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Monday, December 22, 2014 / PROGRESSIVE JOURNALISM FOR POSITIVE ACTION
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Lawrence Davidson
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Published: Tuesday 2 September 2014

Part I - The Perennial Question  If you are over fifty and were raised in a Jewish household, you either heard this question, “but is it good for the Jews?” explicitly asked numerous times or were subtly encouraged to think the question to yourself. It reflects a group-centered concern born of the memory of anti-Semitic hostility and a seemingly unending vulnerability, and it can apply to almost any public action: federal or local legislation, cultural trends, foreign policy decisions, etc. I do not know how many of the younger generation of American Jews, known to be very secular and prone to religious intermarriage, still ask this question, but there can be no doubt that it is still there on the tips of almost every Jewish tongue of that generation for whom World War II is still well remembered.   After World War II most Jews assumed that the Zionist movement and the Israeli state were good for the Jews. Indeed, they assumed that they were necessary goods - necessary for the very survival of the Jewish people. To that end, it was alleged, Israel would provide a haven from the anti-Semitism that so devastated the Jews of Europe. There were those who took issue with this perspective, but they were few in number and without influence. Zionism triumphed and in 1948 the State of Israel was proclaimed. Today we have 66 years of history to judge Zionism and Israeli nationalism. So, after these six and a half decades, it is time we ask the question once more. Can we still assume that Zionism and Israel are good for the Jews?   Part II - Looking for the Answer  Here are ...

Published: Saturday 23 August 2014

Part I - The Liberal Ideal  Liberalism, framed as a socio-political ideal, argues that human beings are good and social progress achievable.  It is a “glass half-full” outlook. Within this paradigm all individuals, not just members of a specific religion, race or nationality, should have political and civil rights. Here also neither the state nor the law is an end in itself. They are instruments for the creation and maintaining of a environment meant to promote freedom while minimizing social inequalities. Holding this ideal does not preclude identifying with a particular ethnic or religious group. It does, however, preclude any claim of exclusive rights for such groups to the detriment of others.  Within the Western environment many Jews held to this liberal ideal. They saw it as in their interest to work toward an environment of universally applied political and civil rights while minimizing social inequality. For instance, by the mid-twentieth century in the United States, many Jewish organizations were allied with African Americans in their struggle for civil rights and equality.  However, this proved to be a complex alliance and it ultimately broke down. Its demise marked a waning of organized American Jewish liberal activism. What had happened? Part of the answer became apparent after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.  At that time many civil rights leaders in the U.S. noticed that Israel was not, after all, a very liberal society. It was designed exclusively for one group and discriminated against those who were not members of that group. When this became a subject of concern ...

Published: Saturday 9 August 2014

Part I - The Precarious Status of International Humanitarian Law   By the end of the 19th century it was recognized by those concerned with human rights that the nation-state was a destructive anachronism. It was an entity that seemed addicted to periodic spasms of mass violence, particularly in the form of war carried on with little or no regard for non-combatants or other restraining factors. As a consequence, efforts began to create instruments of international law - treaties, conventions and other agreements - to modify state behavior in such areas as the treatment of prisoners and the victimization of civilian populations. Progress was spotty until the very end of World War II, when various human rights charters came into existence as a part of the United Nations. Through that institution, provision was made - albeit in very narrowly defined circumstances - for the fielding of UN military forces (the famous Blue Helmets) to try to enforce peace and protect civilian populations. Other institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), were also eventually brought into existence.     The post-war move to expand international law to cover human rights and provide enforcement measures was all for the good, and in the future it will hopefully prove a powerful precedent that can be built upon. However, this period of progress did not last long. It soon gave way to a hypocritical selective application of humanitarian law. The truth is that today only those nations which are relatively weak and have no ...

Published: Wednesday 6 August 2014

The decision of the Latin American countries to recall their ambassadors in Tel Aviv is a "deep disappointment", says Israel.El Salvador on Wednesday became the fifth Latin American country to withdraw its ambassador from Israel in protest at Israel's military offensive in Gaza.Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru have already recalled their ambassadors.Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said that the move encourages Hamas; "this decision encourages Hamas which has been recognized as a terrorist organization by several countries. The countries standing against terror must act responsibly and should not reward them. While Hamas has been responsible for hindering a ceasfire, El Salvador, Peru and Chile were expected to support international attitude for peace and demilitarization of Gaza", the statement said.Earlier Israel criticized Brazil over its decision to recall its ambassador in protest at Israel's military offensive in Gaza.Brazil was one of 29 countries in the UN Human Rights Council that voted last Wednesday to investigate Israel over its military offensive in Gaza.During a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 17, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said her country was "profoundly concerned by the dramatic events" in Gaza.The Palestinian death toll from a devastating Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip rose to 1283, according to a Gaza Health Ministry spokesman.According to the spokesman, at least 7170 Palestinians have also been injured in the ongoing Israeli attacks since July 7.

Published: Wednesday 30 July 2014

Part I - David Harris and the American Jewish Congress  For reasons unknown I have ended up on the list-serve of the American Jewish Congress. This means I receive messages sent out by its executive director, David Harris. Sometimes I even read them.    On 18 July 2014 I got just such a missive explaining that “too many in the international community fail to grasp the stark realities” Israel faces and its “severely limited policy options.” To set everyone straight Harris wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe (also dated 18 July), a copy of which came along with his mailing.  Since the horror in Gaza continues unabated and Harris’s letter can be taken as representative of the American Zionist point of view, I decided that it was appropriate for me to deconstruct his op-ed for my own blog and list-serve. One should note that a similar contesting of Israeli rationalizations, dealing with somewhat different points, appears in a 25 July 2014 online article, entitled “Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza - Debunked,”  from the Nation magazine.   Before looking at the op-ed we should note that Mr. Harris lives in a very tightly defined world. It is a world defined by a set of unquestioned assumptions which are prescribed by a thoroughly assimilated ideology. That ideology is, of course Zionism, the a ...

Published: Friday 18 July 2014

Part I - Rationalizations With the Israelis once more inflicting collective punishment in Gaza (a tactic which happens to constitute a war crime) it is time to consider the mind-set behind their repeated violent and sadistic behavior. One way to do so is to listen to the rationalizations they use, also repeatedly, to justify their actions. Among the many rationalizations offered by Israeli leaders for their violent behavior is the assertion that the Arabs, and Palestinians in particular, “only understand force.” If you do not use force against them they interpret its absence as a sign of weakness and this only encourages them to stand against the Zionist state. This notion that the Arabs only understand force is one of the holdover stereotypes of a mostly, but obviously not completely, bygone age of imperialism.Actually, when it comes to the Israelis, this persistent myth is mixed up with their own post-Holocaust determination to “never again” react to a threat passively. They believe that sort of reaction is what killed millions of European Jews, and so it is no longer psychologically acceptable. The only problem with these lines of thought is that they are seriously misleading - both in terms of Arab/Palestinian perceptions and European Jewish behavior. Part II - The Palestinians Only Understand Force Fallacy Since coming into existence in 1948, the Israel has attacked Palestinian individuals and infrastructure thousands of times. Israeli conventional wisdom would claim that this has been done in self-defense and to dissuade the Palestinians from future attacks. The self-defense rationale is misleading because Israelis have, from the beginning, been acting offensively: most of what is now Israel and the ...

Published: Wednesday 16 July 2014

Part I - Dogmatists in the Justice System  Scattered throughout the ranks of U.S. federal prosecutors and judges there have always been men and women who are unwilling to make a distinction between their own biases and the rules of evidence that are designed to keep the system focused on the goal of justice. Such closed-minded individuals, embedded in the system, can find themselves set free to act out their prejudices by special circumstances. One might think back to the “hanging judges” who appeared here and there on the American frontier in the 19th century. Being among the few enforcers of law and order in an otherwise anarchic environment, they indulged their fantasies of playing the wrathful god.    The “War on Terror” has likewise created a special circumstance that has liberated Justice Department dogmatists: Islamophobes, Zionists, neoconservatives and others who fancy themselves on a special mission to protect the nation from evil and conspiratorial forces. And, as with the hanging judges before them, the result has been an enhanced possibility not of justice, but rather of the miscarriage of justice.  Part II - The Case of Sami Al-Arian  In the past twenty years one of the most notable victims of doctrinaire judges and prosecutors has been Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian is the son of Palestinian-refugee parents. He came to the United States in 1975 to attend university and earned his degree in computer systems engineering. Eventually he earned a Ph.D. and obtained a ...

Published: Saturday 5 July 2014

Part I - Denying the Connections    The display of anxiety and aggressive agitation in Israel, triggered by the kidnapping of three young men from an illegal settlement on the West Bank, seems to be accompanied by a near total denial of any legitimate relationship between government actions (the occupation) and Palestinian reactions (the kidnapping). No matter what the Israelis do to the Palestinians they insist that those actions are justified, and no matter how the Palestinians react, the Israelis insist those actions are never justified. By objective standards this Israeli attitude borders on the pathological.   Part II - Resulting Tragedies    There are multiple tragedies that result from this disconnect. The tragedy of the three Jewish kidnap victims is the one that is foremost in both Israeli consciousness and also in the Western media. At this level there is lots of speculation that the young men were taken as hostages to be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. As if to put out the message that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu will not play that game, the Israeli military is arresting hundreds of Palestinians, including some who had been released in exchange for Gilad Shalit. They are also are destroying property in a wholesale manner, wounding scores and even murdering a steady number of Palestinians as they search for the kidnap victims. However, all this mayhem, which only deepens, if possible, Palestinian hatred, may be based on an Israeli false assumption. Quite likely this kidnapping was not carried out so as to set up some future exchange. Quite likely ...

Published: Tuesday 24 June 2014

Part I -  George W. Bush’s Invasion   Back in November 2003 President George W. Bush told the country that the invasion of Iraq was the part of an effort to “spread democracy throughout the Middle East.” Initially, of course, the president had declared that the U.S. attacked Iraq to fight terrorists who possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). This specific claim could be fact-checked and indeed it was. Bush’s claims, both about terrorists in Iraq and WMDs, turned out to be false. The follow-up claim about spreading democracy could not be fact-checked. We can’t even be sure if Bush and his neoconservative allies themselves believed in this radical goal of spreading democracy by the sword. Given that most of the regimes the U.S. has backed in the Middle East, including at one time that of Saddam Hussein, were autocracies of one sort or another, one can legitimately have doubts.    However, one thing we can be sure of - the Americans are not the only ones who can launch a crusade based on an age-old idea. Islamic radicals, who may think they are replicating the spread of Islam as it took place in the 7th and 8th centuries, can do it too. And, thanks to the George W. Bush, who opened the floodgates for them, these Islamist radicals are doing just that.   Part II - Saddam Hussein’s Culpability   Bush and the neocons could ...

Published: Saturday 21 June 2014

Part I - Something Disturbing There is something disturbing about the Republican response to just about everything President Obama does. It has a knee-jerk yet patterned nature.  It displays a meanness that is acted out with a certain gloating quality as well. Take for instance Republican Representative Joe Wilson shouting “You Lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress on health care. Wilson’s anger was displayed with the malicious satisfaction of a nasty child. Subsequently, Republican politicians have called President Obama a “tar baby,” a socialist, lazy, Hitler, and perhaps most tellingly, un-American. None these epithets are accurate, yet apparently they are believed to be true not only by the persons who said them, but many others among the Republican base.   What is the reason for this?  The New York Times editors think Republican attitudes towards Obama are politically motivated. As they put it in an editorial on 5 June 2014, referencing Republican reaction to the negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity in Afghanistan: “The last few days have made clearer than ever that there is no action the Obama administration can take — not even the release of a possibly troubled American soldier from captivity — that ...

ABOUT Lawrence Davidson
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.
ldavidson@wcupa.edu
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