Wednesday, March 30, 2005

White power: Study of prime-time TV programming reveals secular, veteran Israeli men of European descent rule the screen

By Raz Shechnik

We hear much about how the racism that propelled the founders of Israel has become a thing of the past.  Guess again.

Israel is home to multiple ethnicities and religions, but you would never know it by watching local television shows. A recent study paints a bleak picture of deep-seated bias in the depiction of minorities on the small screen. 

Jewish, secular men of Ashkenazi (European) descent dominate prime-time programming, according to the study. Meanwhile, Jews of Middle Eastern origin are likelier to be associated with crime, violence, and poverty than Ashkenazi Jews. 

Professors Eli Avraham of University of Haifa and Anat First of Netanya College analyzed various programs, including newscasts, talk shows, game shows and dramas for about a year for the study, commissioned by Israel’s Second Broadcasting Authority. 

Their conclusion is that Israel’s minority groups, namely Arabs, Ultra-Orthodox, and new immigrants, have become virtually extinct when it comes to TV appearances. 

Women mostly appear in cooking, lifestyle shows

Meanwhile, women and Israelis of Middle Eastern origin did appear on television occasionally, but to a much lesser extent than their percentage in the population warrants. 

On another front, women tended to be featured in cooking, fashion and lifestyle shows. Settlers were also largely absent from the local television scene, with the exception of news programs.

The study found new immigrants played a central role in only 21 news items during the year, while 1,626 items focused on veteran Israelis. Ethiopian immigrants fared particularly poorly, with only three items focused on them. 

This trend was also seen on talk shows, with guests likely to be veteran, secular Israeli Jews, mostly of European descent. The same pattern held true for game show participants. 

When it came to dramas, 99 percent of characters were Jewish. The only non-Jew to make an appearance on one of the shows was a foreign worker. 

Meanwhile, 20 percent of the Arabs appearing on news shows were presented as holding provocative views, compared to only 5 percent of the Jews.

Moreover, while most newscasters and hosts tended to be Ashkenazi males, minority group members were often cast in the role of “the man on the street.”

‘Things would have to change’

Second Broadcasting Authority Director-General Moti Sklar said he does not intend to ignore the study’s findings. He likened the situation to an owner of a major road who decides to only allow brand new vehicles to travel on it. 

Sklar said the study confirmed an already present gut feeling. 

“Television stations only give expression to a very particular segment within Israeli society,” he said, and added things would have to change. 

“You cannot create a democracy, particularly in a country with so many schisms, when principal groups are not part of the discourse,” he said.

From Ynet News, March 13, 2005

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Jewish Community of Armenia Pleads Recognition of Armenian Genocide in Turkey
by Yitzhak Levinson
published at: 2005-03-19, 16:34
last updated at: 2005-03-19, 16:39

(YEREVAN) - . The Jewish community of Armenia appealed last week to the Jewish organizations all over the world to express their civil positions on the issue of recognizing Armenian Genocide in 1915 in Ottoman Turkey.

The report about the appeal was passed by The Armenian news agency - ARMINFO. In 5 weeks more a memorial assembly of the Armenian Holocaust will take place in the Armenian patriarchy in Jerusalem.

The appeal stresses that Ottoman Turkey perpetrated monstrous crime against citizens of its country, inflicted reprisals, and annihilated 1.5 million Armenians. Those facts were consigned to oblivion for decades and were not condemned by the mankind, they claim. "Perhaps", claims the Jewish community leaders in Armenia, "Holocaust would not occur if the world, in proper time, stood together against that atrocity, as it stands on the fight against terrorism". In addition, the Armenian Jewry leaders wrote: "No political or economical interests should prevent recognizing tragedies, common to all mankind".

In opinion of appeal's authors, the issue of recognizing Armenian Genocide in no way directed against Turkish people, and quite the contrary, it will raise the country in opinion of civilization, as it was in case of Germany acknowledged the fact of extirpation of 6 million Jews by the Nazi state. "On the eve of the Memorial Day of Genocide victims April 24 we appeal to those who are not indifferent to the acknowledgment of historical truth, and ask to bow down before the memory of these victims", the appeal says.

The Mess at Columbia University: The Zionist McCarthyites and an Orgy of Hate

 Conference Review: The Middle East and Academic Integrity on the American Campus, Columbia University, March 6, 2005

The legacy of Edward Said, a Palestinian academic who was perhaps the first Anglophone intellectual of any public standing who sought to articulate the hitherto silent voice of the Palestinian Arabs, has become more than a trifling matter among latter-day Zionists.  The recent flap over Jewish student accusations of intimidation by MEALAC professors, MEALAC being the Middle Eastern Studies department at ColumbiaUniversity, perhaps the most prestigious college in New York City, has caused an outbreak of hate and derision the likes of which we rarely see in the seemingly benign world of the modern academy.  Columbia was host to the March 6th conference which was meant to address the issues arising from the MEALAC controversy. 

 The conference was sponsored by Jewish and pro-Israel groups on the Columbia Campus and largely by The David Project, a recently-formed advocacy project that has made a number of media splashes – most prominently through the work of Rachel Fish, a former Harvard Divinity School student, who created a furor over the donation of $2.5 million to the school by an Arab potentate from the United Arab Emirates – a check that was returned by Harvard in August 2004, a year and a half after Fish’s initial campaign.

Edward Said’s sadly truncated life was contested while he was still living. In 1999, Commentary magazine printed an article which attempted to prove that Said was not a Palestinian.  The writer of the article, a hitherto unknown figure named Justus Weiner, had worked for quite a while seeking to expose Said as a hypocrite and fake. In the style of such exposes, Weiner cut and paste a good deal of sketchy material that was almost immediately discredited by most legitimate sources and nothing was heard from Weiner again – a promised book on Said never materialized.

But what is most important to note in the Weiner episode was the pressing need to find a way to discredit Said.  Such an expose spoke to the power that, by 1999, Said had accrued in both the academic world and in the general media.  With his seminal work Orientalism first published in 1978 by Random House, Said articulated a bold and controversial understanding of the Arab world at a time when that world had been subjected to a persistent demonization of its morality and character.  It should be remembered that the Iranian Revolution was causing all sorts of paroxysms in the American mind and the recent 1973 War in Israel was fresh in the minds of Jews who saw a new vulnerability exposed.  The trip by Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian dictator, to Jerusalem was a startling moment in the history of the Middle East conflict.

Orientalism was a massive scholarly work that marked the ideology behind Western Imperialism.  While the history of Western Imperialism had been examined in many popular and academic works, Said, a professor of Comparative Literature, went back to the flotsam and jetsam of the Western literary tradition and found a pattern that emerged: From the paintings of Eugene Delacroix to the political pronouncements of Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Cromer, Said traced a line of racism and stereotyping that permeated the Imperial project.

This ideological prejudice provided a rational footing to the conquest of what were then thought of as INFERIOR PEOPLES.  The rationalization allowed the “civilized” Europeans to make sense of their enterprise.  In hyper-Darwinian fashion, the 19th century Imperialists thought that they carried with them an entitlement to subjugate their inferiors. 
And this was one of the most startling developments in Said’s study: The mass of material that he presented showed that the creation of Modern civilization was predicated on the backs of the exploited and the dispossessed. 
While the Americans had begun to look inward at the role of slavery in their own culture, the Europeans – and the Americans – continued to practice a malignant form of racism when it came to Third World nations.

In Orientalism Said fixated on the relationship between Europe and the Middle East in the wake of the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. 
He showed a pattern of abuse that was not merely physical in nature. 
The Western powers, especially Britain and France, loaded up their intellectual baggage with representations of the Orientals that showed them as indolent, lazy, morally suspect and intellectually deficient. 
(We should note that such representations were applied to Arab Jews as well.)

Said was hailed within the academic community for his breakthroughs. 
In a time of post-modern ferment, his ability to make use of literary matter normally considered marginal to political and historical study was a huge advance.   The conservative forces were utterly startled by this work as they were by the work of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan a decade earlier.  In fact, Said made extensive use of the ideas of Foucault and applied them to what was at the time one of the most pressing political issues of the day.

A year after the publication of Orientalism Said used his literary and academic capital to begin a series of works on Palestine and the perception of Arabs in the media.  If Orientalism had scared the pants off the more timid, The Question of Palestine created a huge uproar among the Zionists and their supporters.  For the first time in recent memory a capable intellectual wrote in the style and manner of a Western-trained academic. 
It must be remembered that from Chaim Weizmann to Abba Eban to Henry Kissinger, the Zionists had many able spokesmen for their cause; spokesmen who could articulate their ideas in proper English that was sensitive to the nuanced understanding of the Western intellectuals and political establishment. 
Since the publication of George Antonius’ The Arab Awakening in 1946, a book that got lost in the sands of time, and was wisely resurrected by Said himself, there was no voice to present the case of those dispossessed by Zionism and by the Imperialism of the West.

The Question of Palestine marked Edward Said as PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE of the Jewish people. 
Threats were made by the JDL against his life, his office at Columbia University was firebombed and his home was guarded by NYPD officers for years after. 

It was clear that a movement was being formed to ensure that Arabs were not to open their mouths in the face of Westernsuperiority.  It must be remembered that Zionist HASBARAH had been a prominent feature in American life for decades. 
Leon Uris’ 1958 novel
Exodus was turned into a major Hollywood film in 1960 thus cementing the standard Zionist version of the conflict and etching that version into the American and Western psyche with great force.  It could be shown from the work of Edward Said that Uris and Otto Preminger, the director of the film of the book, were tapping into the hoary myths of Orientalism to construct a demonized portrait of the Arabs. 

But the free market of ideas in the 1950s and 60s did not provide for any articulation of Arab voices.  It must also be recalled that the work of the British-born Jewish Orientalist Bernard Lewis was being used by the political insiders in both Great Britain and the US.  Lewis played a major role in the Cold War and the emerging analysis of the Arab Question in the wake of Zionism and the suppression offreedom and democracy in the Arab world by a West that now saw its energy reserves linked to the promotion of autocratic regimes in the region; regimes that would ensure a free flow of the oil reserves to a West increasingly dependent on that form of energy to fuel its economic engine.

In essence, Leon Uris’ Exodus provided the standard template by which all understanding of the Jewish cause in Zion would be formed: The straggling refugees of Hitler’s barbarity limped their way to Palestine only to find themselves attacked by RED-FACED Arabs and suppressed by the British.  The story of the American ship the St. Louis being sent back from its Palestinian destination back to Nazi Europe was seen as emblematic of the Zionist cause. 
Little known were the insights that Tom Segev, an Israeli historian, would provide decades later in his book
The Seventh Million: Israel and the Holocaust and Idith Zertal’s book From Catastrophe to Power: Holocaust Survivors and the Emergence of Israel, books that would have been impossible to imagine without the prior work of Edward Said.

In point of fact, the work of Edward Said spurred on a new cadre of professional Israeli historians who sought to rethink the ways in which Zionist history was written.  With the publication of Simha Flapan’s The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities in 1987, followed by Benny Morris’ The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem in the same year and Avi Shlaim’s Collusion Across the Jordan in 1988, a new interpretation of Zionist history was offered to the interested reader. 
While Palestinian authors such as Walid Khalidi had been doing studies for some years on the subject, it was not until these Israeli historians published their books that the situation changed – a situation that was brought about because of the work of Edward Said – a body of work that was deeply influential for a whole generation of students in Europe and America.

Said’s reach even extended into the realm of Sephardic studies. 
With the publication of Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History in 1987, the field of medieval study of Arabic culture was transformed in profound ways that highlighted the role of Sepharad/Andalus in the construction of Western modernity.  The emergence of Sephardic Jewish scholars like Ella Shohat and Ammiel Alcalay with their incisive critiques of the way in which Sephardic Jews had too been affected by Orientalism, completely redrew the map of Sephardic self-perception. 
Shohat published an article called “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims” that adapted a title of one of the chapters from Said’s A Question of Palestine.  Shohat’s 1989 book Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation and Alcalay’s 1993 After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture were also works unimaginable without Edward Said’s insights.

Said’s influence both transformed and transcended the field of Middle Eastern studies. 
Hitherto a deeply conservative and even reactionary field of study that was linked to issues of national security and governmental policy, Middle Eastern studies was in the firm control of the Cold Warriors like Bernard Lewis who were welcome in the corridors of power. The view of scholars like Lewis and his acolytes was seen as determinative for foreign policy assessments of the executive branch of the US government.  With the emergence of Said into the field – and it must be recalled that Said was not a Middle East scholar – he was a scholar of Western literature – there was a tremendous uproar.

The field went on the attack and tried to excise the Said factor. 
But many of the individual practitioners in the field were native Middle Easterners who found themselves freed from the old Imperialist paradigms and foci; free to look to native ways of understanding their own histories.

In a book like Timothy Mitchell’s masterpiece Colonising Egypt a new paradigm was brilliantly formulated: Texts by Arabs would be given as much weight as those by those colonialists who sought to enframe the Arabs within foreign paradigms and ways of seeing.  The Arabs would retroactively be given voice to critique and reassess what was being done to them.  Rather than remaining OBJECTIFIED, the Arabs in Mitchell’s study were given AGENCY to tell us what they were actually thinking and how they were affected by what was happening to them.  Focus was taken off of the standard racist ways of appropriating Arab history in the modern period and placed on the ways in which the East and West dealt with one another. 
In the penultimate portions of Colonising Egypt Mitchell presents a dazzling analysis on Husayn al-Marsafi’s book Eight Words which reflects the classical mode of Arabic literary interpretation that was common to the civilized culture that was shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians in the East.

When I first read Colonising Egypt I could not help thinking of the Jewish scholars Susan Handelman and Jose Faur and their attempts to reassert the classical Jewish glossolalia of the rabbinic traditions. 
And here I found a deep commonality in the Jewish and Islamic traditions that brought together the work of Said, Faur and Mitchell into a synthesis that had been articulated in Ammiel Alcalay’s After Jews and Arabs.

Further, Edward Said’s influence reached into the study of the very volatile issues that were retarding the growth and progress of Arab modernity. 
A number of vitally important books on the status of women in the Arab world were published in the wake of Said: Fedwa Malti-Douglas’ Woman’s Body, Woman’s Word: Gender and Discourse in Arab-Islamic Writing (1991), Leila Ahmed’s brilliant Women and Gender in Islam (1992), Beth Baron’s The Women’s Awakening in Egypt (1994) and Cynthia Nelson’s Doria Shafik, Egyptian Feminist (1996) were all works that followed the model of Orientalism
and affirmed the value and power of the humanist critique of religious and nationalist fundamentalisms that Said had pioneered.

I realize that I have spent a good deal of time to provide background on Edward Said and the school of scholarship that he developed, but I think it vital for the reader to understand completely what is at stake in what is going on at Columbia University.  The recent flap over MEALAC is part of the ongoing attempt to attack Edward Said and the Saidian legacy.  This attack has been fought by students and followers of Bernard Lewis, that old Said nemesis, and by groups such as Campus Watch which has focused on the Middle East scholars who are of the Said mold.

At the outset it must be clearly stated that the events at Columbia University have at their core the charges of a number of Jewish students that must be taken seriously.  Whatever the particular ideology of the student or professor might be, the freedom to articulate ideas and opinions is a sacrosanct one that must NEVER BE VIOLATED BY ANY PERSON. 
This having been said, it is common knowledge that professors at universities present their scholarly work and their teachings in a very forceful manner.  But we must accept that the acrimony over an interpretation of Beowulf or The Federalist Papers does not have the same volatility as does views of current political and military conflicts.

I can recall that as an NYU undergrad I was advised against taking any courses in Jewish Studies.  One of the prominent teachers in the department, Baruch Levine, was (in)famous for ripping apart believing Jews in his Bible classes. 
A student articulating religious views of Biblical authorship, I was told on good authority, would be chastised and humiliated in front of the class.

Such tales are legion in the university.  I myself got into a great deal of trouble as a Cornell grad student for not paying obeisance to the aforementioned Bernard Lewis who was, I thought and continue to think, a sworn enemy of the Sephardim. 

The idea that the university is a place where freedom reigns is something of a myth. 
Professors use bullying tactics on a regular basis in their teaching and in their use of grades and recommendation letters. 
In many ways the whole thing is a game of cat and mouse; the ability of a professor to abuse his or her position is in proportion to their own power and the power of their department.

In the case of MEALAC, the department has been buoyed by the legacy of the late Edward Said whose name now adorns a chair in the department. 
The link between Edward Said and MEALAC is determinative in what has been going on.  A number of Jewish students, frustrated at the treatment they were receiving from professors in the department, found an avenue to vent their grievances – not through the university which they claim would not listen to them, even though not one filed a formal grievance with the university – but through the avenue of the aforementioned Rachel Fish and The David Project.

The David Project is a Zionist-oriented organization that presents itself as a human rights watchdog.  One of their campaigns is called “The Forgotten Refugees”; a project to acknowledge "the ethnic cleansing of one million Jews from Arab civilization and Iran." 
We have in our newsletter addressed this problem of nomenclature previously in the case of Iraq and have asserted categorically that there is not one single shred of evidence that formal expulsions of Jews took place in the Arab world.  The matter has become an issue to match the Zionist treatment of the Palestinians against a similar treatment of Jews by the Arabs. 
The evidence of Zionist interference with the Jews of the Arab world – as in the case of The Lavon Affair in Egypt or the Mas’uda Shemtob Synagogue bombing in Iraq – is thus elided and ignored. 
In the spirit of Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, we as Sephardim find it COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE that non-Sephardim should be allowed to speak for us.  I think of the famous scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” – the "bring out yer dead" scene – where one of the ostensible dead on the cart shouts out "I’m not quite dead yet!"
  Sephardim do not wish to have The David Project speaking in their names.

The David Project produced a filmed record of the accusations of the students against various MEALAC professors.  Professors are accused of various forms of verbal abuse and psychological intimidation. 
As I have said previously, such intimidation is a regular feature of campus life.  This does not make it acceptable or correct and I make no apologies for the professors named in the film.  But problems arise in the course of the film: Only one of the students appears to have attended the classes of the professor under attack, Joseph Massad. 
The film carefully interweaves decontextualized accusations without any evidentiary procedures.  "Columbia Unbecoming" is a classic work of political propaganda: There is no footage of the professors to confront their accusers according to the procedures of due process; there is a fixation on MEALAC with no mention of possible issues in other departments; and the predominant voice in the film is Hillel Director Emeritus Rabbi Charles Sheer who has never attended any of the classes or lectures in question.  Rabbi Sheer seems to be a nice man, but he is presented as an expert witness in the "trial" constructed by the film, and yet his presence is rhetorically measured rather than providing real evidence that might "convict" these professors.

The accusations are very serious and the means to adjudicate them are also in dispute.  The university has standard procedures for the filing of grievances which the students did not follow.  The argument of the students was that the procedures were thought ineffective and useless so no one filled out a form.  Instead, the students hooked-up with a partisan group that is fixated on Jewish and Israeli issues.  This is fine for the group as an advocacy institution, but it serves to undermine the authority and the recognized procedures of the university which has a professional and public responsibility to deal with this matter with integrity. 
The David Project in this case, unlike the matter of Rachel Fish’s advocacy at Harvard, did not respect the boundaries of the university and provide the university with the opportunity to adjudicate the matter in the normal manner.  Rather than attempting to determine whether these abuses were limited to MEALAC, the entry of The David Project and now a seemingly endless number of Jewish and non-Jewish advocacy groups from the ADL to the Zionist Organization of America to Nat Hentoff and Natan Sharansky, the New York City Council, the Israeli Knesset and US Congress have all served to turn this into a media circus.

It seems clear that there are a number of things going on here: There is the matter of the Said-ization of Middle Eastern studies and the takeover by Said disciples of the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA), the professional organization of the field that was once in the hands of Bernard Lewis and his followers. 
Two professors at the March 6th event, Martin Kramer and Ephraim Karsh, from the Lewis school, bemoaned the nefarious influence of Edward Said and his students and followers, stating in very clear terms that MEALAC has been hijacked by the Saidians.  Kramer’s essay on MEALAC “Bir Zeit on the Hudson” (distributed in the conference packet) typifies the arrogance and the prejudice that characterizes this school. 

With the help of Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch and David Horowitz’s Front Page Magazine, the views of these pro-Israel partisans have become a big deal. 
The Campus Watch website archives a dossier on each and every US academic (a sister website has just been created in Israel, where Said’s legacy in the country’s universities is perhaps even more pronounced than it is in the US) measuring them according to the strict standards of Pipes’ own Right Wing Zionism.  Campus Watch has fed into the so-called S.H.I.T. list promulgated on the masada2000 website which targets Jewish figures critical of Israel.  Campus Watch attempts not merely to "identify" Jewish "traitors" like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A.B. Yehoshua and Avraham Burg as masada2000’s list does, but to burrow into every nook and cranny of the US academic system and use reports from students that it solicits on its website to identify anti-Israel comments by professors.

If all this smacks of McCarthyism, perhaps we need to be reminded of what academic freedom actually means today.

While the sort of bullying that Massad and the others at Columbia are accused of goes on at every university in the world every day, the issue of targeting professors who Campus Watch judges to be "anti-Israel"  is a manifestation, on more than ample display at the March 6th program, of the subterfuge known as HASBARAH. 

While nearly every single speaker at the conference whined on and on about TRUTH and ACADEMIC INTEGRITY, there was little doubt that by TRUTH the speakers – including civil libertarian hypocrites like Alan Dershowitz and Nat Hentoff – meant THE TRUTH AS THE ZIONISTS UNDERSTAND IT. 

A quote from the handout provided by the organizers from the Zionist Organization of America, a reactionary fringe group that is at this point closer to the ideals of Meir Kahane than it is to the ideals of Stephen Wise (who was lambasted in this orgy of hate for his silence on the Holocaust) who was its founder, says it clearly: "That curricula, textbooks, and other educational materials be free of distortion and prejudice from one side, just as students may be required to read and study Mein Kampf and Edward Said as part of their class, they should be required to read Bernard Lewis and Bat Ye’or."

This last statement sets the entire stage for the bloodfest that I felt obliged to sit through:  Edward Said equated with Adolf Hitler.  Such is the stuff of Bill O’Reilly and his equation of Mein Kampf and the Qur’an.

The program was an Arab bloodletting with Edward Said as its poster boy. 
Rather than debating the issues of what Joseph Massad and George Saliba actually DID or DID NOT DO, each speaker presented a worldwide conspiracy designed to attack Jews at each and every turn. 

From ex-liberals and progressives like Charles Jacobs of The David Project, the feminist pioneer Phyllis Chesler, Laurie Zoloth of Northwestern University and Mort Klein of the ZOA and the aforementioned Dershowitz and Hentoff who expressed their own internal angst over their radical past(s) and their current sense of alienation from the manner in which Anti-Semitism has come from the Radical Left, to true reactionary Conservatives like Martin Kramer, Ephraim Karsh and the crusading lawyer Debbie Schlussel who has specialized in her activism against Arabs and Muslims, the various speakers painted an ominously frightening picture of a world of new Nazis coming after the JEWS – as if we were not sitting on Morningside Heights but were in the Warsaw Ghetto. 
And we were never too far from some mention of the Holocaust in many of the speeches.

The program fixated on the legal mechanisms that are in place to get at these Arab barbarians.  There was no mention of the sort of intimidation that regularly takes place in and from the Jewish community against Arabs and those who seek justice for ALL PEOPLE. 
In other words, academic integrity and fairness when it comes to the Middle East conflict is only seen as fairness for Zionists and their supporters. 
We were regaled with tale after tale of the horrors of Arabs and their civilization.  This all came to a head in three speeches, one from Phyllis Chesler on the treatment of women in the Arab world; another from Brigitte Gabriel, a former Lebanese TV anchorwoman who moved to Israel and now lives in the US and has determined that she will tell the truth about Arab racism and hate; and finally the presentation of four African victims of Arab cruelty by Charles Jacobs of The David Project in a shameless display of exploitation – much in the manner that The David Project has sought to "use" the Arab Jewish issue to its advantage.

In each of these cases, the speakers began from a completely fair and unobjectionable premise: Ms. Chesler correctly identified the brutality towards women in the Arab world; Ms. Gabriel presented the hate that is taught in Arab schools; and Mr. Jacobs permitted the African men – all victims of Arab racist persecution – to tell their important stories. 
I would not even question the importance of raising these issues. 
What I do question however is the one-sided approach to the issue. 
A legal case was being made in a partisan manner against Arab civilization.  There were no analogues presented from any other context – as if such abuses were unique to Arab culture and Arab culture alone. 

I have previously mentioned the seminal studies of Leila Ahmed, Beth Baron, Fedwa Malti-Douglas and Cynthia Nelson on the issue of feminism in the Arab world. 
Such scholars depended on the critique of Orientalism that was formulated by Edward Said – the bete noire of the conference – andwhich has been continued in the work of MEALAC and the other entities being demonized by the Jewish partisans.

There is no question that since the redress of the imbalance of power in Middle Eastern studies that the scholars in the field like Joseph Massad and George Saliba and the many Arab and Palestinian advocacy groups that have sprung up in the wake of the 2000 Intifada which has led to so much misery for all concerned in the region, have committed excesses that have been correctly and properly identified by the many speakers at the Columbia conference. 
The problem is that the presentations were so filled with hate and bile any salient impact they might have had was blunted by the sheer violence that was inherent in the way in which the unashamed and completely unrestrained Zionist partisanship took place.

The day was replete with many thinly veiled and some not so thinly veiled threats against Arabs in and out of the academy.  The speakers all made it manifestly clear to my ears that they were all filled with the sort of hatred and racism that they have identified on the other side and that they are ostensibly seeking to outlaw and punish. 
We were regaled to the Zionist myths, intimidations and hammers that led Edward Said to break out of his shell as a professor of literature and passionately articulate the voice of the silent. 
The sort of rhetorical violence from the various speakers often took on ominous tones; the edge of the speeches had a shrillness that served to reinforce the idea that these people were not much better than those they had come to criticize.

This became clear when three of the students from the "Columbia Unbecoming" film stepped forward to make some comments on the film and take a few questions. 
Ariel Beery stepped forward to say that he was unhappy with the tone of many of the speakers at the event and that he and the other students were fighting simply to be heard in a fair manner and not to suppress the right of Arab professors to their speech.  Audience members were visibly upset that the very protagonists of the drama were not on board with the orgy of bloodletting that had been taking place in the auditorium that morning.  One even rudely and with great intimidation demanded Beery to provide evidence of bias on the part of the speakers.  When Beery provided that evidence you could see the visible anger on the part of the audience members.  Beery was not following the script: His presentation of the themes of fairness and equity were not really what this conference was all about: The point of the event was to bash MEALAC and the Columbia administration into submission.

The underlying theme of nearly all of the speakers was that the Arabs were evil and that Jews would have to fight with bare knuckles to do what was needed to "protect" Jews from this virulent and primal Anti-Semitism.

Endless examples were given about how the Arabs have rained terror on the world and how that terror is deeply connected to the Arabs who teach in universities such as Columbia.  The Title VI program – a program that funds academic programs that teach foreign cultures and histories – and various sources of funding were mentioned repeatedly among the not so thinly veiled threats that were marked by the presentation of Rachel Fish which laid out the manner in which lawyers, activists, journalists and politicians should deal with the transfer of money from the Arab world into the American university.  We did not hear of any other attempt to look at sources of funding – other than the ARAB. 
The basic idea is that if certain types of funding can be strangled that Arab studies can be reconfigured to a more Zionist-friendly variant. 
Again, the idea is not to hold ALL FUNDING up to scrutiny, but to strangle Arab studies in its current variant which is perceived to be anti-Israel.

The straw man of fairness in academia that was the veneer at the conference is a mere bugaboo.  What is behind all this is a massive dose of HASBARAH that means to advocate on behalf of the state of Israel.  This, of course, is the same point that is being made to attack the Arab advocates. 
And I fully agree that any advocacy or suppression of free debate – ON ANY SIDE – is wrong and must be eliminated, swiftly and without prejudice. 
It is the height of hypocrisy to examine one side and not another. 
We should be able to freely discuss the issue of violence and injustice in the Arab world. 

The following is a fair articulation of the point:

Where is the vision, where are the values guiding the investment of this great national treasure of ours, which will not last forever? 
How many castles in England, how many Cadillacs, how many Lockheed jets need to be bought before we can turn to other things? 
For this Right Wing I have been describing is not finally interested in its own preservation so much as it is interested in having a good time; no ruling class in history is so unintelligent as this one. 
If it does not have faith in its people, it has no faith in any other values either.  The universities languish.  The student population increases – which is good – yet the curriculum is as antiquated as anything can be.  We must face the fact that there are no achievements to speak of in modern Arab science or most intellectual effort, at least none that have come out of our universities…  We are living through a period in the Arab world of unparalleled economic prosperity on the one hand, and of unparalleled political and social and intellectual poverty on the other hand. 
In what Arab capital is it possible to write and publish what one wishes, to say the truth, to stem the tide repressive state authority, intolerant of everything except its own fantasies and appetites? 
Most of our best writers and intellects have either been co-opted or jailed into silence.

Bernard Lewis?

Daniel Pipes? 

Martin Kramer?


 Edward Said from his 1979 essay "The Arab Right Wing."

One can scour Said’s writings and find the same strident militancy against the forces of Arab anti-Semitism and anti-feminism and racism that we heard from many of the speakers at the Columbia anti-Said festa.  And here is the value and the beauty of free speech – we can be political enemies and continue to discuss and dialogue with one another by finding COMMON GROUND.

The idea that there is only one version of the TRUTH is as spurious a concept on the Zionist side as it is on the Arab side.  So when we hear from Mort Klein of the ZOA, a group that never met a peace it did not like, that we need to have TRUTH – perhaps he needs to look within andfind out the lies that HE is telling.  Perhaps The David Project should contact members of the Sephardic community who are active in preserving and protecting the rights of that community and not simply trying to adapt to the Ashkenazi model that has led to the tragedy of our people.

I am in complete agreement that the Arab world is corrupt and must be reformed so it will stop being a danger to itself and to others. 

 Edward Said was one of the lone voices in the American academy unafraid to speak of such things. 

But he would not stop with a critique of the corrupt Arab regimes – he was defiant in the face of Zionist intimidation and HASBARAH which saw a need to eliminate his voice from the debate.  If it is completely clear that professors at Columbia University’s MEALAC department committed violations of the academic code, they all need to be disciplined according to the rules of the university.  Wemust also call for a full and complete investigation of ALL such threats of intimidation and presentations of spurious scholarship – like calling the end of Arab Jewish life in their host countries "ethnic cleansing" while turning a blind eye to Meron Benvenisiti’s presenting a dossier of evidence on what happened to the Palestinians at JEWISH HANDS by the same name. 
If there are orders to expel Jews from the Arab world please let us have them or do not use such a charged phrase.

History is a contested thing.  There are arguments among historians over nearly everything.  This does not mean that we should simply sit here and languish while injustice takes place.  In the 1960s Columbia University was the site of many rallies and sit-ins – and even a university shut-down by a Jewish-dominated group called The Weathermen – that protested against US intervention in Vietnam and on behalf of minorities.  Today we see many of those same radical activists taking the side of the establishment against those who, like them when they were students, are taking to the campus with their banners and placards protesting oppression and racism. 
As in the 60s’ protests there is some excess and unacceptable behavior that needs to be addressed.  But such excess must not be permitted to turn into a McCarthyite witch-hunt of administrators and professors who are doing what they can to balance the need for free academic expression with the need for scholarly accuracy and rigor.

We need to have a greater tolerance for complexity and diversity of opinion. 
Imbalances are frequently redressed by certain extreme measures to bring the minority up to speed with the majority. 
The current attempt to turn back the clock on Middle Eastern studies to a pre-Edward Said era – a time when Arabs had NO VOICE in the discourse and no way to redress the matter of their own suppressed existence – in the name of academic freedom is a chilling statement of the intent of Jewish and Zionist groups in this country. 

Neither Jews nor Arabs should have a monopoly on anything; all groups must have their right to speech. 

The fears that were raised at the Columbia conference were whether one monolithic "truth" would be able to force out any other forms of advocacy. 
It is unacceptable that Jewish advocates of Israel are made to feel unsafe and at risk by Arab students and professors just as it is wrong for Jewish groups to target professors for their beliefs and opinions. 
So much of scholarship is interpretive that there is no single way to see anything and it is often not possible to present all the various viewpoints on a number of matters in a single forum.  As uncomfortable as I felt sitting at the conference, it was necessary to have the conference take place.  What was maddening and unacceptable to me were the repeated threats – veiled or not – to decimate a school of thought and its practitioners.

Two wrongs, as they say, do not make a right.

I will give the last words to Edward Said himself, from his final book Humanism and Democratic Practice which lends to this discussion a precise formulation and may serve as a proper credo for the real job of the university:

There can be no true humanism whose scope is limited to extolling patriotically the virtues of our culture, our language, our monuments.  Humanism is the exertion of one’s faculties in language in order to understand, reinterpret, and grapple with the products of language in history, other languages, and other histories.  In my understanding of its relevance today, humanism is not a way of consolidating and affirming what "we" have always known and felt, but rather a means of questioning, upsetting, and reformulating so much of what is presented to us as commodified, packaged, uncontroversial, and uncritically codified certainties, including those contained in the masterpieces herded under the rubric of "the classics."  Our intellectual and cultural world is now scarcely a simple, self-evident collection of expert discourses: it is rather a seething discordance of unresolved notations, to use Raymond Williams’ fine word for the endlessly ramifying and elaborated articulations of culture.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Who shot Brian Avery?

By Aviva Lori
Last Update: 18/03/2005 11:05
Two years after he was shot in Jenin, sustaining severe facial injuries, Brian Avery has returned from the United States to demand that the Israel Defense Forces open a criminal investigation into the shooting.

The young woman who approached Brian Avery last week and asked to have her picture taken with him introduced herself as a Palestinian who lived in Holland for many years. This happened at the foot of the separation fence in East Jerusalem, and Brian Avery, an American from North Carolina who was severely injured in the face by Israeli fire in April 2003, gladly agreed to be photographed with her. "I know who he is," she explained. "I saw him and read his story on various Internet sites."

The two were photographed by a Dutch tourist of Indonesian descent, and the entire scene, against the background of the wall, on which someone had written, in English: "From the Warsaw Ghetto to the Abu Dis Ghetto," could have taken place only in the hallucinatory reality of the Middle East.

Avery came here two years ago, in January 2003, a 24-year-old who dreamed of fixing the world, or at least helping to solve the conflict in the Middle East. Five months and three operations later, he returned home emotionally battered and with his face seriously injured, to a no less cruel future. He has five or six rounds of plastic surgery ahead of him, until his face - maybe, some time - will once again resemble what it used to be.

The issue of Avery, an activist in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), is now being deliberated in the High Court of Justice. Two and a half weeks ago, the first session took place. A panel of three justices instructed the judge advocate general (JAG) to interview, within 90 days, the witnesses to the incident in which Avery was injured in Jenin, and to inform the court whether it will adhere to its previous decision, and if so - why.

Avery wants to know who shot and wounded him critically on Saturday night, April 5, 2003. The original Israel Defense Forces investigation, carried out immediately after the incident by Colonel Dan Hefetz, commander of the Menashe Brigade, concluded with the following surprising IDF statement, which was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv: "Mr. Ivory's injury is an unfortunate incident. ISM activists knowingly endanger themselves by operating during curfew in combat situations, seeking clashes and frictions with IDF soldiers. No findings indicate that Mr. Avery was injured by IDF fire in any of the above-mentioned events."

Organized activism

Avery, today 26, was born in Connecticut, the youngest child in his family. His father, up until 10 years ago, was a submarine commander in the U.S. Navy, and his mother is a schoolteacher. It is a liberal family of German, English and Irish Protestant origin, with a history of several hundred years in America. Avery has an older brother who runs hotels, and a sister who is engaged in medical research. While he was growing up, the family wandered in the wake of his father, who was deployed at a different base every few years. At present, his parents live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After the injury, Avery went back to live near his parents, in his own apartment, located near the hospital where he is having treatment.

Avery, who went to college for a year, was very interested in social and political issues, environmental preservation, and contributing to the community. He lived for two years on a farm in North Carolina, afterward in communal farms in southern France and Portugal, and later in a commune of 18 members in Chicago, most of them environmental activists. He worked in the city at occasional jobs, studied alternative medicine in college, and was involved in voluntary community work. "For me, it was mainly a process in which I learned and internalized the meaning of organized activism," he says.

From Chicago, Avery moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to specialize in studying medicinal herbs at a small college. For a living he worked at a farm, and did volunteer work for his community. "At that farm, there was manual labor with real sweat," he says. "I enjoyed it very much. That life, a combination of work and communal activity, is an ideology for me. I earned little money, only enough for basic survival. The purpose was not to get rich from it, but to work at something that, ideologically speaking, is contrary to what the large monopolies do."

In Albuquerque, he began to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He says that while still in Chicago he met someone who had family in Israel, who told him about the region, but in New Mexico he began to delve into the subject, met additional people who were better informed, and did his own research by reading.

What fascinated you so much?

"The fact that the world has a very serious attitude toward this region, and the United States is so involved in its politics. I thought I wanted to know more, and to experience things personally, and that's how I came to ISM. I met people who worked with them and told me what they do in the territories, and I decided to come."

On borrowed time

In order to pay for his trip, Avery collected donations from his community, and came here in January 2003, going straight to Nablus. The International Solidarity Movement, belying its grandiose name, is a small organization, one of many that cropped up in the territories and in Israel during the period of the last intifada. The movement is a coalition of groups and individuals whose goal is to support Palestinians' nonviolent resistance to the occupation.

They have no annual budget, no offices and no chairman. They all work voluntarily in regional action teams and live from donations from Israel and abroad (about $60,000 annually). One of the rules of the organization is that initiating activities is not permitted; they are only allowed to participate in an activity when the Palestinians ask them to do so. "Demonstrations, dismantling roadblocks, marching and helping the local population in various spheres, and mainly serving as a barrier between them and the army," says Neta Golan, one of the founders. "And everything without violence."

According to Golan, the organization has about 30 support groups abroad, each of them with several dozen activists. The hundreds of activists the world over are a strong presence on the Internet, and are therefore perceived as a powerful factor. The IDF doesn't like them. "The purpose of ISM's activity is to enter an area where the IDF is operating and to create provocations," claims the head of Israel's National Security Council, Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland, former head of the IDF Planning and Policy Directorate, and the IDF representative vis-a-vis the United States on the matter of Avery. "This organization is falsely called a `peace organization,' and is an anti-Israeli organization whose goal is to involve the IDF in provocations, and in this way to harm Israel's status."

Avery was in Nablus for two and a half months. "Mainly we did a lot of work there at the checkpoints," he says. "We tried to mediate between the Palestinian population and the army, and to record things. We also repaired roads, cleaned, worked with children and the elderly, circulated in the villages, helped with whatever was necessary, like bringing medications during curfews. We tried to limit the friction between the population and the army as much as possible."

During the same period, he says, he began to divide reality into black and white, good guys and bad guys. "I thought that the occupation was a bad thing, and I quickly understood to what extent. The situation among the Palestinians was desperate and depressing. I found that they were without hope. I met people who had no reason to want to live. Particularly the young people. They were afraid to leave the house, to see their children in hospitals, to lose family, close friends; the feeling was that people were living on borrowed time."

During that same period, there were bereaved mothers who boasted that their children had become shaheeds - Islamic martyrs - including suicide bombers.

"I think that what they say on television is not what they really think. Nobody wants to lose a child. Only someone who lives among the population understands what they really feel. It's true that in Israel people were killed on buses, but the fear is more on the psychological level; among the Palestinians the fear is very real. There everyone lives with a feeling that if he only goes out to the street or to the neighborhood store, he won't return. They haven't had a normal life for such a long time. Israelis can go abroad, travel, go wherever they want, the Palestinians are stuck and can't move. It's a violation of human rights, immoral and inhumane."

With what conclusion did you return from there?

"That in spite of all the misery and the desperation, they haven't lost hope yet. People spoke with me about the chances for a normal life. This spark of light, after years of repression and occupation and struggle, the ability to speak about a solution and about peace, was very enriching for me, and a source of inspiration. If they can have a degree of optimism, so can I."

`I wanted to live'

At the end of March, Avery decided to go to Jenin, where he joined a local ambulance team and worked shifts, as necessary. He planned to remain in the territories for about a year, and afterward to return home, tell people what is happening here, and then return here again for a while. On Shabbat, April 5, Avery was staying in a rented apartment in Jenin, which he shared with other ISM activists. With him was Jan Tobias Carlson from Sweden, a senior ISM activist.

Jenin had been under curfew since Friday, and Avery did a shift of 17 hours straight in the ambulance. He spent Shabbat sleeping. In the afternoon he awoke and went up to the roof of the building, where he sat with Carlson and two Palestinian friends. At about 6 P.M., the sound of approaching military vehicles was heard, followed a few minutes later by two or three rounds of firing. Avery and Carlson went down into the street.

"We were afraid that there were children in the area, and thought that it would be a good idea to go down and keep them away from there," testified Carlson later. "Brian was wearing a vest with the word `Doctor' written in phosphorescent colors in English and Hebrew, front and back."

"We made our way cautiously in the direction of the central junction in Jenin," says Avery. "At the same time, four of our friends from ISM were approaching from another direction, after we spoke to them over the phone and arranged to meet at the junction in order to find out the reason for the shots. When we arrived at the junction, we saw that a tank and an APC [armored personnel carrier] were approaching us. We stopped, and stood with arms outstretched to show them that we weren't armed. We moved aside in order to allow them to pass, and stood right under a street lamp, which was already lit. When they were 30 meters from us they shot a volley of 15-20 bullets (according to Carlson's testimony, which was published on the movement's Web site, they were fired at from a distance of 10 meters), while they were driving.

"My friends fled to the sides, and nobody was hurt. I was hit by the first volley. Only me. The bullet penetrated my nose, broke the bones in my nose, hit my eye and exited from the other cheek. I immediately fell onto the road, but I remained conscious for a few seconds. I knew that I had been very severely injured, and I thought that I could die. I didn't want to die. I wanted to continue to live. I thought there were still so many things that I wanted to do, and I concentrated all my strength in order to stay alive. I asked myself why this had happened to me of all people, but I soon lost consciousness."

"That was one of the severest injuries I have ever seen," testified Carlson. "The entire bottom part of the jaw, from the nose down, was crushed, and the left cheek remained hanging only on a very small piece of skin." Lasse Schmidt, an ISM activist from Denmark, was in the group that approached that same junction from another direction, together with a Polish journalist and two activists from Sweden. Schmidt was the first to reach Avery, who lay injured. In his testimony, Schmidt said that the entire left side of Avery's face was only attached at the ear.

Avery's shocked friends pulled themselves together and ordered an ambulance. Carlson called Avery's parents in the United States, and ran to bring a Palestinian photographer to record what was left to record. In the hospital in Jenin, when they discovered that Avery was an American citizen, they decided to transfer him for treatment to Israel. It took about an hour and a half, testify his friends from ISM, until approval came from the Israeli side to transfer him to Afula, and from there by helicopter to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. "Most of the time I wasn't conscious," says Avery. "But I remember the movements of the ambulance and the noise of the helicopter. That same night they operated on me, and put my face back together."

Avery lay in Rambam for nine weeks. He underwent three operations, and later another three in the United States. "They have to finish reconstructing my jaw and implanting all my upper teeth, reconstruct my cheek bones, and afterward my nose," he says. "At the moment I'm breathing only through one nostril. They also have to solve the problem of my tears. My tear duct was injured, and they stream uncontrollably. They're talking about another whole year of operations. The medical treatment is being paid for by the hospital where I'm being treated, from a special fund earmarked for people who are unable to pay."

The cost of hospitalization at Rambam, NIS 126,000, was paid by the army, as was the cost of the helicopter from Afula to Rambam. "Beyond the letter of the law," wrote the IDF spokesman in his response.

"Tobias Carlson phoned my parents right after it happened," says Avery. "They were in shock, because at the time it wasn't clear if I would live. My father came here a few days later, and then my mother came, and stayed here for several weeks. Eventually they adjusted to the situation. They're happy that at least I'm still alive."

Neither of them said, "I told you not to go"?

"Not exactly. They respect me as an adult and as a responsible person, and they see it as a criminal act, something exceptional that happened to me. They were very angry at Israel, at the army and at the government. Before I was injured, they had no opinion about what is happening in the region and were uninvolved, with no feelings toward one side or another. Now they are much more involved."

At Rambam, Avery met peace activists from Haifa, who voluntarily stood shifts around his bed, and took him for short trips in the area. "Until then, I had no idea that Israeli society is also complex and multifaceted, and that there are also people here who oppose the occupation," he said. Bilha Golan, an activist in Physicians for Human Rights, met Brian a short time after he came out of an operation in Rambam, in the intensive care unit, on a respirator and with his face bandaged.

"I called his father and let him talk to Brian," she says. "There was a sense at first that his father was angry at him. He didn't understand the issue, it was very hard for him. It shakes up the family and involves expenses. His mother told me, `I understand that if the State of Israel doesn't pay, we'll have to sell our house in order to take care of him.'"

Dr. Kobi Peter, an activist in Ta'ayush, an Israeli peace group, and a professor in the mathematics department at Haifa University, met Avery a few days after the injury. "At first you couldn't understand him, because he was unable to talk," says Peter. "He corresponded with people most of the time. There was something very clearheaded about him; he looked ahead without self-pity and tried to deal with what fate had brought on him."

A few days after Avery's injury, his four friends from ISM, who were witnesses to the incident, wrote their testimonies on the movement's Web site. Three months ago, attorney Michael Sfard petitioned the High Court of Justice in Avery's name, in order to force the IDF to launch a criminal investigation to look into the circumstances of his injury in Jenin. Until then, the IDF had made do with an operational military investigation, whose results are not being published.

"A military investigation," says attorney Sfard, "has only one purpose - to draw conclusions. Not to find guilty parties. During the course of the investigation, no testimony is taken from anyone who is not a soldier. In the previous intifada, every time there were civilians killed or injured, a military police investigation was launched. In the present intifada, the previous JAG set a new policy: no automatic launching of a Military Police investigation, unless the military investigation arouses suspicion of criminal offenses."

However, says Sfard, those who conducted the military investigation met with Avery in the hospital, took testimony from him, understood that there had been additional witnesses to the incident, and afterward, for public relations purposes, prepared a presentation in English with the conclusions from the incident, and submitted it to the U.S. Embassy. "Among other things, they wrote that a comparison had been made between Brian's testimony and Carlson's, which was taken from the ISM Web site - in other words, those who conducted the military investigation read the testimony, but didn't interview a single one of those witnesses." The IDF spokesman says in response that "the witnesses, ISM activists who were present at the incident, refused to cooperate with the investigators, and therefore no testimony was taken from them."

"That's a lie," says Sfard. "The fact is that in the reply of the judge advocate general to the petition in the High Court, that claim was no longer made." And in fact, in the response to the petition, the State Prosecutor, in the name of the JAG, worded things less conclusively: "Attempts made by the IDF to receive additional information from Tobias Carlson relating to the incident were unsuccessful, in spite of the contacts with Tobias himself and with his proxy, before he left the country. Additional efforts to receive details about the other ISM activists who, according to the petitioner, were present at the time of the incident, proved fruitless."

`No evidence was found'

Avery was not the only foreign citizen to be injured in the territories in the spring of 2003. Rachel Corrie, an American activist in ISM, was killed on March 16 in the Gaza Strip. An IDF bulldozer ran her over when she tried to prevent the demolition of a house with her body. Tom Hurndall of Great Britain was shot on April 11 in Rafah, when he distanced two children who were standing opposite a watchtower throwing stones. He was seriously injured, and died later in England. James Miller, a photographer for Britain's Channel 4, was killed on May 2. He had come to Rafah with a crew to film a documentary about the lives of Palestinian children during the war, and was shot at night, although he was carrying identification and a white flag in his hand, and shouted, "Don't shoot, we're journalists."

And who shot Brian Avery? In the reply of the JAG, one can detect a certain softening of the initial conclusive assertion to the effect that "No evidence was found that indicates that Mr. Avery was injured by IDF fire in one of the shooting incidents that took place that day in Jenin." The JAG told the High Court, after analyzing the four shooting incidents ("friction") in the appropriate sector of Jenin, that it is possible that the third of the four incidents "is the most similar to the incident described by the petitioner, although there are certain differences between the version of the petitioner and that of the investigation."

Giora Eiland puts it this way: "The official position of the IDF for external consumption was that on the one hand there is no conclusive evidence that says, `We saw him being injured,' but by the process of elimination, it is reasonable to assume that he was injured in incident number three."

So why not launch a Military Police investigation?

"Although we found various mistakes in the operational activity of the force, we didn't find that there was anything that requires a Military Police investigation, or an indictment. I met with the U.S. military attache three times, and presented the matter to him. Not in every case when the IDF opens fire, is someone responsible, or does someone have to account for it. In any case, we assumed that Avery was telling the truth. We didn't make the same assumption about the ISM people, because they have been liars and provocateurs in dozens of cases. See what instructions they give their people as to how to enter the country and how to introduce themselves. I don't believe a word they say."

"If they say upon entering Israel that they're coming as tourists, and are caught in their lie, then they are expelled with the excuse that they are lying," says Neta Golan in reply. "That's why the instructions are to tell the truth, immediately upon entry to Israel, but then they are expelled because they are ISM activists. The organization has not been declared illegal, so there is no reason to expel the activists from here. There hasn't been a single case where an ISM activist has been arrested for violence. The only case in which an indictment was filed was against me, because in April 2001, I was tied to olive trees, along with other activists. Aside from that, no indictment has ever been filed against the foreign activists."

The army says you are provocateurs.

"Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were considered major provocateurs in their time. The attempt to undermine the credibility of the witnesses even before they have testified is very disturbing. The body that hasn't been credible so far is the army. At first they said that the incident didn't take place at all. Afterward, in court, they said that it was most similar to the third incident."

Superintendent Shlomi Sagi, spokesman for the Judea and Samaria district of the Israel Police, confirms: "Beyond occasional arrests in demonstrations over the separation fence, we do not encounter problems of violence or illegal weapons on the part of international activists in the territories."

The Dept of Health Refrains

Brian Avery’s ability to sue the Israeli government depends on his obtaining a medical opinion evaluating his present condition. This has not been a simple matter, even though Avery was willing to pay for the service. As Bilha Golan of Physicians for Human Rights relates, ‘We contacted Dr. Zvi Ben-Ishai from Rambam Hospital and doctors from government hospitals, all of whom informed us that they could not furnish a medical opinion to be used in a suit against the government.

The Department of Health explains that doctors who are government employees are prohibited from furnishing professional medical opinion that is to be used as testimony in suits against the government. A Department of Health Committee and representatives of the State Attorney can permit such opinions in exceptional cases. Dr. Zvi Ben-Ishai, Assistant Director of the government hospital in which Avery was hospitalized and treated, confirms that he was requested to furnish his professional opinion about Avery’s present condition. "I told them that because of the Health Department prohibition, I need to send the request for the opinion to the legal advisor of the department, but then they decided instead to turn to someone else."

"Isn’t this a Bolshevik order?"

"In reality it is, but formally it is not."

Bilha Golan says that the next appeal was to Professor Menachem Wexler from the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, who met Brian and listened to the details about his injury, and who took x-rays and interviewed Brian. Then, when Prof. Wexler read in the referral letter that Brian was injured by Israeli forces, Wexler told Brian to go to the office to get back his money for the referral. Wexler told Brian’s lawyer, Shlomo Lecker, that it was inconvenient for him to give an opinion. Hadassah confirms this.

Avery is still waiting for some Israeli official to kindly consent to
meet with him, and to explain to him what happened and perhaps even to apologize.

Three weeks ago, Avery returned to Israel in order to attend the High Court proceedings. This trip was also paid for by donations of people from many countries, who saw his picture on the ISM Web site and read his story. In addition to the petition, he will soon file a suit for damages against the state, through his attorney, Shlomo Lecker. Avery hopes to receive a large amount of financial compensation, several million dollars, which will cover the expenses of his treatments in the United States.

For Avery, his severe injury did not spell the end of his activity, but rather a stimulus, and the period of recovery is only a recess before jumping in again. "No, I don't pity myself," he says. "At least I'm still alive and I can function quite well, and still work at what interests me and giving people hope. After I finish the entire series of operations, I'll return here."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Warped advice blights American intervention
By Anatol Lieven
Published: March 16 2005 20:11 | Last updated: March 16 2005 20:11

From the Financial Times

Mr Sharansky''s book The Case for Democracy is one of the few works on the Middle East that Mr Bush has read. According to Mr Bush himself, Mr Sharansky has been a key inspiration for the US president''s rhetoric of spreading democracy and freedom.

Tragically, however, Mr Sharansky''s record in Israel, and Mr Bush''s apparent indifference to this record, demonstrate the almost Orwellian contradictions in the US approach to the Muslim world. They also go to the heart of European doubts about both the practicality and sincerity of US progressive agendas in the Middle East. The grounds for such doubts are especially worth recalling at present, given the short-term exuberance produced by developments such as the Iraqi elections and anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon. Mr Bush was first attracted to Mr Sharansky by his noble record of resistance to Soviet tyranny, which earned him years in Soviet jails. Today, however, Mr Sharansky is a leader of the Soviet immigrant-based Yisrael Ba''aliyah party, which takes a hard line on Palestinian demands and security issues, and has supported the expansion of settlements.

Mr Sharansky''s demand for greater democracy is, of course, focused foremost on the Palestinians. He said in February that he would be prepared to give the Palestinians "all the rights in the world" once they fully adopted democracy. The problem is that Mr Sharansky has never said what land he would be willing to concede, even to a fully democratic Palestinian state. His record in office, however, has reflected utter contempt for the lives, property and well-being of Palestinians, as well as for their opinions, whether democratically expressed or not.

As Israel''s minister of Jerusalem affairs, Mr Sharansky decided last June to interpret a 1950 law in such a way as to allow the Israeli government without legal process to confiscate Palestinian land around Jerusalem - a decision that has now been struck down by Israel''s attorney general on the grounds that it is legally indefensible, contrary to "the rules of customary international law" and bound to encourage violence.

The parallel with eastern Europe therefore, far from being encouraging, actually suggests the greatest problem faced by proponents of westernising reform in the Middle East today: namely, the immense difficulty they have in mobilising nationalism in support of their programme.

Of course, were it possible for the US to act in the Muslim world as it has done in eastern Europe, and to spread freedom and development, this would indeed be a wonderful boon for the region and the world. But none of this can possibly happen as long as the US is identified both by Muslims and by Europeans with agendas such as Mr Sharansky''s. If Mr Bush really wants to play a progressive role in the region, he badly needs other sources of advice and inspiration.

* Natan Sharansky (with Ron Dermer), The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror (Public Affairs)

The writer is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC; his latest book is America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (OUP/HarperCollins)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hitching a ride on the magic carpet

Any analogy between Palestinian refugees and Jewish immigrants from Arab lands is folly in historical and political terms
By Yehouda Shenhav

An intensive campaign to secure official political and legal recognition of Jews from Arab lands as refugees has been going on for the past three years. This campaign has tried to create an analogy between Palestinian refugees and Mizrahi Jews, whose origins are in Middle Eastern countries - depicting both groups as victims of the 1948 War of Independence. The campaign's proponents hope their efforts will prevent conferral of what is called a "right of return" on Palestinians, and reduce the size of the compensation Israel is liable to be asked to pay in exchange for Palestinian property appropriated by the state guardian of "lost" assets.

The idea of drawing this analogy constitutes a mistaken reading of history, imprudent politics, and moral injustice.

Bill Clinton launched the campaign in July 2000 in an interview with Israel's Channel One, in which he disclosed that an agreement to recognize Jews from Arab lands as refugees materialized at the Camp David summit. Ehud Barak then stepped up and enthusiastically expounded on his "achievement" in an interview with Dan Margalit.

Past Israeli governments had refrained from issuing declarations of this sort. First, there has been concern that any such proclamation will underscore what Israel has tried to repress and forget: the Palestinians' demand for return. Second, there has been anxiety that such a declaration would encourage property claims submitted by Jews against Arab states and, in response, Palestinian counter-claims to lost property. Third, such declarations would require Israel to update its schoolbooks and history, and devise a new narrative by which the Mizrahi Jews journeyed to the country under duress, without being fueled by Zionist aspirations. That would be a post-Zionist narrative.

At Camp David, Ehud Barak decided that the right of return issue was not really on the agenda, so he thought he had the liberty to indulge the Mizrahi analogy rhetorically. Characteristically, rather than really dealing with issues as a leader, in a fashion that might lead to mutual reconciliation, Barak acted like a shopkeeper.

This hot potato was cooked up for Barak and Clinton by Bobby Brown, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's adviser for Diaspora affairs, and his colleagues, along with delegates from organizations such as the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

WOJAC fails

A few months ago Dr. Avi Becker, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, persuaded Prof. Irwin Cotler, a member of Canada's parliament and an expert on international law, to join their campaign. An article by Becker published a few weeks ago in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz (July 20), entitled "Respect for Jews from Arab lands," constituted one step in this public campaign. The article said little about respect for Mizrahi Jews. On the contrary - it trampled their dignity.

The campaign's results thus far are meager. Its umbrella organization, Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, has not inspired much enthusiasm in Israel, or among Jews overseas. It has yet to extract a single noteworthy declaration from any major Israeli politician. This comes as no surprise: The campaign has a forlorn history whose details are worth revisiting. Sometimes recounting history has a very practical effect.

The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) was founded in the 1970s. Yigal Allon, then foreign minister, worried that WOJAC would become a hotbed of what he called "ethnic mobilization." But WOJAC was not formed to assist Mizrahi Jews; it was invented as a deterrent to block claims harbored by the Palestinian national movement, particularly claims related to compensation and the right of return.

At first glance, the use of the term "refugees" for Mizrahi Jews was not unreasonable. After all, the word had occupied a central place in historical and international legal discourses after World War II. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 from 1967 referred to a just solution to "the problem of refugees in the Middle East." In the 1970s, Arab countries tried to fine-tune the resolution's language so that it would refer to "Arab refugees in the Middle East," but the U.S. government, under the direction of ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg, opposed this revision. A working paper prepared in 1977 by Cyrus Vance, then U.S. secretary of state, ahead of scheduled international meetings in Geneva, alluded to the search for a solution to the "problem of refugees," without specifying the identities of those refugees. Israel lobbied for this formulation. WOJAC, which tried to introduce use of the concept "Jewish refugees," failed.

The Arabs were not the only ones to object to the phrase. Many Zionist Jews from around the world opposed WOJAC's initiative. Organizers of the current campaign would be wise to study the history of WOJAC, an organization which transmogrified over its years of activity from a Zionist to a post-Zionist entity. It is a tale of unexpected results arising from political activity.

`We are not refugees'

The WOJAC figure who came up with the idea of "Jewish refugees" was Yaakov Meron, head of the Justice Ministry's Arab legal affairs department. Meron propounded the most radical thesis ever devised concerning the history of Jews in Arab lands. He claimed Jews were expelled from Arab countries under policies enacted in concert with Palestinian leaders - and he termed these policies "ethnic cleansing." Vehemently opposing the dramatic Zionist narrative, Meron claimed that Zionism had relied on romantic, borrowed phrases ("Magic Carpet," "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah") in the description of Mizrahi immigration waves to conceal the "fact" that Jewish migration was the result of "Arab expulsion policy." In a bid to complete the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews, WOJAC publicists claimed that the Mizrahi immigrants lived in refugee camps in Israel during the 1950s (i.e., ma'abarot or transit camps), just like the Palestinian refugees.

The organization's claims infuriated many Mizrahi Israelis who defined themselves as Zionists. As early as 1975, at the time of WOJAC's formation, Knesset speaker Yisrael Yeshayahu declared: "We are not refugees. [Some of us] came to this country before the state was born. We had messianic aspirations."

Shlomo Hillel, a government minister and an active Zionist in Iraq, adamantly opposed the analogy: "I don't regard the departure of Jews from Arab lands as that of refugees. They came here because they wanted to, as Zionists."

In a Knesset hearing, Ran Cohen stated emphatically: "I have this to say: I am not a refugee." He added: "I came at the behest of Zionism, due to the pull that this land exerts, and due to the idea of redemption. Nobody is going to define me as a refugee."

The opposition was so vociferous that Ora Schweitzer, chair of WOJAC's political department, asked the organization's secretariat to end its campaign. She reported that members of Strasburg's Jewish community were so offended that they threatened to boycott organization meetings should the topic of "Sephardi Jews as refugees" ever come up again. Such remonstration precisely predicted the failure of the current organization, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries to inspire enthusiasm for its efforts.

Also alarmed by WOJAC's stridency, the Foreign Ministry proposed that the organization bring its campaign to a halt on the grounds that the description of Mizrahi Jews as refugees was a double-edged sword. Israel, ministry officials pointed out, had always adopted a stance of ambiguity on the complex issue raised by WOJAC. In 1949, Israel even rejected a British-Iraqi proposal for population exchange - Iraqi Jews for Palestinian refugees - due to concerns that it would subsequently be asked to settle "surplus refugees" within its own borders.

The foreign minister deemed WOJAC a Phalangist, zealous group, and asked that it cease operating as a "state within a state." In the end, the ministry closed the tap on the modest flow of funds it had transferred to WOJAC. Then justice minister Yossi Beilin fired Yaakov Meron from the Arab legal affairs department. Today, no serious researcher in Israel or overseas embraces WOJAC's extreme claims.

Moreover, WOJAC, which intended to promote Zionist claims and assist Israel in its conflict with Palestinian nationalism, accomplished the opposite: It presented a confused Zionist position regarding the dispute with the Palestinians, and infuriated many Mizrahi Jews around the world by casting them as victims bereft of positive motivation to immigrate to Israel. WOJAC subordinated the interests of Mizrahi Jews (particularly with regard to Jewish property in Arab lands) to what it erroneously defined as Israeli national interests. The organization failed to grasp that defining Mizrahi Jews as refugees opens a Pandora's box and ultimately harms all parties to the dispute, Jews and Arabs alike.

Lessons not learned

The World Jewish Congress and other Jewish rganizations learned nothing from this woeful legacy. Hungry for a magic solution to the refugee question, they have adopted
the refugee analogy and are lobbying for it all over the world. It would be interesting to hear the education minister's reaction to the historical narrative presented nowadays by these Jewish organizations. Should Limor Livnat establish a committee of ministry experts to revise school textbooks in accordance with this new post-Zionist genre?

Any reasonable person, Zionist or non-Zionist, must acknowledge that the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews is unfounded. Palestinian refugees did not want to leave Palestine. Many Palestinian communities were destroyed in 1948, and some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled, or fled, from the borders of historic Palestine. Those who left did not do so of their own volition.

In contrast, Jews from Arab lands came to this country under the initiative of the State of Israel and Jewish organizations. Some came of their own free will; others arrived against their will. Some lived comfortably and securely in Arab lands; others suffered from fear and oppression.

The history of the "Mizrahi aliyah" (immigration to Israel) is complex, and cannot be subsumed within a facile explanation. Many of the newcomers lost considerable property, and there can be no question that they should be allowed to submit individual property claims against Arab states (up to the present day, the State of Israel and WOJAC have blocked the submission of claims on this basis).
The unfounded, immoral analogy between Palestinian refugees and Mizrahi immigrants needlessly embroils members of these two groups in a dispute, degrades the dignity of many Mizrahi Jews, and harms prospects for genuine Jewish-Arab reconciliation.

Jewish anxieties about discussing the question of 1948 are understandable. But this question will be addressed in the future, and it is clear that any peace agreement will
have to contain a solution to the refugee problem. It's reasonable to assume that as final status agreements between Israelis and Palestinians are reached, an international fund will be formed with the aim of compensating Palestinian refugees for the hardships
caused them by the establishment of the State of Israel. Israel will surely be asked to contribute generously to such a fund.

In this connection, the idea of reducing compensation obligations by designating Mizrahi immigrants as refugees might become very tempting. But it is wrong to use scarecrows to chase away politically and morally valid claims advanced by Palestinians. The "creative accounting" manipulation concocted by the refugee analogy only adds insult to injury, and widens the psychological gap between Jews and Palestinians. Palestinians might abandon hopes of redeeming a right of return (as, for example, Palestinian pollster Dr. Khalil Shikai claims); but this is not a result to be adduced via creative accounting.

Any peace agreement must be validated by Israeli recognition of past wrongs and suffering, and the forging of a just solution. The creative accounts proposed by the refugee analogy turns Israel into a morally and politically spineless bookkeeper.

Yehouda Shenhav is a professor at Tel Aviv University and the editor of Theory Criticism, an Israeli journal in the area of critical theory and cultural studies.