Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ron Paul, Neo-Nazis, Racists, and Evolution

I've been following some of the blogosphere discussion about Ron Paul's connections to the American far right - among others, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Christian Reconstructionism (not to be confused with Jewish Reconstructionism!), as well as his anti-evolution and crank medicine views.

A few days ago LGF posted a photo of Paul together with Don Black and his son Derek Black ( Ron Paul's Photo-Op with Stormfront) - thanks to Deborah Lipstadt for the reference. Don Black is the owner of Stormfront, a neo-Nazi web site. Don Black has donated $500 to the Ron Paul campaign, and Paul is refusing to give it back.

On Paul's racist statements, see Ron Paul's racism. Paul has been a guest on the radio program of the Council of Conservative Citizens (what the White Citizens Councils turned into) - see The Company Ron Paul Keeps.

Another good blog article, which mentions his connection to Christian Reconstructionist Gary North, is Orcinus. For those who don't know who Gary North is, he's the son-in-law of R. J. Rushdoony, the founder of the movement. See this article by Walter Olson in Reason Magazine on Christian Reconstructionism - Invitation to a Stoning. Gary North was briefly on Paul's congressional staff in the 1970s.

Orac of Respectful Insolence has done a great job of laying out Paul's crank medical beliefs - Ron Paul, Quackery Enabler. Another of the ScienceBlogs crew has posted a video on Paul's rejection of evolution - Ron Paul Rejects Evolution.

What I want to know is why Ron Paul is still considered to have any legitimacy as a Presidential candidate? Why haven't all of these connections been pursued in stories about Paul on NPR, CNN or in the New York Times? Most of the stories I've read or heard about him have mentioned his opposition to the Iraq War, but haven't discussed who his most devoted supporters are, or even alluded to his adherence to the gold standard and opposition to the Federal Reserve Bank - a standard of far-right wing rhetoric. Is it because they simply don't take him seriously? He doesn't have a chance of becoming the next President of the United States - but that doesn't mean that we should ignore his connections to the far right wing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Photos of Sunnier Days

Since I'm feeling melancholy about the short days, I thought I'd post some nice photos of sunnier days. The first two are of Sodom Pond in Adamant, Vermont - I visited there in late summer this year.

Trees on Sodom Pond

Water lilies on Sodom Pond

This next one is from the fall, going home from Vermont - Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain

The next one is from Israel - just along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Rekhes ha-Sulam

This one is from the women's section of the Kotel, in Jerusalem.

Praying on a hot day

The last rose blossom of the fall in my garden.

Yellow Rose of Ithaca

End of the Year

Just some thoughts on the ending of the (secular) year.

I was just walking to my local coffee shop (Gimme!) and thinking about how the end of the secular year feels different than the end of the Jewish year. The secular year (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) ends in darkness - the days are so short that (here in Ithaca) the sun rises around 7:30 a.m. and sets around 4:30 p.m. Daylight feels like a rare treasure - and an even rarer treasure is a sunny day (Ithaca is in one of the cloudiest regions of the U.S.) Since this is a college town, Ithaca empties out during the break between semesters. My street has a couple of houses occupied by students or recent graduates, and they have disappeared for the vacation. Even the other people have gone away for a few days. On Christmas Day there were hardly any cars on the street. Ithaca was very quiet - hardly any cars passed along the street during the day (which I mostly spent grading exams....) It feels like a melancholy time.

Only if I go to Israel at this time does it feel that I can escape from this melancholy. The days are slightly longer, and there isn't the enormous focus on Christmas that pulls in all the energy in the U.S. And even New Year's Eve isn't a big deal - especially in Jerusalem, where the rabbinate threatens hotels who want to have New Year's parties. They say that they'll pull their kashrut certificates if they observe "Yom Sylvester," which is the Israeli name for the secular New Year (named, according to this Wikipedia article, after Pope Sylvester I, who died in 335 on December 31). I think in the years that I've been in Israel at this time I've only gone to one or two Sylvester parties.

The Jewish New Year, on the other hand, doesn't have the same melancholy associations. The days are getting shorter, but they're still pretty long in Ithaca. Everything's still growing, the flowers are in bloom, and there's lots of good local vegetables in the Farmer's Market. The school year is beginning, so everyone's still hopeful that they're going to get good grades this year. The end of the old year is the month of Elul, which isn't a month to look back over the previous year, but a month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. One does engage in introspection to prepare for Yom Kippur, which can involve a melancholy focus on one's shortcomings and outright sins against other people - but after Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, which is an unalloyed happy holiday. And in Israel, it often means adorning the sukkah with garish decorations that most Israelis don't realize were actually intended to be Christmas decorations.

So all in all, I prefer Rosh Hashanah to the secular New Year. But on the other hand, we've now started the long process of lengthening the days - it's much too subtle to realize now, but by February the days are palpably longer. (And we need that, since by February we are very tired of winter, and there are still a couple more months of it).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

John Strugnell Dies at 77

I just found this out by reading Paleojudaica: John Strugnell Dies at 77; Scholar Undone by His Slur. I studied with Strugnell when I was an undergraduate and a graduate student at Harvard in the 1980s. I took his course on "Intertestamental Literature" when I was a senior, and we spent most of the semester reading 1 Enoch (in the then new Old Testament Pseudepigrapha translation). I wrote a paper for the course on the Apocalypse of Abraham - it was one of the first papers I wrote as a student on ancient Jewish mysticism. As a graduate student, I took the New Testament seminar with him in 1986 or 1987 when the topic was 4QMiqtzat Ma'aseh Torah. It hadn't been published yet - in fact, we were very lucky to be able to study it, as Strugnell was the Dead Sea Scrolls editor who had been entrusted with its publication, and this was still in the days before all of the scrolls were released to be studied by any scholar. I remember going to the AAR/SBL that year and getting into a conversation at breakfast one day with a scholar from another university who asked me if I had a copy of Strugnell's transcription, because he wanted to look at it! When I went to Israel in 1987 for two years, I would periodically go visit Strugnell at the Ecole Biblique and we would talk about ancient Judaism. I wasn't aware of his negative opinions about Judaism until the whole scandal broke in 1990. At some point during these years I was talking to him in his Harvard office and agreed with him that the most interesting parts of ancient Jewish literature were the wierd ones, like the pseudepigrapha or the mystical texts. He was always very helpful to me and I was sad when I heard about his opinions on Judaism. Nonetheless, he had many accomplishments as a scholar, including teaching many undergraduate and graduate students how to read ancient Jewish texts in a careful and analytic manner. Whatever his feelings about Judaism as a religion, it did not affect how he related to me as a Jewish student or how he taught me about ancient Judaism.

Update - This is Jim Davila's encomium of Strugnell, with which I agree - John Strugnell. He says that "many of his friends and students, myself included, signed a statement in his defense which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991." I also signed this statement.

The "Red One" and Hanukkah

Last night in shul, instead of singing Adon Olam at the end, we sang a couple of stanzas of Maoz Tzur - the first and the last, both of which refer to the Hanukkah story. But in my Birnbaum siddur (Orthodox) there is a fifth stanza (which Birnbaum unhelpfully does not translate, but says that it is later than the rest of the piyyut). I took a look at it tonight trying to figure out what it said. Here's a rough translation:

Reveal your holy arm and bring near the day of salvation.
Enact the revenge of your servants against the evil kingdom.
The time has lengthened, and there is no end to the evil days.
Destroy the red one (Admon) in the deepest shadow,
and establish for us the seven shepherds [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David]


The "red one" is a pun on the name Edom (the ancient kingdom, which in rabbinic interpretation referred first to the pagan Roman empire, then to the Christian Roman empire, and then to Christianity as a whole).

(Translation help from the Orthodox Union website - Maoz Tzur).

Useful information on this stanza from Dov Bear A question for my conservative friends. He sees an analogy between the Hellenists denounced in the fourth stanza and modern-day right wing Jews who are trying to get close to evangelical Christians because of their common stance on various social issues like homosexuality or abortion. He said last year:

In 2006 we have our own Hellenizers, men like Daniel Lapin who rejoice at finding common ground between Judaism and the most backwards and least tolerant of Christians. Unfortunately, this common ground is almost always achieved by diluting Judaism. Our positions on abortion or homosexuality or any of the moral issues that animate appeasers like Lapin are richer and more complex and more ambiguous than the Evangelical's absolute 'No.' As readers of the Rabbis are aware our thinking on evolution and the age of the universe is also more accomodating than Christianity's. Samson Rephael Hirsch, for example, was famously flexible about evolution. And the Tiferes Yisroel thought Adam's children married pre-Adamic 'men.'


I just took another look at Lapin's website and found some truly mind-boggling statements by him. Here's one (from the "Ask Rabbi Daniel Lapin" section):

I belong to a messianic congregation and we're learning and following our Jewish roots. There are a few Jews in our congregation, and we often have a Rabbi come to speak. We asked those who were Jewish what [ed. behaviors] they felt Christians do that is most offensive to Jews. The response was the [use of the] symbol of the cross and/or wearing a cross. I wear both a Star of David and a Cross. I never thought I was offending my Jewish brethren. Is not the cross the ‘tav’ in the Hebrew language? Is the cross really offensive? I won't wear my cross if I'm offending my Jewish brethren. Should I get rid of my cross?

The only Jews who might be offended by a cross are those whose Jewish identity is so rootless that their definition of being a Jew is someone who doesn't believe in Jesus or the cross. There is obviously a whole lot more about Judaism and what we DO believe rather than what we are NOT. Many Jews without a strong Jewish foundation in Torah knowledge react to a cross the way a vampire does (or so I'm told) . There is no letter in the Hebrew language that resembles a cross. Sometimes when people say I offended them, it doesn't mean I was really offensive it just means that their skin is too thin. Best wishes RDL


This is a remarkably unhistorical answer to give this undoubtedly well-meaning questioner. Historically speaking, Jews have been wary of the sight of the cross because of Christian Judeophobia. It doesn't have anything to do with whether one's Jewish identity is rootless. In fact, the Jews I've met who are the most wary of Christianity have been Orthodox Jews who won't even enter a church - and these are people who are very well-rooted in Judaism. The thing I don't understand about Lapin is why he works so hard to curry favor with evangelical Christianity (not just evangelical Christians as people he agrees with). It seems to me that it would be sufficient to say that he agrees with them on social issues and that he's willing to be in coalitions with them. It's not necessary then to deny the history of Christian anti-Judaism and claim that Jews who are still aware of it are somehow unJewish.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mitt Romney and Shatnez

I was just listening to Mitt Romney speaking on NPR (they interviewed him for tonight’s All Things Considered) and he said that he believed that the Bible was the word of God and that his goal was to obey all the commandments. [Why this is relevant to the presidential election is a whole other issue, but let’s take his statements at face value, because the NPR questioner was following up on a question in the most recent Republican debate where the candidates were asked their views on the Bible]. All I could think was – all the commandments? The prohibition of wearing garments made of linen and wool together? The laws of kashrut, including the prohibition of eating pork or shellfish? The commandment to let your fields lie fallow every seven years? The observance of the Sabbath, including the prohibition on kindling fire on the Sabbath? Paying your hired laborer every evening after his or her work is done? Circumcising all your male children on the eighth day after birth?

Somehow, I doubt that he really intended all of these commandments when he said that his goal was to obey them all. I suspect he doesn’t even know about the law of shatnez, and doesn’t particularly worry about whether he eats pork rinds. As a Jew, it drives me crazy when Christians (and in this case he qualifies as a Mormon) say that they believe the entire Bible is the word of God and must be obeyed, since they so definitely don’t obey all of the laws of the Hebrew Bible. Why not just say that? It’s actually part of basic Christian doctrine from the New Testament onward that the ritual commandments don’t apply to Christians. This is what Paul was so exercised about in Galatians. In order for Gentiles to become Christians they did not need to become circumcised or to keep kosher – what they needed was faith in Christ.

And why did he say this in the first place? Especially since he is a Mormon and has other holy scriptures that he follows – the Book of Mormon, another book called the Pearl of Great Price, and perhaps others that I don’t know about. I’ve been reading recently that Mormon doctrine holds that the Bible actually has errors in it – which would mean that in fact he wouldn’t believe that the entire Bible is the word of God. Humans introduced errors into it. Why doesn’t he say that?

I know, it’s obvious why he doesn’t say these things – he’s pandering to the religious right base of the Republican Party. And it’s that religious right that makes it necessary for the presidential candidates to engage in these stupid discussions about what they think about the Bible. I don’t care what they think about the Bible. I care about the policies they would put into practice – what do they think about health care? Iraq? Global warming? Poverty? The rebuilding of New Orleans? The Middle East peace process? Women’s rights? Yes, real issues that are the president’s business.

When the NPR questioner got down to the nitty gritty and asked Romney whether he thought the world was created in six days as it says in Genesis, he backed up and said that with all of the serious problems facing the U.S. and the world, there really wasn’t any point in discussing what portions of the Bible were from God and what they meant. He implied that it was the NPR questioner who had suddenly thought up this question to trip him up – when actually it’s his own party that has gotten itself so entangled in religion that such questions even come up in a presidential debate.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Romney will have to say on the question of faith on Thursday night when he gives his big speech – JFK redux. Except, of course, that he won’t be able to say all the great things that Kennedy said about the separation of church and state, because if he does, he will have lost the religious right of his party, which is necessary for his nomination. Nor will he be able to speak honestly about his own Mormonism, for the same reason, since he needs to blur the differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity in order to have any chance of getting a significant percentage of the evangelical vote.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hate Crime Victims - Jews & Muslims

The FBI has put up on its website all of the Hate Crime Statistics reports since 1996. I took a look at all of them for the purpose of comparing the hate crimes reported against Jews and Muslims over that time period, and discovered that there is a big change in the number of crimes against Muslims in 2001 - which is no surprise. I assume that most of them were committed after the 9/11/01 attacks. The level of hate crimes against Muslims drops in subsequent years, but remains higher than the pre-2001 rate.

Because I can't figure out how to put a table into this posting, I'll give the statistics this way:

For the entire period of 1996-2006, the average number of crimes against persons (Jews) was 408, with the highest year being 2002 (485). The largest number by far of such crimes were intimidation, followed by simple assault and then aggravated assault.

For this same period, the average number of crimes against property (Jewish) was 684, with the highest being 775 in 1996. The largest number by far of such crimes were damage/destruction/vandalism.

For Muslims over the same period, I've broken it down into pre-2001 and post-2001 periods. Pre-2001, the average number of crimes against persons (Muslims) was 19. Against Muslim property it was 11.4.

Post-2001, the average number of crimes against persons (Muslims) was 153, with the highest year being 2001, with 389. Of those, 296 were intimidation, 27 were aggravated assault, and 66 were simple assault. Post 2001, the average number of crimes against property (Muslim) was 79, with the highest figure also being in 2001, with 155.

From a comparison of these statistics we can see that in all of these years, numbers of property crimes against Jews exceeded crimes against persons (Jews) by 63% to 37%. For Muslims pre-2001, the ratio was the opposite: property crime was 37%, crimes against persons was 63%. Post-2001 the ratio is almost the same: 66% against persons, 34% against property.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More on hate crime statistics

Arash Kamangir has some good questions on his blog about the latest FBI statistics. He pointed out that to make a true comparison between anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate crimes, we would have to scale the results by population.

Wikipedia provides a useful survey of population estimates for American Jews, ranging from about 6.4 to 7.4 million according to the latest surveys.

It is harder to figure out how many American Muslims there are. One estimate, which I found on the "Islam 101" website estimates that as of 1991 there were between 5 and 8 million Muslims in the U.S.

The Religious Tolerance website provides estimates from several surveys. The numbers range from about 1.6 million to 12 million. The first four estimates, which are based on survey research, range up to a high of 2 million - as of 2000/2001.

An interesting article by Jane I. Smith on the U.S. State Department website gives estimates of from 2 million to 7 million. Smith is a well-respected scholar of Islamic studies who teaches at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. She remarks:

It is very difficult to estimate the precise number of Muslims currently living in the United States. Muslims tend to put the number somewhat higher than non-Muslim scholars and demographers; the estimated figures range widely - from around two million in one study to as many as seven million. There are several reasons for the varying estimates. First, because the U.S. Constitution mandates a separation of church and state that is reflected in American law, U.S. Census Bureau survey forms do not ask recipients about their religion. Neither does the U.S. Immigration Service collect information on the religion of immigrants. Many mosques in the United States do not have formal membership policies, and they seldom keep accurate attendance figures. In the words of University of Chicago religion scholar Martin Marty, "Counting noses has come to depend on two sources. One source is poll-takers calling during the dinner hour to ask, `What is your religious preference?' The other source is religious leaders, on both the local and the national scene. People who respond to telephone interviewers may have all kinds of motives for declaring themselves as part of this or that group, or no group at all. And people who report on the size of their congregations, denominations, and cohorts also have a variety of motives." The end result is that there is no official count of Muslims in the United States nor is there a number that is commonly accepted by all who have studied the question.


When I originally wrote, I had the higher estimates of Muslim population in the U.S. in mind - about 6 million in fact - so I thought that the comparative figures for Jews and Muslims victimized by hate crimes were roughly proportional by population, thus meaning that Jews were victimized more by hate crimes than Muslims. However, if we compare the lower estimates of Jewish population (6.4 million) with the lower estimate of Muslim population (2 million), then we get a different picture, as Arash points out.

And the hate crime statistics are not the only way to measure prejudice. Another way is to measure whether people would vote for a person of a particular religion. In a 2006 poll done by Rasmussen Reports, 61% of likely voters said that they would not vote for a Muslim candidate. 43% said that they would not vote for a Mormon candidate. 60% said they would not vote for an atheist. Unfortunately, this poll didn't ask about Jewish candidates.

The latest ADL poll on anti-semitic attitudes shows that 15% of the American population holds strongly anti-semitic beliefs. A 1999 Gallup poll reported that only 6% would refuse to vote for a Jewish candidate for President.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2006 Hate Crime Statistics

The FBI has released the report on 2006 Hate Crime Statistics, and it is very interesting to examine those hate crimes based on the religious identity of the victim. Of the 9080 hate crimes, 1597 were motivated by religion, and of those 1027 were anti-Jewish (64% of crimes based on religion of victim; 11% of total hate crimes). 191 were anti-Muslim (11%; 2% of total hate crimes).

Specific crimes against persons:

aggravated assault
anti-Jewish: 22
anti-Muslim: 24

simple assault
anti-Jewish: 58
anti-Muslim: 30

intimidation
anti-Jewish: 244
anti-Muslim: 79

Specific crimes against property:

robbery
anti-Jewish: 1
anti-Muslim: 1

larceny-theft
anti-Jewish: 13
anti-Muslim: 0

destruction/damage/vandalism
anti-Jewish: 672
anti-Muslim: 51

Thus, in the most serious category of crimes against persons (aggravated assault), the number of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim offenses is almost identical, but in all other categories, especially intimidation and destruction/damage/vandalism, the number of incidents directed against Jews is far larger. It strikes me that these figures belie the claim that Islamophobia is a much greater danger than anti-semitism in the United States. If that were true, it would mean that far more Muslims than Jews would be victims of hate crimes.

Of all groups in the American population, blacks are the group with the highest number of hate crimes against them: 3136 (34%), then whites (1008; 11%), then Jews (11%), then gay men (881; 10%), and then Hispanics (770; 8%). From these statistics, we can see that the hatreds rampant in the United States are really the old tried and true ones - anti-black racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Update:

I was just looking again at the FBI statistics - they are by no means complete, because some cities and states have no reporting of hate crimes. Look, for example, at the state of Alabama. There is only one hate crime reported for the entire state for 2006. For comparison, compare the reporting for New Jersey: a total of 759 hate crimes. There are no statistics whatsoever for Mississippi, for another example. According to the FBI website, however, the agencies reporting on hate crimes in their jurisdictions represent 85% of the U.S. population (255 million people).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jerusalem on Google Earth

Some more Google Earth images. The first one is of the neighborhood I've lived in Jerusalem - Emek Refaim. The second is of the Old City - you can see the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock on the right hand side of the photo.



Google Earth image - Liepaja

I was using Google Earth yesterday and found the city of Liepaja, Latvia - I was trying to find the street (Barena iela) that my grandfather's uncle and aunt had lived on before the Nazi invasion in 1941. I wasn't able to find it - perhaps it's too small a street to be marked on the map yet - but I did wander around Liepaja (virtually). And then today I discovered that it's possible to save a JPEG of Google Earth images. I've got a shot of a residential area of Liepaja from the air.



North of the city, along the sea, is a memorial to the Jews murdered at the Skede dunes in December of 1941 (likely including my grandfather's aunt). This is is the location of the dunes.



And go to this photo to see picture of the memorial itself.

Rita Bogdanova has written a moving memoir of her return to Liepaja after so many years. It includes a photo of the Skede dunes.

Brian Friedman wrote an account of what happened at the killing fields of Skede (warning - graphic photographs) as well as about his visit to Liepaja and attendance at the dedication of the Skede memorial in 2005. He also has more pictures of the dunes and of the memorial itself.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

House Approves Ban on Anti-Gay Discrimination

When I was at the gym earlier today I was watching CNN and they were reporting something about the House bill to ban anti-gay discrimination in employment - but I didn't realize that the House had passed the bill today, 235-184. It now goes to the Senate, where it will also hopefully pass.

House Approves Ban on Anti-Gay Discrimination - New York Times: "The House approved a bill this evening granting broad protections against discrimination in the workplace for gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, a measure that supporters praised as the most important civil rights legislation since the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 but that opponents said would result in unnecessary lawsuits."

Pretty amazing. I remember in the mid-1970s that when the first open lesbian, Elaine Noble, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, she received a great deal of abuse on the floor of the House from other representatives. Noble said in a recent interview that once she was elected, "It really got harder in terms of the threats and being a target that was readily available to people." It is quite astonishing how far we have come in thirty years.

Reply to McGowan

The The Ithaca Journal just published my letter in reply to McGowan, I'm happy to say.

Those who call themselves “Holocaust revisionists” do not make use of the accepted canons of historical research and analysis — they distort physical evidence (for example, by claiming that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were not used for the murder of human beings) and misuse documentary evidence (for example, by misquoting sources or using partial quotations of German documents that refer to the mass murders of Jews). It is thus very appropriate to call them deniers and not mere “revisionists.”

“Revisionist conclusions are despised” not because they contradict the “Holocaust story” but because they are false and tendentious misreadings of history. Those who engage in such “revisionism” are motivated by virulent anti-semitism, as one can tell by inspecting the Web sites of Holocaust deniers such as Ernst Zundel or the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. Hidden behind the letter's anti-Israel claims is a typical anti-semitic contention — that unchecked Jewish power forced the U.S. to invade Iraq. This letter deserves to be dismissed by the intelligent readers of The Ithaca Journal.


It's satisfying to see my response to his nonsense in print.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

On the Contrary

Another posting by Daniel McGowan makes his Holocaust denial more apparent. He says:
When Elie Wiesel took Oprah Winfrey to Auschwitz, the choreography was perfect. Jewish suffering was paramount; remember the six million, the gas chambers, the Zyklon B, the death marches, and "Arbeit Macht Frei."

Ignore the facts that none of Wiesel's family was gassed, that 50 million non-Jews were killed, that Wiesel chose to leave Auschwitz with the Nazis rather than be liberated by the Russians as was Anne Frank's father. And certainly ignore the ethnic cleansing and murder of perhaps two million Germans, mostly civilians, after the war.
Wiesel *chose* to leave Auschwitz with the Nazis?! Wiesel (and his father) were forced by the SS guards on the death march to Germany. No prisoner in Auschwitz had a "choice" about where to go as long as the Nazi guards were in control.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Who is Ernst Zundel?

For more information on Zundel, the Canadian court judgement against him is very useful. It is available at Court Judgement. Zundel has been a Holocaust denier for several decades and was deported from Canada based on his intimate connections with violent anti-semites and racists.

Some excerpts from the judgement:

ANALYSIS

[23] Pursuant to the Security Intelligence Report of which Mr. Zündel was provided a summary, White Supremacists are defined as racists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites who use violence to achieve their political objectives. Leading White Supremacists may inspire others to use or threaten use of violence. Mr. Zündel is viewed by White Supremacists as a leader of international significance and was viewed as the patriarch of the Movement in Canada for decades. Mr. Zündel is one of the world's most prominent distributors of revisionist neo-Nazi propaganda through the use of facsimiles, courier, telephone, mail, media, shortwave radio transmissions, satellite videos and the Internet, through his website the Zundelsite, which is a platform for financing and contains White Supremacist documents as well as hyperlinks to other White Supremacist websites. The Security Intelligence Report concludes that based on the evidence that has been provided, Mr. Zündel is playing a critical role in the Movement, both in Canada and internationally.

[24] Documents issued by Mr. Zündel over the years show his intention to destabilize the legal and legitimate democratic government of Germany. The evidence also demonstrates a clear determination to disseminate copious amounts of documentation and information from Canada to Germany, using Canadian soil to advance his goal of undermining the German government.

[25] Furthermore, the Ministers have provided public and in camera evidence that Mr. Zündel has extensive involvement with contacts within the violent, racist, right wing movement. These contacts encompass individuals and organizations in Canada and abroad.

[26] Mr. Zündel has always supported the ideology of the White Supremacist Movement, one which is based on the fundamental belief that the white race is an endangered species in need of protection as a result of non-Whites and Jews seeking to attack the foundation of western civilization. Blacks in particular are seen as intellectually inferior, while Jews are viewed as conspiring to gain control of the world through manipulation of financial markets, the spread of communism, pornography and general moral degeneracy. The government is viewed with suspicion as it is seen to be controlled by a Jewish conspiracy referred to as zionist occupation government (ZOG). These fundamental beliefs lead to antisemitic, racist, anti-immigration, anti-democratic, anti-human rights and anti-homosexual attitudes.

[27] The Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s is notoriously well known; what is less known, is the Canadian version which was developed over the 1940s and the 1950s under Adrien Arcand, who promoted Hitler as a saviour of Christianity and formed the Parti national social chrétien in the 1930s. That party then merged with the Canadian Nationalist Party from the West to form the National Unity Party. Later in the 1960s, the Canadian Nazi Party became the National Socialist Party and Mr. Zündel explained how he was influenced by Mr. Arcand himself whom he met when he arrived in Canada in the 1950s. At the conclusion of World War II, the enthusiasm of those Nazi parties around the world was greatly reduced; nevertheless, there still remained some desire to support this neo-Nazi approach. Mr. Zündel is among the few people that worked hard to maintain that support and who went to great lengths to try and establish some credibility to the neo-Nazi movement. He also tried by all means possible to develop and maintain a global network of all groups that have an interest in the same right wing extremist neo-Nazi mind-set.


Zundel is the type of man that McGowan is proud to be associated with - and contrary to his assertions that Zundel is a pacifist and has no malicious goals, it is clear that he is motivated by virulent anti-semitism and has done his best through decades of action to propagate the anti-semitic and racist Nazi message.

Daniel McGowan - Holocaust Denial

In today's Ithaca Journal, probably in response to Lipstadt's talk, Daniel McGowan, emeritus professor of economics at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York, had a letter published putting forth the classic arguments of Holocaust deniers - that the "Final Solution" was not extermination, that there were no gas chambers used by the Nazis, and that fewer than 6 million Jews were killed. He argues these points as part of his attack on the state of Israel: "The Holocaust narrative makes Jews the ultimate victim no matter how they dehumanize or ethnically cleanse the Palestinian people." He also claims that the "Holocaust narrative of industrialized extermination has been an important tool to drive the United States into Iraq and now into Iran." I'm not going to argue against his pseudo-historical claims, because I agree with Lipstadt that there is no point in arguing about the Holocaust with deniers.

Instead, I'd like to point out some of McGowan's other writings, available on the internet, which make clear how he has become enmeshed in the Holocaust denial movement.

1. "What does Holocaust denial really mean?" - Denial. This letter is posted on the "Zundelsite" - dedicated to the defense of Ernst Zündel, who is currently in prison in Germany for Holocaust denial. This letter is more explicit than the one published in the Ithaca Journal. Among other things, he says, "Is it really 'beyond international discourse' to question the efficacy and the forensic evidence of homicidal gas chambers? If other myths, like making soap from human fat, have been dismissed as Allied war propaganda, why is it 'unacceptable behavior' to ask if the gas chamber at Dachau was not reconstructed by the Americans because no other homicidal gas chamber could be found and used as evidence at the Nuremburg trials?"

2. Similar letter published on the website of CODOH ("Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust") - Denial. CODOH says that the Holocaust must be "debated," meaning that the usual canons of historical research must be abandoned for the pseudo-scientific arguments put forth by deniers. In this letter McGowan writes: "Are these revisionist contentions so odious as to cause those who believe them to be reviled, beaten, and imprisoned? More importantly, is it possible that revisionist contentions are true, or even partially true, and that they are despised because they contradict the story of the Holocaust, a story which has been elevated to the level of a religion in hundreds of films, memorials, museums, and docudramas?"

3. The same letter appears under the title European Union to Penalize Holocaust Deniers.

4. A Visit in Prison with Ernst Zuendel. In December of 2006, McGowan visited Zundel in prison in Germany. This is his account of the visit.

More on Zundel - Zundel deported to Germany and Zundel sentenced to five years in prison in Germany.

Lipstadt's talk

Professor Lipstadt's talk on Thursday night was excellent and very well-attended. Many students and community members came to hear her clear and cogent account of her libel trial in England, when David Irving, a notorious Holocaust denier, sued her for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier. One of the most interesting parts of her presentation was the description of the strategy that she and her legal team devised to counter Irving. They decided that since the Holocaust is a well-known and documented historical event, they did not need to prove that it occurred in order to defeat Irving. Instead, they decided to demonstrate how Irving misused evidence, misquoted sources, invented incidents, and engaged in other techniques to distort history. Scholars went through Irving's books exhaustively and checked all of his footnotes, which revealed that he systematically distorted his sources in order to support his own conclusions. His aim was to prove that Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust and in fact tried to prevent it - something which all reputable historians know is utter nonsense. The judge in the case decided for Lipstadt based on this argument.

She also spoke of the emotional burden the case imposed on her. Many survivors of the Holocaust and their children saw her as their standard-bearer for the truth, and she felt even more responsible because of this to win the case on their behalf. Her talk was moving and I am glad that we were able to bring her to Ithaca College.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deborah Lipstadt in Ithaca

Dr. Deborah Lipstadt will be speaking on Thursday evening at Ithaca College on "Holocaust Denial: A New Form of Anti-Semitism." She'll be speaking at 7:15 p.m. in the Klingenstein Lounge. The Jewish Studies Program is bringing her and we're really looking forward to her visit.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Political Correctness"

A great op-ed by Doris Lessing, in today's New York Times is a great antidote to another op-ed earlier in the week by Slavoj Zizek on Tibet and China. Some particularly juicy paragraphs from Lessing:

A successor to “commitment” is “raising consciousness.” This is double-edged. The people whose consciousness is being raised may be given information they most desperately lack and need, may be given moral support they need. But the process nearly always means that the pupil gets only the propaganda the instructor approves of. “Raising consciousness,” like “commitment,” like “political correctness,” is a continuation of that old bully, the party line.

A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of Communism, but it is. Every writer has the experience of being told that a novel, a story, is “about” something or other. I wrote a story, “The Fifth Child,” which was at once pigeonholed as being about the Palestinian problem, genetic research, feminism, anti-Semitism and so on.....

A professor friend describes how when students kept walking out of classes on genetics and boycotting visiting lecturers whose points of view did not coincide with their ideology, he invited them to his study for discussion and for viewing a video of the actual facts. Half a dozen youngsters in their uniform of jeans and T-shirts filed in, sat down, kept silent while he reasoned with them, kept their eyes down while he ran the video and then, as one person, marched out. A demonstration — they might very well have been shocked to hear — which was a mirror of Communist behavior, an acting out, a visual representation of the closed minds of young Communist activists.


As an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1970s, I was surfeited with the type of political correctness she calls "raising consciousness" - in several course in the sociology and women's studies departments I took courses that were designed to indoctrinate the students in the instructor's New Left political beliefs - rather than in teaching us how to think critically about the topics of the courses. As a professor now I try to avoid indoctrinating my students. I'm sure that I don't always succeed, but I think it's much more important to teach students critical thinking skills, how to examine evidence, primary documents, and make good arguments.

To return to Zizek's op-ed - it strikes me an attempt at a sophisticated defense of the Chinese government's policy to suppress Tibetan culture. (I don't think it's actually sophisticated because his purpose comes out pretty clearly). He uses a common rhetorical technique - since Western countries did it before, it must not be so bad, and in any case, since we are also guilty, we have no basis to criticize non-Westerners for doing something that we currently find repugnant.

Before we explode in rage that Chinese Communist totalitarianism now wants to control even the lives of its subjects after their deaths, we should remember that such measures are not unknown to European history. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555, the first step toward the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that ended the Thirty Years’ War, declared the local prince’s religion to be the official faith of a region or country (“cuius regio, eius religio”). The goal was to end violence between German Catholics and Lutherans, but it also meant that when a new ruler of a different religion took power, large groups had to convert. Thus the first big institutional move toward religious tolerance in modern Europe involved a paradox of the same type as that of Order No. 5: your religious belief, a matter of your innermost spiritual experience, is regulated by the whims of your secular leader.


Therefore, it's not so bad that the Chinese have a systematic policy to destroy Tibetan Buddhist culture and religion - it's no worse than what happened between Catholics and Protestants, and since that was so successful in Europe, it probably won't be so bad in Tibet. This, of course, completely ignores the historical context, in which Tibet was militarily conquered by China, leading to the deaths of thousands of Tibetans, the closing of the monestaries, etc.

His second rhetorical device involves smearing the subject of his polemic - Tibetan Buddhism. He says:

In the same vein, the problem with Tibetan Buddhism resides in an obvious fact that many Western enthusiasts conveniently forget: the traditional political structure of Tibet is theocracy, with the Dalai Lama at the center. He unites religious and secular power — so when we are talking about the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, we are taking about choosing a head of state. It is strange to hear self-described democracy advocates who denounce Chinese persecution of followers of the Dalai Lama — a non-democratically elected leader if there ever was one.


So that means that one can only denounce persecution of other people if they are already perfect? So then, to take another example, it's okay for the Egyptian government to torture members of the Muslim Brotherhood whom it has imprisoned because after all they also represent a theocratic political movement? It seems to me that regardless of one's own beliefs, it's still wrong to invade a country and suppress its religious culture. Zizek was opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the same anti-imperialist grounds - but does anti-imperialism only matter when the empire is western?

Then there is the matter of what the present Dalai Lama has to say about democracy. On his official website, there is a quotation from a recent speech:

Madrid, Spain, 9 September 2007 (AP) - The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, defended democracy as a means of decision-making for his native Tibet at a press conference Sunday in the Spanish city of Barcelona. The exiled leader, who is in Spain to open a new Tibet House Foundation headquarters, said it was up to the Spanish people to resolve their own regional issues.

"I think that is up to you, no?" the Dalai Lama said when asked how Spanish regions could best achieve self-determination. "Democracy allows for freedom of expression and for the free election of parties," he said. He also said his own fate was up to the people of Tibet. "The future of the Dalai Lama will depend on what the people of Tibet want," he said.


In an article from 1993 on the same website, lays out plans for a democratic Tibet:

I have long looked forward to the time when we could devise a political system, suited both to our traditions and to the demands of the modern world. A democracy that has nonviolence and peace at its roots. We have recently embarked on changes that will further democratize and strengthen our administration in exile. For many reasons, I have decided that I will not be the head of, or play any role in the government when Tibet becomes independent. The future head of the Tibetan Government must be someone popularly elected by the people. There are many advantages to such a step and it will enable us to become a true and complete democracy. I hope that these moves will allow the people of Tibet to have a clear say in determining the future of their country.


Since this article was written almost fifteen years ago, it seems to me that if Zizek really wanted to know what the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile thought about democracy, he could have found out as easily as I just did - by Googling "Dalai Lama" and "democracy." Or perhaps he could actually have done some research into the history of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and the development of the Tibetan exile community. But instead, it was much easier simply to use simple rhetorical technques that are designed to stop his readers' actually thinking about the subject he has raised.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ann Coulter - Jews need to be perfected

What I don't understand about Ann Coulter is in what way is she actually a Christian? She claims to be a Christian, and says that Jews (and presumably everyone else) should convert to Christianity - but what does she think Christianity is? I don't see any way in which she is following the example of Jesus. When I open up the New Testament, the emphasis I see in the teachings of Jesus is love of neighbor, the principle of non-retaliation, concern for the poor and the weak - not at all the agenda that Coulter is pushing.

That aside, her comments are interesting because they echo the message of Jews for Jesus and other Messianic Jewish groups that converting to Christianity does not mean one is leaving Judaism, but has become a "completed Jew."

No, we think - we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say....

Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we're all sinners - but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews. We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to, you know, live up to all the laws. What Christians believe - this is just a statement of what the New Testament is - is that that's why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don't believe our testament....

This is what Christians consider themselves, because our testament is the continuation of your testament. You know that. So we think Jews go to heaven. I mean, [Rev. Jerry] Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws. Ours is "Christ died for our sins." We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all.


It's also interesting that she says "we think Jews go to heaven," when people Falwell specifically denied that Jews (or any other non-Christian) would go to heaven.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More on "Talmudic Discussion"

The Jewish Week provides the context for McCain's remark about "Talmudic Discussion":
Jewish Democrats, however, blasted McCain for his original comments on Beliefnet and for a subsequent clarification, reported by the Associated Press. In the latter statement he said "All I can say is that maybe I should have kept my comments to the fact that I'm a practicing Christian, I respect all religions and beliefs, and that I support the principles, the values of the Founding Fathers. Perhaps I should have couched my remarks to that rather than getting into, as I say, a Talmudic discussion."
I still wonder why McCain chose that particular expression - a Freudian slip, perhaps?

Mandaeans in Iraq

Today's New York Times has another chilling story - this time an op-ed piece by Nathaniel Deutch, of Swarthmore College, about the Mandaeans of Iraq. He begins by saying:

THE United States didn’t set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq. This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of our invasion of Iraq — though that will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth.

The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was perceived in the early Christian period. The Mandeans have their own language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran.


Of the 60,000 Mandaeans who were in Iraq in 2003, before the U.S. invasion, only 5,000 remain - the rest have fled to neighboring countries. Their homeland is in the marshes of southern Iraq, and they have no other place where they can find refuge. Deutch calls for the U.S. to take in all of the Mandaeans, so that their unique and ancient culture can be saved. Mandaean refugees in other Middle Eastern countries have been converting to Islam or Christianity so that they can get help.

April DeConick, of Rice University, has written in her blog about the dangers the Mandaeans are suffering in Iraq, and also has useful suggestions for letters that can be sent to Congress about them - Information about Mandaeans.

Holocaust in Ukraine

Fr. Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest has been documenting the Holocaust in Ukraine by interviewing people who were only children or teenagers at the time who witnessed the mass shootings that killed almost 1.5 million Jews.

Over four years, Father Desbois has videotaped more than 700 interviews with witnesses and bystanders and has identified more than 600 common graves of Jews, most of them previously unknown. He also has gathered material evidence of the execution of Jews from 1941 to 1944, the “Holocaust of bullets” as it is called.


In the New York Times story, there is a slideshow of photographs, showing Fr. Desbois, some of the people he has interviewed, and the sites of the mass graves, including some that have been opened, where it is possible to see skeletons lying at the bottom of the grave.

It is a quietly chilling story. For more information, go to Witness to Genocide.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More on "G-d"

Carla Sulzbach, one of my correspondents, sent me many useful links on the topic of why people use "G-d" instead of "God." One of them is a scholarly explanation for why Jews use this circumlocution (and others, like "Hashem" or "Adonai") - an article by B. Barry Levy in the Edah Journal - Fixing God's Name.

She also sent me a couple of references that might explain why some Christian students use "G-d," which point to an origin among messianic Jewish congregations. The two links she sent are from blogs written by people who heartily disapprove of this practice - Philip Johnson and Dan Phillips. These are written by two conservative Christians who think that it's silly, and perhaps even sinful, for Christians not to spell the word with all its letters in English. If you're curious about the theological reasons, read their posts and the comments that are attached to them.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"It's almost Talmudic"

Jews and Muslims criticized McCain's remarks on the U.S. as a "Christian nation."

The American Jewish Committee has criticized McCain for his remarks: "'To argue that America is a Christian nation, or that persons of a particular faith should by reason of their faith not seek high office, puts the very character of our country at stake,' Jeffrey Sinensky, the group's general counsel, said Monday in a statement."

But Joe Lieberman came out in defense of McCain: "I have known John McCain very well for many years and I know that he does not have a bigoted bone in his body. I know that he is fair and just to all Americans regardless of their faith."

Then in response to the criticism of him, McCain made a very strange remark: "It's almost Talmudic. We are a nation that was based on Judeo-Christian values. That means respect for all of human rights and dignity. That's my principle values and ideas, and that's what I think motivated our founding fathers."

What is "almost Talmudic"? The criticism of him? He doesn't seem to be using the word in a very complimentary sense.

Abe Foxman of the ADL also criticized McCain: "“We would have thought that a senator as experienced and respected as John McCain would place himself above such divisive appeals to religious intolerance. His remarks were inaccurate and ill-advised for any candidate seeking to lead a nation as religiously diverse as ours.”

It will be interesting to see if any Christian groups come out in criticism of McCain's remarks.

Critique of McCain

Good critique of McCain by David Kuo, who used to work in the White House office of "faith-based" initiatives. The comments to the post are also quite good, on the whole. A commenter brings up an earlier occasion (when McCain was a Congressman) when he asserted in an equally intolerant way that the U.S. is a Christian nation.

McCain - only a Christian can be President

So apparently John McCain now thinks that only a Christian should be President of the United States: "But, no, I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead." Hasn't McCain ever read the Constitution, which bans a religious test for office? He also seems to have forgotten that his good friend, Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, ran for the Democratic nomination for President four years ago, and was on the ballot eight years ago. Would he disqualify Lieberman because he's a Jew and not a Christian?

He also says: "But I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, 'Will this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?'" Such pabulum coming from an intelligent man - wouldn't more important questions be: what will the new President do about Iraq? How will the new President deal with global warming? with the deteriorating infrastructure in the U.S.? with our lousy schools and the way we've fallen way behind in science education? with continuing racial inequality and an outrageous poverty rate for the richest country in the world?

He also seems to have a misconception about who exactly it was who wrote the words to the poem that's on the Statue of Liberty: "I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, 'I only welcome Christians.' We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles." Emma Lazarus was a Jewish immigrant whom I assume did not come to the U.S. thinking that that her words would be twisted in this fashion to support the idea that the U.S. is a Christian nation (something that, by the way, is found nowhere in the Constitution).

There was a time that I contemplated voting for McCain if he was running for President. That time is long past, and with these words, he certainly shows how he's trying to sell his soul to the religious right.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"G-d"

Many religious Jews will spell the English word "God" with a dash in it - "G-d." I believe that this has developed from the use of replacement names (כינויים)for the divine name in Hebrew, for example using the Hebrew for "Lord" (Adonai) instead of YHWH. Even "Adonai" has now become too sacred to say in ordinary (non-prayer) speech, so people will now replace it with "Ha-shem" ("The Name").

This is something I used to do, when I was an undergraduate, but stopped doing - but I still will not write out the divine name in Hebrew (I'll use the English transcription instead), and in classes I generally don't use the modern scholarly reconstruction of the pronunciation, "Yahweh," unless when I'm talking about the Documentary Hypothesis in my Hebrew Scriptures class.

Many of my Jewish students will write "G-d" or even "Ha-shem" in their papers, which doesn't surprise me, but I noticed a few years ago that some of my Christian students also wrote "G-d." I've asked them in the past why they write the name that way and have gotten various answers. I've now just encountered the same usage on the internet, in an article about an entirely different topic - Reihan Salam's column on Facebook etiquette on Slate.com.

A Christian wrote to him objecting to his flippant invocation of Allah:

I find the example you used to show how to reject friend requests just felt wrong. I'm a Christian, not Muslim—but I never would speak so flippantly about one of G-ds commands. I do respect that Christians are told not to be friends with "the world," and Muslim faith I think commands the same, but "sorry, man Allah commands it" seems like you're using G-d as an 'excuse' ... would you really want someone to say something like that if they weren't Muslim? Wouldn't that show enormous disrespect for your G-d? Not to mention should a Muslim say it! Please, can you consider this? Thank you.


Reihan Salam doesn't comment on the writer's use of "G-d" but it really struck me. I am wondering how common this is among Christians, and what rationale people have heard for writing this way? Is it something they picked up from Jewish friends? Is this something that pastors or priests are now teaching their parishioners? And if so, what is their rationale?

Any answers from my readers would be welcome - I'm also curious to know if other professors have noticed the same thing in student papers.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Approaching another September 11

W.H. Auden's words in his poem "September, 1939," still resonate for me as also evoking September 11, 2001.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

And is our decade any less low and dishonest than the one that came before us? On the one hand, the false promises of the Bush administration, which I once believed, that the fight against Al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism is the same as the war in Iraq against the evil regime of Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, those intellectuals and academics who equate the Bush Administration with fascism and see the United States as the root of all evil. The Bush administration has done the more damage in material terms - in lives lost both of countless innocent Iraqis and of American and other coalition soldiers, the social fabric of Iraq destroyed, the physical infrastructure mortally damaged - not to speak of the damage to the reputation of the United States around the world when we countenance torture and murder. But all that does not make the regime of Saddam any less evil - the regime which itself drove a deep wedge in Iraqi society between Sunnis and Shi'ites and which thus is one of the chief contributors to the violence between them today. The response I prefer is one that I find in reading the Euston Manifesto or the blogs of various left-wing British bloggers (some of whom supported the war in Iraq, some of whom opposed it) - people who recognize real fascism when they see it, and who know that you do not extol the Iraqi so-called resistance just because it kills American soldiers.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

I think that Auden is correct about German society - but his last two lines here are too facile. Just because the reparations imposed on the Germans after WWI were unjust and a terrible burden for the defeated nation, does not mean that Germany would inevitably have turned to Nazism.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

The strength of Collective Man - perhaps one could condemn the World Trade Center towers for manifesting this, but it seems to me that much else was going on in those buildings, including the lives of many immigrants who found in them the work they needed to survive. Perhaps words like these could be used by people like Ward Churchill to condemn the people who worked in the buildings as part of "world imperialism," but the way he talked about them came too close to the old canards about New York City being the center of "Jewish world finance."

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

Indeed, we do cling to the average day - our government has never asked anything of we civilians to assist in this war, excep perhaps to put up with the indignities of modern air travel. Taxes were not raised to pay for the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq - in fact, they were lowered, as if we really could have both guns and butter.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

I don't think that Auden is right when he says there is no such thing as the state - clearly it exists, and provides the political framework of our lives. On the other hand, it shouldn't be worshiped - perhaps that's what he meant. No one does live alone - despite our attempts to deify individualism in this country, we are all part of the same interconnected web.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

And even though our world - this country, the fortunes of Iraq, the situation of Israel in the middle east - seems to becoming ever bleaker, he is right to hope for an "affirming flame" in the midst of darkness. Of course, Auden puts it much better than my prose paraphrase....

Friday, August 03, 2007

Views from my windows

I'm leaving Israel in only a couple of days - unfortunately, I must return to the U.S. and to my job and the mounds of work it requires. But in the meantime, here are some views from the windows of my apartment. I was inspired to do this by Andrew Sullivan's long-running series of photos of window views sent to him by readers from around the world. I also thought of doing this early this morning. It was a very cool and pleasant night in Jerusalem - the heat wave of last week finally broke - and I left the windows open and the fan off. I woke up at about 5:45 a.m., which is about the time of sunrise. I got up and looked out the window of my bedroom and saw a several cats sitting and cleaning themselves, including one cute pair next to a tree, one of whom was licking the other. I should have taken a photo then, but instead I went back to sleep. When I woke again several hours later, when it was already much warmer, I looked out the window and saw one pair of cats, one switching its tail, the other, younger one, chasing the tail. When the older cat got tired of this she jumped up and pounced on the kitten and they rolled around for a while in the dirt. Very sweet.

So here's a picture out that window into the yard between my apartment building and the next one.

View out the dining room

View out the kitchen window

View out living room window

View out bathroom window

Travels around the world


This cartoon from Ted Rall expresses perfectly what people say to me every time I decide to go to Israel....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Evangelicals who support a Palestinian state

This is a very interesting development - Coalition of Evangelicals Voices Support for Palestinian State. This is the first time I have heard of any public statement by evangelical Christians in the United States that supports both an Israeli and a Palestinian state. Here are excerpts from their letter to President Bush.

We write as evangelical Christian leaders in the United States to thank you for your efforts (including the major address on July 16) to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve a lasting peace in the region. We affirm your clear call for a two-state solution....

We also write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians....

As evangelical Christians, we embrace the biblical promise to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless you." (Genesis 12:3). And precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted. Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors. Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.

Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other. The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states. To achieve that goal, both sides must give up some of their competing, incompatible claims. Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other's right to exist.


It's about time that a moderate evangelical voice spoke up in opposition to people like John Hagee, who said in response to this letter that:

Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message. Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason. What has the policy of appeasement ever produced for Israel that was beneficial?....

God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a covenant in the Book of Genesis for the land of Israel that is eternal and unbreakable, and that covenant is still intact.... The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud.


Hagee's group, Christians United for Israel, was recently exposed in a video that's travelling the web. Max Blumenthal of Huffington Post visited the most recent CUFI conference in Washington, D.C., and produced Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israell Tour.

Blumenthal writes about CUFI's agenda:

But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.


The most repugnant part of the video comes when Joe Lieberman, modern Orthodox Jewish Senator from Connecticut, extolls Hagee as a "modern-day Moses." To think that I once supported Lieberman for President!

I think that this is particularly important because it shows that evangelical Christianity is not wedded to one particular political stance - right-wing Republicanism. It is also important because it demonstrates how cynically people like Hagee are using Jews like Lieberman (and vice versa). Hagee really would like to see Lieberman convert to Christianity, but he won't say it in public because he wants to use Lieberman to push his own end-times theology. Lieberman won't admit how crazy Hagee's theology is, and how dangerous it is for Jews, because he wants Hagee's support for Israel. For him, it's not important what a person's motivation is for supporting Israel - the support is the only important thing, even if barely under the surface what the support really means is the desire to see all the Jews gathered into Israel at the location of the last battle where most of them will be killed. He and other Jewish leaders like him (David Harris of the American Jewish Committee for one - I heard him speak last year in Ithaca) don't take the evangelicals' theology seriously because they are so eager for their support of Israel. I think that they are making a historic mistake in not delving deeper into these particular evangelicals' motives and theology, and I don't really understand it, given how sensitive they usually are to any hints of anti-semitism. And what could be more anti-Jewish than crafting a vision of the end-time that results in the deaths of most of the Jews of the world?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Visit to the Temple Mount

About a week ago, I paid a visit to the Temple Mount, called in Hebrew הר הבית ("mountain of the House" - the House being the Jerusalem Temple that was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Roman legions, during the Great Revolt against Roman rule). In Arabic it is the "Noble Sanctuary," referring to the Al Aksa Mosque, built on the southern side of the great platform that forms the Mount. The Dome of the Rock was built over a large rock further north, on a spot that some people believe was also the site of the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The big platform was constructed during the reign of Herod the Great, when the Temple was renovated. What is called the "Western Wall" (called הכותל המערבי in Hebrew) is part of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, built at the time of the expansion of the platform in order to help support the platform. It is not a remnant of the Second Temple. As Jim Davila has frequently written, many Muslims today (in particular, many Palestinians, including the Islamic Movement in Israel) deny the historical basis for the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, probably due to the extended political struggle between Jews and Palestinians. Nonetheless, as he points out, the historical basis of the existence of the first and second Temples is irrefutable, and is known from Muslim as well as Jewish (and other) sources. (Karen Armstrong's book on Jerusalem has a wonderful chapter on how the first Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem recognized that the Temple had once stood on the Mount and that this is one important reason that they honored the place and even built the Al Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock there).

It is possible for non-Muslims to go up to the Mount for only a limited period each day (not during the time of Muslim prayers), and I managed to get to the Old City at the right time to go up the ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, just to the south of the Western Wall plaza. Before 2000 one could go into Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock as a tourist (upon payment for an entrance ticket), but since then the Waqf (the Islamic trust that controls the Mount) doesn't permit non-Muslims into the Muslim holy places. (This is as a result of the Second Intifada that broke out after Ariel Sharon went to the Temple Mount in late September 2000). I'd been up to the Mount once since then, a couple of years ago, but unfortunately didn't bring my camera that day. This time, however, I brought my camera, so I can show all my readers (all four of you?) some of the beauties of the Mount.


Front Entrance of Al Aksa Mosque


Steps leading up to the Dome of the Rock


Entrance to Dome of the Rock


Dome of the Rock from the eastern side.


Trench being built across the platform northward of the Dome of the Rock - without any archaeological supervision by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is generally required by Israeli law, but which is not enforced on the Temple Mount because of the political situation.


Fountain for ablutions - down steps from the main platform on the western side.


Olive tree next to ablution fountain


Ablution Gate, going into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ward Churchill - fired from University of Colorado

A lovely piece of academic news - Ward Churchill has just been fired from his job at the University of Colorado:
the spotlight on Churchill revealed numerous complaints of academic misconduct that had been raised by other academics, but never addressed by CU. He was accused of plagiarism, inventing historical incidents and ghostwriting essays which he then cited in his footnotes in support of his own views.

Those allegations were the ones that brought dismissal today.
I wrote previously about Churchill in 2005: Ward Churchill posts. It's good to see that Churchill's lies and distortions have finally been proven in the light of day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Second Lebanon War

I'm listening right now to Mabat, the 9:00 p.m. news show on Channel 1, and they're speaking about the new report that the State Comptroller just issued on the conduct of the war on the homefront. The report reveals that the Israeli government was almost entirely unprepared for the effect of the war on the residents of the north (both Jews and Arabs, although the Arab municipalities were even less prepared than the Jewish ones). There were not enough bomb shelters, local municipalities were left to their own devices to protect their citizens, the Israeli Police (instead of the IDF - the army) took charge of the homefront (even though there is a Home Front Command), and the people who should have planned ahead of time failed catastrophically. The report blasts the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the former defense minister Amir Peretz, the former army chief of staff Dan Halutz (the latter two have resigned), and the head of the Home Front Command, Yitzhak Gershon (who still has his job). Ehud Olmert has responded by attacking the report - not by considering the criticisms and trying to remedy the problems.

One of the things that have become clear to me since I got here this summer is how badly the the government failed in protecting the citizens in the north. When reading about the war last summer, this was not clear to me. Since I've gotten here I've heard and read many stories about how little faith Israeli citizens have in their government as a result of the experience of last summer, when the government did not succeed in helping people who needed it. (One thing that came up in today's Haaretz article on the subject was that during the war the government refused to hold an official discussion about whether and how to evacuate citizens in the north - despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people on their own fled to stay with people in the center and south of the country).

Another thing is that whenever I read about the war, no one views it as a victory for Israel - they see it as a defeat, and one that does not harken well for the future.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Continued walk down Kovshei Katamon St.

The porch of a house on Kovshei Katamon St.



An Israeli flag, looking somewhat delapidated, hanging from a flagpole of the Reut School.



The wall of the soccer field next to the park on Elazar ha-Modai St. - note the interesting graffitti.



A photo of my friend's dog in the park - isn't she cute?



And finally, a rosebush in the yard of my friend's apartment building.

Walking down Kovshei Katamon St.

I took a walk down from my apartment to a friend's house, and I took a few photos on my way. I walked down a street called "Kovshei Kataman" (in Hebrew: כובשי קטמון) - which means "Conquerors of Kataman" St. The name comes from the 1948 war, when this neighborhood was conquered by the Palmach even before the declaration of the state.

The first photo is of the little market that's closest to my house: Deli Market.



Here's the stop for the #13 bus, which goes to the center of the city and then to Mahaneh Yehudah.



This is Halperin St., which goes down from Palmach to Ha-Lamed Heh St. As you can see, it's not really a street.



This is the roundabout where Kovshei Katamon meets several other streets, including Rachel Imenu. A few years ago the city put up this curious little sculpture installation of little chairs. Whenever I walk by here late on a Friday night, all of the chairs are being used by groups of religious girls out schmoozing on Shabbat evening.



Here's some more of the chairs.