Friday, December 30, 2011

May 16, 1948 - Jews of Arab lands endangered

I've published an article on my Israel blog, "The Land and the People," giving the text of a New York Times article published on May 16, 1948, detailing the danger that Jews of Muslim and Arab lands were in with the establishment of the state of Israel. See Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands for the complete text.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why not say 'sci fi'?

I used to be part of science fiction fandom, in my teens and twenties, and one of the things that drove us crazy was when people referred to sci fi (pronounced sci fye) instead of SF. I think it was mostly a matter of defining boundaries - we the real science fiction fans knew the correct word to use, while the mundanes (our name for non-SF fans) didn't know what real science fiction was and called it sci fi. Calling it sci fi was a way to belittle the literature (and by extension, us).

Normblog provides a more elegant and literary reason:
Readers, I'm here to tell you that I've now thought of an argument in favour of my prejudice preference. 'Sci fi' is supposed to abbreviate 'science fiction', but it is spoken as if it rhymes with 'hi fi'. What kind of sense does that make? If I say 'in the circs', I wouldn't pronounce 'circs' to rhyme with, say, 'larks', so that it came out 'sarks'. If I say 'peeps', I don't rhyme it with 'hopes' and call them 'popes'. And so on, you get the picture. Accordingly, 'sci fi' ought to be said as if the second syllable was the beginning of the word 'fiction'. But no one says it like that. It would sound silly, as if it had been interrupted by a sponge suddenly being thrust into the mouth of the speaker. From now on I'll be urging this silly pronunciation upon all who say 'sci fye', in the hope of shaming them towards the more elegant 'SF'.

The semester is OVER!!

I finally handed in my grades tonight - at 10:00 p.m., the deadline. What a relief! Next Wednesday I'm driving to Cambridge to see my family for a few days, and then on January 8 I'm flying to Israel for my sabbatical - I'll be there until the end of July.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ron Paul, Anti-Semite

Eric Dondero, a former staffer for Ron Paul, has just published a statement on a right wing site - Right Wing News - trying to exonerate Paul of racism and homophobia, but concentrating on Paul's foreign policy isolationism, his opposition to the existence of Israel, and his callousness about the lives of Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. He does a really lousy job of exonerating Paul of racism and homophobia (in part by retailing a couple of stories about how Paul recoiled from physical contact - like shaking hands - with his gay male campaign supporters).

Paul's views on Israel and Jews

Israel
Is Ron Paul an Anti-Semite? Absolutely No. As a Jew, (half on my mother’s side), I can categorically say that I never heard anything out of his mouth, in hundreds of speeches I listened too over the years, or in my personal presence that could be called, “Anti-Semite.” No slurs. No derogatory remarks.

He is however, most certainly Anti-Israel, and Anti-Israeli in general. He wishes the Israeli state did not exist at all. He expressed this to me numerous times in our private conversations. His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolishment of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs.

Again, American Jews, Ron Paul has no problem with. In fact, there were a few Jews in our congressional district, and Ron befriended them with the specific intent of winning their support for our campaign. (One synagogue in Victoria, and tiny one in Wharton headed by a well-known Jewish lawyer).

On the incident that’s being talked about in some blog media about the campaign manager directing me to a press conference of our opponent Lefty Morris in Victoria to push back on Anti-Jewish charges from the Morris campaign, yes, that did happen. The Victoria Advocate described the press conference very accurately. Yes, I was asked (not forced), to attend the conference dressed in a Jewish yarlmuke [sic], and other Jewish adornments.

There was another incident when Ron finally agreed to a meeting with Houston Jewish Young Republicans at the Freeport office. He berated them, and even shouted at one point, over their un-flinching support for Israel. So, much so, that the 6 of them walked out of the office. I was left chasing them down the hallway apologizing for my boss.
On Paul's isolationism and Jews during WWII
On one other matter, I’d like to express in the strongest terms possible, that the liberal media are focusing in on entirely the wrong aspects regarding controversies on Ron Paul.

It’s his foreign policy that’s the problem; not so much some stupid and whacky things on race and gays he may have said or written in the past.

Ron Paul is most assuredly an isolationist. He denies this charge vociferously. But I can tell you straight out, I had countless arguments/discussions with him over his personal views. For example, he strenuously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that “saving the Jews,” was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often times brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks of Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just “blowback,” for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.

I would challenge him, like for example, what about the instances of German U-boats attacking U.S. ships, or even landing on the coast of North Carolina or Long Island, NY. He’d finally concede that that and only that was reason enough to counter-attack against the Nazis, not any humanitarian causes like preventing the Holocaust.
The conclusion I draw from these remarks is that Ron Paul represents a revival of the staunchly isolationist, anti-semitic conservative movement that existed in this country before the Second World War. He would be in good company with Charles Lindburgh and the America First Committee. No matter the number of black or Hispanic staffers he's hired, he still hold old-fashioned racist views, and he fully shares in the homophobia of the American religious right. I wonder what Andrew Sullivan, anti-Israel gay conservative, will make of these words from Dondero. I wonder what the evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party will make of Dondero's exposure of Paul's anti-Israelism and anti-semitism. This statement by Dondero deserves the widest possible publicity.

Update (December 27, 2011): See Jeffrey Shapiro on the Big Government site today reaffirming Paul's remark that he would not have entered WWII "to save the Jews." While this is an unpleasant thing for him to say, it seems to me that at the time a lot of people were saying this (and others were thinking it). And of course the US did not enter the war to end the Holocaust - if we had, we should have declared war against Germany in the summer of 1941 (after the German invasion of the Soviet Union) rather than after we were attacked by Japan in December. And of course, once we entered the war, it took rather a long time to persuade Roosevelt to do anything special to save European Jews (other than trying to win the war), with the establishment of the War Refugee Board in 1944. Roosevelt could have authorized US action long before then to vigorously try to save Jews in Nazi Europe, not through military action (which would have been quite difficult before D-Day), but by doing the things the WRB did - send agents to Europe to negotiate with Nazi satellite regimes, to threaten them, and to pay them off. But that is another subject.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Is this apartheid?

Separation Wall at Abu Dis, Jerusalem
Israel gearing for effective separation of East Jerusalem Palestinians (Haaretz).
Last week, a new border crossing was opened in East Jerusalem's Shoafat neighborhood, to little fanfare. Two days later, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asserted that Israel should relinquish Palestinian neighborhoods of the capital that are beyond the separation barrier, despite the fact that their residents carry Israeli identity cards.

Some people view these events as two pieces of the same puzzle. A third piece is the resumption of work on separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.
Separation Wall at Abu Dis
(Also published on my new Israel blog - The land and the people, which I'm setting up to write for when I'm going to be in Israel for my sabbatical - January-July 2012).

Photos of the Separation Wall at Abu Dis were taken when I went on a tour of East Jerusalem sponsored by Ir Amim, in the summer of 2010.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and the Iraq War

I've been reading all of the obituaries and encomia of Christopher Hitchens, and realizing when I started paying attention to him - after the September 11 attacks. Terry Glavin writes -
“OK, that’s a confrontation between everything I like and everything I don’t like,” he remembered saying to himself. Writing in the Boston Globe a year later, he put it this way: “On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan ... on the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism.”
But Hitchens quickly noticed that something else had happened that day, and he’d resolved that he wasn’t going to shut up about it. The bloody spectacle had opened up a deep rot down in the structural foundations of the political culture that had nurtured him, first as a young Luxemburgist pamphleteer at Oxford, then as an acid-witted chronicler for obscure Trotskyist journals, and later, as something extraordinary in American culture: a popular, prize-winning, hard-left public intellectual.
By the morning of Sept. 11, Hitchens had established himself as an essayist, literary critic and a formidable Washington correspondent for such venerable liberal American journals as the Nation, Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair. What he saw in the meaning of Sept. 11 was not just this: “You couldn’t really have wanted a better and more dynamic and radical confrontation.” It was this: “And the American left decides: ‘Let’s sit this one out.’ That’s historical condemnation. To be neutral or indifferent about that, it’s just giving up.”
This is as close as you can get to any paradigmatic truth about any of the important political debates and controversies that were to rage and churn through the first few years of the 21st century, a decade of vile hatreds and hysterics that consumed the Left and rendered much of the liberal American mainstream an ugly caricature of itself.
I agree with Hitchens that the "American left decides to sit this one out," something that I experienced in futile arguments here in Ithaca, New York, a bastion of reflexively left-wing thinking (Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, where I work). I remember in the summer of 2002, being told by a local left-wing political activist that a local candidate for the New York Assembly should be voted for because she had opposed the NATO intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo (as if this had anything to do with whether she would be a good member of the Assembly!). He said this as if it was universally accepted that this was the only proper way to think - to leave the people of Kosovo to the tender mercies of the Serbian nationalists. I was in Israel during this time (spring of 1999), following the news, and came to the conclusion then that it was better for NATO to intervene than to stand idly by. I couldn't imagine why someone who purported to be on the left and on the side of oppressed people would oppose the NATO bombing. I realized slowly that this was part of the idiotic "anti-imperialism" of fools that had overtaken the left - the assumption being that everything that the US does outside of its borders is wrong, to be condemned, and is part of American imperialism, leading to the truly disgraceful sight of people on the left consorting with vile dictators. But that was okay, since they were opposing American imperialism!

Today is also the day when the last American troops leave Iraq. I was a supporter of the Iraq War at the beginning - I believed the claim that Iraq had WMDs and was prepared to use them (being persuaded by among other things Colin Powell's presentation at the UN). Once it became clear that Iraq in fact did not have WMDs I began to have my doubts - and then more so when it also became clear that the US had no plan for what to do once we succeeded in conquering Iraq - remember the unrestrained looting and destruction after the invasion? Remember Rumsfield saying, "Stuff happens," and doing nothing? And then there came the horrible scandal of Abu Ghraib and the other prisons in Iraq where American soldiers tortured and humiliated Iraqi prisoners, and the feeble defenses of torture by the Bush administration. I am glad that we have finally withdrawn all of our soldiers. We have left behind us a devastated nation - although we are certainly not responsible for all of that devastation, since Saddam Hussein did his level best before the US invasion to destroy his own country, first by invading Iran and fighting with it for eight years, and then invading Kuwait and being defeated by the allied coalition in 1991. But even then we had a role in helping him to kill his own people - the first president Bush, after encouraging the people of Iraq to rebel against Saddam, stood idly by as Saddam's troops brutally killed thousands of Shi'ites and Kurds who began to do what he had urged them to do.

So should I have opposed the Iraq War at the beginning? In hindsight, yes, although if we had not invaded Iraq in 2003, would we still be imposing sanctions on the country which were strangling it economically and further impoverishing its people? I remember the bitter protests against the sanctions by people on the left-wing before the invasion. The sanctions were denounced as evil, as child-killing, and there were people who went to Iraq then, while Saddam was still ruling the country, to stand in solidarity with the people of Iraq. I was also dumbfounded by this response - how could western leftists act in such a way as to put themselves on the same side as Saddam Hussein, who by this point had probably killed about 300,000 of his own people (remember the hundreds or thousands of mass graves discovered after the conquest of Iraq?). It could be argued that they went in to support the people, not Saddam - but do you think that if they had openly opposed him, they would have been allowed into Iraq? No, of course not.

The situation of Iraq long before the war in 2003 was a real challenge to the leftist assumption that everything the US did was wrong and that any foreign ruler who opposed the US was an anti-imperialist. Saddam Hussein *was* an imperialist - he invaded two of the countries neighboring Iraq in order to gain benefits for Iraq.

One of the strengths of Christopher Hitchens is that he did in fact stand with the people of Iraq against Saddam - he was a long time supporter of the Kurds. Surprisingly, when I tried to argue that the invasion of Iraq did in fact help the Kurds, this did not move the people I knew who opposed the war - they could not admit that perhaps the war, for all of its cruelty and stupidity, had actually benefited some of the people of Iraq, who had been the victims of attempted genocide.

I don't know how to end this essay. My thoughts and feelings about Iraq are still very mixed - I can't come to a single, unambivalent statement about the war and what we should have done. Certainly what we did do was horrible, cruel, and bloody - but on the other side, Iraq is no longer ruled by Saddam Hussein.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead

I've just read the announcement in Vanity Fair that Christopher Hitchens has just died of cancer. I have nothing particularly profound to say about him, except that I found his writing about his struggle with cancer to be immensely moving and also terrifying in his open confrontation with death. In his last column for Vanity Fair, he wrote:
I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.

These are progressive weaknesses that in a more “normal” life might have taken decades to catch up with me. But, as with the normal life, one finds that every passing day represents more and more relentlessly subtracted from less and less. In other words, the process both etiolates you and moves you nearer toward death. How could it be otherwise? Just as I was beginning to reflect along these lines, I came across an article on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. We now know, from dearly bought experience, much more about this malady than we used to. Apparently, one of the symptoms by which it is made known is that a tough veteran will say, seeking to make light of his experience, that “what didn’t kill me made me stronger.” This is one of the manifestations that “denial” takes.

I am attracted to the German etymology of the word “stark,” and its relative used by Nietzsche, stĂ€rker, which means “stronger.” In Yiddish, to call someone a shtarker is to credit him with being a militant, a tough guy, a hard worker. So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.
May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Political attack on study abroad in Israel

California State University is considering reestablishing its study abroad program in Israel, while a group of Cal State faculty and administrators has written an Open Letter to the administration calling for this attempt to be stopped, on the grounds of danger, possible discrimination against some CSU students, and of course the apartheid charge. They also think that it would be one-sided to establish a study abroad program in conjunction with Israeli universities without also establishing a similar program with Palestinian universities. It might be a good idea to establish a similar program with Palestinian universities (Bard College has established a joint program with Al-Quds University in Jerusalem), but the absence of such a program should not prevent the reestablishment of the Israel study abroad program.

The University of California restarted its formal study abroad program in partnership with the Hebrew University in 2009.

I certainly hope this attempt to cut off student opportunities to study in Israel is ignored. David Klein, who teaches at CSU Northridge, and was the main author of the letter, argues that "cutting off engagement with Israeli universities is an exercise of academic freedom, not an abridgement of it: 'We’re choosing not to have relationships with institutions that participate in apartheid, in the same way that in the lead-up to World War II, universities broke off relations with universities in Nazi Germany.'"

Notice the rhetorical slip here - from the evil of apartheid to the evil of Nazi Germany. Does Klein think that Israel is trying to exterminate the Palestinians?

Zeev Maoz, a UC Davis professor who has taught a summer study abroad course in Israel, "offered a different interpretation. 'They’re raising the notion of academic freedom, and what they’re advocating is putting limits on academic freedom,' he said. 'To me, this is the epitome of hypocrisy.'"

I agree with Maoz. Klein and his supporters are using their own academic freedom in order to prevent others to exercise their own academic freedom to study and teach in Israel. That is the epitome of the BDS campaign.