Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What should Jews think or not think about the overthrow of Mubarak?

Interesting debate over at Harry's Place on what Jews should or should not feel about the overthrow of Mubarak, sparked by a stupid article in the Guardian's Comment is Free entitled On the side of the Pharoahs? by Rabbi Howard Cooper. Cooper writes, "I was saddened by the predominantly muted and apprehensive response to these uplifting events from many of my fellow Jews in the UK and in Israel."

I personally was happy when Mubarak fell, but I'm apprehensive about what will happen next.

I particularly liked the comments by Lamia -
Of course, had Jews in large numbers or Israel itself made approving noises about the events in Egypt, or take a close an interest, the conspiracy mongers would have gone into overdrive claiming that the interest of Jews was suspicious (if predictable), and that they were interfering in a sovereign Egyptian matter, and that their support for the revolution showed it was all a zionist plot.
Obama – of whom I’m not the greatest fan – has been in a similar ‘Heads I’m a hypocrite, tails I’m a hypocrite’ situation, especially regarding Iran. And regarding Libya, there are those who will criticise the west for standing by and not intervening there while hundreds or thousands are dying, but who are poised to jump all over any actual sign of intervention or support for the revolutionaries as ‘imperialism’. As another thread has pointed out, there are still those on the left who view Gaddafi as a good socialist hero.
What this boils down to is motivism, the self-righteous paranoia which defines the world view of so much of the left in the post-Soviet world. It’s a lazier form of conspiracy theory, in that it’s not even interested in suggesting that what appears to have happened is not what has really happened. That would take no less madness or dishonesty, but would require at least some imagination.
Motivism doesn’t dispute the facts so much as start with an assumption that whatever Jews or zionists or the west or NATO do or say has a malign motiviation, and then ascribes the same pre-ordained end interpretation to whatever they do or say or don’t do or don’t say.
The main thing is that Pilger and co are always right, no matter their own inconsistency, and Blair amd co are always wrong, no matter their own inconsistency.
In due course it will become an orthodoxy of the left that whatever they said or didn’t say at the time, ‘the zionists’ got exactly what they secretly wanted from the Arab revolutions. Or if they didn’t, it will still be their fault for whatever bad consequences there may be for any Arabs and anyone else. because it always is.
Even if Israel didn’t exist, ‘the zionists’ always will. They will be everywhere behind the scenes (and rocks, and trees) because they are needed. The Pilgerists may have, unlike the Islamists, stopped believing in God, but they still believe in the same devil.

Can the world stop the massacres in Libya?

Interesting article by Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy about the reasons to want, and to fear, Intervening in the Libyan tragedy.
The appropriate comparison is Bosnia or Kosovo, or even Rwanda where a massacre is unfolding on live television and the world is challenged to act. It is time for the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League to act forcefully to try to prevent the already bloody situation from degenerating into something much worse.
By acting, I mean a response sufficiently forceful and direct to deter or prevent the Libyan regime from using its military resources to butcher its opponents. I have already seen reports that NATO has sternly warned Libya against further violence against its people. Making that credible could mean the declaration and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, presumably by NATO, to prevent the use of military aircraft against the protesters. It could also mean a clear declaration that members of the regime and military will be held individually responsible for any future deaths. The U.S. should call for an urgent, immediate Security Council meeting and push for a strong resolution condemning Libya's use of violence and authorizing targeted sanctions against the regime. Such steps could stand a chance of reversing the course of a rapidly deteriorating situation. An effective international response could not only save many Libyan lives, it might also send a powerful warning to other Arab leaders who might contemplate following suit against their own protest movements.

Update
Andrew Sullivan has an interesting roundup of ideas on this question.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Will Qaddafi Fall?

Is Qaddafi going to fall? It seems like he might. Benghazi is in the hands of the protesters, while Tripoli is in chaos. Senior diplomats are resigning, and apparently two Libyan pilots flew to Malta because they refused to bomb protesters.

The New York Times reports that warplanes and militia fire on protesters in Libyan capital. "Tripoli descended into chaos in less than 24 hours as a six-day-old revolt suddenly spread from Benghazi across the country on Sunday. The revolt shaking Libya is the latest and most violent turn in a rebellion across the Arab world that seemed unthinkable just two months ago and that has already toppled autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia."

More news on Libya

Apparently protests have also broken out in Tripoli, Libya (capital of the country). Libya protests (From BBC News).

Al Jazeera also reports that protests have spread to Tripoli, and that some tribal leaders have begun to support the protesters.
Security forces have shot dead scores of protesters in Libya's second largest city, where residents said a military unit had joined their cause.

While Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attempted to put down protests centred in the eastern city of Benghazi against his four-decade rule, Al Jazeera began receiving eyewitness reports of "disturbances" in the capital Tripoli early on Monday as well. There were reports of clashes between anti-government protesters and Gaddafi supporters around the Green Square.

"We are in Tripoli, there are chants [directed at Gaddafi]: 'Where are you? Where are you? Come out if you're a man," a protester told Al Jazeera on the phone.

A resident told the Reuters news agency that he could hear gunshots in the streets and crowds of people. "We're inside the house and the lights are out. There are gunshots in the street," the resident said by phone. "That's what I hear, gunshots and people. I can't go outside."

An expatriate worker living in the Libyan capital told Reuters: "Some anti-government demonstrators are gathering in the residential complexes. The police are dispersing them. I can also see burning cars."

There were also reports of protesters heading to Gaddafi's compound in the city of Al-Zawia near Tripoli, with the intention of burning the building down.

Meanwhile the head of the Al-Zuwayya tribe in eastern Libya has threatened to cut off oil exports unless authorities stop what he called the "oppression of protesters" [and], the Warfala tribe, one of Libya's biggest, has reportedly joined the anti-Gaddafi protests.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Shaikh Faraj al Zuway said: "We will stop oil exports to Western countries within 24 hours" if the violence did not stop. The tribe lives south of Benghazi, which has seen the worst of the deadly violence in recent days. Akram Al-Warfalli, a leading figure in the Al Warfalla tribe, one of Libya's biggest, told the network: "We tell the brother (Gaddafi), well he's no longer a brother, we tell him to leave the country." The tribe lives south of Tripoli.

Protests have also reportedly broken out in other cities, including Bayda, Derna, Tobruk and Misrata - and anti-Gaddafi graffiti adorns the walls of several cities.

Anti-government protesters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have reportedly seized army vehicles and weapons amid worsening turmoil in the African nation. A local witness said that a section of the troops had joined the protesters on Sunday as chaos swept the streets of the city, worst hit by the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year old rule.

Mohamed, a doctor from Al Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, confirmed to Al Jazeera that members of the military had sided with the protesters. "We are still receiving serious injuries, I can confirm 13 deaths in our hospital. However, the good news is that people are cheering and celebrating outside after receiving news that the army is siding with the people," he said. "But there is still a brigade that is against the demonstrators. For the past three days demonstrators have been shot at by this brigade, called Al-Sibyl brigade."

The witness reports came on a day in which local residents told Al Jazeera that at least 200 people had died in days of unrest in Benghazi alone. The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Sunday put the countrywide death toll at 173. The rights group said its figure was "conservative".

'Massacre'

News of the rising death toll came as residents of Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, reported renewed gunfire from security forces in the city. Sadiq al Ghiryani, a Libyan religious leader, told Al Jazeera a "massacre" was under way in the city and troops firing shots were mostly mercenaries. Kamal Hudethifi, a judge, described the killings as "ethnic cleansing".

The Reuters news agency said at least 50 people had been killed in Benghazi since Sunday afternoon. Moftah, a Benghazi resident , who requested Al Jazeera use only his first name, said the city had become a "war zone" in recent days. Residents have barricaded the streets with overturned trash cans and debris, and security forces have largely confined themselves to two compounds, though snipers continue to target protesters, he said. The forces who remain are "thugs" loyal to Gaddafi, Moftah said, and they are firing high-calibre ammunition at protesters.

The eyewitness report came a day after security forces opened fire at a funeral in the eastern coastal city on Saturday, killing at least 15 people and injuring scores more.

A group of six alleged mercenaries - reportedly brought in from Tunisia and other African nations to bolster pro-Gaddafi forces - were captured and arrested by demonstrators in the city of Shahat.
For an eyewitness report on Libya of a few years ago, Michael Totten has posted his account of visiting Libya on his blog - In the Land of the Brother Leader.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Revolt continues in Libya - more massacres

More horrible news from Libya: Libya defiant as hundreds of protesters feared dead. Qaddafi and his evil family are determined not to give in.
Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, writes on the Guardian's Comment is Free site: "Assuming that the Libyan protesters have the stamina and determination of those in Tunisia and Egypt , even in the face of gunfire, the resolution of the conflict seems to depend on two factors: will the disturbances spread to the different urban environment of Tripoli? And will the army – composed of Libyans, not foreign mercenaries, and therefore open to tribal influences which are largely unknown – continue to be willing to fire on unarmed civilians?"
Report in the New York Times on the battle for Benghazi:
Several residents of Benghazi described an ongoing battle for control of the city, Libya’s second-largest, with a population of more than half a million. By Sunday, thousands of protesters had occupied a central square in front of the courthouse, which some call their Tahrir Square after the epicenter of the Egyptian revolt, and they were chanting the same slogans that echoed through the streets of Tunis and Cairo, “The people want to bring down the regime.”
By evening, two witnesses said, the protesters had stormed the security headquarters, and, these witnesses said, a few members of the security forces had defected to join the protesters. “These young men are taking bullets in their chests to confront the tyrant,” Mr. Hadi said, speaking by phone from the siege of the security building.
But more than a thousand other members of the security forces had hardly surrendered. They were concentrated a few miles away from the courthouse in a barracks in the neighborhood of Berqa. Witnesses said young protesters were attempting suicidal attacks on the barracks with thrown rocks, stun grenades usually used for fishing, or occasionally vehicles stolen from the security forces. But the security forces responded by shooting from the cover of the fortified building, while others shot from vehicles as they cruised the side streets....
Benghazi, the traditional hub of the country’s eastern province, has long been a center of opposition to the Qaddafi government centered in Tripoli. In 1996, it was the site of a massacre at the Abu Slim prison, when security forces shot more than 1,000 prisoners. Those killings have since become a major rallying point for Qaddafi critics there.

Protests in Libya - horrendous massacre

Libya protests: 140 'massacred' as Gaddafi sends in snipers to crush dissent
The five-day uprising in eastern Libya has been the greatest challenge to the 42-year rule of Col Gaddafi, the world's longest-serving ruler. With internet and phone lines to the outside world disrupted, it was unclear whether the revolt inspired by the revolutions in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt was spreading from the impoverished east of Libya to the capital Tripoli, or whether it was being successfully extinguished.
Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian writer and activist, has been sending many tweets (@monaeltahawy) about the situation in all the Arab countries where there are protests.

Nicholas Kristoff is in Bahrain and has been reporting and tweeting from there (@NickKristoff).

Mahmood Al-Yousif (Bahraini blogger) on the protests there

A Bahraini blogger whom I used to read (I fell out with him over the second Lebanon war) has posted some very interesting remarks about the protests in Bahrain: "One thing is for sure: Bahrain before the 14th of February 2011 is most definitely different from the Bahrain after it."

"I have never witnessed protests such as these in my life in Bahrain. I’ve most certainly did not witness the level of determination to wrest those demands either. And from what I can personally see, people no longer care if they’re killed while trying, so much so that they are more than happy to get their wives, sisters, mothers and children accompanying them while protesting. I’ve personally seen disabled people at the Pearl Roundabout, some on crutches, in wheelchairs or pushing their Zimmer frames. All of whom didn’t come out to have a picnic, they, instead firmly believe in the sanctity and genuineness of their rightful demands."

The determination and courage of people in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya is simply astonishing and puts us Americans to shame.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The occupation is not benign

Interesting article by Michelle Goldberg of Tablet on the soldiers of "Breaking the Silence" - exposing how the Israeli occupation brutalizes the soldiers who enforce it and the Palestinians who suffer from it.

Website of Breaking the Silence: Shovrim Shtika.

Article by Mikhael Manekin, co-director of Shovrim Shtika, in +972 (web magazine), against the Knesset investigation into NGOs.

Friday, February 04, 2011

"Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth" (!)

I just stumbled upon a website called "Patriots Question 9/11" - people who deny the official report of the 9/11 Commission and accuse the Bush administration either of knowing the attacks were coming and allowing them to happen, or of outright planning the attacks, arguing that the World Trade Center towers could not have been destroyed by the airplanes that flew into them, but were felled by "controlled explosions."

I started scrolling through the names and what these people had to say, and came across the names of several well-known academics in the study of religion and theology. Another website, "Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth" lists the names of more academics (as well as a lot of ministers) who agree with this position.

On the Patriots Question 9/11 site, the first person listed is David Ray Griffin, emeritus professor in the philosophy of religion at Claremont, who has written several books denying the official story of 9/11. From a Publishers Weekly review of one of his books his viewpoint is apparent: "He offers two mind-numbing versions of an 'alternative conspiracy theory': that the Bush administration 'deliberately' failed to prevent the attacks or, more chillingly, 'was actively involved in the planning and execution of the attacks.'"

Others who commend Griffin or who signed various "9/11 truth" statements include:

• The late William Sloane Coffin

Rosemary Ruether
"Griffin writes in a precise and careful fashion, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric. He argues for a high probability for the Bush's administrations complicity with allowing and facilitating the attacks, based not on any one conclusive piece of evidence, but the sheer accumulation of all of the data. He concludes by calling for a genuinely independent investigative effort that would examine all this evidence. ...

"I personally found Griffin's book both convincing and chilling. If the complicity of the Bush Administration to which he points is true, then Americans have a far greater problem on their hands than even the more ardent anti-war critics have imagined. If the administration that would do this, what else would they do to maintain and expand their power?"
John Cobb, also of Claremont (from the "Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth" statement)
"A significant moral challenge has emerged due to glaring discrepancies between the official version of the events of September 11, 2001, and the results of extensive independent research by individuals with relevant scientific or professional expertise. . . . As a result of this extensive research carried out by scientists and professionals, it can now be seen that the official account of 9/11 is false beyond any reasonable doubt. ... Because the false account of 9/11 has led to [numerous] evils, it is incumbent on religious leaders, once they realize that the official account is a lie, to speak out."
• Joseph Hough (Union Theological Seminary)

• Fr. Daniel Berrigan - signatory of the "War is Illegal" statement.
Faced with the choice between a war, that according to some western leaders, will last for many years or a possible peaceful transformation we support the following demands: ...

International investigation of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. They are used as the central justification for the "War on Terror", but well documented evidence shows that the official explanation of 9/11 cannot be correct.
• Carter Heyward, Professor Emerita, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., who writes about Griffin:
Are we brave enough to read this nerve-wracking book, one of the most important theological texts of our time? Rooted in the longstanding belief that Christians share responsibility for shaping a more justice-loving world, Griffin makes a strong case that the real "conspiracy theory" about 9/11 is the Bush Administration’s silly notion that nineteen young Arab men could have pulled it off. Griffin helps us wrestle with questions that are almost too much to bear, yet which may empower us, if we dare, to build a more truthful and, over time, more deeply moral nation and world.
• Robert Ellwood, emeritus professor of religion at USC.

• Richard Horsley (University of Massachusetts), who writes about one of Griffin's books:
Do American Christians want the United States to act like the New Rome, invading other countries to impose its imperial rule and its control of other peoples’ resources? That is just what the U.S. is doing, increasingly so since 9/11, explains David Griffin. In this gripping summary of evidence for the truth behind 9/11 and the 9/11 Commission report, Griffin makes a compelling case that the imperial practices of the American government have become a destructive force in the world. And he clarifies the biblical and theological basis for Christians to challenge the resurgent American imperialism that often claims divine blessing on its destructive actions.
• Walter Wink, professor emeritus, Auburn Theological Seminary, who is a signatory of the Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth statement

• Mahmoud Ayoub, emeritus professor, Temple University, who also signed the Religious Leaders for 9/11 truth statement

• Carol P. Christ (signed the Religious Leaders for 9/11 truth statement)

I've mentioned these names either because I've heard of them, they are prominent in certain areas of religious studies, or because they had a personal impact on me when I was a student. I'm shocked to find that they applaud Griffin's shoddy scholarship and convoluted conspiracy theories. Rosemary Ruether's book on Christian anti-semitism,"Faith and fratricide: the theological roots of anti-Semitism" had a great influence on me in graduate school. I first encountered Carol Christ's work when I was an undergraduate at University of California, Santa Cruz, in the late 1970s, and I attended an electrifying feminist spirituality conference where she was the keynote speaker. Carter Heyward was another feminist theologian who influenced me when I was in graduate school. Horsley and Wink are both well-known New Testament scholars. John Cobb is one of the founders of Process Theology.

How could these people fall into the illogical trap of such conspiracy theories? Couldn't they oppose the Bush administration and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without adhering to such nonsensical theories? I simply don't understand, and I'm at a loss to explain their thought processes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

My article on magical knowledge in 1 Enoch published

An article of mine was published in the Festschrift for Rachel Elior, the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Jewish Mystical Thought at the Hebrew University, who was one of the advisers on my dissertation.

The Festschrift is entitled With Letters of Light (אותיות של אור): Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic, and Mysticism in Honor of Rachel Elior. My article is "'They Revealed Secrets to Their Wives': The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch."

Congressman Gary Ackerman - Mubarak should step down

Congressman Gary Ackerman, who is a strong supporter of Israel, has come out with a statement urging Mubarak to step down.
"Like all Americans I have been watching events in Egypt and it has become clear that it's time for America to step off of the rhetorical tightrope and stand clearly with the people of Egypt in their struggle for freedom. The Egyptian people are in the midst of a crisis, and like anyone in crisis, they need to know who their friends are.

"While initially it may have been prudent for the Obama Administration to walk that rhetorical tight rope to keep the confidence of regional leaders, that moment has surely passed. By their passion, courage and sacrifice in the streets, Egyptians have proven beyond question that they are taking their government back and that the Mubarak-era of rule is ending.

"President Mubarak has been a valuable partner for the United States, but he has, by his own decisions and successive phony elections, shorn his rule of any mandate or legitimacy beyond that provided by force and arms. His last act of service to Egypt should be to facilitate a fast transfer of power to a transitional government that can prepare for free and fair elections.

"Accordingly, I believe the United States must suspend its assistance to Egypt until this transition is underway.

"The Egyptian people have made their wishes very clear: it is time for President Mubarak to step down and allow Egypt to move forward into a new era of democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

Big news from Egypt

The New York Times is reporting that the Egyptian Army has announced that it will not fire on the protesters, as long as they use peaceful means.
The political forces aligned against President Hosni Mubarak seemed to strengthen on Monday, when the Army said for the first time that it would not fire on the protesters who have convulsed Egypt for the last week. The announcement was followed shortly by the government’s first offer to talk to the protest leaders....

The Army’s announcement — delivered on state TV with no elaboration by its official spokesman — declared that “freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody,” and promised to recognize the “legitimate demands” of the protesters.

While the carefully worded statement was seen by some as a veiled threat to use force against those who do not use peaceful means, an associate of Mr. Mubarak’s said it should be taken at face value.

“The Army is not a puppet in the hands of anybody,” including Mr. Mubarak, said Mahmoud Shokry, a retired diplomat and a friend of Mr. Suleiman. “The Army does not want to make any confrontation with the youth.” He said the generals would “ask Mr. Mubarak to leave” before they would accept orders they think could lead to civil war or risk their credibility with the public.

Still, opposition leaders said they were not prepared to celebrate the announcement as the turning point it proved in Tunisia, where the government collapsed after the military refused to shoot at its own people.
Although I'm apprehensive for Israel about what could happen if Mubarak does finally resign and a new government is established, it is very exciting to see thousands and thousands of people demonstrating for freedom and democracy.

The report I'm hearing tonight described members of the Muslim Brotherhood involved in the demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo. I hope that any government that's formed after Mubarak falls (if that happens) will not be dominated by the MB. My main apprehension about them would be what would they do with the peace treaty with Israel. Also, of course, if they get into power, would democracy continue in Egypt? Would they be willing to leave power if they lost an election? Questions that I don't think anyone has the final answers to.