Monday, August 27, 2012

Nazis in Europe today - the longing for national "purity"

From Shiraz Socialist: on hatred and bigotry on several fronts in Europe. It's not just incitement against the Roma in Hungary, but also: the Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece, which has won seats in the Greek parliament; a prominent member of a party with representation in the Swedish parliament, who has called for deporting all Muslims; and of course, also in Hungary anti-semitism from Nazi thugs and the Jobbik party.

I've started to wonder why we speak of "neo-Nazis." As far as I can tell, parties like Golden Dawn differ very little from the German Nazi party, so I see no reason to see them as "neo." They are actually "retro," trying (like the German Nazis) to go back to some imagined past of national "purity," when there were no foreigners to pollute the body politic - Roma (who have lived in Europe since the Middle Ages), Jews (who have been in Europe for two thousand years and whose settlements originated long before the nation-states in which they now live), Muslims (who have also been part of Europe for over a thousand years - think of Spain and the Balkans).

From Harry's Place - review of an antisemitic play ("The Sixth Coffin") to be performed in Budapest. The play appears to be a new variation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Sand cats come back to Israel

Mazal tov! A breed of cat that was extinct in Israel has found new life at Ramat Gan Safari Park. Rotem, a sand cat from Germany, and Sela, from Poland, are the proud purring parents of four little kittens – two boys and two girls – who were born in Israel earlier this month. 
According to Keren Or, Zoological Information Coordinator at the Ramat Gan Safari Park, the "sand cat is an extinct species in Israel, although in the world it's not extinct, it's nearly threatened." In an interview with Reuters, Or added that "here in Israel, it has been extinct because it was pushed away from the sand by other mammals." 
Sand cats are true desert cats that have a high mortality rate among newborns in captivity, according to Reuters. But these kittens are doing fine so far.
Their ears are so big! In comparison, a photo of my cat Zachary.

The exclusion of women in Hebrew

Word of the day / Hadarat nashim הדרת נשים: A good article in Haaretz explaining the grammar of the fairly new expression used to refer to the exclusion of women.

When the issue of discrimination against women exploded on the Israeli scene last winter, mixing long-simmering issues like sex-segregated busing and the absence of women from billboards in Jerusalem with new trends like ultra-Orthodox men spitting at young girls in Beit Shemesh, the phrase of choice in the local media was not “aflaya” (af-la-YA) or “discrimination,” but “hadarat nashim” (hah-dah-RAHT nah-SHEEM), literally meaning “the exclusion of women,” referring to women and girls being excluded from the public domain.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

For the Roma in Hungary, it is the 1930s again

Hungary's Far-Right Calls for Zero Tolerance Against Roma.

The right-wing Hungarian party Jobbik called for "zero tolerance" against Roma "crime and parasitism" today. The Roma are treated very badly all over eastern Europe and now the Jobbik party says, "We need to roll back these hundreds of thousands of Roma outlaws. We must show zero tolerance towards Roma crime and parasitism." The chairman of the party, Gabor Vona said that the EU should "adopt several hundred thousand of our citizens for a few years and try to educate them in European culture. Once they have succeeded, we can welcome them back."

Well, at least Jobbik isn't calling for their extermination, but they have completely demonized the Roma and see them as nothing but criminals and parasites. This kind of sentiment in Hungary has already led to attacks upon Roma. What is it that Jobbik really wants to do with or to the Roma? Dehumanizing language like this tends to be the next step in bringing further persecution upon an unwanted part of a population - it justifies violence against all Roma.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The yellow room and the room of death

Peter Ryley of Fat Man on a Keyboard has just written an amazing and moving post that is first of all about thirteen posts written by George Szirtes. (This is the first one: On milieu and refuge - sketch 1).  His posts are meditations on a yellow room painted by Chagall, his mother, Hungary (where his family is from), Jewishness, the Holocaust, Israel, and refuge. They are well worth reading on their own.

Peter writes, "Whenever I read his poetry, I get a feeling that each word is casting a shadow, dappled layers of meaning, which lays bare a moment in time. In the darkest corners of those shadows lurk the ghosts of the worst of the twentieth century. They are not his own experiences; they are a room that he has necessarily passed through."

Peter starts his post by recounting his impression of conversations he has had with younger people about Israel/Palestine:
I sometimes have conversations about Israel/Palestine, both online and face-to face, with younger people and they disturb me. Their support for Palestinian statehood, something I have long shared, can often be scarcely differentiated from an anti-Israel sentiment that simply assumes the inherent wickedness of the state. It isn't hatred; it is disdain. Above all, what worries me is their certainty. Doubt does not trouble them, nor do they think of Israelis as anything other than oppressors. Does it ever cross their mind that they are Jews, or that the history of the conflict is inseparable from Jewish history and experience? I don't think so. As a result, they carelessly leave an intellectual door ajar and sometimes I wonder what it is that seeps in through the crack from the room beyond.
The next part of his post discusses Szirtes' thirteen posts "on milieu and refuge." His last paragraph addresses the young people again. He refers again to the yellow room evoked by George Szirtes - that comfortable, central European, faintly Hapsburg room of the Jewish middle class that was destroyed by the Nazis forever. That room suggests another room to him.
All of which brings me back to these perfectly decent young people and the ideologues who fill them with righteous ardour. It's odd, they never seem to mention the word Jew. Instead they use hopelessly inappropriate analogies – 'colonial settler state', 'apartheid state' and the like. Anything to avoid even thinking that they are talking about Jews and that this noble cause could have anything to do with Jewish people. There is a reason for that of course. We gentiles have a room too. It is part of our history and we don't want to think about it. If we do, it might dilute certainty with ambiguity. The room isn't yellow. Sometimes it is made out of rough planks, sometimes of cement and occasionally it is constructed from neatly dressed stone placed on a picturesque mound in a beautiful northern city. This room is part of our cultural inheritance and it is intrinsically tied up with Jews. It is the room in which we kill them. And so I think I know what bothers me. It is the smell seeping through that half closed door. I can recognise what it is now. 
It's gas.
I read, "This room is part of our cultural inheritance and it is intrinsically tied up with Jews," and then slammed into "It is the room in which we kill them."

It's remarkable to read such a clear-eyed statement of reality, of the truth of all the centuries of history when non-Jews have killed Jews simply because they were Jews. I'm Jewish and I appreciate it when someone who is not Jewish sees this so clearly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Holocaust denial - not on this blog

Just a note to anyone who wishes to engage in Holocaust denial in the comments to a post on this blog - I will not publish your comment. Someone just sent a comment to the post reiterating McGowan's skepticism about the existence of gas chambers in death camps.  The reason I will not publish such comments is a) there is ample historical evidence that the events of the Holocaust occurred, so there is no need to debate the basic facts, such as the existence of gas chambers, and b) Holocaust denial is always motivated by antisemitism, and I do not provide a venue on this blog for Jew-haters. If you feel the need to express such sentiments, create your own blog, or go huddle together with the other antisemites at Stormfront.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Israelis and Iranians not ready to die in a war against each other

The people who started the "Israel loves Iran, Iran loves Israel" campaign back in the spring have a whole new series of photographs - this time saying "Not ready to die in your war." Here are two of the new posters.

This is the statement that goes along with the posters:
We are millions of people who will be hurt. Will be drafted, will have to fight, lose our lives, our relatives. We, parents from Tel Aviv and Teheran will have to run with our children to the shelters and pray the missiles will miss us.
But they will fall somewhere, on someone. 
Those last few days the sound of war is becoming louder. 
So once again, loud and clear, we are saying NO to this war
We saying to the people of Iran: We Love You

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gas masks in Jerusalem

The author of Something Sick is Happening in Jerusalem writes about going to a mall in Jerusalem a few days ago and picking up gas masks for his family. His report reminds me of something that happened in the run-up to the first Gulf War, in the late fall of 1990 or very early 1991, before the coalition attack on January 16. I was in the US, not Israel, and I was listening to NPR, and Linda Gradstein was reporting.

The report was about people standing in line waiting to pick up their gas masks before the Gulf War began, out of fear that Saddam Hussein would do what he threatened to do - use chemical weapons against Israel, a threat he made earlier in the year. Suddenly I heard the voices of two people that I knew when I had lived in Israel from July 1987 to July 1989: Sally and Michael Klein-Katz, who were waiting in line to get their gas masks. It was very eerie to hear them being interviewed. During the Gulf War, I spent about $500 on phone calls to Israel, checking on my friends' safety every time I heard about a Scud missile attack. Remember, this was before the widespread use of the internet and email, there were no cellphones, and if you wanted to talk to someone in Israel, you had to pay a lot of money.

I visited Israel right after the Gulf War ended - I was actually flying there on the last day of the war, and the plane's pilot announced to us in the middle of our flight that the ceasefire had been signed between the coalition forces and Iraq. Nonetheless, we picked up gas masks at the airport just in case the war started again.

Then, in 1998, I was on a fellowship studying and doing research in Jerusalem, and once again the US was threatening to attack Iraq. People in Israel were afraid that Saddam would seize the opportunity to attack Israel again, and the government began distributing gas masks and plastic sheets for people to seal a room in their apartments against the threat of poison gas. The gas masks were free for Israeli citizens, but foreigners (like myself) had to buy our own. I went to the Mashbir department store in the center of Jerusalem, and up a few floors to where the masks were being distributed to foreigners. I paid my 200 shekels and took the mask and the plastic sheets home. The US attacked Iraq and bombed for four days, but there was no retaliation against Israel. My gas mask remained in the closet and the plastic sheeting in a corner of the living room. When I left Israel in the summer of 1999 I left my gas mask behind with a friend, who actually went and renewed it for me a few years later. She's long since thrown it away.

I hope that no one in Israel will have to use the gas masks that they're picking up now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Iran war fear factor is starting to settle in

Ami Kaufman of +972 magazine writes about how the Iran war fear factor is starting to settle in. He also went to the anti-war demo on Sunday night against war with Iran.
Yesterday, as the anti-war demo in front of Ehud Barak’s house was winding down, I spoke to an old friend. We agreed that what bothered us most was not the fact that most people don’t think there will be a war, or that some people do. Rather the fact that the people who do think there might be one don’t really care. They’re just not scared. A sort of “it won’t hit us anyway. What are the odds” kind of attitude.

But as a family man, my fear is so much different today. I’m constantly thinking of where my kids are. How close are they to a shelter? How fast will I be able to get to them if the sirens start? Will I be able to communicate with my wife who gets them if the phones are down? Will they be willing to wear a gas mask? I imagine their little faces in gas masks and choke up.

How would I even explain it to a 5-year-old and 3-year old? What are the words to even begin describing the situation to them?

Because kids shouldn’t wear gas masks. It’s ridiculous.

This place is fucked up.

Maybe “God” knows why.

Protests against looming war with Iran

I just read a tweet by @NoaMaiman that there are protests happening against looming war with Iran. She wrote:

גם היום, משמרת מחאה נגד מלחמה עם אירן. משמונה, מתחת לביתו של שר הבטחון, קוראים לו לא לצאת למלחמת סוף עולם על חשבון החיים שלנו. רטטו נא. 

"Also today, there is a protest vigil against war with Iran. From 8:00, under the house of the Defense Minister, we call to him not to go to an end-of-the-world war at the price of our lives."

If I find more notices of Israeli protests I'll post them here. One of the things that really bothers me is that there has been so little public protest at the push for war with Iran. There was one demonstration in Tel Aviv in the spring that a friend of mine went to, but this is the first sign of protests I've heard of since.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mr. Netanyahu, before you bomb Iran, say goodbye to everyone you know

Bradley Burston, on Netanyahu's fateful decision on whether or not to bomb Iran. He went to the local mall to pick up the gas masks for his family. The Israeli government is sending out text messages to all the cellphones in the country this week to test the system they will need if war breaks out. Tel Aviv just surveyed all of its bomb shelters, enough for 40,000 people. (Let's not mention that well over 40,000 people live in Tel Aviv). The anti-missile defenses have just been upgraded. Israel is reactivating its advanced drone surveillance program (presumably, over Iran). The news on Friday night surveyed the government policies about Iran and the likelihood that Netanyahu and Barak will decide for war  - they've almost decided to make the attack. Are they bluffing? Well, Netanyahu thinks he's stopping the second Holocaust if he launches the attack.
At the local shopping mall, as I took a number to receive shoebox-size personal protection kits against weapons of mass destruction, I found myself thinking about farewells.
And about Benjamin Netanyahu.
I found myself thinking about war with Iran, the war which, if it starts soon, will be Netanyahu's war. I found myself relating differently to everyone I met, everyone I know, everyone I love. The way you might if you were saying goodbye.
The way you might if their entire future, and yours, were in the hands of one man. And one decision.
The day I waited for my family's anti-nerve gas atropine and for masks against chemical and biological warfare, the prime minister asked for air time from Israel's major television channels in order to lay out his position on Iran, and to emphasize that he has yet to make a decision on whether or not to bomb.
Before he decides, he should spend a few moments with the people with the numbers in their hands. He should see what's in their eyes. He should listen to the gravity in their humor. He should look straight at the infants and the old people and the women in their eighth month, and at the people his own age, already bereaved and broken by wars that have taken their parents, their siblings and best friend's children, and, in recent years, even their grandchildren.
This is one of the things that line of people is telling him:
Mr. Netanyahu, before you bomb Iran, say goodbye to everyone you know. Say goodbye to everyone you love. You know you won't be able to protect all of them from the retaliation that will surely come. Everyone you know is a target. Everyone you love is in range.
Some of the rockets with high explosive warheads will get through the missile shield. And even if you and a few of your loved ones are sealed into the most sophisticated shelter yet devised, not one of you is immune. When it's over, when you get back to the surface, this will be a different country, and someone you care about may well have been torn dead by a rocket warhead, or crushed under the weight of a building.

Your son’s best friend, your wife’s whole family, the families of your cook, your driver, your bodyguard. The guys you grew up with. Their children, and theirs. Say goodbye to them, every last one of them. Now, before you give the order. Before it’s too late.
The moment you give the order, there will be nothing you can say to them. To us. We won’t listen, nor should we.
It won't matter then, all these arguments we have over why you insist on pursuing this. Whether it was a bluff that went ballistic, or a tragic thirst for a place in history. We won't have time then for talk about how the elections for the American president figured in your decision, or how you related to, or did not, the opinions of spymasters and generals and diplomats.
When it all comes down, we won't be able to spare the strength or the time to despise you for what you did to all of us. We will be too busy then with the instruments of grief and the debris of loss.

At the mall, they give out no numbers to get the chance to tell you what they think. The people I was standing with think you've got this one all wrong. Most of the people in lines all over the country feel the same way. Listen to them now. You have the power to be their judge, jury, and executioner. The least you can do is look them in the eyes and ask if they have any last words.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

4,000 march in 10th annual Jerusalem Pride March

Jerusalem held its Gay Pride March today - and I wish I had been there! Here are some photos from the Jerusalem Post.
"Welcome" - the sign at the entrance to Jerusalem, now painted the colors of the rainbow.

The march this year went down King George and Keren Hayesod streets, and stopped for a moment of silence at the spot where a Haredi attacker stabbed three participants in the parade in 2005. According to the Post, about 4,000 people took part in the march. It would have been nice to be there this year....

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

10 Years and a Day – The Hebrew University Bombing

Ten years ago, on July 31, 2002, a bomb went off in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at the Hebrew University. Nine people were killed, including a young man whom I knew, Ben Blutstein, who was studying at Pardes. Ben's mother, Katherine Baker, was interviewed for an article in Haaretz commemorating the murderous attack.

The Haaretz article begins:

It was a brazen attack that reverberated throughout Israel and struck deep into the heart of Israel's English-speaking community. On July 31, 2002, a bomb packed with shrapnel was placed in a bag in a crowded Hebrew University cafeteria on its Mt. Scopus campus. The explosion killed nine people - four Israelis and five foreign nationals - and injured 85. Hamas claimed responsibility. 
Among the victims were Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Harrisburg, PA; Marla Bennett, 24, from San Diego, CA; Dina Carter, 37, a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen originally from North Carolina who converted to Judaism after moving to Israel; Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, a native of Boston, Massachusetts who also converted; and David Gritz, 24, of Massachusetts, who held dual U.S.-French citizenship.

Dr. Baker said:
"I don't think time ever heals this kind of loss," said Dr. Katherine Baker, a Penn State University microbiologist whose son, Benjamim Blutstein, was one of the victims. "There are days I can't get through the day without crying, there are a couple of days in a row I can do it. But it's extremely hard." 
Baker, too, is frustrated and disappointed by the lack of advancement in the peace process, and said the U.S. government has shirked its responsibilities. "In the United States there's this tone that says 'all of this is just working our way toward a peace, toward an ultimate settlement.' I don't see that alternate settlement coming, and I see tremendous cynicism, particularly on the part of the American government in not acknowledging its responsibility toward Israel nor to American citizens," said Baker.
An example, she explained, can be seen on her son's death certificate. "It sounds terribly minor, but it really gets to me this time every year. Ben's death certificate says that he died in Jerusalem, blank. The United States refuses to write that he died in Jerusalem, Israel. Well, the United States acknowledges that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. So, put it on your documents, because my son died because he was in Israel, not because he was in the 'ethereal Jerusalem.'" 
A U.S. Consulate General spokesman in Jerusalem said that it is a well-known U.S. policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue, that "must be resolved through negotiations between the parties." 
The year after her son's murder, Baker, 60, spent a Sabbatical year in Israel, and her daughter - 11 years younger than Ben - completed her high school studies here before enrolling at Pardes. "I was concerned about her going to Israel. She told me, 'I need to know why Israel was so important to Ben that he would die for it," Baker recalled, choking back tears. 
The bombing, said Baker, "taught me for the first time that there really, truly, is evil in the world and that evil will not be appeased." But what remains in her heart are her son's last words to her. 
"Ben turned 25 years old on July 25, before this pigua," said Baker, using the Hebrew word for a terrorist attack. "And in the last conversation I had with him, on that day, one thing he said to me that will always stay with me: 'You know, Ima [the Hebrew term for mother], I finally know what I want to do with my life. I'm where I'm supposed to be. And I'm happier than I have ever been.'" 
A couple of days after the attack, I wrote this brief note on my reactions:
[8/2/02] I’m writing now after the bombing on Wednesday [7/31/02] in Jerusalem, at the Hebrew University, in which 5 Americans and 2 Israelis were killed. [Actually, nine people in all were killed, and 85 were injured]. Two of the Americans were students at Pardes, an institute for higher Jewish studies in Jerusalem, and one of them (Ben Blutstein) was the son of a family I knew last year when I taught at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and frequently went to Harrisburg for Shabbat. I think I only met Benjamin once, but I spent some very pleasant Shabbats with his family, and I feel sick at his murder. Fragments of poetry keep going through my head – “they were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their deaths not divided.”[1] I've felt so numb and in shock today - a feeling I recall after the September 11 attacks last year. It seems there is no end to violence.

[1] 2 Sam. 1:23. This is a verse that is quoted in the version of the Jewish memorial prayer that is said for those who have died על קדושת השם, “for the sanctification of God’s name.” See Philip Birnbaum, Daily Prayer Book: Sephardic (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1969) 671-72.