Sunday, January 27, 2008

Arun Gandhi apology and resignation

Arun Gandhi has resigned from the peace institute he headed at the University of Rochester.

He issued an apology a few days after his original column -

I am writing to correct some regrettable mis-impressions I have given in my comments on my blog this week. While I stand behind my criticisms of the use of violence by recent Israeli governments -- and I have criticized the governments of the U.S., India and China in much the same way -- I want to correct statements that I made with insufficient care, and that have inflicted unnecessary hurt and caused anger.

I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people. Indeed, many are as concerned as I am by the use of violence for state purposes, by Israel and many other governments.

This is the point that I found most offensive in his remarks - the conflation of the actions of the state of Israel with all Jews, indiscriminately. If he wishes to condemn the actions of Israel, I have no problems with that, and may agree with him in some instances. But on the other hand, even if Jews don't agree with me or with him, that still does not mean that they are guilty of the inciting to violence that he accused us all of.

I do believe that when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness and the loss of support from those who would be friends. But as I have noted in previous writings, the suffering of the Jewish people, particularly in the Holocaust, was historic in its proportions. While we must strive for a future of peace that rejects violence, it is also important not to forget the past, lest we fail to learn from it. Having learned from it, we can then find the path to peace and rejection of violence through forgiveness.

It is certainly a feature of contemporary American Jewish life that the Holocaust does sometimes become the core of people's Jewish identity - I think that this is damaging to people who do this. How can something as horrific as the Holocaust be the foundation of a positive identity? The Jewish tradition is ancient and rich - this is what we should be learning about and transmitting to the next generation. But unfortunately, it is not possible to ignore the Holocaust and its continuing impact on Jews, even those in the third generation after the events of the Shoah.

I do have a fundamental theological disagreement with Arun Gandhi, about the role of forgiveness. According to traditional Jewish thinking, if someone offends you in some way - injures you physically, steals from you, defames you - then there is no requirement to forgive that person for the offense. If, however, the perpetrator comes to you and asks for forgiveness, and offers compensation for your losses, then it is incumbent upon you to forgive that person. If you refuse to do so, then the Jewish court (beit din) can offer the perpetrator forgiveness on your behalf. But the perpetrator's repentance and compensation are integral parts of the process of forgiveness.

How, then, can Jews forgive the perpetrators of the Holocaust? Those who committed the crimes have not come to the Jewish people either individually or as a group to ask for forgiveness, nor have they offered compensation. Adolf Eichmann had to be dragged out of his hiding place by the Mossad - he didn't turn himself in with statements of regret and remorse. If you watch the movie "Shoah" by Claude Lanzmann, he interviewed utterly unrepentant Nazis.

And then, who is it that has the right to give forgiveness? The millions of dead cannot offer forgiveness, because they are gone. The survivors of the killing? Well, have the perpetrators asked their forgiveness? I haven't heard of any such cases. The children of survivors? They are not the ones who directly suffered at the hands of the Nazis? The Jewish people as a whole? How can we offer forgiveness on behalf of others who might not agree with us?

I think that individual forgiveness can be an important part of engaging in a nonviolent struggle against oppression - by someone who has decided to take on that responsibility. But I don't see how Arun Gandhi or anyone else can ask "the Jews" as a people to grant forgiveness.

We certainly cannot blame Germans who lived after the Second World War of complicity in crimes committed before their birth - but I see no reason to forgive those who destroyed one third of the Jewish people.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2008

Norm Geras has posted several moving comments on Holocaust Memorial Day 2008. See especially what he has to say about Hannah Arendt's idea of the "banality of evil" and about Primo Levi's testimony on Auschwitz. (Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in Europe - on the anniversary of the day that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945).

Kennedy Plans to Back Obama Over Clinton

This is exciting - Ted Kennedy Plans to Back Obama Over Clinton.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama wins South Carolina

Barack Obama appears to have won the South Carolina primary by a sizable margin - 53% to Clinton's 27% and Edwards' 20%. I'm happy to see this because I'm seriously considering voting for him. Hillary Clinton is extremely knowledgeable on many issues - when the whole subprime mess was really beginning to affect the stock market a couple of weeks ago, I heard her speaking on the issues very fluently (and making a lot of sense). But I really like Obama's tone of hopefulness, and the fact that he doesn't bring the Bill Clinton baggage to the race that Hillary does. I haven't liked Bill's recent attacks on Obama at all - they seem quite slimy to me. (See Josh Marshall's discussion of this on Talking Points Memo - The Problem with Bill 2.0).

Oh, and Caroline Kennedy is endorsing Barack Obama (in tomorrow's New York Times). (Of course, she doesn't determine who I'm going to vote for, but I think it's interesting that she's doing so).

Bob Herbert (in today's NYT - Questions for the Clinton) discusses the dubious tactics used by Hillary Clinton's supporters, like Andrew Young and Bob Kerrey (who raised the "Obama is a Muslim" red herring at the same time as he denied doing it!). He ends his column by saying, "What kind of people are the Clintons? What role will Bill Clinton play in a new Clinton White House?" I have the same questions - does Bill Clinton now imagine that he'll be his wife's co-president? Do we want the continuation of another dynasty?

The "Obama is a Muslim" e-mail reached me via a Jewish friend - the text and a thorough rebuttal of all its claims are available at - Who is Barack Obama?. Shortly after I received the e-mail, nine major Jewish organizations issued a public statement denouncing these internet rumors - see 9 Jewish Leaders Say E-Mail Spread Lies About Obama.

The letter was signed by: "William Daroff, vice president of United Jewish Communities; Nathan J. Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Richard S. Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Phyllis Snyder, president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

CNN on Ron Paul's racism

As I had hoped, the fact that the story about Ron Paul's racism was finally written about in a mainstream media outlet - the New Republic - means that other mainstream media will pick up the story. Today's CNN Politics report includes an article about Ron Paul 90s newsletters rant against blacks, gays. Let's see now what other major media will pick up the story.

(Mahatma) Gandhi and the Jews

Harry's Place has dredged up two of Gandhi's more notorious quotes about the Jews, nonviolence, and the Holocaust (Gandhi's article can be found here: Gandhi). In 1938 he recommended nonviolent resistance against Nazi persecution in Germany, and seemed convinced that if Jews willingly offered their lives, this would result in a moral reformation of the German people.

He was also opposed to Zionism, partially on the grounds that the Jews should prefer to be citizens of the countries where they lived (England, France, Germany) and should fight for their rights in those places. (Obviously at the time this would not have worked in Germany!) He also thought that Zionism was unjust to the Arabs of Palestine. One curious part of his position was that although he opposed the Jewish use of violence in Palestine against Arabs, he did not object to the Arab use of violence against Jews. He says: "I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds." It is very curious, in my opinion, that he would so fiercely condemn Jewish use of violence without at the same condemning Arab use of violence. He does not recommend that the Arabs use satyagraha against the British or Jews in Palestine. (The context for this article was the 1936-39 Arab Revolt against British rule and Jewish settlement in Palestine).

In 1939, Martin Buber wrote an open letter to Gandhi offering a rejoinder to his views on Zionism and the situation of the German Jews. (Partial text found at the Jewish Virtual Library - Buber to Gandhi). I found a precis of his letter on the National Review online site:
In a thoughtful personal response dated February 24, 1939, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber — who had himself emigrated to Israel from Germany a short time earlier and combined his Zionism with earnest efforts to peacefully reconcile Jewish and Arab claims in the Holy Land — chided Gandhi for offering advice to the Jews without any recognition of their real situation. The individual acts of persecution that Indians had suffered in South Africa in the 1890’s hardly compared, Buber noted, to the synagogue burnings and concentration camps instituted by Hitler’s regime. Nor was there any evidence that the many instances in which German Jews peacefully displayed strength of spirit in response to their persecutors had exercised any influence on the latter. While Gandhi exhorted them to bear “testimony” to the world by their conduct, the fate of the Jews in Germany was to experience only an “unobserved martyrdom” without effect.

Turning to Gandhi’s allegation that to claim a homeland in Palestine was inconsistent with the Jews’ claims to equal citizenship in the other countries of their birth, Buber recalled to him that the Indians of South Africa whose cause Gandhi had championed themselves drew sustenance from the existence of India as their “living center.” It was only the existence of such a home that made Diaspora tolerable, respectively (Buber added) for both Jews and Indians.

As for Gandhi’s denial that the Jews had any place in Palestine, since it “belonged” to the resident Arab population, Buber reminded him that the Arabs themselves had previously acquired the land by virtue of a “conquest of settlement” — in contrast to the peaceful methods of the Jews in purchasing land there. Why, indeed, in view of the “primitive” state of Arab agriculture, should Palestinian land be held to belong exclusively to the Arabs, when Jewish settlers had done far more to develop that land’s fertility in the past 50 years than the Arabs in the preceding 1,300? With proper development, there was no reason that the land of Palestine might not support millions of Jewish refugees along with resident Arabs at a far higher standard of living than the latter had heretofore enjoyed. Finally, Buber reminded Gandhi that when the subject was the rights of Indians, as opposed to those of the Jews, Gandhi himself had remarked (in 1922) that he had “repeatedly said that I would have India become free even by violence rather than that she should remain in bondage.”
Arun Gandhi seems to have taken his grandfather's position on Palestine and added to it his own frisson of anti-semitism. I thoroughly disagree with Mahatma Gandhi's pacifism, in the wake of the Holocaust, but at least he did not insult the victims of mass death. However, both Gandhis fall into the same pitfall of excusing the violence of the Palestinians while condemning the Jews or Israelis for using violence to gain their ends. It seems to me that for nonviolence really to have the moral force that is claimed for it, the same demand should be made to both sides - as, for example, Martin Luther King did in the United States.

Note (12-03-12): I will publish further comments on this post, but only if they refrain from excusing Nazism and the Holocaust, or from repeating the witless statement that most Jews in the world today are descendants of the Khazars. This blog does not give a platform to Nazis and antisemites.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sullivan hearts Ron Paul

Well, it seems that Andrew Sullivan really has drunk the Kool-Aid when he says that he just doesn't believe Ron Paul "wrote those repulsive sentences himself." So then why did he allow them to be published year after year under his name? Why did he sign some of those newsletters? Why does he associate with Christian Reconstructionists? I think that Sullivan is allowing his misguided love for Ron Paul to get in the way of accepting the impressive evidence that Paul held (and still holds) repulsively racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic beliefs and hangs around those who also believe those things.

(Arun) Gandhi and the Jews

Apparently Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, doesn't understand Jews and the Jewish situation in the contemporary world any more than his grandfather did. Although in the case of Arun Gandhi, he's added a fair dose of anti-semitism. This is my fisking of Gandhi, in an "On Faith" posting on the Washington Post website - Jewish identity in the past.
Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience -- a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends.
Unfortunately, it's a German burden that they placed upon the Jews - it's hard to get away from the murder of six million of your people. I don't believe in shaping Jewish identity around the Holocaust, because it means centering one's identity on death - but there's no way to avoid considering it in thinking about the modern Jewish experience. Here, he seems to be blaming the victim for focusing too much on what the victim has suffered. I'm sorry if that makes people uncomfortable who claim to be "friends" of Jews, but that's too bad for him.
The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful.
This is a misconception that I often find among my students - the idea that the Holocaust was the result of the pathologies of Adolf Hitler, as if one man could kill so many millions of people without help from others! It shows a profound ignorance of the historical causation of the Holocaust and how it actually occurred.
But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.
Why should Jews forgive those who murdered their relatives and ancestors? That doesn't mean holding the post-war generation of Germans guilty of the sins of their parents and grandparents. One of the striking things about modern Germany is the degree to which the country has taken responsibility for the deeds of the Nazi regime and has attempted to make amends. The Israeli government is certainly cognizant of this, as are Jews who have come into contact with new generations of Germans.

Again, Gandhi here seems to be blaming the victim for the anger that "the world" feels because Jews have refused to forgive Germans. I don't think at all that contemporary anti-semitism is due to anger at Jews for refusing to forgive Germans - I think he should be looking instead at the survival of right-wing tendencies in many western nations, and the growth of Nazi-style anti-semitism in the Muslim world in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel. And I say Nazi-style because the Nazis are the source of this anti-semitism. Traditional Muslim anti-Jewish feeling has nothing to do (and has none of the deadly quality) of the anti-semitic ideas that have swept through the Muslim world.
The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people. In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit -- with many deadly snakes in it -- and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship?
Well, Gandhi is an heir to his grandfather's concepts of peace and nonviolent struggle, so it's not a surprise that he would be arguing against an Israeli military build-up. I agree that Israel should be trying much more to get along with its neighbors - opening up negotiations with the Syrians, for example, and engaging in honest negotation with the Palestinians that includes the willingness to dismantle most of the settlements in the West Bank - but that doesn't mean the Israeli government should refrain from military measures to protect its population as well.
Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don't befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (and Israel and the Jews are the prime instigators) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
This is the really anti-semitic part of his essay - the idea that "Israel and the Jews" are the prime instigators of the "culture of violence" in the world. Keeping close to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, how about the gunmen of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or the Al-Aksa Brigades who have blown up Israeli civilians - are they not contributors to the "culture of violence"? Or moving to South Asia - how about those in India and Pakistan who developed nuclear weapons for their countries, and the governments that have paid for those weapons and threaten each other with them? I can give many other examples, as I am sure anyone else is to - his obsession with "the Jews" is truly bizarre, and it is this obsession that has turned this struggler for nonviolence into an anti-semite.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sderot Qassams

Steven Erlanger of the New York Times has finally reported on the Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot. (I usually disagree with those who criticize the NYTimes for being "pro-Palestinian," but I make an exception for Erlanger, who I think does generally favor the Palestinians over the Israelis). His report is quite good, although he does have the obligatory line about the "wretched" life of Palestinians in Gaza. He makes clear how much impact the fear of Qassams has had on those living in Sderot - especially on children. His story highlights why Israelis are so nervous about making concessions to the Palestinians (a point that seems to elude him, however).

Ron Paul takedown

James Kirchick of the New Republic has finally done the research in Ron Paul's newsletters to prove the point that his bigoted associations with neo-Nazis and racists reflect his own views - and have done so for many years. Read the whole article - this is one paragraph I paid particular attention to (on Jews):

The rhetoric when it came to Jews was little better. The newsletters display an obsession with Israel; no other country is mentioned more often in the editions I saw, or with more vitriol. A 1987 issue of Paul's Investment Letter called Israel "an aggressive, national socialist state," and a 1990 newsletter discussed the "tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok [sic] for the Mossad in their area of expertise." Of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a newsletter said, "Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little."

Kirchick has put onto the New Republic website the text of the Ron Paul newsletters that he quotes from, so it's possible for the reader to judge for herself whether Kirchick has read him correctly.