Posts Tagged politics
A senior public official today announced that over the coming months a large government department will be following more or less the same policy that it has been following for as long as anyone can remember.
“We are proud of our department’s record, and see no reason to change anytime soon,” said the official in the press statement accompanying the department’s quarterly report. “Over the next few months, the people of this country can expect more of the same mediocre services at the same almost-but-not-quite exorbitant prices.”
No party seems to be proposing any real changes to the current policy, however the announcement has sparked the storm of controversy in the political chattersphere that regularly follows these reports.
In response to the announcement, the Opposition’s spokesperson for the portfolio lashed-out at the government, saying that this was yet another example of the “brazen mismanagement” that we have come to expect, and warning that if something does not change soon, the fabric of our society might collapse.
The Minister responsible for the department backed the announcement and refuted the attack from the Opposition. The Minister said that the government has a “commendable record” in this area, and that the Opposition’s complaints were “nothing more than a self-serving political exercise”.
“If they don’t like it, they can come up with a better idea!” the Minister declared. “This is just empty posturing from an Opposition with no real ideas and nothing to do except attack the government.”
The department’s field has seen very little change over the past few decades, yet it has consistently been the subject of much debate amongst public figures. That debate is alive and kicking, as seen when the media’s go-to expert in the field expressed ambivalence about the recent announcement when interviewed on the evening news.
According to the expert, it is positive that the government has not gotten rid of any of the good work that the department is doing, but it is disappointing that the government has not taken the opportunity to take on board the changes that the expert has been recommending for the better part of the last decade.
“I’ve been telling them for years: listen to me,” the expert told Major Karnage, going on to lament that “my last three reports on this issue have been completely ignored, even though the government gave me million of dollars to conduct them.”
That expert’s regular sparring partners took their usual stance against the proposed changes.
“Those reports were rubbish!” said a renowned newspaper columnist, insisting that the “so-called expert” had no idea what the policy was even about.
Many other public officials made such comments as “why are we still talking about this?” and “seriously? That again? Don’t we have better things to look at?”
While no tangible change in policy is likely to eventuate, the issue is expected to fill many a newspaper column-inch over the coming days, as journalists find more and more public figures to give quotes that sound a little controversial when taken out of context.
***UPDATE: turns out this was all a false lead. For my analysis of the real story, click HERE. I’m going to leave this up though, because it was funny while it lasted.
Everyone’s favourite Australian ‘shock jock’ Alan Jones has been widely criticised recently for these comments:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a conspiracy amongst students, left-wing radical students in Boston, and I think we have to think also very seriously here about our own student numbers,” Jones said on Sunrise.
“We’re very keen to have foreign students pay the way of universities in this country without a lot of discernment about who comes in. But I think the fact that we’ve been spared this kind of thing, touch wood, for so long highlights, as I said, the relentless work done by ASIO and all our police organisations.”
For example, one hipster blog had this to say:
Australia’s leading expert in poor taste and bad timing has struck again after talkback radio host Alan Jones suggested that there could be a link between the tragic Boston Marathon bombings and radical left-wing student groups. Speaking on Channel 7’s Sunrise program, Jones was eager to speculate as to who could be behind the blast despite the assertion from US authorities that they were yet to have any suspects. …
Shut up Alan Jones!
But lo and behold, he may have actually been right about this one!
The Boston Police Department has reportedly identified the two suspected bombers as Mike Mulugeta and Sunil Tripathi:
Update 3:00 a.m.: There was a mention on police scanners recently that the suspects in custody are Mike Mulugeta and Sunil Tripathi. The latter is a missing Brown student who was identified on Reddit as a possible suspect earlier this week. However, the chatter is not confirmed.
So who are these two? Well Mulugeta is proving a little elusive, but there are a few photos of Tripathi doing the rounds on social media. This one, for example:
That would be a Che Guevara shirt that he is wearing.
Guevara is not really an icon of Islamist terrorists or of right wing terrorists, so Tripathi does not seem to affiliate with either of the groups widely believed to be behind the bombings.
Who does idolise Guevara?
That’s right: left wing radicals. Just like Alan Jones said.
Who’s laughing now?
Something seemed curious to me, looking at the list of new ministers in Australia’s recent government reshuffle:
The Prime Minister used her sixth ministerial reshuffle to merge the Department of Climate Change with the Department of Industry, creating a new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
Dr Emerson has been appointed Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research – the role relinquished by Mr Bowen – while continuing as Minister for Trade and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy.
Mr Albanese, a Rudd supporter who escaped demotion after last week’s events, has taken on Mr Crean’s former portfolio of regional development and local government, while remaining Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Leader of the House.
Mr Gray, a West Australian with close mining industry links, has been awarded Martin Ferguson’s old resources and energy and tourism portfolios. He also takes Mr Bowen’s vacated small business ministry.
Mr Gray’s special minister of state responsibilities go to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.
Mr Clare, the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, becomes a full cabinet member with his current roles. […]
Mr Albanese will be supported by Victorian MP Catherine King, who has been elevated to the outer ministry as Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories, and as Minister for Road Safety.
Gillard supporter and so-called “faceless man” Don Farrell has been promoted to the ministry as Minister for Science and Research, while fellow backer Sharon Bird becomes Minister for Higher Education and Skills.
Queenslander Jan McLucas steps into Kim Carr’s role as Minister for Human Services following his resignation last week.
Environment Minister Tony Burke becomes Arts Minister in addition to his current responsibilities, taking on Mr Crean’s other portfolio following his sacking last week.
Ms Gillard also appointed a number of parliamentary secretaries to assist ministers with heavy workloads…
I’m not going to even bother getting into the Parl Secs. Let’s have a look at that ministry.
Apparently the departments of Industry and Innovation are different from Small Business. We also have a Department of Higher Education and Skills, and a Department of Science and Research, both of which are different from the new Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
Oh, and apparently that mammoth “Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, etc” portfolio also does not encompass Climate Change, which needs its own separate department as well. Or, for that matter, Resources and Energy.
Then there’s the fact that “Human Services” and “Regional Services” are different — perhaps because regional Australians are not human?
One would think that there is some doubling-up going on between all of these public service departments. Perhaps the government’s failure to deliver a budget surplus, despite record terms of trade, would have something to do with this gargantuan bureaucracy that they have been constructing?
Nah, couldn’t be.
This is getting to me.
1. There is an even left-right split
This seems to be a the conventional wisdom, even amongst Israeli publications that should, and do, know better.
Haaretz: “right-wing to take 61 seats, center-left 59.”
Jerusalem Post: “Final election count: Right bloc 61, Center-Left 59 seats.”
Or in graphic form (which is slightly outdated – before the last seat had been properly allocated):
This is a lie, don’t believe it. The real picture looks like this (although I don’t fully agree even with this one):
Courtesy of Shmuel Rosner.
You see, Israel does not simply have ‘left’ and ‘right’ parties like we are used to in two-party system countries like Australia, the US, the UK etc. Israel has a lot of different factions, none of which the media seem to be aware of. I can only pin this down to lazy journalism and/or media groupthink. Below are a few of the incorrect assumptions that are being made in this calculation.
2. The Arab bloc
For starters, it is useless including the Arab parties in the ‘left’. This is because ‘Arab parties’ is not really what they are, a more accurate description would be the ‘anti-Zionist parties’. A lot of the Zionist parties have Arabs on their tickets, and Chadash – the communist party that is normally counted in the ‘Arab bloc’ – has Jewish candidates. Meanwhile, a lot of the Arab voters in Israel actually vote for Zionist parties because, believe it or not, many of them care about domestic economic and social issues, and aren’t just driven to destroy Israel like Arabs are ‘supposed’ to be.
The point here is that at least Balad and Ta’al, and probably Chadash too – which hold 3, 4, and 4 seats respectively – would never join a governing coalition with anyone from the Zionist left. That means that the ‘left bloc’ could win 71 seats and still not be able to form government, as 11 of those seats would refuse to join the coalition.
3. The right-religious bloc
Supposedly, 61 seats went to the right. The breakdown of these were: Likud-Yisrael Beitenu, 31; Habayit Hayehudi, 12; Shas, 11; Yehudat Hatorah, 7.
Once again, this is by no means a cohesive bloc. It is true that, while there is a very significant ideological difference between the secular-nationalist LYB and the national-religious HH, they are both on the right of politics. The other two, however, are not really. Shas and Yehudat Hatorah represent the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community, the difference between them being that Shas is Sephardi (from Middle Eastern countries) and YH are Ashkenazi (from Eastern Europe).
Both are more accurately described as ‘interest groups’ than ‘right-wing parties’. They are happy to join any coalition so long as their demands are met – which are primarily that they continue be able to study torah instead of having paid work, be exempt from national service, have generous government benefits for having a lot of children, and generally have their lifestyles subsidised by the Israeli taxpayers. In essence, the left could deal with them if they were willing to accept these conditions, which has often been the case in past governments. It is a little dishonest, therefore, to include them in the ‘right’.
4. The centrist bloc
At the moment, there are four parties that are referred to as ‘centrist’: Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s party), 19; Avodah (Labour), 15; Hatnuah (Tzippi Livni’s party), 7; and Kadima, 3. The one party I have yet to mention is Meretz, which is unambiguously on the Zionist far-left and won 6 seats.
Here’s the rub: I do not remember any other point in history where Avodah was referred to as a ‘centrist’ party. In fact, looking at their platform coming into these elections, they would be giving Trotsky a run for his money. Shelley Yachimovich’s plan to save Israel seems to be along the lines of ‘put everything under government control, tax successful businesses, and increase the size of every public service department’. I am fairly sure that would make her ‘left wing’.
Meanwhile, Hatnuah is essentially comprised of former Avodah leaders who left Avodah because they weren’t being chosen as leaders anymore. I think that qualifies as ‘left’ too.
5. Israel’s new ‘centre-left’ sensation
Now that is in contrast to Yesh Atid. As explained by Michal Koplow, Yair Lapid was not running on a leftist platform at all. In fact, his platform was more in line with the traditional Likudniks than anything else – that would be the Likudniks like Dan Meridor and Ruben Rivlin, who were purged in the primaries due to heavy branch-stacking by the settlement movement. Lapid is actually much closer ideologically to Netanyahu than most of the current MKs from Netanyahu’s own party. He has also been running this entire time very openly intending to join a Likud-led coalition once elected. Yesh Atid are a centre-right party.
So what really happened?
I think Yossi Klein-Halevi said this one best:
Yair’s ideological challenge will be to clarify the political center and give coherence to the instincts of a majority of Israelis. That centrist majority seeks a politics that isn’t afraid to acknowledge the complexity of Israel’s dilemmas. These voters agree with the left about the dangers of occupation and with the right about the dangers of a delusional peace. Centrists want a two-state solution and are prepared to make almost any territorial compromise for peace. But they also believe that no concessions, at least for now, will win Israel legitimacy and real peace. Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.
I voted for Yair because, as a centrist Israeli, I have no other political home.
Netanyahu, who accepted a two-state solution in principle and then imposed a 10-month settlement freeze, tried to turn the Likud into a center-right party, more pragmatic than ideological and able to attract voters like me. But the ideological right within the Likud revolted. Today’s Likud appears more hospitable to the far rightist Moshe Feiglin than to centrists like Dan Meridor, denied a safe seat in the Likud primaries.
The Israeli media is speaking relentlessly of an even divide between the left-wing and right-wing blocs. That’s nonsense. Yesh Atid isn’t a left-wing party; half of its voters define themselves as right of center. Instead, the rise of Yesh Atid affirms the vigor of the center. Despite the historic failure of every centrist party—Kadima, the last attempt, virtually disintegrated in this election—centrist Israelis continue to seek a political framework.
I had an interesting experience last week, it happened a couple of times. When arranging something to do with friends, I suggested Monday night, only get the response: ‘you mean Christmas Eve??’
It was interesting because it showed me how everyone else must feel when I say something like that for the many festivals that I have over the course of the year (which is a lot more than non-Orthodox Christians keep). It reversed the roles a little. I wasn’t cognisant of Christmas Eve, you see. As a non-Christian, it really doesn’t mean that much to me.
I am aware of the fact of Christmas Eve, I know that 24 December is Christmas Eve, but I am not aware of it enough to have connected it to Monday night in my mind. I don’t generally plan to mark Christmas Eve with anything in particular – to me, it is just another night of the brief holidays that I have at this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining about the day off work, but I’m kinda complaining about the day off work. I’ll get back to that later.)
It’s not the forgetting Christmas that got to me though, it’s what comes after. You see, it seems as though the Jew forgetting that it’s Christmas Eve serves as a little reminder to everyone that the Jew is different. The tone of conversation changes from there because everyone is aware of that fact. We live in a modern, multicultural society and everyone knows that they should be inclusive. So they try to be. Which is really quite horrible.
Talking about Christmas: NOT offensive. But apologising for talking about Christmas: OFFENSIVE
Suddenly it seems as though everyone needs to apologise for everything that they do on Christmas. My friends start talking about the great ham they are eating or the tree that they decorated, then they catch themselves, turn to me and apologise.
This is not ok. Aside from the fact that they are doing nothing wrong, the reason it is not ok is that it is patronising. It’s a little reminder of the hegemonic status of Christianity compared with my practices. It would never even occur to me as a Jew to apologise to Christians for celebrating any of the Jewish holidays. It’s what I do, they don’t do it, so I need to tell them that [x] date is Simchat Torah and It’s my religious duty to be getting hammered and dancing around in circles carrying a Torah scroll, so I can’t come to the poker night. Or something.
Apologising is what people from the hegemonic culture do to minority cultures to make us feel ‘included’. What it does is exactly the opposite: it is a reminder of status. Think about it this way: if the reason that you were celebrating with your family was not a point of difference, but something that is shared between cultures – ie a wedding, birth etc – would you be apologising? I can’t imagine anyone saying:
Yeah the wedding is going to be amazing! I’ve seen the menu, the food is beautiful and… oh, I’m really sorry MK!
It just doesn’t play that way. But I have heard from several people something along the lines of:
My dad is making pork belly for Christmas, it going to be amazing! Oh, really I’m sorry MK!
Eating pork: NOT offensive. But apologising for eating pork: OFFENSIVE
It’s a similar phenomenon to eating out. I am not especially observant as a Jew and I don’t keep strictly kosher, but there are a few ‘red lines’ that I tend not to cross – no pork, no shellfish, and I try to avoid mixing milk and meat when I can. What this means is that I struggle to eat at some forms of Asian cuisine, which seems to have nothing but pork and shellfish. What this does not mean is that I am offended by other people eating pork or shellfish.
Yet in these scenarios, people start doing that apologising thing again. And then they act overly friendly to compensate, as if to say:
Hey MK, we know that you’re one of those strange ‘Jew’ types, so you don’t eat normal food like us, but that’s super ok, we can order vegetarian food for you and be really super friendly, just to show you how ok it is that you don’t eat pork. Because it’s fine. Really. Doesn’t bother us one bit. No, seriously! We’re ok with it. Are you ok? We’re ok if you’re ok. Because that’s what friends do. They’re ok.
Again, people do not act that way for other kinds of dietary requirements. I can’t remember ever being in a situation where someone was condescended to in that fashion for being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or allergic to nuts. It’s a particular brand of condescension that comes from all of the power dynamics playing out in the room. And I’m going to stop there, because I’m starting to sound like Foucault, and I hate Foucault.
Celebrating Christmas: NOT offensive
I don’t know who came up with the idea that non-Christians would feel less offended when people celebrate Christmas and then pretend that they are doing something else, but it’s a little silly. You can call it a ‘holiday tree’ if you want. You know it’s a Christmas tree, and I know it’s a Christmas tree. What are you trying to prove? The whole charade is ridiculous. I hate all of these initiatives to ban public Christmas displays, or have ‘Happy Holidays!’ written everywhere. It’s Christmas, you’re Christians, you’re allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus if you want to.
I actually find the Christmas trees, lights, and songs this time of year quite beautiful. Believe it or not, it’s possible to appreciate other cultures and not just be offended by them all the time. Sure, Lakemba Mosque issues fatwas on saying ‘merry Christmas’, and I hear some equally stupid sentiments from some of the more zealous in the Jewish community, but really what does it matter? I say ‘chag sameach’ to my non-Jewish friends on holidays, they can say ‘merry Christmas’ to me. It’s no problem.
Forcing me to celebrate Christmas: OFFENSIVE
So I was driving around yesterday with two friends, trying to find something to do. There was nothing, the whole town was dead. Even the obligatory Christmas Chinese food was almost impossible to find. We tried almost every Chinese joint in the East, before stumbling across a little one in Bondi that had decided to open its doors to some hungry Jews on a rainy day. God bless them.
Which is fine, except that the only reason that everything is closed because of penalty rates. I’ve complained about penalty rates before, but this is yet another example and I want to do it again.
The bastion of cultural tolerance that is the Australian Labor Party and its affiliates at the Australian Union movement have decided that Australians should be with their families on the Christian holidays and on the Christian sabbath, whether they want to or not. For this reason, they have imposed inordinately high penalty rates that must be paid to anyone working on Christmas – and slightly lower, but a similar idea on Sundays – to the effect that businesses operating legally are more or less forced to close.
That means that all of us non-Christians out there are being forced by law to keep Christian holidays, or else be fined. THAT is extremely offensive. It’s a lot more offensive than the beautiful lights display projected onto St Mary’s Cathedral at night, I’ll say that much.
Sure a day off work is a day off work and I won’t complain about a day off work. I also bet that, were there not penalty rates, most places would still choose to close on Christmas. But people to whom 25 December bears little unusual significance should be allowed to go to work on 25 December if they so choose. But we don’t even enter into the discussion. As a regular viewer of Q and A, I have seen numerous Anglo officials from the ALP and the Unions saying something like ‘well we can’t take working people away from their families on Christmas!’
Newsflash: NOT ALL WORKING PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS.
At the risk of sounding like Foucault again: check your fucking privilege.
I hear a lot of talk from the Zionist left and right about the abysmal state of the Israeli left. Take, for example, this report by Elisheva Goldberg on the recent Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) march in Tel Aviv:
The trouble is this: when “leftism” becomes an identity element, it makes leftist politics involuntary. It turns marching with ACRI from a political act of free will into a necessary expression of self. It turns human rights activism from a fight for political victory into a fight for acknowledgement and recognition. And—most crucially—it turns the left from a movement of social change into a group of people who love each other, but have given up on winning and instead are just doing their best to preserve their community. Ella’s last comment to me was that “we need to feel that we’re part of something so that we can get up and go to work every day.” These ACRI marchers feel they’ve lost—and so they have. They’ve decided they’re content just to feel loved and appreciated by each other—and so they will be.
There are plenty of explanations for this from both sides.
Ask someone from the right, and they will tell you that the left’s policies failed — Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Hizballah fired rockets for 6 years until a brutal and bloody war; Israel withdrew from Gaza and Hamas took over and fired rockets for 6 years and counting, despite two brutal and bloody wars; Barak sat down with Arafat and made a generous offer and all we got in return was an intifada; Olmert sat down with Abbas and made another generous offer and we got nothing out of it; the Palestinians and Arabs continue to spread antisemitism in schoolbooks, on TV, and everywhere else; the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over the Middle East; they all hate us and they want to kill us like they did in the intifada, so we need to be strong and defend our borders and prepare for the impending apocalypse by buying a camper-van and moving next to Ramallah so we can improve our security by burning down some Palestinian olive trees.
Ask someone from the left and you’ll hear all about how Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinians is eroding its moral character and transforming it into some kind of proto-fascist society — everyone goes to the army, and so militancy is being bred into the society; years of controlling the Palestinians and relating to them only as soldier to controlled society has led to them being seen not as humans, but as some kind of lesser creatures; the failure to halt the settlement enterprise has put Israel in permanent control of the West Bank and made the two-state solution impossible, meaning there is some kind of apartheid system in place; the religious-Zionist camp has become increasingly racist and has begun to have more influence over the secular right and over the haredim; Likud is being taken-over by Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin, the Kahannists are the fastest-growing Knesset faction, they all hate us and want to kill us like they killed Rabin, so we may as well just give up and smoke pot in our run-down bauhaus apartment building in Tel Aviv while talking about how much smarter we are than everyone else and complaining that we don’t have jobs.
That’s not to say that there’s no merit in these theories. Maybe we can learn from both of them — for example, I don’t mind the idea of smoking pot near Ramallah and talking about how smart I am.
One thing that I do want to point out is that the two narratives are completely polarised in a way that is quite revealing of their respective mentalities: the Zionist left blame everything on the Israeli right and the Zionist right blame everything on the Arabs.
This annoys me, especially when I read things like this article by Peter Beinart, where he talks about how Obama has given up on Netanyahu without even mentioning that Obama may have also given up on Abbas — because it can’t be Abbas’ fault, the Israeli right is to blame for everything. Likewise for the many articles (I don’t have an example in front of me, but there’s no shortage) that keep talking about how much Israel just wants peace and it’s all the Arabs’ fault, as though the ruling party didn’t just preselect a lot of people who openly oppose a Palestinian state (the part about Danon and Feiglin taking over the Likud is true).
But anyway, that’s beside the point. I am going to posit another explanation for the state of affairs. We have a bad tendency in the Jewish community to think that we are the only ones affecting anything — when really, on a global scale, we are quite minor players. It’s probably some degree of internalised oppression resulting from antisemitic conspiracy theories, but that’s a different discussion.
A while ago, I read this piece on the geopolitics of Israel by George Friedman, which made a point that has stuck with me:
Israel exists in three conditions. First, it can be a completely independent state. This condition occurs when there are no major imperial powers external to the region. We might call this the David model. Second, it can live as part of an imperial system — either as a subordinate ally, as a moderately autonomous entity or as a satrapy. In any case, it maintains its identity but loses room for independent maneuvering in foreign policy and potentially in domestic policy. We might call this the Persian model in its most beneficent form. Finally, Israel can be completely crushed — with mass deportations and migrations, with a complete loss of autonomy and minimal residual autonomy. We might call this the Babylonian model.
Israel is a small fish in a big pond, but is very strategically located and therefore will always be in someone’s interests to control. When great powers compete over Middle East hegemony (as they tend to do), Israel can either survive as a client state, or be subsumed.
Until fairly recently, Israel was a client of the Western secular left. At the moment, Israel is a client of the Christian right. Europe — dominated by the secular left — has been becoming increasingly anti-Israel for a variety of reasons (and correlated with a dramatic rise in antisemitism throughout the continent). The Western academic left has essentially fallen to the Edward Said mentality and now speaks about Israel as though it were the root cause of everything that is evil in this world. A similar attitude pervades the UN (which is essentially where the academic left go on secondment when they are tired of academia).
Meanwhile, support for Israel in the Christian right has never been stronger. The massive Evangelical population in the US has become fanatically pro-Israel. In response to the growing cultural tensions in Europe and the ‘unholy alliance’ between the secular left and the ultra-conservative Islamists, the European right has begun to shift strongly towards Israel. I often hear remarks in Australia that the conservative Christian right is more pro-Israel than the Jewish community, and I think there is genuinely some truth to that assessment.
What does this mean? Put simply, Israel needs to maintain itself as a client state in order to survive. It can no longer rely on the secular left for support as, in a fit of post-colonial guilt and profound ‘Orientalism’, the secular left has determined that since the Islamists were fighting against George Bush, and they don’t like George Bush, the Islamists must be ‘part of the global left‘. Never mind all that stuff about hanging the homosexuals, stoning adulterers, and killing the women in your family for ‘dishonourable’ behaviour. That part’s not important.
In other words, the Israeli right has huge support from the global right, and the Israeli left is being scorned by the global left. Given the dynamics of Israel, it is small wonder that the left is in disarray.
I was a little heartened when I readt his profile of Sami al-Ajrami by Sarah Topol a few days ago.
Ajrami is apparently the only Palestinian living in Gaza who reports events there in Hebrew to the Israeli media. He has figured out something that seems to go over the heads of pretty much everyone else I ever see who try to push the ‘Palestinian’ line — including most of the Jewish left. My bold:
Ajrami says he tried to create common ground by comparing the Israelis who fled their towns in the south for the relative safety of Tel Aviv to Gazans evacuating their homes in heavily-targeted areas of the enclave. “I can understand your misery, as people, as humans—but you have to understand the message from Gaza,” he remembers saying. “It’s the same misery and there are politicians who rule and govern in a way that makes a lot of civilians dead.”
Israelis are more prone to understanding that message, Ajrami believes, than if he accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian civilians. “They won’t understand me, and they will say: ‘What? Fuck, you are launching rockets randomly on our houses!’ They won’t understand and they won’t feel sympathy towards your misery,” he says.
Ajrami’s mission is not to be a one-way bullhorn on the situation. When he speaks as an Israeli expert on local television and radio in Gaza, he tries to explain that Israel is a segmented society, with different factions that should be engaged in different ways. “Let’s separate between Jews and Israelis, and Israelis citizens and Israeli government and the Israeli policy, because I can have the support of a lot of Israelis because they understand and they call for the end of occupation, just like me,” he says.
I wrote last week about the common experience of being shot at and the futility of trying to be The Victim in the conflict. Ajrami understands that. He sees that the way to make Israelis sympathise with Palestinian suffering is not to start telling them how evil they are and how much worse it is for Palestinians than for Israelis, while trying to downplay the impact of Palestinian terrorism. The way to do it is to concentrate on shared suffering and common experiences.
Fear, suffering, and anger are things that Israelis understand. Trying to claim a monopoly on these emotions is what hurts the Palestinian cause the most (the same, by the way, can be said for the people on the Israeli side of the fence who do the same thing).
We need more people like Ajrami, and we need people on the Israeli side broadcasting to the Palestinians in Arabic. In fact, it seems insane that nobody in Israel has thought to do that yet (or at least, hasn’t done it well).
You think YOU have it bad? You should hear about ME! Or: why Israelis and Palestinians need to shut up and listen
What do you feel when you’re being shot at?
The answer may seem obvious, but in the scheme of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it’s important. As everyone tries to ‘out-suffer’ everyone else and the stories of trauma in Gaza and in Southern Israel mount, people seem to be forgetting this basic truth: being shot at is fucking terrifying.
That’s right, being shot at is a very unpleasant experience. It means that the person on the other end of the trigger/rocket-launcher wants to kill you, and is trying to kill you. Of course, there is probably some context: perhaps that person has suffered immensely; perhaps they lost a sister or brother or son or daughter and they are venting their rage at the people that they blame; maybe you have had a much more comfortable life than they have – they have been living in constant squalor fear, while you have been able to life relatively normally, most of the time at least; maybe it’s not you they were shooting at, but the person next to you – you just happened to get caught in the crossfire.
All of this information is important, but when you’re being shot at, it’s an academic point really. No amount of context will make you think ‘ok, well fair enough, I guess it’s not really their fault that they’re shooting at me’. It seems ridiculous to say, but the way people talk, you’d think that was the natural reaction that most people have. Abstract discussions of ‘necessity’ and ‘proportionality’ do not make you forgive the fact that you and your loved ones are being shot at. All that you really have in your head at that moment is ‘fuck, I’m being shot at’.
Here is something that everyone needs to bear in mind as they try to take the mantle of ‘suffering’ and claim the moral high ground in the current Gaza incursion: Israelis and Palestinians are shooting at each other. It’s that simple.
Well, it isn’t that simple. There is a lot to be said about the fact that Hamas is shooting at the Israelis to inflict terror and the Israelis are shooting at Hamas to try and stop Hamas shooting at the Israelis. But then, the Israelis inflict terror in spite of themselves. Shooting at people will do that. Whatever you want to say about Hamas launching rockets from civilian areas, it makes very little difference to the people who are on the ‘business end’ of the response. All they know is that they were not firing rockets from civilian areas, but they are being shot at.
Then again, that makes no difference to the Israelis in Hamas’ ever-expanding rocket range. The fact that they are being targeted with much less powerful weapons and that they have bomb shelters to run and hide to does not make the fact that they are being shot at less traumatic. All of those things are true, and they are losing less loved ones than the Palestinians in Gaza, but they are being shot at, and being shot at is fucking terrifying.
I have, over the course of my relatively brief time in Israel, had to take shelter from Hamas rockets twice and had rocks thrown at me once. That’s a hell of a lot less than most of the people in Israel at the moment, but when those incidents happened, I was not thinking about how terrible life must be for the Palestinians who were attacking me. My thoughts were more along the lines of: ‘fuck, I’m being shot at!’
I am writing this post because I have been sitting at my computer screen for almost a week now, watching two Sides of the Conflict trying to out-do each other in terms of being shot at. And in all honesty, the Palestinians win hands-down. The big Israeli infographics with numbers of rockets are not quite as pity-inspiring as footage of families grieving over dead children. But, once again, that is beside the point. In fact, what is really going through my mind is: what is the point? Why is it so important to have suffered? Why are we holding up spent rockets and dead and injured children to the world and saying ‘you need to feel sorry for me, I’m being shot at!’?
And more importantly, why am I the only one who seems to be affected by all of it and see two different groups of people being shot at? Why do I have to put up with so many people saying ‘you think the ISRAELIS are suffering? Do you know how many people died in Gaza today?’ or ‘you think the PALESTINIANS are suffering? Do you know how many rockets were fired into Israel today?’
Why can they not both be suffering? What’s so hard about recognising that the war is hell on everyone?
I can tell you this: there are two traumatised and terrified peoples firing at each other over the Israel/Gaza border fence right now, they are both going through hell, and neither of them will ever stop so long as they keep pretending that THEIR people are the ones that are REALLY suffering. Just shut up for a second and pay attention to the world outside your little bubble.
Israel has been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past couple of weeks. There is nothing new about this — Israel has been hit with thousands upon thousands of rockets for the past decade or so — except that the situation is becoming untenable. The people of southern Israel are tired of living in bomb shelters, periodically closing schools, and having to make a decision every night about whether or not it’s safe to sleep in the second story of their homes and put the bomb shelter too far away to reach should a rocket land overnight.
Before anyone says anything, I am not trying to downplay what the Palestinians in Gaza are going through. I am trying to explain how Israelis are feeling and how they are thinking. Whatever else may be said about the rocket fire, it is not ‘harmless’ at all, it is terrifying for the people who have to live through it on a daily basis. The casualty rate is low only because of the insane precautions that the population has to go through, but being under constant threat is no way for 1/5 of the country to live.
The entire Israeli public are demanding that something be done. This crosses any kind of partisan and factional lines that you could imagine. Even those who are generally in the peacenik camp have been amping-up their rhetoric. Holding an outstretched hand does not seem like a great idea when you’re being shot at. Wheat we are looking at, potentially, is a repeat of 2008/09’s Operation Cast-lead. It’s an outcome that nobody wants, but if it’s the only way to stop these attacks, it may be needed.
Well, there have been a couple of alternatives floated. Take Nervana Mahmoud, for example:
Going to war, however, is not the only option. There is potential for a political out, as some analysts advocate, including Khalid Elgindy of Brookings. A smart move would address both elements of the problem: the lack of a state that Israel can deal with and the non-state players. The solution for Gaza is two-fold, a conditional acceptance of Mahmoud Abbas’s U.N. bid in return for demanding that the Egyptians reinstate the U.N.-recognized Abbas government in Gaza and empower his security team to run the Rafah border. In addition, Israel announces its willingness to engage with the emerging Sunni alliance—Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt—to formulate a plan to dismantle Gaza militants’ military capabilities in return for lifting the siege. Such a gambit could snooker Hamas supporters into either accepting the deal, offering alternatives, or a rejection, which would make them appear to be the opponents of a political solution.
Clearly, among the different schools of foreign policy, Mahmoud falls into the ‘remedial class’. Let’s break this down item-by-item. First, Mahmoud wants Israel to offer to the Egyptians — who are led by the Muslim Brotherhood, let me remind you — that Israel will provisionally accept a UN bid that Egypt has not really expressed much investment in, in return for Egypt forcibly expelling the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD-offshoot Hamas regime and instead installing a secular-nationalist Palestinian regime led by corrupt officials whose relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood could be best described as ‘sworn enemies who have been killing each other for years’. Do I have that right? Just checking we’re on the same page.
And then part two of this genius plan is for Israel to show that it is ‘willing to engage’ with Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. That would be the Egypt that has just decided to stop supplying Israel with natural gas, the Turkey that has just suspended all formal relations with Israel, and the Qatar that never had formal relations with Israel. Leaving Qatar to one side for a second, Mahmoud is suggesting that Israel engage with its two former allies, both of which have become increasingly belligerent towards Israel as a result of Islamist parties taking over.
I like this idea better:
Today, Hamas functions as the official political leadership of the entire Gaza Strip. The party sets both domestic policies – such as the institution of Shari’a law – and foreign policy. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh represented the entire Gaza population when he welcomed the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. And the emir effectively recognized Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians living in Gaza.
Recognizing Hamas as responsible for what happens inside Gaza – which has clear geographical borders – would serve Israel’s interests. Instead of struggling to distinguish among a myriad of players – Hamas, Salafis and international jihad-affiliated terrorist groups, as well as the Gaza civilian population – Israel should view the “state of Gaza” and its Hamas government as directly responsible for any act of aggression emanating from the territory under its control. Israel’s response to such attacks would, therefore, be directed against the territory of Gaza as a whole.
It makes no sense for Israel to provide an enemy state with electricity, fuel and other goods as it currently does. This makes sense only if a fabricated distinction is made between those in Gaza who fire at Israel and the wider “innocent” population. In reality, however, the majority of Gaza’s population continues to support Hamas, which rules the entire Gaza Strip domestically and represents it internationally.
In contrast, if Hamas provides stability and prevents smaller terrorist groups operating inside Gaza from firing on Israeli civilians, Israel could reciprocate by providing fuel and electricity and keeping trade borders open.
Before I start, let me apologise for the absence of posts recently. I’ve been very busy and have not really had time for this blog. Hopefully it will pick up again towards the end of the month.
Anyway, today’s ITW features an article by one Susanne Krasmann from the University of Hamburg, entitled ‘Targeted Killing and Its Law: On a Mutually Constitutive Relationship’. Krasmann is a follower of the ‘Foucauldian’ school of philosophy. We have encountered this school before on ITW here and here, but Krasmann is different, because she actually makes some very good perceptions.
The trick employed by the Foucauldian school was explained by Martha Nussbaum in a critique of leading Foucauldian Judith Butler:
obscurity creates an aura of importance. It also serves another related purpose. It bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding. … When Butler’s notions are stated clearly and succinctly, one sees that, without a lot more distinctions and arguments, they don’t go far, and they are not especially new. Thus obscurity fills the void left by an absence of a real complexity of thought and argument.
In even plainer terms than that, what Butler, Krasmann and our favourite Frenchie Michel Foucault like to do is write disgustingly dense an indecipherable passages about nothing very interesting. They do not have much to say, so they take as long as they can to say it, using the most obscure language possible, so that the average reader just assumes that, because they can’t understand what the hell the writer is talking about, whatever it is saying must be intelligent. All too often, it’s completely the opposite.
Which brings us back to Ms Krasmann. Here is the particular passage that sparked this post:
When targeted killing surfaced on the political stage, appropriate laws appeared to be already at hand. ‘There are more than enough rules for governing drone warfare’, reads the conclusion of a legal reasoning on targeted killing. Yet, accommodating the practice in legal terms means that international law itself is undergoing a transformation. The notion of dispositifs is useful in analysing such processes of transformation. It enables us to grasp the minute displacements of established legal concepts that, while undergoing a transformation, at the same time prove to be faithful to their previous readings. The displacement of some core features of the traditional conception of the modern state reframes the reading of existing law. Hence, to give just one example for such a rereading of international law: legal scholars raised the argument that neither the characterization of an international armed conflict holds – ‘since al Qaeda is not a state and has no government and is therefore incapable of fighting as a party to an inter-state conflict’ – nor that of an internal conflict. Instead, the notion of dealing with a non-international conflict, which, in view of its global nature, purportedly ‘closely resembles’ an international armed conflict, serves to provide ‘a fuller and more comprehensive set of rules’. Established norms and rules of international law are preserved formally, but filled with a radically different meaning so as to eventually integrate the figure of a terrorist network into its conventional understanding. Legal requirements are thus meant to hold for a drone programme that is accomplished both by military agencies in war zones and by military and intelligence agencies targeting terror suspects beyond these zones, since the addressed is no longer a state, but a terrorist network.
However, to conceive of law as a practice does not imply that law would be susceptible to any form of knowledge. Not only is its reading itself based on a genealogy of practices established over a longer period. Most notably, the respective forms of knowledge are also embedded in varying procedures and strategic configurations. If law is subject to an endless deference of meaning, this is not the case in the sense of arbitrary but historically contingent practices, but in the sense of historically contingent practices. Knowledge, then, is not merely an interpretive scheme of law. Rather than merely on meaning, focus is on practices that, while materializing and producing attendant truth effects, shape the distinctions we make between legal and illegal measures. What is more, as regards anticipatory techniques to prevent future harm, this perspective allows for our scrutinizing the division made between what is presumably known and what is yet to be known, and between what is presumably unknown and has yet to be rendered intelligible. This prospect, as will be seen in the following, is crucial for a rereading of existing law. It was the identification of a new order of threat since the terror attacks of 9/11 that brought about a turning point in the reading of international law. The identification of threats in general provides a space for transforming the unknowable into new forms of knowledge. The indeterminateness itself of legal norms proves to be a tool for introducing a new reading of law.
The first paragraph is not that hard to follow, primarily because she is citing the work of international legal scholars and not going off on her own wank (I couldn’t think of a better word to use). Here’s what that second paragraph reads like when translated from the academese:
While the law is shaped by the way that it is enforced, the way that it is enforced is itself shaped by the different historical interpretations of the law. The process of putting the law into practice changes the way that we look at what is or is not legal. Thinking about law this way helps us to understand the problem presented by law enforcement aimed at anticipating and preventing future crimes instead of punishing past ones. The law is incapable of dealing with ‘unknown unknowns’ — ie things that we not only do not understand, but cannot see coming. Actually identifying potential threats allows us to then begin developing tools to incorporate them into our legal system.
There is more to it than that, but I don’t feel that any of it needed to be there. This is actually a pretty strong argument and does have an impact on the way that the law treats targeted killings. I just wish that I hadn’t had to read that paragraph over several times to figure out what it was actually saying.