False Dichotomies


Archive for the 'Israel' Category

Live from the Globe

This is a guest post by Nick D

The most telling aspect of the utter failure of pro-conflict advocates to disrupt proceedings at the Globe last night came after it had all finished. I was standing in line, waiting to collect my bag, and everyone I could hear was discussing the show – that is, the performance by Habima Theatre of Israel, who carried off what by general consensus seemed to be a magnificent Merchant of Venice. My Hebrew is negligible, restricted to the odd words I recognise from Arabic, but deprived even of Shakespeare’s language the actors were able to convey to me with awesome power the tragedy of Shylock and the malice of his persecutors. A steady, droning beat on the frame drum provided a superbly ominous counterpoint to the psychodrama unfolding before us, on stage and off stage. Jews were on trial – and witless protesters proving once again to be a curse rather than a blessing to the Palestinians – were props in an awesome, all-enveloping spectacle. Read more


Last Night

It is true that Jewish history does not necessarily mean that Israel should have a special responsibility to care for African refugees. It is also true that the residents of South Tel Aviv are right to complain that the burden of dealing with the refugees seems to be falling exclusively on their shoulders. And it is also true that residents of more privileged neighbourhoods should not respond to these complaints by accusing them of racism.

However, wherever you stand on this debate, there is no excuse for the demagoguery and incitement that we saw last night in South Tel Aviv. At a rally in HaTikvah neighbourhood, Likud MK Miri Regev said that “the Sudanese are a cancer in our body”. Her Knesset colleagues Danny Danon and Michael Ben-Ari expressed similar sentiments. Inevitably, this led to attacks on Africans and their businesses. In short, a pogrom.

The MKs who spoke at the rally should be charged with incitement. They said the same things that anti-Semites said about my great-grandparents when they arrived in London, and – yes – we do have a special responsibility in the world’s sole Jewish state to ensure that, however difficult the circumstances, we do not use this kind of rhetoric, because we know what the results will be.

Let’s debate the issue, try to form a responsible policy, and stop the incitement.



The blond youth waving an Israeli flag looked at me in astonishment. I was standing on the other side of the street, just opposite the Damascus Gate, and I was standing with the Arabs. And yet I had just told him that I had made aliyah six years ago and that was he was doing was a Chillul Hashem.

The previous hour had passed with scuffles between Palestinians and the Border Police, but now the Jerusalem Day Parade was in full swing. There had just been another stampede from the horses and suddenly there were no soldiers in the vicinity. It was just me shouting over to a group of Israeli youth, and they couldn’t believe what I was telling them. Read more


The Message or the Messenger?

Yuval Diskin has become the latest ex-strongman to express views that one might describe as leftist. First, he laid the blame for the impasse in the peace process squarely at the door of the Netanyahu government: “Forget the stories they tell you about how Abbas is not interested in negotiation”, he said. “We are not talking to the Palestinians because this government has no interest in negotiations…The government is not interest in solving anything with the Palestinians, and I say this certainly.” Second, he expressed his opposition to a military attack on Iran, at least at present, while stating his low personal opinion of Messrs Netanyahu and Barak: “I have seen them up close. They are not people who I personally, at least, trust to be able to lead Israel into an event on such a scale, and to extricate it.” Read more

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Zionism and Liberalism Redux

This is a guest post by Benjamin Kerstein

Early in World War II, George Orwell wrote that pacifism “is only possible to people who have money and guns between them and reality.” Much the same could be said of modern American liberalism, especially Jewish liberalism; that is, if Peter Beinart’s new article in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” [1] is anything to go by.

Beinart’s missive is the latest in what is swiftly becoming a literary subgenre in its own right, in which liberal Jews express their agonizing moral struggle with Zionism and Israel in deeply emotive and despairing language. This is not, quite frankly, a particularly new genre, as liberally inclined Jews have always had a somewhat awkward relationship with Zionism; whose partisans have, generally speaking, come from either the socialist left or the nationalist right, both of which have found a certain kinship with Zionism’s recognition of the limits and drawbacks of traditional liberalism. Read more


Don’t Start None Won’t Be None

Everyone knows that Israel/Palestine is one of the easiest conflict zones in the world for activists to visit. This is one of the reasons it receives such overinflated coverage in the international media. While some people do get turned away, a vast majority of internationals who want to travel to the West Bank are able to do so. This arrangement is based on the status quo that those who intend to travel to the West Bank for political purposes don’t make too much of an issue about it upon their arrival in the country.  Read more

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Reason vs Hysteria

A couple of months ago, in London, I witnessed what one might call a Luis Suarez moment. I was on the Northern Line, where a group of drunken British men were standing around doing what drunken British men do. Nothing threatening at first, just songs and inaudible bawdiness, but then one of them began saying something about blacks. His friends immediately realized that he had crossed a red line and tried to quieten him down, without much success. A young woman walked over to the group and told them that their behaviour was unacceptable; then, at the next station, as if from nowhere, a couple of transport policemen appeared and ordered the men to leave the train.

The appearance of the transport policemen must have been a coincidence, but I was impressed with the quiet and dignified way the problem was dealt with, particularly the young woman, who firmly but without hysteria told the gang that their behaviour was unacceptable.

I tried to imagine a similar response to racism on a public bus in Israel, without much success. Israel clearly has a much bigger problem with casual – and indeed explicit – racism than the United Kingdom. I don’t know anyone here who hasn’t heard someone make a remark about how the only good Arab is a dead Arab or something similar. And sometimes, this racism gets even more sinister. Following the tragic bus accident in February, when ten Palestinian children were killed, a number of people drew attention to the celebratory remarks posted by a number of young Israelis on Facebook. Some responded by claiming that these were isolated cases. As a sober piece on Channel Ten television demonstrates, this wasn’t the case. Although the programme didn’t cite any opinion polls on the subject, it’s clear that many young Israelis, from all sorts of different backgrounds, responded in a similar vein to this tragedy. The Channel Ten feature was a thoughtful, carefully documented examination of the problem, complete with practical suggestions as to what to do about it. Read more

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The Banality of Consistency: A Response to Yousef Munayer

“Liberal Zionism is a contradiction in terms,” is the premise of Yousef Munayer’s debut post on Peter Beinart’s Zion Square blog, where he seems to have been enlisted as the token anti-Zionist. First, he says that Liberal Zionists “construct an artificial dichotomy between the states and the settlements; they pretend that the Israeli State and its settlements are somehow separate or separable.” Specifically, he objects to Beinart’s use of “undemocratic Israel” to describe the West Bank, as opposed to the “democratic Israel” inside the Green Line. Munayer goes on to point out that settlements exist because of the policies of successive Israeli governments, which is why BDS must “target the state, not just the settlements”. Read more

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On Villas-Boas and BDS

Sometimes the BDS crew remind me of the manager of a mediocre football team desperate to convince everyone that their team is brilliant. When a football manager uses every result (no matter how poor) as evidence that the great change is imminent, you know that they are destined to remain in mediocrity. When he’s honest about the team’s strengths and weaknesses, however, it’s a sign that they might yet become a force to be reckoned with.

In +972, Sean O’Neill argues that BDS is on the verge of achieving widespread support. His evidence? Norman Finkelstein’s declaration of civil war on the boycotters. Demonstrating that the BDS movement remains habitually unable to deal with honest criticism, O’Neill declares the interview “a sign that the ground is shifting on Israel/Palestine issues”, without producing much evidence to back up this claim. The following is all he could come up with: “I recently witnessed BDS’s growing clout at a meeting I attended with a woman working with an Israeli artist helping set up a series of salons in New York to explore and question the Birthright Israel programs, and the idea of a “birthright” in general. The project sounds very interesting, and the woman was visibly frustrated at their inability to find people willing to work with them in the city. They are partially funded by the Israeli Consulate, and as a result have had the proverbial door shut on them by activists, artists, and professors, Arab and Jew alike. This would have been incomprehensible five years ago, when I first heard of the BDS movement at the annual Bil’in conference and it was, at that point, divisive even among conference attendees.” Read more


Saving the World with Occam’s Razor

The best – and kindest – way to describe Richard Silverstein is that he’s silly. Very silly indeed. He sincerely believes that his blog makes an important contribution to world peace, so important that he regularly asks readers to give him money. After a frustrating first few years as a blogger, while he tried to find a bigger audience, most respectable publications realised that he was silly and wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Then he realised that he could reinvent himself as a ‘whistle-blower’, publishing stories that wouldn’t pass the Israeli military censors. This got him the attention he craved, including one or two profiles in the Israeli media. Some of his exposes were accurate; many were not. In assessing his sources, he seems to go by the principle that if it seems to be bad for Israel then it must be true. Needless to say, this isn’t necessarily the way to go if you want to be taken seriously. Read more


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