A conversation about the Warsaw Ghetto

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

Norman Finkelstein and I have argued in emails about awful stuff Hamas did or didn’t do during the ’08-09 war. I say they used human shields, Finkelstein says there’s no confirmation of this in the human-rights reports. I say he’s naive and literal. He says, Show me the evidence. Though yes, he says, the reports show that they carried out revenge killings of collaborators. 

Last week Finkelstein and I had a meal with a third friend and Finkelstein told some stories about his mother and father in the Warsaw Ghetto. I’d known that his parents were concentration camp survivors, I didn’t know they were in the Warsaw Ghetto.  I said, How do you feel when I say that Gaza reminds me of what I learned about the Warsaw Ghetto as a boy?

Finkelstein said, I don’t really have a problem with it. My mother never said, “Do not compare.” She always told about her experience not to keep it hers, but to embrace others with her suffering. She didn’t see it as the unique property of the Jews.

That said, Finkelstein went on, I don’t know that you have to compare Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. It is its own situation, and its own horror. Why not talk about each thing in its own right?

Someone asked how Finkelstein had discovered his parents’ experience, and he said it was when he was 8 and 9. The Holocaust was being explored in popular works, and his mother brought them home in the stack of books she got every week from the library in Brooklyn. Leon Uris’s Mila-18, John Hersey’s The Wall.

Finkelstein looked up in shock from the books to his prim mother, not believing she had been in such a place.

He related some of the stories. People dug catacombs to hide in with their bare hands. No one had implements. There were bodies littering the streets, and no one had anything to eat. Anyone who had a gun used it. The Jewish police were the worst collaborators. Some brought the Nazis to their own parents. When the head of the Jewish police was killed by the Jewish resistance, a sign was put next to him: “He lived like a dog, he died like a dog.”

It is for this reason, Finkelstein said, that when I hear stories about desperate or vicious behavior in Gaza, I am loath to judge the resistance. 

And he gave me a look.

[I would urge all readers to read the first chapter of Finkelstein’s own memoir, Haunted House]

Christian Zionists were the sine qua non of the creation of Israel

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

Re your claim that evangelical Christians were not important in the history of US support for Israel, here’s a key passage from the new book by Geoffrey Wawro:

Truman, a staunch supporter of Zionism as a senator, as president, saw the matter simply: there were five million Jews in the United State and most of them voted.  Moreover, settling the uprooted Jews of Europe in Palestine was politically popular in the United States among all classes and religions. … Americans predictably sided with the Zionists on humanitarian grounds. 

Americans felt natural sympathy for Jewish victims of the Holocaust and were influenced by well-wrought Zionist propaganda … as well as by the sermons of Protestant ministers, who found all the justification needed for the Jewish national home in the books of Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. (91-92)
I understand that one of your natural concerns is to try to convert your own people, people you identify with, just as I’m largely concerned to influence Catholics when I write for my blog or email with family/friends.  Nevertheless, I think you do need to be careful not to underestimate the strength of theological factors.

And no doubt you may feel your most effective approach is not to get into theological wrangles for which you feel temperamentally disinclined and perhaps ill qualified.  However, Jewish nationalism is a complex animal, one that unquestionably has a theological component of sorts, so when you urge Roger Cohen to get involved in that area it’s almost impossible for him to do so convincingly without addressing religious issues–from the standpoint of historicity, etc. 

I think you’ve done a good job of trying to broaden the appeal of your web site.  I think of my very liberal Methodist sister in law.  People like her are reflexively favorable to Israel and inclined to feel that criticism of Israel reeks of anti-Semitism.  They need to be educated to the justice issues involved with Zionism–something they would ordinarily never look at in any depth at all–and you’re doing that educating. 

BTW, I thought the WaPo coverage of Emily Henochowicz was possibly groundbreaking, the type of article that would really get through to people who might not ordinarily give these issues much thought.
My contention is that, while Zionist propaganda and Jewish political contributions were unquestionably a significant factor in US support for a state of Israel, the theological predisposition in favor of Zionism was not only another major factor in such support but was probably–and still remains–a sine qua non for such support. 

 IOW, the Zionist seed fell on fertile ground and, had it not, it might have yielded no fruit.  That theological predisposition–and not just Holocaust guilt/sympathy–is also what makes the charge of anti-Semitism so potent in American public life.  Wawro also notes (25) that Balfour (he of the eponymous declaration) was “a classic Christian Zionist,” so this was a factor pretty much from the get go.  Now it’s true that Wawro imputes a type of hypocrisy to these Christian Zionists, but I think he’s missing the point with that sniping. 

 The point is that Christian Zionism has always provided an almost teflon like cover for accepting vast amounts of political contributions from Jewish donors–to criticize a political opponent for taking contributions from folks who support Israel opens one up to charges of anti-Semitism that resonate deeply not only among Jews but among many, many Christians as well as ordinary liberals (in the broadest sense). 

 I repeat my contention that this theological predisposition remains strong and until it is effectively challenged will remain a huge factor in support for Zionism.
So Goldman/Spengler makes an important point.  Among Catholics, Zionism is more controversial.  Support for Neoconservatism is fairly widespread among white pew sitters who have been increasingly influenced by Evangelicals, but support is more mixed in the hierarchy because Zionism doesn’t have the theological pull for Catholics. 

I assume this is why Spengler has made Catholics a special target for his writings: Evangelicals are already largely on board with Zionism to varying degrees, but Catholics are a large and, as yet, relatively untapped demographic.  That’s probably partly because Catholic fund raising is a much more centralized affair than is fund raising among Protestants (esp. Evangelicals).

The moral authority of non-violence

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

A response to the debate on this site over the question of non-violent protest, following from the Gaza flotilla raid.

For Gandhi and for King non-violence was a principle. Tactics such as the refusal to budge from a position where one has a right to be, may grow out of the principle but are not to be confused with it. The principle starts from a discovery of a violence one recognizes as evil in oneself, and a rejection of that evil. What follows is the writing-large of the rejection as resistance to the evil that comes from oppression by others.

One resists the violence within from the same discovery of justice that impels the resistance to the violence without. Both Gandhi and King emphasized the difficulty of the discovery. Both took care that their protest movements should on occasion go back to perform again acts of protest that had been corrupted by bursts of violence within the movement.

Both made clear their disapproval of parallel movements that opposed the same evils they opposed (segregation, imperial subordination) but did so by violent means. There was no reason for them to do these things except the firm belief in non-violent resistance as a moral principle.

Non-violent action is meant to be visible and exemplary, in contrast with the violent action of the oppressor, which is shameful and always partly hidden. One shows one’s commitment by a practice that requires enormous strength of self-discipline, a practice that may in consequence elicit wonder and provoke thought. Mass acts of non-violent resistance may cause a state power to remit its use of violence.

At the far reach of persuasion, they may cause the state power to surrender control. But there will always be reasons for this besides awakened conscience. The power, for example, may desire the approval of other powers which have their own motives for siding with the protest. Or, the state may in some way need the cooperation of those whom it rules by coercion; when, therefore, its method of governing proves bankrupt, it gives up domination in exchange for the lifting of the protest.

Every regime of domination carries with it an agreeable story to cover the brutality of the facts. In British India the story was that the British only governed by the voluntary acceptance of the people of India, and they would leave on the day the people of India made it clear that they did not consent to imperial rule.

Mass non-violent resistance did make the rejection of imperial rule transparently clear, without any possibility of confusion. Again, in the American South, the story was that segregation was a “way of life” that blacks and whites alike were happy with, and the trouble only came from “agitators.”

Mass non-violent resistance proved the explanation to be a fable. In Israel today, the story is that the blockade and the occupation are necessary because without them the Palestinians would subject Israel to an ungoverned series of terrorist attacks. Does terrorism or non-violent resistance seem a likelier method for disproving that assumption?

Both Gandhi and King searched these questions very deeply. Their writings are widely available. There is no excuse for attributing to them views which they argued against explicitly and with great cogency. As for the relativist idea that all who recognize an evil may freely choose their favorite tactic without judging among the tactics by any standard but success, such a resolution begs two questions at once.

For to use non-violence opportunistically nullifies the distinction of the protester; the state power itself does not use violence day and night but only opportunistically. And the moral authority of non-violence was always based on a definition of success that differed from that of sheer power. The end you seek, the state you intend to build, is already indicated and has begun to be constituted by the means you employ to get there. A state arrived at by means of terror has already set up a definition of success that will affect its future conduct and character.

Postscript: Three passages from Gandhi
1. Let us first take the argument that we are justified in gaining our end by
using brute-force because the English gained theirs by using similar means. It
is perfectly true that they used brute-force and that it is possible for us to
do likewise, but by using similar means we can get only the same thing that
they got. You will admit that we do not want that.
                                                    –Hind Swaraj, 1909
2. Such being the hold that the doctrine of the sword has on the majority of
mankind, and as success of non-co-operation depends principally on absence of
violence during its pendency and as my views in this matter affect the conduct
of a large number of people, I am anxious to state them as clearly as possible.
I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I
would advise violence. Thus when my eldest son asked me what he should have
done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether
he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his
physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him
that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence. Hence it was that I
took part in the Boer War, the so-called Zulu rebellion and the late War. Hence
also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of
violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her
honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless
witness to her own dishonour.
  But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence,
forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a soldier. But
abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is
meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature. A mouse
hardly forgives a cat when it allows itself to be torn to pieces by her. I,
therefore, appreciate the sentiment of those who cry out for the condign
punishment of General Dyer and his ilk. They would tear him to pieces if they
could. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I do not believe myself to be
a helpless creature. Only I want to use India’s and my strength for a better
purpose. Let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical
capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
                                  –The Doctrine of the Sword, 11 August 1920
3.  The German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The
tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone. And he is doing
it with religious zeal. For he is propounding a new religion of exclusive and
militant nationalism in the name of which mass inhumanity becomes an act of
humanity to be rewarded here and hereafter. The crime of an obviously mad but
intrepid youth is being visited upon his whole race with unbelievable ferocity.
If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war
against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be
completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. . . .
  Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when
it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as
humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it
looks in its nakedness.
  Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way
to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and
forlorn? I submit there is. . . .If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and
earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the
tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the
dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating
treatment. And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me
in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound
to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription
here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now.
                                –Zionism and Anti-Semitism, 26 November 1938

Palestinian Gandhi finds, No mitzvah goes unpunished

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

The Globe and Mail does what our media still seem incapable of– going after the story, in this case the Palestinian member of Knesset, Hanin Zoaby, 41, who has become the most hated person in Israel because she went on the flotilla. Fascinating profile, with hints of the emerging democracy movement that is likely in months to come to flood that country, and the world…

Accused of treason for supporting the Free-Gaza movement, forbidden by the courts to leave the country for 45 days, Ms. Zoaby was attacked, physically, when she spoke in the Knesset last week to explain her decision to join the flotilla of ships hoping to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. She said she viewed her action on behalf of 1.5 million “prisoners” in Gaza as a kind of “mitzvah,” a Hebrew term for a religious good deed. The reference only made her Jewish assailants angrier…

Ms. Zoaby explains the contempt for her as a reaction to the world criticism Israel is experiencing, similar to the backlash against Arab Israelis that followed criticism in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

“I embarrassed them,” she said, referring to Israelis. “I was an easy target for their revenge.”

Would she do it again, would she go on another flotilla? In a heartbeat, she says.

“I was appalled by the Israeli behaviour” on board the ship, she said. “I didn’t expect such violence.”

(Ms. Zoaby is credited by passengers with convincing the Israeli commandos – in her good Hebrew and tenacious style – with getting long-delayed medical treatment for the wounded.) What if doing it again meant losing her citizenship? “Yes,” she said determinedly. “It would just show that what they call citizenship is really just membership in the Zionist movement. It’s not real citizenship.”

“I want to be a full Israeli citizen,” Ms. Zuabi said at the time she was sworn into the Knesset last year, “but it must not come at the expense of my people’s collective rights to an identity and a past.”

Let’s get the facts straight on Hamas

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and five NY Congressional representatives have called a press conference for this morning to press the State Dept. “to investigate any and all passengers on the Mavi Marmara and other ships from Turkey’s IHH flotilla who apply for visas to enter the United States.” 

Part of their demand is for the State Dept. to investigate whether visa applicants who were on the Turkish ship intended “to fund or to give things of value to support terrorist activity or a terrorist organization, namely Hamas.” 

This demand follows recent statements on Hamas from the likes of Senator Charles Schumer and other public figures that reflect the Israeli line and have been left unchallenged. While progressives have criticized Schumer’s deplorable “strangling” argument in favor of the collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans,  there has been little analysis of Hamas’s goals.

The standard line is that Hamas is a “terrorist” organization “committed to Israel’s destruction.” 

Schumer said, “when there’s total war against Israel, which Hamas wages, [the Palestinians are] going to get nowhere.”

There are lots of legitimate criticisms of Hamas to be made, for instance of their policy of executing “collaborators” and destroying Palestinian homes that they say were built on public land. But repeating the standard line that Hamas rejects peace and is opposed to a two-state solution is simply not a legitimate criticism when you look at the factual record. 

Hamas is not waging “total war” against Israel. Before the Gaza massacres of 2008-09, “Hamas was ‘careful to maintain the ceasefire’ it entered into with Israel in June 2008, according to an official Israeli publication, despite Israel’s reneging on the crucial component of the truce that it ease the economic siege of Gaza,” as Norman Finkelstein has written.

After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in January 2009, leaving Gaza in ruins, Hamas still didn’t wage “total war” against Israel. Rockets have sporadically been fired into Israeli territory since then, but they have been claimed by other groups within Gaza and have killed one person, a Thai foreign worker. Israel, on the other hand, has continued its policy of “total war” against Palestine by continuing to impose a crippling blockade on Gaza, destroying civilian infrastructure as a response to rocket fire and killing civilians in Gaza.

As for the claim that Hamas rejects the two-state solution, that also doesn’t bear scrutiny. We don’t have to look very far to come to the conclusion that Hamas is willing to make a settlement with Israel based on the principles of international law and United Nations resolutions.  Likud, on the other hand, does reject a Palestinian state.

Charlie Rose recently interviewed Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas’ political bureau. An excerpt:

KHALED MESHAAL: So when the occupation comes to an end, the resistance will end. As simple as that. If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, so that will be the end of the Palestinian resistance.

CHARLIE ROSE: You are saying if the Israelis withdraw to the ‘67 borders, give or take this place or that place, right of return, Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, what else?

KHALED MESHAAL: If Israel withdraws to the borders of 1967, and from East Jerusalem, that will become the capital of the Palestinian state with the right of self — with the right of return for the refugees and with a Palestinian state with real sovereignty on the land and on the borders and on the checkpoints.

Then we — the Palestinian state will decide the future of the relationship with Israel. And we will respect the decision that will reflect the viewpoint of the majority of the Palestinian people both inside and outside Palestine.

Does that sound like “total war” against Israel?

Tortured Egypt

Posted: 14 Jun 2010

Hosni Mubarak has struggled for years to secure the reputation for being the most loathsome of the Arab tyrants. He imprisoned dissidents, murdered rivals, and tortured activists so effectively and with so much zeal that even George W. Bush sought his services (and until it’s demonstrated otherwise, I will assume Barack Obama has, too).

It is no wonder then that the Egyptian police beat 28-year-old Khaled Said to death in the streets of Alexandria on Sunday, June 13th. According to a source, authorities claimed Said died “because of an overdose of weed.”  Said was reportedly filming Egyptian police engaging in a drug deal (video here).  Observers are speculating that Said’s video is the reason he was targeted by the police.   

The Egyptian police know fully that they operate with impunity while projecting an aura of official sanction. An impromptu protest was called by human rights activists in Cairo and was met by heavy-handed riot police intervention. Several prominent activists were detained and later released.

Egyptian-German activist and film maker Philip Rizk, who was kidnapped by the Mubarak authorities while protesting the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre, has kept a chronicle of events at his blog Tabula Gaza.

Separately, the Egyptian authorities prevented 400 activists from entering Gaza despite claiming that the Egyptian siege has been lifted.

According to one source, “There was a relative big demo against torture… Three hundred people gathered today in front of the ministry of interior. Many activists were kidnapped… but later released… I was in [Egyptian] Rafah Friday and Saturday with an Egyptian aid convoy. We were refused entry and did a 24 hour sit-in in front of the border…”

My brother-in-law was going to pray when he was killed

Posted: 13 Jun 2010

We received a note from “the Jilani family” responding to Adam’s post yesterday on the killing of Ziad Jilani, a 41-year-old tradesman and father, on Friday night:

I am writing to you on behalf of my nieces, the daughters of Ziad Jilani, who was killed by Israeli police/military yesterday June 11th in Jerusalem. Until the witnesses are polled and the correct information is gathered, I hope that more people question what happened and that Ziad did not die in vain. I do not have the truth at this time either, as there is mass speculation as to what truly occurred, but when the photos and videos of what truly happened do come to the surface, it will turn the AP report that has been reprinted globally – without knowing the facts – into gossip and speculation. .

For the memory of my brother-in-law, I will say this: he was not trying to injure anyone with his vehicle. He was going to pray; one of the rights that we hold so dear as an American but yet seem to have turned a blind eye to the rights that the under-45 male, Islamic community in Jerusalem have now lost. He was a great father of my three beautiful and loving nieces and an amazing husband to my sister, Moira Reynolds-Jilani – an American born in the island of Barbados who has lived in Israel since 1993. He was college-educated, a humanitarian to all who he knew, and a person who prayed for a better world for his children. He was looking forward to taking his girls to dinner Friday night – instead he was buried.

In the second it took the soldier to shoot the last bullets – in the back and face of an unarmed man – he forever altered the life of my sister and her daughters. Let the blood on his hands never wash away and may God have mercy on his soul and all that participated and did nothing while my brother in law lay bleeding and saw the gun put to his face and the last trigger pulled.
What world is this? More importantly I challenge everyone who reads this to say ‘NO MORE’.

‘LA Times’ runs two incisive pieces on the conflict

Posted: 13 Jun 2010

 I’ve continually asked for one thing: journalism about the occupation of Palestine that rivals journalism about other outrages. The LA Times has delivered. Read Edmund Sanders’s first few paragraphs from Gaza:

Don’t ask Hatem Hajaj whether there’s a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Four months ago, the unemployed salesclerk’s son was born with a heart blockage. Doctors told Hajaj that the baby’s only hope was transfer to a Jerusalem hospital because Gaza lacked a pediatric surgery unit.
While his son, Mohamed, fought to breathe on a ventilator, Hajaj spent a week gathering the transfer documents needed under Israel’s strict border rules. Then there was another agonizing week, watching as his son’s tiny body began to bloat as he waited for an answer.

Approval finally came — two days after Mohamed died.
“Why should it take so long for a days-old innocent baby with such a serious problem?” asked Hajaj, 37, in his Gaza City home, clutching the medical records and authorization form that came too late.

How much more information do our politicians and citizens need to know that the U.S. is underwriting persecution? And the same day, here is an Op-ed by Saree Makdisi attacking the defenestration of Helen Thomas, and linking it to the real problem, racism:

If, however, it is unacceptable to say that Israeli Jews don’t belong in Palestine, it is also unacceptable to say that the Palestinians don’t belong on their own land.
Yet that is said all the time in the United States, without sparking the kind of moral outrage generated by Thomas’ remark. And while the nation’s editorialists worry about the offense she may have caused to Jews, no one seems particularly bothered by the offense felt every day by Palestinians when people — including those with far more power than Thomas — dismiss their rights, degrade their humanity and reject their claims to the most elementary forms of decency.
Are we seriously to accept the idea that some people have more rights than others? Or that some people’s sensibilities should be respected while others’ are trampled with total indifference, if not outright contempt?..

To accept this appalling hypocrisy is to be complicit in the racism of our age.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *