Archive for May, 2010

Israel’s Kent State

May 31, 2010

Having worked on the issue of Israel and its myriad conflicts for many years, one gets used to tragedy and even to stunningly abhorrent behavior. And indeed, I have seen more than enough of both from all sides in this conflict.

But every once in a while, things take a turn, and that turn is punctuated by a singular, stunning event. The murderous raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla this day was one such event.

The Mavi Marmara, one of the ships that was stormed

I waited to start writing this until there was some official statement from Israel. I did that because I want to start off with Israel’s explanation for this horror. Here’s what the IDF spokesperson said, in part:

During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that it seems as if part of the participants onboard the ships were planning to lynch the forces.

I am sure, as is always the case, there will be those who believe this version of events. But frankly, I can’t see how anyone can do so unless they are so desperate to justify Israel’s action here that they’ll believe anything. Let’s examine the IDF’s version of events.

We begin with the point that these were civilian ships and Israel boarded them with commandoes—soldiers who are disposed toward combat situations and are not meant to police unarmed civilians. They’re fighters, that’s their purpose. But the IDF claims that an assortment of international activists deliberately provoked a violent confrontation (using potentially deadly weapons, but which still leave them ridiculously overmatched) against heavily armed and trained soldiers in order to “lynch them.” (more…)

My Departure from Zeek Magazine

May 25, 2010

Several readers asked why I left Zeek Magazine. In general, this is the sort of thing I’m loathe to write about. However, since the Tikkun Olam blog posted an article about the goings on at Zeek, I thought I should say just a few words, even though the article only barely mentions my departure.

As I told Richard Silverstein, the author of the piece in question, my departure from Zeek was entirely my own decision. I was neither let go nor was I in any way pressured to leave. In fact, I declined a request to continue there on a monthly basis, but with a mutual agreement that I might submit articles there on an ad hoc basis in the future.  The parting was totally amicable.

Like Silverstein, I was dismayed to say the least that The Forward decided to publish an op-ed piece by John Hagee, giving him an opportunity to cover activities which are detrimental to a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict with friendly words to Jews which I believe were disingenuous. But this had nothing to do with my departure.

I also have nothing to add to the issues Silverstein raises regarding Rachel Tabachnik and her departure from Zeek. Both sides in that argument have presented their views and will, I’m sure, continue to do so. As I was not privy to any of the internal discussions involved there between Rachel and Jo Ellen Kaiser at Zeek, I have nothing to offer on either side. I can only say that I hope these things do not escalate as, at the end of the day, we all have the same ultimate goals and we only help the conservative forces in our community when we fight among ourselves.

As Silverstein mentioned, Zeek editor Joel Schalit departed Zeek last week.  Joel was the person who brought me into Zeek and has been working closely with me as my editor for years, long before we both came to Zeek.  I expect that Joel and I will continue to pursue mutual projects. Due to other personal changes that I am working with at this time, Joel’s departure seemed a good time for me to leave as well. That was all there was to it. In no way did anyone at Forward or Zeek encourage my departure, but to the contrary, asked me not to. I did not leave in protest or under pressure.

I hope that Zeek will continue to produce its unique material, I wish Jo Ellen and everyone there only the best, and I hope we will work together again in the future.

Can there be a Liberal Zionism?

May 22, 2010

A version of this article appeared in Zeek Magazine.

Peter Beinart’s essay in the New York Review of Books about the demise of liberal Zionism has caused quite a stir. But I don’t really want to add to all the commentary surrounding it.

Instead, I found interesting one small piece of an exchange between Beinart and Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. During their discussion, they touched briefly on Israel’s raison d’etre. Beinart  was the one who, at least initially, stressed the need for a place for Jews to flee to in case of persecution (an under-appreciated aspect of the Holocaust was the fact that, after so many episodes of persecution and flight by Jews over the centuries, a great many of Europe’s Jews had nowhere to run tp from the Nazis). Goldberg emphasized Israel as a homeland and center of national

A peace rally at Rabin Square

expression for Jews.

These two notions were both symbiotic and a source of tension for most of Zionist history before the creation of the State of Israel. There is obviously overlap between them, particularly when it comes to building a strong, independent, Jewish society, which was Zionism’s ultimate goal. But there is also tension.

Theodor Herzl, as is well known, was inspired by anti-Semitic events, notably the Dreyfus Affair, to develop his vision of Political Zionism. But Herzl didn’t envision a state whose pride and identity were wrapped up in its military might, but in its wisdom and enlightenment.

This question has largely disappeared from the landscape. In the pre-state years, Zionism, whatever else it may have been, was a liberation movement with a revolutionary discourse. It could be whatever it wanted to be, and as such was wide open to all sorts of ideological, even utopian, thinking. The establishment of the state changed Zionist discourse from a significantly theoretical one – “what kind of state shall we build?” – to a more practical one – “how does our government deal with the current and future situation?”

Israel held on to a liberal model of ideological thinking for a long time after that shift, but, in combination with a permanent state of conflict, the ethnic nature of that conflict, the occupation and a significant rightward drift over the past 35 years, Israel became a state of refuge for its Jewish supporters in the Diaspora and its citizens were cemented into a bunker mentality. (more…)

More on BDS, Israeli Consul General Responds to Me, I Reply Again

May 14, 2010

My recent piece on UC Berkeley’s divestment vote, Principled Opposition, drew a response from Akiva Tor, the Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest region. Zeek printed it at this link.  It was also posted at the consulate’s site.

Today, I published my own response to Tor. You can read it below or at Zeek’s web site.

Response to Akiva Tor

By Moshe Yaroni

In Principled Opposition, I discussed some of the implications of the divestment vote at UC Berkeley. Akiva Tor, Israel’s Consul General for the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, took the time to write a response. It is a response one must read carefully. I have.

Mr. Tor begins by relating two incidents of anti-Semitism that apparently occurred among members of the crowd. It is indeed a sad reality of activism on the Israel-Palestine question that bigotry too often raises its ugly head.

But that bigotry occurs on both sides. Some might be interested in comparing the frequency or viciousness of the bigotry among activists on different sides of the issue. I find such comparisons distasteful. The important point is that, as someone who is in very regular contact with both activists and supporters of different sides of this issue, I can attest that neither side has a short supply of such people.

Yet I can also say that for neither side is this the norm. Mr. Tor fails to point out that the activists bringing this issue to the fore at Berkeley publicly denounced anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

I’ll go a step further. Mr. Tor is correct that I was not in Berkeley for these events. But I am a graduate of Berkeley, and I saw first-hand both the passions and the hatred that this conflict can stir. Neither Jews, Arabs nor other supporters of either side on campus were immune. (more…)

Prescription for Survival

May 7, 2010

Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian Israeli citizen who lives in Haifa has been arrested and a gag order has been placed over the case, demonstrating that the embarrassing Anat Kamm affair taught Israel nothing. I wrote about this and the implications for Israeli democracy for Zeek Magazine.


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