Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Judith Butler and 9/11 and How We Grieve

It is paradoxical that on 9/11, when we grieve for the victims of an atrocious act of terrorism, Judith Butler, who has written about the paradoxes of grieving for 9/11 victims, is receiving the prestigious Adorno Prize conferring a moral stamp of approval for her philosophical output. There have been some excellent disputations against the bestowal of this prize upon her and I provide links to them at the end. But what I wanted to get at with this post is Butler's very insufficient theory of how we grieve.

On the face of it her descriptionfrom a 2010 interview in Haaretz, of who grieved for whom after 9/11 isn't all that controversial:

"After 9/11, I was shocked by the fact that there was public mourning for many of the people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, less public mourning for those who died in the attack on the Pentagon, no public mourning for the illegal workers of the WTC, and, for a very long time, no public acknowledgment of the gay and lesbian families and relationships that had been destroyed by the loss of one of the partners in the bombings. Then we went to war very quickly...At which point we started killing populations abroad with no clear rationale. And the populations we targeted for violence were ones that never appeared to us in pictures. We never got little obituaries for them. We never heard anything about what lives had been destroyed. And we still don't."

True enough, although I would argue with the hierarchy she draws of how the 9/11 victims were mourned. Suffice it say, Americans mourned their own, and the Western world followed

However, her indictment is strictly one sided. While she sets as her target for outrage the US and the West she remains willfully blind to the very same hierarchies of grieving that take place on the other’s side of the world. We mourn those closest to us first. And we tend not to mourn our enemies. Plus she ignores the many conspiracy theories, particularly the Antisemitic ones, that emerged from the Middle East to 'explain' what happened on 9/11.

For Butler, the West is always the agent of harm. It and the 'other' have static positions that cannot be exchanged. Because the of West's global hegemony – and by extension Israel’s in the ME – the 'other' is always the innocent party regardless of how destructive its behavior may be. She states that the globe is divided, "into grievable and ungrievable lives from the perspective of those who wage war," but the mirror is never turned towards Muslims bombing mosques where other Muslims are praying, or markets in which they congregate. As far as I know she has neither said nor written anything on the thousands of Syrian lives that were murdered but not mourned by Assad's regime.

And she has turned a blind eye to the joyous reception that greeted the 9/11 tragedy in the Palestinian territories. 

In fact, she is absolutely incapable of mourning the lives of Israelis lost during the Gaza War nor is she willing to admit to the Hamas tactic of putting Gaza's civilians in harm’s way. 

Her theory of grieving has turned into an important lynchpin of her anti-Zionist discourse. Reading further into the exchange between Butler and filmmaker Udi Aloni, it is clear that just as she accuses Americans for mourning only her 9/11 victims, Israel is guilty of dehumanizing Palestinians such that they are ungrievable. The mendacity is entirely on the Israeli side with not one word of disapproval of Palestinians' dehumanization of their Israeli, usually civilian, targets.

“Aloni:  It's interesting because when the war on Gaza started, I couldn't stay in Tel Aviv anymore. I visited the Galilee a lot. And suddenly I realized that many of the Palestinians who died in Gaza have families there, relatives who are citizens of Israel. What people didn't know is that there was a massed grief in Israel. Grief for families who died in Gaza, a grief within Israel, of citizens of Israel. And nobody in the country spoke about it, about the grief within Israel. It was shocking.

“Butler:  The Israeli government and the media started to say that everyone who was killed or injured in Gaza was a member of Hamas; or that they were all being used as part of the war effort; that even the children were instruments of the war effort; that the Palestinians put them out there, in the targets, to show that Israelis would kill children, and this was actually part of a war effort. At this point, every single living being who is Palestinian becomes a war instrument. They are all, in their being, or by virtue of being Palestinian, declaring war on Israel or seeking the destruction of the Israel.
"...The bodies themselves are artillery. And of course, the extreme instance of that is the suicide bomber, who has become unpopular in recent years. That is the instance in which a body becomes artillery, or becomes part of a violent act. If that figure gets extended to the entire Palestinian population, then there is no living human population anymore, and no one who is killed there can be grieved...They have been transformed, in the Israeli war imaginary, into pure war instruments.But not vice-versa, of course. 
Butler has a particular discomfort with the idea of Jews looking after and grieving their own. It seems to have started when she was growing up middle class and gay within what she describes as a comformist Jewish community. Later this got conflated with her criticism of heterosexist conformity on top of which she added a layer of post-colonialist theory. It's a kind of a radical 'personal is political.' This is how she explains her evolving philosophy

“I grew very skeptical of a certain kind of Jewish separatism in my youth. I mean, I saw the Jewish community was always with each other; they didn’t trust anybody outside. You’d bring someone home, and the first question was “Are they Jewish, are they not Jewish?” Then I entered into a lesbian community in college—late college, graduate school—and the first thing they asked was, “Are you a feminist, are you not a feminist?” “Are you a lesbian, are you not a lesbian?” and I thought, “Enough with the separatism!”

“It felt like the same kind of policing of the community. You only trust those who are absolutely like yourself, those who have signed a pledge of allegiance to this particular identity...Is that person lesbian? I think maybe they had a relationship with a man. What does that say about how true their identity was? I thought, I can’t live in a world in which identity is being policed in this way.”

“I then moved toward a different kind of theory, asking under what conditions certain lives are grievable and certain lives not grievable or ungrievable. It’s clear to me that in Israel-Palestine, and in the violent conflicts that have taken place over the years, there is differential grieving...The question of grievability has linked my work on queer politics—especially the AIDS crisis—with my more contemporary work on war and violence, including the work on Israel-Palestine.”

Butler's solipsism extends to a misreading of Hillel's famous teaching, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" (Hillel, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14) Clearly, she privileges the fulfillment of looking beyond ourselves to the 'other', while finding "If I am not for myself," loathsome. Hence, for her, the whole Zionist enterprise is irredeemable because it is based on Jewish solidarity.

From Parting Ways, Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, her latest book we get: "If Jews only mourn the loss of Jews in the conflicts of the Middle East, then they affirm that only those who belong to one's own religion or nation are worthy of grief...One hears, time and and again in Israeli public discourse, that a single Israeli life is worth more than countless Palestinian lives. Yet only when such obscene calculations definitively fail, and all populations are deemed grievable, will the principle of social and political equality start to govern."

So, the movement towards guaranteeing full equality in a binational Palestine-of-the-imagination must start with Jews abandoning the injunction to look after themselves and, as we shall see, de-Judaize their ethical tradition.

They must de-privilege their concerns for the safety of their own: "One claim is that a state was needed on those lands or that rights must be secured in other lands for refugees from the Nazi camps; another claim is that a state was needed on those lands where Jews might be safe (which is still not necessarily a politically Zionist argument, however it is a view that prizes the safety of Jews over all other possible refugees.)..."

Then: "...some aspects of Jewish ethics require us to depart from a concern only with vulnerability and fate of the Jewish people."

Then: "...the relation with non-Jew is at the core of Jewish ethics, which means that it is not possible to be Jewish without the non-Jew and that, to be ethical, one must depart from Jewishness as an exclusive frame of ethics."

And finally to: "If the principles of equality and justice that drive the movement against political Zionism were elusively derived from such (Jewish) sources, they would immediately prove to be insufficient, even contradictory. Indeed, even the critique of Zionism, if exclusively Jewish, extends Jewish hegemony for thinking about the region and becomes, in spite of itself, part of what we might call the Zionist effect. Surely any effort that extends Jewish hegemony in the region is part of the Zionist effect, whether or not it understands itself as Zionist or anti-Zionist. Is there a way around this conundrum if one still wants to contest the Israeli claim to represent Jews and Jewishness and to sever the connection so many now make between the State of Israel and the Jewish people and, indeed, Jewish values?" No, honey, there isn't.

How paradoxical that she who claims as her moral underpinning the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam should preach a kind of ethical deracination so that Jews may live in harmony with their neighbors. And again, not a word about the 'other's responsibility to accept a Jewish presence in its midst.

Some of the better and more comprehensive analyses that have come out in response to Butler's Adorno Prize include those by Petra Marquardt-BigmanRichard Landesand 
A. Jay Adler. You should read them.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Nakba v Nakba Update: The Hanan Ashrawi Version***

Peter Beinart's Open Zion blog has run a four-part debate about whether or not the 800,000+ Jews who were forced to flee the Arab countries after 1948, should be considered refugees entitled to the same consideration as the 800,000+ Palestinians who fled or forced out of the areas that became Israel. The debate turns on naming, and consequently on compensation.

Lara Friedman's arguments, here and here, rely retroactively far too much on the success of the eventual integration of the Jewish refugees, as if to say: Israel wanted them, see how well they've done, how can you call them refugees? "They are either refugees, or they are new immigrants—they can’t be both.”

Lyn Julius' response, here and here, is that the Jews of Arab countries who had lived there for centuries fled as refugees with almost nothing, their property having been confiscated by the Arabs and were forced to live for years in miserable conditions either in Israel tent cities, or in rat-infested rooms in way-stations such Paris awaiting future absorption, somewhere, anywhere. What can you call them other than refugees?

No doubt both Israel and the Arab countries were driven by ideology in naming the two sets of people: Israel seeking an ingathering of Jews from all over the world named their refugees immigrants and made them citizens. The Arab countries which had provoked the war that resulted in Palestinian refugees insisted on maintaining their status and, apart from Jordan, refused to integrate them, give them full civil rights and fed them an illusory yearning for a return. Six decades on and we don't need to rehash the results.

I realize I'm guilty of narrowing the arguments tremedously, but what I really wanted to do with this post was to challenge Open Zion's editors' insidious choices of photos to accompany each side of the debate: all four parts are illustrated with pictures related only to the Palestinian refugees. There are mourning Palestinians, protesting Palestinians, Palestinians of every generation, as if to say, the Palestinian refugees are still here, where are the Jewish refugees? Why even bring this up now?

Well, take a look at the photo montage above. See if you can tell the Arab refugees from the Jews. Both sets lived in very similar conditions upon losing their homes. Life was hell for both. One of these groups has been exploited mercilessly and most of its members are still mired in misery, but do not belittle the suffering of the other group whose story now is very different. Open Zion should have reached back into the archives to find contemporary photos of both Jews and Palestinians. That they didn't confirms their ideological bias.

There is lots more to say about this issue and the Open Zion debate is worth a read for Lyn Julius' excellent summary of the history behind the Jewish expulsion. For more background, I recommend Point of No Return, a blog detailing the lives and history of Jews from Arab countries then and now, and Lucette Lagnado's rich memoir of the life of one Egyptian family forced to leave their beloved Cairo, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.

1, 4, 5, 8: Palestinian refugees
2, 3, 6, 7: Jewish refugees

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, has just published an article in the Arab press asserting that there are no Jewish refugees. According to her, "Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries are not refugees, because they left their homes voluntarily and under pressure from Zionist groups and the Jewish Agency." A preposterous claim and a couple of excellent refutations to it are worth reading:

David Harris in the Huffinton Post: Hanan Ashrawi is to truth what smoking is to health.
Lyn Julius in Times of Israel: No cats in America for Hanan Ashrawi.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Israel Accused of 'Hummus-Washing' Its Theft of Palestinian Culture

I know, I know, I've written about hummus before, about how much I love it, that while growing up in Ramat-Gan and New York we ate it all the time, that my Jerusalem-born father used to sneak out of his mother's Poilishe-kitchen so that he could buy some delicious Arab food from the street-vendors... His favorite breakfast consisted of foul (fava beans) with tomatoes and onions and lots of lemon. Sometimes my mother made majadra (spicy lentils and rice) and, of course, times when falafel was available were treated like celebrations. The list of what we considered Israeli food was endless but, you see, all that time we were stealing Palestine's culture. 

No stone, no artifact, is left unturned when it comes to undermining Israel's place in the Middle East. It starts by denying Jewish connection to the land, claiming that Jerusalem is solely an Arab and Islamic city, that the ‘alleged Temple’ never existed and so on. But those concepts are too grand, too abstract. What better way to keep the Palestinian 'street' focused on grievance than to accuse Israel of having stolen everything, right down to hummus and ‘the falafel ball’.

According to Electronic Intifada, "Zionism’s cultural appropriation of indigenous Palestinian folklore and cuisine – such as hummus, falafel and maftoul – as “Israeli” has long irked Palestinians, especially when these same cultural products are used in international propaganda and marketing efforts which deny Palestinians’ rights and history." In other words hummus-washing the dirt off their grubby little hands.

In a PA TV interview about an international couscous festival in Italy, Majdulin Salameh, a PA Minister of Tourism, claimed that,Israel steals Palestinian foods like couscous and markets them as Israeli:

"PA TV host: "Let’s talk about the plan for Palestinian participation in this international [couscous] festival, and about the importance of couscous as a popular Palestinian heritage dish, and the theft of this dish by Israel, to the extent that one year it [Israel] participated in this festival and won, [presenting] couscous as an Israeli dish...Couscous, like the other popular dishes and heritage foods, and even the Palestinian debka [dance], has been stolen and marketed as Israeli. What is your role, in the Ministry of Tourism, in stopping these attempts and the Israeli theft?"

"Majdulin Salameh: "Our presence [at the festival] in and of itself is a form of struggle and resistance against the entire manner of the Israeli side in stealing our heritage. Not only with couscous but, as you mentioned, there are things that they try to take and to attribute to themselves, such as other popular Palestinian foods, like humus, falafel, embroidery. Lots of things. This is our task as the Ministry of Tourism: we are present at all international forums where it is possible that there will be a threat or a danger to the Palestinian heritage, which will be marketed as Israeli heritage rather than as Palestinian."

And it’s partially true insofar as Israel has been trade and market-savvy. As Julian Kossoff writes in the Telegraph, Israeli entrepreneurs helped introduce falafel to European and American palates but their initiative angered Arabs and their anti-Zionist sidekicks, who claimed they had stolen it (there's also a parallel row over hummus.)" 

For example, a writer on Mondoweiss is apoplectic to find that gourmet magazines such as Saveur and Bon Apetit identify certain dishes as Israeli. Here’s a description from Saveur that really raises anti-Zionist hackles:

"Pulsating with the energy of contemporary Israel's vibrant dining culture," the restaurant (Zahav) is owned by chef Michael Solomonov, who was born in Tel Aviv. Solomonov makes a hummus with "tahini and olive oil, [which] seems all the more velvety in contrast with the tangle of crisp hen of the woods mushrooms on top," Gabriella Gershenson writes.” (It is noteworthy that a commentor on Mondoweiss attributed the glorifying review to the Saveur critic’s obvious Jewishness.)

That’s a bit like accusing Greek restaurants for claiming baklava, a favorite dessert in Lebanese, Turkish and other Mediterranean restaurants. Or dismissing Chez Panniss for appropriating Porc sur la braise.

Kossoff makes the most important point in all of this: The anti-Israel activists' puerile playground whine that "Israel stole all the falafels" would be funny if it didn't represent a denial of Jewish history – that of the Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern Jews, who have always eaten falafel.

“In the aftermath of the foundation of the State of Israel, Jews living in Arab nations were targeted in revenge.  However, it was Israel that was to have the last laugh as a million Middle Eastern Jews sought sanctuary there and became the country's demographic – and culinary - backbone. Falafel came to the new country with these ancient communities from Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya, and was immediately popular.

“In those early years, life in Israel was threadbare and a "meal" of falafel and hummus in pitta bread, eaten from a street corner stand, was the high point of a stroll on a warm Mediterranean evening. Cheap, tasty and neutral when it comes to Jewish dietary laws, the falafel became an iconic part of Israeli cuisine and is often referred to as a national dish.” 

Yet something I find very interesting is that descriptions of authentic Palestinian food are so similar (identical?) to foods in other parts of the Arab world. In an oral history project a group of young 'student-anthropologists' from a Lebanese refugee camp, with the support of Columbia University's Center for Palestine Studies, interviewed elderly refugees from the original 'generation of Palestine' in order to record memories of how life was before Israel.

Memories of foods prepared for various occasions included kibbe, majadra, stuffed grape leaves, cabbage and zucchini, stuffed leg of lamb, etc. All utterly delicious dishes but hardly unique to 'Palestine'. After all, the original 'generation' came for surrounding countries and only needed to have lived in 'Palestine' for two years prior to 1948 in order to be counted as refugees by UNRWA. This is not to belittle the oral history effort or the preservation of memory, but how sad is it that the original refugees and their descendants have lived in Lebanon in conditions described by Palestinian journalist Rami George Khouri as Apartheid, unable to rise above desperate poverty and discrimination and consequently only allowed to dream of their culinary past.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Would Edward Said Say? Updates

Barenboim and Said
In a letter to the UN Special Coordinator for the ME Peace Process, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has expressed its dismay that the UN is sponsoring the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO). The reason: WEDO's 'agenda' of normalization between Israel and the Palestinians. Amazingly, nowhere in the letter is there mention that the orchestra was the brainchild of the late Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim.

I don't need to spell out the bitter irony encapsulated in this. I'll just provide the conflicting missions of WEDO and PACBI. Think what you will of Edward Said but even he might be appalled by the descent into pure denial of humanity of Israelis that is inherent in this strategy by those who claim to represent Palestinian civil-society.

Here is a brief excerpt from WEDO's mission: "The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has proved time and again that music can break down barriers previously considered insurmountable. The only political aspect prevailing the West-Eastern Divan’s work is the conviction that there will never be a military solution to the Middle East conflict, and that the destinies of the Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Through its work and existence the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to one another. Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his or her neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East."

You can read PACBI's problem with it here. It re-rehearses the same injunctions against normalization that are foisted upon any musician and artist who dares perform in Israel as well as Israeli artists and organisations that perform abroad. I've posted my take on the cultural boycott of Israel here, here and here.

Artists4Israel has posted an open letter to PACBI, and Sarah AB at Harry's Place demonstrates how muddled with contradictions is the rage against normalization. Predictably, the UN has been forced to 'postpone' a WEDO concert in East Jerusalem due to the "objections of some groups."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Leonard Bernstein in Jerusalem Three Weeks After Reunification

I've come out my blogging hiatus to share something wonderful for Shabbat. Last weekend I was surfing music documentaries on Netflix and happened by The Journey to Jerusalem, the Maysles Brothers' film about Leonard Bernstein's tour of Israel and celebration concert on Mt. Scopus upon the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War. The film is rough and ready and thrilling. Try to see it. You can also read a contemporary review in the New York Times and a synopsis on the Bernstein website.

The film breathes life into what may be, for some of us, abstract notions of those heady yet solemn days after the war. This YouTube intro may move you. So should seeing Bernstein conducting Isaac Stern and the Israel (formerly Palestine) Philharmonic while Ben-Gurion watches from the steps of the newly liberated Mt. Scopus amphitheatre.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Great Read from Martha Gellhorn, War Correspondent

I have taken a temporary break from blogging. Feeling mired in filth witnessing the ever increasing degradation of language employed to delegitimize Israel -- Apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, police state, boycott, 'every day is Kristallnacht for the Palestinians', Nazi-like brutality, etc. -- I needed to cleanse my mind for the long road ahead.

Nicole Kidman as
Gellhorn on the front
lines of war.
But... having watched the enjoyable, if sometimes nutty, HBO production of Hemingway & Gellhorn, I was reminded of Gellhorn's extraordinary report, The Arabs of Palestine, published in The Atlantic in 1961 and wanted to share it with those who weren't aware of it. You will find in it continuous rehashing of the Palestinian narrative which Gellhorn often describes as Mad Hatter, unexpected descriptions of UNRWA welfare state conditions, a Gaza 'open-air prison' ruled by Egypt, Holocaust denial and other eternal pilars of intransigence. You will see that, although some of the actors and numbers have changed, nothing has really changed.

After reading this epic piece -- and you really should -- and given Gellhorn's apparent life-long devotion to Israel, you may wonder: who stole The Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism? The prize, established several years after her death in 1998, has John Pilger, with whom she disagreed about Israel, on its awards committee plus other members who have, shall we say kindly, a 'critical' take on Israel. Furthermore, the award has been bestowed upon several journalists, including Robert Fisk, Patrick CockburnJulian Assange and Jonathan Cook, all of whom are bitterly hostile to Israel. It's a good question, I think.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vogue's Ms. Buck Regrets Her Encounter with Asma and Bashar

"You know, they are pretending that nothing is happening there. It's disgusting."

Buck: "The children that I met - there were three children."
The little girl had curly hair; the two little boys had blonde hair.

Readers can't get enough of Asma Assad and I'm gonna give it to them -- she's good for my ratings. Now, thanks to NPR, they can have a glimpse into how it felt to inhabit the same space as the stylish Assads in this interview with Joan Juliet Buck the writer of The Most Embarrassing Article Of The Year.

Buck was sent to Damascus by editor, Anna Wintour, to portray Asma on the basis of Vogue's criteria: "I think that Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking first ladies because they're a combination of power and beauty and elegance. That's what Vogue is about. And here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore, qualified to be in Vogue. And they had - Vogue had been trying to get her for quite a long time."

Anna Wintour and Joan Juliet Buck, partners in shame. Such stylish eyewear yet so blind.

Darling, you must read and listen to the whole interview, but here is a cute little snippet just to pique your interest. Pay special attention to the skinny on the family picture. 

"MELISSA BLOCK: Do you regret the story that you ended up writing?

JOAN JULIET BUCK: I regret that they titled it "A Rose in the Desert."

BLOCK: That was not your title?

BUCK: Of course not. No. There are odd things. The children that I met - there were three children. The little girl had curly hair; the two little boys had blonde hair. The photographer went after me. In the photos that came out in the magazine, you only see two children, and they both have black hair. I'm sure that if I were the president of Syria, I wouldn't want photos of my real children to appear in a magazine. But everything was like that.

I don't think I should have gone near the Assads. Asma Assad called the ancient culture of the country its hardware. She speaks like a banker with a degree in computer science. She said what interested her were the people. They were the software. The software has been getting killed every day for 13 months by her husband's forces, and they're pretending nothing is happening. It is horrifying to have been near people like that."

Read and listen to it all here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mona Eltahawy's Arab Violence Against Women Story Arouses Passions

Mona Eltahawy after being assaulted
by Egyptian riot police.
Mona Eltahawy has published an impassioned and audacious piece about violence against women in the Arab world, Why Do They Hate Us?, and already the twitterati and post-colonialist/post-modernist/post-feminist cohort are after her. It seems she is guilty of 'orientalizing' Arab society with a Western discourse based on civil-rights, equality and individual freedoms. Western assumptions about female emancipation are a form of colonialization imposed upon the 'other' and apparently the Arab-American Eltahawy has joined the dark side described as the "neoliberal agenda of privatization and individual rights," by M.J. Schueller in a paper on cross-cultural feminism and neoliberal identification.

Judith Butler, puts it this way: "The political assumption that there must be a universal basis for feminism, one which must be found in an identity assumed to exist crossculturally, often accompanies the notion that the oppression of women has some singular form discernible in the universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy or masculine domination. The notion of a universal patriarchy has been widely criticized in recent years for its failure to account for the workings of gender oppression in the concrete cultural contexts in which it exists. Where those various contexts have been consulted within such theories, it has been to find “examples” or “illustrations” of a universal principle that is assumed from the start. The form of feminist theorizing has come under criticism for its efforts to colonize and appropriate non-Western cultures to support highly Western notions of oppression,but because they tend as well to construct a “Third World” or even an “Orient” in which gender oppression is subtly explained as symptomatic of an essential, non-Western barbarism. The urgency of feminism to establish a universal status for patriarchy in order to strengthen the appearance of feminism’s own claims to be representative has occasionally motivated the shortcut to a categorial or fictive universality of the structure of domination, held to produce women’s common subjugated experience."

So, a writer like Mona Kareem in Al Monitor can actually question Eltahawy 's use of the word hate to describe brutality against women: "The essay is also stereotypical, as it relies on generalizations and stereotypes of Arab men to make its point. Eltahawy says “they hate us and we need to admit that!” And then she lists more than three pages of recent violations of women’s rights in the Arab world. The issue at stake here is not whether women are discriminated against in the Arab world, as that argument is well established and is only denied by Islamist maniacs. The issue here is: how the hell can those violations prove an argument of 'hate?'" Huh? Is Eltahawy not allowed to use the discourse of 'hate' to describe heinous behavior?

And, The Angry Egyptian is furious about Eltahawy's and Western journalism's obsessive interest in this issue -- after all women have been at the forefront of the revolution -- but is defensively unable to accept that there may be deep cultural and religious reasons for the oppression of women: "Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance, they are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power) and systems of exploitation (which exploit based on class not gender). Having women in power in a flawed system will not “fix” the problem either. We had a women’s quota in Mubarak’s parliament, did that change anything for women in reality? It was all ink on paper.” I see, get rid of oppressive regimes and all will be well.

Then Eltahawy is criticized for 'essentialising' Arab societies and for not including other cultures in the scope of her analysis: "...the article singles out 'Arab societies' for criticism.  Whilst, relative to Sub-Saharan, Asian, or Latin American societies, Arab nations are disproportionately grouped at the bottom of the 2011 Global Gender Gap (based on a list of nations which is far from comprehensive, leaving out Afghanistan and Somalia for instance), this is no excuse for not building an analysis which integrates other offenders: half of the bottom six are not Arab.  As an Arab woman herself, Elahawy undoubtedly does not intend to essentialise Arabs societies, but by treating the problems she describes as specifically Arab ones, and lacking in historical origins or non-Arab equivalents, she will unavoidably be perceived to have done so."

This is a typical apologia for some very specific social relations found in the Middle East (and Muslim cultures) and reminds one of the venom that greeted Ayaan Hirsi Ali when she appeared on the scene and was accused of helping to inflame Islamophobia. As one critic put it: "Some Muslim women from Muslim backgrounds have been willing to join forces with media and governments in seeking to discipline unruly Muslim communities. Ayaan Hirsi Ali being the most prominent international example. However, other Muslim women...are painfully aware of the ease with which discussion of social problems within Muslim communities can be appropriated to vilify Muslims in general." 

That fear is understandable for both Arab societies and Muslim communities in the West, but it has been used to silence appropriate criticism such as Eltahawy 's and Hirsi Ali who, unfortunately, never runs out of examples of violence against women within the culture she knows a great deal about...

Newsflash: a roundup of responses to Eltahawy's piece has just appeared on the FP site so I will give you the link while I read it for myself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poles Agree: Israel is Conducting a War of Extermination Against the Palestinians

Q: Daddy, how do you spell "Zionist"?
A: I don't know, but before the war you spelled it with a "J"!

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement,
"Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians",
63% of Polish participants agreed.

There are so many things wrong and repulsive about Europeans believing that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians and each of the nationalities participating in a survey by the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation has its own set of historical legacies that may inform such a view. But for Yom HaShoah, I want to focus on Poland where half the Jews of Europe were exterminated by the Nazi killing machine that depended on the collaboration/ obliviousness/ hatred/ indifference of the Polish people. The largest Jewish population anywhere in the world lived in Poland and 85% of them were killed during WWII. From approximately three million, the number of Jews in Poland nowadays is somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000.

So...let's ask how it could be that 63%, or two-thirds, of Polish respondents felt comfortable enough -- not ashamed, not secretive -- to agree to the term 'War of Extermination' in relation to Israel and the Palestinians. It's as if there is cloud of confusion related to numbers that seems to hover above Polish minds and it is reminiscent of a similar confusion that wildly overestimates the numbers of Palestinian deaths, say, since 1948.

According to the Polynational War Memorial and other unbiased agencies, between 1948 and 2009 there have been approximately 15,000 combined Palestinian and Israeli casualties as a result of the conflict. Let's say that more than half of those were Palestinians. The Nazi's ate numbers like that for breakfast and outside Auschwitz and Birkenau and Treblinka, Polish townfolk and peasants witnessed numbers like that coming in on trains and going out through smokestacks on a weekly basis.

The syndrome of forgetting numbers is well illustrated in one of my 'favorite' scenes in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah "...when the wife of the Nazi schoolteacher in Chelmno, who witnessed the gas vans coming and going each day, could no longer remember how many Jews had been gassed, whether it was 4,000, 40,000 or 400,000. When Lanzmann tells her 400,000, what is her response? ' knew it had a four in it.'" 

I realize I'm being impressionistic, but how can one account for the conflation of the actual war of extermination of that eternal object of projection -- the Jew on whom we blame our sins and the Israel-Palestinian conflict of which there are two sides? When there is no sense of scale differentiating the lose of almost an entire people, the Jews, from the death of a regrettable number of Palestinians? And that loss of precision situated in a country whose Jewish population went from three million to, relatively speaking, almost nothing?

Perhaps a few examples of 20th Century historical memory can account somewhat for the projection of Polish guilt upon the Jews. One such was the 1941 Jebwabne Pogrom in which approximately 1,000 Jews were massacred by their Polish neighbors. In 2001, when the book Neighbors by Jan Gross was published, there was a fierce debate in Poland with many blaming either the Nazis for instigating the pogrom or the Jews themselves for collaborating with the Soviets and bringing the horrendous massacre upon themselves. That was during the war. The Kielce Pogrom in 1946 came after the war when some Jews returned from concentration camps and tried to reclaim their property and resettle in the town. For over 60 years the Poles were unable to come to terms with their guilt for inflicting such horrors with their very own bare hands.

The government orchestrated Anti-Zionist demonstrations in 1968.
And then, of course is the other, thornier conflation: the one between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. In 1967 following the Six-Day War, the Polish government, in line with other Soviet Bloc countries switched allegiance to the pro-Arab camp and, in a classic case of scapegoating the Jews, unleashed an Anti-Zionist campaign to purge the Communist Party of some of its Jews and also to deflect attention from student and worker protests against food shortages, lack of democracy, etc. It was a great way to channel the people's frustration towards the "Zionist-revisionists." 1968 saw the clearing out of most of the remaining Jews when many jumped at the opportunity to emigrate leaving behind a small Jewish cohort that has been helped, in recent years, to rebuild many of its institutions and become, ironically, an object of celebration by the larger society.

In an interview about the Left's Anti-Zionism, the Chicago University Marxist historian Moishe Postone provides a very credible description of the movement from Anti-Semitism to Anti-Zionism and the particular projection of genocidal aims onto the Jews after the establishment of Israel

"...the violence historically perpetrated by Europeans on Jews is erased; at the same time the horrors of European colonialism now become attributed to the Jews. In this case, the abstract universalism expressed by many anti-Zionists today becomes an ideology of legitimation that helps constitute a form of amnesia regarding the long history of European actions, policies and ideologies toward the Jews, while essentially continuing that history. The Jews have once again become the singular object of European indignation."

You can read the entire Friedrich Ebert Foundation survey here and the summary here.

Message to You, Asma

I have nothing to add to the reporting about the video plea to Asma al-Assad produced by Sheila Lyall Grant, wife of British ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant, and Huberta Voss Wittig, wife of German ambassador Peter Wittig, except to say that karma works. Asma was an energetic facilitator of her husband's charm offensive in the West and consequently is being held as responsible, by her former admirers, as he is for the bloodshed his regime has unleashed.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flytilla Who? Mainstream Media May be Getting Bored with Anti-Israel Shenanigans

The mainstream media seems to be saying to the supposedly pro-Palestinian but primarily anti-Israel network, "Enough already!"

In just two months, we have witnessed damagingly underreported events such as 'Israel Apartheid Week', 'Occupy AIPAC', 'UPenn BDS Conference', 'One-State Solution Conference', 'Park Slope Food Coop BDS Referendum', 'Global March to Jerusalem', and this weekend, the 'Welcome to Palestine Flytilla'.

Do I hear someone crying wolf?

Apart from paying a bit of attention to the Park Slope silly-fest -- a local story after all -- the New York Times gave the other events listed practically no coverage. Neither did the other important national newspapers. We only got to read about them when a little blood was shed. Forgive my cynicism, but I think the organizers were looking for a little more blood, either literally or figuratively, and they didn't get what they were itching for.

I won't go into the accuracy of Isabel Kershner's dispatch on the FlytillaIsrael Moves to Block Activists’ Entry Into Nation, but it seems to me that the most significant detail of her story was this: "The main Palestinian news media have displayed little interest in what the Israelis have dubbed “flytilla”..."  Wow, even the Palestinians are getting tired of this.

The only people invested in these activities -- cos they sure ain't helping the Palestinians get a state of their own -- are the peace activists, many of whom are in their latter middle years, possibly retired, and definitely looking for something to do.

Nevertheless, it is still very important for those working to expose Israel's delegitimzers to maintain our vigilance and do the due diligence because it may just be possible the mainstream media is paying attention to us and not just losing interest in the same old, same old lies.

Here's the skinny on Flytilla:
CIF Watch: Classic anti-Zionist strategy employed by Flytilla 2 activists: Fail miserably, claim victory and, Normal, average Europeans
Anne's Opinions: Flytilla Folly Fizzles
Camera Snapshots: Where's the coverage?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Moral Inversions of Günter Grass

Grass at 16 (right) in his Waffen SS uniform.
The gigantic conceit of Günter Grass, that he took such a courageous step by daring to tell it like it is -- that Israel threatens to annihilate the Iranian people -- is an echo of Europe's clown jester/philosopher Slavoj Zizek's gigantic conceit that the greatest danger today is anti-Antisemitism because it muzzles criticism of Zionism and the perfidious actions of the Jewish state. The forces of Jewish power are amassed against the consciences of Europe's deep thinkers and something had to be said to prevent the Iranian holocaust. If only Grass had published his poem during Purim, what a field day the topsy-turvies would have had with that.

Moral inversions abound and are described brilliantly by Sarah Honig in Another Tack: The German Robbed Cossack. They have had a long history of preparing the ground leading to Ahmedinejad's calls for Israel's extinction. She presents, for example, Leo Tolstoy's response to various entreaties by Jews to speak out against the Russian pogroms. Tolstoy was annoyed; the Jews have brought it upon themselves and must behave better. “The Jews must, for their own good, conduct themselves by the universal principle of ‘do onto others as you would have them do to you.’ They must resist the government nonviolently...by living lives of grace, which precludes not only violence against others, but also the partaking in acts of violence.”

As Honig writes: "Given the background of Eastern Europe’s downtrodden Jewry, such ’turn-the-other-cheek’ sermons appear chillingly pitiless (to say the least) because all the Jews had been doing was turning the other cheek. Taken in a broader context, Tolstoy argued against Jewish self-defense before any self-defense was actually attempted. Jews, Tolstoy in effect said, share culpability for their tribulations, must suffer quietly and cannot rise to protect themselves."

For Grass and others throughout history, "Anti-Semites – whether they specialized in mere pogroms or outright Holocausts – habitually portrayed themselves as the aggrieved side."
Grass, "Like Tolstoy before him, demand they do nothing to defend themselves. If they do, they become, in Grass’s idiom, ‘the greatest danger to the world.’ It’s Israel that threatens Iran and not vice versa. By his criteria, our forebears threatened Egypt’s pharaohs, the Amalekites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Haman’s Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusader marauders, Muslim conquistadors, Spanish inquisitors, Chmielnicki’s Ukrainian mass-murderers, Russian pogromchiks, to say nothing of the Germans, whose fuehrer always screamed hysterically about the danger posed to the world by ‘the forces of International Judaism,’ compelling him to formulate a ‘final solution’ to their problem."

In Grass and the Sueddeutsche Newspaper, Dr. Clemens Heni  notices another aspect of the inversion: "In the very beginning of his text Grass portrays himself and all of ‘us’ as possible ‘survivors’ of a hypothetical future war. Intentionally or not, Grass uses a term reserved for Jewish survivors of the Shoah. He is portraying himself as a possible victim of Jews, projecting his own guilt onto the victims." 

Yet, as Heni posits, "Some might argue that Jews and the state of Israel are living in a pre-Holocaust time due to the fact that Iranian President Ahmadinejad said on October 26, 2005, at a conference in Teheran about ‘A World without Zionism,’ that Israel must be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Bernard-Henri Levy catches another inversion in Grass’s fear that Israel will force Germany's complicity in a potential Iranian holocaust because of it's sale of nuclear submarines to the Jews"Germans are 'already sufficiently burdened' (one wonders with what) without becoming, what's more, 'complicit' in the present and future 'crimes' of Israel."

And then there is the useful idiot, Larry Derfner, defending Grass in +972, the Israeli anti-Zionist website often cited by the NYTimes: “Gunter Grass told the truth, he was brave in telling it, he was brave in admitting that he’d been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager, and by speaking out against an Israeli attack on Iran, he’s doing this country a great service at some personal cost while most Israelis and American Jews are safely following the herd behind Bibi over the cliff.”

How cunning the use of 'following the herd behind Bibi'. Does that not have a whiff of Jews going sheepishly to their deaths? And isn't it grand of the former Nazi to warn them of the danger?