FIGHTING WORDS (HOUSE OF CONTENTION EDITION)

Gershom Gorenberg: “The reflex hints at deeper problems: Barak is a kibbutz-born ex-general with no clear political positions, an embodiment of the old Labor aristocracy. Seen in a longer perspective, the conundrum of a movement that creates a state is how to reinvent itself afterward as a party that is relevant to the new reality. Labor hasn’t succeeded. ”

Avi Isaacharoff: “Leaving the home, one can hear a settler yell at a police officer: ‘Nazis, shame on you.’ Indeed. Shame on you. ”

Daniel Levy: “In the immediate term, the settlers were hoping to prevent the evacuation of the Hebron house by setting off violence across the West Bank and by trying to provoke a Palestinian response that would in turn require the IDF to focus elsewhere and therefore be unable to carry out the Hebron mission. But the real goal was to send a signal that any future settler evacuation would carry a price far more bloody and devastating than the Gaza Disengagement of summer 2005–namely, to inflame the entire Occupied Territories, if not the region.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:”So the question to the Conference of Presidents is: Was it not a pogrom, and therefore not newsworthy? Or are you simply too ashamed to report, amid your long list of Arab and Muslim sins, evidence of Jewish sin?”

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STAND BY ME

One of the less than super features of my six years at the high school formerly known as Akiba Hebrew Academy was the seemingly endless succession of assemblies hosting guest speakers from organizations like the ZOA speaking on topics like the caginess of Arabs and the awesomeness of what we’ve since learned to call “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Then my senior year I organized a human rights conference that included Ian Lustick, a Zionist with some concerns about human rights in Israel, and I got called into the Principal’s office and told that he didn’t like having controversial speakers without counterbalancing speakers there to offer “the other side” (in the end I was able to negotiate a compromise where Lustick would speak alone after an Ahmadinejad-at-Columbia-style introduction from the Headmaster and Lustick and Daniel Pipes would be invited to have a debate at Akiba later on).

A couple months later, the Headmaster announced that everyone in the school would be bussed to an “Israel Solidarity Rally” downtown. After a bunch of kids objected to being forced to participate in a rally defending the Likud government from criticism, Akiba agreed to let kids who wanted to skip the rally and stay at school to watch Exodus and think about what they’d done. A couple months after that, Akiba’s administration announced at my graduation that everyone in the Class of 2002 would receive a copy in the mail at college of Myths and Facts About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (“Myth: Palestinians. Fact: Israelis.”).

All this came to mind when I opened my e-mail and saw an e-mail circulating amongst Akiba Alumni to “Seek neutrality on political issues at Akiba.” What instigated it? Apparently some of my more right-wing friends were appalled that Akiba sent out an e-mail announcing an event hosted by the insufficiently-Likud-friendly New Israel Fund.

BIGOTS IN ABUNDANCE?

James Traub, in his Times Mag piece on ADL head Abe Foxman, notes that

Foxman upset many of his colleagues by extending a welcome to Christian conservatives, whose leaders tended to be strongly pro-Israel even as they spoke in disturbing terms of America’s “Christian” identity.

True that. Brings to mind the Zionist Organization of America’s decision to honor Pat Robertson with a “State of Israel Fellowship Award.” Abe Foxman at the time demurred that “He’s not deserving, but I have no objections to other groups honoring him.” This despite Robertson having literally written the book on how Jews conspired with Free Masons and Illuminati to engineer the major wars in American history in order to manipulate the global market (Norman Podhoretz argued at the time that that kind of antisemitism was rendered irrelevant by Robertson’s Zionism just as in the Talmud a tiny bit of treif can’t render a huge kosher vat no longer kosher). Robertson went on to raise the ire of the ADL, which had previously highlighted some of his rantings with concern, when he suggested that Ariel Sharon’s strike was punishment from God.

Perhaps the most telling piece of Traub’s article is this exchange:

I asked if it was really right to call Carter, the president who negotiated the Camp David accords, an anti-Semite.

“I didn’t call him an anti-Semite.”

“But you said he was bigoted. Isn’t that the same thing?”

“No. ‘Bigoted’ is you have preconceived notions about things.”

The argument that the Israel lobby constricted debate was itself bigoted, he said.

“But several Jewish officials I’ve talked to say just that.”

“They’re wrong.”

“Are they bigoted?”

Foxman didn’t want to go there. He said that he had never heard any serious person make that claim.

This is the Abe Foxman worldview. Intellectual and/or moral serious equals the belief that the pro-Likud lobbying infrastructure exercises no pressure on the scope of the Israel debate in this country. Concern about the role of that lobby (unlike, say, concern about the role of the NRA) in shaping public perceptions and policy outcomes equals bigotry. And acceptance of Jews equals support for the actions of the current Israeli government.

This despite the ADL’s own research showing antisemitism declining in Europe at the same time that “anti-Israel” sentiment rises. As my friend Jacob Remes wrote at the time,

Abe Foxman, while hailing European governments that have worked to differentiate Israel from Jews, fails to do so himself and continues to equate the two.

BILL FRIST: NADER-LITE

One of the consequences of the way I chose to furnish my apartment (futon on one side of the room, table and chairs on the other), is that having the wired internet reach my laptop on the futon – which due to some trouble following the Ikea instructions only works as a bed – means that it can’t reach the table. So I’ll pull things up sitting on the bed, unhook the laptop from the internet, and then take it over to the table to read whatever web page I’ve pulled up while I eat.

I mention only because otherwise it’s unlikely I ever would have read the entire past week of blog posts from Marshall Whitmann. I say this not because I disagree with him (although on most things he chooses to write about I do), but because reading a page of Marshall Whitmann felt a lot like reading a paragraph of Marshall Whitmann several times in a row. Although there are some variations: On Friday, Joe Lieberman was like JFK in that he’s a “blue collar, bread and butter” type unlike the “upper-crust” Ned Lamont; on Monday, Joe Lieberman was like JFK in that he’s a “pro-growth progressive” and not “the darling of liberals” like Ned Lamont.

But the most tendentious of the analogies employed repeatedly by “The Moose” is one that crops up again and again in neoconservative, neoliberal, “New Democratic” and other discourse on the internet: the comparison of left-wingers and Pat Buchanan. Lieberman’s critics, Whitmann warns, are part of a “neo-isolationist, MoveOn.org, Pat Buchanan-lite imperative to rid the Democratic Party of the centrist hawks.” And many of them “are merely Pat Buchanan lite who share the paleo-conservative animus toward America’s special relationship with the Jewish state.”

The logic seems to go something like this: Pat Buchanan is famous and really unpopular. He believes Hitler was “an individual of great courage,” that women lack “the will to succeed,” and that AIDS is “nature’s retribution for violating the laws of nature.” Also, he promotes an isolationist doctrine in which America should minimize its presence abroad. One application of that doctrine has been opposition to the invasion of Iraq and criticism of the ongoing American presence there. And he doesn’t much like neo-cons. Ergo: Anyone who is overly critical of the Iraq War is “Pat Buchanan lite” and one step away from embracing isolationism and bigotry. And since labeling lefties as Buchananite is counterintuitive, it’s guaranteed to be right – and to demonstrate the sophistication of whoever makes the charge, especially if it’s a conservative lumping another conservative in with a leftie.

The folks who trot out the Pat Buchanan slur like to pitch it as some kind of sophisticated exegesis of the philisophical first principles underlying criticism of the neoconservative project. But it’s not. Certainly, Democrats have been more comparatively more hesitant in polls to express support for phrases about government pursuing aggressive foreign policy or democracy promotion since the man who’s running the government gave both a bad name. But that doesn’t make them isolationists. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t worthwile interventions they would support, especially if they had reason to trust the people making the case for them. Plenty on the left – to the chagrin of some at The New Republic – have decided that US military intervention in Darfur would be a very good idea while remaining convinced that unilateral US military intervention in Iraq was a very bad one (as Alan Wolfe notes, unilateralism is itself the “first cousin” of isolationism).

And it should go without saying, but if you’re looking for a constituency with greater animus than most towards people who are Jewish, women, Black, or gay, the left isn’t it.

It’s hard to come up with an equal and opposite absurdity to compare to the charge that war critics on the left are like Pat Buchanan. It would need to compare people on the right based on a policy view they have to a wildly unpopular figure on the left who shares it for different reasons. Maybe “Conservatives who tried to use the federal government to re-insert Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube are Ralph Nader lite!” Difference is, Ralph Nader may be unpopular, but unlike Pat Buchanan, he’s not a bigot.

GOOD LABOR NEWS

In the spirit of the holiday, three pieces of good recent labor news with good long-term implications as well:

The same week Wal-Mart announced its lowest profits in years, the launch of Robert Greenwald’s film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” with thousands of showings nationwide was a huge success, as was WalmartWatch’s coordinated “Higher Expectations Week.” Last week showed definitively that just as battling the Wal-Marting of our economy has become a top priority of the labor movement, it’s moved into a position of prominence on the national radar as well. This issue is finally coming to be understood for what it is: the frontline in the struggle over whether democratic majorities or corporate ultimatums will shape our economy. And its potential to bring together feminists, environmentalists, unionists, trade activists, anti-sprawl activists, and immigrant rights activists is finally being realized in a way it hasn’t before. The foundations for a truly effective targeted international campaign are finally being laid. Also, my Mom is telling everyone she knows to shop at CostCo instead of Wal-Mart.

The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition announced a tentative compromise on the issue of non-AFL-CIO local participation in country and state labor federations. This was the first serious test of the ability of an American labor movement split for the first time in half a century between two competing federations to lay the groundwork to work together on common challenges at the local level. A compromise here – like the SEIU/ AFSCME anti-raiding agreement – bodes well for a future in which each federation pursues different national organizing strategies while pushing their locals to work together to push for progressive change and hold the line against anti-labor candidates, initiatives, and employers.

And Histadrut Head Amir Peretz unseated Shimon Peres as Head of Israel’s Labor Party. Much of the analysis in the wake of that election has understandably focused on its role in prompting Peres and Ariel Sharon to bolt from Labor and Likud, respectively, to form a “centrist” party of their own (it’ll be interesting to see what this means for Labor’s relationship the left-of-left-of-center Meretz Yachad party, itself the result of a recent merger). But Peretz’s ascension is historic in its own right, as it represents the reclamation of the Labor Party by Israel’s foremost Israeli labor leader. Peretz won by doing what few Israeli politicians have done much of recently: talking about issues beyond hamatzav (the situation, i.e., the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). That includes mounting unemployment, extreme poverty, and severe economic inequality largely mapped along lines of race and immigration status. These issues have only worsened from neglect, and Peretz’s ascension to head of Labor offers a real chance to put them back on the national agenda – and offers Labor a chance to pull impoverished voters away from more conservative parties, like Shas.

Happy Thanksgiving.

DISENGAGEMENT: FORMALDEHYDE OR CATALYST?

The Gaza pullout is one of those political events like a geometrical plane: it’s massive or nearly invisible, depending on the angle from which you look at it.

The idea that leaving Gaza represents a historic change of hearts on Arik Sharon’s part, while it makes good copy, isn’t grounded in much evidence – certainly not enough to disprove the more convincing and more characteristic explanation Dov Weinglass (Sharon’s Rove) gave to Ha’aretz last year:

The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians…It is the bottle of formaldehyde within which you place the president’s formula so that it will be preserved for a very lengthy period. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians…there is an American commitment such as never existed before, with regard to 190,000 settlers…there will be no timetable to implement the settlers’ nightmare. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns.

Weinglass identifies a series of factors which have made it necessary for Israel to make some kind of visible concession, including the growing ranks of seruvniks refusing to serve in the territories (no blue-haired pot-smokers, he observes), and the signing of the Geneva Accords by opposition parties on both sides. If the Gaza withdrawl represents a new understanding on Sharon’s part, it’s a new understanding of the extent of pressure on his government to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice for peace, not a discovery of his inner peacenik. His statement to the press that he would not definitively rule out future concessions by Israel in the West Bank at any time in the country’s future doesn’t change that.

That said, the fact increasing non-violent resistance to occupation, as well as a range of external factors (Arafat’s death, though after the original announcement, certainly contributes) and demographics, have built pressure for peace and justice to the point that the man who pledged “more Elon Morehs” would give up any territory at all is huge and worthy of celebration.

As for what this means for the chances of a West Bank withdrawl, seems to me the establishment of a state of Israel with just and internationally recognized borders will likely continue to be a very slow process, and Sharon opposition to such remains as strong as ever. But I’m inclined to agree with Ian Lustick that Sharon’s gamble that chaos in Gaza will heighten Israeli opposition to giving up any more of the occupied territories is likely to backfire, simply because Israel’s borders have now been recognized by the Likud party and many more Israelis as a strategic one rather than an absolute moral and religious principle. During the first Intifada, Lustick explored the process by which the idea of returning occupied territories crosses the threshholds from being undiscussed to being seen as incitement to civil war, and from being seen as incitement to civil war to being seen as a political question on the public agenda, with an extensive and ultimately hopeful comparative analysis of Israel’s challenge to one which faced Britian in Ireland and France in Algeria. In that framework, the current chatter about civil war amongst Israelis can be understood as a sign of how far we’ve come from the pre-Oslo days when a Palestinian state was simply off the agenda of the Israeli public.

As for the scenes on the ground in Gaza this week, it’s of course an ugly and divisive situation (a Likudnik relative who lives in a West Bank settlement reports having his tires slashed because his car had no anti-disengagement orange on it). The IDF appears so far to have largely shown the kind of restraint – even in the face of settlers throwing acid – that it has sadly failed to show in dealing with Palestinian protesters, violent and non-violent, since the second Intifada broke out. Here’s hoping for further restraint on all sides, and that the Israeli public will continue to recognize disengagement as a necessary, if difficult step. And that further steps on all sides will follow bimhairah, b’yamainu (speedily, in our days).

From Ruth

Hey kids, I’m Ruth. I have never blogged before so I hope I can live up to the high standards that have been set here (liberal use of blockquotes, witty repartee). I’m a poli sci and international development studies junior at Mcgill, and I like ethnic violence, Quebec student politics, American foreign policy, gender norms and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Or, uh, I like discussing these things. Either way really.

To start off the fun I though I would note profoundly embarassing, moderately hilarious Ha’aretz news for anyone who has ever identified as a socialist Zionist, specifically me. Check it:

Americans will soon be able to support Israel and earn points toward their next vacation here with every swipe of their credit card…

“People want to feel a connection to Israel, so why not provide an option for them to feel pride about the Zionist dream with every dollar they spend,” Zev Dobuler, co-president of Heritage Affinity Services (HAS), said this week in a telephone interview from his New York office, where he has recently relocated since launching the project.

Ahad Ha’am wrote that if the Jews all reach the promised land but fail to achieve there a more just society, they’re still exile. I guess he didn’t know how much pride re: the Zionist dream a USD credit card could bring. You know, imported hummus: $5. Israeli and US flags lapel pin: $0.50. Weeklong Israel solidarity trip paid for with solidarity Visa points, soothing away Zionist guilt: priceless.