Friday, May 4, 2012

What might a regional Middle East and Mediterranean look like?

Harriet Feinberg works for the cooperation of Jews and Palestinians. She wants a world where Jews and Palestinians can live together in peace. She has meditated on these matters for a long time (see below).

There was a one state (with equal rights, a serious democracy) conference at Harvard recently which was widely denounced by the so-called Jewish leadership – AIPAC et al - in the United States as being “anti-semitic.” It was not.

In contrast, in the voice of prophets like Amos, jews often speak the truth to power, and when that power is the Jewish kings or those who are fed at the king's table, those words are biting. Those Amaziahs - AIPAC and the like - who try to stifle debate harm Jews as well as others. As Paul Pillar says two days ago here, the speaking out of Israeli intelligence officials against the madness of Netanyahu and Barak about bombing Iran illustrates something good in Israeli democracy. Even officials occasionally speak against vicious and counterproductive government projects (Palestinians, of course, could wish that something more came this way in their regard; on that issue, the racism of official Israel is obvious). But in the United States, AIPAC and Romney seek to shut up such debate by defaming critics, including Jews. The emptiness of this rhetoric accompanies its viciousness.

As Harriet says, the most important thing is to have a discussion with mutual respect and to stop the killing. The latter, however, can only be done by ending the oppression in the Occupied Territories.

Harriet stresses the grim racism of all parliamentary democratic states – or as I name them in Democratic Individuality, oligarchies with parliamentary forms - toward minorities. Her own work to foster cooperation with Palestinians takes this on. In the U.S., there have always been whites who fought against this, sometimes fiercely (John Laurens, John Brown, Andrew Goodman and many others – in the abolitionist movement in the American Revolution, before, during and after the Civil War, and in the civil rights movement). One should also notice those Israeli jews like Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Uri Avnery who honor the tradition of fighting oppression. And this is not simply a case of the oppression of an internal minority – the Palestinians have once already been expelled from the territory of what is now Israel (this was the only place where Europe and the United States would allow the formation of a Jewish state after the genocide). But the territories, seized in the 1967 war, are plainly illegally and immorally occupied. The powerful statement of Jerry Haber two days ago at Magnes Zionist is right:

“It is not a question of finding a middle way, a compromise, that will make both sides happy/unhappy. There is no symmetry of suffering here. Both sides have caused pain to each other. But only one side controls the life, liberty, land, and resources of the other.“ See here.

And one might add: the growing BDS movement against the Israeli occupation is nonviolent...*

Harriet, who was raised as and is a Zionist, rightly sees that there is no future in Israel or Palestine as tiny isolated states. Both must come to flourish in the region and in the Mediterranean. If humanity is to survive as she warns, such larger forms of cooperation are part of what will make it possible. She thus calls for a sustainable Zionism of the 21st century, one which takes in real possibilities of cooperation and sees the current environment – one in which the state of Israel seeks to maintain itself militarily over others and expand further in territory which does not belong to it – being changed into a more hopeful future. In this context, Netanyahu’s policies are brutal, destructive and self-destructive (and may even, with an expanded Middle East war, contribute to the destruction of humanity in this century).

Harriet's is an important vision which invites us to think about regionalization, globalization and a decent peace and cooperation.

Note: Finns are still Finns, Spaniards Spanish….

That Harriet wanted to be a Senator – would that American senators had such visions, Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold excepted – was a good impulse. That the racism – see here and here – and Cold War-created banality of political science - see here, here, here, here and here - discouraged her is too bad. I took Government 1a at Harvard with Carl Friedrich who said that “constitutionalism is effective, regularized restraint.” This is good point if rather dully put, against state tyranny. But what if the state is a tyranny over other people, as in the enslavement of blacks, the occupation of Palestinians?

Then the interesting thing about constitional design will be how shockingly anti-democratic it is – cf. the three fifths clause, the act to bar humanity and compassion in aiding blacks to escape, the continuation of the slave trade until 1808, the restrictions of suffrage on the poor, on slaves, on native Americans, on women, on Asisn-Americans, the non-democratic elections of senators and Presidents, and the like. And the constitution - through a constitutional design which favored slaveowners and anti-democrats - of course contributed to segregation in the South, not that Friedrich noticed, let alone opposed it...

My book Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence – see here – is indirectly a riposte to Friedrich. One might say that Harriet’s thinking about a regional Middle East and Mediterranean is also a riposte to the dullness of Friedrich’s texts then widely used - for instance, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, coauthored with Zbigniew Brzezinski (though I later became a political theorist, I found Friedrich’s course so boring that I transferred out before taking Government 1b, political theory with the enthusiast of the old South William Yandell Elliott...).**

The fundamental issue is the Middle East can be put this way. Jews have suffered extraordinarily, along with many others, because of European colonialism and its bringing home to Europe, in the pogroms, Nazism and the holocaust. Yet the state of Israel is again enacting – and brutally – such colonialism. Do we, as a people, really have some other thought than to live, at last, in peace and freedom and cooperation with the Palestinians and others (those who have the same aspiration)…? How, other than Harriet’s vision, does one propose to do that? And why are Harriet's thoughts on the margins in the United States rather than a subject in the corporate press of discussion among jews and others? Why are Congress and the "Republicans" as well as most Democrats so lame and belligerent in their policies towards, discussion of the Middle East?

And why aren't such thoughts part of an Israeli public debate?

Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak have tried to force the United States to launch a further aggression in the Middle East against Iran. And they have successfully silenced Obama on the issue of the settlements. That they have at best disgraced themselves of course passes beneath their attention and that of their allies (as Harriet's comments about the attempt to suppress the "one state" conference underline).

Such a war would continue a death spiral in the poisonousness of the weaponry (the depleted uranium, for example, with which the US has, in two wars, despoiled Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and brought home, with our soldiers, new cancers, early deaths and birth defects in their children), in continuing physical destruction, and in aggressive – expansionary – “nationalism”: Greater Israel, backed by Romney and the "Republicans" , seeks a second transfer of the Palestinians. There is no future for humanity, including ordinary Israelis and Americans, in this. Olmert, Diskin and others are now commendably speaking out in Israel against attacking Iran. See Rob Prince here.

In Israel, racism toward Arabs is on the rise (a racism, manifested as Gideon Levy underlines below in a hundred blog posts inhumanly “celebrating” the deaths of 9 Palestinian children on a school bus, on Netanyahu’s blog). Racism betrays what is decent and hopeful - the latter is a minority voice currently - in Israel.

In contrast, Harriet stands up for that decency. Her voice – and those of the many whose feelings, hope and insights she contributes to naming – needs to be heard.

Harriet Feinberg

The Director of Harvard Hillel, Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, recently sent a long and thoughtful e-letter to the Hillel community about the wrenching issues raised by the recent ‘One-State’ conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School. In response I have decided to share my own thoughts.

This is the question people need to ask:

What political arrangements and governance structures are most likely to lead Jews, Arabs and others to live more peacefully together in the Middle East, and how can these be implemented?

For many years I have supported a two-state solution BECAUSE I thought it most likely to lead over time to peaceful coexistence--not because I was committed to that structure no matter what happens. I still support two states, Israel and Palestine, side by side. I am a lifelong Zionist and the daughter of Zionists, and I find two states completely consistent with my upbringing and beliefs.

However, I would never assume that people advocating a one-state solution are anti-Semites or wish for “ the destruction of Israel.” I was very unhappy with the intensity of name-calling that was directed at the speakers and organizers of the ‘one-state’ conference, and the vehement efforts to get every entity at Harvard to dissociate from the event. Many reasonable people who care deeply about Israel think it’s already too late for the two-state project and want above all an end to killing and destruction; they seek to propose alternatives that might provide dignity to all inhabitants of the area.

Let’s look around the world. For a long time--centuries--there were empires: British, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, French, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, etc. These empires were multilingual, multiethnic, multicultural, and multifaith. But (to simplify a huge field of study) the people at the hub too often exploited those at the margins. Empires eventually broke up into independent nation- states, supposedly more homogeneous and more invested in the well-being of their inhabitants. But nation-states large and small have a problem today with the status of minorities in their midst, whether those minorities are linguistic, ethnic, religious, racial, or some combination. Can the German-born children of immigrant Turks be ‘real’ Germans? Can Kurds be ‘real’ Turks? Can Chinese immigrants be ‘real’ Australians? Can refugees from Africa’s wars ever become ‘real’ Swedes? Can committed Catalan and Basque speakers be ‘real’ Spaniards? Could non- Muslims ever be ‘real’ Saudis? Can the nomadic Roma (gypsies) be ‘real’ Romanians or Hungarians? Could people of Korean descent living in Japan ever be ‘real’ Japanese? Are indigenous non-Spanish-speaking peoples in Bolivia and Peru the most ‘real’ Bolivians and Peruvians? And so on.

So it’s not surprising that the Israeli Jewish majority has wrestled for decades with the status and treatment of the Palestinian/Israeli minority within its (1967) borders. I wish they had done better, but at least one can say--glumly--that they have a lot of company. The nation-state as an entity has had many brilliant successes worldwide; yet with due credit to the often heroic efforts of generations of activists, it has not solved the problems of equal treatment for all its citizens and basic fairness for all within its borders. The top dogs still consider the ‘others’ inferior and/or suspect to varying degrees.

And breaking up these nation-states into still smaller entities has had mixed results. These smaller entities still have ‘others’ who can be oppressed or deprived of privileges and often have ragged, conflicted border areas. Human beings just don’t naturally live in large homogeneous enclaves and are unlikely ever to do so again, given modern communication systems. Any fairly large piece of the earth’s inhabitable areas that’s ‘supposed’ to be for one kind of people can become and stay that way only through draconian measures.

Look at the mature nation-states of the world. Along with their remarkable achievements and cherished national ideals, every one of them has ‘managed’ its minorities at different points in its history through some combination of intimidation, expulsion, land expropriation, forced or ‘encouraged’ religious conversion, economic discrimination, exclusion from important societal roles, denial of ciitizenship, repression of traditional language and customs.

Is there a better, more inclusive model than the nation-state? What about very large diverse entities that aren’t empires-- strong regional consortia? Perhaps those offer hope. The European Union is in financial difficulties right now because of poor planning, but it’s still an exciting idea-in-progress. The South American nations are experimenting with various consortia, as are clusters of Asian nations, despite ongoing suspicions.

If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, eventually Israel, whatever its borders and composition, would need to be part of at least two such regional consortia dealing with the environmment, trade, industry, banking, and peacekeeping: one of Middle Eastern states or other entities, and the other of states or other entities bordering the Mediterranean. How could this work unless there’s some sort of peaceful resolution between Israelis and Palestinians?

I believe that those of us who identify as Zionists need a Zionism of the twenty- first century that looks beyond the political entities that have typified the struggles for peoplehood and recognition all over the world, and asks a whole new set of questions. A hundred or even fifty years from now the notion of a fully independent nation-state the size of Israel or the proposed Palestinian state may seem as quaint as a Royal typewriter or as period-specific as the Italian city-states of the Renaissance.

Recently I read that a free online course in Artificial Intelligence enrolled 58,000 people from around the world.The software enabled them to interact with one another. Has anyone figured out what changes of this magnitude augur not only for education but for governance? for diasporic relationships? for human rights activism?

The governance issues in today’s wired, heavily armed world can make one dizzy. Peoples of all sizes want more autonomy, but the world’s greatest problems need to be addressed regionally and globally. All those who feel themselves to be one people are not clustered in one place, and their ‘home’ space--the focus of so much emotion-- contains some other inhabitants who are not about to leave. The world’s great cities, those polycultural and polylingual engines of creativity, have enclaves and sprinklings of every diaspora.

What’s a Zionist to do? What’s anyone to do?

Most political leaders worldwide seem unable or unwilling to address the big issues thoughtfully. For example: why don’t Middle East political leaders pay attention to the dozens of grassroots programs which show that Jews and Arabs can cooperate, form friendships, coexist?
When I entered college back in 1954, I intended to major in political science. I thought perhaps I would become a senator (!) My professor for the ‘intro’ course was really boring, so I abandoned that idea and eventually became an English teacher--a choice much better suited to my talents and personality.

But now that I’m approaching seventy-five, I find myself preoccupied with questions about society that I asked as a young woman: How can people learn to cherish their own language, culture, faith, and history without looking down on those who are different? What systems of governance can keep the majority from tyrannizing the minority, or conversely, keep a small powerful minority from tyrannizing the majority? How can young people learn respect for the human rights of all? Unless those questions get addressed and acted upon soon at a local and also a worldwide level, human beings will be--to put a deeply somber twist on a current expression--toast.

Harriet Feinberg Cambridge, Massachusetts March 2012

Haaretz, published 19.02.12
Enemies, a hate story
It is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.
By Gideon Levy

The all-clear was sounded as soon as the news came that the school bus was Palestinian.

Only the most perceptive viewers of Thursday's accident - in which nine children and one adult were killed when their bus collided with a truck north of Jerusalem - could make the distinction. But something in the manner of the coverage intimated at it immediately.

Then the reports and images started flowing in. The coverage was workmanlike overall, if faceless and depersonalized. It is not difficult to imagine how such a horrific accident would have been treated had the children been Jewish: with a lot more blood and tears. There is no disputing that, as the Talmud says, "Every person is partial to himself" - and to his own people, we might add. One can also excuse the ridiculous way the Jerusalem-Ramallah road by Aram, near the north side of the capital, suddenly became "beyond the Israeli border," in the language of reporters - the Green Line springs to life when it suits us.

But what came next cannot be excused. The Internet roiled - not with the usual anonymous comments, the last refuge of boors and perverts. This time they revealed their names and their Facebook photos, spewing forth nauseating, hate-permeated racism that seemed to exceed anything seen here previously.

"Relax, these are Palestinian children," Benny Dazanashvili wrote on Twitter. To which Tal Biton responded, "It seems these are Palestinians ... God willing." Itai Viltzig offered up a prayer: "I hope every day there is a bus like this." Dozens, if not hundreds, of Internet surfers said a prayer of thanks - for the terrible death by fire of young children on a school field trip - and the responses were featured on the web pages of the prime minister and the Israel Police and the Walla! web portal.

"They'll want money, because money is more important to them than the children who were killed," one person wrote. Others commented, "Can we send another truck?" and "I'd have sent a double semi-trailer to obliterate all those shits."

On the official Facebook page of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was actually quick to express his sorrow from faraway Cyprus over the accident, the comments are still visible like some mark of Cain on their authors and their host.

From Yisrael Ohana: "I don't care; for my part every Palestinian child is a future suicide-bomber candidate. Tomer Ben Haim: "There is just one thing that anyone who attacks Judaism deserves." The only light came from Meira Baruch, who wrote: "I'm 63 years old. Only a few times in my life have I been ashamed to be a Jew. Today I am ashamed. How can anyone rejoice over the death of little children?"

No longer can all this be waved away with the argument that these were the responses of a handful of crazies that do not reflect the whole. Perhaps we should also give thanks for the democracy that allows these responses to be published, and to flood public awareness. But it must be recognized that the sentiment they express is common and that it runs deep in Israeli society.

Enemies, a hate story. In the past few years, anti-Arab hatred and racism have reached monstrous proportions and are no longer restricted to a negligible minority. Many people dare to express it, and many more agree with them. All the discriminatory, separatist laws of the past few years are an authentic expression of that hatred.

When Netanyahu's Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority stop the incitement against Israel, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps it is difficult to measure precisely, but after 25 years of covering the Israeli occupation, and after innumerable meetings with ordinary Palestinians, I think I can safely say that the hate and racism on our side is not matched on the Palestinian side. I repeatedly find myself astounded by the fact that the majority of the thousands of Palestinians I have met over the years, all of them victims of the occupation, speak about their dream of living together in peace (while the majority of Israelis dream of "the separation" ). Yes, there are those who hate, those who carried out murderous attacks against Israelis - and only a few protested against it. But the Palestinian hatred is focused mainly on the Israeli occupation. During the Carmel forest fire of December 2010, the PA dispatched fire trucks to Israel, and apparently no one protested against it. It is doubtful that Palestinians rejoiced over the Israeli deaths then in the way that Israelis are rejoicing over the Palestinian deaths now.

But even if I am wrong, even if I am blind to the facts and the hatred is indeed mutual, nevertheless it is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.

*Peter Beinart's call for boycott of products made in the Occupied Territories is a serious response to this. Beinart's views, too, need to be discussed, not distorted and suppressed. Continuing violence and suppression against nonviolent resistance, as the Southern segregationists and South Africa and English colonialism all found, is no answer. It is least of all such an answer for the governments of Israel and the United States today.

In addition, Jewish Voice for Peace and many others have stood with those within the Methodist Church who have called for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. As dozens of Rabbis noted in an open letter to the United Methodist Conference:

“There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine. Every day Jewish leaders – we among them – are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of cautious, highly-specific divestment such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are preparing to undertake.”(h/t Ilene Cohen)

**The dark side of American politics was not far from Harvard and political science texts. Like those who sought to suppress the one-state conference, Friedrich did not just disagree with the Almanac singers resistance to the coming World War II, which would have been a decent and intelligent thing to do. Instead, he demonized them as "poison" and urged legal and vigilante suppression:

"Friedrich was the author of an article "Poison in Our System" for the June 1941 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, criticizing Songs For John Doe, an album of songs against Roosevelt's peacetime draft (issued in May, 1941, before Hitler's Germany had declared war on the US), by the Almanac Singers, who included the then twenty-one-year-old Pete Seeger, performing under the pseudonym 'Pete Bowers'. Friedrich was apparently as alarmed by the potential for uncontrolled spread of such topical songs as he was by their (fairly innocuous by current standards) content, and opined that "mere" legal suppression would be an inadequate antidote, calling for the establishment of civilian pressure groups to take cultural countermeasures:

"These recordings are distributed under the innocuous appeal: `Sing out for Peace.' Yet they are strictly subversive and illegal. . . The three records sell for one dollar and you are asked to "play them in your home, play them in your union hall, take them back to your people." Probably some of these songs fall under the criminal provisions of the Selective Service Act, and to that extent it is a matter for the Attorney-General. But you never can handle situations of this kind democratically by mere suppression. Unless civic groups and individuals will make a determined effort to counteract such appeals by equally effective methods, democratic morale will decline."

Elliott was a member of the Fugitives, a group of Tennessee poets sympathetic to the Confederacy, the Klan and the Old South which later became a political organization espousing "agrarianism" (including lynch-mobs). In the 1960s, the civil rights movement had to break through from below as did the movement against genocide toward jews a generation earlier or the movement against the oppression of Palestinians today.

1 comment:

Andrew Ferris said...

I see daily how a combination of ignorance, entitlement and hubris casts sneers of disdain across the faces of Israelis any time they are reminded of how the "Palestinian problem" has not been solved yet. Jeff Halper had an interview in al-Jazeera this week that spoke very movingly about the impact, on both the oppressor and the oppressed, of decades long policies designed not explicitly to wipe out but to break the will of the Palestinian people. It breaks my heart to see a people brought so low half a century ago take the place of the cold-faced, hard-hearted masters willing to systematically demoralize a population in pursuit of some twisted dream of what a "homeland" should look like.

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