This Tony Auth cartoon has caused a stir in several Philadelphia, Jewish, and on-line circles since it was printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Thursday. The cartoon, which depicts a fence in the shape of a Jewish star dividing Palestinian civilians, has come under fire – as do most on the left about Israel – as not only critical of the Sharon government but anti-Israel, and not only anti-Israel but antisemitic. And, as in most but not all cases when Israel is the topic and antisemitism is charged, the charge doesn’t hold weight.

At the heart of the issue with this cartoon is the symbolic use of the Magen David, the Jewish star. Because Auth uses a religious symbol, the argument goes, the cartoon represents a religious – rather than political – slur, a blood libel. Because the star is employed in connection with a depiction of oppression, the cartoon’s message must be that the religion, and the coreligionists, associated with the star are oppressive. But this argument disregards the appropriation of the Jewish star a century ago for the flag of the State of Israel. The star, which appears in the center of the flag framed above and below by horizontal stripes, is its only recognizable symbol, and appears solo in a range of administrative contexts, as understandably is also a mainstay of pro-Sharon lobbies. So why the Magen David does not belong to the lexicon of acceptable symbols for Auth is seems to me difficult to argue.

This may seem like a belated nitpick, but there’s a larger and more persistent issue here. Whatever one believes about the religious nature of the state, I think intellectual honesty demands a recognition that any self-identified religious state inherently blurs the discourse, insofar as most of us legitimize and call for judgments of states and political actors of a type that we don’t want or legitimate of religions or religious groups. But pundits on both sides can fall prey to a desire to have it both ways. A couple months ago I called a Yale professor active on the Yale-Peace listserve on a seeming inability or willful refusal to distinguish between Jews, Zionists, Likudniks, Israelis, and neoconservatives. But the double standard on the right is more subtle and more ubiquitous: Groups that defend the Israeli government are pro-Jewish and speak for Jews, but when critics of Israel conflate the state and the religion it’s bigotry. It would be gratifying to see more politicians willing to distinguish the Jewish community and Arik Sharon when it comes to commentary they agree with and commentary they don’t.

Katha Pollitt, in an essay on flags after September 11, wrote that symbols are doors and it’s time to walk through them (when I asked her in person what she had meant by that quote, she said she didn’t remember ever writing it). Symbolic politics is inherently potent and inherently fraught. And all cartoons are charicature. As cartoonists go, Auth isn’t a particular favorite of mine, although he has his moments. But Auth’s cartoon has three symbols. The first, as described above, is perhaps the primary symbol of the state. The second, Palestinian civilians, exist by the millions in the territory occupied by that state. And the third, the fence in question, is lengthening even now. The criticism of Auth for using the symbol, and the implication that his symbolism is akin to Nazi propaganda and/or is comparing Israelis to Nazis to Nazis, makes it easy to forget that in this case life preceded art. The actual fence, in fact, looks a lot uglier than portrayed in the cartoon. Auth chose to make a statement – not a particularly new one – about the construction of the fence in the name of the star and its impact on men, women, and children. Debatable? Sure. Bigotry? No.

Disagree? Eidelson@Yale.Edu


After the pursuit of political and military adversaries became a poker game, it was only a matter of time before this

From the AP:

The Pentagon (news – web sites) is setting up a stock-market style system in which investors would bet on terror attacks, assassinations and other events in the Middle East. Defense officials hope to gain intelligence and useful predictions while investors who guessed right would win profits.

Two Democratic senators demanded Monday the project be stopped before investors begin registering this week. “The idea of a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism is ridiculous and it’s grotesque,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.

The Pentagon office overseeing the program, called the Policy Analysis Market, said it was part of a research effort “to investigate the broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks.” It said there would be a re-evaluation before more money was committed.

The market would work this way. Investors would buy and sell futures contracts — essentially a series of predictions about what they believe might happen in the Mideast. Holder of a futures contract that came true would collect the proceeds of investors who put money into the market but predicted wrong.

A graphic on the market’s Web page showed hypothetical futures contracts in which investors could trade on the likelihood that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated or Jordanian King Abdullah II would be overthrown.

Now, would this one be filed under “Infinite Justice” or “Enduring Freedom”?

From the Financial Times:

Seventy-four per cent of Jewish settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be willing to leave their homes in return for compensation from the Israeli government as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday. The poll’s findings contrast with the harsh rhetoric of settler leaders, who have vowed to resist strenuously any attempts to evacuate them. Under the US-backed road map to peace, Israel is supposed to freeze new building construction in the territories occupied since the 1967 war and dismantle unauthorized outposts erected since March 2001.

Ron HaCohen made the point last year that American Jews wanting to help Israeli settlers in the long run would be better off donating money to make up for the heavy financial incentives (only increased under Barak) that push the non-ideological majority of them into the occupied territories (sometimes directly from diaspora, as in the case of the 70 lower class Peruvians who last year were converted as a group to Judaism and shipped into the West Bank), and make it infeasible or impossible for them to leave. This is also the thrust behind Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s “Call to Bring the Settlers Home,” which will collect signatures through this coming Yom Ha’atzmaut. This poll reinforces what has been clear for a long time – that it is, often, not settlers who force the hand of the government (as many on the left suggest), but rather the government that forces the hands of the settlers. Still, this poll, like the one demonstrating that the significant majority of Palestinian refugees would accept a settlement in which they are relocated, if they desire, somewhere else outside of the Green Line, is good news for those seeking an eventual just settlement for both sides.

Israel’s Supreme Court made the just choice and the reasonable decision today in allowing Palestinian Knesset Members Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara to run for reelection at the end of this month, overturning the Central Election Committee’s ruling disqualifying them on the grounds that they’ve challenged the Jewish nature of the state. It upheld the CEC’s decision to allow Baruch Marzel to run, despite his connection to the late Meir Kahane’s outlawed Kach party and his public support for forced “transfer” of Palestinians out of Israel and the territories. That too is reasonable, insofar as democracies around the world trust the voters, rather than a subset of elected politicians, to evaluate whose vision is or is not worthy of their vote. What was disturbing and unconscionable was the CEC’s choice to strip Palestinian citizens of Israel of the chance to vote for Palestinian candidates while suggesting that separating church and state is a greater violation of Israel’s fundamental values than ethnic cleansing. TIbi, Bishara and others now face the challenge of convincing Palestinian voters that their vote still counts and that the system can work – as one Professor noted, the damage has already been done. New Israel Fund President Peter Edelman got it right: “The decision today upholds a bedrock principle that underlies democracy – the right of all citizens to stand for election, the right of minorities to political representation, and the supremacy of the rule of law. At the same time, all who love Israel’s democracy must be concerned that it continues to be necessary to call on the Supreme Court to be the last line of defense for such critical democratic values.” Meanwhile, Sharon’s problems continue to mount…

Here we go again

Another tragic weekend in the occupied territories – Israeli Defense Force soldiers assasinate seven Palestinians, some of them accused murderers, others, in the popular lexicon, “collateral damage,” and another participating in civil disobedience against five months of curfews; Islamic Jihad gunmen spray a communal dining hall in Otniel with automatic gunfire, killing four Israeli settlers. Western “liberal” media portrays the death of Israelis, at the end of a month including the deaths of fifty Palestinians, as an end to a period of “relative calm.” Another win for the extremists on both sides, another loss for too many others.