Friday, November 21, 2003

Larry Derfner has written a very troubling article in today's Jerusalem Post -- The wages of denial.

The problem is that the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israel has no effect on Jews at all.

This is not a failure of the Israeli or Jewish heart. A nation at war doesn't feel for the losses of the other side – maybe for a particular individual, a child whose face they've seen and whose story they've learned, but not for the enemy in general.

IN FACT, I credit Israelis for having much more human decency than their enemy – they may be indifferent to the news of the deaths of Palestinian innocents, but at least you won't find crowds of them dancing and cheering. But while I don't expect Palestinian suffering to touch Jewish hearts, I do expect it to at least register in Jewish minds. If we want to think wisely about Israel and the Jewish people, about where we stand and where we're going, one of the things we must keep uppermost in our minds is that Israel is inflicting mammoth suffering on 3.3 million Palestinians.

But of course we don't. Instead, Jews have developed an amazingly efficient denial mechanism that automatically prevents any word or picture that shows what we're doing to the Palestinians from ever getting into our brains. Our minds are open to receive and store information only about what the Arabs are doing to us.

We've willed ourselves into ignorance of our surroundings, so that when bombs go off and Jews get killed, in Israel and elsewhere, we can't understand it as anything other than incorrigible, eternal Jew-hatred that has no connection whatsoever to what Israel is doing in the territories – because we've blanked our minds on what Israel is doing in the territories. Therefore, when our military and intelligence leaders tell us there is a connection between what we do to the Arabs and what they do to us, it's a huge shock.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon says we're being so harsh on the Palestinian population that they may never stop hating us, and we don't understand.

Were we being harsh?

What are these four ex-Shin Bet chiefs talking about? "Once and for all we have to admit that there is another side, and that they have feelings and they suffer, and that we are treating them in a disgraceful manner."

Yes, that's the only word I have for it. Disgraceful, says Avraham Shalom.

"To this day I don't understand why a tank that's driving on the streets of Ramallah also has to crush the cars parked on the sides," says Ya'acov Peri.

He continues with these painfully sharp remarks:

We don't see it, but everybody else in the world does, above all the Muslims. It's true that plenty of them hate all Jews no matter what we do – but why did this wave of Muslim violence against Diaspora Jews begin exactly when the intifada made its debut on the nightly news?

Just because those Muslims are anti-Semites doesn't mean that Israel isn't treating the Palestinians disgracefully, and anybody who doesn't see the connection between that disgraceful treatment and the savage actions of anti-Semites – whether in Jerusalem, Istanbul or Paris – is unconscious.

But unconscious is what we Jews have decided to become.

I think he is correct. It is so easy when one is suffering at the hands of another to be oblivious to the suffering that one is inflicting on that same other. When I first saw the photographs of the separation fence going almost entirely around Qalqilyah, on the West Bank, I was shocked.

I was once in Qalqilyah, over ten years ago, during the first intifada. Soldiers on the main road to the city wouldn't let us in, so we drove a short way from there and walked through the orchards surrounding the city until we got into it. You can't do that now. Now the only way to enter the city is to go through the checkpoint. I imagine that the farmers who live in the city are now entirely cut off from their orchards and fields.

I understand why Israelis want to build the fence/wall -- in the belief or hope that it will stop suicide bombers. But I think it will provide only the illusion of security, and make it even easier to ignore what Israelis are doing to Palestinians.

This is not to excuse anti-semitism, as I think I have made clear many times in this blog. I don't believe that anti-semitism is the Jews' "fault" -- I think, on the contrary, that anti-semitism is like a virus, and that when the body politic is weakened, it can flare up again. The conflict (let's be honest -- the war) between Israelis and Palestinians is real -- it's not a figment of the anti-semitic imagination, and real wars engender real hatreds. Let's just say that war makes it possible for many different viruses of hatred to flourish.

When I heard this morning about the bombings in Turkey, I was very disheartened. I can only imagine how the people of Istanbul feel now that their city has been devastated by two massive bombings within a week. But it did make me realize one thing. It is very easy as a Jew to fall into the illusion that we are uniquely singled out for attacks -- but it's not true. Thus I don't think there is a one-to-one relationship between Israeli actions against Palestinians and attacks upon Jews outside of Israel. On September 11, Al-Qaeda struck at power centers in the United States -- not at Israel. Jews and Israel are one target of Al-Qaeda -- but only within a complex web of associations that they make between the U.S., Europe, Israel, Arab regimes, etc.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Here is an article on a cool archaeological find in Jerusalem -- an inscription on the misnamed "Absalom's Tomb" -- Scholars Discover Parts of New Testament. Texts from the New Testament referring to figures known from the New Testament were engraved on the tomb by 4th century Christian visitors.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Another good British editorial on the Istanbul bombings and the blame-Israel response: The liberalism of fools.

What has happened to the liberal media in Europe that the slaughter of innocent worshippers and the desecration of ancient synagogues in Istanbul should evoke implicit criticism, not of the perpetrators, but of Turkey's ally Israel? Since the last attack on an Istanbul synagogue in 1986 by Palestinian terrorists led by Saddam's late protégé Abu Nidal, a great deal has changed. Then, the condemnation of the killers was universal and unconditional. Now, each new atrocity against Jews is greeted by new attempts at justification or relativisation. When Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir expounded his anti-Semitic conspiracy theory at a recent gathering of Islamic leaders, all 57 present applauded. Western responses were muted. As the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said yesterday: "Radicals are preaching hate and nobody is protesting."

Nor is the new anti-Semitism limited to the Muslim world. On Saturday, a Jewish school near Paris was burnt down. So common have such attacks become in France that Le Monde did not even consider this incident worth reporting yesterday, but President Chirac appears to have woken up to the danger - late in the day. A poll sponsored by the European Commission finds that Israel is now considered by EU citizens to be the greatest threat to world peace. A liberal consensus is emerging that holds Israel responsible for the resurgence of anti-Semitism. To blame the victim is to exonerate the perpetrator. The carnage in Turkey should be a warning to Europe.

Even the Guardian (U.K.) is finally getting it about rising anti-semitism: Our dulled nerve. As they ask, after recounting the recent bombings in Istanbul and the arson of a Jewish school in Paris over the weekend:

Why is the liberal left not sufficiently concerned about the growth of anti-semitism? On this year's anti-war march in Paris, Jewish peace activists were beaten up by other demonstrators. There were less dramatic confrontations on London's million-strong march. It did not matter to the attackers that Jewish writers and activists have been vocal against the Iraq war. Nor did the attackers care that many criticise the current Israeli government's policies towards the Palestinians. Their victims were targets just because they are Jews.

Even the police are now being more proactive in pursuing people spreading virulent anti-semitic literature or inciting religious hatred. Could not the liberal left, which in an earlier era vigilantly sought to protect Jews from prejudice and bigotry, rediscover its old values?

Honestly, I think the liberal left doesn't want to touch this issue because they've bought into the anti-semitic myth that all Jews=Israel and that supporting Jews against anti-semites=supporting the Sharon government. I remember an incident that happened to me in 1981, right after Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq (thank God!). I was talking to a friend -- who knew that I was Jewish but who had no idea what my politics about Israel were (I'm not sure I really had formulated them very clearly at that point), who launched into an attack on me because of what the Israeli government had done. As if I were the Israeli ambassador or at least an Israeli citizen. For him, Jew=Israeli, and thus I was fair game for his criticism. In other respects his politics were quite radical and I'm sure he would have asserted that he was anti-racist. But when it came to Israel he had a big blind spot, and coupled with his large dose of ignorance about Jews, it ended up with his attacking me for Israeli policies and actions.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Well, as I suspected when hearing about the simultaneous car bombs yesterday, Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for attacks. Part of the statement from an Al-Qaeda spokesman reads: "The attacks against Jews and America will follow. Let America and Israel cry for their dead from today and the destruction that they will suffer."

Saturday, November 15, 2003

It seems likely that Al-Qaida has struck again -- Car Bombs at Istanbul Synagogues Kill 17. One of the synagogues is called "Neve Shalom" -- oasis of peace. They were attacked during Shabbat services -- including a bar mitzvah at one of the synagogues.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

It appears that an exhibit of anti-abortion posters that compare abortion to lynchings of black men and to the Holocaust is traveling around U.S. campuses. We had the so-called Genocide Awareness Project come to Ithaca College a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of Students for Life. Protocols noticed this trend also. Randall Terry, the head of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, also came to speak.

This event followed soon after another group's use of the Holocaust to further its own agenda on the Cornell campus -- PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) brought an exhibit called "Holocaust on Your Plate," which compared slaughterhouses and factory farms to Nazi concentration camps.

As a wise student commentary noted in the Ithacan, the Ithaca College student newspaper,

George Bush is not Adolf Hitler, meat eaters are not Nazis and aborted fetuses are not Holocaust victims. Nevertheless, activists across the political spectrum bring Third Reich rhetoric and symbolism into completely unrelated debates to evoke emotion and prove the gravity of their causes. . . .

All these Nazi analogies are undoubtedly problematic. They allow our already weak sense of historical understanding to disintegrate further until the Holocaust is reduced to a simple icon of evil. Furthermore, they muddle our collective ability to grapple with the complexities of current issues. Activists, in shoddy attempts at conveying the gravity of their causes, appropriate and exploit this historical imagery, thereby reducing the horrible and complex atrocities of events like the Holocaust to mere symbolism.

Interestingly, the “Genocide Awareness Project” advocates threw a few additional historical images into their display. Furthering the emotionality of their cause, they compared aborted fetuses to Ku Klux Klan victims and Planned Parenthood to al-Qaida. Like the Holocaust analogies, these comparisons effectively reduced complex historical events to symbols, manipulating them into support for an anti-abortion effort.

While these ridiculous analogies were effective in creating a stir, they weren’t exactly successful in sparking thoughtful discussion about abortion and reproductive rights. In fact, more people seem to be discussing the group’s approach and their free speech rights than their pro-life ideology.

Perhaps, though, thoughtful discussion wasn’t really the objective. Like the other advocates trying to push their opinions, the Students for Life resorted to Nazi imagery for its shock value. They did manage to raise eyebrows, but they failed to raise awareness of the complex issues involved in both abortion and the Holocaust.

The author is absolutely correct that such misuses of the memory of the Holocaust make it into an "icon of evil" and make us lose all sense of the historical specificity of the complex web of events that we place under the title "Holocaust."

I guess I haven't been here for quite a while -- I've been pretty busy, doing research for my Society of Biblical Literature paper (the conference is in two weeks), and reading for the course I'll be teaching with another professor next semester, on Biblical Interpretation in Judaism and Christianity.

This is the abstract of the paper I'm writing:

Divine Weeping and God’s Right Arm: A vision of eschatological sorrow in Sefer Hekhalot (3 Enoch)

In Sefer Hekhalot (3 Enoch), Metatron, the Prince of the divine Presence, reveals to Rabbi Ishmael the secrets of the heavenly world, the fate of the human soul before birth and after death, and the course of ultimate redemption and the coming of the Messiah. 3 Enoch explicitly describes how each person will be judged after his death. The souls of the righteous will fly above the Throne of Glory in the presence of God. The souls of the wicked go down to Sheol to be punished with rods of burning coal. The souls of the intermediate are purged with suffering and then join the souls of the righteous. One important task of the “fathers of the world” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and the other righteous souls is to intercede on behalf of the suffering people of Israel on earth. They ask God why he has not saved his people and why his right hand, by which he stretched out the heavens, is still set behind him? As part of his heavenly journey, Rabbi Ishmael is shown the vision of God’s right hand, “which has been banished behind him because of the destruction of the Temple.” In a striking image, the five fingers of God’s hand weep in sorrow and five tears fall into the Great Sea and make the whole world quake. The souls of the righteous beseech God’s hand three times a day with the prayer, “Awake! Awake! Clothe yourself in strength, arm of the Lord” (Isa. 51:9). Only when God realizes that there are no righteous on earth will he deliver his right hand and bring the final redemption.

In this paper I will explore several themes that emerge from Sefer Hekhalot: the role of the righteous dead in protesting God’s judgment, and their ritual cry to awaken God’s arm; the hypostasis of God’s strength in the figure of his right arm set behind him, and of his sorrow in the image of the weeping fingers of his right hand; and the theurgical intertwining of the fate of the people of Israel and God’s strength. This paper will explore the ways in which Sefer Hekhalot transforms theological conceptions found in earlier midrashic and talmudic literature (for example, Lamentations Rabbah proem 24, b. Hag. 5b), and proves a crucial means of transmission to the later kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions.

Today I have been enjoying a beautiful clear late fall day, raking leaves (an abundance has fallen on my lawn) and harvesting the last of the Swiss chard, which is beginning to droop. We've had a pretty hard frost the last couple of nights and it just killed the tomato plants and the dahlias.

And the lunar eclipse last night was beautiful. I didn't watch the whole thing, but I did catch the moon when most of it was in shadow -- of course, I could still see that part, but dimly. There were many stars revealed when the moon grew dark. Later on in the night, when the moon had returned, it whitened the sky so that I could see very few stars. And for once we could see it here, in usually cloudy Ithaca.