Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Enforcing Pesach

My wife has a Jewish friend called Mimí. When my daughter was a little girl, Mimí used to treat her to lunch at a quickfood, so that they became friends too. Now my daughter is a señorita and has a boyfriend to take her out, but she has remained very fond of Mimí, who was the only non-relative adult to be invited to her quinceañera.

On one occasion, Mimí traveled to Israel and brought us back a present: a big box of matzah. Although this foodstuff is also known as unleavened bread, it would be better described as a totally flavorless cracker that sticks to your molars. At first I tried to render it palatable by making sandwiches of prosciutto and swiss with it -- a desecration raised to the power of two. But then my wife had a better idea: she bought two cans of Iranian pistachioes and a few bars of chocolate. Then she spread the chopped pistachioes on the matzah, poured molten black and white chocolate on them, et voilà!, a tasty dessert came to life. Whoever said there can be no Israeli-Iranian collaboration?

It's not likely, however, that Mudabbah Mahmoud Rayik will be able to buy the necessary ingredients to make his matzah tastier. This Israeli Arab, who is serving time for a criminal offense in a prison that houses both Arab and Jewish inmates, has asked to be served bread, not matzah, during the Pesach festival that began last night and lasts eight days. His petition has been rejected by a district court and, on appeal, by the Supreme Court. Haaretz reports:

The Israel Prison Service claimed that facilities with mixed populations are kosher, and that his request cannot be ranked above that of Jewish inmates who wish to follow the rules of their faith, which forbids the consumption of leavened bread over the holiday[.]

But Mr. Rayik doesn't want Jewish inmates to stop following the rules of their faith. He wants to eat bread, just as he does during the rest of the year. Why should the superstitions of certain inmates trump the eating habits of others?

Haaretz goes on to report that

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said in his ruling that no one disagrees about the importance of bread, but that the state is only obligated to provide inmates with food, not a specific type of food and that there is no harm in substituting one food for another for a matter of days.

"Therefore, there is no legal offense in not providing bread during Passover to wings in which non-Jews reside with Jews in a Jewish and democratic state, especially when a suitable food is being provided," Rubinstein said.

If the State is not obligated to provide inmates with a specific type of food, why is it that matzah is being provided instead of the usual bread? And when Ramadan comes, are Jewish inmates in the same wing asked to fast from dawn to sunset, out of respect for Muslim prisoners?

This is how the official status of Pesach in Israel is different from, say, that of Christmas in Argentina: in its coercive nature, which forces people to do things they don't like for the sake of other people's irrational beliefs. Any analogy between the role of religion in Israel and in the West is more bad faith from the Zionists.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Israeli racism (update 3): Lecturing the natives

Credit where credit is due. Israel intends to allocate NIS 700 million for accelerating economic growth in 10 Arab, Druze and Circassian communities who comprise 30% of Israel's total population of minorities. Cynics will say that similar promises made in the past were never fulfilled. But even so it's encouraging to see that the welfare of Arab citizens is present at least in the discourse of Israel's ruling coalition.

There are people in Israel, however, who oppose the plan. Where are those people, you'll ask? In the settlements? In the Talmudic academies? No: in the very same ruling coalition. As Ynet reported:

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov slammed Saturday a multi-annual aid plan for the non-Jewish sector to be debated in the cabinet on Sunday.

The plan calls for roughly NIS 800 million (about $220 million) to be invested in 10 Arab communities in the next four years.

"Government aid to minorities must not be granted to communities whose public leaders' loyalty lies with the State of Israel's enemies, while not being granted to communities loyal to Israel such as the Circassians, Druze, and Bedouins," the minister said. "This program is distorted and rewards disloyalty."

So that this Moscow-born politician has no issue with submissive natives who behave well and fight Israel's wars of aggression. His problem is with the bad natives, the ones who get assertive and dare to denounce the State discrimination against their community, and sometimes even speak Arabic over the cell-phone while on a Jewish bus. For those Arabs, he recommends the collective punishment that the State has already been inflicting on them for the past 60 years, i.e. the most absolute neglect and underfunding.

It's good that someone in the State of Israel has realized that the State needs to invest more in its Arab community. It's bad that the real test --implementation-- is likely to be failed once again by the State. It's even worse that the only concrete outcome from all this will probably be the Tourism Minister's racist outburst.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flags, holidays and anthems

The same document that we critiqued in our previous post presents a very common Zionist argument regarding the national symbols of the State of Israel:

The crux of the accusation against Israel is encapsulated in the often-repeated charge that the racism of Israel “is symbolized most clearly in Israel’s Jewish flag, anthem and state holidays.” The accusers have not a word of criticism against the tens of liberal democratic states that have Christian crosses incorporated in their flags, nor against the Muslim states with the half crescent symbol of Islam. For a Western state, with Jewish and Muslim minorities, to have Christmas as a national holiday is permissible, but for Israel to celebrate Passover as a national holiday is somehow racist. For various Arab states to denote themselves as Arab Republics is not objectionable, but a Jewish state is racism and Apartheid.

Arguments by analogy are notoriously weak because before we can determine if the argument is sound we must first check if the analogy is valid. In this case it's clearly not, since the author is comparing apples that are unquestionably apples with other apples that look, taste and smell like oranges.

As with most Zionist arguing, the paragraph quoted above makes a petitio principii, also known as begging the question, in that it assumes that people who criticize a country are obligated to write a treatise on all other countries that behave similarly. This is patently absurd.

More to the point, even if we criticized the Western countries that have crosses in their flags or celebrate Christmas, the criticism would have to be of a very different nature than the one directed against Israel, and for multiple reasons.

The flags that contain crosses were created at a time when the notion of equality between all citizens (or subjects, as they were called back then) of a country was not firmly established. Also, at the time that they were created the cross actually reflected the reality of homogeneously Christian nations. Furthermore, these nations had evolved over a long period of time before adopting their flags.

While it can be argued that Denmark --for instance-- would do well to drop the cross from its flag out of respect for its non-Christian citizens, there are also a number of arguments that can be presented against this idea. In the first place, there exists a long tradition of the Danes using the same flag, which was adopted in the 14th century. In the second place, the cross in the flag is a desemantized symbol (i.e., it has lost its meaning). The people see it and don't think of Christianity, among other reasons because it's in a horizontal, rather than vertical, position. This is also true of all crosses in Western national flags, none of which looks very much like the cross that you see upon entering a church. Thus, the cross in the Greek flag has its horizontal arm longer than the vertical one; that in the Swiss flag has equal-sized arms; and the British flag presents a mix of straight and diagonal crosses. These are crosses based on the Christian religion, but they don't remind you very much of the faith.

None of this is true in the case of Israel. The country was created from scratch in 1948; i.e., there was no tradition to uphold. It was by no means religiously homogeneous. The principle of equality between citizens had already been established as a requisite for a democracy. The flag with the Star of David was adopted in the full awareness that a significant percentage of the population rejected it, without consulting that segment of the citizenry. Its religious meaning was reinforced by the menorah being adopted as the country's coat of arms. Accusing Israel's critics of not criticizing the crosses in Western flags is, thus, like accusing Saudi Arabia's critics of not criticizing Britain or Spain, whose heads of State are as unelected as King Abdullah.

We have the same problem with regard to Christmas. While it is true that it's a Christian holiday, its celebration is, once again, desemantized. There are no legally enforceable rules that apply to it. In Israel, on the other hand, the holiday of Pesach (to give the author's example) is regulated by the chametz law, whereby all people living in a Jewish-majority town, even if they're not Jewish (for instance, an Arab baker) are forbidden from showcasing leavened bakery products.

The author also wants us to criticize the Arab countries that append "Arab" to their names. This is hardly the same as Israel defining itself as Jewish. Anyone can become an Arab by learning Arabic, because Arabness is a linguistic, not religious, concept. This is not true of Jewish identity, which is defined by rigid criteria and can't be acquired by, say, an atheist. There's a world of difference between an inclusive identity, that can be added to your previous one (I can become an Arab while continuing to speak Spanish with my children), and an exclusive one like Jewishness, which forces you to abandon your previous convictions.

Finally, although the author reports the anti-Zionist mention of Israel's anthem as another tool to segregate the Arab population, for some reason he fails to address the charge. Maybe because it's kind of difficult to spin the lyrics of Hatikva:

As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

How can Arabs be expected to love the country that forces them to say they're Jewish is beyond my comprehension. (Incidentally, the anthem is also discriminatory of Oriental Jews, who, however, don't take offense, busy as they are hating the other Arabs, the ones with the wrong religion.)

Israel's exclusionary Jewish nature is evident in all aspects of the country's business, but the national symbols are unquestionably evidence A.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The problem is with the hasbara, not with the audience

In the final years of the Apartheid era in South Africa, Coloreds and Indians enjoyed political representation. They elected a Colored Parliament, with 85 MPs, and an Indian Parliament, with 45 MPs.  The whites, for their part, elected a white parliament with 178 MPs. The three chambers combined formed the electoral college that appointed the President and the Cabinet. Thus, Colored and Indian MPs could give speeches, criticize the government, enact laws that applied to their communities, etc., but when it came to actually holding power, the result was inexorable: the President and the Cabinet ministers where all white, courtesy of the absolute majority the whites enjoyed in the electoral college. Indeed there were three parliaments, but one was all-important and the other two were irrelevant.

The Israeli Knesset combines both systems in one and the same legislature. There are around 110 Jewish MKs, who make the decisions that affect the country, and 10 token Arab MKs, who can give speeches and complain all they wish, but who can never influence any act of government, much less one that affects them.

This similarity (yet another one) between Apartheid South Africa and Israel sprang to my mind upon reading (at this prompting) a purported rebuttal to claims of Israeli apartheid. This document is a very interesting example of what Saree Makdisi (here) calls the linguistic contortionism of Israel apologists. I'd like to focus today on the following extraordinary paragraph from the executive summary:

Israel is a multi-racial and multi-colored society, and the Arab minority actively participates in the political process. There are Arab parliamentarians, Arab judges including on the Supreme Court, Arab cabinet ministers, Arab heads of hospital departments, Arab university professors, Arab diplomats in the Foreign Service, and very senior Arab police and army officers. Incitement to racism in Israel is a criminal offence, as is discrimination on the basis of race or religion.

The verb participate  is broad enough that a bull can be said to participate in a bullfight, or a slave in human trafficking. Whoever said that participants in a process are equal to each other? The paragraph above simply  takes advantage of this ambiguity to distort the truth.

It would be accurate to say, for instance, that Jews actively participate in the political process in Argentina. In the last mayoral election in Buenos Aires, the incumbent, Jorge Télerman, was Jewish, as was one of his rivals, Daniel Filmus. The third contender, Mauricio Macri, was Catholic. Mr. Macri won the election -- because he convinced the electorate, not because of any limitation on the Jews' political rights.

Similarly, in my city Roberto Miguel Lifschitz defeated Héctor Cavallero to become Rosario's first Jewish mayor ever, and proceeded to appoint Mirta Levín as his Planning Secretary, as well as several other Jewish advisors. Other examples abound. Jorge Alperóvich is the governor of Tucumán (possibly the country's most heavily Catholic province), Héctor Tímerman is the ambassador to Washington, Carlos Kúnkel one of the most prominent lawmakers from the governing party. The Jewish participation in Argentinian politics means that they can effectively influence events.

This is hardly the same as the situation in Israel, where Arabs can participate to elect an irrelevant Arab caucus in the Knesset, but can't expect to become mayors of Tel Aviv, ambassadors to Washington or key Cabinet members. The quoted paragraph contorts language in presenting events that have happened once or twice in the country's history (like the token appoointment of an Arab to a minor ministerial position) as if they were normal occurrences, and by including in the category, "Arabs," the Druze, who are less discriminated against than Muslims and Christians, and who form the totality of all those "very senior Arab police and army officers" (the State itself recognizes the Druze as a separate nationality).

But the most egregious distortion is the phrase "Incitement to racism in Israel is a criminal offence, as is discrimination on the basis of race or religion." Of course such practices are banned by the legislation, but the laws are never enforced against the Jews. Very senior officials have incited against the Arabs without facing any retribution. Case in point, housing minister Ariel Attias, whose reflections on Arab Israelis were recently reported by Haaretz:

Housing Minister Ariel Atias on Thursday warned against the spread of Arab population into various parts of Israel, saying that preventing this phenomenon was no less than a national responsibility.

"I see [it] as a national duty to prevent the spread of a population that, to say the least, does not love the state of Israel," Atias told a conference of the Israel Bar Association, which focused on a reforming Israel's Land Administration.

The Shas minister referred to Harish, a housing project built for the Haredi community in northern Israel, saying that the Arab population from the nearby Wadi Ara was spreading into the Harish area.

Atias went on to address the issue of the Galilee, saying that "if we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there. I don't think that it is appropriate [for them] to live together."

Remember, this is the Cabinet minister who decides who will live where. This key official promulgates an explicit policy of preventing the "spreading" of Arabs "who don't love Israel" (not a single word against Jews who reject the State, like the Neturei Karta) to certain parts of the country and their mixing with Jews, yet there's no Apartheid in Israel!

Israel's Hasbara officials often vent their frustration that their efforts fail to convince their target audiences. They publish booklets, support rabid organizations like CAMERA and MEMRI, go on TV, even enlist Israeli tourists for the cause, but the world keeps talking about Israeli apartheid. They tend to conclude that prejudice against the Jews is so deeply ingrained that all explanatory efforts are doomed.

A better idea would be to stop taking the public for idiots and making ludicrous denials that are disproved by an even cursory look at the Israeli press.  The problem is not with the audience; it's with the intelligence-insulting hasbara that is served them.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The right price for peace

"Israeli Jews will never accept a one-state solution." This is a Zionist tenet indefatigably repeated every time someone proposes that equal rights be granted to Jews and Palestinians under a single polity between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the statement is accurate. It is also accurate to state that Rosarians (is that the demonym for my city?) are not prepared to pay $7 for an orchid. The result: orchids are not available at Rosario's flower kiosks.

Peace, like flowers, is a commodity. You want to have it, you've got to pay for it. Now it's not that Israeli Jews reject the idea of paying a price altogether. They would be happy to give the Palestinians a collection of cantons with no contiguity, no borders with any country other than Israel, no freedom of movement and no army, very much like Rosarians would be happy to buy orchids for $1.5 apiece. The problem, of course, is that the price of things is not set by the potential buyer; it's set by the market.

I know nothing about the culture of orchids, but I guess they don't grow as easily as roses. It takes more time, space and care to produce them; hence their exorbitant price. Analogously, peace in the Middle East doesn't grow as easily as in, say, Scandinavia. Whatever the wishes of Israeli Jews, you can't have peace without a reasonable measure of justice. Gerrymandering intricate borders around confiscated territories and declaring them your own may be an attractive idea to some, but it is thoroughly unfair to many more, and it is dellusional to believe that it will bring peace just because the people harmed by the scheme are in a weaker position.

There are several conditions for peace in Israel/Palestine to be achieved. Among them:

  • No people should be uprooted from where they were born.
  • Property confiscated should be returned to their owners.
  • People with a legitimate claim to land or houses somewhere should be allowed to move there if they so wish.
  • People should be able to move around with ease.
  • The interests of some citizens shouldn't be prioritized over the interests of other citizens.

These conditions, and other similar ones, can't be met outside of a single-state solution. While the Jewish settlers in the West Bank could in principle be thought of as the fiercest opposers to such a solution, at least some of them are beginning to reconcile with the idea of coexistence with Palestinians. One country with equal rights for all is the right price that needs to be paid --by both sides-- to achieve peace.

To state that Israeli Jews don't want a binational country is, thus, to state the actual problem: they don't want peace. They see that the status quo works very well for them and have no problem keeping it. It hasn't yet sunk in that, just like peace with Egypt brought enormous benefits, so would peace with the Palestinians under a binational state. That more money could be spent in education; that they would spend less time doing military service and reserve duty; that the task of raising the living standards of Palestinians would create a huge boost for the economy as a whole.

If Israeli Jews want orchids, they'll have to pay what orchids are worth. Otherwise, they'll get roses, or, more likely still, thorns.