To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tell It To The Marines: David Brooks Has A Son In The Israeli Military But Won't Disclose Or Explain It To His NYT Readers

Josh Brooks, front and center

We live in a culture which largely rejects the harsh generational vengeance of the Old Testament. Most of us don’t think the sins of the father should not be visited on the son, nor those of the son on the father.

This is one reason why there hasn’t been too much of a fuss about David Brooks’ recent announcement ---during an interview with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival in July, and again in two interviews with the Israeli publication Haaretz in September ---that his 23 year-old son Josh has enlisted in the Israeli military. Although Brooks was a little journalistically imprecise about exactly when the son took the Israeli military oath, it would seem that he did so around the time that the Israel Defense Forces began its latest operations in Gaza at the beginning of the summer.

Brooks did acknowledge that the enlistment made him nervous. “Every Israeli parent understands the circumstance, and that it is worrying,” he told Haaretz. But, Brooks told the crowd at Aspen that his son “believed in the cause,” “believed in serving Israel,” and “knew he needed one hard thing to complete his trip to full adulthood.” Children “should take risks as they get out of college and university,” Brooks explained.

They should expand their expectation of risk, and I do think they should do something hard – and military service is hard. And they should do something outside themselves. I think that service defines all those three things, and I can’t very well advise that to other people if I don’t think my own family should do it.

At Aspen, he couched his acceptance in personal terms as a father, saying that he “appreciated the wisdom he (his son) had about himself.”  In the second Haaretz interview however, Brooks affirmed the choice in decidedly political terms, saying that after the Gaza war “I’m more convinced that it’s the right thing to do.”   

Still, for those not paralyzed by the reigning spirit of nonjudgmentalism, or intimidated by the anti Semitism some of Brooks’ media buddies have charged stands behind any curiosity about the son’s IDF service, there are some issues that the son’s enlistment raises, as does his father’s affirmation of his son’s decision. The political and cultural context in which the decision and the parental endorsement was made and received is also something to note.

There’s the journalistic issue of “full disclosure” that the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan scolded Brooks for not respecting in a recent blog post.  Responding to some unusually angry letters from readers, which she quoted from one of which called the son a “ foreign mercenary,” Sullivan wrote that

I don’t think readers usually need to know what the spouses of columnists think or what brothers do for a living, or whether a daughter has joined the U.S. Army. But this situation strikes me as a more extreme case. Mr. Brooks’s son is serving as a member of a foreign military force that has been involved in a serious international conflict – one that the columnist sometimes writes about and which has been very much in the news.

Sullivan said she “strongly” disagreed with those who say Mr. Brooks should no longer write about Israel.”

But I do think that a one-time acknowledgement of this situation in print (not in an interview with another publication) is completely reasonable. This information is germane; and readers deserve to learn about it in the same place that his columns appear.

This of something however, Brooks has not yet done.     

Josh Brooks’ enlistment also raises some interesting sociological issues that Brooks himself---never one to ignore an interesting sociological trend---might profitably examine.

The enlistment could serve as a peg to look at the recent increase in the numbers of American Jews like his son who have made the decision to join the IDF, especially against the backdrop of the significant underrepresentation of American Jews in the US military which the American Jewish community itself sees as a source of some concern. It’s also a way of discussing the greater role that Israel plays in the formation of American Jewish identity in this generation as opposed to earlier generations who were more concerned with American assimilation and acceptance. In fact, for many in the American pro Israel community, Israel is not as much a foreign country anymore as it is an American adjunct--the 51st State--- with the two nations’ political cultures “co-mingled” by dint of their mutual exceptionalism and “shared values.” Serving Uncle Shmuel is the same as serving Uncle Sam.  

The fact that when Brooks first made the announcement of his son’s Israeli service  at Aspen it generated almost no discussion in the media is significant too. On the video of the session you can hear the audience react quite audibly: Not quite a gasp, but definitely more than a murmur, with approval and disapproval seeming to rise in equal parts.   

Yet none of the many journalistic and media figures in attendance noted it in any of their subsequent coverage. This muted response suggests:

1) Anxiety among the non-Jewish members in the audience about being accused of anti Semitism for even sensing that Brooks’ disclosure had significance .

2) Ethnic defensiveness ---or ethnocentric myopia---on the part of some in the audience, the new Atlantic of David Bradley, which co-sponsored the event and managed the guest list, being far from the WASPy bastion the magazine was in the past;

3) A kind of post patriotic, post national sensibility that regards questions of “allegiance to country” as kind of quaint, and dual citizenship the “new normal,” or

4) A combination of all three.  

As the Times faces yet another transparency-related case involving a family member serving in the IDF (Isabel Kershner, an Israeli citizen who is a contract reporter in the Jerusalem bureau has a son who is currently doing his mandatory national service ) the issue is catching up with Brooks, however, and not only at the Times. PBS and NPR, the networks where Brooks comments regularly on a wide variety of subjects, the war in Gaza this summer being one of them have also felt heat, with PBS's ombudsman, Michael Getler responding quite vigorously and NPR's Edward Schumacher-Matos basically refusing to take the issue seriously.  But the interests of Brooks readers, listeners and viewers would have been far better ---and sooner--- served if his disclosure and conflict of interest issues were raised two and half months before the Times Public Editor kicked into gear.  

Finally, there is the issue of Brooks’ asking his readers to “do as I say but not as I, or mine, actually do.” 

Indeed no one in Brooks’ league has written more ---and more fulsomely, as if channeling Teddy Roosevelt himself--- about American exceptionalism, American patriotism, the awesomeness of the “John Waynes and Jane Addamses” of the American military, the obligations of American citizenship or the crisis of the American leadership elite than Brooks himself. No one has more lamented the loss of “national cohesion” and “national solidarity” ---and about a fragmented America held together by “a tenuous common culture” which is badly in need of some form of mandatory "national service" to encourage civic virtue and “loyalties larger than tribe and self.”  

If it’s not hypocrisy per se, I’m left with the feeling that either Brooks has been trying to sell a bill of goods that even his own family isn’t buying--- or that the things he wants to rest of society to embrace are somehow different than the ones he allows for his own kith and kin. In fact, he’s preaching for a renewal of American patriotism and “a code of public spiritness,” even as he affirms an ethnocentricity which is at odds with specifically American interests and which he exhorts others to transcend.  

I don’t want to make too much out of one young man’s decision and a father’s acceptance of it.  Serving in a foreign army is legal, as one of Brooks’ colleagues in the Times’ Washington bureau reminded me, adding that “ there are a lot of dual citizens out there besides those with an Israeli passport.” But it seems to stand as some kind of socio-cultural  marker.

A member in good standing of our national leadership elite, who often scolds his peers in the idiom of American patriotism and public spiritedness, is not only personally accepting of his son’s decision to join another nation’s military but is also politically supportive of it----and doesn’t see the need to acknowledge that decision in the appropriate manner. If you were tracking the history of elite disconnection in America, there are many threshold events and episodes to examine. This seems to be one, highlighting one of the many understandings that once defined relations between the leadership elite and the rest of America which no longer have the traction they once had.  

In fairness to the complexities and sensitivities involved in the matter, however, I asked Brooks to have a look at some questions I sent him, which follow below. So far, Brooks has not replied. When I spoke to his assistant on Friday afternoon, she told me he was busy with NPR and unavailable.


* Is it journalistic valid to ask that you make the disclosure of your son Josh’s IDF enlistment directly to your readers in your Times column itself, as Margaret Sullivan has advised, or is this request a form of “naked anti Semitism,” as Commentary’s John Podheretz fumed at one of his twitter followers?

* What was Josh’s date of enlistment? Was he in the process of “joining the IDF” when you said so at Aspen on July 1 or was he already in at that point? If he was already in pre Gaza, where was he stationed during the military operations? (NB: There’s a bit of discrepancy bw the phrasing at Aspen and the Haartez interview leaving me unsure if he was in during Gaza or not.)

* In early June, when you endorsed Obama’s decision to make a deal for Bowe Bergdahl, you cited Israel’s deals with Hamas and Hezbollah for Israeli military hostages. In hindsight, it seems like your son’s impending enlistment ---or this thinking about enlistment it--- might have been on your mind. Why didn’t you note it at that point?

* It’s unclear to me whether the act of enlisting in the Israeli military automatically confers Israeli citizenship. Is he an Israeli citizen now? If not, is he planning to become one?
Is yr wife an Israeli citizen? Planning on it?
Are you an Israeli citizen, or planning to become one? (NB: Sorry, I only ask this bc in the Haaretz interview you made a reference to what “every Israeli parent knows” about the dangers of IDF service and some who commented on the Public Editor’s blog seemed to think that meant this meant you were in fact an Israeli citizen. )

* In a December 2013 speech to Stand With Us/ LA, the WSJ’s Bret Stephens declared that Israel was “the defining moral issue” of the day. Is yr son’s IDF service in line w that understanding? You said at Aspen that “he believed in the cause,” and “believed in serving Israel.” What exactly is involved in “the cause” of Israel? Among some young American Jews, does serving in the IDF represent something akin to going off to fight with anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War?

* To join the armed forces of another nation is, among other things, a mark of dedication and passion. How did Josh become so dedicated? What kind of secondary school education did he have? Public or parochial? How did he become so devoted to the Zionist cause?

* In terms of sociological and cultural trends, is Israel becoming a touchstone for American Jewish identity that is different for some in your son’s generation than it was for you? Is your son’s service an example of the “reorthodoxy” you said in one 2012 column (A Nation Of Mutts) that certain third-generation ethnic minorities might find appealing?

* Another sociological trend: the increasing numbers of American Jews choosing to serve in the IDF against a backdrop of disproportionately low rates of service in the US military, as noted by the Forward and by the WSJ. (The Forward said that to many American Jews, “the IDF is the Jewish military.”) Some American Jews blame a legacy of anti Semitism in the American armed forces. What do you think? Was this a factor in Josh’s IDF enlistment?

* At Aspen you explained that yr son needed to do one hard thing “to complete his trip to full adulthood.” Why wouldn’t a hitch with the US Marines offer that same opportunity? And why did you use the language of the human potential movement instead of the vocabulary of “Duty, Honor, Country?”

* Some feel that serving in the IDF is as valid as serving in the American military---that the values being defended are “shared” and that there is a common enemy in the form of intolerant, anti democratic Islamism. Others see an act of cultural separatism, if not a problematic kind of dual loyalty (though different from the kind of dual loyalty of the Dreyfus Affair.) What’s yr take?

* Some critics, like Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss, have said that your sons’ service and your affirmation of it signal a “co-mingling” of American and Israeli political cultures that is inappropriate, another sign, among many, that the US-Israel “special relationship” is a bit too special and that many in the pro-Israel community here see Israel as the 51st state. Thoughts?

* You’ve said that Gaza confirmed that yr son was right to want to serve Israel. What specific to this summer’s Gaza operations made you agree with his decision more than before?

* What do you think of yr son serving in a military credibly accused of war crimes in Gaza, and of him defending a “Jewish state” which has become more racist, or at least “ethno nationalist” in character? How do you feel about him serving as part of an
occupation that is nearing its 50th year and is taking on characteristics of apartheid?

* You supported American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and have expressed support for American military intervention in the Middle East once again. And yet your son has elected to fight in another country’s military, which will not be fighting those kinds of wars, and you are OK with that. How do you square this?

* Over the years, your columns have warned of an American leadership elite that is disconnected from the rest of the America, the erosion of national solidarity and cohesion, and of a “tenuous common culture” as well as lack of social trust and ‘community.” Your columns have also extolled the “John Waynes and Jane Addamses” of the American military, made the case for some kind of mandatory national service and cheered for a restoration of national greatness through a revived form of American patriotism and the cultivation of civic virtue. I agree with yr diagnoses and with yr prescriptions. But I’m not seeing where service in a foreign military fits in to yr reform program, other than as a rejection of it. I mean, again, how do you square this circle, without resorting to ethnic exceptionalism?

I know, I know, Josh is an autonomous adult who makes his own decisions--the sins of the father/ sins of the son, blah, blah blah. But you have affirmed his decision quite unambiguously. What makes it OK for him to pursue the path of ethnic particularism and not for everyone else?

* Finally, you’ve celebrated Teddy Roosevelt quite ardently and in fact your critique and your program for reform reflects many of his core ideas. Roosevelt, if I recall, didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for ethnic hyphenation and was quite fanatical about a kind of American patriotism that was singular in focus. What do you think TR would think of Josh’s IDF service. Your affirmation of it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Daily War Crime: Drone Footage From Gaza Reveals Appalling Destruction---And A Pattern Of Indiscriminate, Disproportionate Shelling Of Civilian Areas


Trigger warning: This drone camera footage from the destroyed Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya is Very Disturbing, especially if you followed the military action as it unfolded. Mark Perry, who often writes for Foreign Policy, has a great piece at  Al Jazeera on the indiscriminate IDF shelling that obliterated Shejaiya on July 20, as observed by US military officers in the Pentagon who closely monitored the fighting in twice-daily classified reports. Perry reports that the Israeli artillery barrage left American military monitors “stunned” at its ferocity. The YouTube footage, which was featured on the BBC this morning, is what really brings it home---pounds it home is more like it. Think Berlin, 1945. Some of it actually looks like Dresden, or a videogame depiction of Planet Null.

The IDF is putting a lot of effort into addressing Palestinian war crimes charges with its internal legal advisors going into overdrive; Israeli political leaders and diplomats have been working tirelessly on other fronts, including the US Congress,  trying to block a formal UN inquiry and Palestinian efforts to present their case to the International Criminal Court.  This footage shows why Palestinians in Gaza have a lot to work with, and why Israel might be in for a unprecedentedly rough legal ride, especially with Palestinian human rights workers improving the reliability of their forensic evidence compared to prior Israeli operations in Gaza in 2009 and 2012. And from what Perry reports, Israel better hope that human rights investigators don’t get their hands on the Pentagon reports or any similar “logs” kept by the IDF.  

According to Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem who spoke at a New America event last week, answers to war crimes questions from Gaza “aren’t necessarily found in Gaza.” When I asked him if they were exploring the possibilities that there might be a Bradley Manning/ Edward Snowden scenario on the horizon wherein someone from inside the IDF might leak incriminating information, or, in the case of Pentagon, to allow a “sanctioned leak” of the information the US military has, El-Ad was coy, only saying “We’re exploring all options and scenarios.” I doubt the White House would order a “sanctioned leak” but you never know. There’s no real love lost between the CIA, the NSA or the DIA and Israel over Israel’s lack of reciprocity with those agencies and its continued spying on US targets, including Secretary of State John Kerry while on the ground in Israel during failed peace negotiations this spring.

I don’t like the idea of these kind of leaks, at least the Manning and Snowden actions where a single individual takes it on himself to make the decision to divulge state secrets. (I’ve since come around to a reluctant acceptance of Snowden’s actions, especially because he revealed that the Obama administration authorized a sharing agreement between the NSA and the Israelis in which metadata of US citizens and politicians would be given to Israel, with very little enforceable legal protection against violations of privacy and free speech.) Still, when you look at the utter destruction of a place like Shejaiya , you could see why someone in a position to bring those responsible for it to justice might be tempted to release information capable of doing that.

Watch the footage---and watch this space. A Manning /Snowden scenario, or an Israeli version of it, is fanciful at this point, but still...  

Monday, September 15, 2014

ISIS’s Decapitations Shouldn’t Make Us Lose Our Own Heads About Going To War Again In The Middle East

Times editors were too classy to work a decapitation reference into the headline it gave Tom Friedman’s column on Sunday, but that’s what anyone concerned about war fever raging in Washington right now could have used.  “Don’t just do something, sit there!” is one of those insipid 12 steps “slogans;" in the case of US military action v ISIS it’s wise counsel. 

Noting that Obama was "drummed into" pledging military action "by the sudden shift in public opinion after ISIS ghastly videotaped beheadings of two American journalists," Friedman says that whatever course of action Obama pursues, that plan can only end well “if we are extremely disciplined and tough-minded about how, when and for whom we use our power.” The ISIS challenge makes Iraq---the gnarly reality we met in that country only after we got there, not the neocon delusion that took us so naively into it--- look simple, with every variable in the equation raised to an exponential level of complexity.

Our staying power is ambiguous, our enemy is barbarous, our regional allies are duplicitous, our European allies are feckless and the Iraqis and Syrians we’re trying to help are fractious. There is not a straight shooter in the bunch.

Prudence and caution are certainly much merited. “Before we step up the bombing campaign on ISIS, it needs to be absolutely clear on whose behalf we are fighting,” Friedman advises, explaining that

ISIS did not emerge by accident and from nowhere. It is the hate-child of two civil wars in which the Sunni Muslims have been crushed. One is the vicious civil war in Syria in which the Iranian-backed Alawite-Shiite regime has killed roughly 200,000 people, many of them Sunni Muslims, with chemical weapons and barrel bombs. And the other is the Iraqi civil war in which the Iranian-backed Shiite government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki systematically stripped the Sunnis of Iraq of their power and resources.

Never forget, this is a two-front war: ISIS is the external enemy, and sectarianism and corruption in Iraq and Syria are the internal enemies. We can and should help degrade the first, but only if Iraqis and Syrians, Sunnis and Shiites, truly curtail the second. If our stepped-up bombing, in Iraq and Syria, gets ahead of their reconciliation, we will become the story and the target. And that is exactly what ISIS is waiting for.
This seems like sound analysis, informed by an understanding of ethnic and sectarian dynamics and by America’s sorry historical experience in making them part of our calculus.  But as much as the diagnosis seems strong, the prescription is a bit too soft focus, too “cultural,” a bit too enamoured of social media in the way that someone of a certain age trying to be “cutting edge” can often sound.
ISIS loses if our moderate Arab-Muslim partners can unite and make this a civil war within Islam — a civil war in which America is the air force for the Sunnis and Shiites of decency versus those of barbarism. ISIS wins if it can make this America’s war with Sunni Islam — a war where America is the Shiite/Alawite air force against Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. ISIS will use every bit of its Twitter/Facebook network to try to depict it as the latter, and draw more recruits.
We keep making this story about us, about Obama, about what we do. But it is not about us. It is about them and who they want to be. It’s about a pluralistic region that lacks pluralism and needs to learn how to coexist. It’s the 21st century. It’s about time.

However accurate and incisive we are in assessing what we’re getting into at the front end, the ISIS situation is the living definition of a “hot mess.” It’s protean, molten, shape-shifting, whatever word you want to use. And the conditions it is exploiting---failed states, sectarian rivalries, demographic crises --- represent a perfect storm. As this intervention progresses, the trick will be to constantly reexamine where we are and where the situation is at any given moment, and to avoid false narratives and analytic equations that fail to capture the complexity and power of a phenomenon that seems less a function of earthly politics and culture than something supernatural. 

It's hard not to hear echoes of Yeats’ Second Coming: The vast and troubling “image out of Spiritus Mundi” emerging from “a waste of desert sand... A shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun"… a “rough beast, its hour come round at last,” 
slouching “towards Bethlehem to be born”

And Baghdad. And Aleppo. And Damascus. And Beirut. And Jerusalem. To say nothing about New York and Washington.

ISIS surely epitomizes the worst “filled with a passionate intensity.” It makes Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, even the murderous 1979 "Guillotine Edition" of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, look mild. And even if the best do find the conviction needed to take the movement on, addressing every rip, snarl and surge of ISIS's “blood dimmed tide” will require an analytic clarity that has eluded us so far. Moving fast on our end could, as some argue, nip ISIS in the bud, whatever that bud might be given its fluid nature. But a fast strike, absent focused and targeted follow up, could also spin ISIS in a direction that might make it even more difficult to destroy downstream, if in fact that is even possible. The smart people on this, like Michael Tomasky, are advising us to be grown ups, accept a harsh truth, and settle for containment. 

Better to sit on our hands for a little while longer then before thrusting them into the “widening gyre.” No matter how furious and inflamed ISIS's beheadings may have made the American electorate, going in without a precise and coodinated plan A, and the flexibility that can help us shift to Plan B, Plan C and even Plan D if we need to, is the wrong way to start this next round. In the case of ISIS, timing isn't everything. The crucial factor here is sequencing---choreographing coordinated and complicated moves on multiple fronts. And getting that right will take considerable time to plan.


At Yesterday's Anti Semitism Rally In Berlin, Israeli Flags Might Have Sent A Message At Odds With The Rally’s Intent

Berliners At The Brandenburg Gate Wave Israeli Flags

I love a parade, especially one denouncing intolerance, thuggery and racial hate, but the visuals at Berlin's rally against anti Semitism in Berlin have me a bit confused. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech in which JFK's infamous line Ich Bin Ein Berliner could have been repurposed into Ich Bin Ein Juden as a statement of solidarity with European Jews who've become targets of rising anti Semitism across the continent triggered by Israeli actions in Gaza this summer. Indeed, one of the reasons for the rally was to draw the vital distinction between "European Jews" and "the Jewish State" as a way of standing against Jewish scapegoating. The sea of Israeli flags at the rally, however, seemed to have sent a message at odds with that aim, conflating Jewish Europeans with the State of Israel and in the process sending a signal of support for that state: Ich Bin Ein Israelisch.

One of the reasons for the dysfunction in the American and European discourse on Israel is the tendency to equate criticism of Israel, no matter how legitimate, with anti Semitism, which is basically a way of saying that "Jews = Israel." In fact this is not the case, as many diaspora Jews, and certainly many anti Zionist Jews, will insist.  Maybe someone needs to design a flag specifically to represent Jews as "a people," as opposed to having the Star of David flag of the Jewish State do double duty? Or a flag that simply, and specifically, stands for opposition to anti Semitism around the world? To hard-core anti Semites, this might be a matter of a "distinction without a difference." But it's a distinction that might actually make a difference in terms of the nuances that need to be established.   

Design proposals for new flags should be sent to:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oy! Gwyneth Converts!

Gwyneth Paltrow is converting to Judaism, Page Six reports. From the url I get the sense that the original headline was “Gwyneth Paltrow Is Becoming An Actual Jewish Princess” and that it got changed after a complaint from someone without a sense of newsroom humor. I’m wondering though whether ‘Jews Are The New WASPS,’ or ‘Shiksas Are The New Jews’ would be more fitting.

To anyone with a sense of sociology or history, the former is hardly news, even though current politically correct strictures (Yes, Jewish pc!) make this ascension to WASPdom difficult for anyone to write about in any depth.  Just remember the blowback Phil Weiss endured for his landmark 1996 New York magazine piece in which he said Jews had become the new American social and economic elite but that ethnic victimology discouraged an acknowledgement of this. Someone really should run with the Paltrow conversion news though and mine it for deeper meaning. Time was when American Jews aspiring to enhanced social status would convert to haute Protestantism, or marry into it. Now the trend is running in the opposite direction, with Paltrow only being the latest, and the prettiest, face of that new trend. Where is Nick Lemann, or a successor to the late Digby Baltzell, or any of the other chroniclers of the great American "Episcopacy" when you need them?

In the meantime however,  just a couple of on-the-fly observations:

*It’s reported, not by the Post but by the Times of Israel, that Paltrow’s conversion follows her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who is a Christian. Could the conversion be yet another example of Jewish-gentile goyimhass or just all-too-typical former spousal spite?

*It’s reported that Paltrow, whose acting career is in a bit of a slump, is now 42 years old. This is a very good age for her to try to grab some free publicity--- and to boost the hopes of any number of aging Hollywood executives who might be thinking of her as a “hot property” in their movie projects as much as in the second marriage market. In other words, it's a good career move.

*It’s also reported that Paltrow has long been interested in kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism and spiritual learning associated with celebrities like Madonna, along with certain high profile Jewish feminists. But kabbalah is as much about Madonna as it is Meir Kahane. In Israel, especially among Jewish fundamentalists in the settler movement, kabbalistic rabbis advance a highly tribalized reading of ancient scripture in which gentiles, especially Arabs, are seen in a second class, even dehumanized light as Amalek, the avatar of pure evil. 

At any rate, Paltrow’s past boasting that she comes from a long line of Eastern European rabbis is yet another sign of what I think could be called the "cult of being Jewish." Said cult has always been, I would argue, a big part of Jewish American identity, but is hitting a high water mark right now in the arts, film, publishing and media. The introduction that novelist Jonathan Safran Foer got in March at the 92nd Street Y before his live interview with historian Simon Schama was what originally got me thinking about the recent surge in this collective self regard. Foer, the Y introducer proclaimed to the audience, "had transformed our collective understanding of the modern American novel through the exploration of his Jewish identity."

Like any other form of ethnocentrism and cultural chauvinism, I find this cult both irritating and boorish, bristling with off-putting double standards and a lack of ethnic reciprocity. Given the incredible rise from the ashes that is a big part of the post-WW II Jewish communal story, however, I can understand the reasons behind the celebration. It is without doubt an astonishing comeback. But the collective self-congratualtion is verging on self-parody. I mean, there's a limit. The world in which a good, though still quite young, writer like Jonathan Safran Foer can be exalted like he was that night at the 92nd St Y is a narrow  one---and a narcissistic one too.  

The real problem is that this “cult of being Jewish” has become intertwined with what might be very accurately called "the cult of Israel.” It’s the latter which plays such a large role in the dysfunction in the US-Israel “special relationship”---and in the Zionist denial of basic historical fairness for Palestinians. As Hollywood ramps up to defend Israel from Gaza war crimes tribunals and from BDS, it would not surprise me if Paltrow follows ScarJo's defiant lead in standing up for the Jewish state. Could a remake of Masada be in the works, but with a different, maybe even a happy, ending?    

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The 'New Yorker' On Netanyahu's Duplicity, AIPAC's 'Dual Loyalty' And The Israel Lobby's Dangerous Hold On The US Congress

Connie Bruck’s reporting on the backlash against Israel and its primary American enabler, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a powerful indictment against the very “lobby” that New Yorker editor David Remnick himself scoffed at back in 2007 when Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer were launching the book version of their now-infamous treatise.  At the time, Remnick said that The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy was “a phenomenon of its moment,” implying that it was an act of scapegoating for “the duplicitous and manipulative arguments for invading Iraq put forward by the Bush Administration” as well as “the general inability of the press to upend those duplicities, the triumphalist illusions, the miserable performance of the military strategists, the arrogance of the Pentagon, the stifling of dissent within the military and the government, the moral disaster of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the rise of an intractable civil war, and now an incapacity to deal with the singular winner of the war, Iran.” All of which had left Americans “ furious and demanding explanations,” Remnick argued. He noted that Walt and Mearsheimer had been accused of anti Semitism, but did not make that direct accusation himself, though the suggestion was there. The timing of his disparagement was noteworthy. Coming just before the book's publication later that week it seemed kind of catty. Remnick obviously had an advance copy of the book.  Why didn't he just review the book itself, instead of writing a jaundiced, PW-style pre-publication notice, especially for a landmark effort that broke a long conspiracy of silence on Israel's corrupting influence in Washington and would go on to became a robust national bestseller?

Bruck’s piece does have a bit of the annoying ethnic insularity that marks the wider journalistic debate about the US-Israel "special relationship;” the subtitle of the digital version is “Are American Jews Turning Against AIPAC?” as if non-Jewish Americans are irrelevant. But the article does not shy from material that raises the issue of “dual loyalty” on the part of AIPAC operatives and their wealthy right-wing Jewish donors, which the accompanying artwork seems to echo.

John Yarmuth, a Jewish congressman from Louisville, Kentucky, told Bruck that “I think there is a growing sense among members that things are done just to placate AIPAC, and that AIPAC is not really working to advance what is in the interest of the United States. We all took an oath of office. And AIPAC, in many instances, is asking us to ignore it.” Another congressman, Brian Baird, ousted in 2011 after getting on AIPAC’s bad side, observed that “When key votes are cast, the question on the House floor, troublingly, is often not ‘What is the right thing to do for the United States of America?’ but ‘How is AIPAC going to score this?’ ” 

Fascinatingly---and irritatingly--- when Baird pressed AIPAC officials on this, he often sensed  a kind of subtle contempt for America itself, a variant of a larger syndrome that might be called goyimhass. “There is a disdain for the U.S., and a dismissal of any legitimacy of our right to question (Israel)—because who are we to talk about moral values? Whether it’s that we didn’t help early enough in the Holocaust, or look at what we did to our African-Americans, or our Native Americans—whatever! And they see us, members of Congress, as basically for sale. So they want us to shut up and play the game.” A former AIPAC official told Bruck that, historically speaking, the lobbying group had a rather grandiose vision that deluded them to think that  “if AIPAC had existed prior to the Second World War, America would have stopped Hitler.”

At the time the Israel Lobby came out, New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who reviewed the book for the New Republic, took authors Walt and Mearsheimer to task for an overreliance on secondary sources.  The two scholars were “dilettantes ” who wrote “about the lobbying activities of AIPAC and other Jewish lobbying and advocacy groups as if they had never set foot in the capital.” Goldberg was particularly disdainful that Walt and Mearsheimer admitted they did no independent reporting, in effect, not interviewing “a single member of Congress for their book about Congress.” In fact, if the book did have a weakness, this was it, although for Goldberg it was a more of a fig leaf for what were at bottom his own ideological objections and ethnic discomfort. Still, by relying on well-placed first hand sources, most speaking to her on the record, Bruck has immunized herself against this kind of criticism.  The result was the kind of “long, dispassionate, names-and-dates-and-quotes” story that the Atlantic’s Jim Fallows, who is no one’s idea of a Washington “tourist,” said marked “a positive step toward realistic discourse.”

It’s said, perhaps too simplistically, that America “lost” Vietnam when Walter Cronkite returned from there in February, 1968 and expressed doubts about the war on the air. The fact that Remnick gave a green light to this piece may not represent the same kind of watershed but it is significant--- a very clear sign that the dam of denial and avoidance on the American "Israel Question" is crumbling. I don't want to push it too far because the US-Israel "special relationship" certainly needs a lot more rebalancing than this kind of magazine article, but there actually seems to be something patriotic going on here. It's an American "win." 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jewish Survivors Use Holocaust Card vs. Elie Wiesel For Supporting Israeli Gaza ‘Massacre.’ Condemn US For Financial & Diplomatic Backing And Call For ‘Full’ Boycott Of Israel

From today’s Haaretz:
Hundreds of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors have signed a letter, published as an advertisement in Saturday's New York Times, condemning "the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza" and calling for a complete boycott of Israel.
According to the letter, the condemnation was prompted by an advertisement written by Elie Wiesel and published in major news outlets worldwide, accusing Hamas of "child sacrifice" and comparing the group to the Nazis.
The letter, signed by 327 Jewish Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors and sponsored by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, accuses Wiesel of "abuse of history" in order to justify Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip…
The letter also blames the United States of aiding Israel in its Gaza operation, and the West in general of protecting Israel from condemnation.
"Genocide begins with the silence of the world," the letter reads.
The letter ends with a call to bring the blockade of Gaza to an immediate end, and for a full boycott of Israel. "Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!," the letter concludes.
Full Text Of Letter:
"Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of Nazi genocide unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza
"As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.
"We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.
"Furthermore, we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.
"We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!


It’ll be interesting to see if pro Israel spinners can find a way to blame this on the deep and ineradicable anti Semitism that they contend is hiding behind much of the world’s humanitarian concerns for Gazan civilians as well as demands that Israel be investigated for war crimes. I think they just got hoisted by the own fraying petard.