Thursday, April 25, 2013

Zionism, Palestinians, And Ideology - A Response

"Reflections of a Mumkin" is an excellent blog that my colleague - a Ph.D candidate in political science - maintains from Ramallah.  The blog is very well-written and engages analytically in the very controversial subject of Palestinian nationalism.  For anyone interested in both atmospherics and analysis on the Palestinian territories, following the blog is highly recommended.

The blog's latest post on Zionism takes a critical look at the linkages between Zionism, racism, and illiberal governance.  Unlike many pieces on the subject, my colleague has approached the topic in an analytical way.  His piece opens a rare opportunity for reasonable discussion in what is usually a cacophony of talking points and mud-slinging.  In that respect, this response to the piece is analytical as well.

The response below contends that the blog post glosses over complexities in Israeli history and society.  Understanding this complexity is critical both for understanding the conflict as it stands today, and determining ways to ease the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike.  Of course, certain aspects of Israel's treatment of Palestinians - segregation, division, arbitrary arrests, and the like - are not complicated.  They are injustices which weigh on the Palestinian people, and do not serve the long-term interests of Israel.  But ignoring other complexities is dangerous in a conflict where the price of misunderstanding is too often blood.

The piece begins with a discussion of the Elad-funded tour at the City of David, describing the slanted narrative the tour guide at the site as "contentious" and a "historical inaccuracy."  Those judgements are both correct.  They are also the judgement of Israeli NGOs such as Emek Shaveh and Professors of Archaeology such as Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University and Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University.  True, the Israel Antiquities authority looks with favor upon archaeological digs that establish an Jewish presence in Israel - but on digs that present real archaeological evidence versus highly contested stories based on biblical accounts as a source.  The point is that there are far more criticisms of the one-sided narrative by Israelis than a read through the piece might indicate.

The main thrust of the piece however, is the equation of Zionism with a) extreme racism, and b) colonialism.  Again, since the piece is analytical rather than the often charged rantings on the topic, it deserves an honest examination.

Zionism as Racism?

The piece describes Zionist "cooperation" Nazi policies of racist segregation of Jews under the Haavara agreement.  Under this agreement, the Nazi regime agreed to allow Jewish emigration to historical Palestine.  The agreement was controversial (even among Zionists) - but primarily because it lent support to Germany's economy during a time of increasing discrimination against Jews.  History has shown clearly the harm of racial segregation.  But let us be clear: collusion with racial segregation is very different than support for Nazism, especially as we conceive of it today.  Objectively speaking, even a "shared ideology" of racial segregation does not equate to support for the Holocaust.  Segregation is not the same thing as mass genocide, torture, or senseless violence.  Perhaps that is why the piece can make no explicit causal connection between some Zionists who colluded with the German government and Israel's contemporary treatment of Palestinians - none exists.  The piece is not equating Zionism with Naziism.  It is, however, implying a link between Zionist collaboration with Naziism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2013.  Ultimately, this linkage as it is described in the piece is unconvincing.

Of course, the Haavara agreement is not the only example of contact between Germany and some elements of the Zionist movement.  For example, Lehi leader Avraham Stern attempted to cooperate with the German military against the British in historical Palestine.  But Stern experienced blowback from other members of the radical Lehi militant group, and from the broader Zionist community.  Just months before the Haavara Agreement, American Zionist leader Stephen S. Wise organized an anti-Nazi boycott at Madison Square Garden in New York.  55,000 people attended the rally, captured in this iconic image.  

Today, Zionism remains a movement of many ideas.  Some of these ideas are hurtful while others are helpful to the region's people.  But to say that "Zionism" is the cause of Palestinian suffering ignores the fact that there is no one "Zionism."  Religious Zionism argues that Jews have a divine right to land on which Palestinians have lived for centuries.  Liberal Zionists - such as the leadership of Israel's far-left Meretz party - support the immediate withdrawal of the IDF from Palestinian territories.  Acknowledging these vast differences is essential for making sense of this conflict.

Zionism as Colonialism?

In response to the points above, my colleague might identify support for colonial rule as the common thread across these shades of Zionism.  The piece argues that colonialism is one of the "ideological underpinnings" of the Zionist movement.  It argues that "Zionism was forged in the crucible of European colonialism," which is true.  But the piece then writes off Western academia for shying away from "lumping Israel together with other colonial cases."

The debate over "colonialism" is largely a debate over definitions, and this debate is not mere academic navel gazing.  Definitions frame causes of problems, which in turn frame solutions.  Since the choice of a definition is ultimately arbitrary, the piece is not "wrong" per se.  However, its understanding of colonialism is, in this blogger's opinion, unhelpful.

Calling Israel's presence in the West Bank "colonialism" is controversial in two respects.  The first is that colonialism implies that the colonizer is foreign.  Delving into this topic would take an encyclopedia-long blog post and still would not address every consideration on the issue.  Whether Jews or Palestinians are "foreign" or "indigenous" in historical Palestine is a subjective matter of how far back one begins retelling the history.  For this reason, calling Israelis "foreign" to Israel is an analytical non-starter for the question at hand.  It crashes the discussion before it ever leaves the ground.

Secondly, many forms of colonialism imply an economic element.  In the piece's context of 19th century European colonialism, colonists were part of a mercantilist system in which raw goods were shipped back to a mother country to be made into goods and sold in that country's economy.  This economic model does not fit the Israeli case as it fits most other colonialist cases.  Israel not only does not gain money from settlements, it loses money on them.  Settlements are subsidized and require the protection of the Israel Defense Forces.  

Worse, those who accept the economic aspect of colonialism have jumped onto the bandwagon of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).  While BDS may be admirable in that it is a non-violent form of protest, its track record of success is limited at best.  Unfortunately, the act of not buying Ahava face cream at the mall has little effect on the daily hardships Palestinians face as a result of Israel's presence in the West Bank.  This is because ideology and perceptions, not economics, are motivating Israeli policy in the Territories.  Using words like "colonialism" which imply otherwise leads well-meaning supporters of Palestinian self-determination astray, and indirectly perpetuates the status quo in the region.

In conclusion, the piece is a well-constructed attempt to tackle the underbelly of Zionist ideology.  It illustrates the benefits of an analytical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  My colleague expresses concern that the slant of the piece may "crush his chances of an academic job" but its thoughtfulness suggests otherwise (as does its ideology, as the political science department at that academic backwater Columbia University might concur).  At the same time, the nuances of Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not go without consideration.  Regardless of whether those nuances reveal unsavory truths or thought-provoking insights, grasping fully these complexities is the only way to move the region forward from the pain and suffering its people currently face.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

UMD Sorority Emailer Takes On Syria

*****Warning: The following post is satire and may gloss over the intricacies of the policy issue it discusses*******

BREAKING NEWS: The Delta Gamma sorority sister who sent an incendiary email picked up by Gawker late last week has taken a newfound interest in Syria.  The following is a message she composed on the subject of Syria's apparent use of chemical weapons.  Strong language follows.

"To: Washington, D.C.
Re: U.S. Syria Policy

If you just opened this like I told you to, tie yourself down to whatever spinning chair you're sitting in, because this is going to be a rough f**king ride.

For those of you that have been up at the tiki bar at The Big Hunt, which apparently is the majority of this city, we have been F**KING UP in terms of preventing mass killing and general interactions with Syria.  I've been seeing State Department cables on cables about people LITERALLY being so f**king AWKWARD and saying analyzing the merits of intervention in Syria is so f**king BORING. If you're reading this right now and saying to yourself "But oh em gee, I've been having so much fun at the Cherry Blossom Festival this week!" then delete your Twitter account right now so I don't have to come find you and do it for you.

I do not give a flying f**k, and Syrians do not give a flying f**k, about how much you f**king love to hang out in DC.  You have 361 days out of the f**king year to hang out in DC, and this week is NOT, I f**king repeat NOT ONE OF THEM. This week is about recognizing that Syria has used chemical weapons and building a pragmatic response, and that's not f**king possible if you're going to stand around and talk to each other and not about Syria. Newsflash: SYRIANS DONT CARE HOW SLOW THE METRO RUNS. Oh wait, DOUBLE F**KING NEWSFLASH: SYRIA IS NOT GOING TO SUPPORT THE US POST-TRANSITION IF WE F**KING SUCK, which by the way in case you're an idiot and need it spelled out for you, WE F**KING SUCK SO FAR. This also applies to you little s**ts that have talked openly about letting all the sects kill each other IN FRONT OF SYRIANS.  If Assad openly said "Yeah we're gonna let Syrians attack each other", would you be happy? WOULD YOU? No you wouldn't, so WHY THE F**K WOULD YOU DO IT TO THEM?? IN FRONT OF THEM?!! First of all, you SHOULDN'T be going to panels on other conflicts, I don't give a F**K if your boyfriend works on it, if your brother works on it, or if your entire family is on the CSIS Working Group for it. YOU DON'T GO. YOU. DON'T. GO. And you ESPECIALLY do f**king NOT convince other Syria analysts to go with you.  Even if they have the big chocolate chip cookies from Corner Bakery.

"But wait!" you say in a whiny little voice to your computer screen as you tab switch back from your Words With Friends game to read this email, "I've been supporting taking a tough line with Assad and drawing red lines, doesn't that count for something?" NO IT F**KING DOESN'T. DO YOU WANNA KNOW F**KING WHY?!! IT DOESN'T COUNT BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN F**KING UP AT LETHAL AID TOO. I've not only gotten texts about people being f**king WEIRD on Libya (for example, being stupid s**ts and saying stuff like "durr Susan Rice dropped the ball on Benghazi?" is not f**king funny), but I've seen op-eds about people actually saying we should support Islamist militias in Syria. Islamist. F**king. Militias. ARE YOU F**KING STUPID?!! I don't give a S**T about realpolitik, YOU SUPPORT WESTERN INTERVENTION AND NOT ANY OTHER ONE, HAVE YOU NEVER WORKED IN US FOREIGN POLICY? ARE YOU F**KING BLIND? Or are you just so f**king dense about what it means to make people like you that you think being a good little supporter of UN Security Council resolutions is going to make Syrians happy? Well it's time someone told you, NO ONE F**KING CARES ABOUT SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS, ESPECIALLY F**KING SYRIANS. 

"Ohhh, I'm now crying because your email has made me oh so so sad". Well good. If this email applies to you in any way, meaning if you are a little !@#$ that trolls Jenan Moussa's articles at night or if you're a weird s**t that blogs about weird s**t during the day, this following message is for you:


I'm not f**king kidding. Don't comment. Seriously, if you have done ANYTHING I've mentioned in this email and have some rare disease where you're unable to NOT do these things, then you are HORRIBLE, I repeat, HORRIBLE PR FOR THIS FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENT. I would rather have 40 analysts that are serious, talk realistically, and not f**king morally bankrupt than 80 that are f**king myopic. If you are one of the people that have told me "Oh nooo boo hoo I can't take a position I'm non-partisan", then I pity you because I don't know how you got this far in life, and with that in mind don't f**king comment unless you're going to stop being a fence sitter on a morally imperative issue. Seriously. 

And for those of you who are offended at this email, I would apologize but hundreds of innocent people have been murdered in Syria in the past few days and no one seems to care enough to do anything."

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Post For Boston

As a Boston native and alum of a Boston-area university, I've decided to break the blog's self-imposed hiatus to comment briefly on what is almost certainly an act of terrorism at the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon.

The deaths and injuries of marathon runners and those cheering them on is tragic.  Marathoners represent the best in humanity: dedication, perseverance, achievement, and good will.  To target athletes is a heinous act, and to target those cheering them on (as I had the chance to do in college) is heinous as well.  

Today's attack reminds us that the victims of terrorism are not politicos or partisans or ideologues.  They are human beings caught up in an act of political violence whose target is the government, but whose casualties are people.  Be it in the Middle East or the East Coast, the reaction is eerily similar.  Shock, disbelief, grief, and mourning know no national boundaries.  The realization that "it can happen here too" is unsettling regardless of whether one realizes it in Arabic, Hebrew, or English.  Today is Israeli Memorial Day, on which the country pauses to remember its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.  Here in the U.S. we now face the morbid coincidence of empathy with that day and all for which it stands.

The days ahead will not be easy for Boston, nor for the country.  However, we Bostonians are a strong and resilient bunch.  We should have every confidence that this is a tragedy out of which Boston and the entire United States will emerge stronger.  And while they may have showed strength today, those who perpetrated these attacks will be held accountable.  

And with jurors who will be Red Sox fans, Gd help them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Posting to Resume After Yom HaAtzmaut

Blogging has been light the past week or so in light of academic conferences and preparation for the end of the semester.  The plan is to post a new piece later this week in reply to a colleague conducting field work in Ramallah.  Given the imminent onset of Yom HaZikaron tonight and out of respect for those men and women and their families, that post will go up after the conclusion of Israel's Independence Day Tuesday evening.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Israel Responds To Gaza Rocket Fire

A recent spate of rocket attacks from Gaza into Southern Israel has drawn the new Israeli government's focus outward.  As negotiations over the budget continue, security has once again taken center stage in Israeli politics.  While this return to security as the focus was predictable, the flare up has important impacts on Israeli security.  

The instigator of the latest attacks is not Hamas, but rather a group called "The Mujahideen Shura Council of the Jerusalem Environs," (known as MSM) a Salafi organization with a Gaza presence since June 19, 2012.  WINEP Boren Fellow and frequent Tweeter Aaron Zelin (@azelin) has written extensively about the group, its links to al-Qaeda and its consolidation from other Jihadist groups operating in Gaza.  The April 3, 2013 attack claim which Aaron posted in Arabic on his fantastic Jihadology blog references a 64-year old Palestinian prisoner, Maysara Abu Hamdiya, who died in Israeli prison.  Hamdeya was given a life sentence for planning to bomb a Jerusalem cafe in 2002.  His death sparked protests in the West Bank over accusations of Israeli mistreatment, and comes on the heels of other prisoner deaths over the past month.  The issue of mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners strikes a personal note for many Palestinians who have relatives in jails in Israel.

Hamas held a mock funeral and protest for Hamdeya in Gaza and said that Israel would "regret its continuing crimes."  However, it did not engage in rocket attacks.  Since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, there has been an unstable truce that neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in destabilizing.  The attacks by the MSM terrorist group may very well undermine those plans.

Last night, Israel struck targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket attacks.  Israel's new defense minister Moshe Yaalon said in the wake of the strike that "we see Hamas as being responsible for everything that is fired from the Strip at Israel."  While Israel's linkage of all attacks to Hamas delegates responsibility away from the IDF and helps maintain the fragile calm, whether Hamas can actually control all movements in the Strip is a matter of debate.

From the Israeli perspective, the government has an interest in maintaining calm, but also in starting off the new government in a position of strength against Hamas.  Especially given that Minister Ya'alon is hawkish and the current security cabinet consists of two coalition partners without governing experience (as Brent Sasley has explained), Israel will want to demonstrate strength.  In so doing, it must also be careful to show Hamas that maintaining the truce is in its best interest.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Israel Takes On Universal Minyan Conscription

Israeli party leaders entered into talks today on an explosive issue which has exposed deep societal rifts in Israel: pre-flight prayer minyans.

The talks come on the heels of negotiations over Haredi military conscription into the Israel Defense Forces, in which nearly 5500 religious Haredim who would serve in the military.  In return, the religious Shas party is asking for an increase in secular Israelis who participate in the brief prayer services held by religious Israelis before boarding airplanes to and from the Jewish State.

Soliciting secular Jewish participation in a minyan (or quorum) is a common occurrence before these flights.  When not enough religious Jews are available to meet the required 10-person quorum for prayer, secular Jews are often asked to participate to make a quorum.  Under the proposed agreement, secular Israelis would be allowed to turn down one ask per year to join a pre-flight minyan.  Yesh Atid is demanding these exemptions be extended to cover in-flight minyans as well.

Reaction in Israel was mixed to news of progress in the talks.  "To say that this participation should be required will harm Israeli society," explained Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovitch.  "The act of sitting and playing on one's phone before a flight is just as important as the pre-flight minyan.  It contributes to the process of social welfare reform this country so badly needs."

Other MKs were more supportive of the plan.  "The chilonim (seculars) are a burden on the state," explained Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism.  "They sit around while religious Jews pray for them, and even eat airline food with a sub-par kashrus certification.  It is high time they contributed their fair share."  Kashrus refers to traditional Jewish dietary laws.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was negotiating Israeli/Palestinian peace at the time of publication and could not be reached for comment.

Israel's Prime Minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, has been put into a tough position by the news.  Both of Likud's coalition partners, Yesh Atid and HaBayit HaYehudi, support universal minyan conscription.  However, the PM's Likud party has a strong secular wing which could destabilize the new coalition if they are unhappy with the outcome of the talks.

Other headlines:
In Major Escalation With Pyongyang, Beyonce Spotted Flying in Skies Over South Korea.

FARS News Agency Mistakes Twitter Fight Club for Actual Special Forces Militia.

Jewish Government Employees Furlough Leavened Bread, Sequester All Chametz for 8 Days.

Obama Admin Set to Resume White House Tours, Without Tourists.

LGBT Middle School Math Teachers Elated by HRC Gay Marriage Facebook Campaign.