Friday, February 11, 2005

 

Notes on violence, instinct, and moral constructs

In light of recent and ongoing attempts to find peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Azmi Bishara has a thoughtful essay on violence in al-Ahram. Among other things, Bishara writes:
It is meaningless to take an ideological stand against violence and for life because the juxtaposition is invalid: violence is a part of life. Taking an ideological stand against violence and for social peace, or peace between societies, is another matter and one that begs many questions over the conditions necessary to secure social or inter-societal peace. This cannot be reduced to the absence of violence, which is essentially synonymous with peace and not a condition for its being obtained. Equality, freedom and civil rights -- these are conditions, and it is over these that positions vary and, accordingly, over violence and the ends it is meant to serve.

 

The Israeli Radical Right

There are two articles in Ha'aretz today that illustrate the danger of the Israeli radical right, a segment that the Israeli government has been loathe to confront to this point. As a result of passively accepting (and sometimes actively supporting) this segment of the population, the Israeli government now has quite a mess on its hands. The first article is about settlers rioting in the southern Gaza strip, overrunning a checkpoint and attempting to drag Palestinian drivers out of their cars.
According to Israel Defense Forces sources, the settlers threw stones at Palestinians and tried to pull Palestinian drivers out of their vehicles in attempts to commandeer them....

IDF soldiers initially allowed the settlers to demonstrate but demanded that they hold their protest in a more secure location along the side of the road.

The settlers ignored the soldiers' directives, burst into the middle of the junction and began attacking Palestinian cars.
The same article goes on to talk about other instances when the IDF has been at odds with settlers, including an incident in which an IDF officer claimed that a settler tried to run him over in a car. This incident was precipitated by settlers setting up illegal outposts against IDF orders.
The paratrooper commander [who claimed that a settler had tried to run him over in a car] and his soldiers were also subject to verbal abuse from the settlers overnight.

"If you aren't good to us, we will kick you out of here like we kicked the [paratrooper] company out of Yitzhar," the settlers called.

In January, the IDF evacuated its post near the Yitzhar settlement, moving the paratrooper company there to a nearby base. The post was evacuated in light of increasing tension between the soldiers and Yitzhar residents.
Yep, that's right: In choosing between evacuating settlers or the IDF, the Israeli government chose the IDF. This is, in essence, the same mode of thinking behind the suggestion that the Gaza disengagement simply be a withdrawal of IDF forces, thus (the thinking being) the settlers will be "forced" to evacuate rather than live without IDF protection. This is foolish beyond words. The same settlers who would not oppose lifting up arms to resist being evacuated by the IDF will not think twice about lifting up arms against the Palestinians (and indeed, probably already are). The idea that the Israeli government can continue to cater to it's most extreme right-wing elements and remain something other than a radical right-wing state is delusional. As the second Ha'aretz article demonstrates, even right-wing government officials opposed to the disengagement plan are not safe from the radical right. Bibi Netanyahu was harassed and his car vandalized near Tel Aviv yesterday.
Netanyahu had to be rushed away from a wedding celebration east of Tel Aviv on Thursday night after a group of disengagement-plan opponents verbally assaulted him and slashed a tire on his car....

The youths involved ... approached the minister as he was leaving the event, and shouted slogans against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

A group, shouting that "Jewish blood is not cheap," tried to assault Netanyahu.

Upon reaching his car, Netanyahu noticed one of its tires had been slashed and he left the wedding in another vehicle....

This was the second such incident this week. Education Minister Limor Livnat was accosted earlier in the week by Kach supporters at a memorial for Yair Stern, commander of the pre-state underground movement Lehi, and had to be whisked away from the Tel Aviv cemetery by security personnel.
The Israeli government, which has fostered and encouraged the settlement movement to expand and granted them license to operate outside of international law should not be surprised that the settlers and their rabid right-wing supporters should have just as little respect for the law of Israel. After all, they are there by God's will (so they think). For all the talk about Ward Churchill's ridiculous essay, this seems to me to be a much better illustration of chickens coming home to roost. Are we to take seriously the YESHA council's declaration that "Violence and the use of force are not part of our way and we condemn it wholeheartedly"? I don't think so. Bibi and Livnat, who have strongly defended the settlers immunity from the rule of international law, indeed, who have defended Israel as a whole's immunity from international law, now condemn the radical right for not playing by the rules. It's not that any of this justifies violence or illegal activity from the extreme Israeli right. Rather, it seems rather disingenuous to create and nurture a monster and then complain when it turns against you.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

 

who owns "fascism" (and who would want to)?

There is an interesting article that I just came upon (via Jews Sans Frontieres) from last week's Guardian about the use of the word "fascism" in the propaganda war between the left and right (particularly here in the U.S.). The article talks about how the right has effectively used it to talk about "Islamofascism" and the threat to our society. You must admit that they have been very effective in this campaign - "Islamofascist" has become an accepted terminology, and if you watch cable news talking heads you will rarely go a full day without seeing it crop up somewhere (mostly Fox News, of course, but it's not taboo elsewhere throughout the mainstream media). Meanwhile, the left (as well as occasionally the anti-war right) has made numerous attempts to draw lines of connection between the rise of fascism and fascist ideology in Europe in the 1930s and the ideological and political trends within the U.S. administration and the developing political culture in general. Albert Scardino, the author of the Guardian article, writes:
To make Bush-Hitler comparisons work requires more nuanced historical references - to the night of the long knives, for example, as Sidney Blumenthal did about the dismissal of Colin Powell. Unfortunately for liberals, those references don't work as efficiently as islamofascism does for the right, because to imagine the appropriately creepy picture requires a familiarity with German history of the 1920s and 30s. Nazism is better known for its death camps than for Leni Riefenstahl or the Reichstag fire, so analogies between the Nazis' early years and current Republican party behaviour seem hollow, no matter how strong some parallels might be.
As usual, the right is in lock-step, applying their terminology with simplistic superiority, whereas the left is hemming and hawing about Leni Riefenstahl and other things that are interesting but nobody really gives a shit about in the real world. Well, that's part of the problem, but it's not totally a matter of method, it's also a matter of means. It's not that the left's analogies require more explanation, but that they are required in the media to provide an explanation (or are deemed that, because they wish to offer an explanation, that they don't fit into the three-heads-yelling-on-split-screen-for-five-minutes format that was planned) whereas the "Islamofascist" line can get thrown out there time after time with nobody demanding any kind of explanation or analysis of what is being said and what the hell it means. Instead you have a "conflat[ion of] all the elements into one image: suicide bombs, kidnappings and the Qur'an; the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; Iranian clerics and Hitler." Orwell would have a field day with this.

 

JNF

There's an interesting article in Ha'aretz about the Jewish National Fund.

 

Real ID Act

The House may vote this week on HR 418, better known as the REAL ID act, which attempts to put into place a patchwork of "anti-terror" projects around the country. The Washington Post has an editorial today (Real ID, Real Problems) outlining one of the glaring flaws with the bill:
[It] contains a bizarre provision that would allow the secretary of homeland security to waive "all laws" that, in his "sole discretion," he "determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of . . . barriers and roads" used to secure borders. . . . effectively allowing the department to put itself above any law it finds inconvenient in border security construction and explicitly stripping the courts of any review.
Not only this, but the bill (full text here) also contains language stating that:
An alien who is an officer, official, representative, or spokesman of the Palestine Liberation Organization is considered, for purposes of this Act, to be engaged in a terrorist activity.
And as such, they would be inadmissable (they could not enter the United States) and subject to deportation if they were already in the United States. So much for Abu Mazin's invitation to the White House, eh?

UPDATE (11 FEBRUARY 2005): The verdict is in! Unfortunately, the House passed the REAL ID Act by a vote of 261-161 (with 11 not voting), breaking down pretty much on party lines (219 Republicans For, 8 Against; 42 Democrats For, 152 Against).

FURTHER UPDATE (15 FEBRUARY 2005): I am informed that before the vote, the anti-PLO language was removed from the bill. Here is the statement from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, whose hard work I am sure played some part in this action.
It’s not often that we get to celebrate victories on Capitol Hill, but this time we did it! Before the bill was voted on last Thursday, Rep. Sensenbrenner agreed to amend the bill to strike the language that would have prevented representatives of the PLO from entering the United States and would have labeled it a terrorist organization....
According to Americans for Peace Now, Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) were instrumental in pressuring Rep. Sensenbrenner to drop the anti-PLO language. In addition, Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) made strong statements (reprinted below) against the anti-PLO language on the floor of the House.

Action Requested:

Contact Reps. Capps, Issa, Farr and Dingell and thank them for their leadership in removing anti-PLO language from the Real ID Act.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA): (202) 225-3601
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): (202) 225-3906
Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA): (202) 225-2861
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI): (202) 225-4071

Statement by Rep. Sam Farr:
The effects of the REAL ID Act are not only bad for domestic politics, they are destructive for the peace process in the Middle East. The Act states: "An alien who is an officer, official, representative, or spokesman of the Palestine Liberation Organization is considered, for purposes of this Act, to be engaged in a terrorist activity." In the first place, the United States already has a formal, congressionally approved mechanism for designating foreign terrorist organizations and imposing sanctions on them. The PLO is not on the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This sneaky, backdoor attempt to override the responsibility of the State Department and the will of Congress is an incredibly stupid way to execute U.S. diplomacy.

Second, we are now on the cusp of a historic moment in the Middle East peace process. The administration has promised that they will be actively engaged in the Middle East peace process. I find it hard to believe that they can be ``actively'' engaged in the peace process if the President will not be able to invite newly elected President Mahmoud Abbas to his Texas ranch, Camp David or any other location within the United States. President Abbas appears to be making considerable efforts in brokering peace, and the United States should be supporting his efforts. The effects of this provision will be a diplomatic nightmare and damage the United States's ability to be a fair broker in the peace process. This provision is an embarrassment to United States diplomacy--it is highly counterproductive to peace negotiations.

Statement by Rep. John Dingell:

I would also note that Sec. 103 specifically identifies officers, officials, representatives or spokesmen of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as terrorists, thus not able to enter the United States. Mr. Speaker, this would mean that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would be barred from the United States. Given the great progress we have seen in the Middle East in the past week and that the Bush Administration is in the process of setting up meetings with Dr. Abbas in Washington, it hardly seems wise to pass a bill barring the newly elected President of the Palestinian Authority from the country.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

 

Palestinian reaction to Sharm al-Shaykh announcements

Here are two different accounts of reactions inside the occupied Palestinian territories. On is from Danny Rubinstein, Palestinian Affairs analyst for Ha'aretz. The second is from Laila El-Haddad, reporting in Gaza for al-Jazeera.

 

Peace in the Middle East

Am I excited about peace in the Middle East? Let's just say I'm about as excited as Robert Fisk. It's not that I don't hope that this cease-fire agreement will lead to peace, but I'm not sure how anybody can really draw that line of reasoning from a decent understanding of the situation. So let's look at the situation: On the Palestinian side there has been a change in leadership, elections (presidential and some municipal), and a renewed sense of investment in political solutions to the conflict. On the Israeli side, there has been no change in leadership. There has been some shifting of parties in and out of a coalition government, but if anything the coalition is less sound now than before. On the American side there has been no change in leadership, though Bush is now in his second term and there has been shift in the cabinet. Where have the fundamental shift in positions come from? Well, there haven't been any. And why doesn't this matter? Because issues that lie at the heart of the conflict were not discussed yesterday.
Will the Israelis close down their massive settlements in the West Bank, including those which surround Jerusalem? No mention of this yesterday. Will they end the expansion of Jewish settlements - for Jews, and Jews only, across the Palestinian West Bank? No mention of this yesterday. Will they allow the Palestinians to have a capital in Arab East Jerusalem? No mention of this yesterday. Will the Palestinians truly end their "intifada" - including their murderous suicide bombings - as a result of these non-existent promises?
The answer? Well, for now, maybe. But in the long run, as Fisk points out, how will this differ from Oslo accords, which offered peace which was not delivered. In fact, the only difference is that this can fall apart much more quickly than the Oslo accords. Here there is no process (which, though fundamentally flawed, at least Oslo offered) to draw things out. There is much less pressure on Israel from the United States. Abbas is not nearly the figure that Arafat was. The list goes on. This is why I am not optimistic.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

 

Let's Not Make the Same Mistakes in Iran

David Kay, leader of the Iraq Survey Group charged with finding WMDs in Iraq (remember them?), has an extremely level-headed assessment of the Iranian nuclear situation in a Washington Post op-ed today. I can't decide whether it's a positive step - that is, that there will be such a chorus against any crazy action against Iran that the Bush administration will not have that option - or whether the fact that you are starting to see op-eds in the Post against taking crazy action against Iran means that crazy action against Iran is closer now than ever before.

Sy Hersh said on the "Daily Show" last night that his guess was that the Iranian action would go down this summer.

 

perhaps it should only be 3/5 of a vote?

Apparently Education Minister Limor Livnat, along with other right-wing Israeli MKs, does not think that a vote from an Arab MK is "legitimate." According to Ha'aretz:
Education Minister Limor Livnat caused a storm among opposition ranks Tuesday, after she said she felt "uncomfortable" knowing that passage of the evacuation-compensation bill by the Knesset Finance Committee was dependent on the vote of an Arab MK.

Livnat told Army Radio that [Hadash MK Mohammed] Barake's vote was legal, but questioned its legitimacy.
But Livnat is only the most prominent right-wing racist who thinks it outrageous that a citizen of Israel elected to its representative legislative body, the Knesset, should be able to cast a vote because he isn't the right ethnicity.
When the voting began and it became evident that Barake was voting in favor of the bill, [Likud MK Yehiel] Hazan and [Likud MK Michael] Gorlovsky leapt to their feet and began attacking his vote, charging the vote was illegitimate because it passed with an Arab's vote. Other rightists in the committee room joined in.
Yep, there you have it. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present you with your ruling party in Israel, the Likud.

UPDATE (9 February): Well look whose come to the defense of Barake. If it isn't Ariel Sharon himself!
"Are Arabs not citizens of Israel?" Sharon told reporters in the Knesset, according to Army Radio.
As long as they are voting for something you want, right? Arik Sharon, the champion of Palestinian rights. HA!

Monday, February 07, 2005

 

Iman al-Hams investigation starts to fall apart

Iman al-Hams, the 13-year-old girl who was shot multiple times in Gaza last year is still dead. And there is little question about who her killer was. Indeed, he claimed that he was right to kill her. But now, as the investigation presses forward, the prosecution's key witness has told the court that he lied in his previous testimony. Now the killer has been released and given his firearm back. This is bad news for anybody who thought that justice would be brought to the killer through his guilt being exposed through an IDF investigation. Indeed, this serves only to throw the entire IDF investigation process into question. But Iman al-Hams remains dead. And those bullets didn't get into her by themselves.

UPDATE: There is a spectacularly damning piece by Amira Hass in Ha'aretz today (9 February 2005). I'll excerpt the final paragraph:
If the Palestinians had warplanes and tanks so their killing was sterile, they would prefer to use those. And then, even if they killed Jewish civilians, they would not be called murderers with blood on their hands but enemy soldiers. And when caught they would be considered prisoners of war. If the policy makers of the Olso Accords really were thinking about peace the way they are said to have been, they would have freed all those prisoners. But then, like now: those who speak about gestures and then only free Marwan Barghouti's son, even if it was at Abbas' request, continue to operate with the old diskette of the colonialist who throws candy to the natives.

 

Columbia, Sharansky, and Academic Intimidation

The flap at Columbia is not disappearing. There is an article in today's Ha'aretz that breaks no new ground (coverage of the David Project's film Columbia Unbecoming first appeared in Ha'aretz in late October of last year). So what makes this newsworthy? It's Natan Sharansky, Likud MK, poster-boy for the US-Likud alliance. I'm not sure what makes Sharansky such a press-worthy figure these days, but there were two articles about him last week (or maybe the week before) in the New York Times, one of which was absolutely nauseatingly praising of Sharansky and his influence on President Bush. That's right, President Bush read Sharansky's book (well, almost read it... he made it past page 200 even) and that's news! Anyhow, Sharansky is hot these days, so when he says this kind of thing it makes headlines:
U.S. college students have become like Russian Jews who kept silent because they feared state retaliation if they spoke out about being persecuted. That was the view expressed Saturday night by Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky at the screening of a controversial documentary depicting pro-Israel students' allegations of intimidation at the hands of Columbia University professors.

"The future leaders of American Jewry are becoming 'Jews of Silence," Sharansky said, lamenting the fact that only a small number of Jewish students are willing to publicly complain about anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments.
This is part of a continued pressure campaign by pro-Israel groups (Campus Watch, the David Project, etc.) and now by Israeli government officials, to attack Columbia University's MEALAC (Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures) department and make it into the example for the rest of American academia. Recently, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon withdrew from a conference at Columbia over this affair. Now Sharansky. The fact that there was really absolutely nothing really newsworthy in this article (everything was old news except for the Sharansky quotes) proves in my mind that this is something that certain Israeli officials are not going to let disappear into the night. Anyhow, I've written this all before. It just struck me as odd that Ha'aretz would devote quite a long article to regurgitating the allegations of this film once again.

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