Monday, May 31, 2010

Petition in Support of Israel

Please read and, if you agree, sign and send to others. Many thanks.

To: Politicians, Media, NGOs, and Citizens of All Nations

We the undersigned, Jews and non-Jews, left and right, Israelis and citizens of many countries, hereby express our sympathy and solidarity with the State of Israel in regard to the May 31, 2010 Gaza flotilla incident for the following reasons:

BECAUSE the Gaza flotilla was organized, funded, and manned by—among others—anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-democratic, and pro-terrorist organizations.

BECAUSE these organizations support the genocide of Israeli Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel.

BECAUSE the participants were armed with lethal weapons and prepared to use them against Israeli soldiers.

BECAUSE the participants were solely responsible for the violence that occurred, including grievous bodily harm to several Israeli soldiers.

BECAUSE the flotilla was in open violation of international law.

BECAUSE Israel is the victim of a global public campaign of racist incitement and hatred.

BECAUSE the portrayal of the incident by the world media thus far has been inaccurate, untrue, and clearly biased against the State of Israel.

For all these reasons, we the undersigned hereby demand the following:

WE DEMAND an immediate, fair, and unbiased investigation into the organizations behind the flotilla and their role in the violence that ensued as a result of their actions.

WE DEMAND the immediate prosecution and conviction of those participants in the flotilla responsible for the violence and especially those responsible for the injuries to Israeli soldiers.

WE DEMAND an immediate, open, and fair investigation into the role of various national governments in funding, equipping, and facilitating the flotilla and the ensuing violence.

WE DEMAND an immediate end to anti-Israeli incitement in the media and in the political arena.

WE DEMAND an immediate and unequivocal statement of support for Israel’s actions from world leaders and organizations, especially President of the United States Barack Obama, including an acknowledgement of the legality of these actions.

WE DEMAND that the media cease and desist its biased and misleading reporting of this incident and confine themselves to the facts at hand.

WE DEMAND an immediate public apology to Israel from the organizations involved in the incident and the governments that supported them.

We hope and believe that this time truth will win out over lies, and that those behind this incident will be exposed and prosecuted for their actions.


The Undersigned

Sign the Petition Here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Man Who Stares at Other People’s Writing

Jon Ronson is a noted British journalist, documentarian, and author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted into a film by George Clooney. As far as I can tell from his latest article in theGuardian, he is also prone to using the words and ideas of others without attribution, a habit usually referred to as plagiarism.

I happened upon the article (“Whodunnit?”) by chance and would not have noticed anything untoward had its opening not rung a distant bell. The article deals with criminal profiling and its discontents, in particular a noted scandal of British justice from the 1980s. The opening section, however, which describes the founding of criminal profiling, is clearly lifted without attribution from Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Dangerous Minds,” published by the New Yorker in 2007 — albeit with some minor changes. The most striking similarities appear below.

Continue reading at Pajamas Media.

Allowing Chomsky into Israel is much more than a free-speech issue

The recent fracas over Israel’s refusal to grant entry to Noam Chomsky, an MIT professor, leftist cult figure, and fervent opponent of the Jewish state, has revealed something far beyond the debate over free speech in Israel and who should and should not be a persona non grata. It reveals that an enormous amount of people, inside and outside Israel, have no real idea of who Chomsky is and what he stands for.

In a sense, this should not be surprising. Chomsky’s admirers regard him as something of a semi-divine figure, and they promote him as a relatively apolitical sort of liberal, a fervent partisan of peace and human rights, who has no interests or beliefs other than simple human justice. For the most part, this image has been accepted by those whose acquaintance with his career is, at best, casual.

The truth, however, is far uglier. Chomsky has been, throughout his long career, a consistent and dedicated supporter and/or apologist for tyranny, terrorism, political violence of all kinds, and sometimes horrifying acts of mass murder.

Read more:

Liberalism and Zionism

Early in World War II, George Orwell wrote that pacifism “is only possible to people who have money and guns between them and reality.” Much the same could be said of modern American liberalism, especially Jewish liberalism; that is, if Peter Beinart’s new article in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” is anything to go by.

Beinart’s missive is the latest in what is swiftly becoming a literary subgenre in its own right, in which liberal Jews express their agonizing moral struggle with Zionism and Israel in deeply emotive and despairing language. This is not, quite frankly, a particularly new genre, as liberally inclined Jews have always had a somewhat awkward relationship with Zionism; whose partisans have, generally speaking, come from either the socialist left or the nationalist right, both of which have found a certain kinship with Zionism’s recognition of the limits and drawbacks of traditional liberalism.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Noam Chomsky and Israel

It’s nice to know that my country of residence still has its head on its shoulders in certain cases, especially when it comes to admitting entrance to pseudo-intellectual antisemites and apologists for genocide. I owe this cheerful realization, ironically, to Amira Hass, a dedicated partisan of the Palestinian cause who has just announced in Haaretz that MIT professor of linguistics and radical leftist cult figure Noam Chomsky has been denied entry at the Allenby Bridge and thus far prevented from appearing at Bier Zeit University in Ramallah.

I have no doubt that legions of the liberal (some of them, no doubt, Israeli) will shortly be descending upon us to denounce the decision and to sing the praises of this perennially worshiped leftist icon, who wrote himself into the history of intellectual infamy by denying the Khmer Rouge genocide and then spending the next four decades denying his denial. Chomsky’s reputation was further burnished by signing a petition in support of French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. When French critics pointed out that the petition referred to Faurisson’s position that the Holocaust did not happen as historical “findings,” and that this was, needless to say, monstrous, Chomsky promptly accused them all of being agents of totalitarian oppression.

The Banality of Evil and Anti-Semitism

By far the most terrifying thing about encountering evil in real life is how innocuous it appears. Hannah Arendt may have gone a bit too far in her theory of the banality of evil, but there is no doubt that the phenomenon is quite real, and all the more terrifying for it. Put simply, once one has looked evil in the eye once or twice, the most striking aspect of it is how ordinary it is. Monsters quite rarely appear to be so, and monstrous things often seem terrifyingly meaningless and empty when witnessed first hand. Perhaps this is simply a defense mechanism, a way for our perceptions to minimize the potential emotional damage of horror, but whatever its origins, it remains a chilling and undeniable paradox.

This video of an appearance by conservative activist and ex-leftist David Horowitz at USC San Diego brought this home to me, thankfully at second hand. Challenged by a member of the Muslim Students Association, the following exchange ensues

Horowitz: Okay, I’ll put it to you this way. I am a Jew. The head of Hizbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?

MSA member: For it.

Perhaps others will see it differently, but for me there is a quiet terror in watching this moment. Perhaps it is the calm politeness, the terrible ordinariness, with which the student expresses her sentiments; as though she were voting “aye” on a question of raising municipal property taxes or repealing a law requiring dog leashes. Perhaps it is the despairing knowledge that the apologetics and excuses will be short in coming, and hundreds of the credentialed, intelligent, and liberal will shortly be explaining to us that she didn’t actually mean what she said or, if she did, it is nonetheless an understandable and relatively innocuous thing to say. Perhaps it is the realization that saying this sort of thing about essentially any other group of people would arouse a storm of institutional protest and censure which most certainly will not ensue in this case. And, of course, there is the undeniable fact that many will shortly be blaming Horowitz for the whole thing.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Human Rights Watch: Their Master’s Voice

Having just returned from being locked for almost an hour in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center mall while a surprisingly large robot fired three 12-gauge shotgun shells into a suspicious package, which was then disposed of by a man in a Kevlar body suit, I was not, I confess, in a mood to indulge those who make light of Israel’s security concerns. Shortly after, my feelings were compounded by reading Benjamin Birnbaum’s excellent piece in The New Republic on the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch and its treatment of Israel. It is doubtful that a better, or more important, piece of classic muckraking journalism will be published in the coming months.

The piece takes as its impetus the recent controversy between the organization’s staffers and some of its board members, in particular, its founder Robert Bernstein, who recently published a New York Times op-ed denouncing the organization’s attitude toward Israel. Its real value, however, is its exposure of the personalities behind the organization; the faces behind the impersonal reports and press releases that constitute the public face of HRW.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Israel’s Independence Day

Sometimes it seems as if the world suffers from a collective case of schadenfreude in regards to Israel. Not only does the media evince an obsessive fascination with the minutest details of everything violent, horrifying, and depressing that occurs in this country, but often appears to feel the need to inject the violent, horrifying, and depressing into Israel’s more sanguine moments. Waking up from an evening of fireworks, music, and general enjoyment on the part of thousands at Rabin Square to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, I was presented—along with many others—by Ethan Bronner’s recent missive, “Mood Is Dark as Israel Marks 62nd Year as a Nation”.

From his post in the Anglo-American Jerusalem bubble, in which most reporters for major English-language newspapers sequester themselves during their required tenure on the Middle East beat, Bronner informs us,

There is something about the mood this year that feels darker than usual. It has a bipartisan quality to it. Both left and right are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration.

There is, of course, some truth to this. Given that Iran’s psychotic leader regularly threatens to annihilate us, our anxiety on that count is fairly understandable; add to this the American president’s unwillingness to acknowledge that a man who threatens to annihilate an entire country will probably have to be confronted with the threat of force at some point, and that anxiety is compounded several fold. And certainly, the current impasse between Obama and Netanyahu is worrisome to anyone who thinks that the United States is the only country is the world that tends to treat Israel with anything resembling fairness or even sanity.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Avatar’s Worldview

I resisted seeing Avatar for as long as humanly possible, as much out of sheer contrarianism as anything else, but ultimately I too succumbed to the phenomenon, and got my eyeful of James Cameron’s latest mega-blockbuster, now the highest-grossing film of all time. Cameron, I must confess, is one of those directors I have never known quite what to do with. His technique is impeccable; his technological innovations known to all; and his capacity for tapping into the collective cinematic unconscious, somehow knowing what people want to see before they do, undeniable. And yet, I have always felt that there is something missing from Cameron’s films. He is a Spielberg without the sense of wonder; Kubrick without the burning, uncompromising intelligence; Scorsese without the pervasive sense of Catholic pity. Often, he seems to be a mere sketch of a great director, calculating, obsessive, utterly in control, and yet oddly and persistently empty. Avatar, it must be admitted, is no exception to this.

Everything its admirers and its detractors have said about it is more or less true. The visuals are extraordinary, the action scenes stunning, the special effects flawless, and the pure splendor of it all at times transporting. At the same time, the story is absurdly derivative, the characters stick figures at best, the dialog lamentable, and its politics painfully didactic. There is no doubt that it is enormously effective on its own terms, but one cannot help feeling that everything about it except its special effects is oddly cursory and even amateurish.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Nuclear Security and the Church of Obamaism

Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to avoid President Barack Obama’s much-hyped Nuclear Security Summit has been met with irritation and dismay by many. Given that Netanyahu’s motivations are reasonable enough, namely the fear that the Arab and Islamic nations attending would turn the conference into a public referendum on Israel’s ambiguous nuclear status, one would expect that his absence would not have raised many eyebrows, especially among the ostensibly worldly chattering classes.

That this was not the case, however, says a great deal less about Netanyahu and the issue of Israel’s decision to avoid a confrontation over its nuclear ambiguity, and far more about the rather desperate lengths to which Obama’s supporters will go in order to maintain the aura of transformative omnipotence that they have built around their hero. The intensity with which they do so would seem to indicate that they are not only trying to prop up the faith of others, but also their own.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Alice in Wonderland: Feed Your Head

One can almost see the meeting of studio executives that preceded the production of Tim Burton’s new film of Alice in Wonderland. A half dozen cocaine-addled Bard graduates blinking through the aftereffects of yet another night of silicone implanted satyriasis and quietly musing on the possibilities inherent in Lewis Carroll’s century-old fairy tale. “What,” says one, “if instead of being a little girl, Alice is, like, a hot girl-power feminist teenager?” “Cool!” says another, “and what if like, everything that happened in the book happened, like, before.” “Yeah!” says another, “and what if, instead of just wandering around seeing weird things, she has to go Lord of the Ringson, like, something…?” “Awesome!” says a third, “and what if, like, at the end, the Mad Hatter dances like Michael Jackson? That would be so cool.” At this point, someone calls to find out if Johnny Depp is available.

And so it went, one imagines, until the big budget, 3-D, Dolby Sensurround travesty of one of the most beloved pieces of British whimsy literature was completed; leaving the Walt Disney studios a great deal richer and its viewers considerably poorer in every sense of the word.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Obama’s Israel Crisis

Now that the rift between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government has acquired the status of “crisis,” it is worth stepping back from the details of the spat and looking at the big picture. While the Ramat Shlomo announcement and its immediate aftermath were the immediate cause of the Obama administration’s ire, this was a crisis that was waiting to happen and was probably inevitable. The primary reason for this is the fundamental disconnect between Obama and Netanyahu, not only as personalities but, more importantly, in terms of their long term goals for Israel and the Middle East.

To a certain extent, Obama and Netanyahu deserve each other. As I have written before, they are, ironically, remarkably similar in many ways. They are both charismatic, articulate, extremely image conscious politicians whose capacity for visionary rhetoric often far outstrips their competence. Both have been accused of being essentially empty and shallow personalities, which is true in both cases to some extent, but ignores the fact that they are also ideologically driven idealists with very clear visions of the future they are striving toward.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

Scorsese’s Element

Roughly five minutes into Shutter Island, I knew more or less how it would end. For a film that invests another two hours and fifteen minutes in building to an ostensibly shocking twist ending, this is not a particularly good thing. All the more so when the film in question is the work of someone who many cinephiles (and I count myself one of them) consider to be the world’s greatest living filmmaker. Shutter Island is most certainly not a bad film, but from the likes of Martin Scorsese, it cannot be considered anything other than a disappointment.

One could argue, of course, that we should simply be grateful to see another Scorsese film at all. In an era when most of his contemporaries from the 1970s New Hollywood era have either burned out (William Friedkin, Peter Bogdonavich), died (Robert Altman), or retreated into comfortable mediocrity (Steven Spielberg, George Lucas), the fact that Scorsese is still making films, and still making them with something like the uncompromising intensity of his youth, often seems like reason enough to be indulgent.

Biden in Israel

The Israeli press must have been happy to wake up this morning. While the arrival of American Vice President Joe Biden in Israel was an event, no one expected much more from it than the usual exhortations of goodwill and a few gestures toward reviving the peace process. Yesterday’s announcement by the interior ministry that it has approved the building of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a religious neighborhood in East Jerusalem, however, handed our hapless press corps nothing less than a full-blown diplomatic incident.

The circumstances under which the plans were approved and announced remain unclear, with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai claiming that it took place without their knowledge and professing their embarrassment over the timing of the announcement. According to Haaretz, Yishai professed on Israeli radio that “The district committees approve plans weekly without informing me,” and “If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorization by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone.”

Continue reading at The New Ledger.

The Jews vs. Joe Lieberman

Hating Senator Joseph Lieberman has been a favorite liberal pastime for years now, but it recently reached new heights of invective, as Lieberman emerged both as a strong supporter of the Afghanistan surge and then as a possible obstacle to passage of the health care reform bill in the United States Senate. American liberalism has, since the 1960s, displayed a remarkable capacity for devouring its own, but the spectacle of an entire political movement engaging in a campaign of feverish character assassination against one of its former vice-presidential candidates was truly remarkably to see. More fascinating still was how the cavalcade of abuse seemed to return again and again, as if by some gravitational force, to the issue of Lieberman’s Judaism, which renders this latest round of hatred deserving of broader consideration.

It must be said that most of the corrosive rhetoric employed in this regard was relatively unremarkable—consisting mostly of childish insults and vaguely comprehensible outbursts of liberal antisemitism. Probably the most remarkable was a combination of the two posted at the semi-literate website Wonkette. Under the title “Monsters,” the author described Lieberman as “speaking from a bottomless pit of pain and sorrow, where he lives on the soul-vapors of crushed children.”

Continue reading at The New Ledger.