‘Comment is Free’ contributor: Is the “Global war on Terrorism” all about Israel?

For well over a decade now the U.S. has been “a nation at war”, explains Andrew Bacevich in a May 28 essay at ‘Comment is Free’, before asking: “Does that war have a name”?

namelessBacevich employs the opening query to lament that the ‘Global War on Terror’ which began on September 11, 2001 is nameless, writing thusly:

When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others

After providing a bit of background on the imperfect names given to other wars – such as the Civil War, World War I, and World War II – Bacevich considers some possible monikers for the current military enterprise “we’ve been waging…in Iraq and Afghanistan [and] other countries…across the Islamic world”.  He proposes names such as “The Long War”, “The War against al-Qaida”, “The War for the Greater Middle East”, and even “The War Against Islam” or “The War for/against/about Israel“.  

Bacevich devotes a bit of space making the case for each possibility, and writes the following as a possible justification for the latter Israeli-centric title: 

It began in 1948. For many Jews, the founding of the state of Israel signified an ancient hope fulfilled. For many Christians, conscious of the sin of anti-Semitism that had culminated in the Holocaust, it offered a way to ease guilty consciences, albeit mostly at others’ expense. For many Muslims, especially Arabs, and most acutely Arabs who had been living in Palestine, the founding of the Jewish state represented a grave injustice. It was yet another unwelcome intrusion engineered by the west – colonialism by another name.

Recounting the ensuing struggle without appearing to take sides is almost impossible. Yet one thing seems clear: in terms of military involvement, the United States attempted in the late 1940s and 50s to keep its distance. Over the course of the 60s, this changed. The US became Israel’s principal patron, committed to maintaining its military superiority over its neighbors.

In the decades that followed, the two countries forged a multifaceted “strategic relationship”. A compliant Congress provided Israel with weapons and assistance worth billions of dollars, testifying to what has become an unambiguous and irrevocable US commitment to the safety and wellbeing of the Jewish state. Meanwhile, just as Israel had disregarded US concerns when it came to developing nuclear weapons, it ignored persistent US requests that it refrain from colonizing territory that it has conquered.

When it comes to identifying the minimal essential requirements of Israeli security and the terms that will define any Palestinian-Israeli peace deal, the US defers to Israel. That may qualify as an overstatement, but only slightly. Given the Israeli perspective on those requirements and those terms – permanent military supremacy and a permanently demilitarized Palestine allowed limited sovereignty the War for/against/about Israel is unlikely to end anytime soon either. Whether the US benefits from the perpetuation of this war is difficult to say, but we are in it for the long haul.

This remarkably ahistorical account of the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Islamist) Conflict – which erases over six decades of Arab wars, terrorism and belligerence – is provided to buttress the argument that the ‘Global War’ against Islamist extremism is arguably rooted in an understandable grievance against Israeli policy.  

Bacevich’s facile analysis of course ignores Islamism’s expansionist and reactionary political pedigree (the Muslim Brotherhood movement which gave birth to modern Islamism seeks the universal imposition of Sharia law, and proclaims that violent jihad and martyrdom is their path), as well as the obvious timeline (the Brotherhood was founded twenty years before Israel’s birth, and by the 1930s was already calling for boycotts against Jewish owned businesses in the Middle East).

However, even if we were to give credence to such specious ‘Zionist root cause’ arguments for modern terror (which ignore both chronology and ideology), proponents of such arguments often go further than merely asserting causation, suggesting that there’s in fact something reasonable, or even just, about such ‘grievances’ about Israel’s very existence.

No, the ‘War on Terror’ – or whatever Bacevich prefers to call the West’s battle with global jihadism – isn’t about Israel.  However, even if a malign obsession with Israel did indeed represent the root cause of their violence, its difficult to understand how any truly liberal commentator could implicitly assign blame to the Jewish target of such antipathy.    

Indeed, Bacevich – quite interestingly in light of his gig at ‘Comment is Free’ – has also contributed to Pat Buchanan’s paleo-conservative magazine, the American Conservative’, and penned a piece there in 2012 titled ‘How we became Israel‘.  His essay includes a characterization of the US ‘War on Terror’ – and America’s willingness since 9/11 to use force around the globe – as a dangerous sign that “U.S. national-security policy increasingly conforms to patterns of behavior pioneered by the Jewish state”, what he terms the “Israelification of U.S. policy”.

The Zionist footprint on the war on terror, for Andrew Bacevich, is simply undeniable, and arguably global.

Letter to Iain Banks on the eve of Yom HaShoah

The following was written by Bataween, and originally published on April 7 at ‘Point of No Return‘ - a blog about Middle East’s forgotten Jewish refugees.

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Point of No Return was inspired by the words of a little-known Iraqi-Jewish writer to address the announcement by celebrated Scottish writer Iain Banks that he’s supporting a cultural boycott of Israel.
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Dear Iain,
 
I was sorry to learn that you have terminal cancer and will probably not be long for this world. It is  a matter of deep regret that the world is about to lose a talented writer and a noble human being.

However, I was surprised that the Middle East ranks so high on your list of priorities that directly after you had announced news of your cancer,  The Guardian chose to print a piece about your personal boycott of Israel. In it you wrote: 

“The particular tragedy of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is that nobody seems to have learned anything. Israel itself was brought into being partly as a belated and guilty attempt by the world community to help compensate for its complicity in, or at least its inability to prevent, the catastrophic crime of the Holocaust. Of all people, the Jewish people ought to know how it feels to be persecuted en masse, to be punished collectively and to be treated as less than human. For the Israeli state and the collective of often unlikely bedfellows who support it so unquestioningly throughout the world to pursue and support the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people – forced so brutally off their land in 1948 and still under attack today – to be so blind to the idea that injustice is injustice, regardless not just on whom it is visited, but by whom as well, is one of the defining iniquities of our age, and powerfully implies a shamingly low upper limit on the extent of our species’ moral intelligence.

The solution to the dispossession and persecution of one people can never be to dispossess and persecute another. When we do this, or participate in this, or even just allow this to happen without criticism or resistance, we only help ensure further injustice, oppression, intolerance, cruelty and violence in the future.”

We’ve heard it all before from your fellow boycotters of Israel: scores of trendy opinion-formers, academics and artistes. They actually believe that neat paradox: a persecuted people is now persecuting another. Don’t the Jews of all people know any better?

What really pains me is that you will be going to your death without knowing how wrong you have been. Israel is full of people -  Jewish people – persecuted simply for being Jews and expelled from land and property they have lived on since time immemorial by Arabs.This is a truth that even Jews from Europe haven’t graspedThe Arabs did this barely three years after the monumental tragedy of the Holocaust, in which the Palestinian leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, among other Arabs, was complicit. The Mufti plotted the extermination of the Jews of the region well before Israel was established. Arabs and radical Muslims have been seeking to destroy the Jewish state ever since. 

To illustrate my point, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, when Israel marks the anniversary of the Holocaust, let me quote Aharon, an Iraqi Jew you won’t have heard of, who wrote a chapter in a book* you won’t have heard of either:

“Two thousand years of persecution, execution and forced conversion culminated in Hitler’s Final Solution, a solution which wiped out nearly half the world’s Jewish population. And this was followed by, and compounded by  the ethnic cleansing by the Arab Countries of all their Jewish populations. Both events took place on the watch of the civilised world which responded by a deafening silence. Jews therefore feel themselves to be permanent refugees even after the rise of the State of Israel which is now anyway precariously balanced within the vast  Muslim Middle East.”

At the end it was the Arab world, not Hitler that executed their final solution, and no power can move the clock back. That is why  today it is worrying Israelis and Jews alike that what happened in Germany under the Nazis in the early 1930s is being re-enacted in a startlingly similar way again in Europe today. Every aspect of life in Israel, its people, its institutions, its places of learning, even its acclaimed courts of justice are being demonized. Recently this demonizing has been organized and reinforced by concerted bans and boycotts here in Europe in protest, they say, against the occupation of Palestinian lands to which the majority of the citizens of Israel are opposed. All this sends shivers in the hearts of Jews everywhere reminding them of the anti-Semitic demonizing propaganda of the 1930s, which was the precursor of, and prepared the ground for the Holocaust. As Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, stated recently: Anti-Semitism is not just a historical fact but a current event.

“The Arab World has played and continues to play its active part too in the Jewish tragedy. During World War II they made Jewish life in their midst a living hell. By the early 1950’s when the safe haven of Israel opened, some 900,000 Jews were ethnically cleansed to Israel from Arab countries leaving all Arab countries what the Nazis called “Judenrein”, lands clean of  Jews. Therefore what the Nazis failed to do, the Arab countries accomplished and perpetuated. And the world accepts that as normal.

“These 900,000 Jewish refugees are forgotten because Israel did not leave them in camps to rot and did not ask the UN to set up agencies to serve to perpetuate their misery and status as refugees. With help from Jews worldwide these Jewish refugees with their bare hands gave themselves dignity, security and a future in stark contrast to the way rich, very rich, Arabs treated the then 700,000 Palestinian refugees and disgracefully continue to treat their descendants today.

“I was a victim and a witness of this ethnic cleansing. My personal story tells it all. I wanted so much to be part of my country Iraq and to participate actively in its revival after World War II.  When I finished my pre-university studies in Iraq and secured a place with various universities in England and France  to continue my studies the Iraqi authorities refused point-blank to allow me to travel. Why? Because I was a Jew. And as a result of accumulations of other violent events around the Jewish community  I could see that there was no way to be both Jewish and Iraqi. So I took the only way I could that was still open for me out of the country. Together with about twenty desperate Jews, we managed to cross the borders of  Iraq into Iran in the north, literally  on foot. We got there from Baghdad in a truck.

“The truck driver had managed to bribe the border guards to close their eyes as we were nearing the border,  pretending to be carrying cattle from one town to another. At the last-minute, after the truck was approaching the border, some border police started shooting, probably only to justify their surprise to see that the cattle  had turned into human beings, but more likely  because the bribe was not big enough to go round. The driver left us in the middle of nowhere pointing to us the direction to the Iranian borders.  I was young, barely 19 years old at that time. Fleeing Iraq, in my case via Iran, whose people I will always be indebted to for their hospitality and safe passage at my desperate time of need, I arrived at the absorption centre in Israel in 1949 by air from Tehran. I found there a mixture of people all dejected all helpless. My fellow refugees from Arab countries were desperately trying to rebuild their lives out of nothing in a land of nothing.”

But it was the sight of the remnants of the Holocaust camps that broke my heart and my spirit. I saw frightened shadows of human beings dazed, confused and broken trying to regain their existence as humans. But worst of all instead of hatred, rage and bitterness I found many trying to remove the concentration camp numbers on their arms feeling guilty of being alive and ashamed of not having put up a fight before allowing themselves to be led as sheep to the Gas chambers. It is the combined images of the ethnically cleansed Arab Jews who lost their countries, and the Holocaust remnants of European Jews who lost their dignity, that are engraved in my being and in the mind of every Jew who says “never again”.  That is why Israelis feel the need to keep their citizen army and even their nuclear shield not because they are on a Samson-like suicidal mission. It is because they are determined to live with pride and dignity denied to them in those dark days of the 30s and 40s. And this time, if they must die, they want to die fighting.”

And so, Iain, by blindly aligning yourself with the Palestinian cause, you are siding, not with innocent victims, but with some among them who would commit a second Shoah if they could

If they haven’t fulfilled that intention, it is only because the Jews of Israel have been strong enough to thwart it. It is they, not the Israelis, who nurse in their children with hate

Sorry if self-defence is so very unpopular in your postmodern world, Iain. As someone once remarked: “it is better to be unpopular than dead.”

*From Chapter 14: The Prophet of the Libyan Desert by Max Melli, Vladimir Pavlinic and Aharon Nathan (Amazon and bookshops)

The Czech Persuasion: Against grandiose ideas & miraculous solutions in the Mid-East

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H/T Evelyn Gordon

Following the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich in March 1938, Hitler assumed the role of advocate for ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, triggering the “Sudeten Crisis”. In April, Sudeten Nazis demanded autonomy.  

In September that same year, French Prime Minster Édouard Daladier and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to Hitler’s demand on the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland. 

The Sudetenland was relegated to Germany between October 1 and October 10, 1938.  However, the Nazis weren’t appeased for long.

The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in March 1939.

There was not to be “peace in our time”.

The question of why the Czech Republic, alone among the 27 EU countries, voted with Israel and only seven other countries at the UN on November 29 against upgrading the Palestinian status at the UN is likely related to Czech history, but is also informed by a broader understanding of the world – one quite at odds with the modern political zeitgeist,

In an interview following the recent Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya, Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar responded to the suggestion that there are historical parallels between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the pressure exerted on Israel today to agree to partition Israel and create a Palestinian Arab state.

He cautioned on imputing too great of a political parallel with the situation in 1938 in Central Europe, but still, he said, there are similarities.

“There are certain parallels in that Czechoslovakia was the only democratic country in the entire region at the time…There are parallels about how much guarantees you can get from outside, and how much you should rely on them.”

Pojar said that in addition to his country’s tragic experiences during World War II, it also had experiences under the yoke of Soviet totalitarianism. 

However, more intriguing that the historical questions are the cognitive-political habits which Czechoslovakia’s dark history seems to have imbued in the modern Czech Republic.

Pojar added:

“We don’t believe in miracles, and we don’t believe in political miracles and the solutions of ideologies that [posit that] something can be easily implemented and solved.

It is not only either war or peace… Even some interim solutions are sometimes better than crumbled expectations because of grandiose ideas.”

Pojar’s political temperament seems to be shared by an increasing number of Israelis in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Islamist) Conflict – political sobriety about the limits of big, radical solutions to the intractable problems of war and peace in the Middle East.

The paternalistic, imperious and often hubristic lectures by Americans and Europeans on the pressing need for Israelis to be “saved from themselves”, rescued from the morass of short-shortsightedness, shown the enlightened path towards co-existence and reconciliation with the Palestinian “other” within the framework of the “New Middle East”, seem frighteningly unmoored from the reality of our existence in the region.

Putative peace agreements, sweeping final-status proposals and unilateral withdrawals have not appeased, nor in the very least even-tempered, our neighbors’ insatiable Judeophobic antipathy.

Pojar, when asked if Europe takes Hamas’s statements calling for the destruction of Israel seriously enough, said he could not speak about the EU, but that he did not feel the “mainstream European elites” did so. The elites, he added, were “sometimes detached from reality”, and not only about the Middle East and the threat posed by Islamists.

After two decades of “noble and naïve ideas” that left the country “battered and bloody”, Israelis understand with a lucidity unburdened by puerile dreams or illusions that land is not valid political currency in the quest to acquire peace for Jews in the Middle East. 

The margin for error in such political calculations are minuscule, and the stakes are enormous.

While the comparison between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Israel in 2013 can, of course, be overblown, our friends in the democratic West should at least view the dangerous failure, in the first half of the 20th century, of Europe’s stubborn belief in universality of reasonableness, the assumption of good will and the projection of our own positive-sum calculus to zero-sum political actors as a cautionary tale.

The wisdom of the ‘Czech Persuasion’ simply can not be easily ignored.

The Guardian: changing history.

There are now two Guardian obituaries of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir online. The latest one is by Lawrence Yoffe and was published on July 1st at 17:43. The first to appear was written by Cass Jones and was published on June 30th at 21:00.  Jones’s article was, however, changed some 21 hours later and the updated version carries the following note: 

“This article was amended on Sunday 1 July. The original version suggested Shamir moved to Palestine after the Holocaust. This has been corrected.”

In fact, the original version of the article included the following sentence: 

“Born in Poland in 1915, Shamir moved to Palestine in 1935 after his mother and sisters were killed in the Holocaust.”

In other words, neither the author of the article nor the editor who reviewed it before publication noticed that Jones had essentially either put the end of the Second World War ten years prior to its actual date, or alternatively – depending upon one’s understanding – suggested that the Holocaust took place before the war. Contrary to the statement in the footnote, it did not suggest that Shamir had left Europe after the Holocaust because the year of emigration was correct. 

However, the Guardian is not alone. Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph  - in an obituary published just over an hour before the original Guardian one – made exactly the same mistake: 

“Born in Poland on October 15, 1915, Shamir emigrated to British-ruled Palestine in 1935 after his family perished in the Nazi Holocaust”.

Interpret as you will…

Harriet Sherwood cynically exploits a Holocaust survivor on Yom HaShoah to criticize Israel

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s day of commemoration for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of actions carried out by Nazi Germany.

At 10 AM sirens sounded throughout Israel for two minutes. During this time, as every year on this day, people ceased from action and stood at attention; cars stopped; and most of the country came to a standstill as people payed silent tribute to the dead.

On Yom HaShoah ceremonies and services are held throughout the country.

On Erev Yom HaShoah and the day itself, public entertainment venues are closed, and Israeli TV airs Holocaust documentaries, Holocaust-related talk shows, and low-key songs are played on the radio. Flags on public buildings are flown at half mast.

Israel is home to just under 200,000 Holocaust survivors.

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood decided not focus on one of the many heroic tales of survival against impossible odds, or the scars still carried by survivors’ children and grandchildren, those who are still haunted by stories of their parent’s and grandparent’s suffering, relayed by fading memories – a population still able to provide first hand accounts of their encounters with human evil.

Rather, Sherwood, published “Holocaust survivors struggling to make ends meet in Israel“, which is hard to surpass in the manipulation of genuine suffering in the service of agenda driven journalism.

Sherwood opens:

Despite the horrors of a childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust, Ros Dayan survived to build a life she could be proud of in the new Jewish state of Israel.

She trained as a nurse, she sang in a choir that toured the world. She learnt Hebrew, though she never lost her central European accent. She paid her taxes and eventually bought the tiny house in Jaffa that she had rented at a subsidised rate for years. She even learned to live with the pain of three broken vertebrae, the result of an assault by a Nazi soldier.

But, now, in the last years of her life, Ros is ashamed. One of the 198,000 Holocaust survivors still alive in Israel, she is also one of the growing proportion who cannot make ends meet, who struggle with insufficient funds on a daily basis. Wiping a single tear with a shaking hand, she says: “For the first time, I don’t have enough money for food or clothes. I used to have pride, now I am ashamed.”

According to studies, around a quarter of Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line, struggling to pay for food, heating, housing, medication and care.

But the most manipulative passage is here, where she finds her desired quote:

“A lot of survivors face big medical bills, and life in Israel is very expensive generally,” says Deborah Garel of the Jaffa Institute, which distributes bi-monthly food parcels to Holocaust survivors. “Holocaust survivors going hungry in Israel? This is not right. After being hungry in the ghetto, they shouldn’t be hungry in the Jewish state.”

Whatever the real economic hardships faced by Holocaust survivors in Israel (and even one survivor without enough to eat is, of course, one too many), to evoke hunger in Nazi era ghettos, where the mortality rate due to malnutrition and disease among babies and infants, for instance, was 100 percent, in the context of difficulties survivors face paying for food in the Jewish state is as callous as it is cynical.

(As a side note, the percentage of survivors cited by Sherwood as living below the poverty line 25%, though of course unacceptable, is exactly proportionate with the general population.)

Finally, In the penultimate paragraph, Sherwood finds one last quote to polish off her narrative.

“I love this country, but I don’t feel Jewish here. I came here to feel Jewish. Every Holocaust day I’m sad for what we lost, and I’m sad I didn’t end up in a country that loves me,” [Ros] says.

Whatever the very real economic problems of survivors like Ros, it beggars the imagination that Sherwood couldn’t have avoided vilifying the Jewish state on such a solemn day.

Further, to provide a bit of context to the British-Israeli relationship, it should be noted that had a sovereign Jewish state been created prior the Holocaust the number of Jews killed would have been dramatically fewer, and indeed the British White Paper in 1939, a document influenced in large measure by Arab demands, dramatically limited the number of Jews allowed to immigrate into Palestine (75,000 over the following five years).

So, the gates of Palestine largely remained closed duration of the war, stranding hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe, many of whom became victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.

The fact is that Israel has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors, and nearly a million Jews expelled from Arab lands, since the end of WWII, and offered them citizenship, economic assistance, and didn’t let them languish in refugee camps.

But, most importantly, Israel provided these stateless, homeless Jews a safe haven in the first sovereign Jewish polity in over 2000 years - a historically persecuted minority finally no longer at the mercy of the goodwill, whims and wishes of “enlightened” non-Jewish rulers. 

It is not at all surprising that a Guardian reporter like Sherwood can always find someone to serve a desired narrative of Israeli villainy, even in the context of the Jewish state’s response to the Shoah.  But, the ubiquitous nature of such tendentious journalism doesn’t render it any less irresponsible or offensive.  

But perhaps, just perhaps, her sensitive soul could have been moved (just this one time) to recount just one of the many stories (among the remaining survivors) of those Jewish men, women and children who risked everything to escape the fires ready to consume them in Europe to reach the shores of their promised land.

Having lost much if not all of their family, they had finally arrived in Eretz Y’srael. They had finally reached freedom.

Life in the modern Jewish state is, of course, not perfect, but it is not unreasonable to expect Harriet Sherwood to, at least on this one day, this supremely solemn occasion, display just a modicum of respect, a bit of self-restraint, and avoid such characteristic ideologically driven caricatures of the nation she’s covering. 

What must be said: A former Nazi named Gunter Grass and what Germany owes the Jews

I’ve never believed that children inherit the sins of their ancestors.

In the American context, the history of slavery and segregation (de facto and de jure) doesn’t impute guilt to Americans several generations removed from such hideous institutions, nor does it absolve the nation completely of the profound responsibility of “never again”.

Never again will the U.S. allow any form of institutional racism to reign within its shores.

Similarly, I don’t, in most respects, view modern Germany through a Nazi lens. When I backpacked through Europe in my 20s, and interacted with Germans who must have seen the Star of David prominently displayed beneath my chin, I saw modern, liberal, democratic Europeans unburdened by the bondage of a Judeophobic ethos.

Here’s a poem by a “liberal” German writer named Gunter Grass, dutifully published at the Guardian.

Grass revealed in 2006, 60 years after WWII, that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS during the war.

What must be said

Why have I kept silent, held back so long,

on something openly practiced in

war games, at the end of which those of us

who survive will at best be footnotes?

It’s the alleged right to a first strike

that could destroy an Iranian people

subjugated by a loudmouth

and gathered in organized rallies,

because an atom bomb may be being

developed within his arc of power.

Yet why do I hesitate to name

that other land in which

for years—although kept secret—

a growing nuclear power has existed

beyond supervision or verification,

subject to no inspection of any kind?

This general silence on the facts,

before which my own silence has bowed,

seems to me a troubling lie, and compels

me toward a likely punishment

the moment it’s flouted:

the verdict “Anti-semitism” falls easily.

But now that my own country,

brought in time after time

for questioning about its own crimes,

profound and beyond compare,

is said to be the departure point,

(on what is merely business,

though easily declared an act of reparation)

for yet another submarine equipped

to transport nuclear warheads

to Israel, where not a single atom bomb

has yet been proved to exist, with fear alone

the only evidence, I’ll say what must be said.

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because—burdend enough as Germans—

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

will not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger

we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.

No other course offers help

to Israelis and Palestinians alike,

to all those living side by side in emnity

in this region occupied by illusions,

and ultimately, to all of us.

There’s so much pathos in Grass’ political “lyricism” its difficult to know where to begin.

  • The Holocaust denying Iranian President who openly seeks the end of the Jewish state – representative of a regime which has provided religious and moral justification for genocide against Israel, a fatwa on the lives of millions of Jews – as merely a “loudmouth”.
  • The classic antisemitic victimological conceit: that criticism of Jews will bring unfair “punishment” over false claims of antisemitism…and, that such critiques of every conceivable sin, real and imagined, of the Jewish state are brave and, yes, rare. Grass is breaking the silence“!
  • The fiction that Israel is considering a nuclear “first strike” against Iran. Anyone following the issue would surely know that the only thing Israel (and, it should be noted, the U.S.) is contemplating is a strike (with conventional weapons) specifically targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.
  • There are at least nine nations with nuclear weapons, yet Grass’ poem is strangely concerned with the nuclear capabilities of just one of those countries – not North Korea, not Pakistan, and not the U.S. (which possesses the largest nuclear arsenal by far with over 5,000 warheads, and the capacity to strike any target in the world).
  • Finally, it is only “Israel’s atomic power [which] endangers an already fragile world peace.

Its truly hard, especially in the context of Grass’ past, not to contextualize this grotesque caricature of a Jewish state which threatens world peace with the Nazi fear of world Jewry, whose very existence was similarly seen as a threat to humanity.

 
 
Modern day anti-Zionist imagery includes similar tropes:

Trafalgar Square, London, 2011: Al Quds Day rally organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission

It would be easy to dismiss Grass’ contempt for the Jewish state as a one-off, the musings of a perhaps senile octogenarian former Nazi, but, as a recent essay in ‘Comment is Free’ by Hans Kundnani (editorial director at the European Council on foreign relations) argued, the poem can reasonably be seen in the context  of Germany’s increasing anger at Israel:

what makes the…the poem significant is that it expresses a sense of anger against Israel that – justified or not – many Germans seem increasingly to share. This anger is partly a response to Israel’s rightward shift during the past decade.  But it seems also to be a product of developments in Germany and in particular the way that the Holocaust has receded in significance during the last decade. Increasingly, Germans seem to see themselves as victims rather than perpetrators.

Nearly half of respondents said they saw Israel as an “aggressive country” and only around a third of respondents said they felt Germany had a special responsibility towards Israel. Sixty per cent said Germany had no special responsibility…This anger against Israel is exacerbated by the sense some Germans have of not being able to say what they really think… [emphasis added]

Please, any Germans out there within range of this post, by all means tell me what you think.

We can start off by telling you what I (a Jewish citizen of Israel) really think about what responsibility you have towards us – what you owe the Jews.

To those of you without ancestors who were complicit in Nazi crimes – those who simply inherited the shared national legacy of German’s attempt to annihilate the Jews, all you owe us is a passionate commitment to defend against even the slightest resurgence of antisemitism in your country, and moral seriousness in the face of similar (often murderous) Judeophobia in the larger world (whether from the radical left, the radical right, Islamist movements, or the Republic of Iran.)  That’s what “never again” should mean to you.

To those of you whose parents or grandparents were complicit in the Nazi’s murder of one out of every three Jews on the face of the earth, I think its fair to say that, although you don’t inherit the sins of your fathers, neither can you ignore them.  You have a greater responsibility.

Perhaps, an understanding of what I mean can be derived from a particular Jewish tradition.  

The most profound Jewish principle I came across during my time of study (on the traditions of death and mourning with Judaism) following my father’s death in 1997, and one which I still find relevant and inspiring, was “The merit of the children“.  What this means, according to Jewish tradition, is that the surviving child, by living a moral, just, and purposeful life, can, in the eyes of G-d, redeem the imperfect life of his deceased parent.

At first, the ethical connection between my current life and my father’s previous life (a quite counterintuitive moral calculus) eluded me. How could what I do now in any way effect how the life he once lived is judged? After some time, however, the inspired moral logic became apparent. The way I live my life is necessarily connected to the way he lived his life – serving as a living testament to who he was, as a father, and as a man. For, I am the living embodiment of the sum of his moral life. My virtue inherently emanates from his virtue. I am, after all, and will always be, my father’s son.

So, to Germans struggling with how to deal with the sins of your fathers, the merit you achieve in this world necessarily reflects both on you and your family. It doesn’t provide posthumous moral atonement, but how ethically you behave and the values you teach your children is a powerful testament to the redemption of your family’s name, your country’s honor.

The historical context of your national T’shuvah (recognizing and repenting for a sin) necessarily must involve a responsibility to living Jews, not simply the millions of souls who were murdered (in death camps named Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka) 65 years ago.

This is what you owe us: a rigorous duty to never again succumb to classic (and still supremely dangerous) antisemitic narratives of Jewish villainy.

And, finally, a quick word to Gunter Grass, who, in your own life, and out of your own volition, was guilty of complicity with indescribable evil:

If this ever gets translated to German I sure hope the admittedly far less than lofty prose I’m about to employ is properly expressed in a manner which native German-speakers can understand.

If you served in the Nazi Waffen SS killing machine, perhaps the best thing you can do when contemplating lecturing Jews on morality – what you owe us, and the world,  if you have even a shred of decency remaining in your soul - is to show humility, feel a healthy degree of shame, and, to please, whatever you do, keep your damn mouth shut!

Gunter Grass' POW record

Israel and Greece: A Tale of Two Nation-States

This is cross posted by Diana Muir Appelbaum at Jewish Ideas Daily

What made Greece, long a pro-Arab country with a history of anti-Semitism and a notoriously soft line on terrorism, stop political activists from sailing a flotilla to Gaza?  What led Greece to rush fire-fighting helicopters to the Mt. Carmel fire?  Why do many observers expect to see more Greek-Israeli cooperation not only in defense and diplomacy, but also in culture, tourism, business, and development of solar and water-saving technology?

Part of the answer is that Greece would like to become less dependent on Arab oil by buying natural gas from Israel, and it is the obvious partner for a pipeline to bring Israeli natural gas to profitable European markets.

But the surprise is how much deeper the friendship could become, as a look at Greece’s history and culture reveals a number of striking parallels with Israel.

Like Israel, modern Greece was created by romantic nationalists able first to imagine, and then to achieve, independence because of the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire.  Both countries were populated by victims of vicious and sometimes genocidal ethnic cleansings.

When Greece achieved independence in 1828, it was a tiny statelet with borders that ended just north of Athens.  The overwhelming majority of ethnic Greeks lived outside the Greek state, and historic Mt. Olympus and Constantinople, with hundreds of thousands of Greek residents, were outside its borders.

Among the many promises made by the British government during World War I—when the Ottomans fought alongside Germany—were the establishment of a Jewish homeland (the Balfour Declaration), and a promise that the ethnically Greek areas of coastal Anatolia (also then outside the Greek state) would be given to Greece.  With the Ottoman Empire crumbling, the 1919 Paris Peace Conference authorized Greece to move into Smyrna.  Unwisely, the Greek army pressed past the Greek-populated areas into the interior of Anatolia, where the Turkish army decimated it.

Massacres and ethnic cleansings of Anatolian Greeks had begun in 1914 but accelerated in 1919, and are remembered for their scale, brutality, and genocidal intent. The outcome of the Armenian massacres was even worse, since when the two campaigns began, Greek Christians had an independent state to flee to as the Armenians did not. But in both cases, no one intervened.  Instead, the world sent Ernest Hemingway to file moving reports about the ranks of starving Greek refugees trudging toward the border and safety.

Only after the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians and the 1,400,000 Greek Christians of Anatolia was largely complete did the great powers meet in the Swiss city of Lausanne, where they worked out partial compensation for the Greek victims.   The remaining Christians in Turkey were obliged to move to Greece, and the 300,000 Muslims in Greece (except for those of Thrace) were required to depart for Turkey, with their homes converted to housing for Greek refugees.  A Greek Christian community was allowed to remain in Istanbul in 1923, but it was driven out during the Cyprus crises.

One result was that well over a quarter of the population of the Greek state, which numbered a mere four-and-a-half million people, was suddenly made up of refugees.  Only in the Jewish state have refugees comprised a larger proportion of the population.

Even after this enormous ethnic cleansing, large Greek communities remained in the Soviet Union, Egypt, French Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.  The Greek law of return was designed to provide citizenship for ethnic Greeks who might need it.  They have needed it often—in large events, like the Nasser-era policies that forced a substantial Greek community out of Egypt, and small but dramatic ones, like the 1993 Greek Army operation that rescued ethnic Greeks from war-torn Abkhazia.

The challenges of integrating these recurring waves of refugees have been enormous.  As in Israel, they arrived stripped of their property to a country with little demand for their skills, speaking mutually unintelligible variants of Greek or entirely foreign languages.

Greece has never been perfect; it has been violent and, despite decades of European Union-funded prosperity, has not figured out how to build an economy.  And yet it has offered something valuable to its citizens.  Whether they are the descendants of refugees driven from their distant homes or of peasants exploited by arrogant overlords, all Greeks are now members of a national community.  As citizens, they have a voice in their own government and the right to national self-determination and self-defense.

If Greeks often seem unreasonably prickly or stiff-necked to EU officials, their Balkan neighbors, or Turkey, it is because the memory of not having had these rights is so vivid.  But the lives of nations are not static.  The Muslim citizens of eastern Thrace no longer live as peasant farmers.  The young move to Thessalonica and Athens where they join a growing community of illegal immigrant workers from poor countries including Egypt, Pakistan, and Albania.  Some Muslim Albanians agitate for the right of return that Greece law gives to ethnically Greek Christians.  They descend from the large community of ethnic Albanians expelled by Greek partisans late in World War II following their widespread collaboration with Italian and German occupation forces.

These developments raise the question of what it means to be Greek, a particularly challenging issue because until recently, Greek ethnicity, membership in the Greek Orthodox Church, and the right to Greek nationality have meant more or less the same thing.

Most Greeks continue to regard Greek culture, history, language, and Christianity as inseparable from Greek nationality, even if they personally enter a church only to attend weddings and funerals.  The memory of centuries of Ottoman rule during which Greek culture and literature declined, the repair of the roof on a church was technically illegal, and even those Greeks with great wealth and privileges had no rights makes nationhood precious.

This, then, is the deep commonality that prime ministers Papandreou and Netanyahu have discovered and set out to cultivate: the idea that in a large and diverse world, the right to exist of two small, distinctive nation states, one Greek and one Jewish, is eminently worth defending.

Diana Muir Appelbaum is an American author and historian.  She is at work on a book tentatively entitled Nationhood: The Foundation of Democracy

Review of Peter Kosminsky’s “The Promise”

The following commentary on Peter Kosminsky’s documentary series, The Promise, was provided by the British-Israel Group, and is being posted in its entirety.  (Also, see CW open letter to Peter Kosminsky, here.)

Channel 4 TV in the UK is currently broadcasting a 4 part documentary series “The Promise”, a dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today, which is attracting 1.5 million viewers. The organization Beyond Images has issued a briefing to counter many of the statements and claims made in this inaccurate and misinformed documentary.

We, at BIG, feel that this information should be circulated as widely as possible.

Channel 4′s landmark TV series ‘The Promise’ is built on a serious historical falsehood about Israel

British TV channel Channel 4 has been broadcasting ‘The Promise’.  And it is a landmark piece of television. ‘The Promise’ is a four-part, six-hour dramatisation of the founding of Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.

We have been watching it.  And it is gripping. We are not surprised that it has been receiving very good reviews, and is a likely candidate for future broadcasting awards.  Over 1.5 million viewers in the UK have been watching its two episodes to date, including – we assume – most people with an active interest in the conflict: politicians, academics, students, members of human rights groups, writers and intellectuals, diplomats and civil servants.

The production is superb.  The acting is excellent.  It is meticulously observed and staged..And it is also built on a major historical falsehood.  A falsehood so severe that it undermines the credibility of its messages.  Its director Peter Kosminsky claims that he “told both sides of the story”. But episode 1 reveals that he does not even know what the Israeli side of the story is……

‘The Promise’ describes the events of 1945-8 through the eyes of Len, a British sergeant who had witnessed the liberation of the Jews at Bergen-Belsen, and is later posted with British forces to Palestine.  At a crucial moment in that first episode Len, together with other British army officers, receives a briefing from their British army commander on the purpose of their mission in Palestine, and the history behind it.  This takes place shortly after the second world war.

The commander’s words are not intended as a partisan speech.  It is the moment at which the British soldiers (and by extension 1.5 million viewers) are provided with the background to the conflict, and indeed the subsequent episodes of ‘The Promise’.  Indeed it is the only piece of the script which endeavours to tell the story of how the Jews, the Arabs and the British found themselves in three-way conflict.

Here is what the British commanding officer in The Promise says:

“The Jews and Arabs have been living here in relative harmony for thousands of years.  But our victory over the Germans has turned the trickle of Jews coming to this land into a flood.  You must understand, the Jews see it as their holy land.  But the Arabs, who have been here for over a thousand years, see them as stealing their land.  Our job is to keep the two sides apart…..”

There you have it.  The historical narrative of Israel.  And it is a narrative which does not operate to resolve the conflict, but to perpetuate it. Ever since World War Two, the Arabs have seen the Jewish national enterprise as the consequence of Nazism. Without indigenous roots.  And without historical legitimacy.

They build their sense of victimhood on the argument that they are “paying the price” for European fascism. Far from challenging this mindset, Kosminsky’s so-called ‘balanced’ narrative has reinforced it. Kosminsky makes no mention of the steady return to Palestine of Jews which had been carrying on since the 1880s. Kosminsky does not hint at the Balfour Declaration or other international commitments to support a Jewish national home.

Kosminsky does not recognise that Jewish national life had existed thousands of years ago in the land of Israel, and that the connection is a national connection.

Kosminsky does not pay any attention to the Jews’ state-building efforts in the period before the Second World War. And Kosminsky perpetuates a complete falsehood that the Jews and Arabs had been living in “relative harmony”.  Kosminsky reportedly researched The Promise for over a decade.  But has he heard of the Arab riots against the Jews of the Yishuv in the 1920s or 1930s?

Has he heard of the incessant violent assaults upon Jews building up Palestine? Has he heard of the Hebron massacre of 1929?

The idea that there was “relative harmony” in Palestine till World War Two is a fiction. It’s a fiction which Hamas and other rejectionists and ideologues readily embrace.

Meanwhile, the claim that the Arabs had been living there for a thousand years is also a massive over-simplification.  Even the most partisan historians have to admit that Palestine under the Ottomans and then the British was not exactly a hub of Arab nationalism, or a focal point of Arab pride and economic endeavour.

While ‘The Promise’ is brilliant drama – and we will be highlighting its strengths as well its weaknesses in the future – there are plenty of other major flaws in its so called ‘balanced’ narrative and in its framing of the conflict. In subsequent weeks we will be explaining them.  For now, here is a link to the programme website.  We have quoted just one short extract from episode one. See for yourself: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-promise/4od (Not available outside the UK)

Churchill’s true colors and the world’s enraged response to Succot

In this week’s episode of the Tribal Update, the television-on-internet satire show produced weekly by Latma(the Hebrew-language media satire website edited by Caroline Glick), against the backdrop of the renewed “land for peace” talks between Israel and the PLO, the truth is revealed about World War 2′s origins and reveal Winston Churchill’s “true colors.”