Friday, September 19, 2014

Scottish nationalism, Tony Judt, and Israel

I've been thinking of how the late English-born historian, Tony Judt, would have taken this week's Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.  The renowned New York University scholar died tragically of ALS in 2010.  In a famous article in the New York Review of Books ("Israel: The Alternative," Oct. 23, 2003) this one-time Zionist youth movement leader described Israel as an "ethno-religious" state that’s "an anachronism."  He indicated a preference for one bi-national state over the two-states favored by our dovish Zionist camp.  (To be fair, PPI's Zionist lineage has early roots in the pre-state Hashomer Hatzair movement that also favored bi-nationalism, but in a different era; after more than 66 years of the ongoing bitterness of this conflict, it's hard to envision such an arrangement as a peaceful solution for our time.)  The NYRB article instantly transformed a mainstream progressive into a hero of radical opponents of Israel.    

Judt's scholarship and the positions he championed generally favored the pan-national project of the European Union and the moderate left political camp of social democracy.  Yet nationalism, and even the term he coined of "ethno-religious" nationalism, have been on the rise since the disintegration of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia over 20 years ago -- not to mention the violent (nearly genocidal) splintering of Sudan, and the ethno-religious divisions shattering Syria and Iraq at this very moment.  It would surely have been a bitter pill for a basically decent-minded liberal intellectual, that his native United Kingdom has come close to disunion, with the secession of Catalonia from Spain, and the dissolution of Belgium between Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons still very possible. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lutwak's Tought but Realistic View of Hamas

Edward N. Lutwak is a well-known defense intellectual with moderately conservative leanings.  His analysis is acerbic and harsh, but his hard-nosed grasp of historical and current reality contains a large element of truth.  Notice, for example, that he clearly implies that the expansion of West Bank settlements is an obstacle to peace; on the other hand, he completely omits the complex ups & downs of the 1990s peace process.  Still, one can read his piece in Tablet as a reasonable counter to viewpoints that always place Israel at fault in this conflict.  Here's an important snippet:

Hamas today is in the same position as Yasser Arafat once was: sacrificing its people to a corrupted ideal
By Edward N. Luttwak September 16, 2014  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amira Hass 'Interrogates' Hamas Leadership

Hat tip to board member Carolyn Oppenheim for notifying us of this piece.  We've met Israeli journalist Amira Hass when our Israel Symposium visited Ramallah, where she's lived since 1997 as Ha'aretz correspondent in the Occupied Territories. She's also lived in the Gaza Strip for three years, and is generally unforgiving in her view of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians (as evident in some of what follows; #16 & 17 below are especially harsh).  But this article shows that she's no fan of Hamas:          
Amira Hass
18 questions for Hamas leaders in wake of Gaza war 

1. Are you still insisting that the past war ended in a victory for you?

2. A Palestinian victory or a Hamas victory?

3. You managed to confuse the strongest army in the region. Is that the victory?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Oz, Beinart, Gourevitch and Khalidi On Gaza

This is a catch-up post on important articles earlier this summer that we've neglected to write about.

Award-winning New Yorker correspondent Philip Gourevitch, who first achieved acclaim in 1998 with his book on the Rwanda genocide, favorably contrasts the view of Israeli peacenik writer Amos Oz over that of Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi ("An Honest Voice in Israel," Aug. 2).  In another New Yorker article ("Collective Punishment in Gaza"), Prof. Khalidi completely dismisses Hamas attacks on Israel as "pretexts" and "red herrings." This quote sums up Gourevitch's critique of Khalidi, in contrast to Oz's observations from his radio interview on Deutsche Welle:
If you take an interest in the war in Gaza, you should read the Hamas charter, but Oz sums up its biggest idea handily enough: “It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew, everywhere in the world.” If Khalidi has a problem with this, he keeps it to himself. While Oz has no problem saying that Israel’s violent occupation is unjust to Palestinians and endangers its own people, Khalidi refuses to acknowledge that Hamas exists to end Israel’s existence and thrives on Palestinian wretchedness. In the heat of his moral condemnation of Israel—and of America for supporting Israel against Hamas—the hardest line that he will allow himself against Gaza’s categorically genocidal leadership is that “we may not like” it. What would he lose to say that we must not? 
Ultimately, Khalidi’s argument seems to be that might makes wrong. Israel, he says, is “the stronger party.” He sees that strength as entirely dependent on America, and he argues that, if America seriously wants to make peace, it must cut Israel loose. Khalidi’s aim is to drive a wedge between Israel and what he sees as the only thing it has going for it—American support . . . 
Oz's basic view is the same as that of Peter Beinart, as expressed in this article in Ha'aretz, July 23, "Israel’s best weapon against Hamas: Giving the Palestinians hope." Here's an abridged version:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Phyllis Bernstein's Latest Reading Suggestions

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering that infamous day, 13 years ago

I am poolside with Gila, at her kibbutz, Aug. 2007
One of my many Israeli-born cousins, Gila, whom I am especially close to, spent a few months with me in New York in the fall of 2001. As it happens, September 11th is her birthday. Family and friends called early to express birthday greetings; within a couple of hours,we started getting a different kind of call, communicating their concern.

The train station at Nahariya, the town neighboring her Galilee kibbutz (Kabri or Cabri), was struck by a suicide bomber two days before. I remember her tears at the shock of it –- undermining her previous feeling that her area was immune from the ravages of the Intifada.

She’s very dovish -– more so than I am. After returning home in December, she joined the ranks of Women in Black, protesting the occupation and Tayyush, the Israeli Arab-Jewish group that tries to ameliorate the worst effects of the occupation on Palestinians. After voting Labor all her life, she joined Meretz following a campaign visit by Yossi Beilin in 2003.  Now, I understand that she's leaning toward the non-Zionist Hadash party.


The following is what I found from an e-mail that I sent out the day after the attack:

Reacting to Rosner's 'Who Killed the Israeli Left?'

I know I should be writing a letter to the editor about why I don't agree with Shmuel Rosner's opinion piece, but I'm doing this instead. Rosner is wrong. His blog is simple minded.

First of all, the Israeli Left is not dead, it is wounded and limping. Second, there are many reasons why this is so, but it certainly is not because the Israeli Left is not part of the Israeli family.  Third, consider that one million Russian immigrants disenchanted with one extreme form of a Leftist government became new Israeli citizens in the last decades. Fourth, consider that a mainstay of Israel's Left, the kibbutz movement, is not what it was, and I could go on.  Shmuel Rosner seems to be determined to bury the Israeli Left; we should read what he has to say and then seriously engage with that point of view (click on his title):  Who Killed the Israeli Left?

This is how J Street's daily News Roundup summarizes Chemi Shalev's reaction in Ha'aretz to Rosner's piece:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Film on son of Hamas leader becoming Israeli spy

The other night, I attended a preview screening of "The Green Prince," a documentary film on the son of a top Hamas leader who became an Israeli agent. It debuts Friday in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. 

Based on Mosab Hassan Yousef's memoir, Son of Hamas, "The Green Prince" tells the story of the oldest son of one of the founders of Hamas and its leader on the West Bank (Sheikh Hassan Yousef) who became Israel's most valuable informant, and the Shin Bet agent who sacrificed his career to stand by him.  Mosab Yousef's story is encapsulated online in a film review published in The Daily Beast, one month ago.
Mosab Hassan Yousef

Previously, I had only vaguely known about this person, including the unlikely fact that he converted to Christianity and has been outspoken in his opposition to Hamas.  What convinced Mosab to betray his father's cause was his experience in a Hamas-controlled compound in an Israeli prison, where he learned of the group's wanton brutality (a fact of life in many if not most prisons everywhere is that organized groups of prisoners exercise enormous power).  As he told the audience in a post-screening Q & A, 16 people were murdered in that prison by Hamas on the barest suspicion of working for Israel, with many others tortured.  

Mosab worked as his father's closest assistant during the worst years of the Second Intifada.  Those bloody times reinforced his conviction that “. . . cowards in the name of courage are leading children, women, and an entire nation to death.”  According to the film, he facilitated Israel's arrest of a number of bomb plotters while deftly avoiding suspicion; he even managed to convince his father to go into hiding with an "anonymous" tip -- which saved his life at a time when Israel was assassinating most Hamas leaders.  Interestingly, his father eventually entertained a more moderate course for Hamas, that of a long-term hudna (truce) with Israel.