About Me

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On American Jews and Moral Elitism

Another piece from my first blog, The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, worth revisiting

This article by Gil Troy sums up much of my thinking about the moral elitism that many well-meaning American Jews suffer. At its heart is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that no amount of Israeli good will or sechel (intellect) - of which, these Jews see themselves as possessing in massive quantities - by Israel's leaders can magically bring peace to the Jewish state, and that, as Troy states, is has become un-pc to:
"acknowledge [in regards to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other radical groups] that we are dealing with a different culture and a murderous ideology,"
This ideology, it should be pointed out, doesn't share our assumptions about tolerance, pluralism, and peace.

But, Troy is also making a broader point about a Western Jewish world that has become so well-off, and lives in such freedom, comfort, and safety in the nations where they reside, that they have lost the sense of what it means to have to struggle for your existence, to have to take up arms and fight for your life, your family, your community, your nation, the right to live freely as Jews in a world (and certainly a part of the world) that is still hostile to such modest aims.

No matter how openly hostile Israel's enemies are to their existence, no matter how serious and complex the myriad of threats that Israelis face are, such a disconnect results in an inability to empathize with such fears - the very real concerns of Jews whose lives aren't as easy as theirs.

Still, many of these Jews insist, they do indeed feel bad about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, do spend countless hours worrying about it, decrying the violence, and hoping for a resolution, to which Troy stresses,
"We need warrior Jews, not worrier Jews. Israelis should justifiably say: “don’t cry for us New York Jewry (and elsewhere). Our State, for all its challenges, is thriving. Our neighbors – and the world – need fixing.”
Among the more silly statements by an American Jewish organization during Israel's Operation Cast Lead - and one which perfectly illustrates the disconnect I'm referring to - was issued by the new left-wing Israel lobby group, J Street, when they issued a press release scolding Israel for its behavior and pointing out that, “only diplomacy and negotiations can end the rockets and terror.”

I'm truly baffled how anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of the democratic world's experience in the last century battling totalitarian and terrorist movements can seriously make such a claim. And - as a new Israeli who now must burden the real-world consequences of such facile notions about war, peace, diplomacy, and the right to self-defense - I nervously ponder the degree to which such ideas have planted roots and taken hold within the American Jewish community.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Seat at the Table

Last week I attended the the Annual Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem.

Established by Foreign Ministry, the Forum has developed into a widely influential annual event, and represents the largest international Jewish body that focuses on coordinated efforts to combat antisemitism.

The two-day meeting was attended by members of Parliament, diplomats, journalists, legal experts, NGO representatives, and leading academic figures, and senior leaders of Jewish communities and organizations from around the world - participants representing more than 50 different countries.

In addition to the wonderful opportunity to network with colleagues in the field, the Forumincluded ten in-depth working group sessions focused on a wide variety of issues related to antisemitism, including: nationalist trends in Central and Eastern Europe; Rising antisemitism in Latin America and the Iranian Influence; Delegitimization of Israel through Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions; and Online antisemitism.

My invite (and my participation in the breakout group focusing on online antisemitism) can be attributed to the relationship I've developed with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs - specifically the essay I recently had published on the JCPA website concerning antisemitism and anti-Zionism on progressive American political blogs.

While I certainly have tried to maintain a degree of humility concerning my participation at theevent, its hard for me not to appreciate the long and, at times, arduous road which led me here - here in the literal sense of my Aliyah, as well as in the broader professional sense.

This professional journey actually began many years ago, as a college student during the first Intifada - as a witness to quite extreme and hateful eruptions of anti-Israel activity on campus at Temple University -but didn't come fully to fruition until the second Intifada was at its peak in 2002, as a witness to the horrifying outbreak of antisemitism around the world as a result of Israel's efforts to defend herself from an unrelenting terrorist onslaught.

This latter phenomenon - and my realization that, despite my early optimism in the mid to late 90's around hopes pinned to the Oslo process, the prospect of a gradual end to the historic enmity faced by Jews around the world (as well as Israel, in so far as it continued to represent the collective Jew) would continue to be merely a chimera.

Indeed, it was this somber realization which inspired me, at the age of 35, to become an unpaid intern at the Philly Regional office of Anti-Defamation League. This internship would eventually lead - after quite a few professional ups and downs over the course of 6 years - to my decision to make Aliyah, my relationship with the JCPA, the essay, and subsequent invite to the Conference.

During my interview with the Philly ADL Regional Director, prior to becoming an intern, I recall telling him that - though I lacked any real professional experience - I felt strongly that I had something to contribute to this cause, something unique to say. My years in the professional wilderness had provided me time to read and think, to ruminate and ponder the big picture - to perceive the subtext beneath surface of the debate. I said that I wanted to use this understanding to become a foot soldier in the battles the Jewish community would, sadly, have to continue to fight. In short, I wanted a seat at the table.

While there is no silver bullet in which to defeat this persistent antisemitism and anti-Zionism, we must continue in our efforts to expose and fight - aggressively, and with a dogged determination, using everything in our rhetorical, political, and intellectual arsenal - those who continue threaten both Jews as individuals, as well as the state of Israel, which represents the historic Jewish longing to be, as Herzl stated, ''a free people in our land''.

But, we also must continue to remember, as individuals who often possess the vanity and egos which naturally accompany the dogged pursuit of great accomplishments, what Sen. John McCain wrote in his memoir, Faith of My Fathers. Referring to his Vietnam prisoner-of-war experience, he said that he had never felt freer because, “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”

Words to remember, as we continue to fight the good fight

On ''Demopaths and Dupes''

This was posted on my first blog, The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, a while back, but serves a a relevant reminder of the propensity of many progressives to engage in truly dangerous moral equivalency between open, democratic nations and closed totalitarian regimes - resulting in the willingness to believe that the of leaders of such totalitarian movements truly seek ''peace'' and ''justice''. Those wishing to further explore this phenomena should read this piece by Richard Landes, on ''Demopaths and Dupes''.

Briefly, ''Demopaths'' are people who use democratic language and invoke human rights only when it serves their interests, and not when it calls for self-criticism or self-restraint. Demopaths demand stringent levels of human “rights” but do not apply these basic standards for the “other” to their own behavior. The most lethal demopaths use democratic rights to destroy democracy.

''Dupes'' refer to the fact that, in order to be effective, demopaths must convince others that their human rights talk is sincere. Only when the Trojans believed that the horse was a “gift” acknowledging their strength, did they take it into their city. When demopaths succeed, a dysfunctional relationship emerges with sincere human-rights activists in an increasingly demonizing rhetoric – against the demopaths’ target – that seeks to influence public attitudes and eventually, policy.

"Apart from the time restriction (a truce that lapses after 10 years) and the refusal to accept Israel's existence, Mr. Meshal's terms approximate the Arab League peace plan . . ."

-- Hamas peace plan, as explained by the New York Times

"Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

-- Tom Lehrer, satirist

Here is a spot on take-down of the, at times, unintentionally hilarious recent NY Times piece on the "Hamas peace plan", by syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Only the Times could conduct a full-length interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and argue, with a straight face, that he seeks peace. One of the most tragic aspects of the devolution of left-wing thought is their propensity to project their own values, of tolerance and accomodation, on governments and cultures who continually make clear, by word and by deed, their opposition to such democratic mores. While there clearly are some grey areas, Hamas is not one of them. Their malicious intent against Jews and Israelis has been annunciated countless times - including being codified in their founding charter, which actually quotes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to "prove" that Jews are indeed trying to take over the world - and has been demonstrated in deed in the form of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians since their rise to power in Gaza in 2007.

At its core, the left-wing propensity to argue that Hamas is willing to make peace with Israel seems to be motivated by a wish to legitimize their hope in the "peace process" - a process and a goal which most Israelis, and most of Israel's supporters in the West, view with increasing suspicion in light of what's occurred after the Israeli withdraw of Gaza, and the horrid possibility that a Palestinian state in the West Bank will eventually be ruled by Hamas - despite overwhelming evidence that the presence of Hamas (not to mention Hezbollah) and other radical elements within Palestinian society make such a process futile at best.

The only way to get to an effective two-state solution is for Palestinians to rid their political culture of such radicalism, and build a democratic culture and institutions of government capable of actually implementing an eventual peace deal. In short, peace can not be dictated from above (by the U.S., the E.U., the Quartet, etc.), but must be created from below.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stephen Walt HEARTS Israel, and other such fantasies

Here's an early post from my original blog, The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, which comments on the often vicious criticisms of ''The Israel Lobby'' by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer - arguments whose current manifestations are related to the founding of the left-wing Israel lobbying group, J Street - based on the notion that the main obstacle to peace in the region isn't Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian violence/radicalism more broadly, but, rather, mainstream pro-Israel groups in the U.S.

Stephen Walt is at it again. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, his essay, Treason of the Hawks, Walt (as he did in his book co-written with John Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy), blames Israel, and only Israel, for the failure to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and then bizarrely implies that his vitriolic attacks on the Jewish state is undertaken as an act of concern for its future. He then contrasts this "love" with what he audaciously refers to as the "betrayal" committed by Zionists, such as Prime MinisterNetanyahu and Israel's supporters in the West who, he implies, are so war hungry that they fail to seize the opportunity to achieve a two-state solution - the only solution that would secure Israel's long-term survival.

First, here's a good reply to Walt's piece in Commentary Magazine.


Now, a few of my own thoughts.

1. In order to advance this narrative of Zionists as pro-war and rejectionist, Walt minimizes the threat Israel faces from Iran, implying that fears of Iranian nukes are an intentional over-reaction...simply meant to provide rhetorical cover for Israel's hawkishness. He bizarrely quotes Richard Cohen as evidence that Iran's intentions towards Jews are benign, and is just implies that Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to wipe Israel off the map have been mistranslated. In fact,Ahmadinejad has been quoted dozens of times repeating some version of this threat - statements that are on record. Further, Ahmadinejad addressed the UN last year and advanced a classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Zionists (i.e., Jews) control the world's financial markets, and the policies of most Western governments. He is anti-Semitic to the core, and for Walt to simply say that he has made "foolish remarks about the Holocaust" and leave it at that is incredibly naive or dishonest. Ahmadinejad didn't just make foolish remarks, he knows that casting doubt on the Holocaust can serve to legitimize his hostility towards Jews. After all, implicit in any Holocaust denial is the charge that Jews have acted conspiratorially to create this "fiction" in the minds of most people.

2. He also erroneously casts doubt on Israelis confidence in the Zionist Ideal, ignoring surveys year after year that show Israelis to be among the most patriotic citizens in the world (the number of Israelis who express love of country and a willingness to die for their country is even higher than that of Americans.) The fact that Walt quoted Ian Lustick is pretty telling - Lustickis a leftist Penn professor known for his hyper-critical essays about Israel. Here's an article about that survey I mentioned, which shows them to be the most patriotic nation in the West.


3. The greatest weakness, however, is how puts all the onus of making peace on Israel - assuming that if Israel simply wants peace it will happen - and ignores that there has been a consensus within Israel about a 2 state solution since the 90's. In fact, most Israelis are skeptical of the possibility of a peace agreement because of what happened when the left S. Lebanon and Gaza and what the result of such unilateral withdraws portends for any subsequent withdraw from the West Bank. I honestly don't know how Walt can write a long essay about "peace" w/o even once mentioning Hamas - both in terms of what they've created in Gaza, and in terms of the possibility that they could eventually seize control of the W. Bank after an Israeli withdraw. Indeed, I think the biggest problem the anti-Israel crowd makes is to ignore the Palestinians alltogether in their narrative, as if how they behave now, and how they will behave politically if Israel gives them a state, is not a huge factor to be considered.

I've supported the idea of a two-state solution for some time, but, like many Zionists, am increasingly skeptical of the Palestinians capacity for responsible self-government. While the status quo (Israel continuing to occupy the W. Bank) is a horrible situation, the possible alternative (another hostile Islamist regime bordering them on the East) could be much, much worse. And, as politics is often about the lesser of two evils, I think that the status quo is the lesser of the two evils.

(Finally, he's simply wrong to imply that the organized community doesn't support the peace process and the idea of a two-state solution. Poll after poll demonstrates this to be patently untrue.)

Inconvenient Truths about Terrorism in our Age

Before making Aliyah, and starting my current blog, Adam's Zionist Journey, I created a more explicitly political blog called: The Anti-Imperialism of Fools, with the intent of maintaining both blogs. Since Adam's Zionist Journey has become my main forum to write about both my Aliyah from a personal perspective, as well as my more political thoughts and arguments regarding Aliyah, Zionism, and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, more broadly, I decided to copy (and at times update) some of the early posts from Anti-Imperialism of Fools which I felt were interesting and worth exploring. Here's the first of these: A post which elaborates on a letter of mine which was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in response to an essay by Naif Al-Mutawa entitled The Many Faces of Extremism.

Naif Al-Mutawa's central point, in his essay (which, unfortunately, I couldn't find a link to), The Many Shapes of Extremism, published earlier in the year in the Philadelphia Inquirer, was this:

"My intent was to advance the notion that extremism is nothing more than a bunch of neurotransmitters working overtime - or perhaps under time. It is not Islam or Judaism or Hinduism that creates extremism; rather, some people are predisposed to extremism and will pursue it in any faith."

And my published reply:

Naif al-Mutawa's op-ed ("The many shapes of extremism," April 8) advances the erroneous notion that extremism is equally distributed among the three major faiths.While it is important to stress that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists, the overwhelming majority of terrorist acts - according to data published online by the National Counter-Terrorism Center - committed by those inspired by religion are indeed (Sunni) Muslim.While I understand that many well-meaning Americans would cringe at the suggestion that terrorists are far more likely to be Muslim than Jew, or Christian, the problem with extremism in our time is the radical, violent manifestations of specific faith traditions. Empirical data should never take a back seat to feel-good assumptions and platitudes. At stake isn't merely the intrinsic value of truth and accuracy but, more specifically, the broader truism that we can't rally the civilized world to win a war - militarily or morally - against an enemy that we're not allowed to name.

Adam Levick
Al-Mutawa may be correct to some extent. I'm sure certain individuals are indeed naturally (even, perhaps, biologically) more predisposed to extremism than others, just like some people are more predisposed to abusing drugs or alcohol. But, as with alcohol abuse, we wouldn't deny an element of choice involved in the behavior would we? Further, if certain cultures have a higher degree of alcoholism than other cultures it would be reasonable to ask why...what are the cultural and ethical norms that may contribute to this disparity. Naif Al-Mutawa refuses to acknowledge or address the fact that (while, again, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not extremists), violent extremist acts are, when movtivated by religion, dramatically more likely to be carried out by Muslims than by non-Muslims (Christians, Jews, Budhists, Hindus, etc.)

The point isn't to demonize Muslims but, rather, to make the point, as other writers have observed, that, as extremism in our day is to a large degree a radical Islamic phenomena, it is incumbant for the Muslim community to acknowledge this problem, examine it closely, figure out the religious/cultural factors influencing such aborant behavior, and stop insisting (contrary to all the evidence) that other religions are also plagued with the same degree of extremism, and for the moderate forces in their community to do ideological battle with the extremists in their midsts - to win hearts and minds for a future Islam not compromised such radicalism.

Here's the report by the National Counter Terrorism Center which I made reference to in my letter. Open link and go to page 22 to see relevant graph:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Essay Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism in Progressive U.S. Blogs/News Websites:

Influential and Poorly Monitored

Adam Levick

  • Sixty-seven percent of the worldwide internet population visit social networking sites and blogs (web 2.0). These are now outpacing email in popularity. According to Nielsen Online they have become the fourth most popular online category. The popularity of political blogs is increasing as traditional media struggle to stay afloat.
  • The three most popular progressive political blogs in the United States are Huffington Post, Salon, and Daily Kos. These three together have over thirteen million unique visitors per month.
  • Within these three blogs a number of historical anti-Semitic staples appear frequently: excessive Jewish power and control over society/government; Jewish citizens are more loyal to Israel than to their own country; Israel resembles Nazi Germany; Israel is demonized.
  • In part because of the huge size of the blogosphere - there are thousands of bloggers at Daily Kos alone - such hateful commentary often escapes the kind of scrutiny that the traditional media faces. A major challenge is that anonymity provides bloggers with moral impunity.

Full article HERE:


Monday, December 7, 2009

Pulling shots in Jerusalem

It is supposed that Ethiopians were the first to have discovered the energizing effect of the coffee bean plant. Once upon a time, or so the (mostly likely, Apocryphal) story goes, there was an Ethiopian goatherder named Kaldi. One day, as Kaldi was watching his herd, he noticed that some of the goats were eating the berries from a bush. After eating the berries, the goats became friskier and more excited. With a flash of insight, Kaldi made the connection between the berries and the extra energy his herd possessed. He gathered some of the berries and boiled them, producing a bitter concoction that had the benefit of warding off weariness. That is, it made him happy.

I recently concluded a temporary job at an espresso bar at the American Consulate, somewhere at a ''secure location'' in Jerusalem. As was the case in the U.S. before I finally landed a job with ADL, coffee retail, working as a Barista (a coffeehouse bartender of sorts) - pulling shots - will continue to be my fall back until I land a job in my field. I spent quite a few years, before I knew what my calling would be (in the professional wilderness) working full-time, both as a Barista and cafe manager - a career which began at the first Philadelphia Starbucks at the corner of 16th and Walnut St.

By 1475, the first coffeehouse opens in Constantinople. By 1600, coffee enters Europe through the port of Venice. The first coffeehouse opens in Italy in 1654.

My passion for coffee, and my interest in hanging out in coffee shops, started out quite simply. Back in college, I discovered it as a quick and inexpensive stimulant (like 50 cents at the machine) to help me stay awake when pulling those ''all-nighters'' when writing a paper or studying for finals. These occasional academically necessary perks - the procrastinator's best friend - evolved into an everyday custom, so that when espresso bars finally began to penetrate the Philly market I was quick to recognize both the superior quality of the beans they brewed, as well as how comfortable I felt taking in the coffeehouse culture - caffeinated coffee beverages being naturally conducive to reading, writing, and the political conversation that I so loved.

1607 Coffee is introduced to the New World by Captain John Smith, founder of Virginia at Jamestown.

Though I only began really drinking coffee on a regular basis in my senior year of college, my father deserves credit for introducing me to the bitter black brew. Dad used to stop at a Northeast Philadelphia diner every day before work - where he spent a few precious moments before his daily grind - conversing with his fellow ''regulars'' at Linton's Diner on Roosevelt Boulevard. Though I only accompanied him to Linton's once - prior to him taking me to the office on a ''take your son to work'' day - knowing dad, the topics most likely discussed over coffee were politics (of the liberal variety) and sports (of the Philly variety).

I remember the coffee he'd drink at home on the weekends, that strange yet pleasurable aroma wafting through the house, and the first tentative sip he allowed me to take as a kid - which wasn't very agreeable to my young palate, and now, looking back, reminds me of the time my dad bought me a slim jim (beef jerky) and the utter disgust I felt upon tasting this strangely salty and cured beef product, consumed under the entirely false impression that it was some sort of chocolate!

The famous Boston Tea Party of 1773 began when a large shipment of tea was dumped into the Boston Harbor to protest the British tax on the product, proclaiming, ''no taxation without representation''. After that, drinking tea became unpatriotic. And, by 1900, Americans were consuming half of the all the coffee produced in the world.

At first I drank my coffee with cream and sweet 'n low (essentially a coffee flavored warm beverage, closer to ice cream than the actual bean) but then gradually began to appreciate the taste of actual coffee until - not too long after one of my cheeky friends suggested that ''real'' men don't add cream and sugar - I finally began to drink my brew black, uncorrupted by anything sweet or light.

Ín 1822 The prototype of the first espresso machine is created in France.

Espresso bar culture has totally penetrated the Jerusalem scene. In addition to quite a few chains, like Cafe Aroma and Cupa Joe, there are also lots of quality ''Indy'' espresso bars - most, unlike in the U.S., offering, in addition to coffee beverages and pastries, ''real'' food - freshly made (usually kosher) salads, sandwiches, etc - and, not too infrequently, alcoholic drinks, too.

My favorite Rehavia neighborhood espresso bar is Cafe Nocturno נוקטרנו. I've become somewhat friendly with one of the owners, Amit, and, as I've come to recognize over the years the difference between cafes who pay lip service to quality and those who actually work hard to get the espresso just right (which, for anyone who has ever been a barista will attest to, takes a lot of work and constant committment), I'm constantly impressed by Amit's passion for coffee and the resulting quality of his espresso.

1995 Coffee is the worlds most popular beverage. More than 400 billion cups are consumed each year. It is a world commodity that is second only to oil.

Today, I do much of my blogging, and various other forms of Zionist activism via the social media, at cafes with free WiFi such as Nocturno, downing shot upon shot of the expertly brewed blend, served in an appropriately warmed demitasse cup.

My love of drinking coffee continues, unfettered by the humorless killjoys who warn, as if by rote, of its injurious effects, of the ''danger'' posed by this ''narcotic'', of the ''necessity'' to switch to decaf (an idea which one anonymous writer quipped was like consuming a non-alcoholic Single Malt Scotch), while ignoring the most simple truth about why I, and millions of other passionate souls consume it: Its a simple, affordable pleasure that makes you happier and provides many who seek such inspiration with that vital creative verve. Coffee isn't just another beverage. Its a state of mind, a way of looking at the world.

Honore de Balzac, in "The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee", said:

This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.

I think Kaldi the Goatherder would have enthusiastically concurred!