About Me

Friday, March 26, 2010

Running for Cover in Ashkelon

For some reason, I was the only one in the apartment who didn't hear the first wail of the siren - the civil defense mechanism which gives Israelis living within bomb radius of Gaza a full 20 seconds to take cover or move to a safer area. In the case of the flat in Ashkelon where we were staying - the home of my new wife's aunt and uncle - which is near the top floor, they are instructed to descend two levels and take cover in the section opposite where a direct hit would land. The likely trajectory of a potential missile would make their home especially vulnerable.

It took me a couple seconds to understand why everyone - Chana, her aunt, uncle, cousins, and friends - was running towards the door, but the second siren, which I heard simultaneously with the words "bomb", "we must" "take cover", uttered by someone, or everyone, only confirmed the meaning of their worried expressions and the rapid urgency of their gate.

We descended down two flights where the other neighbors had gathered - the safe spot. We learned later that it wasn't a false alarm, as is sometimes the case. Thankfully, the rocket landed harmlessly in an open field a mile or so from our location.

Since Israel's unilateral withdraw from in 2005, there has been over 7,000 such missile attacks (rockets and mortars) from Gaza into Southern Israel - with a stark increase in such attacks after Hamas gained power in 2006. While such attacks slowed dramatically after Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, there have still been over 300 in the lat year. Indeed, a few hours before our incident in Ashkelon, a Qassam rocket hit Netiv Ha'asara in the western Negev, its shrapnel taking the life of a Thai worker employed in a moshav greenhouse.

Chana and I had, married less than 48 hours before the attack, have both been in Israel less than a year, and I couldn't help but see what happened as a minor, but genuine, initiation into Israeli life. My wife was a bit shaken by the experience and it occurred to me that, despite the seeming normality of everyday life in Israel, being an Israeli is no normal existence.

Being a citizen of Israel requires a toughness and resilience beyond what is typically expected in other democratic and relatively affluent nations. Being an Israeli requires a sober understanding that, despite our remarkable economic achievements and our dynamic cultural, social and political life, we are still surrounded by enemies determined to destroy us - a determination impervious to the political and moral reasoning that most take for granted. In the zero-sum game of Islamic extremism, as embodied by movements such as Hamas, it is not Israeli policies, but our mere existence which is an offense.

Chana and I made Aliyah separately, but neither of us were under any illusions prior to our decisions that living here would be easy. We also had an understanding of what Zionism meant in the context of Jewish history, and neither of us questioned whether our move was worth the considerable risks.

In pondering the unimaginable courage and fortitude displayed by those who came before us to create and protect the modern Jewish state, my only hope is that we live our lives in a manner worthy of their sacrifices.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My essay published on Z Word - the blog of the American Jewish Committee

Glenn Greenwald Keeps an Ugly Calumny Alive

This is a guest post by Adam Levick

Even before the birth of the modern state of Israel, Jews have stood accused of not possessing sufficient loyalty to the nations where they reside. Its contemporary manifestation however almost always centers around the notion of dual loyalty - a charge that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own nation. Often, such charges of dual loyalty are infused with a narrative imputing enormous power to Jewish communities which typically represent a tiny fraction of the overall population. Such a synthesis of disloyalty on one hand and exaggerated power on the other allows the accuser to charge the Jewish community of working to undermine their nation - often alleging that such Jews are dangerous aliens who represent nothing short of a Fifth Column.

One of the earliest examples of this fusion of “Excessive” Jewish Power with Dual Loyalty was the suspicion in parts of medieval Christian Europe that Jews were in league with some Muslim powers. The charge of dual loyalty could be seen in the Dreyfus Affair through the Nazi’s rise to power - and, indeed, this notion in large measure underlay the failure of European emancipation. Closer to home, in the 1920s Henry Ford published The International Jew: The World’s Problem where it was asserted, along with other calumnies, that Jews were pushing the United States towards war for financial reasons and to achieve world domination.

While, after WWII, manifestations of this charge often remained on the fringes of American society, Paul Findley, a former Republican U.S. Congressman whose 1985 They Dare to Speak Out, an attack on the “Israel lobby,” became a best-seller. In it, Findley maintained that many American Jews utilized “tactics which stifle dissent in their own communities and throughout America” to benefit Israel.

More recently, academics considered to be foreign policy “realists”, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, wrote of the “stranglehold” which the Israel “Lobby” exercises over Congress; of the “manipulation of the media”; and of a “Lobby” working hard to “squelch debate”. They argued that the 2003 Iraq war wouldn’t have been possible without the influence of the Israel lobby.

While Paleoconservative commentators, not surprisingly, have championed this narrative - Pat Buchanan wrote in 2008 that “Israel and its Fifth Column in [Washington , DC] seek to stampede us into war with Iran” - some Liberal columnists have engaged in similar rhetoric. For instance, Joe Klein assertedon Time Magazine’s ”Swampland” blog that Jewish neoconservatives “plumped” for the war in Iraq and is now doing the same for “an even more foolish assault on Iran” with the goal of making the world “safe for Israel.” In the ensuing controversy, many progressive bloggers jumped to Klein’s defense.

The anti-Semitic nature of such charges have been codified by both the U.S. State Department and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia - the former defining as anti-Semitic: “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”

The only unfortunate by product of Leon Wieseltier’s spot-on essay in The New Republic regarding blogger Andrew Sullivan’s increasing hostility towards Israel and Jews is that such a critique, and the buzz it caused in the blogosphere, was that, by focusing on a pundit whose commentary merely suggests an anti-Semitic bias, it allows equally influential liberal bloggers, such as Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, who often explicitly advance such anti-Semitic tropes such as excessive Jewish control and dual loyalty, to escape such public scrutiny. (My JCPA essay documenting such commentary is here)

Greenwald’s use of this classically anti-Semitic narratives regarding Jewish power can be seen most clearly when he warned darkly, in March 2009, of the Jewish lobby’s “stranglehold” on U.S. policy, and the lobby’s assault on the First Amendment.

Greenwald has even descended to tropes more typical of classic right-wing anti-Semitism. For instance, in 2007, in a passage which again employs tropes about Jewish power and dual loyalty - while also warning of the corrosive effects of Jewish money - said, “Large and extremely influential Jewish donor groups are the ones agitating for a U.S. war against Iran, and that is the case because those groups are devoted to promoting Israel’s interests.”

Greenwald, at times, engages in vitriolic and outright demonizing rhetoric to describe the “true” motivations of well-known Jewish supporters of Israel - imputing in them an almost savage lust for war. Greenwald has written, “It is difficult to find someone with a more psychopathic indifference to the slaughter of innocent people in pursuit of shadowy, unstated political goals than Charles Krauthammer.” Greenwald has also characterized Senator Joe Lieberman as “bloodthirsty”.

This past week, Greenwald engaged in similar dual-loyalty rhetoric against Jewish-American Congressman, Gary Ackerman, in a post entitled, “What Motivates Iran Hawk Ackerman?” Any one familiar with Greenwald would instantly understand that he’s not merely asking a question. Nor is he attempting to rationally refute Ackerman’s argument in favor of harsh sanctions against Iran - a nation designated by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 - in order to prevent their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Rather, Greenwald engages in an ad hominem attack on the Jewish congressman who, he notes, issued his remarks in favor of tough sanctions in front of “an Israeli and American flag”.

Greenwald coolly notes that it is “it’s simply impossible to deny that this highly influential American Congressman, devoted to pushing the U.S. to war with Iran, is driven, at least in substantial part, by his fervent devotion to Israel.

That Greenwald, a former Constitutional lawyer and Civil Rights litigator, could simply be ignorant of the lethal history of this facile narrative about Jewish power he so frequently engages in is certainly possible. But, one thing is certain. Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, with Jews representing roughly 2% of the American population, it is horribly dispiriting that the charge that organized Jewry is too powerful and is pushing the United States to war - a community which, in this view, represents nothing short of (using Robert Wistrich’s phrase) “an organic obstacle to peace and progress” - is once again becoming fashionable.

Wieseltier, in his New Republic essay, describes Sullivan as belonging “to the party of Mearsheimer and the clique of Walt…to the herd of fearless dissidents who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington.” It is clear that this clique increasingly includes those who take cover behind a progressive veneer.