Wednesday, April 20, 2011

About Bees and Israeli Logic

One of my childhood friends really hates bees. He is absolutely convinced they’re evil and violent and would sting you the first chance they get. A while back he saw a beehive and went off to kick it hard. “If they are going to sting me anyway”, he explained, “I might as well get some payback now”. Later he told me how the bees showed their true colors by attacking him on sight, as he knew they would, thus confirming and proving his thesis about their malicious character.

My friend is using reverse logic. He does not believe in the well accepted cause-and-effect reasoning that lies at the base of every conceivable discipline, the one that claims current events affect the future. Instead, he believes that future events are already determined, and his actions here and now are coherent and rational given the unchangeable future.

This self-fulfilling-prophecy behavior is not exclusive to individuals. A whole state can engulf itself with this special brand of reasoning to justify actions and policies, as in the case of Israel.

The state of Israel believes that the world around it is hostile at best and bluntly anti-Semitic at worst. Because ‘we’ know whom we’re dealing with (“Arabs are Arabs and they are here to kill us all”), the only logical reaction is to invest more in the army, build walls and react with brutal and un-proportional force to any attack (and sometimes strike first, just to make sure we are safe). If the other side fights back, blames Israel or calls for revenge, it just proves how right we were in the first place.

Naturally, this type of reasoning prevents any real attempt to actually solve the conflict at hand. Even though an unprecedented Arab-League comprehensive peace initiative has been on the table for nine years now, Israel sees it as another sinister trick to destroy the Jewish state. Instead of at least sitting down with the Arab league to discuss the proposal, the best Israeli lobbyists have gone on the offensive to expose why it can’t work, and why Israel has no one to talk to.

This unique Israeli logic is not limited to conflict area sides like Syria or the Palestinians, but to countries like Britain and Germany, who are arguably Israel’s best friends in Europe.

Israel sees the Western world in general and Europe in particular, as no more than a collection of anti-Semitic states in their core that cannot be trusted. Whenever Israel’s Western friends are standing by it, the Israeli government and public does not acknowledge it: Germany is still trying to wash its collective consciousness; France is trying to compensate for its extensive connections with the Arab world (a sin in and of itself) and Britain’s hands can never be ‘clean’ after its ruthless mandate over Palestine and the Jews.

Obviously, any action that seems ‘anti-Israeli’ (to Israeli eyes only) – like condemning the building of settlements - will immediately prove the basic Israeli belief about the nature of the world around it.  

The logical result of this mentality is simple. If the world is full of anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic political players, there is no reason to listen to what the world says. If Israel will be condemned anyway, why should it play according to the ‘rules’? So Israel should do whatever it wants and rarely pay attention to friends (what friends?) who try to give perspective and advice. That exact course of action does not exist in a vacuum: the world sees and hears Israeli unilateralism, extremism, use of un-proportional force and disregard for international laws, and the world reacts.

Of course, any world reaction will bring us to square one. Israel will see any criticism as further proof to its mantra: ‘the (whole) world is against us’.

Unfortunately, many American Jews share the same view. They act as unsophisticated lobbyists - not to say bullies – who stand with Israel on every single issue, no matter how wrong or twisted it may be.
The wise and right thing for American Jews to do is to use our immense political power and unique access to Israeli decision maker’s ears to make sure Israel does not act out of the wrong notion of pre-determined future. We should be the ones to give Israel tough criticism out of caring and love, and to act as a bridge between false Israeli perceptions and reality.

We know it’s true that Israel has many real enemies, and nobody suggests it will dissolve its army or let go of its guard. But there’s a way to defend yourself, and you better do it against real enemies. At the same time, Israel has to relentlessly pursue any option to communicate and negotiate with ‘the other side’ with good will and sincerity.

We – American Jews – have to calm Israeli paranoia down and make sure it starts to think rationally about its actions. The rules of cause and effect haven’t changed. If Israel acts with sincerity and honesty and stops pre-labeling the world around it, it will find that the world is a much friendlier place than it assumes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rendition, Israeli Style

Dirar Abusisi might be a brilliant Hamas rocket developer, or just an engineer in Gaza’s power plant. It does not matter.
What does matter is that Israel found another way to break away from any reasonable, moral behavior by abducting Abusisi while he was with his family in Ukraine, on his way to settle his immigration process away from Palestine. 
After he was taken away from his wife and kids during a train ride to Kiev on Feb 19th, Abusisi disappeared for several days, just to reappear with handcuffs on, in an Israeli courthouse, this time as an accused person.
Needless to say there was no arrest warrant on his name and no extradition request by Israel was brought in front of the Ukrainian authorities. Abusisi was presumed guilty even before appearing in Israeli court and his so called legal procedure is an embarrassing farce.
At first Israel tried to claim that Abusisi is a high ranking officer in the Hamas operation, and that he is someone with intimate knowledge about the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit – the IDF soldier who was taken by Hamas after a cross-border raid more than 5 years ago.
The attempt to recover information regarding Gilad Shalit as a reason for Abusisi abduction was fast discredited. Even IDF correspondents and military-political analysts – usually a mouthpiece for the IDF - did not buy this argument.
The next (and current) version by Israeli prosecution was to claims that Abusisi is a prominent engineer who had helped Hamas with their rocket technology. A desperate attempt was made to connect Abusisi to the ‘who’s who’ of Hamas’ leadership in Gaza, and to picture him as the mastermind behind Hamas’ capabilities regarding rocket technology.
Given that even the Israeli security forces do not claim Abusisi was ever involved in direct-armed operations against Israel, and his involvement with Hamas comes down to  (at best) technical support, new questions have been raised. Mainly: Is this all it takes to abduct a man these days?
Again, the military correspondents came out, this time insinuating that there is much more that is hidden from the eye regarding Abusisi, saying: “you do not just kidnap someone over the stuff that Abusisi is accused of”; they refused, of course, to say anything more than that, as a gag order was placed over further details.
In effect, Israel is saying: “he was abducted because he is guilty” (of what is unclear). What is the best way to know he is guilty? “He was abducted, and you don’t abduct someone unless you have something BIG on him!”
There is, of course, a hidden assumption to Israel’s actions and responses in this affair. Israel (and its blind supporters among US-Jewry) believes that it is a moral entity, and thus all of its actions serve a moral purpose. Israel and Israelis see a categorical difference between Hamas’ abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and Israel’s abduction of (presumably) Hamas member Dirar Abusisi. While Hamas is seen as an immoral and ruthless aggressor in Shalit’s abduction, Israel’s abduction is ‘self-defense’.
So now it is in Israel’s interest to put Abusisi away for a long time; against any notion of fair and unbiased legal system. In the likely case of a major conviction with substantial punishment, Israel’s propaganda army could explain how “Abusisi was convicted as a terrorist in a court of law!’ In this case, his illigal abduction will be put into a ‘legal’ context and quickly overlooked.
The sad part is that Israeli decision makers do not even realize how, with every Abusisi-like case, Israel’s presumed moral standing is tarnished. The picture of Abusisi’s daughter holding his photo in his absence cannot be easily forgotten.
In addition, Israel, with its own hands, legitimizes future actions against Israelis outside of Israel. If Israel abducts a Palestinian rocket engineer, how can it complain when Hamas, Hezbollah or any other group does the same to an Israeli abroad?  Every other Israeli has served in the IDF, and many Israelis have direct or indirect links to the army, weapons industry or security services, thus making them legitimate targets according to the Israeli logic and actions.
Again, it is our duty as American-Jews to raise our voices and to object to this immoral, illegal and politically dangerous move by Israel’s decision-makers and those who carry out their orders. This is done in our name by our fellow Jews.  If we keep silent, we’re just as responsible for this.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The World's Most anti-Semetic Place

“He’s a dirty Jew!”; “Death to the Jews!” the group called toward the young Jewish man, walking with his friend outside the pub. A short exchange of words led to an attack, and then there was no going back.  Minutes later the Jewish man was stabbed with a switchblade, eventually dying from his wounds that night.

Just few days later, a car belonging to a Jewish medical student was torched. “Death to the Jews” and “Jews Out” graffiti slogans were spray painted on the walls of his faculty building, where many other Jewish students attend school.

These are not fictional events, but few samples of real accounts of anti-Semitic incidents that took place just weeks ago, in what is arguably the most anti-Semitic place on earth.

You might think about Russia or Hungary, or even France or Germany as the place where the described incidents took place, but you’ll be wrong. These things happened, and happen almost daily in Israel, the Jewish State. Are you shocked yet?

One small correction is due. The attacks were not directed at Jews, but against Arabs. It was a Jewish group who stabbed an Arab man once they heard him speaking Arabic, and it was a car belonging to an Arab med student that got torched by Jews, who also felt free to spray ‘Death to Arabs’ and other racist slogans on the faculty building at a local college where Arabs go to school.

You might think these are anecdotal, non-related stories and as much as they’re horrible, they do not reflect a trend in Israel. The reality is different. The physical and verbal violence against Arabs in Israel is just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger phenomenon.

Weeks before the car torching in Safed, the ‘City of Kabbala’ in northern Israel, there were disturbing displays of racism by Jews. Eli Tzvieli – an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and a Safed resident – was threatened because he dared renting his basement unit to two Arab students. This was not the only incident. Shortly after the Tzvieli case, the city rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, was openly calling for racial separation between Arabs and Jews and against renting or selling properties to Arabs in Safed. More than 50 city rabbis – all state employed – where signing a letter supporting Eliyahu and publically calling for racial separation between Jews and Arabs.

In Bat-Yam, a coastal city just south of Tel Aviv, hundreds of Jews went out to the streets calling to “Keep Bat-Yam Jewish” and to protect Jewish girls from “Arabs who are taking our daughters”.

These public displays of anti-Semitism reflect a political discourse in Israel in which Arab citizens are openly referred to as a ‘demographic threat'. Prominent Israeli politicians have actually laid detailed plans to ‘rid’ the country of Arab-Israeli citizens as a response to this ‘threat’. The Israeli public did not reject this plan, but made Avigdor Liberman – the man behind the proposal - and his party the third largest in the Israeli Parliament.

How would we, American Jews, feel if there were rallies in American cities calling to ‘Keep our cities clear of Jews’ or against selling property to ‘Dirty Jews’? Would we keep silent – as we largely do in the case of Israeli anti-Semitism – or go out fighting this phenomenon?

The answer is clear. As a Jewish community we make sure that even slightest, most vague displays of anti-Semitism are condemned and treated with immediately. The Anti-Defamation League is a powerful organization created just for that. We know how to lecture everyone about anti-Semitism. That is, everyone but Israel.

The fact that Jewish displays of anti-Semitism in Israel are getting ignored is a very bad sign for our Jewish communities in the U.S. It reflects poorly on our Jewish values and what we stand for as a community. Where is our collective memory as victims of racism and our calls to ‘Remember’?  It seems that when it comes to Israel we excel in forgetting and ignoring.

As Jewish Americans who truly care about Israel, we should speak up and demand of it the same as we demand from others. If, as Jews, we hold dear Jewish (and universal) values like tolerance and inclusiveness, we need to speak up even louder.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Love Public Transportation

I love public transportation. The idea of a system that transports large numbers of people around town in a clean, safe, reliable and cheap way cannot be overestimated. I am a true supporter of public transportation. I really am.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that the buses in my town are consistently late. It also occurred to me that the bus routes run far from the populations who really need them, making public transportation almost irrelevant as an alternative to the private car. To make things even worse, I discovered that there have been numerous cases of corruption and mismanagement in the city’s latest bus purchase deal.

You might ask, if I believe in public transportation, how can I criticize it?

While sitting on the bus on a particularly long ride home one day, I found my thoughts drifting from public transportation to my feelings about Israel. I really love the idea of Israel – a safe homeland for the Jewish people, a center of culture and religious autonomy. As a Jew, I feel an almost primordial connection to the idea of Israel. And I’m always proud when Israel or an Israeli is applauded for some outstanding achievement, even if I had nothing to do with it. 

However, it seems that Israel is drifting away from the very idea I so strongly believe in. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t hear disturbing news about religious intolerance, high-level corruption or state-sponsored racism. This is without even getting into the minefield that is “The Conflict” and Israel’s role in it.

Yet, criticizing Israel seems always to be the wrong thing to do as a Jew. How can you love Israel and the idea behind the state and still criticize it? Any open attempt to start a discussion about Israel provokes questions about whether I’m really committed to it. I cannot mention, for instance, Israel’s state-sponsored bias against Reform and Conservative Jews or the widespread corruption of its elected officials. Trying to mention the racist, state-employed rabbis who just recently called upon Israeli Jews not to rent or sell property to (Israeli!) Arabs is hard without getting suspicious looks from fellow Jewish community members, or far worse.

When the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) moved to pass a ‘Loyalty Oath’ law requiring non-Jewish immigrants to swear loyalty and obedience to the ‘Jewish State’ even the most pro-Israeli advocates here shifted uncomfortably. The reaction among American Jewry was not one of open criticism and disgust but came in the form of washed-down press releases urging Knesset members to ‘reconsider’ the motion. There was little public discussion or exchange of ideas, even within the Jewish sphere. It seemed like our communities were satisfied to tow the party line and hope the whole uncomfortable incident would quickly blow over.

And then we have Israel’s actions in “The Conflict.” Here is where consistency becomes almost impossible. It amazes me how some of the most liberal people in the U.S can make a 180 degree turn as soon as it comes to Israel: liberal Jews oppose torture in the “War against Terror,” but consider Israel’s torture practices right and justified. End of discussion. The same double standard applies when comparing American and Israeli policy on other issues of human rights and international law, from the indefinite detention and arrest of ‘Terror Suspects’ (without due process) to the disregard for international laws, the displacement of native people in an occupied land, executions without a trial, disproportionate use of force, two-tiered legal systems based on ethnicity – the list goes on.

Any mention of Israel’s many wrongdoings in its conflict with the Palestinians earns me the title “Self-Hating Jew.” I know of Jewish individuals who were effectively ousted from their communities after daring to state that Israel’s actions were wrong and reflected neither Jewish values nor intelligent foreign policy. But I do love being a Jew and I do love and care about Israel. So why can’t I talk about how far it has strayed from its founding ideals?

It seems to me that as American Jews we need to separate our connection and support to the idea behind the state of Israel from our actual opinion of Israel’s actions on the ground. If we really care about the idea, then it’s not only our right but our duty to place a mirror in front of the state that is so painfully deviating from it.