False Dichotomies


Archive for April, 2011

Phil Weiss supports the firing of rockets at Israeli cities

Is there any other way to read this?

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The New Slaves?

I know how they feel. Out of nowhere, you suddenly get the opportunity to write for one of the biggest media outlets in the world. Instead of a trickle of people reading your articles, thousands do. Hundreds join in the talkbacks. Your pieces get linked far and wide: you are a big player in the blogosphere.

At any rate, that’s how it felt during my first few months blogging for the Guardian’s flagship ‘Comment is Free’ site. It was genuinely thrilling to watch the responses roll in, to do battle with adversaries, and to see my pieces at the top of the comment leader-board. In my case, I also got paid for it (albeit not vast sums); if not, then I might now be as disgruntled as Jonathan Tasini is.

Following the sale of the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million, Tasini has launched a class action lawsuit on behalf of “a putative class of over 9,000 writers and other content providers to The Huffington Post”, requesting at least $105 million in damages. According to Tasini, “Ariella Huffington is pursuing the Wal-Martization of creative content and a Third World class of creative people. Actually, that is unfair to Wal-Mart because at least Wal-Mart pays its workers something for the value those workers create. In Arianna Huffington’s business model, economic gain is only reserved for her. Everyone else, apparently, is expected to work for free regardless of the value they create. Greed and selfishness is the order of the day.” It’s true that the Huffington Post doesn’t pay its bloggers. It’s also true that the work of the Huffington Post’s bloggers has played an important role in making the site what it is. Without the bloggers, AOL probably wouldn’t have bought it for such a tidy sum. Read more

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Favourite 30 Books

The ‘Favourite 30′ series continues! This time it’s my favourite 30 books, accompanied by a pithy and pretentious explanation as to why.

30. Varlam Shalamov: Kolyma Tales – For taking us into the Gulag with clarity, compassion, and – above all – dark wit.

“Five or six persons follow shoulder-to-shoulder along the narrow, wavering track of the first man. They walk beside his path but not along it. When they reach a predetermined spot, they turn back and tramp down the clean virgin snow which has not yet felt the foot of man. The road is tramped down. It can be used by people, sleighs, tractors. If they were to talk directly behind the first man, the second group would make a clearly defined but barely passable narrow path, and not a road. The first man has the hardest task, and when he is exhausted, another man from the group of five takes his place. Each of them – even the smallest and weakest – must beat down a section of virgin snow, and not simply follow in another’s footsteps. Later will come tractors and horses driven by readers, instead of authors and poets.” Read more


Us & Him

As an Israeli, Gideon Levy is the ultimate useful idiot for those whose life mission is the destruction of the mighty Zionist enterprise. In his weekly ‘Twilight Zone’ article, he reports on a different aspect of the occupation’s evils. Although he’s often lax with his journalistic standards in these pieces, I do think they do a service in highlighting the consequences of continued Israeli rule in the West Bank, and I’d agree with him that most Israelis are apathetic about the occupation. Giving him a weekly column, though, is a step too far.

What most winds me up about Levy is the consistency with which he speaks of ‘we’ and ‘us’ to talk of Israelis, when it’s clear that he doesn’t include himself in that particular collective, at least not when he’s about to launch yet another onslaught against it. This week, he’s banging on about Israelis abroad. “You might expect such a tourism-loving people to open its eyes and ears to what can be seen and heard around the globe; instead, we keep walling ourselves in against what the world thinks and feels…20,000 will come from the Sinai without seeing Egypt, thousands of students come home every year without exchanging a word with a Pole [he’s referring to the March of the Living], and tens of thousands come back from Goa or the Tierra del Fuego without listening to what the Indians of South America or the Indians of India have to say. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have “done” America and Europe, east and west, and they will come home as oblivious and closed in as they were when they left.” As opposed to the other nations of the world, who are famous for travelling to beach resorts and isolated islands in order to find out as much as they can about local culture. Read more


Living Together

This story, about the establishment of a national secular defence forum to battle the Jewish Orthodox ‘invasion’ of secular neighbourhoods, is a good opportunity to link to my article on social pluralism in Israel, written for the good folk over at Common Ground News. Enjoy.

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Know Limit


On the first day of my gap-year in Israel, my group’s coordinator gathered us together to dispense essential advice. One aspect of that schpiel has remained with me ever since. She reminded us that we were in a foreign country where we didn’t know the language, the culture, or the little, almost invisible codes of behaviour which constituted true knowledge of a place. We were always to exercise caution, because we didn’t have the tools we needed to know our limits.

The extraordinary Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois, shows nine Cistercian Trappist monks tragically exploring their limits in the Algerian countryside. The year is 1996, at the height of the Algerian Civil War, and their monastery, which has been a fixture of the village of Tibhrinie since the nineteenth century, is under threat from roving Islamists. The monks are popular in the village: they run a free outpatient clinic, give romantic tips, help villagers apply for passports, and sell honey at the village market. As one local puts it, “This village has grown up alongside the monastery. Why leave now?” Read more

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The Search for Chametz

Here’s a story that other people might describe as ‘heart-warming’. Just before Pesach, a few Arab-Israeli MKs announced the start of a campaign to encourage Israeli-Arabs to stop selling chametz in areas where there are lots of Jews (think Jaffa, Ramle, Haifa). The reason? To avoid hurting the Jews’ feelings. Because during Pesach, us Jews are forbidden from eating chametz, and we don’t need the temptation. The deputy speaker of the Knesset, Raleb Majdale, says that “so that the Jews will know to honour our festivals, we have to know how to honour their traditions and festivals.” Majdale goes on to say that the campaign is built on the principle of ‘reciprocity’, and he expects the Jews to show similar respect during Ramadan.

Another sponsor of the campaign, MK Sheikh Ibraham Tzartzur, goes on to point out that many secular Jews go specifically to Arab areas during Pesach davka in order to buy chametz, but argues that they are in a minority. From what I understand, chametz lives a prostitute-like existence during Pesach – i.e. it can be sold but can’t be solicited. And, while only the observant community follows the halachah and strictly purges all traces of chametz for their lives, even in the heart of Tel Aviv the cafes switch to fake bread and matza. While I’m in favour of religious freedom, I quite like the absurdity of a country going without chametz for a week. And if the pluralist principle is that everyone should be made to feel equally uncomfortable, I think that in this case the harm caused to the chametz seekers is pretty insignificant, although I’d be interested to know if this campaign means that Jews desperate for some soft pita will be turned away from Baqa-al-Gharbiyyah by Israeli-Arabs caught up in the campaign.


Top 30 Guest-Shots


Last week I turned thirty. To mark the occasion, I’ll be doing a number of ‘Top 30′ lists in the coming days and weeks. To kick off: Top 30 Guest-Shots.

30. Jadakiss: Rite Where You Stand

A common theme on this list is guest emcees murdering Guru on his own shit, although at least they have the decency to do it respectfully. Here it’s the barely perceptible shift from chorus to verse, the “they wanna know why I invest all my money in haze and dope…cos right now I’m currently a slave for Interscope,” and then the relentless upper cuts, reflected in the video, all with that incredible pearl voice captured brilliantly down at D&D, culminating in “Jay to the mwah” and Preemo speaking with his hands as we’d expect him to.

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Racist Racist!

Unlike Omar Barghouti, I admire Ahmed Moor’s honesty, and I sincerely thank him for it. As he writes, the “BDS movement seeks to correct the effects of decades of imperial control and colonization of Palestine/Israel by Zionists.” If that wasn’t clear enough: “The right of return is an inviolable and sacrosanct principle which necessarily spells out the end of the Jewish state, as such…Many Palestinians, me included, would prefer to march alone than march alongside anyone who does not endorse our right to return, meaning Zionists.”  In a follow-up piece, “BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”  And: “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.” This honesty is to be admired. I think we’d both agree that it’s better we both know where our enemies stand. Read more

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The Diameter of the Ego

Vittorio Arrigoni was murdered by Islamists who objected to the presence of foreigners in Islamic lands. Juliano Mer-Khamis was murdered by Islamists who objected to the presence of a theatre in an Islamic city. Beyond this, there isn’t much more to say – no hidden meaning to be extrapolated, no great political point to be made. Those on the Right are wrong to try and use these crimes to prove the extent of Palestinian depravity; those on the Left are wrong to blame them on the occupation. Read more

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