Archive for January, 2012

Putting Israel first

There is a huge debate going on at the moment in the blogosphere about the term “Israel Firster”, which it turns out was made popular by neo-Nazis and spread through the antisemite network before making it into mainstream discourse. From what I gather, the whole debate started when Ben Smith wrote in Politico about the controversy in the Democrat party surrounding the Centre for American Progress (CAP). CAP is a think tank with close ties to Obama and a marked antipathy towards Israel (emphasis added):

Israel rift roils Democratic ranks – Ben Smith –

The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs.

… Another recent column on the CAP website, one of several to prompt behind-the-scenes outrage from the powerful pro-Israel group AIPAC, featured Eric Alterman accusing AIPAC of campaigning for war in Iran, which Alterman described as its “big prize.”

Over at Media Matters, Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer turned apostate, labels American Israel hawks “Israel-firsters” and recently blasted Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, for pushing a sanctions on Iranian civilian aviation that would be “the most ugly expression yet of this country’s almost bizarre obsession with punishing Iran, its people along with its government.”

The debate that I have been following closely began when Salon writer Glenn Greenwald tried to elicit from Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg a confession that he (Goldberg) swore to put Israel first when he joined the Israeli Defence Forces. Goldberg’s response was an understandable “I don’t think I did that but so what if I did? It was 25 years ago”.  Unperturbed, Greenwald still attacked Goldberg for his alleged victimisation of the poor guy, who keeps being “silenced” by people who don’t like his opinions.

The predictable aftermath of the anti-CAP smear –

Jeffrey Goldberg, who plants himself in the middle of every one of these orgies of anti-Semitism accusations, trotted out every trite accusatory line from the tired neocon playbook to attack me explicitly as an Israel-hater and, he strongly implied, as an anti-Semite (none of these accusations are accompanied by a single word I’ve said or even a link to anything I’ve written).

… As I said, these attacks are as boring and clichéd as they are predictable: every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel and opposes these neocon smear campaigns is automatically subjected to them. Israel-hater. Anti-Semite. Self-hating Jew. Etc. etc. I’m boring myself even summarizing it.

That Greenwald even wrote this is very revealing of his character. Goldberg is not widely liked amongst the more right-leaning of Israel’s supporters. For instance, here’s him writing to the Israeli PM, advocating for a withdrawal from the West Bank and calling Avigdor Lieberman an “international embarrassment”, hardly the orthodox pro-Israel line:

An Idea for Bibi – Jeffrey Goldberg – International – The Atlantic.

… Yes, risking your coalition means you would have to induce Tsipi Livni’s opposition Kadima party into the government, but now seems as good a moment as any. At the very least, you’ll gain a foreign minister who isn’t an international embarrassment. And you might convince at least a few settlers — those outside the security fence, especially — that it would be best for them to move back to Israel and reinvigorate Zionism.

It is hard to see how Goldberg could possibly wage a “smear campaign” against “every person who deviates from orthodoxy on Israel” when he himself deviates from said orthodoxy and is not generally one to self-deprecate.

The irony of Greenwald automatically labelling people “neocons” for not agreeing with his anti-Zionist orthodoxy while at the same time claiming that anyone who disagrees with the pro-Israel orthodoxy is automatically labelled “antisemitic” is apparently lost on Greenwald, but not on Spencer Ackerman.

A Progressive Journalist Calls Out Left-Wing Writers Who Use Anti-Semitic Tropes – Tablet Magazine.

If what Rosenberg and the others on the left want is a debate—by which I understand them to mean a debate about the wisdom of a war with Iran, and about the proper role of the U.S.-Israel relationship—great. The left, I think, will win that debate on the merits, because it recognizes that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish democracy living in peace beside a free Palestine, an assertive United States has to pressure a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran.

But that debate will be shut down and sidetracked by using a term that Charles Lindbergh or Pat Buchanan would be comfortable using. I can’t co-sign that. The attempt to kosherize “Israel Firster” is an ugly rationalization.

As Goldberg notes, the truly concerning point about the “Israel First” moniker is explained by Adam Kirsch in Tablet. Kirsch points out that the discourse surrounding supporters of Israel has changed over the past few years, largely thanks to the much-criticised The Israel Lobby by Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer. While Walt and Mearsheimer did not create the idea of a “pro-Israel Lobby” controlling US foreign policy, they definitely introduced it into the popular lexicon, giving a new way for antisemites and their sympathisers to speak of the age-old Jewish conspiracy in a slightly less transparent way than pointing at the ZOG (Zionist-Occupied Government).

Walt and Mearsheimer’s ‘The Israel Lobby’ Is—for Better or Worse—an Intellectual Landmark – Tablet Magazine.

But if The Israel Lobby has not changed American politics, it has had an insidious effect on the way people talk and think about Israel, and about the whole question of Jewish power. The first time I had this suspicion was when reading, of all things, a biography of H.G. Wells. In H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, published in the U.K. in 2010, Michael Sherborne describes how Wells’ contempt for Nazism went along with a dislike for Judaism and Zionism, which he voiced in deliberately offensive terms even as Nazi persecution of Jews reached its peak. “To take on simultaneously the Nazis … and the Jewish lobby may have been foolhardy,” Sherborne writes apropos of Wells in 1938.

There’s no way to prove that Sherborne’s “Jewish lobby” is the intellectual descendant of Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Israel lobby,” but the inference seems like a strong one. Wells, the term suggests, was not attacking Jews, a group that in the Europe of the 1930s was conspicuous for its absolute powerlessness in the face of the evolving Nazi genocide. Instead, he was bravely standing up to a powerful “lobby,” an organization designed to punish critics of the Jews, and whose influence was on a par somehow with that of the Nazis.

What is disturbing in the Sherborne example is the way Walt and Mearsheimer’s conception of Jewish power is projected into a historical moment when it could not have been less accurate. In France during the Dreyfus Affair, it was common for anti-Semites and anti-Dreyfusards to speak of a Jewish syndicate that secretly ruled the country. Now, in the 21st century, it has once again become possible to speak of a Jewish “lobby” that it would be foolish to cross. One of the central premises of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is that it takes unusual courage to oppose the Jews, since they use their power to ruthlessly suppress dissent in both the political world and the media. Walt and Mearsheimer place themselves on the side of the angels when they attack the Israel lobby’s “objectionable tactics, such as attempting to silence or smear anyone who challenges the lobby’s role or criticizes Israel’s actions.”

The problem with Walt and Mearsheimer is not that they are prima facie antisemitic, it’s that their theories come so close to antisemitism that genuine antisemites can use the cover of The Israel Lobby to mask their opinions. They provided a new platform for ancient conspiracies about Jews manipulating world affairs. For example, George Orwell once cited a common trope in British society in the 1940s that WWII was a “Jewish war” and Britain was only fighting it because of the Jewish Brits. This bears striking parallels to the Walt and Mearsheimer trope that the so-called “Israel Lobby” was responsible for America invading Iraq – something that was never an Israeli policy and is of questionable benefit to Israel in the first place. It also provides a way to begin questioning American Jewish loyalties to their country of residence.

For example, many of these accusatory articles accuse Haim Saban of being an “Israel Firster”, where he is painted as an American Jew who unwaveringly supports Israel and openly announces that Israel is his number one issue (for example, see Andrew Sullivan here), ignoring the fact that Saban is staunchly pro-Democrat and that he was raised in Israel and only emigrated to the US in his 20s.

There is undoubtedly a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism and it is important to bear this in mind. One of the easiest ways to tell whether something is genuinely antisemitic is to replace the word “Israel” or “Zionist” with the word “Jew” and see if it brings to mind any ugly stereotypes. That the “Israel Lobby” is increasingly becoming the “Jewish Lobby” should come as little surprise; it may be only a matter of time until “Jew First” becomes an acceptable epithet.

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What is wrong with Israel #123413492345789342789

I know I’ve been doing a lot of these recently, but not a day goes by that I don’t read another article that makes me bang my head against the wall and just concede that we failed the whole “Israel” experiment because of ineptitude. Today, there were three:

1. Incentivising settlements

The government is planning to give new incentives to help grow 70 settlements over the Green Line. Sure, it is part of a broader plan to resolve housing issues and yes, it has not yet been given final approval and could still be revoked, but this is still a horrible policy. It is completely the opposite of what the government should be doing (i.e. introducing disincentives for moving to settlements). It is an unnecessary provocation and achieves no positive result at all aside from pandering to a minority of voters who do reliably vote for parties in the government. (Emphasis added).

70 W. Bank settlements on nationa… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics.

Around 70 West Bank settlements were on the list of communities eligible for housing and development grants that the cabinet approved on Sunday.

… It was difficult to change the list for political reasons, the official said. “But it is clear that we are aware of the sensitivities when discussing communities over the Green Line,” the official added … Still, in its notice to the press, the Prime Minister’s Office did not mention limitations to the housing incentives, which include money for development costs of up to NIS 150,000 for agricultural communities and NIS 107,000 for cities. Supplementary housing loans of NIS 100,000 are also available.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, “The decision is designed to encourage positive migration to the communities and to assist in finding solutions to ease the housing situation. The decision will also contribute to economically strengthening these communities.”

2. Fighting a cultural war between ministries

As Jeremy Ruden has identified, the Interior Ministry and the Housing Ministry are controlled by the ultra-orthodox Shas party and are giving benefits to the Haredi community. The Communication ministry is controlled by secular Likkud and is making life more difficult for Haredim. The result? A horribly run country.

Falsely-based economics – JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

The first was the controversial proposal put forth by Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Atias from the Orthodox Shas party. The government has authorized the construction of about 5,000 housing units across the country which will be made available at a discount of NIS 200,000 for those who meet certain criteria.

… The benefit is awarded based on a point system which assigns weight to various qualifications. While IDF service is a factor, the number of years a person has been married is more decisive. For example, a 33-year-old religious person who never served in the army and does not work but has been married for 10 years would get considerably more points than a secular person of the same age who served, holds a job but has only been married for four years.

… But there is a flip-side to that coin. The Communication Ministry, under Moshe Kahlon from the Likud, is pushing for a directive which would have a negative impact on Internet Service Providers (ISP) which target or are owned by members of the religious community.

The Communication Ministry is proposing that in order for a company to be granted a license to be an ISP, it must provide manned technical support 24 hours a day, every day of the year, with the exception of Yom Kippur. ISPs serving the Orthodox communities are calling foul, and rightfully so. These companies argue that if they are forced to comply with such a regulation, they will lose their Shabbat-observant customers.

3. Our national identity is: the Holocaust

Merav Michaeli this time, on a recent poll which found that there is more or less a consensus amongst Israelis that remembering the Holocaust is important, whereas they disagree on things like belonging to the Jewish People, remembering Shabbat and living in Israel. In other words, the Shoah stands head and shoulders above Zionism, religion and culture as the thing that keeps the nation together. This is not to say that remembering the Shoah is unimportant, but it is very negative for it to form the basis of the identity of the entire nation.

I don’t agree with all of Michaeli’s pseudo-psychological analysis of Israeli identity, but she makes some very good points (emphasis added):

Our never-ending Holocaust – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

The survivors themselves have never been treated right. Just yesterday it was reported, once again, that half of Israel’s Holocaust survivors are dependent on welfare stipends and that the government has once again reduced its support of them.

At the same time, the “Hitlers” are always there: Just a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said for the nth time that there is no shortage of those who want to exterminate us completely. In other words, there is no lack of reasons to continue to reinforce the fear of the Holocaust – which, according to his father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, has never ended.

So it is that we don’t have any rivals, adversaries or even enemies. Only Hitlers. This is how the Holocaust is taught in school, this how it is that Israeli students are taken to visit death camps – and how it came to be that, as Haaretz reported on Friday, just 2 percent of Israeli youth feel committed to democratic principles after studying the Holocaust and 2.5 percent identify with the suffering of other persecuted nations, but 12 percent feel committed to “significant” service in the Israel Defense Forces.

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90s music, sexual frustration and the case for SOPA

Sitting on a Saturday morning flicking through different sites on my iPad, I stumbled across a longform article by music writer Steven Hyden on the rise to fame of KoRn and Limp Bizkit in 1998. Hyden was writing about how he, as a product of the early 90s grunge phenomenon, could never relate to the “nu-metal” that captured the hormone driven angst and “fuck you, mom!” attitude of the generation of pale, skinny, sexually frustrated middle-class males who, like me, hit the 13 mark somewhere around the turn of the millenium.

I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry. This post is not going to be a nostalgia trip to a spottier, angrier MK. As it turns out, the article was the ninth of a ten-part series chronicling the rise and fall of ’90s “alt-rock” through Hyden’s eyes, himself having turned 13 in 1990 as Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit was about to jam itself into the heads of the skinny, pale, angst-ridden generation before mine.

I want to highlight one passage, about hearing grunge on the radio for the first time, which particularly struck me.

Part 1: 1990: “Once upon a time, I could love you” | Music | Whatever Happened To Alternative Nation? | The A.V. Club.

It’s hard to convey today how revelatory it was hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” come out of your parents’ car stereo for the first time, but this was a bona-fide, according-to-Hoyle, head-slapping pop-culture surprise of the highest order. By the time I started 7th grade, I had already absorbed enough bad TV and cut-rate pop music to get a sense that culture unfolded in a predictable series of fads and trends; nothing ever came along to upset the applecart. But Nirvana clearly was not part of that. It didn’t matter that the band was on a major label; that was just underground-rock semantics and I didn’t speak that language yet. These guys were not supposed to be here, on MTV, sandwiched between Jane Child and Lisa Stanfield videos at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. Nirvana finding you was like being sucked into a whole new reality tucked inside the simpler, grayer world you’d always known. All of a sudden it was just there. If something this incredible could exist in the world right under your nose until it streaked in seemingly out of nowhere and smacked you repeatedly across the face, what in the hell else was out there?

Why is this relevant? as Hyden points out, this happened to him pre-internets. These days, there are no pop-culture surprises. There are, of course, still skinny white dudes singing about that bitch girlfriend who broke up with them for NO REASON when they are such NICE GUYS and instead she decides to date that ASSHOLE from English class who thinks he’s SO cool – there will always be a market of similarly hopeless 13-year-olds eating that kind of thing up. Just as I was leaving horrible “singing”, and even worse “rapping”, over amelodic guitar riffs behind me, a generation of Blink-182 wannabes had started making what would result in Fallout Boy’s ascendency several years later (although, naturally, my generation did it better).

That said, Hyden makes a valid point regarding the way these kinds of phenomena used to happen versus now:

 I honestly wonder if the rise of grunge and alternative rock in the early ’90s will be the last time that a musical movement has that kind of impact on youth culture. With the Internet, we know about every promising band seemingly from the time it records its first demos. By the time the album comes out, the backlash has already kicked in. Now the challenge is to not be informed; surprising people has gone the way of putting current events on newsprint. It’s almost like we don’t want to be surprised anymore, because that means we’re somehow out-of-the-loop, or not savvy enough to be there first, which seems to be of the utmost importance when it comes to music these days.

Going on from there to read about the albums that defined rock in the ’90s made me reflect on the ’00s, which was the decade in which I “came of age” and should be full of the music that defined my generation. To help fuel my train of thought, I looked at the top 10 albums of the ’90s and of the ’00s from both old media and new media – Rolling Stone magazine and seminal music blog Pitchfork. The lists are included below.

Apart from spurring me to listen to that My Bloody Valentine album again to try and get into it again even though I’ve never really “got” it, there are a few things that I took away from these lists. One is that Pitchfork really are wankers. More importantly though, the ’00s lists are not very impressive. The bands of my generation are not going to be revered by generations to come, a lot of them have already been forgotten. If you try to tell me that Fred Durst doing George Michael comes close to Smells Like Teen Spirit your credulity will not be at an all-time high.

Also, the vast majority of the best albums of the last decade were made in its first two years.  The only album that Pitchfork could come up with from the second half of the decade is by Panda Bear, who most people outside certain circles would not listen to. Similarly, Rolling Stone opted for the album by MIA, i.e. the one album that has the one song that is carrying her entire career, and a Bob Dylan album that probably wouldn’t make a list of the top 10 Bob Dylan albums.

There is always the argument that the album is dying as a medium and I should be looking at singles, so I did, and it looked a little better, but not by much. The first few years of the decade are still overwhelmingly the ones that produced the best music – and that’s when KoRn and Slipknot were at their peak … yeesh.

I appreciate that this is hardly a scientific study (in fact I have an idea of how to do this with statistical accuracy, but who could be bothered?), but I do really feel like the music industry has noticeably declined in the last few years. One thing that has spread with the internet is a lie: “music is free”. Music is not, and should not be, free.

Yes, the distribution model has shifted from albums to singles because of the way music is now shared, but the plummeting sales have a very real impact on artists. A quality track doesn’t just come from nowhere – it is one out of a lot of tracks that the artist writes, it then receives creative input from other artists, a producer and other individuals before you hear it. Each track requires hundreds of hours in writing, finessing and recording, never mind marketing and distributing. All of this costs a lot of money.

Plus, the band needs to be making music to begin with. If there is a guarantee of no income, there will be less bands. The argument that they can make money from touring and selling merchandise does not hold up when you have a look at how much money small bands actually make from tours and merch sales.

This is why, for all its flaws, SOPA (or something like it) is desperately needed. People should not be forced to give their work away for free and when they are, it will never be as good. It’s quite simple really: if no one is willing to pay for good music, no one will make any. People stopped buying albums and there have not been any great albums since, songs will go the same way. I am not defending the out-of-touch and overly litigious music industry at all, there definitely needs to be a new distribution model, but there is no reason why the owners of Megaupload and Piratebay should become multi-millionaires by giving away other peoples’ work for free. Sure it seems great that you no longer have to pay anything to get that album you want, but if everyone keeps doing that there won’t be any more albums you want. That should be a sad thought – and come on, you can spare the $15.

Rolling Stone‘s top 10 albums of the ’90s:

10. Pavement, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ (1994)
9. Beck, ‘Odelay’ (1996)
8. The Notorious B.I.G., ‘Ready to Die’ (1994)
7. Nirvana, ‘In Utero’ (1993)
6. Pearl Jam, ‘Ten’ (1991)
5. Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ (1998)
4. U2, ‘Achtung Baby’ (1991)
3. Radiohead, ‘OK Computer’ (1997)
2. Dr. Dre, ‘The Chronic’ (1992)
1. Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

And of the ’00s:

10. Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’ (2004)
9. M.I.A., ‘Kala’ (2007)
8. Bob Dylan, ‘Modern Times’ (2006)
7. Eminem, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ (2000)
6. Arcade Fire, ‘Funeral’ (2004)
5. The White Stripes, ‘Elephant’ (2003)
4. Jay-Z, ‘The Blueprint’ (2001)
3. Wilco, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ (2001)
2. The Strokes, ‘Is This It’ (2001)
1. Radiohead, ‘Kid A’ (2000)

Pitchfork’s top 10 albums of the ’90s:

10. Guided by Voices, ‘Bee Thousand’ (1994)
9.  Bonnie “Prince” Billy, ‘I See a Darkness’ (1999)
8. Pavement, ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ (1994)
7. DJ Shadow, ‘…Endtroducing’ (1996)
6. Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’ (1991)
5. Pavement, ‘Slanted & Enchanted’ (1992)
4. Neutral Milk Hotel, ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ (1998)
3. The Flaming Lips, ‘The Soft Bulletin’ (1999)
2. My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’ (1991)
1. Radiohead, ‘OK Computer’ (1997)

And of the ’00s:

10. The Avalanches, ‘Since I Left You’ (2000)
9. Panda Bear, ‘Person Pitch’ (2007)
8. Sigur Rós, ‘Ágætis Byrjun’ (2000)
7. The Strokes, ‘Is This It’ (2001)
6. Modest Mouse, ‘The Moon & Antarctica’ (2000)
5. Jay-Z, ‘The Blueprint’ (2001)
4. Wilco, ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ (2002)
3. Daft Punk, ‘Discovery’ (2001)
2. Arcade Fire, ‘Funeral’ (2004)
3. Radiohead, ‘Kid A’ (2000)

Rolling Stone’s top 10 songs of the ’00s (there was no one for the ’90s):

10. Eminem featuring Dido, “Stan” (2000)
9. U2, “Beautiful Day” (2001)
8. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab” (2007)
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps” (2004)
6. White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army” (2003)
5. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (2008)
4. Outkast, “Hey Ya!” (2003)
3. Beyoncé Knowles featuring Jay-Z, “Crazy In Love” (2003)
2. Jay-Z, “99 Problems” (2004)
1. Gnarls Barkely, “Crazy” (2006)

Pitchfork’s top 10 tracks of the ’90s:

10. Weezer, “Say It Ain’t So” (1994)
9. Beck, “Loser” (1993)
8. Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody?” (1998)
7. Neutral Milk Hotel, “Holland, 1945” (1998)
6. My Bloody Valentine, “Only Shallow” (1991)
5. Wu-Tang Clan, “Protect Ya Neck” (1993)
4. Radiohead, “Paranoid Android” (1997)
3. Dr. Dre [ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg], “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” (1992)
2. Pulp, “Common People” (1995)
1. Pavement, “Gold Soundz” (1994)

And of the ’00s:

10. Arcade Fire, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” (2004)
9. Animal Collective, “My Girls” (2009)
8. Radiohead, “Idioteque” (2000)
7. Missy Elliott, “Get Ur Freak On” (2001)
6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps” (2003)
5. Daft Punk, “One More Time” (2000)
4. Beyoncé [ft. Jay-Z], “Crazy in Love” (2003)
3. M.I.A. [ft. Bun B and Rich Boy], “Paper Planes (Diplo Remix)” (2003)
2. LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends” (2007)
1. OutKast, “B.O.B.” (2000)

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Beit Shemesh is now on par with Saudi Arabia and Iran

It’s hard to use any soft or diplomatic language to describe the continuing gender apartheid issue in Israel, so won’t even bother. This is a vile perversion of Judaism, it’s possibly the most disgusting and shameful thing that I have seen done in the name of my people and the fact that it seems to be continuing, and even spreading, causes me a huge amount of despair.

A couple of things happened this week to make me feel like this. One was another attack in Beit Shemesh, this time a woman who was apparently “immodestly dressed” was chased, har her tires slashed and her car windows smashed in, was covered in bleach, had a rock thrown at her head and was possibly about to be set on fire before the police and her combat-soldier brother showed up. But even this didn’t affect me quite as much as the other story…

Woman in Beit Shemesh attacked by ultra-Orthodox extremists – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

A crowd of ultra-Orthodox men jumped on 27-year-old Natali Mashiah’s car in the Haredi Ramat Beit Shemet Bet neighborhood, she said. Members of the crowd smashed her car windows and punctured her four tires before spilling bleach on the inside of her car, said the Beit Shemesh resident, adding that she believed the men were going to set her on fire. As she fled the car, she said she was hit on the head by a rock thrown from very close range.

Pretty terrible, right? So what was worse? Well, remember the Fogels? That family of settlers who were massacred in their homes by the young gentlemen who figured that stabbing a baby in its crib is a guaranteed ticket to heaven?

See, mainstream Modern Orthodox yeshiva Machon Meir, in a weekly parasha bulletin called B’Ahava Uv’Emunah (In Love and Faith) distributed widely to Modern Orthodox (not Haredi/ultra-orthodox!) synagogues across Israel, had a memorial event for the Fogel family and because of their policy of not showing women in photos, they blurred-out the Fogel mother in the advertisement.

And that’s not even the worst part! After receiving a lot of criticism for the photo, here was Machon Meir’s apology (emphasis mine):

The bulletin ‘In love and faith’ is a biblical bulletin that is distributed and read in synagogues. For this reason, the bulletin’s policy is to refrain from publishing pictures of women. The publishing of the advertisement in this way was an error and did not mean to cause any harm. The Institute apologized to the family and the apology was accepted by the family with complete understanding.

So they are not apologising for blurring her and not apologising for the policy of not publishing pictures of women in a publication because it is circulated in synagogues, the apology is for having run the advertisement at all. I am normally quite good at writing down my thoughts, but I actually do not have any words to express my disgust with this.

Allison Kaplan Sommer has provided some responses from various rabbis in her Forward blog. Thankfully, most expressed disapproval, although there was one prominent rabbi who said that blurring her was “respecting her” and the publication had been looking after her “honour”. One of them made this point, which I particularly agree with:

What in the world is mainstream Orthodox Judaism coming to when the face of a woman (a murder victim, for G-d’s sake!) is blurred out so as to not stir the base urges of religious men who might find her visage too erotic to withstand?! And how ironic is it that the name of the flyer is B’Ahava U’B’emunah’ (In Love and in Belief), when by all indications, those who pubish it seem to lack both?!

A Halachic refutation of the whole gender apartheid movement has been given by Rabbi Dov Linzer in the New York Times.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Modesty Fight –

What is behind these deeply disturbing events? We are told that they arise from a religious concern about modesty, that women must be covered and sequestered so that men do not have improper sexual thoughts. It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies.

This is not a problem unique to Judaism. But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.

Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.

As he points out, the whole premise that women need to cover up so that men don’t get too excited is equivalent to the rapist’s defence that “she was asking for it”. It is a man’s job to control whatever urges he may have, it is definitely not a woman’s job to keep herself away from men so as to avoid any possibility of causing them to have “unpure thoughts”. Yet that exact attitude permeates Orthodox Judaism and seems to be growing stronger.

More on this later, but I want to say that I am typing this at 11:20pm on a Friday night (i.e. well and truly into Shabbat) and I went out last week and decided not to ask for no bacon on my burger. These are small things, but I would not have done them a month ago. I’m totally disgusted at the religious establishment right now and that’s driven me personally away from religion for the moment. To my knowledge, none of the orthodox establishment in Australia spoke out against either of those stories; there was one article in the AJN this week that even mentioned the issue and it condemned the violence but defended segregated buses. For shame.

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America isn’t going anywhere fast

In an answer to all of the people who keep talking about the impending collapse of the US, at least as we know it, the Brookings Institute’s Robert Kagan has written a long essay on why the US is still number one and will be for quite some time.

Not Fade Away: Against the Myth of American Decline – Brookings Institution.

With this broad perception of decline as the backdrop, every failure of the United States to get its way in the world tends to reinforce the impression. Arabs and Israelis refuse to make peace, despite American entreaties. Iran and North Korea defy American demands that they cease their nuclear weapons programs. China refuses to let its currency rise. Ferment in the Arab world spins out of America’s control. Every day, it seems, brings more evidence that the time has passed when the United States could lead the world and get others to do its bidding.

Powerful as this sense of decline may be, however, it deserves a more rigorous examination. Measuring changes in a nation’s relative power is a tricky business, but there are some basic indicators: the size and the influence of its economy relative to that of other powers; the magnitude of military power compared with that of potential adversaries; the degree of political influence it wields in the international system—all of which make up what the Chinese call “comprehensive national power.” And there is the matter of time. Judgments based on only a few years’ evidence are problematic. A great power’s decline is the product of fundamental changes in the international distribution of various forms of power that usually occur over longer stretches of time.

Kagan’s argument is that despite current hyperbole, the US has been through comparatively worse times and bounced back, and there is no current threat to US hegemony economically or militarily. It is worth reading the whole piece, where he points out how there have been economic crises in the past – such as the 1930s and the 1970s – in which every pundit became a doomsayer but all predictions of American decline turned out to be completely wrong. America still earns 1/4 of the world’s GDP and it is still four times richer than China per capita.

 In economic terms, and even despite the current years of recession and slow growth, America’s position in the world has not changed. Its share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady, not only over the past decade but over the past four decades. In 1969, the United States produced roughly a quarter of the world’s economic output. Today it still produces roughly a quarter, and it remains not only the largest but also the richest economy in the world. People are rightly mesmerized by the rise of China, India, and other Asian nations whose share of the global economy has been climbing steadily, but this has so far come almost entirely at the expense of Europe and Japan, which have had a declining share of the global economy.

Optimists about China’s development predict that it will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world sometime in the next two decades. This could mean that the United States will face an increasing challenge to its economic position in the future. But the sheer size of an economy is not by itself a good measure of overall power within the international system. If it were, then early nineteenth-century China, with what was then the world’s largest economy, would have been the predominant power instead of the prostrate victim of smaller European nations. Even if China does reach this pinnacle again—and Chinese leaders face significant obstacles to sustaining the country’s growth indefinitely—it will still remain far behind both the United States and Europe in terms of per capita GDP.

Another point he makes is that everyone seems to be looking at US history through rose coloured lenses – in actual fact, America has always had many successes in foreign policy, but even more failures. As one example, for all of their problems, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not nearly as costly as Vietnam.

If the United States is not suffering decline in these basic measures of power, isn’t it true that its influence has diminished, that it is having a harder time getting its way in the world? The almost universal assumption is that the United States has indeed lost influence. Whatever the explanation may be—American decline, the “rise of the rest,” the apparent failure of the American capitalist model, the dysfunctional nature of American politics, the increasing complexity of the international system—it is broadly accepted that the United States can no longer shape the world to suit its interests and ideals as it once did. Every day seems to bring more proof, as things happen in the world that seem both contrary to American interests and beyond American control.

And of course it is true that the United States is not able to get what it wants much of the time. But then it never could. Much of today’s impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic fallacy: that there was once a time when the United States could shape the whole world to suit its desires, and could get other nations to do what it wanted them to do, and, as the political scientist Stephen M. Walt put it, “manage the politics, economics and security arrangements for nearly the entire globe.”

If we are to gauge America’s relative position today, it is important to recognize that this image of the past is an illusion. There never was such a time. We tend to think back on the early years of the Cold War as a moment of complete American global dominance. They were nothing of the sort. The United States did accomplish extraordinary things in that era: the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, the United Nations, and the Bretton Woods economic system all shaped the world we know today. Yet for every great achievement in the early Cold War, there was at least one equally monumental setback.

On military superiority, Walter Russell Mead gave a great rundown a while ago in a post responding to Muammar Gaddafi’s death. He made one thing very clear: not only is America not threatened militarily by anyone, no country could even come close to the US in any combat situation. Remember that there is a huge difference between asymmetrical warfare fought by insurgents trying to drive the US out of a country that Americans don’t even want to be in and a skirmish with China over a Pacific oil field.

Farewell To The Great Loon | Via Meadia.

Additionally, the balance of military power has been steadily shifting in favor of the United States.  This runs counter to all the loose talk about inevitable, inexorable US decline: a close look at the facts on the ground suggests that the US has considerably more power to impose its agenda on most “third world” countries than it did twenty years ago.  This is partly because such countries can no longer realistically claim the protection of a rival superpower, but it is also because the American military is a much more formidable machine than it used to be.  Our weapons are much smarter and much more devastatingly effective, and our professional military has blossomed into the most effective force in the history of the human race.  We can still be made to take casualties in asymmetrical combat situations, and no amount of military power can overcome the absence of strategy, but between the battlefield advantages our high tech weapons and new methods of training and combat planning have given us, the revolution in force projection, and the range of cultural, diplomatic, humanitarian and developmental capacities our military has acquired in the last twenty years, America’s unprecedented military power has changed the way the world works.

This power is not a magic omnipotence pill; there are many things we cannot do.  But the days when a third world tyrant could rely on conventional weapons to deter American intervention are gone.  The US military swatted Saddam’s army, rated as one of the world’s better forces, like so many flies in the first Gulf War, and by the time of the second our conventional superiority was even greater.  The Libyan intervention was done with the back of our hand, so to speak; President Obama and his top commanders did not interrupt their efforts in the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia to provide the backup for NATO’s attacks.

This power does not work as well in asymmetrical settings, but in general we are back to the kind of military superiority that European forces enjoyed over non-European rulers in Victorian times.  Reinforcing that power is the fact that no other great power has the force projection capacities, or even the military resources overall, to come to the aid of a Libya or a Saddam.  Drone strike diplomacy is not all that different from gunboat diplomacy, and until and unless the military balance changes, the US is going to have more options for dealing with “bad guys” than we have had for many years.

As for the geostrategic make-up of the Asia-Pacific region in the “Asian Century”, America has that down-pat as well. Mead again, this time on a new deal going through as you read this:

The Great Game: Philippine Edition | Via Meadia.

The Obama Administration may soon come to an agreement with Philippines to station U.S. troops or naval vessels on its territory. The talks are still in the early stages, but officials from both countries have said they are inclined to strike a deal within the next few months.

An agreement with Manila would come close on the heels of two other upcoming moves: American Marines soon to be stationed in Australia and several U.S. warships moving to Changi Naval Base in Singapore.

Asian nations are learning that the United States is prepared to offer a real balance against China’s new assertiveness in the region. In the Philippine case, this dovetails nicely with the country’s interests—especially with respect to the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, geographically closer to the Philippines than China. Manila has occasionally stationed troops on the islands, and it operates a number of offshore oil fields in waters claimed by China. Having American ships docked in its ports, if not also American boots on Philippine soil, will no doubt be a confidence booster for Manila in these and other disputes.

The truth is that the new emerging powers in the world are not even close to threatening US hegemony. In fact, most of their rise is coming at Europe’s expense. It may upset some of you hardcore third worldists out there who seem to believe that America is an evil influence on the world, but you better face facts: Uncle Sam is still on top.

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Occupy against occupation’s awkward activist snub


“Oh yeah… that anti-AIPAC thing… uhh… I have to see my… uhh… wife’s family. Yeah, that’s it… big reunion thing… on the other side of the country… sorry about that.”

Will Obama speak at AIPAC? | The Cable.

One can safely assume no administration officials will be speaking at the Occupy AIPAC rally, being organized by Code Pink, which is set to bring together lots of anti-AIPAC activists to Washington in a protest right across the street from the AIPAC conference.

According to their website, one of the speakers at that event will be Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council. Contacted by The Cable, Parsi said, “I’m not speaking there.”

Code Pink spokesperson Rae Abileah told The Cable that Parsi committed to speak at the event weeks ago but then cancelled last week, shortly after Code Pink announced his participation.

“Trita called us and said he forgot he had to attend his wife’s family reunion on the West Coast that day, but he was really sorry and would do his best to help us find a replacement speaker,” said Abileah.

We asked Parsi to confirm that but he didn’t respond.

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Having your cake and eating it too on United Jerusalem

Nathan Diament from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America writes on uniting Jerusalem in the Atlantic. Some of the arguments that he uses (which are by no means his original material) really tend to bother me; the more religiously motivated Jews have a way of making extremely disingenuous attempts to sound like they are reasoning objectively, when they are quite transparently creating these arguments after-the-fact as a way to justify their ideological beliefs.

The Case for a United Jerusalem – Nathan Diament – International – The Atlantic.

The reality, however, is that Jerusalem today is a demographically intertwined city. To be sure, there are neighborhoods, particularly east of the security barrier, where Jews seldom venture. But modern-day Jerusalem is far more an interwoven checkerboard of Jewish and Palestinian enclaves. The Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa, for example, lies between the Jewish neighborhoods of Talpiot and Gilo, while the Arab neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah lies between the Old City and the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill. Separating these neighborhoods between two countries would create an unwieldy and unsustainable border.

What he is saying has some truth to it, but only if you are trying to draw a line that cuts every Jewish neighbourhood from every Arab neighbourhood. If there is some wiggle room so that maybe some Arab neighbourhoods are absorbed into Israel and others are handed-over, then there is no longer such an issue with dividing the city. After all, Diament is pretty adamant that keeping the Arabs in Jerusalem is a good thing (look at this map to see what I mean, although it has been carefully designed to make the Israelis look bad so don’t read too much into it). Also, it’s not a coincidence that some of the Jewish neighbourhoods cut Arab neighbourhoods off from one another – in many cases, that was why they were placed there.

The other argument that really irks me is the one below (emphasis mine):

One significant reason against dividing Jerusalem is that many of the Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem wish to remain under Israeli sovereignty. Recent polling indicates that, despite the fact that municipal resources and services have not been evenly allocated between Jewish and Arab Jerusalem segments of the city, a plurality of Palestinians residing in eastern sections of Jerusalem would move from Palestinian Jerusalem to Israeli Jerusalem, if given the opportunity, should the city be re-divided.

The hypocrisy in this this argument is unbearable. Diament is not for a second criticising the poor treatment of Arabs in Jerusalem or demanding that they are allocated resources evenly, and yet he is trumpeting the fact that even though we treat them badly, we’re not quite as bad as the alternatives. Now that’s a hasbarah line that can sell!

Israel: sure we treat our Arabs badly, but we’re still slightly better than an Arab dictatorship.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you truly believe in uniting Jerusalem, then start working to unite it. That means reaching out to the Arabs and including them in Israeli society; it means advocating for equal treatment and equal allocation of municipal resources; it means finding money to make up for the years of neglect and bring their infrastructure up to the same standards as the Jewish residents; it even means allowing Arabs to buy land in Jewish areas.

If you aren’t comfortable doing that but you are still adamant that we cannot cede one inch of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, then the reality is you are not arguing for a united Jerusalem, just a Jewish-controlled but segregated one. That is something that I am a little uncomfortable with. Of course, this is in fact what Diament wants. He reveals his true argument near the end of the piece.

Proposals for joint sovereignty, deferred sovereignty, or even divine sovereignty ignore the deep-rooted significance of the holy city. The search for a “split the difference” compromise also ignores the fact that the Old City of Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish people for the past 3000 years and is Judaism’s holiest site, while it is Mecca that plays that role for Muslims. The international community would never expect the Islamic world to cede sovereignty over Mecca; the Jewish people ought to be accorded no less respect with regard to the Old City of Jerusalem.

See, what he does right there is say that our claim over Jerusalem is stronger than their claim because it’s our number one whereas they have their number one already. That’s not quite how religion works. I don’t see many Jews saying “well, I guess the Mearat Ha Machpelah is less important than the Kotel, so we can give them that one and keep the more important one”. You can’t barter over who the site is more holy to, it’s holy for both and that’s pretty much as far as you’ll get.

Plus the Mecca comparison doesn’t hold up. Fortunately for the Muslims, Mecca is not claimed by two other religions. That said, I can definitely see a future where Shiite Muslims start demanding that Sunni Muslims cede control over Mecca and it’s administered by a joint Muslim authority rather than just Saudi Wahabbis.

The point is, Diament does not really want to keep the Arabs in Jerusalem and he doesn’t really want a united city. He doesn’t particularly care whether or not Muslims have access to their holy sites, which are not quite as holy to them as they are to him anyway, or so he says. No, he believes that Jerusalem was given to us by God and that means it should be a Jewish -controlled city. Arabs can live there if they want, but they can’t expect us to make it easy for them, they should just be grateful that they aren’t living in Syria or something like that.

Ironically, there is one point that he was completely right about, only he doesn’t seem to be doing much to change this:

One reason peace in the Middle East has not yet been possible is because most efforts to achieve it have been aspirational but untethered from reality

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