Like many Jews around the world, I dutifully celebrated Purim last week. In my case, it meant hearing the Book of Esther read aloud in my synagogue while drinking an occasional shot of scotch, enjoying our annual “Oy Vey Cafe,” (a beloved congregational tradition that mixes member-written and performed show tune and classic rock parodies) and attending our synagogue Religious School’s costume parade and Purim carnival.
I’m sure that many middle-class American Jews celebrated Purim in similar fashion. I’m also fairly sure that most middle-class American Jews are unaware that Purim has long been “celebrated” in a very different manner by ultra-nationalist Jews in Israel.
Last week on the day after Purim, it was reported that a Palestinian woman was attacked by ultra-orthodox women at a light rail station in Kiryat Moshe, Jerusalem. According to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman walked by the Palestinian woman and began punching her (see pic above). Others soon joined in the attack and eventually tore off her hijab. According to the report, the light rail security guard, as well as some 100 religious Israeli men, stood by and did nothing. Eyewitness Dorit Yarden Dotan, who was horrified by the violence and took photos of the beating with her telephone, reported that the security guard even “watched and smiled”. “It was simply terrible,” she added.
By the way, this was not the only act of Purim violence this year. On the same day as the Jerusalem attack, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Hassan Usruf (right), was attacked by drunken Jewish youths whom police suspect had been participating in Purim celebrations during the evening. Usruf was punched, hit in the head with a bottle and kicked after he fell to the ground. He sustained injuries to his head, eye socket and jaw. The police have yet to arrest any suspects.
Those who follow the news must surely know that this kind of Jewish violence against Palestinians have become an annual inevitability in Israel. The most infamous Purim moment, of course, occurred in 1994, when Baruch Goldstein walked into the Cave of Machpelah in Hevron wearing an Israeli army uniform and opened fire on Palestinian worshipers, killing 29 and wounding more than 125. By committing this act of mass murder, Goldstein believed he was fulfilling the the Book of Esther, which describes the slaughter of seventy five thousand Persians at the hands of the Jews. Since that time, Goldstein has become venerated by ultra-orthodox, ultra-nationalist Jews and for rest of us, Purim has never been quite the same.
I’ve recently finished Elliot Horowitz’s 2006 book “Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence” – a deeply troubling (but to my mind, profoundly essential) book that traces the history of Jewish violence on Purim over the centuries. Among the many disturbing revelations of Purim history in Horowitz’s book, I was surprised to learn that bad Jewish behavior on Purim has a long and not so venerable history – one that most Jewish histories either gloss over or simply choose to ignore.
Horowitz also parses the history of Purim violence in contemporary Israel, going back to Purim 1981, when Jewish settlers brought down the roof of a Palestinian upholsters’ home, expelled its owner and took over the house. (The house had once been a Jewish infirmary and synagogue, “Beit Hadassah.”) Since then, the settlers’ Purim parade in Hevron has become an annual tradition of Jewish pogroms against Palestinians. As last week’s events have demonstrated, however, this brutality is now ominously expanding into Israel proper.
Yes, the Book of Esther does come off as a kind of Jewish communal revenge fantasy, one that portrays the Jews’ massacre of the ancient Persians with sick kind of relish. As for me, I’ve always read the book according to the satirical spirit of the day: an expression of the “Jewish Id” that gives us the chance to indulge our darker fantasies in this one cathartic moment, perhaps so that they might have less of a hold over us during the rest of the year. But of course, there are – and apparently have always been – religious literalists who are all too prepared to treat what is essentially a secular tale of palace intrigue as a sacred imperative to engage in xenophobic violence against others.
In his book, Horowitz quotes the venerable Jewish scholar Samuel Hugo Bergman (1883-1975), a former rector and professor at Hebrew University, who expressed dismay at boorish and violent behavior of Jews on Purim. Bergman – a religiously observant Jew – commented that its continued observance as a religious holiday was a sign of “the deep decay of our people.” (p. 277)
In the post-Goldstein era, I’d say Bergman’s words resonate with ever-increasing urgency.
Finally saw Zero Dark Thirty yesterday. Here’s my review:
From an artistic point of view, I can say without hesitation that I was riveted by ZDT from beginning to end. Kathryn Bigelow is clearly one of our most talented American directors, particularly in her ability to construct a film with a palpable sense of documentary realism. In so many ways she, along with screenwriter Mark Boal, and her entire filmmaking team had me in the palm of their collective hand.
Which is why I also found ZDT to be a morally reprehensible piece of cinematic propaganda.
My experience of this film, among other things, was a profound reminder that movies have immense power to manipulate emotions and shape attitudes. I will readily admit that I found myself thoroughly caught up in the intensity of the CIA’s quest (embodied by character of the passionately driven agent “Maya”) to find and kill Usama Bin Laden. What can I say? For two and half hours, the film worked its magic on me. But when it was over, all I felt was dirty and ashamed. Sickened, actually, that I allowed myself to be seduced by what amounted to an insidious, if deeply sophisticated, revenge fantasy.
I use the word insidious very consciously here – particularly since the film purports to be a facts-driven portrayal of the CIA hunt for Bin Laden. In the very first frame, in fact, a title that tells us we are about to watch a film “based on firsthand accounts of actual events”. The next title we see are the words “September 11, 2001″. Then for at least a minute we listen to audio tapes of terrified 9/11 victims calling for help. One woman in the World Trade Center tells a 911 dispatcher that she is “burning up,” then says, crying, “I’m going to die aren’t I?” The dispatcher tells her to “stay calm” but there is no further answer. The last thing we hear is the dispatcher’s voice saying, “Oh my God…”
This is how the movie is framed from the outset: we are told we are watching a movie based on actual events, constructed from information gained from those who were there. We hear the very real voices of American citizens as they are being burned alive. Then we watch the “real-life” account of how the man responsible for their deaths was hunted down and killed by the CIA.
Listening to those terrified voices unsettled me to my core – but it was only after the movie was over that I realized how obscene their usage actually was. Why did the filmmakers choose to play these recordings? After all, aren’t the tragic events of 9/11 well-known to everyone in the world? If the filmmakers were really interested in making a dispassionate, non-fiction account of the hunt for Bin Laden, wouldn’t it have made more sense to start with the beginning of the hunt itself?
Indeed, Bigelow has been quoted as saying she used “a journalistic approach” to making this film and that “it doesn’t have an agenda, and it doesn’t judge.” This, of course, is hogwash. If Bigelow and Boal were interested in presenting a “values-free” docudrama, they certainly wouldn’t have manipulated viewers with the voices of civilians being burned alive. After hearing the terrified voices of actual victims, how could we not cheer the CIA on as it uses any means necessary to find and kill Bin Laden?
Much has been written about the infamous scene in which one tortured Al-Qaeda operative gives up the name of Bin Laden’s courier after having been beaten, waterboarded, sexually humiliated and stuffed into a tiny wooden box. The inclusion of this scene – along with numerous references to information gained from tortured detainees – has been rightly condemned by many who point out it has already been conclusively determined that the information that ultimately led to Bin Laden’s execution was not gained through the use of torture. By including these scenes, ZDT conveys the incorrect – and dangerous – impression that torture “works.” It’s a critical point to which I have nothing to add except to refer you to Glenn Greenwald’s excellent pieces on the subject.
Beyond this issue, ZDT is dangerous for an even more essential reason. As Peter Haas pointed out in a recent piece for the Atlantic, it represents a new genre of “entertainment” he calls “embedded filmmaking”:
The fundamental problem is that our government has again gotten away with offering privileged access to carefully selected individuals and getting a flattering story in return. Embeds, officially begun during the invasion of Iraq, are deeply troubling because not every journalist or filmmaker can get these coveted invitations (Seymour Hersh and Matt Taibbi are probably not on the CIA press office’s speed dial), and once you get one, you face the quandary of keeping a critical distance from sympathetic people whom you get to know and who are probably quite convincing. That’s the reason the embed or special invitation exists; the government does its best to keep journalists, even friendly ones, away from disgruntled officials who have unflattering stories to tell…
(The) new and odd rub in the case of Zero Dark Thirty is that the product of this privileged access is not just-the-facts journalism but a feature film that merges fact and fiction. An already problematic practice—giving special access to vetted journalists—is now deployed for the larger goal of creating cinematic myths that are favorable to the sponsoring entity (in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA). If the access that Boal and Bigelow received was in addition to access that nonfiction writers and documentarians received, I would be a bit less troubled, because at least the quotes in history’s first draft would be reliable, and that means a lot. But as it stands, we’re getting the myth of history before getting the actual history.
In other words, no matter how unsavory the protagonists behavior might be, no matter how “gritty” and “journalistic” the style, this is the CIA’s movie through and through.
In a more recent article, Greenwald pointed out the essential simplicity of ZDT’s world view:
All agents of the US government – especially in its intelligence and military agencies – are heroic, noble, self-sacrificing crusaders devoted to stopping The Terrorists; their only sin is all-consuming, sometimes excessive devotion to this task. Almost every Muslim and Arab in the film is a villainous, one-dimensional cartoon figure: dark, seedy, violent, shadowy, menacing, and part of a Terrorist network…
Other than the last scene in which the bin Laden house is raided, all of the hard-core, bloody violence is carried out by Muslims, with Americans as the victims. The CIA heroine dines at the Islamabad Marriott when it is suddenly blown up; she is shot at outside of a US embassy in Pakistan; she sits on the floor, devastated, after hearing that seven CIA agents, including one of her friends, a “mother of three”, has been killed by an Al Qaeda double-agent suicide-bomber at a CIA base in Afghanistan … Nobody is ever heard talking about the civilian-destroying violence brought to the world by the US.
The CIA and the US government are the Good Guys, the innocent targets of terrorist violence, the courageous warriors seeking justice for the 9/11 victims. Muslims and Arabs are the dastardly villains, attacking and killing without motive (other than the one provided by Bloomberg) and without scruples. Almost all Hollywood action films end with the good guys vanquishing the big, bad villain – so that the audience can leave feeling good about the world and themselves – and this is exactly the script to which this film adheres.
And in the end, that is what makes the technical and narrative brilliance of this film all the more pernicious. It creates the illusion of authenticity and truth when what we’re really watching is the CIA’s truth. One in which Bin Laden was never, once upon a time, an ally of the United States government. One in which “heroes” commit war crimes in secret locations in the furtherance of extra-judicial assassination. One that utterly ignores the realities of what the CIA’s civilian-destroying violence has wrought.
More than anything else, this is why I felt so very dirty after allowing myself to be entertained – and at times even moved – by Zero Dark Thirty.
Medea Benjamin is a true American hero.
The Code Pink founder and nonviolence activist is currently leading a delegation of 31 American peace activists through Pakistan to protest the tragic damage wrought by US drone attacks. Traveling with popular Pakistani politican, Imran Khan, the delegation recently attempted to hold a rally in the tribal regions that have been hardest hit by the US drone campaign. On October 9, the delegation will publicly fast from sunrise to sunset at a vigil in front of the Islamabad Press Club, where they will display pictures of the more than 160 Pakistani children who have been killed by American drones. (Jews who have only recently completed a fast of atonement should appreciate the spiritual power of such an act…)
From a recent WashPo feature:
The majority-female delegation — in their early 20s to late 70s — traveled with no security guards despite announced militant threats against them and Khan, head of the Pakistan Justice Movement political party. They fell in line behind Khan’s procession as legions joyously waved party flags atop trucks.
By late Saturday, when the Codepink delegates finally reached a large farm belonging to a regional party official, they were mobbed by an admiring Pakistani media and given a hero’s welcome by hundreds of the candidate’s fans.
Anti-American sentiment runs extremely high in Pakistan, but the delegation focused on a simple message: “We are against drones” was emblazed in Urdu in green fluorescent script, outlined with glitter, on the oversize white bibs they wore.
“You hit people with these drones and you create instant enemies,” said JoAnne Lingle, a silver-haired Mennonite from Indianapolis. “It’s supposed to be increasing our national security and it’s doing the opposite.”
The US drone wars are our national shame. If there had previously been any doubt, I’d say they’ve been put to rest by the NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, who released a deeply damning report entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan” late last month.
From the report’s Executive Summary:
In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts.
This narrative is false.
Following nine months of intensive research—including two investigations in Pakistan, more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts, and review of thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting—this report presents evidence of the damaging and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policies. Based on extensive interviews with Pakistanis living in the regions directly affected, as well as humanitarian and medical workers, this report provides new and firsthand testimony about the negative impacts US policies are having on the civilians living under drones…
(While) civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been “no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.”2 It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid- September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.
Shortly after this report was issued, Obama had the temerity to stand before the UN and decry the “killing of innocents” in the US mission in Benghazi. This, while his administration continues to kill innocents in a secrecy-shrouded military program that blatantly undermines the US Constitution and international law – and is most surely inflaming further Mideast rage toward the US. In the face of such hypocrisy, all I can say is thank God for truth-tellers like Medea Benjamin.
You can follow the progress of the Code Pink delegation here. For further reading, I highly recommend reading Benjamin’s excellent new book, “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control” and this recent piece by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been indefatigably writing shining a bright light on Obama’s drone wars since their inception.
Immediately after September 11, I was so struck by the predominant collective response: the ubiquitous display of flags everywhere you looked; the knee-jerk “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chant whenever the tragedies were invoked; the widespread desire for retributive justice, wherever, however possible.
Now eleven years later, even after all that’s happened since, I’m just so saddened that nationalistic displays seem to be the only way we know how to commemorate our dead. Maybe I’m naive, but it’s difficult for me to accept that we still haven’t found a healthier national outlet for our grief. Call me naive, but I was genuinely surprised – and quite honestly mortified – that the loudest cheers at the DNC last week (always accompanied by the still ubiquitous “U-S-A! U-S-A!”) were saved for references to 9/11 and the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
If you found yourself disturbed as well, I highly recommend that you read this recent piece by Glenn Greenwald, who sorrowfully identifies all that was wrong with the bloodlust on unabashed display during the DNC:
Americans once found national purpose – justification for their belief in their own exceptionalism – from inventing new life-improving technologies, or putting a man on the moon, or advancing the cause of equality, or vanquishing the mighty Nazi military machine, or enshrining unparalleled protections for core liberties in the constitution. Now, many Americans find it in the heroic ability to hunt someone down who is in hiding, pummel his skull full of bullets even as he lay dying on the ground, and then dump his corpse into the ocean…
The premise seems to be that – aside from this specific corpse and the others the president has piled up – there is little else for ordinary Americans to celebrate now when it comes to the search for nationalistic achievement, purpose and greatness among their political leadership. That this dark premise appears valid is what is most disturbing of all.
In the meantime, for me the most moving, compassionate and morally honest tribute to the 9/11 fallen – and all who have fallen by our hands since – is this spoken word piece by Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad (above) entitled “First Writing Since.”
i cried when i saw those buildings collapse on themselves like a broken
heart. i have never owned pain that needs to spread like that.
there is no poetry in this. there are causes and effects. there are
symbols and ideologies. mad conspiracy here, and information we will
never know. there is death here, and there are promises of more.
there is life here. anyone reading this is breathing, maybe hurting,
but breathing for sure. and if there is any light to come, it will
shine from the eyes of those who look for peace and justice after the
rubble and rhetoric are cleared and the phoenix has risen.
we got to carry each other now.
you are either with life, or against it.
Shortly after a gunman killed six worshipers in a Wisconsin Sikh temple and a Joplin Missouri mosque was burned to the ground, Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh felt perfectly comfortable uttering incendiary anti-Muslim comments at a town hall meeting last Wednesday, warning that “there is a radical strain of Islam in this country…trying to kill Americans every week.” Offering no evidence or backup for his allegations, he continued: “It’s here. It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here.”
Then he poured it on:
I’m looking for some godly men and women in the Senate, in the Congress, who will stand in the face of the danger of Islam in America without political correctness. Islam is not the peaceful, loving religion we hear about.
Shortly after Walsh’s town meeting remarks, pellet rifle shots were fired at a mosque in Morton Grove, IL.
I don’t know about a domestic “radical Islamic plot” but by now it should be abundantly clear that there is a deadly strain of Islamophobia in our country. In such a climate, I’d say it is the height of irresponsibility for public servants to issue remarks such as these.
It was my honor to stand, together with interfaith colleagues, with my good friends at CAIR – Chicago to express our outrage at Walsh’s sick bigotry (clip above). If you stand with us, please, please let Rep. Walsh know how you feel.
I’ve been following with some interest a cyber-dustup between Emory University Jewish Studies professor Deborah Lipstadt and Elisheva Goldberg, Assistant Editor of the Open Zion blog. In its way, I think it shines an interesting light on the ways the Jewish community deals with its sense of victimhood in public discourse.
The debate began with a piece Lipstadt wrote for Tablet on July 17, entitled “Jewish Blood is Cheap.” In her article, she inveighed against the International Olympic Committee for refusing requests to hold a one minute moment of silence during Opening Ceremonies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. Lipstadt explored the various reasons given by the IOC for its refusal: that the IOC has honored the athletes repeatedly in other venues, that the Games should be “apolitical,” and that a commemoration of this sort was inappropriate at a “celebratory event.”
Lipstadt would have none of it:
The IOC’s explanation is nothing more than a pathetic excuse. The athletes who were murdered were from Israel and were Jews—that is why they aren’t being remembered. The only conclusion one can draw is that Jewish blood is cheap, too cheap to risk upsetting a bloc of Arab nations and other countries that oppose Israel and its policies.
…This was the greatest tragedy to ever occur during the Olympic Games. Yet the IOC has made it quite clear that these victims are not worth 60 seconds. Imagine for a moment that these athletes had been from the United States, Canada, Australia, or even Germany. No one would think twice about commemorating them. But these athletes came from a country and a people who somehow deserve to be victims. Their lost lives are apparently not worth a minute.
When I first read Lipstadt’s words, I strongly recoiled at her statement “Jewish blood is cheap” – and her claim that the IOC was motivated by anti-Semitism. Whether or not one agrees with the IOC’s decision, I found Lipstadt’s rhetoric to be incendiary and distinctly smacking of “victim politics.”
So, it seems did Elisheva Goldberg, who gently chided Lipstadt in a post for Open Zion. Goldberg pointed out that in fact, IOC President Jacques Rogge did make a statement and lead a minute of silence during a ceremony last Monday at the athlete’s village promoting the Olympic Truce (a UN backed initiative calling on warring parties around the world to end hostilities during the period of the games). In her post, Goldberg asked what I thought was a valid question: when it comes to public commemoration of these kinds of tragedies, how much is really enough? Or as she put it, “when will we be satisfied?”
To my dismay, Lipstadt did not think this question worthy of serious consideration – she responded to Goldberg instead with a petulant smackdown. In a Tablet piece entitled “No, Open Zion, Deborah Lipstadt Won’t Shut Up,” she concluded thus:
In making a statement on Monday, the IOC’s president tried to throw the victims’ families a bone. Goldberg has caught it, and is happily gnawing away. I, and many others, have no intention of being so easily satisfied.
While I agree with Lipstadt that Rogge is disingenuous in claiming the Games aren’t “political,” it bears noting that the Jewish establishment’s full court press on this issue has been highly politicized. The minute of silence has been now pressed on the IOC by Israel’s Foreign Ministry (who produced a one minute video as part of the campaign), it has been introduced as a US House Resolution, and now of course, the obligatory campaign year statements of support have been elicited from President Obama and Mitt Romey. At this point, even if the IOC did assent to minute of silence at the ceremonies, it would resonate more as a moment of political victory than a genuine act of remembrance.
And that’s the problem I have with Lipstadt and the “many others” who have chosen to press the issue in this manner. They – and we – would do well to ask: when does the desire for public commemoration cross the line into cynical politicking? On a deeper level, we might well ask: at what point does our need for the world to acknowledge Jewish suffering give way to a collective victim mentality?
To me, these are the critical questions, regardless of what does or doesn’t take place at Opening Ceremonies this Friday.
Now that the NATO Summit has swept out of my city, the local press can’t stop fawning over the performance of the Chicago police – and gloating over how silly and meaningless the mass demonstrations turned out to be in the end.
Mission accomplished. With all of the focus on the Chicago streets, I guess we were successfully distracted from the truly meaningless demonstration that was the NATO Summit.
As for me, I’m in full agreement with Stephen Walt, who has correctly pointed out that this massive, fancy, expensive, city-paralyzing event was little more than a “fig-leaf” for NATO – a pageant designed to put a happy face on an Afghanistan war that is hugely unpopular and has suffered from ever-changing objectives from the very beginning.
Actually, Obama’s summit pledge “to responsibly wind down the war” by the summer of 2014 is worse than a fig leaf – it’s simply not true. Earlier this month, Obama visited Afghanistan and signed a pact with Afghan president Hamid Karzai that will ensure a US military presence in Afghanistan until at least 2024. (This agreement was first made in secret, then when the news leaked out, the administration vehemently denied it. Later they conceded it was true, making no attempt to explain why they lied in the first place.)
And please don’t be fooled by the explanation that NATO will be ending “combat operations” by 2014. Officials have openly stated that these post-2014 “non-combat” troops will continue to launch “anti-terror” raids – which is simply just another way of saying they will continue to do what they’ve been doing all along.
But for the most powerful rejoinder to the farce that was NATO in Chicago, I strongly encourage you to read this important piece by Gary Younge, who pointed out the irony (or if you prefer, the utter hypocrisy) of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s boast that the summit was “an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.”
The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight.
This violence, be it at the hands of the state or gangs, is both compounded and underpinned by racial and economic disadvantage. The poorer the neighbourhood the more violent, the wealthier the safer. This is no coincidence. Much like the NATO summit – and the G8 summit that preceded it – the system is set up not to spread wealth but to preserve and protect it, not to relieve chaos but to contain and punish it…
The paradox inherent in a city like Chicago hosting a summit like this not only lays bare the brutal nature in which these inequalities are maintained at a global level, but it lends us an opportunity to understand how those inequalities are replicated locally.
Chicago illustrates how the developing world is everywhere, not least in the heart of the developed. The mortality rate for black infants in the city is on a par with the West Bank; black life expectancy in Illinois is just below Egypt and just above Uzbekistan. More than a quarter of Chicagoans have no health insurance, one in five black male Chicagoans are unemployed and one in three live in poverty. Latinos do not fare much better. Chicago may be extreme in this regard, but it is by no means unique. While the ethnic composition of poverty may change depending on the country, its dynamics will doubtless be familiar to pretty much all of the G8 participants and most of the NATO delegates too.
The gated communities – like the one in which Trayvon Martin was killed – have been erected on a global scale to protect those fleeing the mayhem wrought by our economic and military policies. This was exemplified last March when a boat with 72 African refugees fled the NATO-led war in Libya. When the boat found itself stranded it sent out a distress signal that was passed on to NATO which had “declared the region a military zone under its control”, and then promptly ignored it, as did an Italian ship. The boat bobbed around in the Mediterranean for two weeks. All but nine on board were left to die from starvation, thirst or in storms, including two babies.
A meaningless demonstration indeed…
A few voices of sanity as the drumbeats for a US and/or Israeli military strike on Iran reach a fever pitch. First, here’s Gary Sick’s smart blog post addressing Ronen Bergman’s egregiously alarmist cover story in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday:
Bergman’s dramatic statement that “I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” is also nothing new — it simply changes the date. We heard the same thing a year ago from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, and two years before that from uber-hawk John Bolton, who confidently predicted that the U.S. and/or Israel would strike Iran before George W. Bush left office. It is becoming almost an annual ritual.
Why do these false alarms keep going off? Bergman suggests an answer with disarming honesty: “Some have argued that Israel has intentionally exaggerated its assessments to create an atmosphere of fear that would drag Europe into its extensive economic campaign against Iran…” To this, the ubiquitous “senior American official” adds that “It is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States.” In other words, Israel benefits by keeping the pot near the boiling point so that no one can ignore the Iran issue, even for a moment.
The only issue seriously discussed in this country is: How exactly can we do it, or can we do it at all (without causing ourselves irreparably greater harm)? Effectiveness, not legality or morality, is the only measurement. Few in our own little world (and who else matters?) question our right to do so, though obviously the right of any other state to do something similar to us or one of our allies, or to retaliate or even to threaten to retaliate, should we do so, is considered shocking and beyond all norms, beyond every red line when it comes to how nations (except us) should behave.
This mindset, and the acts that have gone with it, have blown what is, at worst, a modest-sized global problem up into an existential threat, a life-and-death matter. Iran as a global monster now nearly fills what screen-space there is for foreign enemies in the present US moment. Yet, despite its enormous energy reserves, it is a shaky regional power, ruled by a faction-ridden set of fundamentalists (but not madmen), the most hardline of whom seem at the moment ascendant (in no small part due to US and Israeli policies). The country has a relatively modest military budget, and no recent history of invading other states. It has been under intense pressure of every sort for years now and the strains are showing. The kind of pressure the US and its allies have been exerting creates the basis for madness – or for terrible miscalculation followed by inevitable tragedy.
And this one is a few weeks old already, but it’s still haunting my dreams: Mark Perry’ deeply disturbing expose for Foreign Policy that describes how Israel recruited members of a terrorist organization to fight their covert war against Iran. If you have any doubt about how reckless Israel has become in its determination to bring down the regime in Iran, please take the time to read this one.
While many of the details of Israel’s involvement with Jundallah are now known, many others still remain a mystery — and are likely to remain so. The CIA memos of the incident have been “blue bordered,” meaning that they were circulated to senior levels of the broader U.S. intelligence community as well as senior State Department officials.
What has become crystal clear, however, is the level of anger among senior intelligence officials about Israel’s actions. “This was stupid and dangerous,” the intelligence official who first told me about the operation said. “Israel is supposed to be working with us, not against us. If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if it was their blood and not ours. You know, they’re supposed to be a strategic asset. Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just don’t think that’s true.”
Last week I received an email request from the New Israel Fund (NIF) to sign a rabbinical statement condemning the recent desecration of a mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariya in the north of Israel. Of course I signed without hesitation. It was a sick, racist act that deserved to be condemned from every quarter.
Thus my deep dismay when I did not receive any similar request when the Israeli army demolished a mosque this week in West Bank village of Kherbet Berza – for the third time. (An incident, btw, that was scarcely covered by the western media.)
As per usual, the administration claims additions to the mosque were built “without a permit.” Naturally no such permits are issued when the Israeli government is interested in creating facts on the ground – this case being the northern Jordan Valley. (The news item above was released last year following the first demolition.)
Of course it’s easy to condemn racist acts of individuals – apparently it’s more difficult (or “complicated”) when this kind of thing is carried out by a government. I have no such difficulty: terror is terror whether perpetrated by one person or by the state.
So for the record (and using the same language as the NIF statement) I’d like to take this opportunity to:
express my deep sadness and outrage at the destruction of a mosque in the West Bank village of Kherbet Berza. I condemn this act as an affront to God, the values of our Torah and the international standards of basic human rights.
I extend a hand in friendship and solidarity to the leaders and residents of this small village, a prayer for their safety and peace in the days to come, and a hope that the government that perpetrated this despicable act will be held to account.
And while we’re expressing concern for the welfare of Bedouins, this recent announcement offers some cause for deep dismay as well:
The Civil Administration (CA) is planning to expel the Bedouin communities living in Area C in the West Bank, transferring some 27,000 persons from their homes. In the first phase, planned as early as January 2012, some 20 communities, comprising 2,300 persons, will be forcibly transferred to a site near the Abu Dis refuse dump, east of Jerusalem.
More government terror. I express my deep sadness and outrage…
So much to say about Friday’s tragic massacre in Norway. Chief among them: the death (I hope) of our misguided assumptions that terrorism must necessarily = Islamism.
Much has been written about the immediate media speculation – most notably by the New York Times – that this attack was carried out by an Islamist terror group. As journalist Ahmed Moor correctly points out, these assumption reveal just how deeply this meme is ingrained in the American consciousness – one that cuts across right-left political lines.
I’m also in full agreement with Moor when he says the real “Clash of Civilizations” is not between the West and Islam, but between “normal, sane people of the world and the right-wing zealots who see doom, destruction, hellfire and God’s Will at every turn:”
Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck – the peddlers of the faith – all share the same core afflictions.
These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves – and the rest of us with them.
All indications are that the hate-mongers – who are on the same side of this war, irrespective of religion – are winning in America. The unreflective, superficial, wan editors of the NYT are an indication of just how successful the right wing has been at eviscerating the left.
Terror expert Robert Lambert actually warns that ultra-nationalists pose an even greater threat than al-Qaeda, citing a disturbing litany of European plots that were foiled before they were able to be carried out. (Of course, as the example of Timothy McVeigh tragically reminds us, we Americans should not be so blase as to assume ultra-nationalist terror is only a European problem.)
What should be our response? I can think of none better than that of Norway’s Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg. (Oh, would that we had heard these kinds of words from President Bush following 9/11):
This is a message from all of Norway: You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy or our quest for a better world. ..This night we will comfort each other, talk with each other and stand together. Tomorrow we will show the world that Norway’s democracy grows stronger when it is challenged…
We must never cease to stand up for our values. We have to show that our open society can pass this test too, and that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naivete. This is what we owe to the victims and to those they hold dear.
May the memory of the victims be for a blessing.