Playwright was willing to change Wiesel’s name; but show will go on in New York
Posted: 20 May 2010

Wow what a black eye for the Jewish tradition of free speech. Below is a note said to be by Morgan Jenness, a dramaturg and agent for Deb Margolin, playwright, on why the two decided to withdraw Margolin’s play from Theater J in Washington after a dispute over a character named or based on Elie Wiesel. From a listserv…

“The issue also at play here is that Deb was willing to change the character (and it is mainly issues of the name and some details) out of respect, not because Prof Wiesel, being a public figure, really had the legal right to have any impact on the play so that when vetting became a condition for continuing, (and indeed when we heard that Weisel intimated he might not approve the play going forward even WITH changes) we found ourselves in the sticky situation of trying to maintain artistic rights and freedom, honor Prof Wiesel’s wishes and not jeopardize Theater J – which started to feel like contradictory choices …which is when we chose to withdraw the play since the situation really did seem like it could not be resolved in a way which could honor all those elements which we felt all did need to be honored.
“Happily, the production at Stageworks Hudson in New York, under the direction of Laura Margolis, is still happening in the summer so I do hope that everyone will be able to come see the play then and see what it really is.  I happen to agree that the character has the same moral weight even without being named Elie Wiesel – perhaps even more.
“The name may change – the character is essentially the same…and was
always a metaphor…”

Martin Indyk’s references to Nakba represent denial of atrocities
Posted: 20 May 2010

Martin Indyk is a powerful man in the Israel lobby. He worked for Bill Clinton and George Bush and now heads the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, the thinktank funded by Haim Saban who declares that his bottom line is affecting policy on Israel. Last year Indyk published a lively book on his years in the peace process, called Innocent Abroad. It includes two or three references to the Nakba, in the context of the second intifada:

The first indication of their [Palestinian] inclination to violence came on May 15, 2000… Palestinians call that particular day the Naqba, or disaster, because it commemorates the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

I think this is a form of Nakba denial. My understanding of the Nakba is that Palestinians are commemorating not just the establishment of the state of Israel but a tremendous catastrophe, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the war of Israeli independence. Limiting the description in the manner that Indyk does makes the Palestinians out as pure rejectionists who hate the idea of a Jewish state, rather than as people who experienced a significant trauma, losing their homes and way of life during the Nakba. Many were massacred and/or raped.
If you watch Lia Tarachansky’s interviews (with Zochrot) of Israelis in Tel Aviv about what Nakba means, you will see that a couple of the Israelis have some understanding of what befell the Palestinians with Israeli independence– they lost their homes– while others expose their ignorance or callousness, or even undertake some form of denial. Like Martin Indyk. 

Fogies shut their mouths amid new wave of idealism
Posted: 20 May 2010

castroI The picture above was taken last Saturday outside the public library in Castro Valley, CA, where Rep. Barbara Lee was due to get an award from some Democratic Party club. Castro Valley, which is around 15 miles southeast of Oakland, is about as plain-vanilla as you can get in the East Bay, and in truth most of us demonstrating were from Berkeley and Oakland. But there were at least a few local people participating, too, and we handed out leaflets to hundreds of regular library patrons.
A number of us were the usual old fogies, but the leadership and the energy came from young people – largely Palestinian-Americans and other people of color. (One of the leaders is of Eritrean origin, another I think is Afghan-American; both of them grew up here). And they really think we can win. To my mind they seriously underestimate the grip of the Zionists, but most of the time I force myself to keep my mouth shut so as not to discourage them.
Bottom line: At this point, whenever Barbara Lee makes a public appearance in her district, there’s a good chance she’ll be picketed over her votes for aid to Israel. Considering where we were at 10, 5, or even 3 years ago, it’s pretty amazing!

Rose: Nakba was natural outcome of foundational messianic ideology of Jewish state
Posted: 20 May 2010

I’m thinking about the Nakba a lot today. The Nakba is the core event of Palestinian history, just as the great identity event of Jewish history in recent time is the Holocaust. Until the Nakba is understood as the direct cost of the foundation of Israel in the spring of 1948; until the foundational myths of Israel that we Jews and Americans celebrate are revised to acknowledge the ideology of expulsion, there will be no peace. I am confused by the right of return, in terms of a historical injustice/you can’t live in the past; but there are some historical injustices that don’t go away for a reason. The New York Times has done great work on the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church; and many of those crimes are ancient ones. They resonate today because they were never addressed, and they speak to core power imbalances in the Catholic church. The core power issues in Israel/Palestine are that one side has had more power, continually; and the world’s recognition of this ongoing injustice in the occupied territories has inevitably exhumed (for non-Palestinians; Palestinians grew up knowing about the Nakba) the centrality of this historical injustice: that the creation of the Jewish state, though celebrated by my people, went against the wishes of the majority of the people in the land.
Yes many Palestinians have come to accept Israel, but on what terms? Jeffrey Goldberg himself understands that once you open the door to Palestinian opinion, Palestinian understanding of history, you are opening the door on the foundational myths of Israel. As he challenges Peter Beinart, who has questioned the religious attachment to Jerusalem, “[without the religious attachment] Shouldn’t it [Israel] have been built in Bavaria?” Good question. 
Well that is a long intro to Jacqueline Rose in her fine book of 2005, The Question of Zion. As you read her exhumation, remember that Arabs had outnumbered Jews in historical Palestine by about 2 to 1 before 1948; and after the creation of Israel and the Nakba, Jews far outnumbered Palestinians, especially inside the expanded borders of the new state.

“The return to Zion and to the Bible is a supreme expression of the rebirth and resurgence of the Jewish people,” he [Ben-Gurion] proclaimed in an address delivered in Jerusalem in 1950, two years after the creation of Israel, “and the more complete the return the nearer we will come to full political and spiritual salvation.”…
At moments in Ben-Gurion’s language, ingathering appears as the ultimate goal, not just the means to the creation of the state but its most fundamental raison d’etre: “The promotion of Jewish immigration is not only a central task of the Jewish State–but the essential justification for its establishment and existence.”
We know of course what “ingathering” means. “We must create a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel in the next twenty years.” “There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 percent.” [both quotes are from Ben-Gurion.] In 1931 [Chaim] Weizmann was forced to resign from the presidency of the Zionist Congress after giving an interview to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in which he said that there was no need for a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel: “I have no understanding of and no sympathy for the demand for a Jewish majority in Palestine. Majority does not guarantee security, majority is not necessary for the development of Jewish civilisation and culture. The world will construe this demand only in the sense that we want to drive out the Arabs.”
…In fact, Weizmann had been one of the strongest advocates of transfer of the Arabs as a way of securing the Jewish identity of the state. Ingathering and expulsion are two sides of the same coin–only the Jews must increase. “The Zionist enterprise so far.. has been fine and good in its own time, and could do with ‘land-buying,'” wrote Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Land Fund from 1932, in a diary entry of December 19, 1940, “but this will not bring about the State of Israel; that must come all at once, in the manner of a Salvation (this is the secret of the Messianic idea); and there is no way without transferring the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer them all.”

Religious quota
Posted: 20 May 2010

One of the biggest problems in the discourse of Israel/Palestine in this country is the literacy test that is applied to anyone who is not pro-Zionist who wants to speak out and that leaves us with Jeffrey Goldberg, Ethan Bronner, Tom Friedman and Gershom Gorenberg as America’s informants. No Rashid Khalidi, no Rob Malley, no Ali Abunimah is allowed. Jimmy Carter? Too ill-informed on the subject to express an opinion. Sean Lee reads the Peter Beinart essay in the New York Review of Books and sees a religious bar. He asks “why this topic is always framed as a typically Jewish debate.”

In other words, why is this an internal tribal discussion? And, as I’ve asked before,  why are we so rarely privy to the opinions of, say, Palestinians or other Arabs? As it stands, Beinart’s piece will be discussed and taken seriously, but would it have even been published if it had been written by an Arab? Maybe, but certainly not in the NYRB, for even Hussein Agha apparently needs a Rob Malley to talk about Palestine and Israel in The New York Review of Books. Arabs don’t really get much of a say in the American conversation, because … well I guess because we don’t think they’re capable of saying anything for themselves, or we immediately discount what they say as biased, since they’re Arabs. Why is it that many of the best known partisans of the Palestinian cause in the US aren’t Arabs? (Think Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, for example.) It’s not for a dearth of Arab voices.

Great question. It’s amazing to me that the New York Review, a truly great publication and an edifice of the left, seems to exercise a religious bar on this conversation. Who has it published on this matter? Amos Elon, Tony Judt, Michael Walzer, Avishai Margalit, Tom Segev, Eyal Press, Gershom Gorenberg. I’m sure I’m forgetting some names but with the exception of Agha, above, everyone is Jewish. A couple years ago they commissioned a review of Walt and Mearsheimer’s book by Andrew Bacevich and did not use it. Bacevich isn’t Jewish. Neither are W&M. As I wrote back when W&M were getting paddled for opening their mouths, Do the goyim get to register an opinion?
The point is that we need more diversity on this subject (including as Lee points out, in my crowd). More diversity inevitably includes two verboten points of view: the realist take on Partition expressed so articulately by Loy Henderson of the State Department in 1947, in this great book, that establishing Israel in defiance of the American principle of self-determination would alienate the Arab and Muslim world for years and years to come (how we doing?), and the pro-Palestinian take that international law grants Palestinians a right of return. I’ve noticed that almost all Palestinians believe in the right of return. No wonder we never hear from them.

Only in Haaretz
Posted: 20 May 2010

Why isn’t this profile of Emily Schaefer, the American-Israeli human-rights lawyer who works in the West Bank and accompanied Desmond Tutu to Bil’in, appearing in the U.S. press? Only in Haaretz. Though I’d sure be curious, apropos of Beinart’s mild apostasy, to know what her religious/Zionist identity is today…

she was born in Boston, the only child of Jewish parents, second-generation immigrants from Europe. Her mother worked for an insurance company, her father is a radiologist. Her parents divorced when she was four. “I grew up with my mother,” she says. “Mom is a strong person. I learned from her that women can do whatever they want. She came to our class to convince the girls that they didn’t have to be either teachers or dancers. She told us we could aspire to anything, and that stayed with me. She wasn’t radical, but critical. I learned from her that you needn’t accept what you’re told as self-evident, that one can resist the authorities.”
Schaefer attended public school, but always felt at home when she took part in activities of the Reform movement. “My parents sent me there when I was five. I went once a week after school, and later twice a week. In the movement we had lessons about Judaism and about Israel, in a very lighthearted way. Once we made a map of Israel out of ice cream and marked the cities with colorful M&M candies. It was Zionism-lite. At that time I also went to synagogue.”
In high school she got more involved in the Reform youth movement North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY ), and during her last summer in school she was appointed group president. “I planned activities for 200 members and also organized prayers,” says Schaefer. “I think that at the time I was searching for an identity, for a sense of belonging, and the movement gave me that.” The Reform movement altered the course of her life. “After it didn’t work out for me to go on a summer vacation to France, I decided to go with some friends from the movement to Israel,” she says. “I was 15 and I convinced my parents that it was worth it for them to spend the money. I told them: ‘I feel like there’s a magnet pulling me to Israel.’ I don’t know where I came up with that.”

What’s Hebrew for ‘Sun City’?
Posted: 19 May 2010

Elvis Costello’s decision earlier this week to cancel his shows in Israel was notable for several reasons, but perhaps most of all for his public statement announcing it. Most artists are not taking that step yet, but that doesn’t mean that the boycott isn’t spreading. Here is an interesting tidbit from a Forward article on Costello and the growing movement:

In reaction, a music industry insider confirmed that the winds could be shifting. The music executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity in light of his ongoing business ties with artists, said that in recent months he had approached more than 15 performing artists with proposals to give concerts in Israel. None had agreed. The contracts offered high levels of compensation. He called them “extreme, big numbers that could match any other gig.”

When it comes to war with Iran, says Perle, Netanyahu outranks American generals
Posted: 19 May 2010

What’s the smoothest path to get the United States into a war with Iran— the nightmare scenario for most people in the military and foreign policy establishment? Iraq war impresario Richard Perle gave an answer while on a panel at the Nixon Center early this week.
Perle was debating Flynt Leverett, and devoting most of his effort to debunk Leverett’s argument that a productive deal could be worked out with the current Teheran government, as useful and strategically necessary as Nixon’s opening to China. But Perle’s main focus is “regime change”—doing to Teheran what we did to Baghdad. 
Perle talked much about sanctions. But honestly, it’s hard to conceive that “biting sanctions” backed by no other powers in the world besides Israel and the United States Congress would have much chance of fomenting “regime change” in Tehran. So the real option is military. Perle can’t count on a single American general to talk this up as a desirable idea. But here’s the trick: Israel can get the ball in motion. A former ambassador asked Perle what the United States could do if we became convinced that Israel was about to launch an attack on Iran.
His answer is revealing: “I would hope that if we became persuaded that the Israelis were about to act, whatever we thought of the wisdom of that action, we would consider that the worst of all possible outcomes would be a failed Israeli action. And we would therefore do what we could to see that it didn’t fail. You can change policy very quickly. . . you did not want it to happen, but now it’s gonna happen and suddenly you recalibrate. At least I hope you recalibrate and in the event we might reconsider whether our opposition, carried forward, is helpful or harmful.”
You have to respect Perle for making this all sound wonkish and practical. But it really is kind of breathtaking. The United States should abrogate its own powers of decision-making in an area with tremendous implications for its own physical and economic security and cede them to the current government of Israel—a far right government which includes fascist ministers in key posts. Failure to do so— behaving like Eisenhower for example and telling the Israelis to get the hell out of Suez or their allowance would be cut off– would be “the worst of all possible outcomes.”
Perle is more or less mouthing the lines of Professor Groeteschele in the movie Fail-Safe: “our morals would never have permitted us to launch a first strike, but now that one is in motion, we must take advantage and launch a full scale attack.” But in this case, Bibi Netanhayu gets to play the role of the electronic malfunction that gave the mistaken first strike orders to a bomber command and decide for himself whether to plunge the United States into war. Why? Well of course because “the worst of all outcomes” would be an Israeli attack which doesn’t achieve its goals!

Anti-establishment fever? Not on Israel.
Posted: 19 May 2010

The narrative of yesterday’s primaries was that both Democratic and Republican incumbents are going to be in trouble this November and that anti-establishment candidates are favored.
Representative Joe Sestak ended Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter’s political career, Democrat Bill Halter forced Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff, and the Tea Party candidate Rand Paul won in Kentucky’s Republican primary.
But the primaries also demonstrate the Israel lobby’s continued power, and the continuation of politicians being elected who are progressive except for Palestine. In that sense, the Israel lobby, a part of the Washington establishment, still won.
The Pennsylvania Democratic primary is the perfect example: on major issues like health care and labor, Sestak ran to the left of Specter. Sestak has been criticized by right-wingers for speaking at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in 2007, and for signing a January 2010 letter that criticized the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Specter has been a stalwart supporter of Israel, raking in a lot of campaign donations from pro-Israel contributors.
But Sestak, as Jeffrey Blankfort points out today in Counterpunch, has toed the AIPAC line on Israel during the campaign. There’s no mention of his signature on the letter criticizing Israel’s blockade on Sestak’s website. Instead, there are the usual platitudes about supporting Israel’s “right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza,” and the promise that he will continue to “provide robust military aid to Israel in the years to come.”
Here’s Blankfort:

Readers who are already celebrating the long overdue departure of Arlen Specter from the the US Senate should be advised, to borrow a phrase from noted plagiarizer, Joe Biden, that there was “no space between” the foreign policy positions of long-time Pennsylvania Senator and the ex-Navy admiral, Rep. Joe Sestak who defeated him in Tuesday night’s primary balloting.
Based on the interviews that Specter and Sestak, gave to the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, last week, their support of Israel is no less ardent than that of, at minimum, three quarters of both the Senate and the House, while with regard to Iran, the retired admiral takes even a harder line than did the grizzled former Republican.

Rand Paul, the son of libertarian Ron Paul, who is a strong critic of Israel, has not followed in his father’s footsteps.  In a position paper on Israel, Rand Paul doesn’t deviate from the Washington establishment consensus on Israel/Palestine.  
Paul and Sestak may have run as outsiders on some issues, but they didn’t touch the third rail in American politics of never criticizing Israel. 

Which side are you on? Which side were you on?
Posted: 19 May 2010

littlerockAbove, Jerusalem 2010, photo by Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images, from the Wall Street Journal.
Below, Little Rock Central High School, 1957



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