Thursday, July 23, 2009

Officer Defends Arrest of Harvard Professor

Some updates on this issue:

1. Stanley Fish has finally written a column in the New York Times that I agree with, about how the accomplishments of both Professor Gates and President Obama are being doubted because of their blackness. At Duke, where Fish hired Gates as a professor in the English department, his accomplishments were doubted because of his blackness - "Doubts were expressed in letters written by senior professors about his scholarly credentials, which were vastly superior to those of his detractors. (He was already a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, the so called 'genius award.')" In a similar way, the "Birthers" - those people who do not believe that Obama was born in the United States - cast doubt on his right to the Presidency.
Gates is once again regarded with suspicion because, as the cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson put it in an interview, he has committed the crime of being H.W.B., Housed While Black....

Gates and Obama are not only friends; they are in the same position, suspected of occupying a majestic residence under false pretenses. And Obama is a double offender. Not only is he guilty of being Housed While Black; he is the first in American history guilty of being P.W.B., President While Black.
Both Professor Gates and President Obama challenge a powerful white racist stereotype about blacks - the belief that they are inherently less intelligent, and therefore inferior to whites. And if blacks are inferior to whites, anything they accomplish in life is a sham and a trick, especially if they do better than a white person. It's embarassing to my profession that senior members of the Duke faculty thought that Gates was inferior to them despite having won an award that they doubtless would have liked to receive themselves.

2. Charles Blow, NYTimes op-ed columnist, writes about his first experience with a white policeman in Louisiana who threatened to shoot him and his friends at a traffic stop: Welcome to the Club. He also brings some useful statistics into the debate:

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last July asked: “Have you ever felt you were stopped by the police just because of your race or ethnic background?” Sixty-six percent of black men said yes. Only 9 percent of white men said the same.

These views are not without merit. A series of racial-profiling studies across the country have found that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

In fact, last year the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York law firm specializing in human rights, released a damning study of the racial-profiling practices of the New York Police Department. It found that more than 80 percent of those stopped and frisked were black or Hispanic. The report also said that when stopped, 45 percent of blacks and Hispanics were frisked, compared with 29 percent of whites, even though white suspects were 70 percent more likely than black suspects to have a weapon.
3. The President has also issued a new statement about the arrest and subsequent controversy arising from his words:
He did not apologize but softened his language. “I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station,” he said. “I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.”

Mr. Obama described Sergeant Crowley as an “outstanding police officer and a good man” who has “a fine track record on racial sensitivity.” But he said the incident showed that “because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues.”
Original Post

The officer who arrested Henry Louis Gates, Jr. last week has said that he won't apologize since he didn't do anything wrong (Officer Defends Arrest of Harvard Professor).
Sergeant Crowley said that he arrested Professor Gates because the professor got angry after being asked for identification and proof of his address, and continued his “tirade after being warned multiple times.” The sergeant was adamant that he was following police procedures in making the arrest.....

Next, the sergeant said, he warned Professor Gates to calm down and lower his voice, and to step outside to his front porch. Sergeant Crowley said he gave the professor two warnings, the second while holding a set of handcuffs, but that the professor continued berating him. “The professor at any point in time could have resolved the issue by quieting down and/or by going back in the house,” he said in the radio interview.
I don't understand why getting angry and yelling inside one's own home or on the front porch is grounds for an arrest. What did Professor Gates do wrong? Why would the police consider yelling to be something wrong? Aggravating, yes. Who likes to be yelled at? I'm starting to wonder if this isn't just a case of racial profiling, but of a cop reveling in the power of being a cop - of having that power to stop someone else's yelling by arresting them. I still strongly doubt that a white professor in the same situation would have been arrested.

Pleasant day in Jerusalem hills

Today began like most of my weekdays in Jerusalem - with a visit to the National Library to work on my research and course planning. (Today I was working on planning my Jerusalem course - there is so much to learn about the history and communities of Jerusalem. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface). In the middle of the afternoon, as I was sweating again over a hot photocopier (this is not meant metaphorically, by the way - it's hot here now, which I'm sure is a surprise to my readers), a friend called to say that she was going horse-riding.

I seized the opportunity to flee the library, and went with her and another friend on a pleasant drive in the hills of Jerusalem to חוות נטף (Nataf Farm), where she climbed on the horse and we sat around and watched her, the other horses, and the beautiful landscape. After she finished her lesson (the first time in many years, with the goal of getting over her fear of horse-riding engendered by past falls from horses) we went to another beautiful place to have dinner - a restaurant called בר בהר ("Bar in the Mountain" - it rhymes in Hebrew). I didn't have my camera with me, but we went there last year too and I took some photos of the surrounding mountains then.

We had a very nice dinner and then headed back to the sweltering city via a road I had never traveled on before, the מנהרות (the tunnels). This meant crossing the Green Line (out of Israel proper) into the West Bank, passing by a Jewish town named Betar Illit ("Upper Betar") and an Arab town just across the road from it named Bittir, and then arriving at the tunnels into Jerusalem. Before we entered the first tunnel we drove right along the separation wall, and then between the first and second tunnels there was another wall, this one not completely filled in however. We entered Jerusalem from the south and passed by a sign directing us to the tomb of Rachel, which is just at the entrance to Bethlehem and is on the Israeli side of the Green Line. When I last visited it, which was about twenty years ago, there was no wall, no checkpoint, and no massive building that enclosed Rachel's tomb. I wouldn't go there now - I can't imagine how it would be a particularly spiritual experience now. A sobering end to a pleasant afternoon in the Jerusalem hills.

President Obama: "Cambridge Police acted stupidly"

Why do I love the fact that Barack Obama is now our president? This is one big reason.

No previous president could address racism in this direct, personal, intelligent, and politically aware way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cambridge 02138: Harvard professor Gates arrested at Cambridge home

UPDATE - apparently the person who called the police was not a neighbor, but someone who worked in a nearby building. In that case, it makes a bit more sense that she would call the police. (Via Ta-Nehisi Coates).

UPDATE - Cambridge Police are dropping charges, according to a Harvard Crimson story.

This is my home town - Harvard professor Gates arrested at Cambridge home.
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation's pre-eminent African-American scholars, was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. The incident raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling.


Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.

He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had "no idea who he was messing with,'' the report said.

Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because "I'm a black man in America.'' [To read a copy of the police report, click here]

Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.

The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him. "It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,'' the officer wrote in the report.

Get this - he was arrested in his own home. I cannot imagine that this would happen to any distinguished white Harvard professor. What is wrong with the Cambridge police? I grew up in Cambridge in the 1960s and 70s, and the Cambridge police certainly engaged in many dubious actions then, but I had hoped that they had improved since then.

The article in the Harvard Crimson on the arrest.

Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic online.

Apparently it was one of his neighbors who called the police on him. She didn't know what he looked like? He's pretty distinctive looking, and his photo appears in the local papers pretty often. Why did she call the police?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The painful cost to Israel of its settler adventure

Bradley Burston's new column today, on the painful cost to Israel of its settler adventure, explains why it's important for the U.S. administration to stand firm in its demand that Israel stop all building in the settlements.

Is this how to talk about war and peace in the Jewish tradition?

I just received a notice on the H-Judaic list about a conference on "War and Peace in Jewish Tradition" which will be happening on July 28 in Jerusalem. This seemed very promising to me, until I looked at the schedule of presentations, which does not deal at all with how the State of Israel should conduct war. I would have thought that a conference held in Jerusalem would have at least one session dealing with the contemporary debate on "just war" in the Jewish tradition and how and whether beliefs about just war should affect the actions of the state of Israel, but there is not even one paper on the topic.

I became very interested in this issue during the Gaza War and taught a section of my introduction to Judaism class in the spring on the ethics of war. (For those interested, see the relevant pages on the wiki that I created for the course: War in the Jewish Tradition; War and Ethics; and War and Ethics - Gaza War).

The first session is on "War and Peace in the Bible: From Release of Prisoners to Holy War." The second session is on "War and Reality and in Image." The three talks start with another paper on war in the Bible, the second deals with "Wars among the Jews in antiquity," and the fourth is on how Jewish immigrants in New York at the outbreak of World War I thought about the war. The last talk in this session, by Dr. Carol Lea Clark of University of Texas at El Paso, is the only one in the entire day-long conference that deals with the Gaza War: "Images of Technological and Moral Ambiguity: The New York Times' Coverage of the Gaza War, Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 19, 2009."

Session 3 is on war and peace in rabbinical literature. Session 4 deals with war and peace in contemporary Israeli society, but also does not deal with how Israel does or should wage war. In fact, this session includes a discussion by Dr. Nissim Dana of the Ariel University Center, on "The Wars of Muhammad as a Model for Arab Wars against Israel." What this has to do with war and peace in the Jewish tradition I do not know.

Session 5 is about "War in Jewish Law: From 'Justified War' to the Draft of Yeshiva Students." Three of the papers are on historical issues, the last one is on the draft of yeshiva students. Again, nothing on the very considerable contemporary Jewish discussions on "justified war" in the context of the state of Israel, conducted by distinguished scholars such as Michael Walzer, who wrote specifically about the Gaza War earlier this year.

The last session is on "War and Peace in Jewish Thought," which again does not appear to deal at all with how Israel should act in war. The only talk which seems to touch at all on contemporary issues is the last one, by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow on "Media Ethics in Times of War."

The conference is sponsored by Ariel University Center of Samaria - The Department of Israel's Heritage, and Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, Robert M. Beren College, The Ernest Schwarcz Institute for Ethics, Judaism and State. From looking at Beit Morasha's website, and specifically at the Schwarcz Institute, I am even more surprised at the lack of discussion on contemporary issues. The current focus of the Schwarcz Institute is on issues of war:
Coordinated by political scientist Dr. Moshe Hellinger, the Schwarcz Institute is currently focusing on ethics during times of war. Its explorations of “morality under fire” are delving into issues such as the concept of a “just” war, guerrilla warfare and collateral damage to innocent civilians, the use of human shields, and collective punishment of civilian populations. With a multidisciplinary approach, the Institute integrates content from Jewish studies, history, law, and the social sciences, and places emphasis not only on academic research and writing, but also on active involvement in education and in the public sphere.
It seems to me that a real opportunity is being lost to discuss the serious questions of ethics of war in Israel, especially after the recent release of testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence about violations of the laws of war in the Gaza War. The group has just published 54 testimonies from "Operation Cast Lead" (the Gaza War), providing evidence for numerous violations of human rights committed by Israeli soldiers during the war, and charging that these violations were not committed by rogue soldiers, but were military policy.

To read the testimonies (which are divided into a number of topics), read here. Topics include: Vandalism, Bombardment, Rabbinate Unit, Briefings, Use of White Phosphorus, Atmosphere, Home Occupation, Rules Of Engagement, House Demolitions, Human Shield.

The Breaking the Silence report is also available as a PDF at Operation Cast Lead report. Gershom Gorenberg has discussed these testimonies in a couple of recent articles. The first one was published in The American Prospect - New Testimony from Gaza. On his blog, South Jerusalem, he has posted his own commentary on the testimonies.

Why is this conference not dealing with Israel's own conduct of war?

Illusions of the Israeli political consensus

I think that the Netanyahu government is making a serious mistake in thinking that the Obama administration is not serious about stopping building in the settlements and in East Jerusalem. And it's not just the current government that is making this mistake. Ehud Olmert's statement a couple of days ago that the U.S. administration is making a mistake in insisting on moving on the settlements now is also ill-considered. Perhaps in the current Israeli political consensus the settlements are no big deal, but that is certainly not how the Palestinians think about them. The Palestinians look at the constant increase in the area of the West Bank taken by the settlements (especially those that cut off the northern from the southern West Bank, and those that cut off Arab East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, like Har Homa) and see any hope of a viable Palestinian state dissolving before their eyes.

Another article in today's Haaretz spells out the U.S. administration's position on building in Jerusalem:
The United States views East Jerusalem as no different than an illegal West Bank outpost with regard to its demand for a freeze on settlement construction, American sources have informed both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

This clarification came in the context of a growing crisis in U.S.-Israel relations over the planned construction of some 20 apartments for Jews in the Shepherd Hotel, in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The U.S. has demanded that the project be halted, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet meeting Sunday that "Israel will not agree to edicts of this kind in East Jerusalem."
The statement by Netanyahu yesterday that Israel has sovereignty (ריבונות) over all of Jerusalem is not accepted by any other nation on earth, and certainly not by the United States (if the U.S. accepted the Israeli claim, then American passports issued in Jerusalem would read "Jerusalem, Israel" instead of the current "Jerusalem," [and I include the comma because that's how my passport, issued in Jerusalem in 1999, read]). Netanyahu also apparently thinks that Jews in the Obama administration (like David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel) should agree with the right-wing positions of the Likud Party, instead of working for the president who appointed them (as Akiva Eldar says in today's Haaretz: "We want our Jews in the administration to be blind to the settlements and deaf to the complaints of the Arabs").

Eldar's column today is one of the few I've read in the Israeli press these last few weeks that reveals any real understanding of the position of the Obama administration - a position which I, for one, believe is necessary for any kind of peace-making to go forward between Israel and the Palestinians. And American Jews support Obama in his actions. From my discussions with friends here, I've definitely gotten the impression that they misread how American Jews feel about Obama and about Israel - they seem to think that most American Jews are right-wing and religious and support the settlements. The opposite is true.

Eldar writes:
Back during his election campaign Obama made it clear that he did not have to join Likud to be a friend of Israel. Opinion polls in the United States revealed that the views of most Jews are closer to the attitudes of organizations like the Reform movement, American Friends of Peace Now and J Street, which support a two-state solution and eschew Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's doctrine - and above all, largely object to the settlements.

The conversation Obama held with representatives of the Jewish community last week confirms that Netanyahu is drafting them for the wrong war. Even his oldest supporters did not attack the president's position on the settlements, and made do with a complaint about the high profile given to disputes over the issue of natural growth in the settlements. One of the guests at that meeting said that history showed that exposing the differences between the U.S. and Israel does not help to advance peace. [This was Malcolm Hoenlein of the mis-named Organization of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, who never saw anything wrong with the Bush administration's effectively doing nothing about peace during its entire eight years].

"This was not my reading of the lessons of the last eight years," Obama responded without flinching. Moreover, he said he would not shy away from a willingness to pressure all parties, including Israel, if that is in the best interests of the United States and Israel. Obama did not hesitate to tell his Jewish interlocutors that beyond the special commitment to Israel's security, his policy would be completely even-handed. If it became necessary, Obama said, he would speak to Israelis, as he had done to the Arab and Muslim world, to help them to achieve some kind of self-reflection.

Obama has internalized what his predecessors refused to understand: the traditional supporters of the Israeli right are growing old, or losing their relevance. They are giving way to younger, liberal forces who identify with Obama's values. In the "best" case, Netanyahu's incitement against the "self-hating Jews" will do to them what his whispered comment in the ear of Rabbi Kaduri "those leftists are not Jews" did to Israelis a decade ago - it turned them against him.
Eldar is absolutely correct.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Street cats in Jerusalem

When I first got here in June I arrived just in time for Hebrew Book Week (שבוע הספר). I went off with a friend to the book fair at Gan ha-Pa'amon and bought a few books, including on on the development of the Old City of Jerusalem during the 19th century (Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City, published by Yad Izhak Ben Zvi Institute in 1984). Another one is called חתולי הרחוב שלי ("My Street Cats") by Raphaella Bilski (published by Carmel, 2007). It's about her adventures with Jerusalem street cats over the last 14 years. She is a professor of government at the Hebrew University, focusing on politicaly philosophy.

This is a very sweet book, which reveals quite a bit about the author as well as the cats she writes about. She writes about the first cat who came to her garden - Kitsoshi, about how families of cats established themselves in her garden and in the cat pergola which she set up for them, about the friendship between cats (including two female cats who raised their kittens together), about the trauma when her neighbors become angry with her because she had so many cats in the garden and she has to send some of them away, about the territories of cats, about how the mothers train their kittens to be good hunters, etc. In the back of the book she gives several cat genealogies, including one for Kitzoshi. She gets very involved in the life of the cats, worries about them, raises abandoned kittens by hand, cries when they die - she is truly a fine cat lady and expresses well the untoward affection that some of us develop for cats.

Elms in the Yard, a Jerusalem blog, frequently posts photos of Jerusalem cats.

To the left is a photo I took in 2004 of a street cat in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More on cats

A friend just stopped by and told me about one of her projects while she's here in Jerusalem - she's photographing one cat a day and sending the picture to her daughter back home in the U.S. I told her about my interest in cat ancestry and the link between domestic cats and wildcats from the Middle East, which made me go back and look again at the New York Times article from 2007 that first piqued my interest in this question. The Times website provides a link to the article in Science from which the information was taken. Amidst the technique discussion of genetics, which I was not able to follow very well, there were some little poetic gems that expressed the conclusions of the article in more understandable language.
The domestic cat may be the world's most numerous pet, yet little is certain of the cat's origin. Archaeological remains and anthropological clues suggest that, unlike species domesticated for agriculture (e.g., cow, pig, and sheep) or transport (horse and donkey), the cat probably began its association with humans as a commensal, feeding on the rodent pests that infested the grain stores of the first farmers. The earliest evidence of cat-human association involves their co-occurrence in Cyprus deposits determined to be 9500 years old. Domestic cats are generally considered to have descended from the Old World wildcats, but they differ from these hypothesized progenitors in behavior, tameness, and coat color diversity....

These 15 individuals [Middle Eastern wildcats] had concordant mtDNA and STR phylogenies identical to those of domestic cats and were collected in remote deserts of Israel, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia. These data suggest that these Near Eastern wildcats may represent the ancestral founder population of domestic cats, supporting a domestication origin in the Near East....

The domestication of wild species to complement human civilization stands as one of the more successful "biological experiments" ever undertaken. For cats, the process began more than 9000 years ago when the earliest farmers of the Fertile Crescent domesticated grains and cereals as well as livestock. In parallel, the endemic wildcats of the region may have adapted by both regulating the rodents in the grain stores and abandoning their aggressive wild-born behaviors. The archaeological imprints left in the genomes of living cats here weigh into inferences about the timing, steps, and provenance of domestication—a dynamic exercise depicted in art, in history, and in human cultural development since recorded evidence began.
Much more pleasant to contemplate than humans rioting!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Still more riots in Jerusalem!

I'm listening to the reports tonight on Reshet Bet about the renewed riots tonight in Jerusalem. Apparently, there are thousands of Haredi rioters on Rte. 1 in the Bet Yisrael neighborhood throwing rocks and attacking police. Many have been arrested. Ten police have been injured by the rioters. The reporter speaking now on Reshet Bet mentions a big demonstration on Zaks St. in the Shmuel ha-Navi neighborhood, as well as speeches in Yiddish by rabbis speaking now in Kikar Shabbat telling the Haredim not to give up.

According to an article on the Hebrew Ynet page, the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, is involving himself in the conflict, contacting the Jerusalem municipality, the police, and the Haredim, in an effort to calm tempers.

Jerusalem Police Chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco said Thursday evening that over the past day there "was a marked escalation" in the rioting of haredim in Jerusalem, warning that the level of violence was rising, "both towards municipal workers and towards public infrastructure."

Franco, who was speaking in a press conference, directed some veiled criticism at the government for failing to find a solution to the incessant friction between the extremist elements in the haredi community and the police. "We're talking about a capital city and not enough has been done on the national level in order to calm down the situation," he said.

Warning of further dangers that could arise due to the rioting, Franco said, "They've dismantled traffic lights, and without traffic lights deadly accidents could take place. They've disconnected systems in electricity poles and people could be electrocuted.

"I have not found a single place in the Bible where it is written that these actions are permissible," he added.
According to Haaretz, Franco also criticized the leaders of the Haredi community for not doing anything to cool the tempers of the rioters.
"There is not one sane voice within the Haredi community that will rise up and cry out against this phenomenon," Franco said. "They have rabbis, they have leadership, and I haven't heard the rabbis or sages crying out."
For those curious to know exactly where today's rioting occurred, Haaretz has helpfully put up links to Google maps.

The rabbi of the Toldos Aron group (to which the woman arrested for abusing her son belongs) announced today at a demonstration in Kikar Shabbat that the members of his group should continue fighting the woman's arrest "until the last drop of blood."

I just discovered a blog called Shearim, whose author is a woman who lives in Jerusalem and is fascinated by Hasidim and goes to many Hasidic events, although she is apparently not Haredi herself. Her blog describes many visits to the Toldos Aron synagogue and other Toldos Aron events.

Neturei Karta meet with Haniyeh in Gaza

Some things you just cannot make up. While Neturei Karta in Jerusalem is rioting against the arrest of a woman accused of starving her son, other members of Neturei Karta meet with Haniyeh in Gaza. They apparently arrived in Gaza on one of the boats that international "peace" activists have been trying to land there.

Today, in Jerusalem, three people were hurt by stones thrown by rioters, workers were evacuated from welfare bureau offices when threatened by stone-throwing Haredim, Haredim also threw stones at the windows of the Education Ministry, hurled stones at police officers, set fire to trash cans, and the police stopped dozens of Haredim trying to reach Jaffa Rd. See also the Jerusalem Post report on today's occurrences - Workers evacuated as haredim stone welfare office.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More riots in Jerusalem

While, thank God, we have not had to suffer from terrorist attacks, Jerusalem haredi riots spread to Beit Shemesh. Now the riots are not about a) the gay pride march, or b) the opening of a parking garage on Shabbat, but c) the arrest of a Haredi mother suspected of starving her son, so that at the age of three, he only weighed about 15 lbs.
In a hearing held earlier in the day at the Jerusalem District Court, the head of the special investigation team said of the reactions to the mother's arrest: "There were tactics here befitting organized crime. Doctors, police officers and witnesses were all threatened."

Police are continuing to collect testimonies from doctors who treated the toddler, who is currently hospitalized at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital for severe malnutrition. Experts have posited that the woman in question suffers from Munchausen by proxy. Welfare officials suspicious that she may be actively harming her son set up cameras in the boy's hospital room, allowing the investigators to catch the mother on tape disconnecting the child's feeding tube.
While the first two reasons for rioting make some sense within the Haredi worldview, this last example completely baffles me.

Here are some statements by demonstrators:
"We know the family," said demonstrator Yaakov Avraham Fruchter. "It's a good family, and no one ever sinned … It's just a blood libel."

Chana Weisvish also called the woman's arrest the "blood libel of 2009."

"She said something to the big doctor that didn't suit him, so he said to her 'You won't see your son for three years,' and he took revenge on her. So he brought social workers that testified against her that she's not a good woman …

"We will not be silent about it, because if they can get away with it once, then they'll do it again."

Another onlooker agreed, saying: "I am sure that she is innocent. I know her personally, she is a woman who nurtures her children, nurtures her house, nurtures everything. A pure woman. She sits all day, from eight in the morning until 10 at night, every day by her son … It's really not appropriate for a religious woman to sit with those criminals, women with drugs in jail."

Well, if the woman actually did what she is accused of, she is certainly not religious in my understanding of the term, which includes treating other people kindly! There's clearly something else going on here. The news reports merely say that she's part of an "extremist" group in the Haredi world, without going into any detail about who it is and why they would react in this way.

According to the Failed messiah blog, the woman belongs to the Toldos Aron Hasidic sect - which is indeed one of the most extreme, ascetic parts of the entire Haredi community. Another article on Ynet said that she is part of Neturei Karta.

What happened to the suicide bombers of Jerusalem?

Christopher Hitchens writes on the question: What happened to the suicide bombers of Jerusalem?

Since I am currently in Jerusalem, this is obviously a matter of some personal concern to me. Hitchens makes the important point that while the supply of people who are willing to become suicide bombers may be affected by despair (political, personal, economic, religious), what is really important is whether the "Nasty, vicious, fanatical old men, not human emotions, were making the decisions and deciding the days and the hours of death." Since Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade leaders stopped sending people, for whatever reason, the suicide bombings have stopped (at least for now).

He does, of course, cite a number of other factors, like Israeli targeted assassinations at leaders of the terrorist groups, and the building of the גדר הפרדה (variously translated as separation fence or wall), which made it harder for bombers to get into Israel proper.

Yesterday I went to the Old City to do some research for the course on Jerusalem that I'm teaching in the fall, and at the end of the day I went to the Cinematheque (on Hebron Rd., across the Gei Ben Hinnom valley from the Old City). I discovered that from there I had a very good view of a portion of the separation wall. (And here in Jerusalem at least it's certainly accurate to call it a wall, since it's made of huge slabs of concrete.

Here is a photo of one part of it which can be seen from above the Cinematheque.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Car accidents vs. terrorism

Every time I plan to go to Israel, concerned friends and relatives in the United States ask me if I think it's really safe enough to visit. What they're thinking of is bombs and suicide attackers. But actually, a much higher risk is car accidents, as witnessed this past weekend, when 7 were killed in weekend car accidents. "On Friday, six people were killed in a head-on collision between two cars on Route 38 near Beit Shemesh." The accident was caused by drunk driving and a bad road.
Police said witnesses told them that Maimon [the driver of one of the cars] had been drinking beer with his friends at at a pool party prior to the accident. They also said he had smashed the wing mirror of another car with his speeding vehicle moments before the deadly crash.

Magen David Adom teams that arrived at the scene pronounced the six people dead immediately upon reaching the location, and the injured were taken to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.

Traffic Police Chief Cmdr. Avi Ben-Hemo and Jerusalem District Chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco were both called to the scene, and Franco said relatives of the families arrived and started scuffling after the accident.

Route 38 is narrow and contains many sharp turns and many segments of it are blocked from view by foliage. There is no physical barrier between the lanes and the road is used by many trucks on a daily basis. Beit Shemesh residents have warned in the past that the road is dangerous.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Are American Jews getting more conservative?

I got into an argument last night with some friends here in Israel about whether American Jews are getting more conservative politically/supporting Republicans more. Their opinion was that American Jews were tending more Republican and more right-wing in general in their politics. My opinion was that American Jews remained quite liberal compared to the rest of the American population, based on how they vote in presidential elections. (I thought that they, surprisingly, were following the views of people like the Republican Jewish coalition, which keeps saying that American Jews are about to break massively for the Republicans - but then they never do). Other factors entered the argument, like how American Jews' customary liberalism affects how they feel about Israel, and whether American Jews have gotten more right-wing on Israel than in the past. I just took a look and found the statistics for Jewish voting in presidential elections from 1960 to 2008. There were some surprising results (for me).

I hadn't realized how much Jewish support Carter had lost from 1976 to 1980. An article that I just read on the net (The Israel Swing Factor: How the American Jewish Vote Influences U.S. Elections) recapitulates some of the events that led to that lessening of support (one was the U.S. ambassador to the UN voting in favor of an anti-Israel resolution in the Security Council). This was quite helpful to Reagan, who received 39% of the Jewish vote in 1980, the highest percentage received by any Republican presidential candidate since Eisenhower in 1956 received 40% of the Jewish vote. Jews also voted in greater numbers for Nixon in 1972 than I had recalled (35%). Since 1992, no Democratic presidential candidate has received less than 3/4 of the Jewish vote.

Jewish vote in presidential elections

1960 - 82% Kennedy; 18% Nixon
1964 - 90% Johnson; 10% Goldwater
1968 - 81% Humphrey; 17% Nixon; 2% Wallace
1972 - 65% McGovern; 35% Nixon
1976 - 71% Carter; 27% Ford
1980 - 45% Carter; 39% Reagan; 15% Anderson
1984 - 67% Mondale; 31% Reagan
1988 - 64% Dukakis; 35% GHW Bush
1992 - 78% Clinton; 11% GHW Bush; 9% Perot
1996 - 78% Clinton; 16% Dole; 3% Perot
2000 - 79% Gore; 19% GW Bush; 1% Nader
2004 - 76% Kerry; 24% GW Bush; <1% Nader
2008 - 78% Obama; 22% McCain

I doubt that these statistics would bring my argument with my friends to an end, but they do show that at least by one measure, Jews have not trended significantly more Republican since 1992.

Friday, July 10, 2009

News bad and good

According to a posting on Harry's Place, citing an article in The Times, the Tamil death toll ‘is 1,400 a week’ at Manik Farm camp in Sri Lanka. This is one of the places that the Sri Lankan government sent Tamil refugees at the end of the war with the Tamil Tigers. The Times reports:
The death toll will add to concerns that the Sri Lankan Government has failed to halt a humanitarian catastrophe after announcing victory over the Tamil Tiger terrorist organisation in May. It may also lend credence to allegations that the Government, which has termed the internment sites “welfare villages”, has actually constructed concentration camps to house 300,000 people.
The Sri Lankan government is telling international aid agencies, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, to scale down their activities, with the explanation that since the war is over, their services are not needed any more. One of the commenters on Harry's Place expressed skepticism about the high number of deaths, but the Times article explained it this way:
Aid workers and the British Government have warned that conditions at the site are inadequate. Most of the deaths are the result of water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhoea, a senior relief worker said on condition of anonymity.

Witness testimonies obtained by The Times in May described long queues for food and inadequate water supplies inside Manik Farm. Women, children and the elderly were shoved aside in the scramble for supplies. Aid agencies are being given only intermittent access to the camp. The Red Cross was not being allowed in yesterday.

In Iran, on the other hand, protestors took to the streets yesterday by the thousands in Tehran.
Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on Thursday, clapping, chanting, almost mocking the authorities as they once again turned out in large numbers in defiance of the government’s threat to crush their protests with violence.

As tear gas canisters cracked and hissed in the middle of crowds, and baton-wielding police officers chased protesters up and down sidewalks, young people, some bloodied, ran for cover, but there was an almost festive feeling on the streets of Tehran, witnesses reported in e-mail exchanges.

Protests Resume in Iran
Associated Press

And for a third, interesting story from Israel, check out the ancient mosaic floor that has been discovered in Lod:

The late-Roman-era mosaic floor, one of the largest and finest in Israel, was unveiled by the authorities last week for just the second time since it was discovered 13 years ago in the dilapidated eastern section of this poor town near the international airport, south of Tel Aviv.

Some 1,700 years old, the magnificent tiled floor spreads over almost 2,000 square feet, shaded from the harsh summer sun by a thin awning and surrounded by a canvas fence. A panoply of colorful depictions of birds, fish, exotic animals and merchant ships, the mosaic conjures up an intriguing reminder of Lod’s more glorious past.

The archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority believe the mosaic, which lacks any inscriptions, was commissioned by a wealthy individual who owned a grand villa here. Lod, which is mentioned in the Bible, was an important center in ancient times, and this part of it is known to have been a neighborhood of the rich.

Today, the site is overlooked by drab apartment blocks with laundry hanging on lines out of windows, surrounded by garbage-strewn yards. A mixed city of Jewish immigrants and Muslim and Christian Arabs, modern Lod is usually associated with hardship, its diverse population largely of low socioeconomic standing and often described by local officials as a challenge.

Now, though, the authorities here hope to revitalize Lod and turn it, of all things, into a major tourist destination thanks to the treasures lurking under the city’s more modern layers of earth.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

McKinney, Burston

As much as I disagree with former U.S. congresswoman McKinney on the issue of Israel and probably many other things as well, why was she only released from detention now after having been detained with the other people on the ship going to Gaza on June 30? What kind of threat could she possibly have offered to Israel?

On a related topic, read Bradley Burston's latest column in Haaretz - This is what is wrong with a Jewish state. He writes:
The undercurrent of racism in this year's election campaign was a clear warning. Overtly anti-Israeli Arab legislation and bills aimed at curbing Arab freedom of expression have soiled the concept of a Jewish state to a nadir that Israel's worst, most energetic enemies have never managed to approach.

The outpouring of hatred has since become an equal-opportunity sewer. Radical settlers and immigrants from the former Soviet Union have voiced unabashed, despicable racist attitudes toward a black president of the United States.

Inevitably, fellow Jews in Israel have become targets of the hatred as well. In Jerusalem, Jews who presume to be among the most devout of all adherents to Judaism, think nothing of attacking fellow Jews on the Sabbath with cinder blocks and glass bottles, all in protest over the opening of a parking lot.

Rabbis in the West Bank give Israel's enemies new ammunition week to week, by condoning killings of Palestinians.

And, in a reference to Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Ariel Atias this month chose the Bar Association, of all venues, to declare that he saw it as "a national duty to prevent the spread of a population that, to say the least, does not love the state of Israel." He went on to explicitly argue for segregation, not only between Jews and Arabs, but between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews.
His conclusion:
Hatred has no place in a Jewish state. And a Jewish state which sanctifies intolerance in the name of tradition or patriotism, will inevitably prove unwelcome not only to non-Jews, but to the Jewish People as well.
Burston's words are welcome, but the revolting phenomena that he writes about are not new. I remember, in 1988, going to the Kotel with the Women of the Wall. We were trying to pray in the women's section, wearing tallitot, carrying a Torah scroll which we intended to read from. After we set ourselves up and started the morning prayers, Haredi women started to scream at us, and eventually Haredi men from the men's section invaded the women's section and not only screamed at us, but attacked us physically. One man tried to take away the Torah scroll, in the process almost knocking it to the ground. I was knocked down twice, once by a woman and once by a man. The police finally intervened, not to protect us, but to escort us away from the scene, leaving the Haredim alone.

I also remember at about the same time going to leftwing demonstrations sponsored by various organizations, including Peace Now, and having counterdemonstrators scream obscenities and worse at us ("Hitler should have killed you too!"). Once I was participating in a demonstration of Women in Black at Paris Square, and a group of Kahanists came to demonstrate against us, screaming in hatred and threatening us physically. The police came and intervened by tear-gassing all of us.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Naomi Klein in Israel

I turned on Reshet Bet of Kol Israel a few minutes ago, to listen to the morning news show (it's the Israeli Radio news station) and who should they be interviewing but Naomi Klein, who has been visiting Israel and the occupied territories (including Gaza). The interviewer asked her why she visited Israel despite her support of the economic and academic boycott of Israel, and she answered that while she didn't want to support the institutions of the Israeli state, she wanted to engage in dialogue with Israelis. I couldn't quite understand what the interviewer said, but it sounded like she was offered some money for her interview, which she was going to donate to a charity because she didn't want to profit from an Israeli government institution (Israel Radio is part of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and is run by the state). She's now talking about her thesis on "disaster capitalism" - that terrible disasters like the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2006 are then exploited by corporations who use the opportunity of destruction to bring in their own businesses and displace local people.

I find it very surprising, for several reasons, that she's being interviewed by Israel Radio. First of all, in the United States, she would be interviewed by left-wing radio networks or shows like Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. Her chances of being interviewed by CNN, for example, are vanishingly small, as far as I know, because of her left-wing economic views. I guess the fact that Israel Radio is interested in interviewing her is a sign that Israel is still much more open than the U.S. to left-wing views, even with Netanyahu as Prime Minister and Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister. (After all, Hadash, the Israeli communist party, has a few seats in the Knesset).

I was also surprised that Israeli Radio would want to interview someone who is so negative about Israel and who advocates the boycott of Israel! And I'm also equally surprised that Naomi Klein would even come to Israel and agree to be interviewed on the state radio station! (To be fair to her, it sounded like much of her time here was spent in Gaza and the West Bank - she said that one of her goals in coming here was to work against the sense of "normalization" that disturbs her in Israel by talking about what is going on in Gaza).

She talked about one thing that I found very interesting - the Israeli advertising campaign in other countries to "re-brand" Israel as a normal country that's worth visiting (rather than a dangerous country of suicide bombings and wars). I remember hearing about this a couple of years ago when the campaign was just starting. Apparently this campaign was first piloted in Toronto, where she lives. I myself was disturbed by the idea that an advertising campaign was the way to change people's minds about Israel, since of course it doesn't deal with any of the actual problems in Israel. But, on the other hand, what advertising campaign does? It just seems a very superficial way to present the official Israeli government position.

On her website she calls for the boycott of Israel in these terms: "It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa."

Her reply to the criticism that Israel isn't South Africa is interesting: "2. Israel is not South Africa. Of course it isn't. The relevance of the South African model is that it proves that BDS tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions, back-room lobbying) have failed. And there are indeed deeply distressing echoes of South African apartheid in the occupied territories: the color-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and forced displacement, the settler-only roads."

Her website also explains how she managed to get her latest book published in Israel - by a small left-wing Israeli press called Andalus. She won't be receiving any profits from the book; all will go to Andalus - "In other words, I am boycotting the Israeli economy but not Israelis." She explains more about this in an interview with Ha'aretz published yesterday - Oppose the state, not the people.

One of the things she's done while she's here is go to the weekly protests at Bil'in - see this report on Mondoweiss - Naomi Klein in Bil'in. The weekly protests are against the separation wall.

The contortions that she must go through to prove that even though she's visiting Israel and having her books published here she's still boycotting the Israeli economy are quite amazing. It seems to me that she could extract herself from the charge of hypocrisy if her support for the BDS campaign were a little less knee-jerk and more nuanced - if she said that she intends to support certain parts of the Israeli economy - like left-wing presses - and not other parts, like big Israeli corporations or state institutions.