the “unprecedented delegitimation campaign against Israel, driven by the enemies of the Jewish state and perversely assumed by numerous international authorities.”

Just the right man to sit in judgment on whether or not Israel was guilty of war crimes or not.

Unfortunately, what is missing entirely from the calculations of Tony Judt, Virginia Tilley and Ali Abunimah is the question of class. Analogies with South Africa and Northern Ireland are most unfortunate since they elide the basic question of who rules. As long as a society exists on the basis of social and economic inequality, there can be no true democracy. Institutional racism in South Africa, Northern Ireland and Israel effectively precludes the possibility of true equality.

July 16, 2010

Israeli soldiers speak out

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm

June 28, 2010

Debating the Deacon

Filed under: middle east,religion — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

Deacon Kevin McCormack

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik

As I have mentioned before, the Sunday morning WABC radio show “Religion on the Line” functions as just one more rightwing outlet at the home of Rush Limbaugh and assorted other racist reactionaries. Hosted by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack, it is a place where you will hear talking points of the Israel lobby on a regular basis. It was where I heard Bard College’s chaplain Bruce Chilton defend Israel’s murderous attack on Gaza in January 2009.

I generally listen for 5 or 10 minutes on Sunday morning just to get up to speed on the latest talking points of the Israel lobby and then switch to WFAN, a radio station for sports fans as the call letters indicate. Once upon a time my radio dial was set to WBAI exclusively but their descent into 9/11 conspiracy-mongering and other such nonsense forced me to look elsewhere.

Generally Potasnik sets the agenda for the show, finding some pretext or another for Muslim-bashing. McCormack tries to appear a bit more reasonable, but is inclined to go along with most of the hate mongering.

Last Sunday I found myself more irritated then usual when Potasnik went on at some length about Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was reported to have said: “White folk and the Jews done took this country. You’re in their home, and they’re gonna let you know it.”

It turns out that Potasnik was quoting from an article in Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post, the print equivalent of WABC, but when you go to the article, there’s no reference to the Jews taking the country, only White folks. In other words, the Rabbi was lying to his radio audience in order to deepen their hatred of uppity Black people, no mean feat given the demographics of this racist radio station.

Of course, it is almost impossible to separate fact from fiction in the NY Post, by some estimations the most worthless newspaper in the USA and clearly the sort of soiled toilet paper that constitutes Rabbi Potasnik’s weekly reading material.

As it turned out, Congressman Peter King was to be a guest later on. This mean-spirited bigot is one of their faves. Since I have been feeling more worked up about Zionist hasbara (propaganda) lately than usual after the murder of 9 people on the Mavi Marmara, I could not resist giving the Rabbi and the Deacon a piece of my mind. A while back I had posted another complaint on their Facebook, but it wasn’t quite as “in your face” as I would have hoped. This time I decided to contact McCormack directly through his own Facebook id. Below is a log of our exchanges:

Louis P:
What bullshit, complaining about Reverend Wright, when you and the rabbi use WABC as a bully pulpit. The home of Bob Grant of Dinkins “washroom attendant” fame. The home of Rush Limbaugh’s coon show comedy.

Deacon McCormack:
Louis + thank you for listening. Help me understand how a man of priviledge like Rev wright speaks in such general terms as all whites and all jews are responsible for all ills. Come on louis you got to give me this one. The guy is a racist and a hypocrite

Louis P:
Kevin, did you ever hear about the pot calling the kettle black? Also, don’t you agree with Jesus that those without sin should cast the first stone? WABC is an open sewer of race hatred. Surely, you must understand that you and the good rabbi were hired to help propagate the same hate messages as Rush Limbaugh and Bob Grant? Here’s your pal Peter King complaining about there being “too many mosques” in the USA. I guess its okay for him to say this and get the red carpet treatment from you.

Deacon McCormack:
Louis, frankly I am suprised that you would use the same tatics that you so readily claim some of the right wing radio show hosts do. Louis You really don’t know anything about me and yet you draw a broad brush stroke and say that at best I am a “dupe” of WABC and at worst a willful participant of some evil agenda. Would I be correct to assume that as an unrepentant Marxist you are to be painted with the same brush and as such the same crimes as Lennin, Stalin or Mao? Of course not!

Louis did you know my wife and have worked in the inner city developing summer programs for young kids and teenagers?

– Did you know I have worked with and continue to advocate for the undocumented community?

– Did you know that I have gay and straight, black, latino, jewish, & european friends?

You have every right to say what you want and infact I defend that right. But as I said before, Rev. Wrights words are despicable – especially for a self proclaimed Christian. As I Chriustian – I have a responsibility to speak out about injustice everywhere and anywhere I see it.

whether you are listening or monitoring (what does that mean anyway? & in case you don’t know – Most of the show can be gotten as a MP3 file if that helps you.) I appreciate that on some level the Rabbi and I are important to you. I read your blog from Time to time – (not “monitoring” it) ever sice you called me a “warmonger.” I don’t often agree w/ you, but I find you thought provoking.

Final thought for now – Louis I would very much enjoy meeting you for a cup of coffee or a dram to discuss, as men of passion, our world views. I’ll even buy the first round. Only catch – we have to assume the good will of the other until proven otherwise. Let me know – The offer stands.

Louis P:
Well, look. I don’t see much point in getting together since there is obviously a failure to communicate. If somebody said that there were “too many Catholic churches” or “too many synagogues” in New York, you and the rabbi would riff on that for 15 minutes about the terrible hate campaign against your fellow believers. But when I tell you that Peter King said that there were “too many mosques” in the USA, you have *nothing to say*. In other words, we are dealing with a disgusting double-standard. You guys scream bloody murder about anti-Semitic Blacks and Muslims but when a fellow rightwinger says something hateful about Muslims, that gets a bye from you. My understanding of Judeo-Christian values is that they are universal. Unless you two stop functioning as part of the rightwing racist mob at WABC, then at least drop the piety bit. It has nothing to do with Moses or Jesus. It is more about Rush Limbaugh and Peter King.

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