Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some links: History, Jacobo Timerman, and Messianic Jews

Defending History by The Plump. A sample:
I am always concerned by historical attempts to make qualitative judgements between unambiguous evils - was Stalin worse than Hitler (thereby implying one was actually better), was Fascism the same as Communism etc. – as they are either a form of sloppy shorthand or an attempt to dissemble. Nor is it enough to quantitatively evaluate regimes by counting the corpses (there are always corpses; many, many corpses).
Jacobo Timerman smeared, at Z-Blog.  A sample:
Many readers will be familiar with the name of the Argentine journalist and publisher Jacobo Timerman. Kidnapped and tortured by agents of the 1976-1983 dictatorship, he was eventually allowed to leave for Israel where he wrote a book, Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number that was to become a classic account of the horrors of military rule in Argentina.
I remember reading Timerman's book when it was first published - it was profoundly disturbing, a witness to the hellish tortures and murders committed by the Argentinean dictatorship.

Messianic Jewish Musings, by Derek Leman. Before the whole kerfuffle with Seismic Shock (Joseph Weissman) and the Reverend Sizer, I hadn't been very aware of Messianic Jewish groups (Jews who now believe that Jesus is the Messiah yet also hold onto their Jewish identity in various ways). Through my reading about his case, I came across this blog by the leader of a Messianic group in Roswell, Georgia. The blog tackles some weighty theological issues, such as supercessionism in Christianity, which Lerman (and Weissman) are particularly offended by, since it negates the value of any continued connection to Judaism on the part of Messianic Jews. (I personally object to Christian supercessionism, since it negates the continuing value of Judaism after the advent of Jesus as the Messiah).

Calvin L. Smith has also written in an interesting way about Stephen Sizer and Seismic Shock at his blog. He teaches at King's Evangelical Divinity School in England.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, January 27, is the day that people in European countries usually commemorate the Holocaust. (In the U.S., as far as I have noticed, the Holocaust is commemorated on the day chosen by the Israeli Knesset and followed by Jewish communities - the 27 of Nisan, which this year falls on April 11). The date was chosen because on January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz. Outside the Italian consulate in New York City today the names of the 8,600 Italian Jews rounded up and killed from 1938 to 1945 were read aloud by a variety of figures. The readers included the Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and some prominent rabbis.
But this year’s observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day carried an added weight of silence, coming soon after the outbreak of an international, interfaith controversy over the proposed canonization of Pope Pius XII, who presided in Rome during World War II.

None of the readers, including Cardinal Edward M. Egan and several prominent rabbis, made mention of the dispute while standing at microphones planted along Park Avenue, reciting names that included about 1,000 Roman Jews rounded up by German and Italian authorities in a single day, Oct. 16, 1943....

Many historians contend that Pius XII did not do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust. The Vatican has long said that Pius, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, helped save many Jews who were hidden in Roman Catholic churches, monasteries and convents.

Natalia Indrimi, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s event and director of the New York office of Centro Primo Levi, a group dedicated to the history of Italian Jews, said the question of Pius’s role during the Holocaust would be settled only when all papal records of the wartime period were unsealed by the Vatican, which so far has released only some.

“It is up to the church to make its own decisions about canonization,” she said. “But any claim that Pius did something or didn’t do something is only a claim until all the records can be studied by the historians.”

German court summons bishop over Holocaust denial

Following up on a story from last year, Richard Williamson, the Holocaust-denying pseudo-bishop whose excommunication was revoked last year by Pope Benedict, has been summoned by a German court to answer charges that he denied the Holocaust in comments on Swedish television last year. While the remarks were broadcast on Swedish television, they were made in Germany, which outlaws denial of the Holocaust.
The district court in the southern city of Regensburg has set a hearing for April 16, because Williamson had appealed against a 12,000 euro fine for incitement that was summarily handed down last year for his remarks.

The court has now summoned Williamson, 69, to face questioning in person, court spokesman Thomas Frick said.

Authorities cannot force him to attend, but if Williamson is not represented at the hearing, then the appeal against the fine will be thrown out, Frick added.

"Then the fine becomes legally binding," he said.

Williamson's remarks broadcast on the television station were made near to Regensburg, within the court's jurisdiction.

Comment moderation now on

I've switched my blog settings so that comments now will have to be approved before appearing on the blog. In general, I welcome comments from any perspective, including those I strongly disagree with, but I do not want this blog to turn into a forum for antisemitic, racist, anti-Islamic, or homophobic remarks. I will not approve comments that egregiously violate this policy. If a comment is made that seems to skate on the edge, I will write a reply to it, and if it is then followed up by another comment of the same or worse degree, it will not be approved.

This policy is not aimed at anti-Zionist or anti-Israel comments, but only at remarks that blame Jews for all the world's problems, argue that there is a Jewish conspiracy to do something evil, hold that Jews inherently possess some negative characteristic, or otherwise engage in wholesale scapegoating of Jews. Similar comments made on racial grounds, or which smear all Muslims as inherently violent or single out Islam as a uniquely evil religion will also not be approved.

Is this censorship? In one sense, yes, since I'm refusing to publish certain comments. I view this, however, as akin to the censorship that newspaper publishers exercise when refusing to publish all letters sent to the newspaper. (And I wish that the online version of newspapers would much more heavily edit readers' comments by deleting hateful racist, antisemitic, homophobic, or anti-Islamic remarks). This blog is mine, and I get to decide who posts on it. If you really feel that strongly, create your own blog and start propagating your opinions that way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Was Israel a Mistake? - Review of Sizer's first book

I just found a review of one of Sizer's other books, in Christianity Today, by Paul Merkley: Was Israel a Mistake? It's also a doozie.

In Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon?, Stephen Sizer advances the fantasy, previously elaborated by a host of anti-Zionist polemicists, that the long and honorable history of defense by Christians of Israel's right to be Israel is merely an epiphenomenon of the history of a singular, off-center school of theology called premillennial dispensationalism. According to this thesis, all Christian Zionists are mindless acolytes of a Sanhedrin of pamphleteers which carries on the teachings of John Nelson Darby.

By my casual reckoning, about 80 percent of the book is devoted to a sedulous taxonomy of End Times speculation. The project began as a doctoral thesis for which Sizer bravely sifted through the mountain of English-language prophetic theology from the 17th to the end of the 20th century and disposed its components into categories: amillennialist, postmillennialist, and premillennialist—the latter further divided into covenantal and dispensationalist, and, in the latter section of the book, apocalyptic-dispensationalist and political dispensationalist. Do not despair: there are charts.

Early in the book, Sizer outlines a sequence of political figures who carried the message of premillennial dispensationalism forward into a plan of action for establishing a Jewish state. The list breaks off with Balfour, and thus Sizer spares himself having to explain the connection between dispensationalism and Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and their successors in the front ranks of political actors after 1918.

Among major misrepresentations of historical fact too numerous to list, let alone to deconstruct, I take the case of Arthur James Balfour, he of the Balfour Declaration, who stands in this book for the entire class of Christian Zionists. We learn that he was a man who was "brought up in an evangelical home and was sympathetic to Zionism because of the influence of dispensational teaching," hence naïve, uncultivated, weak-minded, his thinking processes dulled, like those of the rest of us Christian friends of Israel today, by low-brow pamphleteering and thus easily led by the Zionists. Balfour, dim bulb that he was, "regarded history as an instrument for carrying out a Divine Purpose." (Since when did this become a heresy?)

In truth, Lord Arthur James Balfour was a member of the most prominent political family of his day, noted for its achievements in science and the arts; he had a place at the very heart of British intellectual and artistic circles, was educated up to his ears, and was a widely published critical-academic philosopher, which earns him a long entry today in the Encylopedia of Philosophy. The quotient of dispensationalism in Balfour's intellectual makeup was zero.

In fact, of all the major Christian Zionists whom Sizer describes as standing at the end of the line whose head and fount is the dispensationalist Prophet, John Darby, only one, William Blackstone, was in fact a dispensationalist, or, for that matter, speculated at all about covenants and dispensations. (And how on earth did the notoriously agnostic Lord Palmerston get into this sequence of the mindless dupes of premillennial dispensationalism?)

Sizer's cartoon-Balfour stands for all the Christian Zionists jerked around by scheming Jews. Think of contemporary Christian Zionists, puppets of the Likud, cheering from the sidelines, never questioning, never doubting, as bulldozers destroy the vineyards and homes of Palestinians (as illustrated on the cover of the book), as illegal settlements are expanded towards the never-admitted but palpable goal of extending Israel's boundaries to include Damascus, Beirut, Amman, and Baghdad—perhaps, who knows, to China. Like the cartoon-Balfour, Christian visitors to Israel are swiftly taken captive by State-appointed tour-guides who drag everybody off to Yad Vashem (which exists "to represent Israel as a victim") and then to the Wailing Wall and Masada in order "to perpetuate a favorable image of Israel, stifle criticism and reinforce their claim to the land." Related to this red herring is the one about being in love with cosmic-death scenarios inspired by provocative passages in Daniel and Revelation. The debt which Sizer owes to the Chomsky-Finkelstein-Ateek school of the History of Israel is readily apparent.

Some of my best friends are premillennial dispensationalists, but we get along anyway. For a Christian Zionist of my ilk, a full and sufficient biblical mandate is in Genesis 12, with special reference to verse 3: "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the nations of the world shall be blessed"—a text which Sizer turns inside out on page 147.

It does not seem of any interest to Sizer to note that we stand today on historical ground very different from that of the age of the dispensationalist prophetic conferences. What we have to speculate about today is whether the being of Israel should be undone by human force. Christian Zionists are realists. They no longer attend conferences in which anyone proposes a theory about Israel's coming into existence. Their speculations about what is right and wrong, what should be done and not done, start from the premise that Israel is. Anti-Zionists, meanwhile, live in the same counterfactual world as do the Muslims who speculate about the legitimacy of Zion.

It is a common feature of anti-Christian Zionist literature that little interest is shown in the actual historical circumstances that brought the modern State of Israel into existence. In Sizer's book there is absolutely none, unless we count this oddity on page 148: "in 1948 the U.S. government was just as opposed to the founding of the State of Israel [as was] Britain." Is this revisionism, or what? It is Franklin Roosevelt attacking the Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor. Did none of that long list of people who are thanked on the Acknowledgements page twig to this incriminating bit of confusion? Does InterVarsityPress not have fact-checkers? This is embarrassing. It is, however, all we have to indicate that Sizer knows that once there was no State of Israel but now there is—somehow.

With this book, says Colin Chapman in his back-cover appreciation, "Sizer has thrown down the gauntlet in a way that demands a response from those who support the state of Israel for theological reasons." Well, anytime, anywhere.

Seismic Shock: When blogging meets policing

The BBC has an article about Seismic Shock's encounter with the police, in which he comes out as Joseph Wiseman, a student at Leeds University (see also his article at Harry's Place, Introducing Myself. It turns out that he has also been posting at Harry's Place as Yeze, identifying himself as a Messianic Jew. He writes:
I am a Christian strongly opposed to anti-Semitism, and I also support the continued existence of Israel. I attend an Anglican evangelical church occasionally, and also a neo-charismatic church more regularly. I hope for a just and peaceful solution to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict that provides security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, as well as justice for both Jewish and Arab refugees from 1948.

Jewishness is also a big part of my life, as I was born Jewish, I attend a Messianic fellowship, and will always identify as a Messianic Jew. I should stress that I am the third generation of my family to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. This is not some new-found faith for me, but a belief with deep roots. I have never been anything other than a believer in Christ.
I don't know much about Messianic Judaism - before reading Yeze's blog posts at Harry's Place, I had basically thought of it as a type of evangelical Christianity with a few Jewish trappings (like wearing a tallit or blowing the shofar), and had not thought of it as a form of Judaism. Now I'm more curious to know if I was correct. I have met some Christians in Ithaca who have gone to some kind of Messianic Jewish service, and I know that there are people who call themselves Messianic rabbis. I'll have to look into this further and see what they mean.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reverend Stephen Sizer, Anti-Zionism, and Free Speech

Happily, in the United States, we have the First Amendment to prevent the police from showing up on the doorsteps of bloggers and telling us to take down our blogs on a dubious charge of harassment.

Unfortunately, this is not true in Britain, where the blogger Seismic Shock has been visited by the police on the complaint of a Reverend Stephen Sizer, a campaigner for the Palestinians and against Christian Zionism, who seems to be of the opinion that criticizing other people's actions and opinions on one's blog is a "campaign of harassement and intimidation."

Seismic reports on his visit from the police at Harry's Place. Go to his blog for further updates.

I've tried to read Sizer's blog and his other online writings, but since everything he pens is smothered in a thick flannel of ostentatious piety, it's rather hard to get through.

In this posting on Harry's Place, Seismic discusses Sizer's 2007 visit to Iran:
In October 2007, Stephen Sizer was invited to Iran by Zahra Mostafavi and Jawad Sharbaf of the Iranian institute NEDA, notorious for its links with Holocaust deniers. Not one to insult his hosts, Sizer’s main concern in Iran was to preach about the evils of Christian Zionism.
Faydra L. Shapiro of Wilfred Laurier University in Canada has written a slashing review of his latest book, Zion's Christian Soldiers. It appeared in the Review of Biblical Literature in November 2009 (published by the Society of Biblical Literature). I reprint it here for those interested in a scholarly approach to Sizer's anti-Zionist and anti-Judaic theology. I have emphasized the points I think most important.
In 2004 Stephen Sizer wrote Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon. Zion’s Christian Soldiers is Sizer’s attempt to reach a wider audience, by simplifying and shortening his previous work, taking out much of the detailed historical and political material to be found there. Zion’s Christian Soldiers is left with some scarce resources to make its point and is primarily a politically motivated theological critique of Christian Zionism.

In the introduction to Zion’s Christian Soldiers, the author sets out the basic terminology for his later discussion, most importantly contrasting covenantalism and dispensationalism. Sizer also takes the time to debunk what he refers to as the “three red herrings”: that dispensationalism is the only biblical literalism; the assertion that anti-Zionism is anti- Semitism; and the “straw man” of supersessionism. Sizer is careful in chapter 1 to emphasize that in his eyes the issue is not solely political; rather, “It is not an understatement to say that what is at stake is our understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross, the role of the church and the nature of our missionary mandate, not least, to the beloved Jewish people.” (19) In chapter 2 the author takes pains to distinguish what he deems a kind of acceptable biblical literalism from that of what he calls the “ultra-literalists.” The section on “five common mistakes made by ultraliteralists” is a brief but trenchant look at some of the creative reading techniques used to interpret biblical prophecies in light of current events.
Chapter 3 engages Sizer’s central question of the identity of God’s chosen people. For Sizer, the answer is unambiguously that believers of all nations are the real children of God and that it is thus “inappropriate to … claim the Jewish people have a separate relationship with God based on their ancestry or Mosaic Law” (71). Chapter 4 takes up the issue of “the Promised Land.” It is here that Sizer paints a utopic picture of the nature of the state following the return from exile in Babylonia, asserting that “The Promised Land under the old covenant was to be shared and inclusive. This is a biblical model many Christian Palestinians, who favor a one-state solution, long to see accepted within the modern State of Israel” (89)
Chapter 5 challenges Christian Zionist support for Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, arguing that Christians ought not to focus on an exclusivist, physical city of Jerusalem; rather, their vision should be trained on the inclusive and eternal heavenly Jerusalem of Revelation. From here Sizer moves smoothly into a chapter sharply criticizing Christian Zionists who support rebuilding the temple. Chapter 8 examines the doctrine of the “rapture” and premillenialism generally as creating a “destructive culture of pessimism and fatalism in Western Christianity” (150). The book ends with a chapter of conclusion, followed by a reprint of a sermon by John Stott (Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church, London) entitled “The Place of Israel.”

Zion’s Christian Soldiers suffers from some significant weaknesses. Sizer not only overestimates the influence of Christian Zionism among American evangelicals and significantly overrates the importance of dispensationalism to their Zionism, but he utterly exaggerates the role of Christian Zionism in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and global politics more generally. Sizer’s suggestion in the introduction that Christian Zionism explains everything from the West’s concern about Iran’s development of nuclear capability to Arab terrorism in Britain and America (“despite our commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights” [10]) is simply hyberbolic. On page 19 Sizer likewise asserts that “the movement [Christian Zionism] as a whole is nevertheless leading the West, and the church with it, into a confrontation with Islam,” as if were it not for evangelical support for Israel, the West and Islam would have nothing to disagree about. Statements like these reduce the author’s credibility to such a degree that any valuable parts to his argument are lost along the way.

Sizer clearly does not quite “get” Judaism as an entity that is neither “religion” nor “race.” This is clearly illustrated in his assertion that “The myth of racial purity is nothing new, nor is the desire to limit or exclude those deemed inferior. This is particularly so today when defining Israel, since national identity tends to be restricted to those who are Jewish by race” (46). Beyond the simplistic understandings of religion, ethnicity, and nationalism here, Sizer’s echo of Nazi terminology here is a cheap shot and utterly irresponsible. To paraphrase, Sizer is trying to argue here that, unlike contemporary Israel/Zionism, Israel of the Old Testament was not based in “racial exclusivity.” Yet such allegations of a program of “racial purity” in contemporary Israel are difficult to reconcile with the fact of a state with non-Jewish Arabs comprising some 20 percent of its population, together with the racially heterogeneous mix of Jews in Israel that includes Yemenite Jews, Russian Jews, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Chinese Jews.

Zion’s Christian Soldiers never pretends to be the work of objective scholarship and should not be thought of as such. The author has a very strong opinion that is anti-Israel and highly critical of Christians (or presumably anyone) who support Zionism. Sizer’s passionate anti-Zionism and anti-Judaism give this work a great deal of energy, yet they harm any scholarly aspirations this book might have. Sizer writes in the preface that the “fear of being labeled an anti-Semite is a powerful disincentive” (8) to challenging Christian support for Israel. Rather than simple anti-Semitism, his work expresses something more complex, deeper, and ultimately more terrifying—a sincere, theological, Christian anti-Judaism. In several instances the reader hardly knows whether to laugh or cry. Bizarre assertions such as “If we have come to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, we will read the Hebrew Scriptures with Christian eyes—the way Jesus and his apostles did” (27) or “The challenge the apostles faced was proclaiming this good news among the very people [Jews?] who had crucified Christ” (110) speak for themselves and make it difficult to take the work seriously as a contribution to scholarship.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

What does it mean to be pro-Palestinian?

Harry's Place has two excellent articles just posted on the recent Gaza Freedom March. The first article covers the Viva Palestina delegation, led by George Galloway, which was finally allowed into Gaza by the Egyptian authorities. They were greeted by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Amira Hass also has an interesting article on the reception that the Gaza Freedom March gained in Gaza - it's apparent from her report that Hamas' grip is tightening in Gaza. The protesters who had contacts with non-Hamas Gazan groups were hindered in their attempts to make contact and stay with members of those group (like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). She writes:
The international organizers of the march coordinated it with civil society, various non-governmental organizations, which were also supposed to involve the Popular Committee to Break the Siege, a semi-official organization affiliated with Hamas. Many European activists have long-standing connections with left-wing organizations in the Gaza Strip. Those organizations, especially the relatively large Popular Front, had organized lodging for several hundred guests in private homes. When the Hamas government heard this, it prohibited the move. "For security reasons." What else?

Also "for security reasons," apparently, on Thursday morning, the activists discovered a cordon of stern-faced, tough Hamas security men blocking them from leaving the hotel (which is owned by Hamas). The security officials accompanied the activists as they visited homes and organizations.

During the march itself, when Gazans watching from the sidelines tried to speak with the visitors, the stern-faced security men blocked them. "They didn't want us to speak to ordinary people," one woman concluded...

In meetings without the security men, several activists got the impression that non-Hamas residents live in fear, and are afraid to speak or identify themselves by name. "Now I understand that the call for 'Freedom for Gaza' has another meaning," one young man told me.
Perhaps the foreign activists will also gain some understanding of why the Israelis don't trust Hamas and why they have blockaded Gaza to try to bring down the Hamas regime.

The second Harry's Place article is about Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old German Jewish refugee who left Germany in 1939 with the Kindertransport for Britain. Her parents were murdered in Auschwitz. She has now become involved with the Free Gaza Movement and as the article says, has become an "icon" of that movement. She went on a hunger strike in Cairo. She is also apparently on the advisory board for Deir Yassin Remembered, which is led by Daniel McGowan and Paul Eisen. McGowan claims to be an advocate of the Palestinian cause, but his primary focus now seems to be on denying that the Holocaust occurred. It seems very odd to me that Hedy Epstein would be willing to work with a man who denies the truth of how her parents were murdered.

Perusing the DYR website, I discover a vile article, just posted by Henry Herskovitz (another DYR advisory board member). He finds Code Pink insufficiently radical because they won't go along with his assertion that it's necessary to "focus their attentions on the underlying cancer (Zionism, if you prefer)." Does Hedy Epstein really go along with the hideous anti-semitic stance of this organization that she has lent her name to?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

6 killed at Coptic church in Nag Hammadi, Egypt

This is a shocking attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt: Gunmen kill 6 at Egypt church after Coptic Christmas Mass.
Gunmen killed at least six people in a drive-by shooting outside a church in southern Egypt as worshippers left a midnight Mass for Coptic Christmas, Egyptian security and hospital officials said overnight Wednesday.

The attack took place in the town of Nag Hamadi in Qena province, about 64 kilometers from the famous ancient ruins of Luxor.

A local security official said two gunmen drove by a group as they were walking out of the Virgin Mary church and sprayed gunfire randomly into the crowd. The official said at least six people had died and an administrator at the hospital where the casualties were taken said seven were dead.
This attack apparently was not unexpected. Al-Jazeera reports:
The interior ministry said the attack in the town of Nag Hammadi in southern Qena province, located about 65km from the famous ancient ruins of Luxor, was suspected to be in retaliation for the November rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man in the same town.

The ministry said witnesses had identified the lead attacker.

Bishop Kirollos of the Nag Hammadi Diocese told The Associated Press that six male churchgoers and one security guard were killed.

He said he was concerned about violence on the eve of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Thursday, because of previous threats following the rape of the 12-year-old girl in November.

'Your turn'

He got a message on his mobile phone saying: "It is your turn."

"I did nothing with it. My faithful were also receiving threats in the streets, some shouting at them: 'We will not let you have festivities'," he said.

Kirollos said he ended his Christmas Mass one hour earlier than normal because of the threats.

He said Muslim residents of Nag Hammadi and neighbouring villages had rioted for five days in November and torched and damaged Christian properties in the area after the rape.

"For days, I had expected something to happen on Christmas day," said the bishop, adding that police had told him to stay home for fear of further violence.

The bishop said he had an idea of who the attackers were, calling them "Muslim radicals".

"It is all religious now. This is a religious war about how they can finish off the Christians in Egypt," he said.

Christians, mostly Coptic, account for about 10 per cent of Egypt's 83-million predominantly Muslim population.
Update - today Coptic Christians rioted in Nag Hammadi during the funeral procession.
Thousands clashed with police during a funeral procession Thursday for six of seven people killed in an attack on churchgoers leaving a midnight Mass for Coptic Christians, security officials said.
Throughout the day, protesters in the southern town of Nag Hamadi pelted police with rocks and damaged cars and stores.

Early in the day, they smashed ambulances outside a hospital in frustration over delays in turning over the bodies for burial. A security official said police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The riots resumed after the burial services, with angry Copts smashing shop windows, chasing Muslims off the streets and bringing down street light poles. The riots continued into the late afternoon.
An important fact mentioned in the above article about the relations between Muslims and Copts in Egypt:
As Islamic conservatism gains ground, Egypt's Christians have increasingly complained about discrimination by the Muslim majority. Coptic Christians are limited in where they can build churches and must obtain government approval before expanding existing facilities. The government insists Christians enjoy the same rights as Muslims.
The requirement that Coptic Christians must seek government approval for expanding churches seems to be a milder version of the old rules of the dhimma, which forbade Christians or Jews from building new houses or worship or repairing existing ones.

As Jim Davila commented yesterday in Paleojudaica, Nag Hammadi is where the ancient Coptic Gnostic library was discovered in the 1940s.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

President Obama at work

I just discovered that the White House has a Flickr page (through reading some really unhinged right wing blogs about photos of the president posted on Flickr). I like this one, which shows him on the phone talking about the December 25 attempted bombing of the plane to Detroit.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Why not a secular binational state in Israel/Palestine?

Norm has just expressed in an exemplary and lucid fashion the two possibilities when considering whether there should be a "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: normblog: The one-state dissolution.

The one state solution can occur in two ways: 1) with the consent of the majority of Israelis and a majority of Palestinians. If this consent has been reached, how can anyone else object to it? It would be the same as if any two nations decided to become one (for example, if the majority of Canadians and the majority of U.S. citizens decided to become the United States of Canada - not that this is going to happen!).

It can also occur 2) without the consent of either or both populations - in other words, forced upon Palestinians and Israelis. As Norm says, if this is done without the consent of either party, it would deny that party the right of national self-determination. He asks, "are the democratic one-state solution converts merely sponsoring in a more hand-wringing way what others put less tactfully in their rhetoric - namely, the forcible destruction of Israel?"

To be fair to the advocates of the one-state solution, it seems to me that they are actually pointing to a real problem that needs to be solved. Under the current state of affairs, Israel is in control of pre-1967 Israel, the West Bank, and the Golan. (I'm not including Gaza because there are neither Israeli soldiers nor settlers within the Gaza Strip anymore, and Israel evinces no desire to reoccupy the Strip, although I think it is fair to say that in a larger sense Israel still controls Gaza because of its ability to stop people or goods from moving from Israel to Gaza and because of its military power over Gaza; one could say the same thing of Egypt, although opponents of the "siege of Gaza" rarely do, because they prefer to blame Israel for everything).

Palestinians living in the West Bank are living under a military occupation which limits their movements and imposes many hardships on them (for example, Israel has confiscated Palestinian land for various purposes, including building settlements). Israeli settlers in the West Bank have a privileged position over Palestinians (for example, when they are permitted to drive on roads forbidden to Palestinians, although the Israel Supreme Court has just ruled that Route 443, one of the two main roads leading out of Jerusalem, which in part goes through the West Bank, must be open to Palestinian as well as Israeli drivers). Settlers are governed by Israeli law, Palestinians in the West Bank by military occupation rules. Legally, they have a different, unequal status.

How to equalize the status of Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers in the West Bank? How to make sure that Palestinians are getting their civil and human rights? One way is a two-state solution - a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that gives Palestinians the ability to govern themselves and make decisions about their own lives, unhindered by the Israeli military. There are a number of proposals of how to do this which would result in uprooting some, but not all, of the settlements from the West Bank, and in return giving the Palestinians land that is in Israeli proper to compensate them for the loss of land. This is the solution that I support.

Another way to ensure that Palestinians are given equal rights with Israelis is for Israel to annex the West Bank. This would mean that no settlements would have to be uprooted. It would also mean that West Bank Palestinians would now live under Israel civil, not military law. (This is what Israel did in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - in both places Israel offered Israeli citizenship to the residents; very few Jerusalem Palestinians accepted citizenship, and I am not sure about the Druse on the Golan Heights). It would seem reasonable to me that if Israel did this, West Bank Palestinians should become Israeli citizens, with all the rights of Israeli citizens, including the right to organize political parties and run for Knesset (if Israel didn't do this, then it would also seem reasonable to accuse it of apartheid policies). If Israel did this, the Israeli Arab population would increase greatly and they would become a much more powerful political force within Israel. According to a Palestinian census of 2007, there are about 2,345,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank (this includes East Jerusalem).

According to Wikipedia (Demographics of Israel):
The State of Israel had population of approximately 7,465,500 inhabitants as of September 2009.[1] 75.5% of them were Jewish (about 5,634,300 individuals), 20.3% were Arabs (About 1,513,200 inhabitants), while the remaining 4.2% (about 318,000 individuals) were defined as "others" (family members of Jewish immigrants whom were not registered at the Interior Ministry as Jews, non-Arab Christians, non-Arab Muslims and residents whom do not have a religious classification).
The total figures thus break down to:

3,858,200 Arabs (39.3%)
5,634,300 Jews (57.4%
318,000 Others (3.2%)

9,810,500 Total

If we add the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip into the mix, this adds about 1.4 million Palestinians. The resulting figures are:

5,258,200 Arabs (46.9%)
5,634,300 Jews (50.2%)
318,000 Others (2.8%)

11,210,500 Total

If Israel annexed all of Palestine west of the Jordan River, the Arab and Jewish populations of the state of Israel would be almost evenly split, with a slight advantage to the Jewish population. Given the higher Palestinian birthrate, this would quickly be reversed (unless it has already, since the Palestinian figures are a couple of years old). If Israel gave all of the new Palestinian citizens equal rights to vote and run parties for the Knesset, this would quickly mean that if the Palestinian parties were able to organize themselves in a united fashion, they could have a majority in the Knesset, and make decisions to change the fundamental nature of the state of Israel. For example, they could decide to grant all Palestinians the "right of return" to Palestine. They could decide to annul the Jewish "right of return" to Israel.

Advocates of the one-state solution like Alice Walker would not have a problem with this solution. Probably many Palestinians would not have a problem with this solution. But how would Israeli Jews think?

From my knowledge of Israeli Jews, almost none of them would back this solution, for a variety of reasons. One big one, of course, is the principle of self-determination which is an essential part of Zionist ideology. Israeli Jews want to live in a democratic, Jewish majority state that respects Jewish traditions (while at the same time being a secular state) and gives democratic rights to the Arab minority. Another reason is fear of what would happen to Jews in such a binational state. Would Jews be treated fairly if there were an Arab majority? What if an important faction in the new Arab-majority Knesset coalition were Hamas, which advocates an Islamic state in Palestine and espouses openly anti-semitic beliefs and policies in its charter?

It is hard to imagine how such a transition to a binational state in all of Palestine could be managed peacefully with the end result that the rights of both Jews and Arabs would be respected in the new state. I doubt that Israeli Jews would just stand by and let the new state do things like abrogate the law of return for Jews and promulgate it for Palestinians. I doubt that Hamas would wait to gain political rights through the ballot box, given their actions in Gaza after they won the Palestinian elections.

The establishment of a binational state in all of Palestine would be a recipe for immediate civil war between Jews and Palestinians. It would not lead to the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs in one state. What Alice Walker and the good ladies of Code Pink advocate is a utopian pipe dream. For all of their proclamations that they love peace, this would lead to a savage war in which many thousands of people would be killed.

However difficult it will be to arrive at two states living side-by-side in peace, one Palestinian, one Israeli, it is far more difficult at this time in history to arrive at one peaceful binational state.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my friends and readers!

I went to a very pleasant little New Year's party and at precisely midnight watched the year change on the Ithaca College towers. Two of the Ithaca College dormitories are 14 storey towers. They can be seen clearly from much of Ithaca and the surrounding area because IC is nearly at the top of South Hill (Cornell is on East Hill; there's also a West Hill; there's no North Hill because Lake Cayuga is to the north). In the days before New Year's, volunteers from the college turn on lights in the appropriate rooms of the last two digits of the year that is ending. Exactly at the stroke of midnight on December 31, they change over from the old year to the new year. This year was pretty challenging, since the 0 had to change to a 1 instantaneously, and the 9 to a 0 - they must have needed quite a few volunteers to flip the switches all in unison.

My friends live in Belle Sherman (a neighborhood of Ithaca close to the Cornell campus) and have a clear view of the IC towers, especially in the winter when the trees have lost their leaves. We went out at about two minutes to midnight, watched as the date was changed, listened to the happy new year cries and firecrackers in the neighborhood, and then went inside.

Mike King in Ithaca took a photo of the towers a couple of days ago and put it on his Flickr account - this gives you some idea of what 09 looked like. He writes: "Ithaca College has a cool tradition where they light up these two towers with the year... and then after New Year's they switch to the new year. From our house on South Hill we have a great view of it!"

According to Frankie14850, who posted a similar photo on Flickr in January of 2009 (when the date had just changed), this is the history of the use of the towers for this purpose:
Every New Year's Eve Ithaca College performs a ceremonial changing of the calendar year's numerals using 300-watt lights in designated rooms inside the two 14-story residential towers. The towers on the South Hill campus have a commanding view of the city -- this is shot from about a mile or more away from Sunset Park on Ithaca's northeast side. According to IC media, the light show tradition was started in 1965, a concept that owes its creation to the late Petrus Van de Velde, a custodial supervisor at the college. The 100-foot-high numerals are illumined several days before the New York and changed at the stroke of midnight by volunteer staffers.
One of the things we talked about at the party was the attention being paid to the fact that 2009 was the "last year of the decade" (something that frankly had not occurred to most of us until the press started reminiscing about the last ten years). I think one reason that I hadn't realized we were about to enter a new decade was because of all the confusion about whether 2000 was the first year of the new millennium, or 2001. And if 2001 was the first year, wouldn't that make 2009 simply the ninth year, so that a decade of the first millennium won't have passed until the end of 2010? (Whatever, I really don't care).

(photo from the New York Times - It's Always the End of the World as We Know it - article on Y2K hysteria).

So that reminded us about the infamous Y2K hubbub in 1999 that scared everyone. We all told our stories of Near Year's 1999/2000, how in nothing happened in any of the places where we spent that supposedly dramatic transition. I was in Jerusalem then for a visit over the winter break between semesters. My friend A. and I stayed up together. She had prepared for the possible Y2K disaster by buying lots of big water bottles. We waited to see if the electricity would go off, the phones would stop working, etc. at 12:00:01 on January 1, but nothing happened except for a lot of fireworks going off in the Arab part of Jerusalem. (There were no official fireworks in the Jewish part of the city since January 1 is not the Jewish New Year). We drank some of the water and went to sleep.