Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Israel, Gaza and "Anti-Semitism"

Before I begin this post I should make the disclaimer very clear. While it is true that all posts here at SEI represent the opinions of the individual person who writes it, and are not necessarily representative of all SEI bloggers' opinions (though generally they probably usually do), this one more than any other probably needs this disclaimer. So:

The following post represents the opinions of the individual writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of all members of the SEI team.


I hate the conflict in the Middle East. Drives me insane and sometimes I think it will give me an ulcer. There are times that just thinking about it, and wishing so hard it could be solved, has been the cause of some of my panic attacks. It is just tragic. Such senseless violence, destruction and misery.

The other thing that frustrates me so much after a major incident involving Israeli forces happens is that many of my American Jewish friends - usually some of the most liberal, fair-minded and compassionate people I have in my life - completely lose their minds and become crazy right-wing militant propagandists. It is like they all find their inner Sarah Palin.

As soon as the most recent event happened, the attack on the aid ships heading to Gaza by Israeli commandos, many of my Jewish Facebook friends - and most are actual friends, not just people I used to kind of know that friended me on Facebook - started posting links to sites that purported to justify Israel's actions and to expose the "truth" about what "really happened" on the boats.

Some of these (and most of my Jew friends linked to the same stuff) were lists of "facts" that supposedly proved Israel acted honorably and were fully justified to do what they did. Another is the now popular video shows the "truth" about what happened, that the activists on the boat started it and the Israeli commandos were only defending themselves.

These lists that were linked to were nothing more than claims made by pro-Israeli organizations that did not resemble anything close to journalism or objectivity. They were merely propaganda with nothing to back them up. I won't go through all the claims I read but there were a couple that stood out to me. One was the claim that Israel acted in accordance with international law when it boarded the Turkish-flagged ships. Nothing from international laws or treaties is cited to bolster this claim. But it seems to be a very weak claim on the surface seeing as how these ships were taken by Israeli forces in international waters. In fact, what they did can be called an act of war against Turkey. It is also piracy.

Another is that Israel offered to let the boats dock in one of their ports and they would transfer the supplies to Gaza once they were inspected for "weapons." This is basically a diversion from the real issue since the whole point of this exercise was to highlight the fact that Israel has banned many items that don't even come close to resembling weapons components (cumin?!?!) and that the blockade seems to be more about making life in Gaza as miserable as possible and not about security.

And that video. This thing is such an obvious piece of slanted propaganda that the very idea that my Jewish friends would post it is so disheartening and sad. First off, whoever made this video claimed it was footage that was censored by the media. What a bunch of nonsense. It wasn't censored at all and has been all over the media. Then the video itself. It is two minutes long, with the first ten seconds being title screens and it goes back to title screens at 1:40. So the whole video is a minute-and-a-half long and much of it is footage that repeats. It is also full of incendiary captions, telling the viewer what they should think about this. So what you have is the briefest of video snippets, heavily edited to convey a particular point of view and heavily captioned to support that viewpoint.

Now this video purports show proof that backs up their claim that the activists started it and the Israeli forces were just defending themselves. This proof is mainly that as the commandos were landing on the boat after repelling from the helicopters they were quickly beaten with what appear to be metal rods. But, these ships were being boarded by force by heavily armed people in international water (and many of the people on the boats claim they were being fired upon prior to forces landing on the decks). Hitting invaders as they land on your boat is self defense by even the strictest of definitions. If you don't see that then you don't understand what self defense means.

It is a piece of propaganda as bad as the five-second video made by Terri Schaivo's religious fanatic parents to try to prove that their daughter was aware of her surroundings. You remember the one, with the brain damaged Schaivo seeming to be tracking a balloon with her eyes that the media showed over and over during the moronic fight to keep her alive. What the unedited version of that video showed, of course, was that her eyes moved randomly all the time and for those couple of seconds they happen to coincidently go the direction her parents were moving the balloon. She was never following the balloon, but that didn't matter to the people with an agenda who wanted to believe it.

Videos of this nature should never be trusted no matter which makes it. A similar video made by Palestinian activists with their bent would be criticized immediately by the same people promoting this video, and rightly so. So why do they so easily buy in to this one? And as Andrew Sullivan pointed out last week on Bill Maher's show, Israel has only put out these short snippets of video even though they have so much more that they will not allow anyone to see. They also confiscated all video from the reporters on the boats.

Posting something that supports what you want to be the truth without even taking a minute to really consider the validity of it is incredibly reckless and dangerous. It lessens our discourse to who can produce the best propaganda, and away from wanting to find out the actual truth.

I have also seen posted that the soldiers were justified because some of the activists were chanting something like "death to the Jews" while they fought with them. What the hell does that have to do with anything? We now get to shoot people in the head for yelling nasty, vile, hate-filled crap? Well then, would you excuse me for a second? I have to run down to the gun store then to the FOX News studio.

The most ridiculous link I've seen posted - again, by usually sane, liberal-leaning, Barrack Obama-supporting, Tea Bagger-hating Jews - is an incendiary and pointless op-ed (with its dumb allusions to the Holocaust, pointing out there are 6 million Jews in Israel and using the phrase final solution) written by Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer is probably by far the most insane, right-wing, bigoted, lying waste of oxygen of anyone that works for a mainstream newspaper. I would say in the whole of media but for the fact that Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck exists.

Krauthammer said on TV last week that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Seriously, he really did. About a place where more than 80% of the population is dependent on USAid for food and a large number of their buildings are piles of rubble.

I didn't respond to any of these posts on Facebook, until I saw one of the links to the Krauthammer article and then I just pointed out that when one posts a link to someone like that to backup their argument they lose all credibility.

I was, as expected, challenged hard. Not as much by the person who posted the article as by one of their friends. I was told I didn't know what I was talking about because I must never have been to Israel (what the hell does that have to with anything?) and I obviously wasn't paying attention, which just doesn't make any sense as an argument.

And then it happened. Very quickly in fact, even quicker than it normally happens in one of these arguments. I was accused of being an anti-Semite.

Not in a direct way, of course. In a more passive-aggressive way that is all the rage these days. It was suggested that I "guess it's OK if Jews are getting killed." Oh brother. I responded one more time, just pointing out that just because someone doesn't back Israel on every action they take that doesn't make them a Jew-hater who would like to see them all dead. I did it in a very sarcastic way and I also called him a putz for making the suggestion. I didn't look at any more responses after that as it was obvious this person was not interested in an actual debate or exchange of points of view, just in shouting me down and calling me a bigot for not being in lockstep with the idea that everything Israel does is justified and for their security.

Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a Jew hater and the accusation is laughable, which is why I just always stop having the conversation at that point. There is no reason to continue to have a conversation with someone so divorced from reality. No, I dislike all religion equally and Judaism gets no free pass. Ok that may not be exactly true, I probably tend to be annoyed more by Catholicism, Mormonism and Evangelical Pentecostals then most other religions. But that's mostly because of the country I live in. I imagine if I were an Indian I would have stronger negative feelings about Sikhs and Hindus.

Point is, I don't have a dog in this fight. I think that rather than accusing me of bigotry, pro-Israeli American Jews should just maybe for a minute consider that I might be coming at this issue with a better sense of reason, logic, fairness and a hell of a lot less bias than them. I have no religious blinders affecting my opinions. Rather than my possibly being an anti-Semite, isn't it more likely that a Pro-Israeli Jewish person has a harder time seeing the situation from an objective viewpoint? I believe in human rights, a sense of fairness, freedom and peace. I am not interested in there being a "winner" in this madness.

Every American politician must always, at some point, profess the belief in Israel's "right to exist" and critics of Israel are frequently and strongly challenge with the question of whether or not we support that right. It is a way to devolve the issue down to a black and white, with no gray allowed. It is the same as George W. Bush's "with us or against us" mantra; a way to back the critic in to a corner with a lose-lose question. (Bush's other favorite political game, the straw man argument, commonly comes in to play by Israeli supporters as well. "Critics of Israel think it is OK for Hamas to fire rockets at us and we shouldn't defend ourselves," is one example, as if anyone really ever said that. It is so similar to Bush accusing critics of the Iraq war of thinking that "Iraqi's don't deserve freedom like everybody else." Such bullcrap. But I digress.)

But that is not really the question, not the entire one anyway. What they really mean when use they ask that question is, "Do you believe in Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state?

And my answer to that is no.

Ok, now pull your jaw off the floor. Yes I said it. But what does that have to do with not liking Jews? I also don't believe that Afghanistan or Iraq should be Islamic states, that Tibet or Cambodia should be Buddhist states, that England should be a Protestant state and Ireland a Catholic state. I think the Vatican should be reabsorbed back in to Italy and the pope should be kicked out of his castle on to his child rapist-protecting ass.

Theocracies are bad. Period. I criticize my own country a lot, but the beautiful thing about America was that its very foundation was that of a religion-free government (despite the revisionist history that many Christians in this country promote). The founding may have had a ton of other flaws (like slavery) but The United States' greatest achievement from the very beginning was being the first non-theocratic government in the history of the world. It cannot be understated how much better the world is because of that. Modern science thrives because of it and Europe was saved from itself by following our lead, and now even surpassing us as we regress to the likes of leaders like Bush and Romney.

People defend Israel as the only democracy in the middle East, but that is really disingenuous. So much of Israeli policy is influenced by orthodox religious groups. n fact, there are ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel who are funded by the government to just study religion all day instead of getting an actual job to contribute to society and they are also excused from the military duty that is required of every other Israeli citizen. That is an unthinkable policy in a democracy. It is the kind of thing that goes on in places like Saudi Arabia. There are even laws to force business owners, even the secular Israeli, to make accommodations for people with extremely crazy religious beliefs about not pressing buttons on the Sabbath. This means that on a Saturday in Israel you can get in to an elevator and need to go to the 20th floor, you'll be on there by yourself but the damn thing stops on every damn floor just in case there is an ultra-orthodox lunatic who needs to use it and he can't press the buttons.

The entire West Bank settlement policy is based on a group of religious fanatics who claim their right to that land because the bible said so. That is as delusional as an Islamic terrorist who thinks he will get 40 virgins in heaven for blowing himself up in a school or a Catholic who believes the pope ins infallible. It is as crazy as the evangelical "friends of Israel" who are helping to get all the Jews on Earth to the holy land because they believe it will bring about the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ, along with the destruction and sending to Hell of all the Jews. (Really Jews, those are your "friends" and I'm the anti-Semite?)

None of this seems like democracy to me. Neither does the wholesale oppression of an ethnic group. Several years ago I was having a conversation with a Jewish actress that I was doing a show with at the time and we got on to the topic of Israel. At one point she said to me, "How can I, as a Jew, support a country that requires people in a minority group to carry papers with them at all times that must be presented on demand?"

Ironically enough, bigotry knows no bias. Bigots come in all shapes, sizes, races and religions. Show me a an ultra-orthodox Jew (Hasidic, Haredi, etc.) and I'll show you someone who is as hate-filled to other races and as convinced of his peoples' superiority over other human beings as any dumb cracker white supremacist, Holocaust-denier or Islamic extremist out there.

They have a champion in the hate monger Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party, who profess to seek peace with the Palestinians. What they really seek, and it seems obvious to any objective observer, is to push the Arabs out of the West Bank and to basically starve them to death in the Gaza Strip. For anyone to believe the illegal blockade of Gaza is about security is just foolish. All you need to do is look at the list of things they are not allowing in to Gaza to see that's not true. Banned items include coriander, potato chips, fabric for clothing, fresh meat, wood and fishing rods. Lord knows what kind of havoc Hamas could wreak if they could just get their hands on some coriander. They could over spice some falafel and bring down the entire region! (See the entire list here. Compiled by an Israeli human rights group, founded and run by Jews)

Palestinians are forced off their land in East Jerusalem, among other places, they have no freedom of movement in a place where their family has lived for dozens of generations , whole roads are built that only Jews are allowed to use (often through land belonging to Palestinians). Palestinians that live in Israel, the so-called Israeli Arabs, are segregated and harassed. I have been told stories by an Israeli friend of mine's parents, who were raised there, about things like coming to the defense of an Arab shopkeeper being harassed by the police for having his business open on a Jewish holiday. They are also being expelled from Israel for any excuse that can be thought up, due to the fact that they are breeding faster than Jews. And Gaza has been turned in to the world's largest refugee camp. Which has not made Israel any more secure and has bred more militancy.

A country that practices Apartheid is no democracy. And it won't survive that way.
But instead of examining itself and its actions, Israel calls any of its critics Jew-haters and bigots. Jimmy Carter, a man who worked to bring peace to Israel and one of its longtime enemies, was treated viciously for daring to question Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, especially by American Jews. One of them being Alan Dershowitz , a man who thinks we should legalize torture.

American Jews who get out of line are also treated horribly. Tony Kushner has been unfairly attacked repeatedly and even seen protestors show up when receiving an award from a predominantly Jewish university. Noam Chomsky is denied entry in to Israel to attend a lecture he's been invited to give. I've heard both men referred to as "self-hating Jews."

The anti-Semite tag has been used too often as a way to shut down debate. Too often it is allowed to work. I say no more.

Those of us who believe in reason, logic and objectivity should not allow ourselves to be beaten back by those who base their arguments on a 3000-year-old piece of fiction that tells them they are the "chosen people." A book that, it should be pointed out, also says it is OK to own slaves and sell your daughter. A message delivered from a god by the guy who supposedly parted a sea on his way to delivering the Jews to Israel.

I have been accused of judging Israel by a double standard, Israel supporters often pointing out how Hamas and Hezbollah act. Is that really what you want the frame of reference to be? Two terrorist organizations? Yes, I do expect a democratic government to act better than terrorists. Israel holds itself up as the moral superior player in the Middle East. So yes, they are going to be held to a higher standard because they claim to have a higher standard.

At the end of the day, through all of the propaganda being thrown out from all sides of this debate and all of the incendiary language and accusations, there are two basic truths that my pro-Israeli Jewish friends ignore. Israel has not released all of the video footage and made it available for the international media to inspect it to try to hash out what really happened aboard those ships. And Netanyahu has said he will not allow an independent, third-party investigation. Israel can investigate itself, thank you very much.

So I ask all pro-Israeli people this: If Israel acted honorably and within its rights to defend itself, why are they acting like a country with something to hide? An innocent government welcomes an full and open process.

Believing in that doesn't make me a Jew hater.


SEI welcomes all comments at all times from all viewpoints. But those who insist on accusations of anti-Semitism (unless you can back it up with evidence and keep it civil) or "wanting to see Jews get killed" will be ignored and your comments will be deleted.


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece. This conflict, or any religiously-infused conflict, will never end. Ever. And if it does, it'll be sure to rear its ugly head later on in history. See the Yugoslav war in the early 90s, where dormant, vicious sentiment was dredged up from 3,000 years previous (Battle of Kosovo during which Christians slaughtered Muslims).

Sadly, there aren't enough true progressive in this society to actually propel this country into the future. No matter who you say you are, if you are BOUND by the word of God...ANY GOD, there will be limitations and/or moral pathways which will be taken. This is only my opinion and I know it's controversial; I am one of maybe 12% atheists living in this country, so I realize the minority in which I navigate. But, in my life, if you introduce any semblance of the mystical or mythical or a Supreme Moral Being of any sort, you are bound by perhaps irrational and obtuse ideas, which will no doubt influence important decisions that TEND to be conservative.

I am in full agreement with your opinion on Israel-Palestine. I have a difficult time getting my point across to people, like you have here, because I am a teeny weeny part Lebanese, and those who know that immediately dismiss my point of view as biased. It's not. I fully agree with everything you've written here, and feel like I now will print this out and just give it to people, rather than argue this point myself. Here, read my friend Deni's op-ed. Thank you. Good night. And good luck.

keda said...

Frustrating and sad and very well said indeed.

i couldn't agree more. thank you.

Matt said...

As with any with other divisive issue there are shrills and demagogues on both sides. The least reasonable are usually the ones shouting the loudest, and that pushes the majority in the middle to one extreme or the other. Liberal Jews posting propaganda on Facebook is one example. Another is otherwise sane people waving about the flags of Hamas while denouncing ``terrorism''. Hamas is the group that made the world intimately familiar with the concept of suicide bombing, yet the irony is lost.
You’re absolutely right that propaganda cheapens our discourse. So why not note that the debate among Jews is actually far more sophisticated than that? You could direct your alarmist Jewish friends to some thoughtful Jewish takes on the matter. Have you read Leon Wieseltier’s column in The New Republic entitled ``Operation Make the World Hate Us’’? Peter Beinart’s pre-flotilla essay about the American Jew’s liberal/Zionist conundrum has triggered astirred up quite a bit of debate too. It doesn’t take a flotilla to get Jews soul-searching about Israel.
Clearly not all of us have found our inner Sarah Palins. In America, J Street has emerged as a liberal Jewish lobbying group to rival the status-quo obsessed AIPAC. In Israel, B'tzelem, Haaretz, and other peace-promoting organizations within Israel are proof of the plurality of opinion among Jews, and have been around for deacdes. A reasoned, logical and fair blog post about Jewish writing on the conflict would have to note that good sources exist and provide a compelling alternative to the bad ones.
Another observation that belongs in an anti-propaganda essay is that the IDF isn’t the only producer of it in this conflict. Many of the very same people who are bashing Israel today also bashed it in 2002 after media reported Palestinian claims of thousands dead in a clash in Jenin. Israel allowed the UN to investigate, and the UN found 52 dead Palestinians and 23 dead Israelis. I don’t mention this to make light of 75 deaths, but to point out that a balanced post must make clear that the propaganda comes from both sides.

Anonymous said...

I do believe S.E.I. is more of an opinion forum. I am hard pressed (although I keep searching) to find an un-biased news venue; and so my M.O. for gathering information is going to several sources--knowing full well that the "truth" (whatever that may be) may well exist amalgamated from all that. The objective days of "dog bites man" or "bus tumbles into a ravine" have long been over. That is especially true of an op-ed venue. My slant is often quite apparent. And I am un-apologetic about that.

Matt said...

But the author's slant seems to be that he's not slanted. He asks to be listened to as an unaligned and objective observer:

Point is, I don't have a dog in this fight. I think that rather than accusing me of bigotry, pro-Israeli American Jews should just maybe for a minute consider that I might be coming at this issue with a better sense of reason, logic, fairness and a hell of a lot less bias than them.

I disagree with that assertion. I didn't address all of the elements of that post, so as to keep it short and focused. But I think the parts I did comment on do call into question the absence of bias and the presence of reason, logic and fairness. I assume good intentions, but I think the post does not live up to them.

the beige one said...

Good points, Matt, and thank you for replying. Just as Deni asserted that he doesn't speak for the group, I prep this reply by noting that I do not speak for him or Swine.

That there is a dissenting liberal faction within Israel and politically active Jews both in the US and abroad is something that is known, but is not exactly common knowledge. This could be tied to what has become a bigger hobby horse for me of late: the woefully inadequate state of journalism and media in this country.

The two essays/articles you mention, for example, were not known to me; and I spend a fair amount of time each day reading news sites. For that reason alone, I am glad you responded.

The truth is that, in the US, discussion about Israeli/Muslim is dominated by Conservatives, whether Jewish or from the GOP, to the point where Glenn Beck is going around calling people anti-Semitic. Glenn Beck.

Also, the MSM has traditionally not offered an opposing view to this narrative.

I believe that this fact of life is what Deni is railing against in his post; it's an essay aimed directly at this recalcitrant arm of the discussion (will they hear it? Probably not, but at least this is all out in the collective unconscious now).

For the record, I find that I agree with him point for point through his essay.

All of that said, you're right, Matt, it would've been right and proper to point out that it ain't all hawk-ish Jews out there, and provide links as proof.

Thanks for the feedback.


Deni said...

I agree with TBO that you make some valid points Matt, and those are great links. And yes, maybe my essay could have been more clear that I don't think ALL American Jews are crazy biased (and in fact I've gotten compliments for this piece from some of them outside of this comment page), but I do think it was at least implied by my quoting of a Jewish friend who doesn't support Israel policies and the link to the banned list compiled by the Jewish human rights group. They are a group that has been the most vocal against Israel's Gaza blockade than just about anybody. So I didn't feel it necessary to have to write a whole paragraph to assert the fact I know there are Jews out there who don't blindly support all of Israel's actions. I don't think I have to be sure to point out that I don't think ALL priest are child-rapists if I want to talk about priests who rape children, as an example.

But I certainly don't see your evidence of my supposed bias in this piece. I think I make very clear that I think all religion is equally bad (despite my attempts to joke about Catholicism, etc) so I really don't have an extra dislike for Jews or Muslims over nany others. I thoink disliking all religion is very unbiased.

I care about human rights for all people regardless of their spiritual beliefs (as long as they leave me the hell alone with it). I find that most religious people tend to only care about their fellow myth-believers' rigths. Christians only stand up for Christians, Jews only stand up for Jews, Muslims only stand up for Muslims, etc. Yes I know there are many exceptions to that rule, but overall I think people tend to be more offended by their own being oppressed than when it is happening to others.

And this post was aimed specifically at what propaganda has been sent to me over this issue. Yes, I imagine there is stuff coming from the other side that is just as questionable as the pro-Israeli edited tape. But - and I meant to point this out in the essay but forgot - fact is, I don't have any Muslim friends so don't know what is being pushed out there by that side. It certainly has shown up in the media like the video that the Israeli military wants us to see.

So, I agree you have made some solid points, but any claim of my bias in this issue I really don't see where you get that. I would say that I'm like switzerland, but they were really just Nazi's who pretended to not be in the war. So I won't say that.

Also thank you (S)wine, TBO and Keda for your comments. Appreciate them.

Matt said...

You don’t need to know any Muslims to see it. We’ve just been through a week of mainstream newspapers calling for an invasion of Israel or comparing it to Iran, ``Jews get the hell out of Palestine’’, and Hamas and Nazi flags waving in the streets of Istanbul. But it was Jewish propaganda that moved you to write a 3,330-word post? Seems self-explanatory that you’re going to have trouble coming off as balanced if you can’t even find room in such a long essay to note the recent anti-Jewish lowlights, or even just to say clearly that this crap comes from both sides. Your focus is so disproportionate as to raise the obvious question of balance.

It is strange given that you say you hate propaganda but choose not to address the side that could use a pro-peace wing, instead picking on the one that offers a plurality of voices. Chomsky and Krauthammer man the fringes of a very wide spectrum of opinion. There are principled hard-left commentators like Naomi Klein, disillusioned Zionists like Wieseltier and Beinart, anti-Israel academics like Tony Judt, etc. Israel's Haaretz newspaper has advocated returning the territories basically since they were won. The current issue of Newsweek features a major in the IDF reserves writing on how Israel must change its ways. This is all mainstream media. The debate rages on in public too – tomorrow night in NYC the head of JStreet will debate Jeffrey Goldberg, of The Atlantic, on how to reconcile Zionism and liberalism.

Though I agree with the basics of your opinion on this event – Israel was wrong and its approach to the conflict has become indefensible – there are also a few spots where you further weaken the no-bias claim. And it is wise to remember that while the IDF's actions are awful, there are still many impressibe things about Israel, Israelis (the secular ones), and the society they built. One example is saying that Israel isn’t really a democracy. You have mixed up democracy and church-state separation. They are two different things. Though they often come together, and you and I probably wish they would always, the latter is not part of the definition of democracy.

Reality is that Israel has free and fair elections and is the only place in the Middle East where an Arab can vote or participate meaningfully in a legislative process. Israel has a free press in a region in which cartoonists are condemned to death. It has a functioning court system and a transparent government. Citizens can and have successfully sued the military over their handling of the conflict – that’s a degree of democracy unheard of in most countries. When you say Israel isn’t a democracy in the face of these facts you aren’t going to be perceived as unbiased.